With no treasury, anything goes
The Finance Ministry's budget department is also astonished. How is it that so many public sector unions are demanding astronomical wage hikes, and why are they getting support from government ministers? And how is it that the Histadrut is stoking the flames and Knesset members and mayors are lending a hand?
The Finance Minister was stunned. How did Ofer Eini and Shraga Brosh agree to raise the minimum wage without including him in the discussion? How were his "round table" allies able to spit on him publicly like that?
The Finance Ministry's budget department is also astonished. How is it that so many public sector unions are demanding astronomical wage hikes, and why are they getting support from government ministers? And how is it that the Histadrut is stoking the flames and Knesset members and mayors are lending a hand? Don't they understand that they are jeopardizing Israel's economic stability?
Indeed, they are, but the responsibility for that rests first and foremost on the shoulders of Yuval Steinitz and the top brass of the Finance Ministry.
The basic problem is that the finance minister wants to be loved. He isn't shouting "Fools, get off the roof," (as former Finance Minister Yigal Hurvitz once did ), but is opening up the state coffers to everyone. His position is so shaky that the prime minister grabs the reins from him every time a problem arises, and Eini and Brosh just ignore him.
The budget department is also to blame for the public sector wage demands that threaten to drown us. Once upon a time, there were economists there who knew how to buck the populist trend and fight to streamline the public sector and implement reforms. The current budget director, Udi Nissan, says that "in the Finance Ministry there's no talk of cuts, just increases." If that's the case, no wonder everyone has his hands out.
Just a month and a half ago, the finance minister agreed to a 6.25 percent wage hike (which, in fact, is 7.5 percent ) for all public sector workers. Steinitz boasted that he had reached the agreement without a strike. No wonder. If you surrender easily to Eini's demands, you can rest assured that there will be no strike.
The high-school teachers took note and threatened a strike as well. That was enough to scare Steinitz, who gave them a tremendous wage hike of 50 percent in exchange for a few extra hours in school.
The Foreign Ministry workers took note and began their own work sanctions. The state prosecutors got wind of this and went on their own extended strike. Steinitz, who wanted the prosecutors to love him as well, did not tell the public the truth - that they are not a deprived group of workers. Their average monthly wage is 18,000 shekels, they get tenure as well as other special perks. Steinitz was silent, so the decision was forced on Benjamin Netanyahu, who passed it on to an external arbitrator. He also wants to be loved.
The local council heads took note and threatened to go on "the mother of all strikes." Netanyahu immediately convened an "emergency consultation" and surrendered to all their demands: He obtained approval for a huge NIS 800 million budget increase and agreed to put the water corporations back under the control of the local council heads, setting utilities reforms back 10 years.
The airport workers took note and began threatening to shut down Ben-Gurion airport. The longshoremen didn't even need to make any threats. They simply shut down the ports yesterday, and now we'll see how much they get.
This was also the prevailing atmosphere during the budget debates last week. The coalition partners received a hefty sum of 1.1 billion shekels for all kinds of things, the ultra-Orthodox among them shattering all their previous records. Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni had this to say: "Undoubtedly this is the best budget ever approved in the Knesset for the ultra-Orthodox community." Our sages have said that "a man does not leave this world with even half his desire fulfilled," but Gafni and Eli Yishai already have a desire and a half.
There are a few more wage disputes hovering in the background. The doctors are demanding steep salary increases, as are the social workers and hospital administration workers. As a result, the public sector is getting fatter, while the tax burden on the public grows heavier.
All this is happening because the finance minister has yet to learn that his main job is to guard the state coffers and say "no" to everyone. It's happening because Netanyahu cares only about his survival and is, therefore, prepared to sell out the country's future to remain in power. It's happening because the entire government has no long-term plan, neither economic nor diplomatic. Its long-term is the nightly eight o'clock television news.
That leaves us with little else to do but cry out and wait for the next inevitable crisis.