Budget Head Resigns in Anger

Outgoing head of the Finance Ministry’s budget department, Shaul Meridor. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Finance Ministry’s budget department quit in anger Sunday, charging that professional considerations have been swamped by politics.

“I can’t lend a hand to poor conduct taking place in recent months, which all Israeli citizens will pay a heavy price for in the coming years,” Shaul Meridor wrote in a 3-page letter of resignation to Finance Ministry Yisrael Katz, according to the Walla news site.

Meridor said it was “impossible” for him to continue under the circumstances, accusing senior officials of being guided by “narrow interests,” and condemned the “blatant contempt for staff work” by the politicians.

“To my regret, you don’t allow me and other public servants in other wings of the ministry to do what we know how to do,” he wrote to Katz. “The message to the business sector, citizens of this country and to the world is that all principles are broken. All limits and boundaries, as well as [moral] values [are] crushed under foot.

Among other issues, Meridor objected to the Check for Every Citizen plan approved by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Katz, aimed at easing the financial hardships of citizens, stating that “this [plan] will turn us into Venezuela.”

Relations between Meridor and Katz had been strained for a long time, and Katz had at least once threatened to fire him during a particularly loud confrontation.

The resignation created ripples in higher echelons, more so than the usual bureaucratic spat. President Reuven Rivlin expressed his concern:

“Shaul is a first-class professional and one of the most dedicated civil servants I had the privilege to work with in recent years,” Rivlin said in a statement. “In these days, more than ever, Israel needs a professional and strong public bureaucracy that works together with the elected echelon to save the people and the country from the serious crisis that has befallen the entire world.”

Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz also took it as a national loss: “Shaul Meridor is a professional, dedicated and experienced person who contributed greatly to the Israeli economy in the framework of his role,” he tweeted. “He did this in a complicated economic period and his departure is unfortunate.”

Katz was not in the mood to share the regretful mood. He shot back that it was Meridor who had been acting out of “narrow political interests” and faulted him for publicly criticizing his economic policies. He called the resignation a “right and necessary move,” and said he will appoint a replacement as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Katz caught flak from Likud MK Nir Barkat, who said he should resign as Finance Minister.

On Sunday morning, Katz accused Barkat of seeking to undermine both him and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and told Kan Radio that Barkat had been the worst Mayor in Yerushalayim’s history.

“He is the last person who can scold anyone or teach anyone anything about economics,” Katz said. “We should be judged by what we did for the public. Over the past decade, I oversaw a complete turnaround on land, air and sea that the entire country sees. He failed over the past 10 years, making Yerushalayim into Israel’s poorest city. So how can he dare to talk about the economy?”

Barkat then came on the air to answer Katz, warning that the latter’s policies would lead to the Likud losing power, and said that he hoped Netanyahu would realize that another post needs to be found for Katz.

“He needs to quit immediately,” Barkat said. “This job is a few sizes too big on him.”

The two have been at each other’s throats for some time. Barkat was originally reported as Netanyahu’s candidate to head the Finance Ministry, but Katz got the job instead.

Updated Sunday, August 30, 2020 at 2:55 pm .