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To Slay the Beast

Note to Naftali Bennett: Fight red tape, not Rabbis for shemittah


Good political sound-bites are fated to end their mortal days in the cliché graveyard. But there are times when even a tired and worn attack line is still the most accurate description of what’s going on.

That’s the stage that the Israeli government has reached, less than two months after coming into being. To say that the so-called “healing government” headed by Bennett-Lapid is actually anything but is the stuff of a thousand right-wing tweets — but it’s true nonetheless.

The broad coalition was meant to set aside thorny ideological issues and focus on getting governing back on track after a two-year hiatus caused by endless elections. But its actual record so far reads like a left-liberal wish-list on religious reform, environmental protection, and anti-Netanyahu legislation, rather than a serious attempt to find common ground.

That’s a pity. Because for any Israeli government looking to adopt a nonpartisan manifesto that could win support from all Israelis, there’s one oven-ready, as Boris Johnson might say.

It involves an undertaking that only the most stout-hearted sabra could contemplate; a task before which generations of Israeli politicians, including many battle-hardened military men have quailed. The mission is no less than slaying the fearsome, hydra-headed monster known in Hebrew as birokratiyah (red tape, in English.)

To label the country’s tangle of local and national regulations, ordinances and edicts any other way is to underestimate the ravening ferocity of the beast.

Anyone who’s had to deal with Israeli bureaucracy knows that to get caught in its maw is no joke.

Government departments, local authorities, and hospitals often still demand communication by fax, despite the fact that fax machines are now displayed mostly in the country’s science museums.

Or try getting hold of someone to speak to. A recent call to the Transport Ministry’s emergency helpline promised a response within 24 hours. It eventually came, ten days later.

Then there is the ordeal of departments such as the Interior Ministry. A few weeks ago, I found myself, along with dozens of other English-speakers, outside a department branch applying for visas for relatives who wanted to visit from overseas.

The fact that you couldn’t simply book an appointment by phone or online — instead having to sign up at 7:30 a.m. in person — was one thing. Then it turned out that only if you came around 6 a.m. and quite literally davened vasikin outside could you get on the unofficial list, which was later transcribed (by hand) at 8 a.m. to the official list. At least, I thought to myself, asylum seekers from South Tel Aviv have left-wing NGOs to lobby for them; pity the average citizen who has no such recourse.

Bureaucratic ham-fistedness is part of a Tale of Two Israels. There’s the shiny, advanced, high-tech innovation Israel. And there’s the slothful, Middle Eastern, inept and Soviet-era Israel.

The political opportunity to take the lessons learned in the high-tech sector and whip the country’s bureaucracy into shape is there for the taking. Any government that tackles the Deep State of incompetent administration will have a lot of grateful voters.

But so far, the Bennett-Lapid government prefers to lob grenades in the Knesset, rather than brave the bureaucratic beast in its lair.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 872)


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