The arrogance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new peak. “Look what’s left in Europe of the civil service, look at their miserable economies,” he said, insulting the European Union during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. At issue is the battle being led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, with Netanyahu’s ideological leadership, to politicize the civil service. This would involve making the post of deputy director-general a political appointment and markedly weakening the search committees through which senior ministry officials are appointed.
Netanyahu’s remark is evidence of the spirit of populism wafting through the Prime Minister’s Office. Not only was the comment substantively ridiculous – Israel can only dream of being like the strong economies of Germany, Norway or Switzerland – but it also insults Israel’s closest friends for no reason. But what are international relations compared to the petty political desire of government ministers, first and foremost the prime minister, to appoint their associates as senior officials in government ministries?
The proposal before the cabinet was not approved Sunday, but that’s not good news. The vote on the reform, which would allow ministers to appoint a deputy director-general of their ministry without a tender, was postponed for two weeks only because Netanyahu believed it didn’t go far enough and did not allow ministers enough control over appointments to government service. “If we’re making a move, it should be big and significant, not a minor measure like the one presented here,” Netanyahu said.
The contemptuous attitude toward public servants undermines the economy. It would be worth taking an example from the attitude toward the professional public servants in Europe’s strong economies. No European government tries to weaken the professional staff with political appointments; on the contrary, they strengthen the professional staff because they understand the professional bureaucrats strengthen governance. In properly run countries the status of “civil servant” is firmly established and not under continuous attack, as is happening in Israel.
But Shaked and Levin are insisting on delegitimizing the professional bureaucracy, and Netanyahu is joining the campaign, undermining the ethos of a strong civil service that was established back in the days of David Ben-Gurion. Aside from trying to politicize the deputy directors-general, the government is also threatening the independence of the ministries’ legal advisers.
Inserting political considerations into the professional bureaucracy out of a desire to distribute jobs to cronies would deal a critical blow to the functioning of the government. Instead of serving the country’s citizens, Netanyahu and his ministers prefer to advance their own interests.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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