Are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest political dramas – whether over the purchase of German submarines, coalition chaos over the settlement bill or his wife’s police interrogation – just a distraction to make it easier for the government to pass 2017-2018 budget? That is the theory the Zionist Union floated at a press conference in Tel Aviv Tuesday, saying Netanyahu is hiding information from the public that will impact the average Israeli’s bank account.
The accusation against Netanyahu could also be an explanation of the opposition’s relative quiet over the budget, with the Zionist Union launching its campaign on the matter 25 days before the deadline to pass the budget – although the government does have the option of asking for a three-month extension.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said, “Most of the public aren’t experts on submarines and don’t wake up in the morning thinking of [Channel 10 reporter and Netanyahu nemesis] Raviv Drucker.
“Most of the public wake up in the morning with debts, with an overdraft, with payments, with massive expenses on almost everything: education, health, a car, a gift for a relative’s wedding, medicine for grandma, a gift for the kid, food, a book, clothing,” Herzog stated. “We are talking to the salaried employees, the self-employed, the small business owners... They work around the clock, while people close to the government are taking a ride with that money, without blinking an eye.”
Herzog compared people struggling to make mortgage payments to the Netanyahu family “enjoying suites and yachts,” and said his party is launching a popular struggle by the middle class like Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump’s election victory in the US and this week’s referendum Italy.
The Zionist Union campaign focused on “hidden taxes” that they explained take money from Israelis without them realizing. The “taxes” are, essentially, services that the party says the government should be paying for and not the public, such as after-school care or textbooks.
As part of the campaign, the faction produced a video starring MK Manuel Trajtenberg, an economics professor and the former head of the Planning and Budgeting Committee for the Council of Higher Education, who led the Netanyahu- appointed economic reforms committee following the 2011 social protests.
In the video, Trajtenberg asks why, if Israel’s economy is doing well on the whole, Israelis have so much trouble making ends meet, and says it’s the result of a “continuing fraud – the hidden taxes fraud.”
The government says it is lowering income tax and VAT, Trajtenberg said, but that just means the public pays in other ways.
Another example of a “hidden tax” given by the MK is “traffic tax.” Because public transportation is lacking, the public pays more in time and for gas, and many families need more than one car.
“Land profiteering tax,” according to Trajtenberg, is when the state charges unreasonably high prices for land on which homes are built, raising housing prices.
Trajtenberg mocked Netanyahu’s reputation for understanding economics, saying that the “hidden taxes monster” sticks around no matter who is finance minister under Netanyahu, be it “a philosopher [Yuval Steinitz], a TV presenter [Yair Lapid], or a smiler [Moshe Kahlon].”
“It can be different. We can stop bluffing like the prime minister is doing, even in this budget. Unfortunately, Netanyahu won’t do that, because he really believes in putting the government on a diet, and in growth that doesn’t trickle down to anywhere,” Trajtenberg said.
At the press conference, MK Tzipi Livni declared: “The Zionist Union is going on the offensive.”
“There is one thing that the settlement bill, Netanyahu’s corruption scandals and the budget bill have in common: They are all hiding things from the public... It’s our job to reveal to the public what’s hidden in the budget: the hidden costs the public pays every day when sending a kid to day care, when looking for an apartment, when shopping at the supermarket,” she continued.
Livni argued that “for Netanyahu, the public is hidden. He doesn’t see them.”
Faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli said the government only used 14% of funds it allocated towards streets and 44% of the budget for at-risk youth.
“The same for firefighting and public housing. Where’s the rest of the money?” she asked.
The new Zionist Union campaign is similar to Yesh Atid’s 2013 election campaign, which had the slogan, “Where is the money?” and also focused on the economic concerns of the middle class.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid became finance minister after the election.
In recent months’ polls, Yesh Atid is the leading opposition party, even surpassing the Likud in one case, while Zionist Union has trailed far behind.