Silvan Shalom: A Minister Who Left No Mark

As interior minister, he consistently avoided making decisions, in some cases until he was ordered to do so by the High Court.

Silvan Shalom at the opening of the OPC Rotem plant.
Chen Galili

At the ceremony at which Silvan Shalom was installed as interior minister, he admitted that “This ministry was not the first ministry I requested.” To judge by Shalom’s conduct in the seven months he served, he apparently had his eye on the Foreign Ministry. In his short period in office — before announcing his resignation on Sunday in the face of allegations of sexual assault — Shalom managed to make official visits to Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the United States, China and Jordan.

Shalom had an opportunity to make an impact on a number of burning issues in Israeli society, but he left no real mark as interior minister. He refrained from making decisions on controversial issues, first and foremost the opening of businesses on the Sabbath and the biometric database. He continued the policy of his predecessors with regard to asylum seekers from Africa, without offering new ideas. He recently faced off against the attorney general on the matter of the Entry into Israel Law.

When he took up his post, the Interior Ministry had lost many of its responsibilities, after the Planning Administration was transferred to the Finance Ministry. Shalom protested, but he could not stop the change. Six weeks after he became minister the biometric database pilot project was to have been completed and Shalom was to have decided what would happen to the database, but he did not. He explained that he did not know the subject well enough and therefore he extended the pilot by nine months, until March 2016. It will now fall to his successor to decide.

In July the High Court of Justice instructed him to decide within three months about the Tel Aviv City Council’s decision to allow businesses to remain open on Shabbat. Shalom began to deal with it but then announced that he had a conflict of interests because one of the owners of the supermarkets in question had helped fund his primary campaign in Likud. The decision was eventually referred to an inter-ministerial committee.

In August he was again instructed to act following a High Court ruling, this time with regard to the court’s finding that holding asylum seekers at the Holot facility for a year and eight months was not proportionate. The court gave the Knesset until February 2016 to shorten the term considerably. Last month the Interior Ministry published a preliminary version of a bill calling for new asylum seekers to be held for a year and six months and those already in Israel to be held for a year with the minister entitled to increase the period for “special reasons.”

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned Shalom and his officials that the new law would also be struck down by the High Court, for the fourth time. He demanded that they shorten the permissible period of detention at Holot to a year. Shalom refused and was planning to present the bill in its original form to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Eventually the bill was removed from the agenda.

The most significant move Shalom signed off on as interior minister was to bring the remaining Falashmura from Ethiopia to Israel. Shalom said shortly after he was appointed that he supported bringing the additional groups to Israel even if there were doubts about their Judaism and last month the cabinet approved a proposal Shalom submitted to bring 9,000 Falashmura waiting in Ethiopia to come to Israel.

Shalom indeed signed the order, but it was Likud MK David Amsalem who worked behind the scenes to get it approved.

One of the decisions Shalom is most proud of is lowering the fee for a passport for soldiers – from 240 shekels (about $62) to 120 shekels. That decision, symbolic and not very significant, perhaps reflects his term in office most of all. He has left the major decisions to his successor, who will be the fourth interior minister in less than three years, after Eli Yishai and the brief terms of Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan.