Old-style politics is harming our country

Many initiatives from individual MKs which would have improved life in Israel are also now on hold.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
The 19th Knesset is coming to an end. Citizens throughout Israel are not the only ones disappointed with the fact that the prime minister called for early elections. We in the Knesset share that feeling – primarily because of the efforts this government and Knesset were making to improve life in Israel. Now those efforts are coming to a halt.
The proposed budget for 2015 included NIS 135 million to add specific surgeries to the health system’s basket of procedures. Medical tourism was to be taxed so that non-Israelis who come to Israel for medical treatment would not take away beds and create longer waits for Israelis. All together, the 2015 budget included an NIS 4 billion increase to the Health Ministry as part of outgoing health minister Yael German’s effort to reform the system and reduce insurance costs.
The overhaul of the education system led by outgoing education minister Shai Piron has now been put on hold.
The NIS 3b. increase for the Education Ministry was meant to broaden school programming in July, lengthen the school day in specific parts of the country, raise the level of education services in the periphery, begin the process of cutting down class sizes, and give full funding to more haredi schools which provide students with general education courses.
The government’s new fight against poverty cannot begin. An NIS 2b. increase to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry was aimed to fulfill some initial recommendations of the Alaloof Committee appointed by minister Meir Cohen. 190,000 senior citizens were supposed to rise above the poverty line as a result of the 2015 budget, and a variety of services for the handicapped were to have been provided.
After the difficult summer we experienced, and the recent wave of terrorist attacks, outgoing finance minister Yair Lapid ordered a billion-shekel increase for the Public Security Ministry. One of the most important targets of this funding was the hiring of more than 1,000 additional police officers to help monitor and patrol sensitive areas throughout Israel.
Now, not one of these positive steps can be enacted for close to a year – and will never happen if the next government chooses not to approve them.
The 2015 budget also included aggressive policies to bring down the cost of living. Monitoring of companies and manufacturers in various industries to prevent unfair profits tops the list. A series of new policies including the government-approved zero VAT on new homes were planned as part of the first serious attempt in years to bring down the cost of housing. These, too, will have to wait.
It is not a coincidence that all of these reforms came from Yesh Atid ministers.
This is the worst type of “old politics,” with a prime minister doing whatever necessary – including calling new elections – to prevent another party from accomplishing something and threatening his power, without regard for what is truly best for the Israeli people.
This theme of old politics continues.
Many ask how we could possibly pay for these reforms without raising taxes.
These programs and projects were to be financed through a series of new policies including the KKL (JNF in Israel) transferring NIS 1b. to the state budget instead of the organization’s leadership using those funds at their own discretion, with no transparency. The prime minister was vehemently against this step and would have preferred raising taxes. Why? The sad answer is that the KKL leadership includes a significant number of Likud Central Committee members.
Two other critical reforms in the 2015 budget were meant to combat corruption.
Former finance minister Lapid wanted to require the Government Companies Authority to issue small portions of stock in a large number of state-owned firms on the stock market.
Companies on the stock exchange must produce financial reports every three months. This would have created transparency regarding these government companies, which have become places for leaders to provide payback for political support.
The other proposed reform was a series of measures to reduce the tax burden caused by a growing public sector workforce, including a freeze on new recruitment and reducing the quota of overtime hours. The prime minister had to put the brakes on these important reforms because, sadly, the most important thing to the prime minister is staying in office, and to do that he needs jobs for Likud Central Committee members.
Many initiatives from individual MKs which would have improved life in Israel are also now on hold. In my case, this includes legislation meant to pressure recalcitrant husbands to give their wives a divorce, legislation to improve public health including regulating trans-fat and requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus, and policy changes in the health field for new immigrants.
The 19th Knesset ends with thoughts over how much more could have been achieved had the prime minister not thought just about himself. However, the people of Israel can now elect a new prime minister with vision and courage who will resume these and other reforms to improve the lives of the citizens of Israel.
The writer is a rabbi and an MK for Yesh Atid.