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Feb 17, 2013

Ministry of Health in Sectorial or National hands

Yoel Hasson, a former MK from Kadima who switched to The Tzippi Livni Party (a.k.a. Hatnua) but did not make it into the Knesset, is handling the coalition negotiations for Hatnua. Hasson told Yediot Achronot in an interview for the Friday newspaper that Hatnua wants some positions besides for the stated senior ministry being involved in the diplomatic efforts for peace.

Hasson said that Hatnua is eyeing the Ministry of Health - he said, "the time has come that the Health Ministry will be in the right hands.. It seems illogical, but the time has come that the Health system will be in the hands of someone who sees the general picture and does not just work in this field in a sectorial fashion."

It does not matter to me who gets the Ministry of Health, but Hasson's implied accusation against Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is ridiculous. As you surely know, Litzman ran the Health Ministry as a Deputy Minister, due to UTJ's reluctance to accept full ministerial positions. PM Benjamin Netanyahu was officially the Health Minister, but he gave Litzman full power as a minister despite being only deputy minister.

Litzman, by all accounts, ran a good ministry. He took a ministry that was considered mostly dead weight, a minor portfolio by the best accounts, and activated it in a way that it hasn't been in decades. He turned things around, he freshened things up, he made changes, and Litzman turned the Ministry of Health into a desirable portfolio. Implying that Litzman acted in a sectorial fashion is ridiculous and unfounded. Hasson has the right to demand the Health Ministry - it does not belong to Litzman or UTJ automatically, but there is no need to imply that Litzman did not act in good faith while in that position.

In addition to that, I was curious and did some research. I was curious to see for how long the Ministry of  Health has been in "sectorial hands" that it is suddenly time for someone with a broader perspective to run the ministry. My research was not exactly intensive - it entailed finding the Wikipedia page for the Ministry of Health and perusing the chart of all the Ministers of Health throughout Israel's history.

There have been 31 Ministers of Health since Israel's inception. Let's only look at 30, not including the last MoH - Benjamin Netanyahu who let his deputy minister, Yaakov Litzman, run the ministry. Of the remaining 30 ministers:

  • the previous 4 ministers, going backwards to 2006, were a minister from the Pensioners party, two from Kadima (Hasson's own party), and then one from the Likud. Not quite overwhelmingly sectorial. And, by the way, one of those from Kadima was Ehud Olmert.
  • of the 30, 7 were from the Likud (add 1 more from the General Zionists Party which much later was one of the parties to merge and form the Likud), 7 were from Labor (and 2 more were from Mapai and Mapam, who both later merged with the Labor Party), 4 were from the Zionist party under different names of Mafdal, United Religious List (made up by the religious zionists and the aguda and Poalei Agudas Yisrael), and Hapoel Mizrachi, and 3 times it was held by Shas. Twice more the Ministry of Health was held by ministers associated with the Labor Party, though the two ministers were not MKs at the time. And once it was held by the short-lived party call "Mifleget HaMerkaz".
    This list of who held the ministry in the past does not seem to indicate that the ministry has been long-held by sectorial hands and it is about time for it to be controlled by someone with a broader perspective. Most of the time through Israel's history the health ministry was held by national rather than sectorial parties.
  • Technically, Litzman, if UTJ should join the coalition, and if they again will only be willing to take deputy minister positions, could theoretically remain deputy minister of health, and work under whomever is appointed the Minister of Health the same way he worked with Netanyahu as the full minister. Obviously the position might be less attractive, as he would not hold overall responsibility under a real minister the way he did under Netanyahu, and he also would not have the freedom to work in full capacity, but would really only be the deputy the title gives him instead of just being a deputy in title with full ministerial responsibilities.
To sum up, I am saying Litzman did a very respectable job in the Ministry of Health. While Hasson might want that ministry for Hatnua, there is no need to demand it on the basis of Litzman acting sectorial in his position. That is demeaning and accusing Litzman of working in a way that just did not happen. Hasson can demand the position just like any party can demand reallocation of ministries despite them being successfully run in the past under previous management. That is how coalition negotiations  and forming new governments with new coalition partners, work.

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