Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked spoke at a conference of the Israel Bar Association in Eilat this evening (Monday).
The minister began by quoting a book, saying "the legislative branch is mistakenly perceived as the most central authority and responsible for determining national priorities. I claim the public bureaucracy inherited the primacy and became the central authority with countless powers and authorities, while the legislature became irrelevant in broad areas of life in everything connected with determining policy in practice and its actual execution.
"The legislative branch is supposed to enjoy the broadest base of legitimacy, because it is elected directly by the public and reflects public participation in its composition, but the popular maxim 'who votes - influences' is no longer necessarily true. In any case, it contains an illusion. Most of the crucial decisions regarding distribution of resources in society and formulation of public policy are made every day, every hour, by the public bureaucracy under the guise of neutrality and impartiality by bureaucratic professionals who are perceived as disconnected from the focus of struggles between various interest groups," the minister concluded reading.
She said, "I hope this quote caused you all to squirm uneasily in your chair; it is taken from the book "Bureaucracy in Politics", which came out in 2006 and authored by Ms. Dina Zilber, today Deputy Attorney General and then attorney in the High Court of Justice. At a time when the method of action and decision-making by the bureaucracy brings us to a situation where 'the voter does not influence,' as Zilber points out, the warning bells of our democratic structure are supposed to ring loudly."
Shaked said that the situation is problematic. "In 2017, we often see how officials manage a political agenda under the guise of neutrality and professionalism, and in the name of these values they often struggle to thwart government initiatives, as if they were sitting in the opposition benches and seeking to create a governmental alternative. Some of them even turn to the public in order to recruit it to their struggles. They do this by briefing journalists, leaks, and letters, and recently even in public appearances."
The minister proved her case through an examination of the Civil Service Commission's code of ethics. "There is no better way to demonstrate the lack of commitment of the bureaucracy to serve the policy of the elected echelon, and there is no better way to demonstrate the basis of the bureaucracy's new perception than to examine the ethical code that the Civil Service Commission published last January. An innocent reader who reads the code will probably come out believing that there is no government in Israel. There is a government in Israel, and anyone who views this code with the utmost seriousness may conclude that the role of the bureaucracy is indeed to serve as the trustee of the public and to act directly on its behalf by skipping over the heads of ministers and elected officials. The civil service vision 2017 model takes the political echelon out of the picture. Those chosen by the public and charged to be seen as policy makers on its behalf are irrelevant to the bureaucrat's vision.
"Every time the ethical code implies that the bureaucratic level has an obligation, even to a certain degree, to act to advance the minister's policy, the document immediately emphasizes that the matter should be done 'with respect for the law.' Why? The answer seems clear: The Israeli politician, according to the ethical code, is automatically suspect until proven innocent, of seeking to promote an illegal policy," accused Shaked.
She added that "promoting the minister's policy is the item that appears in the 15th place out of twenty-three points listed in the document. Incidentally, this location places service to promote the minister's policy only a little before the values of 'teamwork', 'service', and 'courtesy'. Meaning, a little higher than 'smile at the customer', according to the new ethical code, one should also implement the policy of the elected echelon."
The Justice Minister noted that "the gap that exists in Israel between the first value of direct loyalty to the public and the last value of helping to advance the elected echelon's policy is precisely the danger: Skipping over the elected officials is a circumvention of the public itself; ignoring the elected officials is tantamount to ignoring the public itself. The bureaucratic attempt to identify the public interest, without the mediation of the one chosen by the public at the ballot box (precisely for this purpose), will always end with the reflection of the bureaucratic 'credo' foisted upon the 'public' in whose name it supposedly acts.
"In two weeks' time," the minister said, "the government will ratify the government's decision that was approved yesterday by the Civil Service Committee and led by my colleague, Minister Yariv Levin ... The decision is the first step in returning the government pendulum to the control of the political echelon in determining the policy of government ministries. Reducing the screening committees in the senior positions in the civil service to three members, and the more active involvement of the minister's representatives in their selection process, as the service committee approved yesterday, as well as the appointment of deputy directors-general of the government ministries as trust positions, greatly strengthen the ministers' ability to implement the policy for which they were elected and that the public who sent them to the ministries wish to see implemented."
The minister concluded her speech by saying, "Strengthening the elected officials is strengthening the mechanism for choosing them, and strengthening the mechanism for choosing them is to strengthen the public itself. I wish that in the coming year we, the elected officials, will be brave enough to return to the public that sent us everything that belongs to it and was taken from it over the years."