Israel's government plans to do away with bodyguards for ministers when a new coalition takes shape next month. The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) is disappointed. It realizes the axe has fallen, but it is doing all it can to reduce the extent of the cutback. The document issued by the National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Office on Feb. 11 mandating the elimination of bodyguards was set to be approved today, but the vote has been delayed till March 3. Let's hope that Benjamin Netanyahu stands firm and does not flinch.
The Israeli taxpayer bears the burden of 400 unnecessary bodyguards. They cost millions. Even the recommended downsizing is not total. Why employ a full-time guard at the entrance to a minister's building when his apartment can be secured by a company that provides a closed-circuit camera and an off-site guard?
Most government ministers are not even well-known to the public. Why should we pay for round-the-clock bodyguards for the likes of Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon?
The truth is most ministers enjoy having bodyguards even though it is bon ton to complain about them. There are several ministers in the outgoing government who offered to do without or reduce the hours of their bodyguards, including Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, and perhaps another one or two, but most ministers sigh with satisfaction when they see the men with ear pieces. The guards are a status symbol.
The main reason op-ed writers at Israel Hayom have complained about ministerial bodyguards is of course their cost, but, in my view, the money is secondary. There are two central reasons to reduce the number of bodyguards.
First, the bodyguards make Israel look like a third-world communist dictatorship in the eyes of foreigners. As if senior politicians are afraid to walk among the people, as if they are paranoid and need to create a barrier between themselves and the masses. These bodyguards have little to do with genuine security. But they do project an image of being above the people and disconnected from them.
There is also a moral issue. Israel cannot provide its citizens with total security. Israel endangers the lives of its children and grandchildren, sending them to places where they are set upon by people who want to kill them. Under these circumstances, the Israel Security Agency's demand to surround every minor minister with eight bodyguards is not only expensive but immoral.
Our boys jump out of airplanes, sail the seas and crawl through tunnels, and the residents of Sderot are asked to stand firm and not leave the city when its under fire, even though they cannot be fully protected by Iron Dome. The ministers, over whom a merely abstract danger looms, should set an example, not be the exception.
Every government minister needs to realize that the party is over. The lights are going out, and anyone who believes that not having a bodyguard constitutes a danger to his life can give up his position and be a regular Knesset member. There are many others who will jump at the chance to occupy his seat in the cabinet.