If Shinui decides to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government and receives the Finance Ministry portfolio, a candidate is waiting in the wings - MK Avraham Poraz, who served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee in the last government.
Poraz's economic theories represent the party line - lower taxes, a reduction in the allocations and transfer payments to the ultra-Orthodox sector, a drastic reduction in the number of foreign workers (including a new and original idea to withhold a portion of their wages if they don't leave), and privatization.
In the outgoing Knesset, Shinui sat in the Opposition, so Poraz could present his ideas without coalition considerations. Now, if Shinui joins the government, we will be able to determine whether the party's economic positions have changed or whether there is a gap between its ideas and reality.
Poraz told Haaretz that he has firm stances on other issues, too. He said, for example, that families should have no more than four children, unless the mother is Shari Arison.
Shinui's political red lines are crystal clear: It will not join a government that includes the ultra-Orthodox. On the other hand, it has no economic red lines.
Will you be part of a government that raises taxes?
"Of course we don't want to raise taxes, and we think they should be lowered and that the government should reduce spending, but we have no red lines on such issues."
Would you bring down a government that levies new taxes?
"Some taxes could be raised here and there, but, in general, the tax burden must be lowered and public spending reduced."
Where would you cut spending?
"A few million shekels could be saved in the Religious Affairs Ministry, but that is not the solution. Israel's main problem is the low rate of participation in the work force. Only 69 percent of men [in Israel] work, compared with 82 percent in other developed countries [according to figures compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development]. There are about 150,000 ultra-Orthodox men who do not work for ideological reasons. Only one if five ultra-Orthodox men works."
The economy is declining and there are now new jobs, which means the ultra-Orthodox would simply join the lines outside the employment bureaus.
"The solution is to drastically reduce the number of foreign workers. There are currently about 300,000 of them in Israel, and we could manage with 100,000."
You suggested withholding half their wages until they leave. Would that not add to their distress?
"No country in the industrialized world has a completely free immigration policy. With all the pain and suffering in the Third World, we cannot solve their problems. We cannot afford to be kindhearted at the expense of the Israeli economy. Foreign workers should be given one-year permits, during which time half their wages would be deposited in a closed account, the balance of which they would receive when they leave Israel."
Why not tax the employers of foreign workers, instead of dealing so sternly with the workers?
"There must also be a tax on employers of legal foreign workers and stiffer fines and prison terms for employers of illegal foreign workers."
That will make it harder for the small businesses that you claim to represent.
"Let them employ Israelis."
Even if that would mean their businesses couldn't survive?
"A business cannot rely on foreign laborers. The transition would have to be gradual."
Shinui has a lot of ideas for reducing benefits to the ultra-Orthodox, but what about the high cost of the settlements?
"I have never supported the settlements and always opposed the establishment of new ones. Politically, I am a dove. In the current situation, however, there is no choice but to continue to maintain the settlements, but without building new ones. A unilateral withdrawal would encourage the Arabs to think that terrorist activity is enough to make us capitulate. I want to negotiate with them, not to fight them."
Does this mean that you support the construction of all the roads that will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority? Those roads are costing us billions.
"The settlements must not be expanded, but the people who live in them must have reasonable conditions. The economic benefits based on geographic location must be canceled, of course, for the Galilee and the Negev as well as for the settlements. I don't believe anyone lives in the Negev or the Galilee because of those benefits."
Are you still in favor of canceling the benefits that encourage large families?
"Yes, I don't think the state should encourage large families. Large families are a symbol of the Third World and of backwardness."
What is a large family?
"Over four children. If it were up to me, I would not give a child allowance for the fifth and subsequent children."
That would be penalizing people who have more than four children.
How many children do you have?
"Two. Three is okay and so is four. If Shari Arison had 10 children that would be okay too, because she can afford them."
If you are in the Opposition, you won't be realizing the broad mandate given you by the public to make changes.
"Menachem Begin sat in the Opposition for 30 years until he became prime minister. We want to be in the government, but not an any price."
If Shas is in, are you out?
You haven't ruled out United Torah Judaism, even though there are more Shas voters who pay taxes and serve in the army.
"On the one hand, I prefer Shas to UTJ, but UTJ would be supporting the government without having ministerial influence. Shas's ministers had corrupt practices and wasted money."
You could join the government with Shas and demand the ministries that were corrupted and clean them up.
"Shas has 11 seats and could demand three ministries. There will be trouble wherever they go. Let them sit in the Opposition."
Do you see yourself as a candidate for the Finance Ministry?
"Definitely. Even though it is the hardest job, if Shinui gets that ministry, I will head it."
If you become finance minister, what is the first thing you will do?
"First, I would shake hands with all the officials. There are some great people there. Then I would have to cut some budgets, streamline the public sector and reduce personnel, particularly in the municipal administrations. They are worse than the government. The mayors create a deficit and then disappear."
What about a board of governors for the Bank of Israel?
"I am in favor of an independent board. I also believe there is no reason for the bank's workers to receive higher wages than the rest of the public sector."
Your economic ideas seem to be logical, but lack human compassion. You oppose large families, foreign workers, the weak and the ultra-Orthodox.
"That's not true. I have a lot of human compassion. I have passed bills that protect foreign workers and want to help the weak out of the cycle of poverty by getting them into the labor force. I am willing to help anyone in trouble wholeheartedly - the disabled, the elderly, the ill and the illiterate. But I am not willing to help those who are capable of finding work, but who choose a life of unemployment at the expense of the public purse."
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