Ministry on the Bounty: 6 things to know for May 15
Israel media review

Ministry on the Bounty: 6 things to know for May 15

In this send-up of actual government work, Likud apparatchiks suddenly turn on Captain Netanyahu when they realize their piece of the pie is not to their liking. Hilarity ensues

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for government ministers to join him before a special cabinet meeting for Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, June 2, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for government ministers to join him before a special cabinet meeting for Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, June 2, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

1. Minister of mutinies: What the hell just happened? Israelis woke up Thursday morning thinking that they would go to sleep bathed in the warm glow of a new government — massive and unwieldy as a T-Rex on a unicycle, but there nonetheless. After 18 months of waiting, though, Israelis will need to wait a few more days (or maybe more, who knows) until the government is actually sworn in.

  • The delay is the result of haggling over government ministries, which despite their being more of than ever, are apparently still not enough. The result was that caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to ask his partner Benny Gantz for a few days to get these sorted and get the brain trust on inventing enough cool-sounding new ministries so everybody can get a taste.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, which describes the goings on as a “farce” on its front page, writes that Netanyahu is facing a “real mutiny” if he doesn’t give the potential ministers what they want.
  • The paper notes that several people who “saw themselves as ministers” like Yoav Kisch and Tzipi Hotovely, were instead handed ambassador posts or deputy ministerial jobs, while others got nothing at all, like Avi Dichter, who came in 10th in Likud’s primaries.
  • “Dichter spoke out against Netanyahu publicly, something that has not been done for years,” the paper says. (What’s unspoken is all the things, like alleged corruption and a disregard for norms, that these non-ministers have also stayed silent over, revealing what’s actually important to them.)
  • Channel 12 news quotes Likud sources saying that Netanyahu gave out positions first to the brown-nosers, while disregarding those at the top of the list. And not even speaking to them.
  • “I didn’t even get the courtesy of a hint of a meeting,” Dichter fumes to the channel, calling Netanyahu’s refusal to speak to him an “earthquake, an 8 on the Richter scale.”
  • Also treating the politicians’ woes as a serious problem and not the adult equivalent of brats whining that you got them the wrong Nintendo game, Israel Hayom runs pictures of all the spurned would-be ministers on its front page with the headline “Ministers without portfolio,” which only serves to even further highlight the farcical nature of it all.
  • Ministers without portfolio is of course already a thing in Israeli politics, a clever invention that lets politicians get their taxpayer-funded offices and taxpayer-funded cars and taxpayer-funded pensions and aides etc, without having to do any actual work beyond kissing the Don’s ass, the Knesset equivalent of a mafia “no-show” job.
  • “Mutiny of the disappointed,” the paper calls their rebellion, though it’s unlikely many feel for their predicament.

2. Minister of lack of communication: Offering an image of what the process could have looked like with a little less petulance, Haaretz reports that in “contrast to Netanyahu, Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz has already finished divvying up his share of the ministries. In fact, he ended up waiving two of the 17 ministries his party was supposed to receive because he lacked enough people to fill them.”

  • Blue and White sources told The Times of Israel that Gantz first found out about Netanyahu’s “request” to delay Thursday’s swearing-in of the new government from the media, forcing him to accept.
  • “We knew there was a mess at Likud but there was no formal request to move [the swearing-in ceremony] to Sunday,” an official in the party says. “But once it was out there, it became impossible to say no.”
  • An MK from the party, who asked to remain anonymous, adds that communication from Likud throughout the day had been “at a bare minimum.”
  • Perhaps addressing that problem (though don’t hold your breath), Netanyahu doles out another ministerial post, this one for good buddy David Amsalem, who instead of being an ambassador somewhere will be minister for liaising between the Knesset and government.
  • Taking advantage of the role, incoming opposition chief Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem tells Army Radio “Minister Amsalem, convey a message from us in the Knesset that we’ve never seen a more corrupt and wasteful government.”

3. Minister of trouble: In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that “over the last year and a half, the political system has seen no shortage of incredible performances, but what happened Thursday was seemingly a new peak in moments that leave one slack-jawed.”

  • Even Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld can’t help but shake his head at the spectacle, writing that the saga is “just a symptom of much larger problems in putting together the government,” questioning why Netanyahu would give up on his right-wing agenda to join hands with Gantz.
  • “The politicians can smell weakness. And when they feel personally wounded, the ego activates and sullies relationships that had been fine a moment ago. In creating this government, Netanyahu bought a few new enemies at home and hurt mostly himself.”
  • (The paper has been unusually critical of Netanyahu in recent days, seemingly angry over the dumping of right-wing Yamina.)
  • ToI analyst Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the fact that Gantz did not want the delay, because it would open up a window for Netanyahu to snatch back the Knesset speaker role and undo everything, is a sign of the incoming government’s inability to function normally.
  • “Moments before the new government was to have been sworn in, Gantz still behaved as though he couldn’t trust Netanyahu to keep his word over the course of a single weekend. He distrusted the prime minister as deeply on May 14 as he did on March 26.”

4. Minister for the advancement of silly walks: The burlesque of the ministerial handouts and invention of new ones to fill holes is not lost on many, leading to a cute “make your own ministry” game that goes viral using people’s birthdays to match them up with with insane sounding ministries, for instance “Minister for the Development of Gantz,” which is what I got, or “Minister for the Protection of Estonia,” which is what someone born on August 31 would be.

  • Writing about the appointment of Orit Farkash to the Strategic Affairs ministry, a ministry with little purpose other than to give someone a job (and which has been shelved and pulled back out according to need over the years) Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid says on Twitter that “the best thing she can do is to close the ministry or merge it with the Foreign Ministry.”
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski writes that the problem isn’t necessarily the sheer number of ministers or how much money they will waste, but the number of ministers in comparison to the size of the parliament, in Israel’s case almost 25 percent of MKs are ministers, and when discounting the opposition, the number is almost half.
  • “When there are so many ministers and deputy ministers, the significance is that there are not enough Knesset members left … who will truly do the parliamentary work they were given a mandate to do,” he writes.
  • In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon says that her issue is the fact that people are being given jobs they have no businesses doing, like Yuli Edelstein, who she says is a nice guy, but who does not have the organizational chops to run a complex operation like the Health Ministry.
  • But the one (possible) appointment that gets her goat most of all is the reported plan to appoint Miri Regev as foreign minister during the government’s second half, comparing her to a grave-digger who will finish the job Netanyahu started in gutting the diplomatic corps.
  • “It’s like Netanyahu looked in the dictionary under the definition of diplomat and said: let’s see who least fits this definition.”

5. Minister of tactless timing: In the meantime, Regev is taking over the Transportation Ministry, and has not wasted any time in firing the ministry’s director-general Keren Terner Eyal, who is on maternity leave, kicking up a storm and showing just how diplomatic she can be.

  • “Even before she entered the post, Miri Regev fires Keren Terner Eyal over the phone,” reports The Marker, though other news sites report that she had already entered the post when she fired Terner Eyal.
  • Channel 12 news reports that Terner Eyal has been a leading name to become director-general of the Treasury, though no formal offer has apparently been made.
  • On Twitter, Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson writes that of course Regev has the right to appoint a director-general she trusts, but there are ways things should be done.
  • “First you go to the office, sit together, explain, listen and maybe give her the option of announcing her resignation on her own to keep her respect intact. A little humanity and compassion — two things Regev, the populist, lost long ago, if she ever had them.”
  • Responding to the criticism, Regev shows a flash of that smooth diplomacy she’ll use in the Foreign Ministry, writing that “bleeding hearts” need to stop “tsk-tsking,” and giving Israeli news sites fodder for an easy slam-dunk headline.

6. Minister of dealing with it: The coronavirus crisis takes a backseat to the political circus, but there is still plenty of coverage.

  • In ToI, Elisheva Stern looks at how women dealing with pregnancy and other issues are navigating the pandemic: “With protocols and recommendations changing daily as the pandemic spread rapidly, answers to simple questions have been hard to find, leading to considerable distress. And while labor, which is clearly not postponable, left women with little choice as to whether to go to the hospital, not all of the affected components of women’s health are as obvious as pregnancy.”
  • “From fertility clinics to mental health centers, the threat and the fear of coronavirus has forced healthcare providers to limit their services. This has left women, from those relying on fertility treatments to conceive to those dealing with sexual assault trauma, largely on their own — forced to adapt, with providers adapting alongside them,” she adds.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that the only real way out of the crisis will be a vaccine, and Israel is liable to end up in the same global scrum as everyone else vying for doses: “Israel will have to make a serious effort to reach a high spot on the list of countries seeking to purchase it when it exists. There have been talks recently between Israel and three different pharma firms working to develop the sought-after vaccine. This situation is really a game of roulette, as it’s not clear which vaccine will actually work, and the price tag for signing a contract up front for the purchase of a million doses is estimated to be about 100 million shekels (about $28.5 million).”
  • Channel 12’s Sivan Rahav Meir, who had been dispatched to the US for the year, attempts to bring the struggles faced by American Jews to an Israeli audience that is already seemingly emerging from the worst of the crisis: “While Israel has started to return to routine, the US is preparing for a much longer and more challenging period, during which the American-Jewish community will need to reinvent itself.”
  • One phenomenon, she notes, is that alongside drive-by weddings, during which the happy couple go on tour and drive by the homes of wellwishers, there are also now drive-by funerals with the hearse making the rounds of the community so people can pay respects while staying at home.
  • “It’s very, very hard. The significance of Jewish life is to be together, at prayer, weddings and funerals,” one community member is quoted telling her.
  • Israelis have their own challenges, like knowing how to wear a mask correctly. Kan reports that with many Israelis refusing actually cover their mouths and nose with a mask, the Health Ministry is considering asking the government to approve new rules that would require one of those plastic sneeze guard welder shield thingies.
  • Boaz Lev, who heads the institute looking into the option, tells the station that “the visor will be a better alternative for Israelis during the hot summer, and also for the elderly and students.”
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