Falsely-based economics

Constant legislation to favor or disservice a specific sector of the public shows a genuine contempt for the country as a whole.

Haredi family 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi family 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Our government just can’t seem to get it right. Time and time again when a new financial/business related proposal comes into the picture, prejudice for or against the religious community clouds judgments beyond belief. Two excellent examples were recently placed on the public agenda, each with its own major flaws.
The first was the controversial proposal put forth by Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias from the Orthodox Shas party. The government has authorized the construction of about 5,000 housing units across the country which will be made available at a discount of NIS 200,000 for those who meet certain criteria.
Atias was quick to hold a press conference last week to boast that he was giving preference to IDF veterans despite the fact that many Shas voters never served in the army, thereby going against his constituency. The timing of his big announcement was questionable – coming on the heels of a deplorable statement by Shas leader and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, criticizing IDF soldiers for not praying during the Second Lebanon War.
A closer look at the proposal, however, shows that he’s pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.
The benefit is awarded based on a point system which assigns weight to various qualifications. While IDF service is a factor, the number of years a person has been married is more decisive. For example, a 33-year-old religious person who never served in the army and does not work but has been married for 10 years would get considerably more points than a secular person of the same age who served, holds a job but has only been married for four years.
We know for a fact that in the religious community people tend to marry young, so who does Atias think he’s kidding?
No less mind-boggling is that this also means the ministry would prefer to give the benefit to people who, as they are unemployed, are less likely to pay off their mortgage. Was there any financial thought put into this proposal?
To be fair, the government (especially the Finance Ministry) has refused to sign off on this scheme, but it should be seen as a shameful attempt to push yet another religious agenda at the expense of the general public.
But there is a flip-side to that coin. The Communication Ministry, under Moshe Kahlon from the Likud, is pushing for a directive which would have a negative impact on Internet Service Providers (ISP) which target or are owned by members of the religious community.
The Communication Ministry is proposing that in order for a company to be granted a license to be an ISP, it must provide manned technical support 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with the exception of Yom Kippur. ISPs serving the Orthodox communities are calling foul, and rightfully so. These companies argue that if they are forced to comply with such a regulation, they will lose their Shabbat-observant customers.
Whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant; a regulation like this should not be forced down any business’s throat. The government’s role when it comes to private firms should be limited to: outlawing unfair business practices and compelling companies to widely publicize their range of services. That’s it. If a business owner wants to keep his shop closed on Shabbat, that’s his affair, as long as the customers are clearly made aware of the policy.
The idea of elected officials dictating to private enterprises when to provide services is completely unnecessary and offensive. It reminds me of the disgraceful law, which is still on the books in parts of the country, making it illegal to employ Jews on Shabbat.
So now we get back to the biases. The constant legislation to favor or disservice a specific sector of the public shows a genuine contempt for the country as a whole. While our leaders pay lip service to the idea that “all Israelis are brothers,” more and more we’re seeing petty, special-interest politics. If we can’t show respect for the rules and for a free and open market society and the people who make it up, we are truly losing sight of what Israel as a democracy should be.
The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.
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