Yair Lapid 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid is being called on to face an economic crisis for
which he is not responsible. This will demand a large investment of political
capital on his part, but no office is more fitting for Lapid than the Finance
Ministry, where he will be able to realize his potential and help the neglected
tax-paying citizens of Israel.
The ministry is the crossroads through
which billions of shekels are transferred to inappropriate places, and if Lapid
succeeds in making these transactions and obscure clauses transparent – and then
reducing them – then he will have done his job well.
The budget reveals
some information, but conceals even more. For example, it is difficult to
decipher how much more the haredi community benefits from public funds over
other communities. And it is very hard to identify the inequalities in the
national budget. An engineering student at the Technion is required to pay
tuition so that he will be able to contribute to Israel’s economy, but a yeshiva
student receives grants so that he won’t have to make any contribution to
How much? It’s a secret.
It’s difficult to solve
the mystery of all of the monetary grants, which include housing benefits, land
subsidies, income supplements, child allowances, municipal tax benefits,
subsidized day care, as well as other code words that are meant to hide from
taxpayers the truth about how monies are being used.
If Lapid succeeds in
making the budget transparent, this feat alone would be considered a complete
success. Afterwards, the light of day will cleanse it of all the
It is most appropriate that the ministry be the one to face
this challenge. Let’s be honest: at the end of the day, haredim won’t be forced
to join the army, tens of thousands of them won’t sit in prison, and the IDF is
not structured to cope with such a large haredi population.
The way to
reach equality is not by forcing them to do something, but by enforcing
sanctions when they don’t do it. And the key to these sanctions lies within the
Treasury: appropriations and benefits should be denied to individuals and the
organizations to which they belong.
The same method should be used in
connection to core curriculum studies. The police won’t break into yeshivas
armed with math and English books. What matters is that all budgetary aid to
institutions that don’t agree to incorporate core studies be denied. And again,
the most appropriate office to withhold these funds is the ministry.
haredi lifestyle is not sustainable, and only exists due to the taxes imposed on
non-haredi Israeli citizens. As the percentage of the haredi community in the
general population grows, so too does the burden on those who are required to
support them – until the system finally collapses.
Therefore, this is the
greatest challenge facing the Israeli economy.
The haredi population is
not acquiring an education that can be applied in the workplace and is not
encouraging its members to join the work force. Its economic productivity is
similar to that of the weakest countries in Africa. The large number of children
in haredi families, along with an education system that does not provide its
participants with the skills needed to make a living in the modern world,
guarantee that this cycle of poverty will only grow.
The Israeli economy
is being attacked in a pincer movement: On the one hand, there is the growing
haredi population that is not participating in the economy, and on the other, it
is consuming more and more of our economic resources.
Lapid is also the
right person to demand that the public make cuts before imposing additional
For example, someone like Lapid would ask why the public needs to
pay the billions of shekels consumed by the Israel Broadcasting Authority each
year. Residents get nothing in return for this fee.
And why do tax-paying
citizens need to finance 250 local authorities, mayors, deputy mayors,
spokespeople, and state-sanctioned rabbis? Aren’t 100 local authorities enough
for eight million citizens? And what is the point of the religious councils? The
Israeli public establishment is saturated with unnecessary organizations,
superfluous officials and redundant activity.
Only a finance minister
like Lapid can cut down on all of this excess before deciding to raise
The author is a lawyer and businessman.