Greatly Expanding Minister's Powers, Panel Approves More Political Appointments

The plan would allow every minister whose ministry employs at least 150 people to name one deputy director general as a personal political appointment.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Jan. 16, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

A cabinet committee approved controversial plans on Sunday that would greatly expand the power of ministers to make political appointments.

The ministerial committee on public service, headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, approved a plan that would allow every minister whose ministry employs at least 150 people to name one deputy director general as a personal political appointment.

Until now, all deputy directors general were professional appointments.

In addition, the committee gave its go-ahead to a proposal to reduce to three people from five the appointments committee charged with vetting candidates for some 120 senior government positions.

One of the three would be the relevant ministry’s director general, which is itself a political appointment, and a second member would be chosen by the director general from the public – giving the minster in effect a two-thirds’ majority on the committee.

The proposals, which will be voted on by the full cabinet next week, were part of the coalition agreement forming the government nearly two years ago amid complaints by politicians that career civil servants couldn’t be relied on to follow through on their policy stances as much as political allies could.

“The steps we in the committee are taking to change the system of appointments is essential for strengthening governance, so that ministers will be able to implement policies and ensure that these policies are put into practice and implemented,” said Levin.

The Shaked-Levin committee proposals come amid heightened expectations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will call early elections. Expanding the circle of political appointments would help ministers put allies on the government payroll at a critical time.

“Instead of seeking to change national priorities and focus on socioeconomic reforms for the benefit of the entire public, the government headed by Netanyahu continues promoting corruption and helping its friends at the public’s expensive,” the opposition Zionist Union party said in a statement.

The government counts 30 ministries, of which 26 employ at least 150 people, so that if the measures are approved it will mean appointing 26 new deputy directors general. The cost of that will swell into the tens of millions of shekels on an annualized basis, because each official will be entitled to appoint aides.