Last week, more than one million Israelis became unemployed. That is a ninth of the entire country and about 25% of the workforce. It includes people who were fired because of the crisis or whose businesses went under as well as those employees were put on unpaid leave.
It was quite the jump from just 4% a few weeks ago, before COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, took over our lives.
While this number is high it was a natural consequence of the government’s decision to restrict movement and it’s order that people remain in their homes. Small businesses had to shut down and put their employees on unpaid leave. Larger businesses cut salaries and are tightening their belt as revenue continues to slip and decline.
The government released a NIS 80-billion stimulus plan last week whose effectiveness – in helping small businesses and the unemployed – remains to be seen. We called on Friday for the government to ensure that grants are easily accessible and that red tape does not get in the way.
On Thursday night though we received a stark reminder that our politicians seem to be disconnected from the plight of the average citizen. Channel 12 and Channel 13 both revealed that in the coalition talks between Likud and Blue and White, the sides agreed to establish a second official residence – alongside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem – for the party leader not serving as prime minister.
In other words, for the first 18 months of the coalition, Benny Gantz, who will be a deputy prime minister, will live in the new home. Once he becomes prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu will live there.
While both parties claimed the other had proposed the idea, neither denied it was part of the agreement.
This is ridiculous. One million Israelis are unemployed fearing whether they will have a job once the pandemic subsides – and the two parties building a coalition think it is time to spend money on a second residence?
Instead of building new useless homes, the members of the pending coalition from Likud and Blue and White should be thinking about what they can personally do to serve as role models for the public. They should be worrying about how Israelis will survive financially once this crisis is over and not whether they will get to live in an all-expenses-paid government home and drive in a convoy with armed security guards.
This populism sadly did not end with the official residence. On Wednesday night, Netanyahu announced that the government would distribute NIS 500 for each child – up to four children in a single family – as well as to the elderly and the disabled. While this is a nice gesture, it was done without the knowledge of the Finance Ministry and without first conducting an assessment of how much this would cost the economy.
There is no distribution between wealthy, poor or middle class. Everyone receives the distribution. While this is nice, does it make sense? Does someone who earns NIS 40,000 a month and is still working really need NIS 500 per child or does someone who earned NIS 5,000 a month and is now unemployed need it more?
This is populism at its best at a time of real need. While the US launched a massive stimulus plan, it came with a scale. The wealthy will not receive as much as the poor when it comes to child allotments. That makes sense and that is what happens when a plan needs to be approved in parliament. In Israel, one person decides and it becomes policy. That’s not the way it should be.
Hopefully this week, Gantz and Netanyahu will finalize the deal that sees a unity government formed. It is time. Israel needs a functioning coalition and a government that can formulate a strategic plan for stopping the spread of the coronavirus but also ensure that families do not slip below the poverty line.
Too much is at stake for our politicians to now worry about their own self interests. They do not need more homes and cars. They need to take care of the people. That’s why they were elected. That’s what they promised to do.