Israel media review

Puff, puff, pass some laws: 6 things to know for May 18

Israel’s turgid new government draws vast amounts of criticism for its sheer puffed up size, with even those trying to defend it unable to pretend it’s anything but bloated

Israel's 35th government holds a cabinet meeting while keeping social distancing regulations at the Knesset, on May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Israel's 35th government holds a cabinet meeting while keeping social distancing regulations at the Knesset, on May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

1. 34 things I hate about your government: If anybody thought the actual swearing in of the 35th government would end the hand-wringing over the enormous currently 34-person cabinet (plus 16 deputies for good measure), they have another think coming.

  • “The closer it got to the swearing in, the 35th government just became more wasteful and distended,” moans Matan Horodov for Channel 13 news, marveling over the invention of new ministries and wastefulness of older ones invented in previous rounds that have stuck around, like Eli Cohen’s Intelligence Ministry “which has no actual intelligence body under it.”
  • The Ynet news site jumps on the number 34 and rustles up 34 regular ol’ non-minister Israelis to ask them what’s got their goat (to the news site’s credit, they include a representative number of Arabs for their vox pop, and even an East Jerusalem Palestinian, who may not be able to vote, but is still under the government’s thumb.)
  • “I’m bothered that we are not getting anywhere close to peace. I’m bothered that the country is slowly losing its values, especially respect for others,” says Carmiel-based guide Rafi Luzon.
  • The Kan news outlet estimates that the ministries it sees as invented or unnecessary will cost Israeli taxpayers NIS 1 billion a year, singling out the regional cooperation portfolio, previously held by Tzachi Hanegbi.
  • “I look at his schedule book from 2019… know what he did,” asks Shaul Amsterdamski. “17 weddings, 8 bar mitzvahs, 7 circumcisions and 4 visits to mourners. He also gave 116 interviews, so one every three days on average, and he had two meetings about a canal project and many meetings with mayors. The budget for his office was NIS 50 million.”

2. Make the pie higher: Beyond the sheer numbers, some see the growth of the government as a symbol of everything (or much) wrong with the incoming government.

  • In Walla news, Amir Oren writes that the government has devalued the role of minister to the point where it is essentially just a glorified MK, with their rank determined by their proficiency at kissing ass: “This is a council of the best of the brown-nosers. There is no significance to their authority, responsibilities or the outlines of their charges. It’s just a degree, without any honor.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page headline reads “They are d-i-s-c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d,” a takeoff on Netanyahu’s famous claim against the media and assorted enemies in 1999 as “a-f-r-a-i-d.”
  • “I wonder if of all the ministers that were sworn in, even one is proud to be a member of this government,” the paper’s Sima Kadmon fumes.
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes, “The ‘emergency’ government ostensibly necessitated by the crisis, mandated to focus in its first few months overwhelmingly on the impact of the pandemic, is emblematic of untrammeled political ego and taxpayer-funded financial excess.”
  • “At any other moment, presented by Netanyahu and Gantz with a government of such manifest extravagance, one might wish a plague on both their houses. At this moment, with the country struggling to recover from the coronavirus while facing fresh and familiar challenges inside and out, we can only wish that they belatedly remember that they are our elected representatives, not prima donnas lording it over us at our direct expense. They are supposed to be the servants, not the exploiters, of the people,” he adds.
  • “To build their Frankensteinish monster, Netanyahu and his new groupie Gantz undermined the foundations of government by tearing ministries to pieces, artificially tearing away divisions and departments, spawning countless and costly ministerial bureaus, advisers and personal drivers and setting up myriad ministries in charge of nada, nothing and gurnischt combined – with no one blocking their way and nary a protest,” writes Chemi Shalev in Haaretz.

3. Just keep ministering: Kan presenter Keren Neubach says on Twitter that she is bothered by the fact that not a single MK had the cojones to stand up and say they would not be part of the ministraganza: “Nobody said I’m not interested. I won’t take a tenth of a portfolio that was torn from its original ministry just so I would have a title, and a secretary and a car. I pass. I’ll be a Knesset member and serve the parliament from there. Yes, yes, the fact that 99 percent of Blue and White didn’t even do it because they were thrown straight into service as minister of whatever.”

  • She adds that it’s not only embarrassing for Israelis, but for the ministers as well, pretending that being minister of higher education and water is a normal thing.
  • In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea gives an inkling of what may be going through politicians’ heads and why they are willing to put up with looking silly as they scramble for government crumbs. Barnea says one politician pointed to an axiom from late prime minister Ariel Sharon, who knew that whether you are winning or losing, the most important thing is that you are in the game.
  • “Politics is just a big wheel. Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down. But no matter what you do not leave the wheel. They are ready to pay any price: demotions, shameful titles, being the butt of jokes online, periods hanging on to fictive ministries, the important thing is to stay on the wheel,” he writes.

4. Looking for sliver linings: In contrast to pretty much every other publication, Israel Hayom is broadly gung-ho about the government, and then some.

  • “A victory for unity,” reads one of the paper’s main headlines.
  • As pointed out by the Seventh Eye media watchdog, while the front page has a picture of Netanyahu and Gantz, it’s only Gantz’s back you see, a subtle reminder that they may both be prime minister, but Netanyahu remains the primest minister.
  • Nonetheless, columnist Amnon Lord finds praise for Gantz, who he says has grown into a real leader with big boy pants, and says the government’s makeup isn’t only a product of sycophancy but also the need for Likud to push hawks as a counterweight to Blue and White.
  • “Despite the conventional bias by analysts, the makeup of the cabinet is influenced by political necessity within Likud, but even more by forethought,” he writes.
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur also says the pundits got it wrong, pointing at that the problem isn’t the sheer number of agencies or ridiculous titles, but the attendant shuffling of important programs and agencies between offices, which ends up hurting their ability to serve taxpayers.
  • He points to Orly Levy-Abekasis’s new Ministry for Strengthening and Advancing Community as one example: “To construct the ministry, and to allow her to pretend its existence is justified, vital programs had to be sacrificed on the altar of Levy-Abekasis’s political reputation. The City Without Violence program, a collaboration of the welfare and public security ministries that sends social workers into high-crime areas to help develop community policing programs, was unplugged from its administrative home and handed to Levy-Abekasis. It was thus detached administratively from the two agencies that built it and must still implement it on the ground: the social workers assigned by the Welfare Ministry and the police units assigned to it by the Public Security Ministry.”
  • Writing for Channel 12 news, Israel Democracy Institute head Yohanan Plesner sees some rays of hope in the government.
  • “A government like this can maintain a long-term democratic ‘cease-fire’ and take advantage of the parliamentary backing to pass a Basic Law like one that will organize the standing of Basic Laws and the checks and balances between authorities to bolster amendments that will contribute to stability to prevent chaotic scenarios with frequent elections.”

5. Stabbed by shards of the glass ceiling: Even Israel Hayom’s Yehuda Shlezinger admits that the government is too big, but he writes that he takes heart in all the walks of life that can fit in that big tent.

  • “If we put the embarrassment aside for a moment – we shall see that this government offers a particularly hopeful message. It will be the most representative and diverse government in Israel’s history – one that, perhaps for the first time since the state’s establishment, includes nearly all of the movements, genders, ethnic groups, and opinions that make up Jewish-Israeli society,” he writes, casually leaving out Arabs, since they only make up one fifth of the population and thus apparently don’t really count.
  • But it’s true, there are a few women swimming in the sea of white men in suits. With a rash of domestic violence reports, including several murders over the last weeks, somehow the existence of a few women (8 to be sure) in the intumescent coalition isn’t reassuring to Labor MK Meirav Michaeli, who tells Army Radio, “Instead of enacting the conclusions of a report on fighting violence against women, they are creating ministries empty of any substance.
  • Meirav Betito writes in Yedioth that of the eight women in the cabinet, only one has a real serious job, Miri Regev, who by no coincidence has a military background, just like the big boys, and who will sit in the high-level security cabinet.
  • “The rest will be outside the places where decisions are made, somewhere in women’s annex, forced to soldier on silently,” she writes.

6. The Bibi always wins: The final, merciful end of over 500 days of political uncertainty also gives pundits a chance to look back at the last year and a half to try and figure out what just happened. The consensus: Netanyahu won again.

  • “A week before his trial, he won the confidence of the Knesset for the fifth time to be premier,” writes Kan’s Yoav Karkovsky. “There is no strong political alternative to him. Sure, there’s now an expiration date on his term, but if anyone actually believes this rotation will happen, please stand up.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that with his latest trick, Netanyahu is closer than even to turning himself into the leader of a powerful executive branch, with all the stability that comes with it, rather than just a prime minister beholden to the whims of backbenchers and the like.
  • “Netanyahu is happy to split ministerial powers ad infinitum and ad minimum. The more ministers, the more insignificant they become,” he writes. “Netanyahu wants to make his ministers a laughingstock, his cabinet and the Knesset as irrelevant as possible, because he has long desired to transform the Israeli political system into a presidential one. And since he has little chance of doing that through legislation, he has created a de facto presidential administration where every other political institution – the Knesset, the cabinet and parties, including Likud – have all been diminished.”
  • Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi writes that everything Netanyahu has been up to over the last three elections was aimed at one goal only, making sure he avoids the long arm of the law as he heads to trial.
  • “Everything emanates from the three indictments, including his government appointments and handing out ministries and titles, which became a national joke. It all could have been different if not for the trial,” he writes. “Now Netanyahu needs more help. The Likudniks get the message, after the ministerial appointments. The battle over the court system will only get worse. Pay attention to the protests outside the Jerusalem courthouse on Sunday, and to more material that will come out against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.”

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