Editorial |

Israel Needs a Different State Comptroller

Haaretz Editorial
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State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attending a conference in Jerusalem, February 3, 2020
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attending a conference in Jerusalem, February 3, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

The special report on Israel’s handling of the coronavirus crisis met the low standard that was expected from State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman. That, in light of his promise, on assuming office, to tread lightly in dealing with decision-makers, making do with “constructive criticism” only.

In the report, Englman stretched to its absolute limit his practice of not interfering in the decision-making process lest, God forbid, the government watchdog lose its objective, independent status. In his effort to appear objective and to maintain a distinction between the comptroller and the decision-making process, Englman even separated the decision-making process from the decision-makers themselves, As a result, a report on a crisis about which Benjamin Netanyahu himself said “Some people view it as the greatest challenge humanity has faced since World War II” did not mention the performance of the prime minister or relevant members of his cabinet.

The report contained little that has not already been reported in the media. It did not address, among other issues, the political leadership’s appropriation of professional decisions, the lack of transparency and the withholding of information from the public regarding purchases. Nor did it deal with critical decisions and the individuals who made them. It did not take on questions such as how the decision to shut down the country was made and what was the main reason for Netanyahu’s ill-fated delay in imposing a mandatory quarantine on people returning from the United States. The report did not say how crucial decisions were taken such as imposing the lockdown or exiting it.

The report did not go into the real reasons for the abandonment of the targeted-lockdown model, against the recommendation of coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who sought to avoid a full lockdown. Overall, it failed to address the role of alien interests in managing the state. The report did not mention the crisis of public confidence in the government or its expression in flawed crisis management and Israel’s dire condition. Englman preferred to focus on people on the ground rather than higher-up decision-makers, lest any criticism of senior officials stop them from leading Israel to an abyss.

Englman’s critical approach is generally ill-founded, but this is exacerbated when it comes to a crisis afflicting a country that has been led by the same person for 11 consecutive years. If the state was caught unprepared for the pandemic, as the report suggests, with the preexisting conditions of inequality and social gaps, it is impossible to criticize its conduct during the crisis while ignoring Netanyahu’s responsibility. More than anything else, Englman’s report proves that Israel needs a different state comptroller.

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

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