No longer ‘just the fax’ for Israeli government

No longer ‘just the fax’ for Israeli government

After years of public complaints about Israel’s slow-moving government bureaucracy, someone in charge finally seems to have gotten the memo — or fax.

On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet passed a measure that will require all government ministries to allow documents to be submitted by email. The proposal — designed to replace the current system of faxes and desperate visits to government offices during lunch breaks — was spearheaded by Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel as part of the “Digital Israel” initiative, which seeks to bring Israeli bureaucracy into the 21st century.

According to the proposal’s timeline, government offices will be given email addresses within 90 days, and those email addresses will be published for public use within 120 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the bill on Sunday, hailing it as a simple measure, “but one which will make it much easier for Israeli citizens because from this decision on, citizens will be able to contact government ministries by email and not by fax. The time has come; this is clear.”

Fax, mail, and in-person document handoffs still will be accepted. But for the first time, Israel will allow its citizens to communicate with the government through the now three-decades-old technological innovation that is email. The initiative also calls for Israelis to be able to submit documents through cellphone apps.

While Israel is known for its high-tech industry, the public sector has been slow to adopt the rest of the Startup Nation’s zest for innovation. The latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked Israel 98th out of 140 countries for the burden of government regulation it imposes.

The country’s old-fashioned bureaucracy is on display during national elections, which still are conducted with small paper slips that are marked with the Hebrew abbreviation for each party. Voters pick a piece of paper from a table, and then place their chosen slip inside a cardboard box.

The government isn’t the only sector that has fallen off the technological cutting edge. Israeli banks and other private enterprises also rely heavily on fax machines and in-person visits. Meanwhile, Israel’s most common religious institution, the synagogue, still uses parchment scrolls.

JTA Wire Service

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