Eli Yishai 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It’s only natural that politicians will gauge their parliamentary activities in
accordance with the way they understand the electoral winds to be
But, sometimes kowtowing to perceived public opinion is so crude
that it crosses the line that separates political savvy from cheap,
A case in point was the fiasco that took place in
the cabinet Monday over the vote on the Trajtenberg Committee
This paper, along with many leading economists,
including Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, has come out strongly in
favor of the Trajtenberg recommendations.
Real solutions are provided for
a host of ills afflicting our economy – from income-tax reforms benefiting the
cash-strapped middle-class; to longer school days and state funding of
pre-schools that will enable mothers to leave the house and work; to higher
corporate taxes and National Insurance payments provided by employers; to
wide-ranging reforms in the construction and housing market; to a lowering of
tariffs and more stringent anti-trust laws that will facilitate more competitive
markets leading to lower consumer prices.
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, riding the groundswell of grassroots support for socioeconomic
change, was rightly eager to hold a vote in favor of the Trajtenberg
recommendations in the cabinet as quickly as possible.
Final passage of
the recommendations in the Knesset is a long and grueling process. Initially, a
first reading is voted on in the plenum. Next, the relevant Knesset committees
take apart the recommendations and discuss them individually. Finally,
the Knesset votes again in a second and third reading.
The quicker the
Trajtenberg recommendations can be passed in the cabinet, the better.
Unfortunately, narrow political interests and pointless wrangling forced
Netanyahu to delay the cabinet vote, further pushing off much-needed economic
Apparently concerned by Aryeh Deri’s imminent return to
politics, Shas leader Eli Yishai attempted to turn the cabinet vote into an
opportunity to present his party as the champion of the poor.
opposition is a matter of principle,” announced Yishai. “The weakest
sectors have been left behind.... We will continue to oppose this report until
its flaws are fixed.”
By rejecting the Trajtenberg recommendations,
Yishai no doubt sensed he would be appealing to the tens of thousands of
disgruntled Israelis who are understandably fed up with such socioeconomic ills
as the widening gap between the rich and the poor – one of the biggest in the
Western world – and the exorbitant cost of basics, such as housing and
But delaying the passage of the Trajtenberg recommendations only
exacerbates the situation.
And with all due respect to Shas and its claim
to be the defender of the poor, this summer’s socioeconomic protests were first
and foremost a revolt of the middle class against their inability – despite
working hard and earning relatively well, to make ends meet.
to Shas’s Yishai, several Likud rebels also jumped on the populist bandwagon,
such as Netanyahu’s perennial rival Vice Premier, and Regional Development
Minister Silvan Shalom and Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe
Meanwhile, Israel Beiteinu’s ministers seemed motivated, at least
in part, by a desire to show Netanyahu – and Israel Beiteinu’s constituents –
that they were not, as Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov put it, “pawns” in the
hands of Netanyahu. And Defense Minister Ehud Barak is battling against
the cuts in the security budget proposed by the Trajtenberg
None of the ministers offered criticism with real substance
that justified a delay in passing the Trajtenberg recommendations.
the leaders of this summer’s socioeconomic protests, such as Dafni Leef, who is
credited with beginning the tent-camp protests, and National Student Association
Chairman Itzik Shmuli, the ministers who voiced their unschooled opposition to
Trajtenberg seemed to be less concerned with articulating realistic economic
reforms and more interested in tapping into the populist energies of an Israeli
society yearning for a fairer more efficient socioeconomic
Sadly, the successful passage of the Trajtenberg recommendations
– which would go a long way towards righting many of the wrongs in our economy –
can no longer be taken for granted if the sort of petty bickering that went on
in the cabinet Monday is indicative of future discussions in the cabinet and in
In their zeal to appeal to what they believe to be popular
opinion, our lawmakers are performing a real disservice to the same public they claim to represent.