Only 5,000 people showed up last Saturday night at the two protest events held in Tel Aviv. And as if this weren't enough, instead of a united front, we saw a schism - a vocal confrontation, vicious accusations and baseless hatred between the two groups.
This isn't exactly surprising when it comes to the Israeli left. It's a world champion at schisms. Its specialty is urinating inside the tent, on its comrades, instead of outside the tent, on its enemies, as the right is wise enough to do.
Saturday night's frustrating demonstrations directly contradict the findings of a Haaretz poll conducted six weeks ago. That poll found that a sweeping majority of the public, 69 percent, supports a resumption of the social protests. How does that jibe with a mere 5,000 demonstrators?
The answer lies in a campaign of intimidation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in making us scared to death of an upcoming strike on Iran. Thus, in our fear we are thinking about our sealed rooms and aren't capable of focusing on issues such as the economy and taxation. After all, life takes precedence over quality of life.
The second campaign of intimidation (and this time, a justified one ) comes from the school of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. Over the last month, the two have repeatedly highlighted the bitter fate of the Greeks, Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese, and convinced us that to escape a similar fate, we must raise taxes and cut spending.
Every Israeli knows that if Netanyahu and Steinitz could, they would continue their policy of "being good to the people." But the money has simply run out. Therefore, the demands raised by the protesters - against the economic "decrees" and in favor of additional spending - now sound hollow and disconnected from reality.
But even though the public has understood that the situation is tough, it still hasn't grasped that what it's seeing now is just the tip of the looming iceberg. The tax decrees that were imposed on us just now are small change compared to the need for enormous cuts in the 2013 budget.
Cuts of NIS 14 billion are needed in the 2013 budget because we have a particularly extravagant government that hasn't kept within its spending limits, and has written checks it couldn't cover. The interesting part of this story is that Steinitz and Netanyahu actually increased the budget's spending limit so that they could spend more than Ehud Olmert's government did. But that still didn't stop them from overdoing it. And when you are irresponsible and promise the moon and the stars in the hope that a miracle will occur, you wind up having to make cuts in an election year.
But if they are obligated to wield the sword of budget cuts, they ought to at least make the cuts in the right places - that is, in places where it won't hurt growth and employment. For it must always be remembered that every unemployed person is an entire world. Thus, increasing the number of working people is the most "social" goal possible.
The first cut should be made in the defense budget. That budget has grossly exceeded the Brodet Committee's proposal, and also contains a great deal of fat: expensive projects, duplication between the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces, and excess headquarters personnel.
The time has also come to cut the layers of administration and bureaucracy in the Education Ministry, while leaving instructional hours untouched. We need to halt investments in railway lines that aren't economically viable, like the Yokne'am-Acre line. We need to merge local authorities and end the absurdity of a state with fully 256 independent townships, some of them so tiny as to be ridiculous. We must turn government hospitals into efficient corporations, like Jerusalem's Hadassah and Tel Hashomer's Sheba, and seize the opportunity to enact important reforms like raising the retirement age for women and reforming the electricity market, the Israel Airports Authority and the seaports.
Finally, the time has come to address the Holy of Holies of the civil service: salaries. It's unacceptable that only the private sector cuts wages and fires workers, while in the public sector, the partying continues.
And if there's no choice, it will also be necessary to cut child allowances. After all, the government just enacted free education from age three and nearly free after-school care until age nine, and that's worth billions.
Will Netanyahu and Steinitz make the right cuts? Will they have the courage? Both of them should know that in the end - that is, in the polling booth - the public will admire those who did the right thing, even if today, it doesn't look terribly popular.
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