Finance Minister Roni Bar-On has a novel idea for attacking two problems at once: mounting unemployment and the quality of education in Israel.
He means to propose today that laid-off high-tech professionals be retrained to teach science and other professions at Israel's high schools.
The high-tech sector has been hit hard by job losses as the financial crisis turned into a global credit crunch. Demand for exports from Israel has been dropping and some companies are firing out of need, others to prepare for harder times to come. Even the big companies such as Amdocs and Comverse have downsized, each cutting dozens of positions.
Bar-On and the other top officials from the Finance Ministry will be presenting the details of their stimulus plan, designed to deflect the impact of the global financial crisis on Israel, before the economic and social affairs cabinet this morning. The meeting will be immediately followed by a press conference, at which Bar-On is expected to divulge his thinking to the general public for the first time.
In about a week, the minister will be presenting his stimulus plan to the Knesset Finance Committee. Plain sailing cannot be assured. Members of the coalition belonging to Shas and the Labor Party have already stated that they oppose main points of the plan, on the grounds that not enough attention is being devoted to social issues. Shas leaders for instance have made it known that they seek more budgets to support daycare.
Avishay Braverman, the chairman of the Finance Committee and member of Labor, has also stated his opposition: He has long voiced the opinion that the government should increase its deficit spending in 2009, to support economic growth. This is not a consensus position, though, and Bar-On has been firm that he intends to keep government spending strictly under control.
Although the details of Bar-On's plan have remained under cover, there have already been some leaks about his intentions, and it is known that jobs are an acute worry at the ministry as companies - not only in technology, but in industry and finance to - downsize.
Retraining people from the high-tech firms to teach science and technology subjects in high schools is the main thrust of the ministry's proposal regarding jobs.
The cost of retraining would not exceed NIS 80 million, the officials project.
Meanwhile, the police will mount a drive to reduce the number of illegal workers, to vacate jobs for unemployed Israelis.
Budgets director Ram Belinkov will also address the economic and social affairs cabinet. He is concerned that GDP growth in 2009 may fall below 2%, and that unemployment will rise sharply. The retraining plan to be presented today before the cabinet is the first step in addressing this issue.
Belinkov is also expected to meet with Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut union, to discuss the details of the stimulus plan and seek support from the labor federation.
Sources say Eini will demand that the plan include an explicit promise of government assistance and a safety net for pension funds, and decisive action against a wave of layoffs. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni came out to bat for Bar-On yesterday. The prime ministerial hopeful stated that opposition to the plan would cause delays in investments worth billions, and support for business, which is another key point of the stimulus. "At a time like this I expect that all Israel's political leadership, despite being in a period of elections, will rise above considerations of elections and do what is best for the country, not what is best for the party," Livni said.
About the report that Shas and Labor mean to oppose the plan in the Finance Committee, Livni - who is starting to speak out on economic issues - said their position merely proves that people shouldn't vote for parties representing narrow sectors.
She added that it was infuriating to see political elements trying to take advantage of the situation at the expense of the public.
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