Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Adar 5761 - March 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

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 was lower.

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 unity.

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 influence.

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 Knesset.

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 factions.

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 that building.

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 all.

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 politics.

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 politics.

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 government.

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.

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