Lapid defiant in face of withering criticism of budget

Opposition chief Shelly Yacimovich blasts austerity measures in budget, which goes before Knesset for first reading.

June 17, 2013 17:47
3 minute read.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid at the Knesset's Finance Committee, June 11, 2013.

Lapid at Finance C'tee meeting 370. (photo credit: Knesset)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid staunchly defended his austerity plan as opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) focused on its adverse effects on housewives ahead of the Knesset’s first vote on the budget Monday night.

“Whoever read the full budget and did not just look for ways to argue and bring despair to Israelis knows that this budget takes a big cut – the problem – and turns it into a budget of shrinking gaps, of carrying the economic burden equally, of moving from a culture of stipends to one of work, in order to create a fair society,” Lapid says.

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Likud-Beytenu MKs and ministers, several of whom have spoken out against the budget, were conspicuously absent during the Yesh Atid leader’s speech. However, several Bayit Yehudi MKs gave speeches opposing parts of the budget, such as cuts to funding of yeshivas, and Lapid spoke to each one individually when they left the stage.

Lapid criticized politicians for blaming the wealthy for economic problems, explaining that his budget is business-friendly.

“This budget does not go according to the bad populist atmosphere in the streets and in this house,” he stated. “We want successful businessmen. We want entrepreneurs. We want people who open businesses. We want big international corporations to come here and open factories.

“People who earn money and find success shouldn’t be persecuted by jealousy and discouragement,” Lapid added.

According to Lapid, the budget is not just about numbers and taxes, but the best way for the government to express its ideology, priorities and vision for society.

The 2013-2014 budget puts the working man at its center, he explained, by requiring all schools to teach the core curriculum, by funding employment training centers and by implementing reforms to encourage people to enter the workforce.

“All this creates an infrastructure that encourages work, because if more people work and pay taxes, the burden will be split between all of us, our ability to help the weak will increase, and we will be able to create an economy based on innovation and creativity,” Lapid stated.

The finance minister added that despite talk about austerity, the new budget actually adds funds to the Education Ministry, the Public Security Ministry and the Health Ministry, among others.

The budget invests in programs that encourage haredi employment, support university education for new immigrants and provide aid for Holocaust survivors.

“I feel the pain of the weaker sectors. They are not invisible to me. They are here, and it is our responsibility to take care of them,” Lapid said. “However, what the weaker population needs is a strong country with a strong economy. A weak country with collapsing public services is a country that hurts the weak much more.”

Yacimovich focused her speech on housewives, who she said will have to pay about NIS 2,000 each year on National Insurance payments after the budget is approved.

“It doesn’t matter that you [housewives] don’t earn one shekel, that you try to cut spending, count every shekel, live in economic insecurity, work hard at home and wish you could work but can’t. Your finance minister thinks you need to pay a fine; your modest contribution from your empty pocket will cover the deficit,” she said.

The opposition leader pointed out that childcare costs more than what many women are able to earn in the workforce.

“I know you. You don’t want to torture anyone. You just don’t understand where you live.

That’s the problem,” Yacimovich told Lapid, adding that his budget “takes from those who earn zero, and takes zero from those who earn the most.”

Yacimovich called the new budget “artillery fire” on 99 percent of Israelis.

“This is a war. This is an organized attack on most Israelis. It’s all wrapped in nice words that are empty of content, full of falsehoods and gross violations of promises to the public,” she added.

“Cliches, cliches, cliches. More of the same.” However, the opposition will fight for the public and be its defensive shield, Yacimovich said.

“This is a war on our home, and we are the home’s defense force. It’s either Netanyahu and Lapid and their milieu, or most of the public,” she concluded. •

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