Israel Pulse

Eyes roll in Tel Aviv at Netanyahu's one-man band

Article Summary
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quick to appropriate the achievements of his ministers, and the habit has become a running joke in political circles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office published a document on April 5 detailing the achievements of various government ministries compared with the goals they set for themselves for 2016. For five years, the Israeli government has published these goals as part of its annual plans. This year, at the direction of the prime minister, data on progress toward them was also published for the first time.

Two failures made headlines. The first was the public’s low participation in “buyer’s price,” the flagship low-cost housing program of Kulanu chairman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that reached only 42% of the goal set by the Housing Ministry. Only 6,343 qualified people bought reduced-price homes through the program, compared to a planned 15,000. While Yoav Galant heads the Housing Ministry, the program itself is unequivocally associated with the finance minister, for better or for worse.

The second news item concerns the Ministry of Transportation, headed by Yisrael Katz. It seems that the number of fatalities in traffic accidents was 12.2% higher than the goal the ministry set for itself (377 instead of 336 lives lost).

The prime minister’s report includes many successes for these two ministries, as well. The Finance Ministry, for instance, had a surplus of 1 billion shekels ($273 million) in revenue compared to its goal and a budget deficit lower than the goal, but all the same, it was the negative news that caught the public’s eye. Senior Kulanu and Transportation Ministry officials felt that it was not coincidental that the prime minister’s office distributed the report. Katz and Kahlon are two popular and admired ministers among the general public for their professional achievements, and it’s a poorly kept secret that the prime minister is uneager to praise popular ministers in his government. Rather, he has been caught time and again taking the credit for their achievements.

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In a message attached to the document, the prime minister noted, “Not all the goals can be fully achieved in a short period, but we aren't losing sight of the goal.”

Frustrated government ministers find quite a lot of humor in Netanyahu’s reluctance to commend them for their achievements and his tendency to take credit for those achievements. Only last week there were several instances when the prime minister appropriated the finance minister’s achievements for himself while demonstrably ignoring Kahlon’s contribution to these successes.

On April 3, at the conclusion of the political crisis between Kahlon and Netanyahu around the public broadcasting corporation, the two stood onstage together in the town of Beit Shemesh to inaugurate a major housing initiative. The effort to lower housing prices is the flagship of the Finance Ministry, but Netanyahu, as is his habit, appeared at the event. To Kahlon and his staff’s astonishment, the finance minister was cut out of the photo of the event taken by the government press office. The one distributed by the prime minister’s office showed only Netanyahu.

Kahlon wasn’t mentioned in the prime minister’s Facebook post, even in passing: “Today we signed an umbrella agreement to build 17,000 more new housing units in Beit Shemesh — and thus we’ll double the city’s population. We continue to build the State of Israel.” The finance minister was of course missing from the accompanying photo.

In another post for his many Facebook followers, Netanyahu announced, “The unemployment rate continues to fall and it’s the lowest it’s been in the past decade. More good news for Israel’s economy!” A good word for the finance minister? In Netanyahu’s world, successes belong only to him, and this attitude contributed to the tense atmosphere in the broadcasting corporation crisis. In one of their conversations during the crisis, Kahlon told him that for successes, he always appears, “but you always disappear when there is trouble.” The finance minister was referring to how Netanyahu stole credit for the decision to lower taxes following significant collection surpluses.

The energetic Katz also has firsthand experience with Netanyahu’s methods. Netanyahu always arrives at every unveiling of a big new interchange. In every post the prime minister writes about the flourishing of national projects at the Transportation Ministry, he forgets to mention Katz.

In February, when Katz introduced the new machine that would dig the subway tunnels in Tel Aviv, one of his associates was heard mocking Netanyahu. “In a few months, when the digging progresses, Bibi will probably pop out of the tunnel, make [Katz] disappear and say everything is thanks to him,” the associate told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

There are other regular victims of credit theft, even among the ministers close to Netanyahu. Last May the government held a meeting to authorize the natural gas outline. Netanyahu praised Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz for his work, then let him speak. What happened next was simply embarrassing. Netanyahu expected compliments and thanks from the minister, and when they didn’t come he turned to him with a leading question: “Maybe there was something else that contributed to it?” Steinitz didn’t understand what the prime minister was getting at, and spread praise around to a variety of actors who worked on the issue. Netanyahu lost patience and turned to Steinitz again, this time with a far less subtle hint: “Maybe there was something else? Maybe the prime minister played a role?”

The man who once so highly praised the communication minister that he told his other ministers to “be Kahlons” has become an all-out credit thief. Beyond the folklore that has evolved around his inability to commend anyone else's work, the habit is strongly indicative of the soured relations between Netanyahu and his senior partners in the Likud and the government.

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Found in: yuval steinitz, yisrael katz, moshe kahlon, israeli politics, kulanu, likud, benjamin netanyahu

Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse and formerly the senior political correspondent for Maariv and Haaretz. She also presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel. On Twitter: @mazalm3

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