When politicians attack...on Facebook

We all use it, but Facebook recently has become a tool for something that no one ever expected: Politics.

Using Facebook on the Internet 370 (R) (photo credit: reuters)
Using Facebook on the Internet 370 (R)
(photo credit: reuters)
Politicians often go to great lengths to show the public that they are ordinary people just like everyone else, whether commenting about popular sporting events, letting cameras into their homes as they prepare for a holiday meal, or just stopping by the local felafel stand to enjoy a bit of street food. On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Shelly Yacimovich and Finance Minister Yair Lapid proved that they, too, are human, reminding Israelis that they are not above the petty argumentation habits of the rest of the public when they broke out in a Facebook fight.
Yacimovich began with a Facebook post calling Lapid out for an apparent error. In a speech to his Yesh Atid faction at the Knesset’s opening on Monday, Lapid referred to the NIS 35 billion budget deficit Israel must contend with. Yet, Yacimovich pointed out, the most recent deficit figures actually pegged the deficit for the past year (March 2012 - March 2013) at NIS 42b., around 4.5% of GDP. “Is this Lapid’s enormous mistake or painful ignorance?” she wrote, posting a recent Treasury document on the deficit to put a fine point on her accusation.
“A difference of 7 billion shekels is so dramatic to all of our lives that there are almost no words to describe the depth of embarrassment,” she wrote. NIS 7b. she noted, was the entire higher education budget, greater than the budget for hospitals, and triple the budget of the Economy Ministry. “The state budget is too important for errors of this magnitude,” she scolded.
Lapid’s spokeswoman shot back at Yacimovich, posting a rebuttal in the comments section. “The annual deficit for financing in 2012, which is the deficit that includes net credit receipts, came to NIS 34.6b., and that’s the deficit the finance minister was talking about,” she wrote. “This is the number accepted by the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry and the Israeli government.”
“I have no doubt you made the mistake in good faith, and we’ll be happy to pass the real data on to you,” she chided the Labor chairwoman. “It’s very important that the economic picture will be presented fully for the opposition leader, in order to facilitate an appropriate public discussion.”
Yacimovich dismissed the explanation. “Sometimes it’s easier to admit to a mistake. After hours of searching through Treasury data since my post this morning, Lapid found the number that fits the mistake he made,” she said. “Lapid’s decision to use a deficit figure that includes the net credit received is puzzling, to say the least."
So who was correct? Because Israel takes in money from loans it has given out, the actual amount of money it has to spend in order to fund the deficit is lower than the simple budget deficit. Thus, in 2012, Israel only had to pay NIS 34.6b. of the NIS 39 b. budget deficit it racked up. In that sense, Lapid’s figure was more precise in terms of how much Israel actually had to pay.
That, however, was last year’s deficit, and not fully relevant to discussions of the 2013 and 2014 budgets. In general, when economic policy makers refer to the deficit and the deficit target, they are referring to the difference between spending and revenue, not the net credit deficit that must be funded. In that sense, Yacimovich’s figure was more accurate.