Benyamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting
Yoel Esteron*


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.

Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Foreign Minister, watching former Israeli president Shimon Peres shake hand with schoolchildren — Photo: Nir Alon/ZUMA

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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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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