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Misconception 9:
Politically Motivated Appointments Improve Governance

For years we’ve been told that the government needs to have more power to do its job effectively. On October 7 we discovered that we are a strong nation with a remarkable civil society—but with a government incapable of restoring and rebuilding what was destroyed.

July 2016

Culture Minister Miri Regev: “What’s the point of a public broadcaster if we don’t control it? The minister has to be in charge. What—we should provide the money and then they broadcast whatever they want?”

October 2016

  Ayelet Shaked in “The Path to Democracy and Governance”: “A necessary condition for good governance is the ability to carry out objectives as defined, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition: good governance is measured first and foremost by the ability of government ministers to set the objectives themselves.”

October 2017

 The Government gives its approval to Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin’s “Jobs Law,” which would turn deputy director generals into political appointees and give politicians control of the search committees to fill senior positions.

December 2018

Netanyahu and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan do not extend the term of the Police Commissioner, Roni Alsheikh, because of the ongoing Netanyahu investigations. No permanent replacement is named for two years, during which the force is seriously weakened.

July 2019

 The coalition taps Matanyahu Englman as the new State Comptroller. When he takes up the job he announces that oversight is a “management tool” and says “you don’t have to intervene in everything.” He avoids real-time criticism of government actions, tells his people to include “positive statements” in their reports, and shuts down the anti-corruption unit.

December 2019

  Miri Regev: “We were elected to govern, not to be puppets of the bureaucratic regime.” In June 2023, six months after the civil service appointments committee rejected his candidacy, Regev appoints Moshe Ben-Zaken, her former chief of staff and organizer of the Likud party jamboree, as director general of the Transport Ministry.

March 2023

  40% of civil servants believe that promotions are no longer based on professional considerations. A fifth of positions are not filled, 71 senior posts have temporary or acting incumbents, and there is a 30% decline in the number of applicants for government jobs.

June 2023

  Minister Dudi Amsalem fires the head of the Anti-Racism Unit in the Ministry of Justice and the chairman of the Postal Authority and tries to dismiss the director of the Government Corporations Authority because they are showing too much independence and in order to permit him to replace them with his buddies. In August he asks an interviewer, “Who should I appoint? I propose people I know.”

September 2023

 The National Security Ministry, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, is falling apart. The director general resigns, citing disagreements with the minister. In November a deputy director general quits because of the “assault on proper administration”; the acting director general, too, leaves in the wake of a petition against his tenure. In December, the head of the Firearms Licensing Unit quits to protest Ben-Gvir’s policy for the wholesale distribution of weapons.

October 2023

Chief Justice Esther Hayut reaches mandatory retirement age. For the first time since independence, the Justice Minister, eager for a chief justice of his own choice instead of the default candidate, Yitzhak Amit, refuses to allow appointment of a permanent successor.

October 2023

After the Hamas onslaught on October 7 and the outbreak of the war, Israel is devastated by a national disaster: around 1,200 murdered and thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands evacuated from their homes, and hundreds of thousands of reservists called to active duty. With most ministries proving unable to cope with the crisis, the result is total chaos.

November 2023

 State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman:  “The Government has failed in its handling of the home front.” Liora Shimoni, a senior official in his office: “What we find on the ground, time after time, is a huge failure, a huge fiasco. There is a loss of confidence in the government.”

On October 7, Israel imploded into a national crisis, perhaps the most severe in its history. In addition to the trauma of the massacre, the hundreds abducted, and the bloody fighting that ensued, citizens are now forced to deal with a no less serious problem: a public service in tatters and public officials unsuited for dealing with the crisis. Since October 7, despite the need for rebuilding, Israelis are confronted by government ministries that have melted away, ministers who remain silent, and professional systems that have collapsed. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman—whom Netanyahu appointed in order to prevent criticism of the government and who had refrained from investigating corruption—nevertheless concluded that “the government has failed in its handling of the home front.” Liora Shimoni, a senior official in his office who oversees home front matters, said that “what we find on the ground, time after time, is a huge failure, a huge fiasco. We see the most extreme disorganization, things we never believed could happen. There is a loss of confidence in the government—you keep waiting for them to show up but never see them.”

Since October 7, despite the need for rebuilding, Israelis are confronted by government ministries that have melted away, ministers who remain silent, and professional systems that have collapsed.

The wreck of the public services is the result of the overhaul of the civil service, which the rightwing governments of the past decade have pursued under the misleading slogan of “governance.” The goal is to make public services more political and less neutral, subject to the whims of elected officials—ministers and Knesset members. “A necessary condition for good governance is the ability to carry out objectives as defined, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition,” wrote former justice minister Ayelet Shaked in her 2016 article, “The Path to Democracy and Governance. “Good governance is measured first and foremost by the ability of government ministers to set the objectives themselves.”

To this end Shaked, Yariv Levin, and other rightwing figures pushed a series of ideas related to the appointment of public officials and their freedom of maneuver, such as eliminating search committees and making senior ministry positions—including deputy director generals and legal advisors—political appointees. Although most of these initiatives were thwarted, the new norm was that only persons close to or politically loyal to the minister receive such positions. Cronies are preferred to professionals, and unqualified persons are appointed to sensitive posts and even as gatekeepers.

The wreck of the public services is the result of the overhaul of the civil service, which the rightwing governments of the past decade have pursued under the misleading slogan of “governance.” The goal is to make public services more political and less neutral, subject to the whims of elected officials—ministers and Knesset members.

At the same time, rightwing figures have been conducting a brutal campaign against the professional echelon, denounced as “government by bureaucrats” and the “deep state.” Oversight agencies are slammed as working against the country. In 2019 Naftali Bennett, then a minister in Netanyahu’s government, called to “release the IDF from the High Court of Justice so that the IDF can defeat Hamas.” Miri Regev explained, “We were elected to govern, not to be puppets of the bureaucratic regime.” Not long ago Galit Distel-Atbaryan complained that during her short tenure as Information Minister, “I couldn’t move the pen from one side of the desk to the other, because the legal advisor wouldn’t let me.”

Wrecking the public service became a political tenet on the right, the natural privilege of elected officials. Or, to quote MK Ariel Kelner of the Likud, shortly after October 7: “The government has the right to make unsuitable and bad appointments.”

Over the last decade, Likud ministers have carried exercise of this “right” to the extreme. “What’s the point of a public broadcaster if we don’t control it?” asked Miri Regev in 2016. Following this logic, when Regev became Transport Minister she appointed her good friend, Likud activist Moshe Ben Zaken, as ministry director general, even though he had no experience that suited him for the position; Likud activist Yigal Amedi as chairman of the board of the Netivei Ayalon Corporation; and attorney Elad Bardugo, the nephew of media personality Yaakov Bardugo, as Netivei Ayalon’s legal advisor. During the current war, Regev’s Transport Ministry stood out primarily for its cancellation of weekend public transportation lines that served soldiers on active duty.

Minister Dudi Amsalem, who is in charge of government corporations, recently screamed at interviewers who had the audacity to ask why he had made use of his authority to appoint unqualified political buddies to key positions. “Who should I appoint? I propose people I know.” Amsalem took steps to dismiss the director of the Government Corporations Authority, Michal Rosenbaum, because of her opposition to improper appointments and decisions, and fired other senior officials, such as Mishael Vaknin, the chair of the Postal Authority, and the head of the Anti-Racism Unit in the Ministry of Justice, Adv. Aveka Zana. In all these cases, the underlying motive was to replace independent professionals with persons who would be beholden to the minister.

Wrecking the public service became a political tenet on the right, the natural privilege of elected officials. Or, to quote MK Ariel Kelner of the Likud, shortly after October 7: “The Government has the right to make unsuitable and bad appointments.”

But the area most closely identified with the appointment of unqualified, unprofessional, and unsuitable persons, solely on the basis of their political loyalties, has been the Prime Minister’s immediate circle. Suffice it to mention the long list of officials who have passed through the Prime Minister’s office and bureau in recent years, leaving when suspected of wrongdoing, facing criminal charges, or associated with some scandal. Chief of Staff Natan Eshel departed after accusations of sexual harassment; bureau head Gil Shefer was questioned about an indecent act; legislative advisor Perach Lerner confessed to a breach of discipline; her husband, bureau head David Sharan, was a suspect in the submarine affair, as was Netanyahu’s personal attorney and cousin, David Shimron; bureau head Ari Harrow was suspected of criminal activity and turned state’s witness in the cases against Netanyahu; Shlomo Filber, appointed director general of the Communications Ministry by Netanyahu in 2015, after running the Likud election campaign that year, also turned state’s witness.

The current director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yossi Shelley, won the post thanks to his membership in the Likud and management of the party’s last election campaign. This year Netanyahu tried to appoint him to head the Central Bureau of Statistics, despite his total lack of a relevant professional background. Since the start of the war, serious allegations of dereliction of duty have been raised against Shelley and the office he runs. After the massacre on October 7, Shelley blamed it on those who attended the rave party in Re’im, hundreds of whom were murdered that day, and compared the delay in identifying bodies to a “line in the supermarket.”

In recent years, the area most closely identified with the appointment of unqualified, unprofessional, and unsuitable persons has been the Prime Minister’s immediate circle.

Were all this not enough, in some cases the government has left important positions vacant for months on end, to avoid having to wrestle with an appointment that would displease the politicians. Two years passed without a permanent Commissioner of the Israel Police. Right now, the Supreme Court is without a president, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin is deliberately deferring the appointment of a successor to retired Chief Justice Esther Hayut.

As a result, the public’s ability to monitor government actions or protect against them has been sharply reduced. Beyond that, however, the practice strikes a deep and grievous blow at the public service, seriously undermines citizens’ trust in government, and constricts the ability of professional civil servants to do their jobs properly, even as it makes politicians more extreme and more corrupt. This year alone there has been a 30 percent drop in applications for positions with the government. Those still employed there are forced to comply with their political bosses’ shady demands in order to keep their jobs. A conspicuous example relates to the Israel Police. After years when Netanyahu did everything he could to weaken the force, it fell into the clutches of Itamar Ben-Gvir, a convicted supporter of terrorism. This shattered system has done everything it could to please him, including risking citizens’ lives by distributing weapons to all comers with a free hand.

The practice strikes a deep and grievous blow at the public service, seriously undermines citizens’ trust in government, and constricts the ability of professional civil servants to do their jobs properly,

On October 7, it became clear that after years of a fierce campaign aimed at smashing and starving it, the public service is no longer able to run the country. When the professional echelon is increasingly filled by unqualified political appointees, the state can no longer function—not in normal times and certainly not in an emergency. The right-wing’s hunger for “governance” has produced hundreds of thousands of Israelis in desperate need of assistance but left to their own devices to fill the vacuum where the state should be.