Israel's Superfluous Ministries

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Yesh Atid's Elazar Stern in the presidential residence in jerusalem, two months ago.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

It’s okay not to believe Intelligence Affairs Minister Elazar Stern. Using his wife Dorit to prove that it’s impossible for him to have shredded anonymous sexual harassment complaints as head of the army’s Manpower Directorate is also unconvincing. The fact that he’s been married for 40 years, and that for 16 of these Dorit Manns Stern has headed a center for sexually victimized women, does not prove he did not push the button on the shredder. It would have been better for him to produce an anonymous complaint that he did act on – and not with the shredder.

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Stern invented neither the paper shredder nor the culture of crumpling up, tossing aside and ignoring female soldiers’ complaints. We can assume that had Stern not been contending to be the head of the honeypot called the Jewish Agency, the whole affair would never have been discussed, and the coarse sandpaper used by Yair Lapid to smooth it out would not have been needed. But “On this festive occasion of [Menachem] Ussishkin’s passing” – as Avraham Shapira so memorably put it, standing by the graveside of the deceased – we may raise a small quandary, minor and insignificant compared to the brouhaha surround the minister’s version.

What the heck does Elazar Stern do? Yes, he’s the intelligence affairs minister. But what is the purpose of his existence, and what is he wasting 30 million shekels of our money a year on? Stern declined to take Nir Gontarz’s advice in June and forego the ministry for the sake of the State of Israel (Haaretz Hebrew Edition, June 9). “I know what they do in this ministry, and what needs to be done and what was done in the past. … I’m coming there to do not only what I know, but also what I don’t know,” was how Stern justified the gig. Stern may know what they do at the ministry, but he appears to be alone in that.

According to the Intelligence Affairs Ministry website, the entire intelligence community is crouched at his feet, awaiting his words with bated breath. “The ministry and minister shall oversee the policy of operation of the intelligence organizations, the Mossad and the General Security Service [Shin Bet], in the interest of Israel’s national security and in coordination and under the guidance of the prime minister.” Thus reads the ministry’s website, which one could expect to be a bit more up-to-date technologically and a lot more informative, as befits a ministry carrying the banner of “scanning the horizon.” For instance, it’s not too much to expect that the most recent materials there be from earlier than 2020. After all, we’re talking about a ministry that views itself as the spaceship to the future.

And still, Stern is supposed to supervise the policy of operating the intelligence organizations? Maybe he’d better head of the Science Fiction Ministry. The mission summary of the ministry’s policy division displays a somewhat more realistic task list: “Consolidating policy papers and situation assessments and promoting inter-organizational and inter-ministerial projects. The division is further tasked with writing background papers and presentations in selected fields for the minister ahead of cabinet meetings, and is also entrusted with monitoring security projects of particular importance to the minister and with coordinating and accompanying the minister as he tours the security production facilities.” So it’s a warehouse for office supplies, paperwork and field trips, that and no more. It’s a waste of the talented people working there. They can be found work at worthier places.

Like the shredder, the system of ghost ministries was not invented by Stern either. Other prominent examples of abstract creations include the Diaspora Ministry, the Social Equality Ministry, the Regional Cooperation Ministry and the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry. Beyond these, one may well wonder what the Aliyah and Integration Ministry does with a budget totaling 2 billion shekels ($62 million), when the number of immigrants to Israel last year totaled 20,000.

True, without all these ministries there would have been no coalition, but this coalition government has been functioning for five months, and ahead of the budget debates it’s time to demand a reckoning. The sin of shredding, which is shaking the halls of power, is dwarfed by the shredding of money carried on at these ministries every single day.

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