Netanyahu's Cronyism

The prime minister is looking for two qualities in his new civil service commissioner: loyalty and Likud membership. His candidate for the job will not save the civil service.

For six and a half months now, the position of civil service commissioner has been filled by temporary appointments. One of the most important and sensitive jobs in the country is being performed by a substitute, ever since Shmuel Hollander completed an overly long tenure of 14 years, half a year ago.

The problem, however, is not a temporary one: Judging by the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is running the appointment process, it would appear that in the coming years the position will be filled by someone who is inappropriate for the job and simply not up to the task.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Yaron Kaminsky

The civil service commissioner is the state's human resources manager, and his actions have a direct influence on public life. He is responsible for keeping Israel's public service professional, trustworthy and apolitical. In light of the weakness of the Civil Service Commission in recent years, the next commissioner will have to enact profound reforms in the service.

Due to a lacuna in Israeli law - one that the Knesset must fix - the civil service commissioner is appointed without benefit of either a tender process or a search committee.

Netanyahu, who up to now has failed with most of the personal appointments he has made in the Prime Minister's Office, determined at the start of the hunt for a new civil service commissioner, about a year ago, that the next person to hold that office must meet two criteria: He must be close to and have a sense of personal loyalty to Netanyahu himself, and he must be a Likud insider. Professional considerations would take a back seat to the first two requirements.

Until recently, the prime minister's aides had come up empty-handed in their attempts to find someone who met the first two criteria - which is why the search took so long.

When Netanyahu was finance minister, from 2001 to 2003, and was trying to be statesmanlike, he constantly hammered on the need to combine the two, very close, functions of civil service commissioner and Finance Ministry wages director. He even offered the new position to Yuval Rachlevsky, who held the latter position at the time.

It makes a lot of sense to combine the roles. A genuinely statesmanlike prime minister, who always has the national economy at heart, would implement a reform in that direction. But as prime minister, Netanyahu has a different set of interests.

Netanyahu, being Netanyahu, took the long and twisted road rather than the high road. He tasked Prime Minister Office Director General Eyal Gabbai, unofficially, with forming a search committee whose composition was not submitted to a cabinet vote.

Since no tender was issued and the search committee lacked any official standing underpinned by cabinet resolutions, only those who were already close to the inner circle knew about the process.

Many excellent potential candidates who could have done the state proud never had the opportunity to even apply.

Dozens did apply to the Gabbai committee, which eventually recommended four applicants to the prime minister. Netanyahu interviewed two of them and picked Bari Bar-Zion.

The choice drew a lot of fire in the media, with Bar-Zion's critics charging that the position was beyond his capabilities. At the very last minute, before his scheduled confirmation hearing by the senior appointments committee, Bar-Zion got cold feet and withdrew his nomination.

Who is Moshe Dayan?

Netanyahu is in no rush. He appointed Udi Prauer, a senior aide in the PMO, temporary commissioner. Prauer served one three-month term, and then another. At the weekly cabinet meeting two weeks ago Netanyahu made the surprise announcement that he had found a worthy candidate for the position - Moshe Dayan, an unknown attorney serving as counsel to the Justice Ministry.

"Who is Moshe Dayan?" was the question on the lips of even Netanyahu's closest associates. As it turned out, Dayan had not applied to Gabbai's committee. People who know Dayan say he's a good man. People who know Bar-Zion said the same about him. But that's not enough to put someone in the civil service commissioner's office.

Dayan has never run a large - or medium-sized, or small - public agency, certainly not anything as complex, sensitive, important and big as the civil service commission. Most of his professional life has been spent in the Justice Ministry.

Dayan studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the same class as MK Tzachi Hanegbi. When the latter was appointed justice minister, 15 years ago, he tapped Dayan as an aide. Dayan was promoted to the ministry's legal adviser - a position of secondary importance in any ministry, and certainly in the Justice Ministry.

It's not clear how the anonymous Dayan turned overnight into the candidate for such a critical position as civil service commissioner. Among his supporters are Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The Maariv daily reported that Dayan's brother-in-law Yehuda Weingarten is "a very close friend of the Netanyahu family and also a regular and well-known donor to the family."

Dayan appears to be very close to clinching the position: He is Netanyahu's only candidate, and last week the High Court of Justice dismissed a petition by the Movement for Quality Government against the appointment. The PMO also rejected a petition by seven public figures, including former civil service commissioners and PMO directors general, against Dayan.

The cabinet will, in all likelihood, approve Dayan's appointment unanimously, dashing all hopes for any meaningful reforms to the civil service in the foreseeable future.