PM’s office in chaos

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 18, 2009
Netanyahu’s speech worked only because he wrote it himself

Netanyahu’s speech worked only because he wrote it himself

After only two-and-a-half months in power, Binyamin Netanyahu’s office is already coming apart at the seams. Bitter arguments between senior officials, an inflation of special advisors and a lack of clarity over responsibilities all contribute to an atmosphere of chaos.

Nir Hefetz, a former executive on the Yediot Achronot daily, was appointed the new head of hasbarah in the Prime Minister’s Office last week.

Mr Hefetz is currently the fourth senior communications official in Mr Netanyahu’s team.

His veteran advisor, Ron Dermer, was the first to be appointed to this post two months ago but there already was a professional spokesman in the job — Yarden Vatikay, a former Jewish Agency spokesman.
At the same time, Mr Netanyahu also has a press secretary, Yossi Levi.

The hierarchy and demarcation between the four hasbarah tzars has yet to be decided and there is no clear policy message coming out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In an attempt to make a bit of room on the press boat, Mr Dermer was preparing to move to the role of the prime minister’s diplomatic advisor, despite not having any relevant experience.

This has become yet another source of tension with Professor Uzi Arad, a long-serving diplomatic advisor. Prof Arad, a former head of research in the Mossad, has become over the last two months a source of much of the strife around Netanyahu.

He has clashed with Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon over responsibility for policy formulation; with the prime minister’s chief of staff, Nathan Eshel, over who controls access to Mr Netanyahu; and with cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser, whom Arad accused of leaking to the press, even demanding he take a lie-detector test.

One advisor in charge of internet policy resigned when he was not allowed to present his plans to the PM.

The lack of any clear hierarchy and the conflicting demands on Mr Netanyahu’s time have been cited as main reasons for the haphazard way in which the state budget was authorized last month and the lack of any clear policy regarding captured soldier Gilad Shalit. In addition, there were radically different messages on Israel’s response to US President Barack Obama’s recent demands emanating from the prime minister’s surroundings.

One member of Mr Netanyahu’s team insisted that none of the problems in the Prime Minister’s office are out of the ordinary.

“It is no different than in any previous government but the media were after Bibi from day one in office and all the problems are magnified.”
The advisor cited Mr Netanyahu’s successful Bar-Ilan University speech on Sunday as proof that “things are working”.

But others believe that the only reason the speech worked was that Netanyahu finally took personal responsibility for its writing, instead of leaving it to the advisors.

“Netanyahu had 10 years outside the prime minister’s Office,” says one senior government official, “and everyone thought in that time he had learnt from the mistakes of his first term.

“Now it seems that he got so used to being head of the opposition, he has yet to realise that he is prime minister again.”

Last updated: 3:31pm, June 18 2009