Finance Ministry Director-general Keren Terner Eyal did what Finance Minister Yisrael Katz should have done, if he only had a spine. Unlike Katz, Terner Eyal didn’t shut up when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked Shaul Meridor, head of the treasury’s budgets department, on social media just because he dared oppose Netanyahu’s plan to give grants to every Israeli.
“It’s inconceivable that bureaucrats should brief people against decisions made by the cabinet and work to thwart them,” Netanyahu’s Facebook page proclaimed Friday. “We won’t accept this.” The page also shared a post by MK Shomo Karhi (Likud) that assailed Meridor for objecting to the plan and accused him of “bureaucratic subversion.”
Unlike Katz, Terner Eyal didn’t suffer an attack of weak knees when Netanyahu’s son Yair, who is completely without restraints, attacked treasury staffers on social media in the following words: “The truth is that treasury bureaucrats are ‘sabotaging’ by not transferring money to the self-employed and other citizens to incite the people.” In contrast to the cowardly Katz, Terner Eyal issued a statement of support for Meridor and other treasury officials.
“It’s very hard for me to remain indifferent to the unprecedented criticism of ministry staffers, in particular the head of the treasury’s budgets department, Shaul Meridor, and to the genuinely violent conversation developing on social media in general,” she wrote on Twitter. Then she sought to remind people of what would be self evident in a country that hadn’t gone off the rails. “The job of all the government’s professional staffers is to help formulate and shape public policy. ... After that, the decisions on how to act rest with our elected representatives.”
Though Katz showed weakness against the ruling family, it turns out he can be strong against the bureaucrats. Instead of thanking Terner Eyal for defending treasury officials’ obligation to express their professional opinion, he reprimanded her. Instead of learning from her how to back his staffers and stand firm against bullying and false accusations of subversion, he lectured her that it isn’t her job to respond, argue and defend officials against the politicians.
Katz preferred to abandon Meridor to Netanyahu’s attacks. He even threatened that if he receives proof of any problematic conduct by Meridor, he will refer it to the Civil Service Commission for disciplinary proceedings.
Terner Eyal isn’t alone. She is following in the footsteps of the chairwoman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud), who refused last week to capitulate to political pressure from Netanyahu by deciding that gyms shouldn’t be shut down. Netanyahu is now working to oust her from her position. But in the face of such bullying behavior by the prime minister and his gang of followers with no inhibitions, Terner Eyal and Shasha-Biton have served as important models for standing on principle even at times of crisis and pressure.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.