The social organizations are disappointed and even angry. They are disappointed with Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, who is not fighting like a lion over the Finance Ministry, and angry that he backed away from the social affairs ministries. They are perplexed when it turns out that the dream of a $1,000 monthly minimum wage has been shattered before their eyes and turned into a supplement of just NIS 387. And they feel really terrible when Peretz is accused - justifiably - of being the main cause of a giant, squanderous government when the basket of medicines covered by Health Ministry is still crying out for funds.
They have been waiting for years for a like-minded person to head the Finance Ministry and show those rich bloodsuckers. The have been waiting for the Israeli Che Guevera to instigate the revolution. A kind of finance minister who will raise marginal tax back up to 80 percent - because the rich have too much money - and then cancel all privatizations and reforms. They yearn for a fearless fighter who will rebuild the walls of duties around Israel, cancel all budget cuts, and switch to an expansive policy of expenditures and higher wages so that there will be enough for e-e-everyone - as is the accepted practice in a rich and developed socialist paradise like Cuba or North Korea.
Peretz, however, already has understood that if he takes over the Finance Ministry, he will be entering a honey trap that will destroy him. He realized that he cannot succeed at the job. For him to be "the real Peretz," he would have to implement the plan he promised on the eve of the elections - to increase government spending by NIS 68 billion over four years: NIS 10 billion for education, NIS 4 billion for fighting crime, NIS 10 billion for advancing minority groups, and the list goes on, in keeping with his generosity. Peretz understands that always, without exception, the offering will never satisfy the lion, and as much as he could give, there will always be complaints that he has given too little.
Peretz, who believes in high taxes, an inflated budget and heavy government involvement, demanded seven ministries for his party. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed, since this serves his interests, too. But when public criticism arose, and Olmert asked Peretz to relinquish one portfolio, Peretz adamantly refused. First the portfolios, then society and its welfare. He explained his agreement to forgo deputy ministerial positions not, perish the thought, with the savings of tens of millions of shekels, but rather declared: "Eli Yishai agreed [to fewer deputy ministers], so how could I not."
Peretz knows that if he had instituted his spendthrift policy, the economy would have hit a deep crisis within months. Excessive spending and a halt to the reforms would cause a loss of stability, price hikes, a wave of currency depreciations, higher interest rates, and the stock exchange's crash. Simply put, growth would cease and unemployment would rise -- and very quickly Peretz would become a failure.
He cannot, however, implement an opposite policy either. If he were to change his tune and become a tight-fisted finance minister - the kind of treasurer who holds onto every penny, cutting government spending, streamlining its work, and even instituting a series of important reforms, including at the Israel Electric Corp., even though the economy would soar and unemployment would decline - the social organizations would make him feel miserable. They would say he betrayed them, had become a slave to the budgets department, was behaving exactly like the evildoers before him. They would blame him for all of the economy's ills, every poor person, and every empty refrigerator - and his career would be over.
That's why he fled the Finance Ministry. All the rest is nothing but media spin. Even at the Defense Ministry, Peretz is not dreaming for even one minute of doing what is being written in the newspapers. True, he wrote in his economic plan that the defense budget should be cut by NIS 2 billion. So what - he's not allowed to write a plan? The moment he enters the Defense Ministry, he will become the defense establishment's greatest advocate; because the moment he tries to cut back, the entire army will assemble against him and lambaste "the civilian who doesn't understand a thing." Furthermore, he believes a good government is a big government anyway.
The chief of staff will quickly explain to Peretz that any cuts and streamlining mean layoffs. The new Knesset member in his party, Yoram Marciano, already has managed to demonstrate which way the wind is blowing when he sent Peretz a letter Tuesday demanding that the Merkava tank project remain intact, because otherwise: "This would cause the closure of dozens of factories and the dismissal of thousands of workers, most of them in outlying areas." If so, can we really see Peretz harming the defense industries? After all, the workers' committees there are his political power base.
From his failure in the elections (the shrinking of his faction) to his bizarre attempt to establish a government with the extreme right, refusal to reduce the number of portfolios, and flight from the role of finance minister - even Peretz's most diehard supporters have to admit: the emperor has no clothes.
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