In an expression of pure benevolence, the leader of Shinui, Yosef Lapid announced five days ago the allotment of NIS 123 million, which his party received from the finance minister, to public needs. Convening a special press conference, Lapid said that NIS 45 million would go toward financing cultural needs, NIS 55 million would help to cut students' tuition fees by 3 percent, and NIS 23 million would be channeled into R&D in the fields of high-tech, science and technology.
Lapid looked and sounded like a man who was bringing salvation to the needy, and he had no sense of just how foolish his news is, and just how much it undermines the concept that formed the foundation for the establishment of his party.
Shinui was founded, as it declared, to fight against a prevailing political system that allowed the ultra-Orthodox parties to put the squeeze on the state treasury and force the secular public into a lifestyle to which it was opposed. On its way into the coalition, Shinui waived a fair deal of its principles and came in for criticism: It was unable to achieve an agreement on the institution of civil marriages, the annulment of the Tal Law or public transport on the Sabbath.
One can perhaps understand the party's failure in achieving these objectives, considering their enormity; but the same understanding can't be shown for Shinui's conduct during the discussions on the state budget.
The most quintessential and distinctive expression of the abhorred political behavior of United Torah Judaism and Shas is the distribution of the so-called "special funds." The timing of this infuriating spectacle each year coincides with the Knesset Finance Committee's discussions on the state budget. Almost throughout Israel's existence, the ultra-Orthodox parties have been in a position that has allowed them to force the finance minister to allocate significant public funds to their publics, way beyond their relative weight in society and their sharing of the burden of the state's existence.
Last week, Lapid pulled the enchanting gifts from Shinui's petty cash supply and handed them out as it saw fit - in exactly the same manner in which the ultra-Orthodox parties have, till now, reaped their harvest from the state treasury: Some two months ago, Lapid forced Benjamin Netanyahu to allocate to his party a sum to match the one the finance minister had promised the ultra-Orthodox parties; if not, Lapid threatened, Shinui would not vote in favor of approving the state budget.
The sums in question were transferred to the parties along bypass roads, and no mention of them was made when the budget bill was placed on the Knesset agenda.
By capitulating to the existing game rules when it comes to budget discussions, and in meeting the political needs of Netanyahu, the leaders of Shinui have stained the banner of reform and impeccability in politics that they raised when declaring their candidacy for office.
The secular public does not despise the ultra-Orthodox for who they are; it loathes them because of the political behavior of their elected representatives. The ultra-Orthodox are viewed as a self-confined, selfish sector whose interests are devoted solely to satisfying its needs, without any concern or consideration for the broader interests of the state.
Shinui's conduct during the first budget approval process in which it has been involved clearly depicts the ultra-Orthodox syndrome in full force: Shinui also behaved as the representative of a narrow sector; it had no qualms about entering into a secret agreement with the finance minister; and it too received, unreservedly, funds to distribute.
One expects Shinui to act with the state's best interests at heart, as a political organization concerned first and foremost with the good of the broader public. It appears, however, that Lapid and Co. see themselves as a lobby only for a certain section of society ("the secular," "the middle class").
This is a narrow and selfish outlook that testifies to a lack of self-confidence: The results of the last election gave Shinui significant squeezing power in the government and Knesset; and by virtue of this position, the party should rebel against the prevailing system rather than become accustomed to it.
The students, artists and researchers may perhaps be cheering Lapid for his generosity, but there is something warped, bordering on dangerous, about a system in which the leader of a party receives funds from the finance minister in return for support and the opportunity to distribute the money as he deems appropriate.
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