The Science, Technology and Space Ministry lowered the requirements for a ministry position involving the advancement of women in science and hired a Likud activist for the job.
Unusually, the ministry director general’s office took part in the selection of the woman for the post, Aviva Hazan, a member of the Likud secretariat and the mother of a Knesset member for the party, Oren Hazan. Aviva Hazan, who is also the wife of former Likud MK Yehiel Hazan, declined to comment for this article.
The science minister, meanwhile, is Likud MK Ofir Akunis.
The ministry said that for two months, Hazan was employed as an administrative adviser to the Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology. But the council’s chairwoman, Prof. Nava Ratzon of Tel Aviv University, said Hazan “was found unsuitable for the position.”
The Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, which was established in 2000 by the cabinet, has three subcommittees. One coordinates between public and private bodies seeking the advancement of women in science and research, another coordinates with the European Union, and a third collects data and raises awareness of problems blocking the advancement of women in science. In 2017, the council’s budget stood at about 2.5 million shekels ($688,000).
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In late 2016, the Science Ministry invited bids for “advisory services” for the council. The services included “advancing existing collaborations,” “writing policy papers when needed,” “assisting in evaluating existing programs and overseeing projects including evaluation of their quality and implementation,” and “working with ministry professionals.”
Similar government tenders require that candidates have a master’s degree, a very good command of English and three years experience in research or the implementation of projects with government or public or academic bodies.
But for the council’s advisory position, only an undergraduate degree was required, with no requirement for a foreign language or previous experience. Remuneration was up to 50,000 shekels a year. No number of hours was cited.
Hazan’s Facebook page is replete with photos of Hazan and Akunis together at various political functions and Science Ministry events. Hazan also frequently posts about Akunis’ activities and provides congratulations and expressions of encouragement. In 2016 and 2017, she posted or shared more than 30 posts about Akunis.
In 2016 and early 2017, the office of the ministry’s director general, Peretz Vazan (who stepped down about a month ago), took part in the selection of the administrative adviser to the council. In March, the ministry’s tenders committee chose Hazan for the job. The ministry declined to describe Hazan’s professional or academic credentials, or say which official approved her. The ministry’s human resources department also approved her.
Ratzon, the council’s chairwoman, said she didn’t know who proposed Hazan. “There’s a tender and people come to me for an interview,” Ratzon said. “I never signed off on even an hour” of her work.
Ratzon said she met with Hazan twice. “We were looking [for a candidate] for a long time and maybe somebody thought she could serve the council. I don’t disqualify her just because she’s ‘the mother of,’ but she was unsuitable,” Ratzon said, adding that Hazan actually never worked for the council and she could not explain why the ministry said Hazan had worked there.
As opposed to a closed tender, in which a government office turns to three suppliers, apparently the way Hazan was hired, in April the ministry published an open tender for an administrative adviser. After Hazan stepped down, the requirements were changed to include “a very good command of English,” and experience in managing projects and advancing collaborations, as is common in other bidding processes.
The Science Ministry said Hazan was employed “based on all rules of proper administration,” and that she was employed in May and June 2017 at 50 shekels per hour. “Her appointment was approved by the ministry’s tenders committee after she met the relevant requirements for the job.”
The Nava Ratzon case
Meanwhile, the minister of science, technology and space, Likud’s Ofir Akunis, had appointed council chairwoman Ratzon after three other female academics, who had been recommended by the Council for Higher Education, were rejected without explanation. Ratzon, the wife of Likud activist Michael Ratzon, said “there is no connection between my husband and my appointment.”
Ratzon was proceeded as council chairwoman by Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron of Tel Aviv University, a former deputy chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education; Prof. Miriam Erez of the Technion, an Israel Prize laureate in administration; and Prof. Nurit Yirmiya of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who headed the university’s center for gender and women’s research and is a former chief scientist at the Science Ministry.
In October 2016, Prof. Alex Bligh, the ministry’s current chief scientist, asked all women’s advancement advisers at universities and colleges to propose candidates for council chairwoman. The candidate would need to be “a woman and scientist with awareness of women’s advancement,” he wrote.
Bligh had been appointed a few weeks earlier by Akunis. He was previously assistant dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Ariel University in the West Bank. In the late 1980s he was an Arab-affairs adviser for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Three women academics with good credentials applied for the chairwoman job. Their résumés were sent to Akunis’ office, but the vetting process apparently was never completed. The candidates were not called in for an interview. Five months later, Akunis announced the appointment of Ratzon of the Department of Occupational Therapy at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine.
Ratzon said she was unaware of any broad solicitation of candidates from universities and colleges, or of any female academics who applied for the job. She said she was approached with the offer by one of Akunis’ aides.
“He came to me for a few meetings, he said he had heard of me,” Ratzon said. “They courted me for a long time. I’m very busy and I have an appointment at a university abroad.”
Based on Ratzon’s résumé, the advancement of women is not among her top areas of research, but Ratzon said: “Part of my specialty involves ergonomics and the world of women’s work. That’s my connection.”
Ratzon’s husband Michael served two terms as a Likud MK and in the last election did not make it into the Knesset. “My husband does not currently have any function in Likud,” Ratzon said.
“Maybe they [the Science Ministry] knew my name because they knew my husband, but I’m not a Likud member and I have no connection to the party .... What were the motives of those who approached me? Maybe they had hidden motives, but I have enough of a professional record that nothing connected to my husband should overshadow it.”
The ministry said the requirements had not been lowered because the function was a new one. The ministry said that Ratzon was appointed “based on all rules of proper administration and legal approval,” and that Ratzon’s appointment “has been highly praised, with Prof. Ratzon and all members of the council serving entirely on a volunteer basis.”
The Yael Amitai case
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will decide soon whether the State Prosecutor’s office will defend Akunis in a petition to the High Court of Justice against his decision to disqualify the appointment of Prof. Yael Amitai of Ben-Gurion University to the board of the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development.
Amitai’s appointment was rejected because 16 years ago she signed a petition supporting students and faculty who refused military service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Amitai’s petition was submitted with the Committee of University Heads. The first hearing is scheduled for next month.
According to an opinion submitted by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, it will be “very difficult” to defend Akunis’ decision. Zilber has asked Akunis to reconsider and told him that Mendelblit feels the same way.