A Phenomenon Called Zelekha

Israel has been seen by its citizens and the world as a functioning state - that is, until Dr. Yaron Zelekha decided to make his own rules.

In the world today, certain countries are defined as "failed states" - as opposed to most others, which are functioning states. These failed states are considered dangerous places where trouble is sure to arise; anyone who cares for his own safety should keep his distance.

The critical test in determining whether a country is a functioning state or a failed state is the presence of a professional civil service that is more or less efficient, and is subject to the authority of the elected officials. Functioning states have a disciplined civil service that reports the truth to the political echelon and executes the policies and directives it receives from above. On the other hand, the telling sign of a failed state is a civil service that does not brief the political echelon with truthful reports and does not act in accordance with the directives it receives from its superiors. In such a country, the government is incapable of controlling and managing the affairs of state, and the result is disintegration and anarchy.

Until now, Israel has been seen by its citizens and the world as a functioning state. It is difficult to say the civil service in Israel is the most efficient in the world, but at least we could take pride in the fact that, like the Israel Defense Forces, it is a disciplined civil service that acts according to democratic tradition and accepts, without reservation, the authority of the elected officials.

All this was true until Dr. Yaron Zelekha came and decided to make his own rules, to change the established order and undermine the foundations of the civil service in Israel. Zelekha regards himself as the state's "kashrut inspector" and as the leading warrior against the corruption that has spread within it. As such, he does not think the standard rules of behavior for civil servants apply to him. However, Zelekha was not elected to this post, nor was he elected to any position. Rather, he was appointed accountant general by the finance minister, with the government's approval. Thus, his obligation is to faithfully execute the policies dictated by the finance minister and the government. Only God can really know Zelekha's motives and intentions, but whatever they are, his actions are improper and contrary to the principles of a democratic regime, and his behavior is unparalleled in its egregiousness.

The director general of the Finance Ministry decided, under the authority vested in him by the minister and in consultation with the ministry's legal advisor, to postpone the execution of a certain tender by three months in order to avoid a strike by state workers. Zelekha comes and expresses his contempt for the director general's decision and continues with the tender. The finance minister and interior minister decide, with the backing of the national labor court, that local authority employees must receive their salaries, thus averting a general strike. The two ministers decide credit should be transferred to the local authorities for this purpose, including local authorities that have not yet complied with economic recovery accords. Zelekha comes and announces his contempt for the ministers' decision and refuses to transfer the money. Astonishingly, he even went as far as announcing that he would delay implementation only if he received a directive to do so from the attorney general or state comptroller.

Dr. Zelekha is apparently a brilliant economist, but it seems he fell asleep during high school civics classes. If not, he would know that the accountant general does not receive instructions from the attorney general or state comptroller, but rather from the treasury director general and the finance minister.

If the policy he receives from his superiors conflicts with his conscience, Zelekha is entitled to resign and register his protest in the media. If he believes various policies contradict sound governance, he may file a complaint with the state comptroller. If he thinks a criminal act has been committed, he should go to the closest police station and report it. But in a soundly run and democratic state, the accountant general cannot place himself above his superiors and cannot refuse to execute the policies and directives of the authorized echelons. This type of behavior endangers the existence of the civil service in Israel. What would we say if the IDF chief of staff were to tell the prime minister that he believed the cease-fire in Gaza constituted a security threat and that he would withdraw IDF forces from the Gaza Strip only if he were to receive a directive to do so from the attorney general or state comptroller? A rule by government officials is no less dangerous than a rule by generals.

The finance minister did well to strip the accountant general of some of his authorities, and he would do well to put an end to Dr. Zelekha's mischief.

Yehuda Ben Meir is senior research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.