Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday announced the appointment of Professor Avi Simhon as the new head of the National Economic Council, but objections to the economist’s selection soon followed.
The council serves as the prime minister’s top advisory body on all economic matters and is currently headed by Eugene Kandel.
Simhon, a professor of economics at Hebrew University, served on the Trajtenberg Committee tasked with social justice reform in the wake of the 2011 protests.
He formerly worked as an economic adviser to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz when Steinitz served as finance minister.
“I hope I will help the prime minister in advancing important initiatives to fortify the standing of the Israeli economy and improve the welfare of Israeli citizens, and I’m cognizant of the responsibility necessary for the head of the National Economic Council,” Simhon said in a statement.
His pending appointment was protested by several ultra-Orthodox and opposition lawmakers, who railed against him as an economist who “hates the poor.”
Simhon raised hackles in 2010 when he spoke out against immigration from the former Soviet Union, saying Soviet immigrants “were never Jews. Maybe they had some grandfather who was once Jewish. They came here out of economic considerations. If they had the chance to go to a more developed country, they would have gone there.”
He also enraged the ultra-Orthodox the same year when he called on Haredi parents to stop having so many children.
“You need to tell them: ‘It’s irresponsible, you’re doing ill to your children, to your society. A regular person checks how many kids he can afford, and the taxes he pays are transferred to those who have eight kids without being able to support them,” Simhon said at a conference in 2010.
Ultra-Orthodox families in Israel have one more child than the national average, according to 2010 statistics, but earn less than the average income.
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said Saturday night that Simhon’s appointment was “a mistake and inappropriate,” calling him a member of the one percent, the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabat reported.
“Simhon is not only one of those sated people who don’t feel for the hungry and poor, but are even convinced that the poor prevent them from being better fed,” Maklev, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, said. “People of this opinion are selfish, disconnected and cruel.”
Fellow UTJ lawmaker Yisrael Eichler asked the cabinet secretary to tell Netanyahu that Simhon’s appointment was “false counsel” and that Simhon “hates families blessed with children.”
“There’s great anger among the families blessed with children,” Kikar Hashabat quoted Eichler as saying in reference to his ultra-Orthodox constituents. “Netanyahu must demand that Avi Simhon publicly apologize for his abominable remarks against families blessed with children.”
Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich wrote on Twitter that Simhon is “an old-school capitalist full of outdated cliches who hates the poor in general and the ultra-Orthodox in particular.”
Invoking recent findings showing an uptick in poverty in Israel, she called his appointment “an interesting way for @netanyahu to 😂 at us over the poverty report.”
Simhon’s appointment requires the approval of a civil service appointment committee and the cabinet.