In Test of Netanyahu's Power, Knesset Elects His Candidate for State Comptroller

Matanyahu Englman, the current director general of the Council for Higher Education, won the support if 76 lawmakers in a secret ballot

Matanyahu Englman at the Knesset.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nominee for the country's next state comptroller in a secret Monday ballot, seen as a test of the premier's influence ahead of the September 17 election.

Matanyahu Englman, the current director general of the Council for Higher Education, was elected by a vote of 67 to 48 with five abstentions, defeating the opposition's candidate, Giora Romm, the chairman of the National Road Safety Authority and a former director of the Civil Aviation Authority.

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The election of Englman was a victory for Netanyahu, whose Likud party had been concerned that its candidate might be defeated. “Without a doubt, the vote is a major test for Netanyahu and will prove whether he is lame duck or whether a stable coalition stands behind him, which will stand with him after the election too,” one Likud Knesset member said prior to the vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casting his ballot for state comptroller.
Olivier Fitoussi

The vote came at an awkward time for the prime minister, who was unable to form a coalition government following the April 9 Knesset election, precipitating new parliamentary election on September 17.

The State Comptroller Law sets a strict schedule for the Knesset election of the comptroller, as opposed to decisions on other senior government officials who are appointed by the cabinet. The law requires that a vote be held within a two-month period beginning 90 days before the end of the term of the outgoing comptroller, which in this case is July 3, 2019. The law also states that, even if the Knesset is in recess during that period, it must meet in a special session to hold the balloting.

As comptroller, Englman, who also served in the past as the director general of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, will be responsible for supervising government policies and operations and reporting on mismanagement. The post is typically filled by former judges and Englman is the first non-judge to fill it in decades. He will succeed Joseph Shapira and will hold office for seven years.

An accountant by profession, as director general of the Council for Higher Education, Englman sparked harsh criticism from some of those who worked with him, who said that he is a political personality who acted aggressively to promote positions favored Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who appointed him to the post. One source said, for example, that Englman was insistent on securing approval for the controversial proposal to open a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank settlement of Ariel and was aggressive in opposing the person who presented professional reports that did not support the project.

"The staff at the Council for Higher Education had hard feelings in the course of their work with him," the source said. "Those who presented [different] positions suffered harassment of sorts." But the source added that Englman worked quickly and efficiently in cutting expenses and addressing the financial issues at the council.

Prior to the vote at 2 P.M. on Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu lobbied dozens of Knesset members seeking their support for Englman and also convened the Likud Knesset faction in an effort to ensure that his party's Knesset members support his candidate.

Following the vote, the prime minister called Englman to congratulate him. "People were impressed by your integrity and professionalism," Netanyahu said. "You will do wonderful work and I am certain that you will act for the benefit of the country's citizens, without any other considerations."

Shira Kadari-Ovadia and the Associated Press contributed to this report.