There is no argument that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to explain to the public that the economic situation is very bad and there should be an emergency plan. His story of the thin guy (the private sector) carrying the fat guy (the public sector) on his back may not have been quite correct - the public sector produces one third of GDP to the private sector's two thirds - but the metaphor did help get across the message that we are "only three steps from the edge."
Netanyahu's problem was never one of marketing and PR anyway. It was always in the putting into practice. He does not know how to handle pressure, he can't take demonstrations, and he despises those slogans chiding him in the papers. Netanyahu wants everyone to love him, and that's not possible when you're finance minister.
His greatest single error was to give in piecemeal. It began with his meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when he agreed to add NIS 2 billion to the defense budget. Then he gave in to the police, and later, at a cabinet meeting, he gave up on the reforms on farmers' water charges, university tuition fees, and not raising public transport fares.
And then began the deluge. Everyone now knew that he was under pressure and that the entire economic plan was qualified. So each day we read of another giving in, acquiescence, understanding, as everyone slowly slices off part of the plan, salami style.
The peak was reached by Minister Meir Sheetrit in an interview with Haaretz, who said that the treasury is prepared to make greater wage cuts in the public sector in return for agreeing on fewer dismissals. In other words - everything is up for grabs.
There are no scruples, no red lines, just a bundle of suggestions, and everyone is free to try a bit of flesh-pumping. In this way Netanyahu and Sheetrit encourage Histadrut chair Amir Peretz and all the workers' unions to go on striking.
Netanyahu and Sheetrit do not understand that the public is willing to accept a tough economic plan in times of emergency - so long as they don't feel like patsies. Each one of us is prepared to sacrifice part of our living standards if we are dead sure our neighbor is taking similar measures. But no-one wants to agree alone - and be a patsy.
And it's worth paying attention to the Histadrut's PR campaign. The labor federation have hired Eyal Arad as its strategic advisor, the same Arad who advised Sharon in the last election battle. Arad insists on one thing - that his master's name does not appear. So "Sharon" can't be found on any poster or billboard, as if he had nothing to do with the plan. Just Netanyahu alone takes the brunt, and he doesn't even get to be called Benjamin, but Bibi - just a little dig there.
Apparently as the demonstrations and protests against Netanyahu grow and grow, Sharon heaves greater sighs of relief. Maybe he even calls Arad up at home in the dead of night, ever so hush hush, dropping him little hints on how to improve the next day's ad - against Bibi.
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