This Week’s Guest: Haviv Rettig Gur
In Mosaic’s September 2020 essay, the lauded Israeli journalist Haviv Rettig Gur takes us inside the deepest workings of Israel’s famously fractious political culture. He makes a surprising and thought-provoking case, one that might seem counterintuitive to many Americans: he argues that while the Israeli bureaucracy is unelected, arrogant, and largely unaccountable, it is also an indispensable source of fiscal prudence and market discipline in a political system rife with profoundly distorted incentives.
In this podcast, Gur speaks with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver about his essay. Together the two explore how Israel’s socialist roots still influence contemporary economic debates, the legacy of Israel’s 1980s economic turmoil, and how the budgetary bureaucracy counter-weighs dysfunction elsewhere in Israel’s political system.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.
Excerpt (11:41 – 13:41)
I think maybe the most important thing to know is that the Israeli system of government, its culture, is divided up into two categories of people. And I think this is an important psychological truth about Israeli government generally, and maybe Israeli public life writ large. There are the group of people who are responsible, and the group of people who don’t have to be responsible. The group of people who are responsible are people like the Budgets Department: planners and thinkers and careful professionals who we ask to develop serious policies so that our country can prosper and thrive. And then there’s the political class. The political class isn’t just elected politicians; they’re aides, and there are NGOs, and there’s a whole system. The media is a massive player in the political system. The Israeli media is highly partisan intentionally, as a culture―it’s what it thinks it should be. Activist media is most of the media in Israel. And so it’s this huge ecosystem of conversation and debate that includes the elected politicians, it includes this whole substratum of aides and assistants and appointments and all of these things, and it includes the media.
They aren’t seen as having that responsibility. Their job is to carry on a debate—an angry debate, sometimes an ignorant debate—and then at the end of the debate, they take whatever they’ve agreed to to the budget planners and say, “okay we’ve had this debate, all of our principles are ironed out, we understand what we agree on and what we agree to disagree on. Can we now do this policy that is sort of the middle ground?” And then it goes through the budget planners who say, “well actually this makes no sense,” or they say, “okay let’s do whatever you agreed on.” And then they have that responsible perspective that comes into play. That’s a very cartoonish sketch of how the system works―the budget planners are involved in the debate―but I think it captures how people in the Knesset, from all sides of the divide I just described, see this question.
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