Facing pushback, transportation minister compromises on pick for ministry chief

Miri Regev says she will appoint confidant Moshe Ben Zaken as acting deputy director general, then try again in six months to have him made full director general

Transportation Minister Miri Regev arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced Thursday that she was backing down from her intention to make a close confidant the director general of the ministry — a move that had been opposed by legal advisers — but was still making him the ministry’s most senior official.

Regev said in a statement that former aide and political operative Moshe Ben Zaken will be acting deputy director general of the Transportation Ministry for the next six months, after which she will try again to have him appointed director general.

She said the move was agreed on with the civil service commissioner and the attorney general, both of whom had opposed Ben Zaken taking the top slot.

During the six-month period, Regev will not appoint anyone else to the position of director general, Walla news reported.

Regev explained that she had given up on seeking cabinet approval for Ben Zaken’s appointment as director general because she understood that the High Court of Justice could become involved, leading to “Moshe’s good name being tarnished.”

“I will not give the High Court the pleasure of criticizing me and the government from its ivory tower,” Regev said.

Miri Regev and Moshe Ben Zaken, right, at the Likud party headquarters on March 2, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Sunday the cabinet decided to postpone a vote on Regev’s choice. Shortly before its meeting, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara backed a civil service panel’s determination that Ben Zaken was unqualified.

Yael Cohen, legal adviser to the Transportation Ministry, issued a similar opinion on Sunday, saying there was a legal impediment to the appointment.

Last week, the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee cited Ben Zaken’s past as a political operative for Regev’s Likud party in deeming him unfit for the job. While the committee’s recommendations are not binding, the government rarely goes against them.

Deputy director general positions do not require committee approval.

Regev did apparently have the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly said at the cabinet meeting that “a political appointment is appropriate and sometimes even necessary.”

Regev vowed Thursday to keep campaigning within the cabinet to obviate the need for Senior Appointments Advisory Committee approval and insisted it should be a minister’s right to choose whom to appoint to positions of trust.

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