Consolidating Israel’s Ministries

All this talk of numbers is distracting. 18 ministers. 4 deputy ministers. 22 ministers. 6 deputy ministers. It’s kind of irrelevant how many ministers Israel has, at least compared to how useful they are.

Making someone a minister is a matter of prestige, but I fail to understand the prestige in a ministry that has absolutely no function. I suppose it makes a bit more sense than the classic “Minister without Portfolio” that was a favorite of Prime Ministers past. It’s also cynical to think the opposition (well, outside Yesh Atid which has been consistent about the issue the last two years) is going to care much about this issue if it finds itself in the government. Eitan Cabel called the idea of reinstating it wasteful, even though he used to be a Minister without Portfolio. But hey, Miri Regev talks like she voted against the Disengagement and she voted in favor, so who cares right?

The issue is practicality. Diaspora Affairs belongs in the Foreign Ministry. Pensioner Affairs should be on the same desk as Welfare. Agriculture and Environmental Protection should be in the same office. Sure they are different categories, but that is why ministries tend to have things called “departments.”

Take a look at other countries around the world. Consider how they get things done. I don’t mean India, which has over 50 ministers. Ask why Germany, the Czech Republic or France come in between 15 and 20. These responsibilities are consolidated in proper offices that would oversee related matters and collaborate strategies and policies to ensure things dovetail well. Split it up and you start a fight.

There is another sort of absurd thing that Israeli governments do: hand multiple ministries to the same person. This might actually be a means to an end though. Imagine that we needed to find some way to transition Israeli politicians and their institutionalized nepotism into a more consolidated government. Imagine if the Foreign Minister was also compelled to have responsibility for Diaspora Affairs (he already does actually to some extent, as people in the Foreign Ministry do actually deal with the Diaspora, making much of the Diaspora Ministry redundant). Perhaps he would have to appoint a Deputy Minister, but in reality a department inside a ministry could just as easily be managed by someone who was not a political appointee but a professional, a strategist and an expert.

Not all countries divide things up the same way. Some countries have particular needs, like a Minister of Oil that would be relevant in a Persian Gulf emirate more so than in the Czech Republic. Israel has such ministries also, like Development of the Negev and Galilee. Still, it should make people wonder why development in those two regions have their own ministry separate from Jerusalem, the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area, or Judea & Samaria (West Bank for you unfamiliar with the term).

Here is a list of ministers that have existed consistently over the last several Israeli governments:

  • Finance
  • Foreign Affairs
  • Defense
  • Interior
  • Justice
  • Economy (Industry and Trade)
  • Education
  • Religious Affairs
  • Energy & Water
  • Environmental Protection
  • Agriculture
  • Immigrant Absorption
  • Pensioner Affairs
  • Public Security
  • Housing & Construction
  • Culture & Sport
  • Science, Tech & Space
  • Tourism
  • Transportation
  • Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy
  • Health
  • Development of the Negev & Galilee (South and North)
  • Communications

Here are a list of minister positions that have been appointed with offices that have not remained consistently open:

  • Home Front Defense (not sure how this isn’t Public Security, both of which also fall within the Interior Ministry)
  • International Relations (no, this is not Foreign Affairs. Yuval Steinitz received this “ministry” in the outgoing government)
  • Regional Cooperation (opened in the 1990s and closed, only to be reinstated in the last government)
  • Strategic Affairs (a gift for Yuval Steinitz – it’s not clear how this wasn’t something that should have been in the Defense Ministry)
  • Intelligence (again, Steinitz in 2013. But, it was first in the hands of Dan Meridor and called “Intelligence and Atomic Energy.” At least they all had something to do with each other)
  • Regional Development (given to Silvan Shalom at the same time as Negev and Galilee. Goes with my point about why separate regions got separate offices)
  • Minorities (There are always discussions about creating special ministries for specific minorities, though that risks institutionalizing their problems and stepping on the feet of offices like Interior and Justice which would deal with bureaucratic and legal issues this new ministry would probably be charged with dealing with)
  • Jerusalem (unless there is a serious effort to restructure the city to deal with three annual religious pilgrimages or a 20-year plan to develop it into a metropolis, there is nothing the ministry should be doing that should not be in the Jerusalem Mayor’s office, or the Foreign Ministry if it is a matter of advocating for the city’s status abroad)

These are ministries or ministers that have existed with the last four governments. Likud has not named all its ministers yet, so some new inventions might be on the way. Regardless, it should be clear to everyone that the multiplicity of offices that have too much in common causes either bureaucratic fighting or confusion or stalemate.

I am not a fan of ‘Deputy Ministers’ either, since that is just politicizing the delegation of work that should go to professionals. Still, let us just assume that there is no issue of efficiency with having political appointees in second tier positions, deputized to ‘bigger’ ministers.

Here is a list of suggested consolidated ministries that would become permanent arrangements in the Israeli government, thereby giving prestige to these offices that might not have existed prior. This is a minimalist idea, trying to consolidate as much as possible.

  • Finance
  • Foreign Affairs: Diaspora Affairs, Regional Cooperation
  • Defense: Intelligence, Strategic Affairs
  • Interior: Welfare: Welfare & Social Services, Pensioner Affairs, Immigrant Absorption; Internal Security: Public Security, Home Front Security; Infrastructure: Transportation, Housing, Communications, Negev & Galilee
  • Justice
  • Religious Affairs
  • Environment: Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Energy, Water
  • Education: Science & Technology, Culture, Sport
  • Economy (Industry & Trade)
  • Tourism
  • Health

Eleven. 11 ministers besides the Prime Minister. If you need deputies, consider what is large enough to have policy impact on, but consider that many ministries have to be in lock-step with each other at all times (Housing and Transportation for example).

Ministries will always have to work together. Things cannot be completely compartmentalized. Justice will always have a say on land allocations for development. Economy will always have a say on the direction of technology or scientific research, as would Health. At the same time, there must be some checks and balances on certain ministries, such as when the Ministry of Environment might have someone who favors agricultural development too much over protecting the environment around farm land. The same for industry.

But the point should be clear. Israel’s ministries can be consolidated. Some of them are already redundant. This should be the direction the country goes, although it looks like Israel might need to wait for a Prime Minister who is inclined toward efficiency than political expediency.

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