Recent days have been good for the finance minister. The poverty report has been forgotten, the newspapers are full of sympathetic coverage of the macro-economic indicators showing economic growth, the initiative to import a bank governor from abroad has succeeded, and the disengagement plan is diverting popular opinion from the "small" problems like the flu epidemic and the serious shortage of hospital beds. Benjamin Netanyahu shakes off the economic demands of the Labor Party, Agudath Israel and even Shas like a youngster swatting away annoying flies. He promises a budget increase with one hand and cuts budgets with the other, while letting the ministers fight among themselves over the government's priorities.
In the background, there is only one group that is troubling Bibi's tranquillity - the workers committees. The treasury is currently targeting two of them: the teachers unions and the port workers union. These "terrible" people, whom Netanyahu likes to compare to terrorists clutching the state by the throat, are the last centers of opposition to the economic muscling of the finance minister, and this makes him angry. If it were up to him, he would legislate labor regulations prohibiting strikes, promoting "healthy" competition, and allowing the treasury to institute structural reforms and privatize complete sectors of the Israeli economy, without any involvement of the workers.
When Netanyahu gets angry, he does what he knows how to do well - he incites the public against anyone who dares to think differently. The simplest way is to argue that anyone with a different set of priorities than Netanyahu either does not understand economics or is an enemy of the economy and society. To understand economics means to agree that the best way to advance the Israeli economy is to act in accordance with the treasury's dictates.
In other words, to understand economics means to believe in privatization, in reducing the size of the public sector and in decreasing government involvement in the economy. If someone is doubtful about the treasury's priorities, supports a more egalitarian distribution of national wealth and national resources, and gives precedence to strengthening social services, this reflects a lack of economic understanding. To be a friend of the Israeli economy is to fall under the spell of the magic words "growth" and "reform," and to ignore the growing poverty and economic gaps. To be an enemy of the Israeli economy is to try to act on behalf of the weaker sectors of society or the workers. To demonstrate national responsible is to act on behalf of the plutocrats; it is populism to act on behalf of the weak.
The new diplomatic situation also acts in Netanyahu's favor. The new government can only work to his benefit. If strikes break out that disrupt the economy, he can blame the workers. The Histadrut's last strike, which succeeded in putting an end to the nonpayment of wages by municipalities, demonstrated that the public hates strikes and strikers, even if these strikers are defending a just and important interest. Thus, Netanyahu hopes there will be strikes, preferably ones that are particularly painful for the public. When the public suffers, there is justification for breaking the strike with force, even bringing workers from abroad to man the ports, thus liberating him from those nagging workers who seek to protect their rights.
If there are no strikes, that will also be okay - Netanyahu still wins. If the unlikely scenario transpires and the Labor Party stands behind the workers and opposes the legislative imposition of wage arrangements and labor conditions, and the stability of the government is threatened, Netanyahu will be happy. If, for the sake of government solidarity, the Labor Party ignores the violation of workers' rights, Netanyahu will be even happier. He has nothing to lose. This is Bibi's time. When we awaken, we will only be able to feel sorry.
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