Until recently, Benjamin Netanyahu was "Mister Success," the man who saved the economy. But suddenly, he has become the evil, hard-hearted finance minister who preys on single mothers - and his "friends" in the Likud are rubbing their hands with glee.
Now, Netanyahu faces two choices. He can be a "good" finance minister, listening to those in distress, and agreeing to cancel all the cutbacks to single-parent families while a committee studies the matter. Or he can be the "bad" finance minister, not afraid to tell the truth and standing by his belief that work is better than government handouts - even if it is a long and difficult way. But either way, Netanyahu's image will suffer. This is no "win-lose" situation. It's "lose-lose" for him. The only choice is between a greater and a lesser loss.
If he chooses to be the "good" finance minister and restore the allowances that have been cut, the press attacking him now as hard-hearted will instead attack him for being spineless and caving in to pressure. They will say that the old Bibi, the one with zero credibility, has returned, and they will demand to know how someone who cannot stand up to pressure can possibly be a candidate for prime minister.
Furthermore, the single mothers will be followed by all the other groups affected by the recent budget cuts, each demanding the restoration of their own allowances and subsidies. It won't take long for the budget cut to be completely eradicated.
And then will come the public's response: The run on the dollar will resume, inflation will once again surge, the stock market will plunge, interest rates will rise - and all the credit that the public has given Netanyahu will disappear into a deep financial crisis that will not only cause massive damage to the economy, but also be the end of his political career. And that is the greater of the two evils.
Therefore, if Netanyahu continues to be the "bad" finance minister and stands firm on his principles, his rivals will continue to call him heartless and his public image will be tarnished - but it will not collapse entirely. And if he is lucky, economic growth will resume next year - as he insists it will - and people will forget he was "evil" and remember only its positive results.
We've only just begun
From the perspective of the single mothers, the struggle has just begun. Netanyahu may have pulled out his 10-point plan a little too soon - because it is clear that the mothers cannot accept any compromise so quickly. After all, every strike follows the same rules.
But Knafo and her comrades are obviously not to blame for their plight. The original sin was the state's: The lack of investment in physical infrastructure caused the development towns to be cut off from the rest of the country, the poor educational system in those towns left people without a profession, and the combination resulted in people who earned little at the best of times and were the first to be fired when times got tough.
At that point, guilt-ridden ministers and MKs opted for the easy solution: increasing welfare allowances. Throughout the 1990s, the size of the allowances grew, and so did the number of people subsisting on these allowances - until the budget could no longer support them all.
The basic idea of returning welfare recipients to the work force is thus correct, not only economically, but also socially and ethically - because a situation in which welfare allowances for single-parent families are higher than the average wage is simply intolerable. Those who work and pay taxes cannot be made into suckers forever.
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