Unity Without Portfolios
The next government will be overstaffed by all standards.
According to indications, 28-30 ministers will serve, along
with another ten deputy ministers, while the coalition will
include no more than 85 Knesset members. The result is that
one-third of Knesset members (40 out of 120), and more than
half of the members of the new coalition (if Knesset
committee heads and the Knesset chairman are added to the
list of jobholders) will hold posts.
During the 1980's a national unity government ruled for six
years in a row. The governments during that period included
even more Knesset members than the government currently
taking shape, but the number of ministerial and other posts
The greatest absurdity is the phenomenon of ministers
without portfolios. Until now, there has never been more
than one minister in the government without a portfolio.
During the abovementioned unity governments, there were
perhaps two ministers without portfolios. This time around
all records will be broken, and all boundaries will be
crossed. No fewer than 5 or 6 ministers will serve in the
incoming government without portfolios, all in the name of
The cost of the new, overinflated government will also reach
monstrous proportions. Every bureau and every minister will
mean millions more shekels. Another minister means another
car, an office, assistants, a director-general, a
secretarial staff, drivers, spokesmen and workers; in short,
a real heyday for favoritism, and of course all these
expenditures will be added onto the public's tab.
By throwing around the magic words "unity government" they
will be able to dip into public coffers, and nobody has yet
voiced any criticism. Not a single word of denunciation has
been uttered, as if the regular critics have contracted
lockjaw and the media pundits--who are normally so
proficient at lodging criticism in such caustic, cutting
terms over every shekel spent on the chareidi sector--have
suddenly turned to stone. Where are all of the pure-hearted
souls, those guardians of the public purse strings?
Barak's government started off with 80 Knesset members,
while Sharon's government is slated to begin with a slightly
higher number of MKs. But during Barak's term in office,
when there was an opposition party, there was a big uproar
when he amended the Basic Government Law to allow the number
of ministers to exceed eighteen, as prescribed by the
existing law at the time. Back then Barak kept the number
down to 23, which was already too many. Yet for Sharon and
his partners, who raised their voices in protest when Barak
expanded his government, even this is not enough.
The Likud has a special interest in seeing as many posts as
possible held by the Labor Party. Every MK who is assigned a
post will devote less energy into undermining the
government. First of all, he won't have the time to spare;
second, he will have responsibilities; and most of all, he
will be reluctant to part with his position, power and
Recently the Opposition Chairman Law was passed in the
Knesset. This law stipulates that the head of the largest
faction in the opposition is entitled to special privileges.
He will have speaking rights during Knesset plenums, the
prime minister will be required to update him and to consult
him periodically, and he will be entitled to material
benefits other MKs do not receive, along with a series of
various additional benefits. This title of honor will be
bestowed upon Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid, who heads a
faction with a total of only ten MKs.
Knesset Legislative Committee chairman, Amnon Rubinstein
(Meretz), is usually a very honest and respectable man.
Usually, but such was not the case last week, when he
behaved in a quite dishonest and hypocritical manner,
defying all of the accepted rules of the game in the
It is hard to accuse Rubinstein of sabotage, since he is not
the saboteur type. Not that Rubinstein is naive, but he
tries to steer clear of game-playing and tries hard to
maintain an unsullied image of integrity and decency, the
antithesis of most politicians.
Two and a half weeks ago Rubinstein issued a press statement
printed on Legislative Committee stationery, in which he
said he would not resign from his job as chairman of the
Legislative Committee, would not give up his seat and would
not allow himself to be removed from his post. He went on to
explain that his removal is unwarranted, since he has been
doing his job impartially, and has been faithful to all
All of a sudden Rubinstein has begun to cling to the chair
and refuses to budge. This would be the first time that a
post as crucial as chair of the Legislative Committee has
not been held by the coalition. Rubinstein is well aware of
this fact (he is not new to the Knesset), but nevertheless
he has decided to hold onto the committee. Where is his
sense of honesty and respectability in the eyes of the
public, and where has all his integrity gone?
Even if this is essentially an attempt to blackmail the
Labor Party, and to make it pay a price for letting
Rubinstein retain the position, it still represents
inappropriate conduct. The Likud signed an agreement with
the Labor Party, granting it the chair of the Legislative
Committee to allow a party member to hold the post, and not
to hand it out to MKs who are not coalition members, and
certainly not to MKs from a left-wing faction like Meretz.
Perhaps in this case Rubinstein has gone along with one of
his seniors in the faction, a seasoned expert in chicanery--
with eloquent words flowing off the tongue while clutching a
dagger in hand--and a glittering past of dismissals and
undermining authority, but this is definitely unlike him.
Former MK, Elie Goldshmidt, before he resigned from the
Knesset and retired from politics entirely, announced that
no matter what happened, if Sharon won, he would abandon the
Finance Committee chair. Rubinstein would be well advised to
have a little chat with him. Maybe he could learn a bit
about etiquette and decorum.
Interior Minister Chaim Ramon stood on the stage at Labor
Party Headquarters last week and was booed repeatedly during
the course of his quite brave speech, as is customary in
At the close of his speech, Ramon tried to justify his
decision not to join the unity government. He claimed that
negotiation leaders had been smeared for arranging
portfolios for themselves and therefore, in order to undo
the slander and to remove all suspicion that he supported a
unity government because he was seeking power, he would
withdraw his candidacy for the post of minister.
With all due respect to Ramon for his remarks, the real
reason for his decision not to join the government is fear
and apprehension that Labor Party Headquarters would not
elect him as minister, and would definitely not give him one
of the senior portfolios. Ramon's cowardice also stems from
a fear of telling the truth about why he is choosing not to
contend for a seat in the government.
Ramon is well acquainted with Labor Party Headquarters and
is aware of his standing there. Ramon knows that
Headquarters is not fond of him, to say the least, and that
he would be certain to lose in secret elections, even for a
position as a Knesset member from the second or third ranks.
Ramon is experienced enough to know better than to put
himself to a test and to subject himself to disgrace.
Finance Minister Beige Shochat also announced that he would
not run. Shochat has no chance of getting elected at the
Labor Party Headquarters either, not even as a minister
without a portfolio. Shochat has no camp and no supporters.
Over the last year and a half he has repeated the word "no"
to everyone who has tried to speak to him, and there is no
reason to think that those same mayors and council heads,
those same lobby heads and sectors that he refused over the
past year, would suddenly decide to help him get elected.
According to the current political map, which consists of
three major parties, Labor, Likud and Shas, something quite
peculiar is taking place. In all three cases, the true
leader is not slated to serve in the next government, and in
some cases, is no longer in the political establishment at
With regard to the Labor Party, with all due respect to
Peres, Vilnai or Dalia Itzik, the real future leaders of the
party are Chaim Ramon, Avraham Burg, and perhaps Yossi
Beilin as well. There is also a group of important figures
associated with the party, primarily people from the capital
and financial markets, who have recently launched an effort
to bring in an outsider to lead the party, someone whose
image is not associated with Knesset intrigues and
rivalries. In this context the name of former justice
minister David Libai, for example, has been mentioned.
All of the above figures, including Burg and Ramon, are not
expected to serve in the next government. Beilin will not
even serve as a Knesset member and Libai is still out of
This strange phenomenon can be seen in the Likud, as well.
The most popular party figure is definitely Binyamin
Netanyahu. Even today, after Sharon has been elected prime
minister, if Netanyahu were to run against Sharon in party
primaries he would win without much of a problem, yet
Netanyahu also remains outside of the government and out of
Meanwhile Shas' party chairman, Eli Yishai, is set to
receive a very high-level portfolio, but the real party
chairman (Arye Deri) is sitting in Massiyahu Jail, and
despite his overwhelming popularity, he would be unable to
participate in politics even if he wanted to. And for anyone
who might remain skeptical as to the real chairman of Shas,
a rally was held at Yad Eliyahu last week, providing a
pointed and unequivocal answer to the question.
Rabbi Moshe Gafni expressed surprise during last Wednesday's
Knesset plenum at the fact that right before the new
government is established and the new ministers assume their
posts, a variety of unusual inquiries have cropped up and
incidents involving incoming ministers are under
investigation--namely the ministers which the institutions
known as the legal establishment are afraid of, and would
very much like to see kept out of positions of power in the
Rabbi Gafni did not mention all of the names, but he was
referring primarily to ministerial appointee Robby Rivlin,
who the legal establishment fears could serve as Justice
Minister, and ministerial nominee Avigdor Liberman, who
struck fear in the hearts of many people just upon hearing
that there was a very slight chance of him being appointed
Internal Security Minister.
In order to torpedo these appointments, it seems that all
means are justified, including leaking information at just
the right moment. Whether the information has been
substantiated or not is of lesser importance if it brings
results, the main point is that right now it serves to
achieve the ends.