Finance Minister: Israel faces no existential threats

Lapid says no army is threatening Israel's borders; promises employment, housing, education next on the agenda.

Lapid at Finance C'tee meeting 370 (photo credit: Knesset)
Lapid at Finance C'tee meeting 370
(photo credit: Knesset)
There may be terrorist rockets, missiles aimed at Israel, and an Iranian nuclear program that just won’t quit, but the Jewish state does not face any existential threats, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday.
Speaking to mayors at a convention for local authorities in Tel Aviv, Lapid listed security as among the upsides for the Israeli economy. Once the budget problems are dealt with, which he said would be done by 2014, Israel’s reasons for optimism include its considerable projected economic growth, natural gas finds, and “the fact that from a security perspective, there are no existential threats against the state of Israel today.
“The threat from missiles, some of them more precise and dangerous than those we’ve known in the past, is not small, but there is no army on our borders threatening the fact of our existence,” he said.
In addition to those advantages, he said, Israel’s ability to adapt to new challenges would be crucial to its success in facing its national challenges, which he defined as keeping unemployment low, making housing affordable, and improving education.
Unemployment is artificially low because it does not take into consideration entire sectors – specifically ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women – that do not participate in the labor force, a problem he said he was working to rectify alongside the Economy and Trade Ministry.
“We will train people to work in hi-tech and manufacturing, and will support local initiatives and small businesses, strengthen regional industrial zones in the North and South, and give benefits to any international company that will establish development centers and factories here that will create jobs that put us on the world’s technological and innovative forefront.”
Such steps, he promised, would move people out of the “welfare” category and into the “taxpayer” category.
The Knesset on Monday passed a first reading of a law to support small and medium enterprises.
The state had to fix the problems it had created with the country’s housing market, which Lapid called “the No. 1 problem of every young couple in Israel” and a “strategic threat” for the next generation. The housing cabinet, which approved new standards Sunday that discontinued policies heavily favoring the ultra-Orthodox, was the address for such issues, he said.
“The national housing program talks of building 150,000 apartments for rent.
The government housing program running alongside it talks about marketing tens of thousands of lots for building,” he said.
“If you want the best of your youth to stay with you and not escape to Tel Aviv or New York,” he told the room of mayors, “housing is the solution.”
To address the final challenge, education, Lapid said simply that the Education Ministry would soon expand upon a series of reforms, from reducing matriculation exams to reviving vocational schools.
Across town, as Lapid spoke, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg – who chairs the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education – said at a forum on education that Israel faces a serious brain drain problem.
“If the State of Israel has sinned, the sin is that it allows its greatest minds to leave 25 percent of Israeli scientists work abroad,” he said at the Dan and Bradstreet forum for institutions of higher education.
“That is a world record, double that of Canada, which is ranked behind us. Even if we can get some of them, the majority will never return.”
Better educating the haredi and Arab work forces would be paramount to Israel’s future economic success, he added.