A State in Gridlock, and It's Not Just the Traffic

Haaretz Editorial
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Transportation Minister Miri Regev
Haaretz Editorial

To understand how terrible the current government is, and how critical it is to replace it with one that has not been corrupted, just take a look at the Transportation Ministry. This important ministry, which is headed by Miri Regev, is supposed to be taking on one of Israel’s worst economic problems – the horrific traffic congestion, which harms national productivity and growth. Everywhere you look, however, what you find is a constant obsession with making electoral hay; scorn for the ministry’s professional staff; political appointments and a culture of acceding to the minister’s whims (Avi Bar-Eli, Haaretz Hebrew, May 26).

A recent example of this is the ministry’s execrable treatment of Israel Railways CEO Michael Maixner. The fact that two years ago he took a broken-down company with 4,000 employees and an annual budget of 3 billion shekels (over $922 million), got it back on its feet and saved its flagship track-electrification project is less important than the fact that he refused to approve a political appointment. Now Maixner has to contend with a hostile board of directors and innumerable attempts by the Transportation Ministry to oust him.

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Maixner is only a parable. The lesson it teaches couldn’t be clearer: Regev dictates a political culture in which alien interests shove aside professional considerations, including over megaprojects costing billions of shekels that are vital to the Israeli economy.

Regev is holding up construction on the green and purple lines of the Tel Aviv metropolitan-area light rail and subway system, by refusing to sign off on the eviction of a few property owners in south Tel Aviv’s Kfar Shalem neighborhood. Her ministry is also deliberately delaying Ofnidan, the building of nine 15-kilometer bicycle paths in Greater Tel Aviv. Regev has refused to issue the funding for the work for more than a year, on the grounds that a similar program for Israel’s “periphery” was not approved. She is also blocking the creation of additional carpool lanes in metropolitan areas, which are designed to encourage carpooling and the use of public transportation.

The familiar political discussion topic – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, yes or no – obscures the profound failure of his government in civic areas. Only in a government that has lost all connection with the public can the Transportation Ministry sabotage mass transit solutions, harm public transportation infrastructure, block the regulation of motor-free transportation and incentivize dependency on private cars.

It must be hoped that a new government will be established that will begin the necessary work of rehabilitation. Until that day, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must warn the heads of the ministry against violating the public trust, and he should even consider stripping Regev of her authority.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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