Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jerusalem, June 1967: The bean-counters and the sweep of history

Anyone with a modicum of understanding of Israel's governance will tell you that the most powerful ministry of them all is the Ministry of Finance; and within the MoF, the most powerful department of all is Agaf Hatakzivim, the Budget Division. This may be true in most countries for all I know, though it may not have been true in Israel's early years. (At the very beginning, the budget division seems to have been part of the Prime Minister's Office, not Finance.) So it's of high interest to compare what the MoF folks thought was happening regarding unification of Jerusalem back in the earliest days. Which is why this document is so intriguing.

Pages 2 and 3 are the protocol of a meeting of general managers of ministries who convened in the Ministry of Justice on June 28th 1967 to discuss the governance of East Jerusalem. Page 1, however, gives the protocol its added value: Moshe Sandberg, head of the Budget Division, sent it out on June 29th 1967 to general managers of ministries summarizing the important points of the meeting. The copy we're looking at here was sent to the head of the Ministry of the Interior, one of the larger and more important ministries as it budgets municipalities if they don't generate enough revenue on their own.

Sandberg's directives to the ministries - and directives they were - stand in contrast to much of the verbiage we've already seen about all the improvements Israel was going to make in East Jerusalem, as reported by the Foreign Ministry. Not according to the top bean-counter: Israel would supply the same services supplied by the Jordanians, no more. If anyone wishes to do more, the budget division said, they'll have to submit a detailed plan to us. Moreover, whatever gets done will utilize the existing ministry employees. If a ministry is convinced it needs to hire new officials (an option clearly foreseen in the protocol of the previous day, which Sandberg was writing a corrective covering letter to), it will do so only via the recognized hiring channels of the Office for the Civil Service (Netzivut Sherut Hamedina) - a tried and proven method to slow things down.

Given the paucity of documents we've seen so far, we should be careful to say who was really calling the shots at this stage. The document does however underline a fascinating possible narrative about Israel's control over East Jerusalem, in which different ministries had differing intentions, and the Finance Ministry's intention was to not spend money: not as a matter of Zionist ideology but rather in the universal frame of mind of bean-counters, who don't much like to spend money.

Moshe Sandberg, by the way, was at the time a youngish (41) Holocaust survivor who had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and then went on to a long and illustrious career as one of Israel's top economic figures. To this very day, he's still prominent in restitution matters for Holocaust survivors, though he goes by his latter name, Moshe Sanbar. Important Budget Division figures have a life-long impact on Israeli society.


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