Worse than the enormous waste of establishing a cabinet with 34 ministers is the fear that this crazy idea signals the greatest danger facing Israel at this time: Social Darwinism. The message being sent by what will apparently be the government coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in a rotation with Benny Gantz – is that in order to form a stable government you must hand out jobs, while inflating the cabinet to an unprecedented size.
All this is going on at the height of a sudden economic crisis that has increased the number of unemployed from 150,000 to one million in less than a month. This is an unemployment rate of 23 percent, which Israel has never come anywhere near even in the times of its greatest crises. Add to this hundreds of thousands of self-employed and freelance workers who have lost their livelihoods.
The public needs a functioning, efficient and effective government at this moment, and leadership that it can trust. The proliferation of government ministries entails heavy costs of hundreds of millions of shekels a year and even larger indirect and hidden costs – because of the bureaucracy and complications it leads to. The cabinet may have announced an economic aid plan costing 80 billion shekels ($22.3 billion), but its real test will be in the effectiveness in which this money trickles into the economy and in whether it reaches the right places.
The pressures on the new government will be incredible. There is almost no household or business that has not suffered from the crisis. But there are casualties in critical, serious, moderate and mild condition. There is serious concern that we will not be able to identify which is which and provide them with an effective response with a government that has expanded to its largest size ever. In fact, it is likely this will cause the very opposite and send the message that the government is worrying about jobs for 34 ministers – and the politicians and their desires come before everything else. That without satisfying them first no government can be formed and no political stability can be reached.
This might be true in calmer times, but at the height of a severe economic crisis – it is a double-edged sword. A cabinet of 34 ministers testifies to our political leaders being totally cut off from reality and their ignoring the fundamental principles needed to get through this crisis period: Trust, solidarity, responsibility for one another, restraint and serving as an example. Anyone who thinks a demand for a slimmed down government is just populism does not understand the depths of the crisis and the heavy price the public is being asked to pay for it. It is not just those who are infected by the virus, but also those who will be forced to pay the economic and social price of this crisis.
A cabinet of 34 ministers sends this message to the public: We are taking care of ourselves first and don’t care about you. In practice, it is license for every interest group to use its power to extort and grab what they can. It is a time-tested recipe to create social chaos, increase inequality and trample the weak.
After the government is formed and a state budget is created, the entire public will feel the cost of the crisis. The government will have to find means to fund and create sources of growth that will enable the economy to recover. It will face a great number of dilemmas: Who to help and who not, who to save and who to let fall, from whom to take and to whom to give.
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When Netanyahu and Gantz are preparing the ground for an oversized cabinet, which places the self-esteem, status and power of the politicians before anything else, they are sowing the seeds of the catastrophe of the next campaign: Extortion by interest groups, who will do everything possible to ensure that they are not the ones paying the price for the economic crisis.
A lot of victims will fall in this battle and they will put Israeli solidarity, which emerges sometimes during security crises, to the test. But here the cost will be much heavier, and there is no physical enemy that can serve to unite the ranks. Those who think that the proliferation of cabinet ministers guarantees political stability will discover that social Darwinism could very well develop here – and undermine it. It is still not too late to settle for a slimmed down government of 18 ministers.