Hebrew U. Economist to Replace Kandel as PM’s Economic Adviser

Cabinet ministers approve Avi Simhon's appointment, despite past remarks about ultra-Orthodox.

Prof. Avi Simhon
Shani Sadicario

Avi Simhon, a Hebrew University economist who has angered ultra-Orthodox Jews with comments that were critical of large families, won the cabinet’s backing on Sunday to replace Eugene Kandel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic adviser.

Ministers voted unanimously to approve Simhon as chairman of the National Economic Council — with the exception of Arye Dery, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the minister for development of the Negev and Galilee, who registered his protest by not voting.

“I respect the prime minister’s decision to choose Simhon for the post, I have to protest the remarks he had made in the past against large families, which were outrageous and very problematic.”

Kandel, who played a key role in negotiating the natural-gas framework agreement, said in July he was stepping down midterm after six years on the job. Simhon was considered the top choice for the job, but opposition by Shas and other ultra-Orthodox parties delayed naming him for the post for almost five months.

Simhon, 56, is a professor of economics at The Hebrew University whose research has focused on growth and the Israeli economy, corruption and labor economics. He served on the treasury advisory council when Yuval Steinitz was finance minister and as a member of the Trajtenberg committee formed to propose socioeconomic reforms in the wake of the 2011 social protests.

“Avi Simhon is deserving and has managerial and leadership abilities,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting, adding that Simhon is a supporter of market economies.

In accepting the appointment, Simhon signaled that he would not discriminate against Haredim or any other community in Israel. “I am aware of the responsibility demanded of the Chairman of the National Economic Council and am committed to leading processes to strengthen the Israeli economy for the benefit of all citizens and sectors: ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, new immigrants and veteran citizens.” he told the cabinet meeting on Sunday.