Ehud Olmert has to go. Not specifically because of the Rishon Tours affair, in which he is suspected of fraudulently receiving something under aggravated circumstances. And not because of other corruption affairs tied to his name. Not even because of the very costly adventure in Lebanon. It was still possible to live with these, barely, for a few more months until the elections.
But it is impossible to continue with the economic harm he is causing each day. Throughout the world, leaders are concentrating on one thing: coping with the serious consequences of the financial hurricane. Olmert is preoccupied with something totally different: clearing his name, his war with state prosecutors, his attempt to garner public sympathy and cutting Tzipi Livni down to size so that Kadima will crash and burn and he will be called on once again to save the day.
In order to endear himself to the public and be remembered as the Olmert who was good and did good, rather than as someone suspected of crimes, the prime minister is trying to sell us illusions in the form of a wide "safety net" that will actually protect the rich, tycoons, bankers and investment firms. He opposes the treasury's small, limited plan, which Finance Minister Roni Bar-On isn't keen on at the moment either.
Olmert is not moved by the fact that no other country has offered such safety nets for the public's savings. Everyone understands that whenever it rains, everybody gets wet. Every world leader understands that after many years of high profits, it is permissible to lose money. But Olmert is speaking with all the interested parties: the bankers, entrepreneurs and businessmen from whom he has always sought approval, and the "important" lawyers who represent the major tycoons. It is they he seeks to appease. He does not care that the safety net means that Mrs. Cohen from Hadera, whose salary is low and has not even invested money in a provident fund, will subsidize Shari Arison with her taxes.
To hurt his (former) good friend, Olmert is telling everyone that Bar-On is in fact his junior assistant because it is Olmert who is the great leader and it is Olmert who will make the economic decisions "as I acted on the matter of the crisis in the universities." He did not even invite Livni to the economic consultations two days ago, as a way to lower her standing.
The handling of the university crisis is an excellent example of Olmert's irresponsibility. Budget director Ram Belinkov proposed granting the universities a considerable sum of NIS 280 million. They demanded NIS 450 million. But when Olmert entered the picture, they immediately raised their demands and he happily obliged, doling out NIS 515 million without demanding that the universities enact the Shochat Committee's recommendations. The important thing was that the university heads like him.
Two weeks ago, Olmert pushed through a decree increasing the number of foreign workers employed in the agricultural sector in the center of the country. Olmert wanted to endear himself to his buddy, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who needed to claim credit for something before the Labor primary. So he did not hesitate to propose this cynical decision that stands in complete contrast to the government's declared policy to fight unemployment. It apparently is fighting unemployment in Thailand, not in Hadera.
Throughout his term, Olmert has proven himself to be completely irresponsible on budget matters. Each week, his director-general would pitch far-reaching proposals that were fiscally untenable. These included enormous supplementary funds for the Israel Defense Forces, the revival of the Religious Services Ministry, salary hikes for teachers and university lecturers, greater stipends for the elderly and victims of the Nazis, aid for at-risk youth, more day care centers for children at risk, an updated health basket, 1,000 more police officers, safeguarded homes in Sderot, the reservists law, additional funds for the Gush Katif evacuees, more funds for the Israel Broadcasting Authority - the list goes on and on.
Clearly, some of these are worthy goals. But there are budget constraints. A set of priorities must be established, even though this is what Olmert hates most. He loved the "this and that" method. He hated slashing. He only wanted to add. Throughout his term, Olmert created the impression that there was money in the coffers, money he is not responsible for. This is how the economy reached 2009 with a need for deep budget cuts. But even then Olmert said: "You are complaining over a deficit in 2009, but by the end of the year you will once again end with a surplus." The sad truth is that 2009 will not end with a surplus but with a huge deficit, which will be even larger and more dangerous if Olmert remains in office.
Thus, for the good of the Israeli people and economy, he must go home immediately. It is inconceivable for us to be managed by someone who is guided solely by his personal benefit, along the lines of "after me the flood."
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