Netanyahu Taps Likud-minded Economist as Key Adviser

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Prof. Avi Simhon
Prof. Avi SimhonCredit: Shani Sadicario

Prof. Avi Simhon, who teaches economics at Hebrew University and made a failed bid for a spot on the Likud Knesset slate, was tapped to replace Prof. Eugene Kandel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief economic policy adviser.

“Prof. Simhon combines broad academic research and action in the public sphere that are directly linked to the Israeli economy in the Finance Ministry and important government committees,” Netanyahu said, announcing the appointment over the weekend.

Simhon, whose formal title will be chairman of the National Economic Council, had been considered the leading candidate for the post for the past few months, but his public comments on the failure to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews into the workforce and critique of high Haredi birthrates had snagged his appointment in a government where two Haredi parties form a critical element of the coalition.

Yesterday Shas and United Torah Judaism warned they might still try to block the appointment unless Simhon moderated his public views. “While the prime minister has the right to appoint professionals to posts as he sees fit, we will stand guard against any tendencies to cast poor famlies or those with many children in a negative light,” the parties said in a joint statement.

Simhon, 56, has a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics as well as a master’s degree in economics from Hebrew University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota, where he studied under Nobel Prize-winning economist Edward Prescott. He served as chief economic adviser to Yuval Steinitz when he was finance minister in 2010-12 and was a member of public committees such as the Trajtenberg panel on social issues as well as the Itzhaki committee on measuring poverty. His academic research includes work on economic growth, corruption, labor and structual issues.

He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.

Kandel, who held the job for six years before announcing in July he was stepping down, praised the appointment, noting that the had known Simhon since they were students at Hebrew University, had conducted joint research and worked together in government. “I esteem Avi as a talented macroeconomist and am certain that under his leadership, along with the excellent team, the NEC will continue to be on the principal – and most important – agencies in determining Israel’s economic policy and in making government decisions,” he said.

Simhon, whose appointment still requires the approval of the Civil Service Commission’s committee on senior appointments, as well as  cabinet approval, will be the third NEC chairman following two high-profile predecessors – Manuel Trajntenberg, now a Zionist Union MK, and Kandel, who has played a critical role in formulating natural gas policy.