Benyamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting
Benyamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting
Yoel Esteron*

-OpEd-

TEL AVIV — Who would have thought that we'd miss Avigdor Lieberman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Well, we don't really miss him, but unlike Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Lieberman at least understood the importance of good relations with the United States.

So sure that relations with the U.S. are "excellent," she will no doubt proceed to lecture Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as European foreign ministers, about where they are mistaken. Moreover, if one of them, or any foreign male guest, tries to shake hands with her, she will have to refrain in accordance with the Orthodox Jewish custom of Negiah, which forbids physical contact with a member of the opposite sex who are not close relatives.

Hotovely’s appointment is hardly an exception in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed government. There are some ministers who fit naturally into their offices (finance, defense and health, for example). But most of the cabinet members seem ill-equipped for the offices they are serving. Some are even hostile towards their offices. It's not so much a national government as an oppositional one.

Below all expectations

Expectations for the new government weren't very high to begin with, but Netanyahu has still somehow managed to underwhelm them. There are very good people in his Likud political party, but the prime minister has decided to push them away, or to humiliate them, or both.

Aryeh Deri, leader of ultra-Orthodox Shas party who wanted to head the Interior Ministry, had to settle for the Ministry of Economy, an important department but not so valuable in his eyes. And, of course, there is his utter lack of policy expertise in industry and exports, which is problematic.

Meanwhile, Ayelet Shaked won't be the first Justice Minister without a legal background. But after her multiple statements hostile to the Supreme Court and the Attorney General, it appears her appointment won't serve the legal and judicial system well. The campaign promises Netanyahu made not to hurt the Supreme Court are probably about as bankable as all of his other ones — which is to say, they're worthless.

Naftali Bennett, the newly appointed head of the Education Ministry, is completely unsympathetic to the liberal values of the secular educational system. Yet this leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party is now charged with Israel's most important education job.

Past Israeli governments have certainly had some unworthy ministers, those who didn't fit their roles and even some who were hostile to their offices, but Israel has never before had a government an adversarial as this one. Traditionally, ministers have fought one other over competing interests and priorities, but in Netanyahu's fourth government, they will challenge their own offices.

This government will not attack Iran, but instead itself and its own citizens. As for the peace process, there's no point in fantasizing. This is Israel’s 34th government. Indeed, having to form a new government every two years is deadly for stability. Netanyahu is right that there's a problem with this system. But the bigger problem right now is him.

*Yoel Esteron is the founder and publisher of Calcalist. He also used to be the editor of Haaretz.

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