Cabinet Minister Gila Gamliel Defies Watchdog to Name Crony as Agency Head

Rinat Danon, a close childhood friend and former senior aide to Gamliel, is up for the position of director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, despite the Civil Service Commission's objections.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel is trying to appoint a close childhood friend as the director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, despite the Civil Service Commission’s objections.

The friend, Rinat Danon, is a lawyer who for years was a senior aide to Gamliel.

The director post is a senior executive position, equivalent to the director general of a government ministry.

Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan opposes the appointment, on the grounds that Danon lacks the requisite managerial experience.

Relatives of Gamliel’s media adviser, Guy Eliahu, who was Gamliel’s deputy back when she was the chairwoman of the national student union, also work for the authority. Eliyahu’s wife and his sister-in-law were hired for positions of trust. In addition, Eliyahu’s brother-in-law did Gamliel’s hair and makeup for many years.

Gamliel and Danon were in high school together, in Gedera in the early 1990s, and their friendship later developed into a professional relationship.

When Gamliel became a Knesset member in 2003, she hired Danon as her parliamentary aide.

In 2009, when Gamliel became a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, she hired Danon as an advisor in charge of the advancement of women, young people and students, a job Danon held for more than four years. And when Gamliel became a deputy Knesset speaker and coalition whip after the 2013 election, Danon again became her parliamentary aide.

“They never hid their friendship; they said they’ve been friends since childhood,” said one employee of a government ministry who has worked with both and was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Their families are also well acquainted. In July 2015, Gamliel’s brother, Gedera Mayor Yoel Gamliel, inaugurated a plaza named for Menashe Sharabi — Danon’s father, a former deputy mayor of Gedera. Afterward, on her Facebook page, Danon thanked all those who attended, including “my personal minister, Gila Gamliel.”

For the past year, Gamliel has been trying to get Danon appointed as head of the authority. But the Civil Service Commission’s appointments committee, headed by Dayan, refused to approve her appointment, saying Danon was unqualified. Dayan then proposed his own nominee, whom Gamliel rejected.

The battle has raged for months, as neither Gamliel nor Dayan would back down. It was recently referred to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit for a final decision.

Danon, who has a master’s in public policy, wrote on her curriculum vitae that as Gamliel’s parliamentary aide, she was involved in enacting many laws beneficial to women. These include an amendment to the Companies Law that requires all public companies to have at least one woman on their boards; an amendment to the Marriage Law raising the minimum marriage age from 17 to 18; and an amendment to the Students’ Rights Law that gave students the right to parental leave. Danon was also helped construct the authority’s work plan.

“Professionalism, integrity, common sense — she has all that, and also always kept the good of Israel’s citizens and the public interest in the forefront of her mind,” wrote Gilad Semama, a lawyer and former director general of the Senior Citizens Ministry who is head of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department, in a letter of recommendation for Danon sent to the Civil Service Commission. But this and other similar recommendations failed to persuade Dayan.

A source familiar with the dispute said Danon meets the formal legal requirements for the job, and therefore, her candidacy was considered. But the commission decided she lacked sufficient managerial experience, since most of her career has been spent as an aide to Gamliel.

“It’s true she has two degrees, but her professional experience boils down to being Gamliel’s friend and advisor,” a government figure who was speaking on condition of anonymity told Haaretz.

“To appoint a woman who has never run any organization to such an important agency — which has a multimillion-shekel budget and influences substantive decisions that affect millions of Israeli women — isn’t enough. If she had any managerial experience aside from her years with Gamliel, perhaps the commission would have approved her. But she doesn’t. There are many other suitable women in Israel with experience on this issue who could do the job.”

But Gamliel refuses to give in. A source familiar with her thinking told Haaretz that Gamliel sees this as an issue of principle: If Danon’s appointment is rejected, other ministerial advisors will conclude that they, too, have no chance of being promoted to executive positions, and many talented aides will resign.

A former employee of Gamliel’s ministry said that had Danon “been director or deputy director of some women’s organization, who might have done much less for women than she has done in the cabinet and Knesset, she would have been approved by the commission.”

“Danon isn’t a political person; she served the country as a successful professional advisor for many years,” he continued. “They’re judging her without knowing her professional quality, just because she’s close to Gila. Does that mean she isn’t very talented and can’t run the authority?”

Another factor which might have influenced Dayan’s decision was an anonymous complaint submitted to the Civil Service Commission in 2012 about the way Danon reported her working hours as a ministerial aide. The commission opened a disciplinary investigation, which concluded that for two and a half years, she had failed to get her time card signed, despite having repeatedly been requested to do so. But by the time it reached this conclusion, in May 2013, Danon was back to being a parliamentary aide, so it couldn’t initiate disciplinary proceedings against her.

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