The day after the wreckage deal (also known as the package deal) was signed, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini met Finance Ministry wages director Ilan Levin. Eini, drunk on the power given to him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said to Levin: "You can thank me that you still have your job. Had I wanted to, I could have put a provision into the package deal stipulating that the director of wages would become a janitor at the ministry."
Of course Eini said this with a smile, but his intention was clear: He could have gotten anything he wanted from Netanyahu. And indeed, he did get everything. Netanyahu signed on to every whim and every expenditure that Eini pulled out of the moldy Histadrut drawers.
Now Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are paying the price of the concessions to Eini (and to Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association as well as to Shas and the Labor Party). Everyone realizes they are dealing with a weak and cowardly prime minister, and a finance minister who is his Sancho Panza. This is why no one is taking their threats seriously. This is why the two of them are being made laughingstocks over the value added tax issue. Even Likud MK Miri Regev has become an expert on economic issues and VAT and has no hesitations about snickering at the prime minister.
This is because Netanyahu has now created an image of himself as someone who gives the keys to the treasury coffers to everybody and their mother, and as someone who relinquishes all his principles and his entire worldview. Everyone now understands that they are dealing with someone who has no backbone, with a prime minister who is prepared to pay any price in order to remain in office.
Therefore they are going to make his life a misery on every issue and all through his term in office. His last-minute retraction of the VAT on fruits and vegetables is just one small example.
One morning Steinitz appeared before all the members of the Likud faction and threatened that if they did not vote in favor of imposing the VAT they would not get re-elected in the primaries. However, the MKs laughed in his face and sniped: "It's you who will be the first not to get elected," and Steinitz hastened to change the subject.
The Labor Party was a bit late in joining the campaign against the VAT on fresh produce. Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said it was necessary to protect the weak. If so, why not demand the revocation of VAT on bread, water, poultry, eggs and personal computers? Aren't they more important than tomatoes? Did he forget what he had learned in Introduction to Economics, that imposing VAT equally on all goods and services is the proper, most efficient way to collect indirect taxes?
Agriculture Minister Shlomo Simhon, also of the Labor Party, said that the VAT would set agriculture back 20 years. How cynical. For him, everything is proper that protects the dirty money in agriculture, from the farmer to the trucker to the man behind the market stall. Not only will they continue not to charge VAT, they won't pay income tax either. And why should they pony up when Simhon and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) are at their side?
Labor joined the opponents to the VAT because it saw how Shas was raking in kudos from the public, which loves only those who make baseless promises.
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef declared his party would resign from the government if the VAT were imposed and Yishai said that it was "crossing a red line." They too are making a laughingstock of Netanyahu. They extracted from him higher child stipends and doubled budgets for yeshivas and kollels (religious study centers for married men) - in return for a vote in favor of the budget. However, when push comes to shove they have no compunctions about breaking their promise, because that is how you treat a prime minister who is panicking.
Netanyahu, who in his previous term as finance minister (2003-2005) acted with determination and deep inner conviction to ameliorate the tax burden, is now acting in exactly the opposite way. He is raising both indirect taxes (VAT and the taxes on water, fuel and cigarettes) and direct taxes (National Insurance and the health tax). Instead of providing "jet fuel for the growth engine," he is tying the growth train up in chains.
But hang on, a solution has been found. The Prime Minister's Office is about to launch an extensive media campaign that will explain to the public the budget's "positive aspects." Because when the usual spin is no longer effective, some sort of tornado is necessary in order to transform black into white and taxes into miracles.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now