Compensation, at least

The Finance Ministry wants to shell out as little as it can possibly get away with.

Sderot business 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot business 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Few among us would exchange places with Sderot entrepreneurs whose prospects of eking out even a meager living have sharply declined since the intensification of rocket barrages over the past few years. By right, obviously, they are entitled to the same safety the rest of us take for granted. In its absence, they should be able to expect and rely upon tangible expressions of solidarity via readily proffered compensation from the central government. Instead they are not only neglected, but are witness to haggling between the Treasury and various Knesset committees over how much ought to be meted out and how far back retroactive compensation need apply. The Finance Ministry wants to shell out as little as it can possibly get away with. And the entire issue has been turned into a tug-of-war between rival Knesset committees as well as between coalition and opposition. Things got so heated in Monday's Finance Committee deliberations that MKs and invited representatives of Sderot's business community engaged in a shouting match, a spectacle that hardly spelled cohesion and empathy. It was, apparently, too much to hope that even this issue of national consensus could be discussed without political sparring. Dragged into the minutiae of the compensation issue, the government was first forced to set up a public committee to examine the issue of indirect compensation to businessmen whose turnover and profits have decreased due to the town's compromised security status. Then the Treasury attempted to skew the committee's recommendations by reducing the period for which damages could be claimed retroactively. The opposition last month forced the government's hand by passing, in first reading, a bill stipulating that compensation be paid for losses sustained since 2005, as the public committee had initially proposed. The government fought this tooth and nail, fearing that the same would be demanded by northerners for their losses during the Second Lebanon War. The government therefore insisted that nothing would be paid for any damages previous to May 16, 2007 (when the Defense Ministry belatedly declared a "special situation" in Sderot). The Knesset Finance Committee essentially rebelled against the Treasury in setting a compromise date of November 1, 2006, which excluded the North from eligibility. Sderot's business community representatives rejected this, and vented their anger in the Finance Committee, despite its members' defiance of the Treasury. They wanted the matter entrusted to the Economics Committee and vociferously objected to an amalgam of both panels. Things got so bad that coalition chairman MK Eli Aflalo screamed at the Sderot guests to seal their lips. The November 1, 2006, compromise date still stands, and the path to compensation should now be clearer. But Monday's bitter verbal altercation, and the frustration that spurred it, could and should have been avoided. The last place where government miserliness is mandated is vis-à-vis the long-suffering and long overlooked residents of battered Sderot. Their welfare should not be allowed to degrade and feed a coalition-opposition face-off. Most of Sderot's business community comprises small-time vendors, who need to be bailed out by the simplest and most direct route possible. Unfortunately, even if the best legislative intention comes to fruition, Sderot's businessmen will still be bound by excessive red tape. They are being offered three "tracks": The Expanded Red (which includes the payment of wages to absent employees); the First Green (for lower turnovers); and the Second Green (for operational losses). These tracks are additionally encumbered by a string of complex strictures and baffling conditions that storekeepers will be hard pressed to sift through. While their outbursts on Monday may have discomfited MKs, the indecorous shouts were genuine expressions of anguish and disaffection from folks whose everyday existential interests are too often too far from the focus of the higher-ups' concerns. The most elementary and decent course for the government to take is to honor the spirit of the original committee recommendations and not expect average citizens to be liable for circumstances from which the government failed to satisfactorily shield them in the first place.