Shas' new strategy is to position itself as a social party, concerned about the entire public and not only the ultra-Orthodox. The strategy is meant to preserve its political power under the new-old electoral system expected in the next elections, the single ballot.
Eli Yishai pretends to be carrying the social flag in every one of his TV interviews. Some fall for his pretenses. But the truth is the exact opposite. While Shas talks about worrying about the poor and weak, it continues to take care only of the yeshiva students, the Haredi elite, and the Haredi community at large - at the expense of the secular majority. It continues to be an extremely parochial party, whose MKs will do anything to get more for their constituents - at the expense of Israel's social and economic stability.
The latest example is the way Shas handled increasing the child allowances from the fifth child on. At the end of 2000, and since the start of 2001, Shas (along with United Torah Judaism) managed to increase the allowances paid to large families, with the allowance for the fifth child and those who followed reaching NIS 885 a month, while the allowances for the first and second child remained NIS 171.
That's obviously purely sectorial legislation, because only the Haredi (and Bedouin) communities have families of five or more children. Indeed, the average number of children in a Haredi family is now 8-9. It is the only identifiable community in the world that has seen its birth rate grow in the last 20 years.
While allowances for the first, second and third child were eroded by 36 percent in the last 20 years, the allowances for the fourth, fifth, and more children were not only not reduced, they have been significantly increased in real terms.
But when the budget process reached a real crisis, the prime minister made the decision to cancel the "fifth child" law and cease allowances for children over the age of 16. Shas heard that - and laughed. After all, it represents a very specific constituency, which makes its living without working (two out of three Haredi men do not work), by getting government handouts from a variety of ministries, allowances, and a whole range of discounts.
So, Shas began a campaign of lobbying and extortion that eventually defeated Sharon and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom. The fifth child allowance went back into the books, for the glory of the Haredi families.
Some NIS 7.3 billion is devoted to child allowances in the state budget, and there are 2.2 million children. It's time for a total revision in the way the money is handed out. No more discrimination against the secular majority. It's time for an egalitarian system - NIS 330 alloted to every child, no matter how many children a family has.
But it's not only the fifth child law that proves Shas remains a parochial party. One of best examples is the way it foiled the tax reform. Toward the end of 2000, Shas agreed to support the reform, in exchange for the Income Tax Authority writing off Shas' debt of NIS 30 million. But then-finance minister Avraham Shochat refused to be extorted. He cobbled together a Knesset majority for the reform without Shas. Two hours before the vote, Shas turned it into a vote of no-confidence. The right backed down from its support for the tax reform because it did not want to vote confidence in Ehud Barak.
So, the finance minister had to retreat, and thus, the single most important social reform needed in the country, one that every true social activist prays for - taxing capital and lowering tax on labor - was scuttled by Shas, "the social party."
Here's another example: Eli Yishai and Shlomo Benizri go on and on from every media platform at every opportunity, about the unemployment problem and how everything must be done for the unemployed, including getting rid of foreign workers. But at the end of 1999, the Knesset passed a law requiring employers to provide the same working conditions to foreigners that it provides to local workers. The law includes a NIS 300 fee to be paid by anyone who employs a foreign worker, and requires the employers to set aside NIS 700 a month for a social savings scheme for those workers. The idea was to reduce the temptation to hire foreign workers.
David Tal, of Shas, is chairman of the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee, and to this day, more than two years later, he has not moved to make the appropriate amendments to enable implementation of the law. Maybe it's because of pressure from the contractors, or from the manpower companies. In any case, his behavior proves that his party does not represent jobless Israelis or for that matter, working Israelis, because what does Shas have to do with labor?
So, be careful, and don't fall for the charming talk by Yishai, Benizri and Tal. They and their colleagues are trying to pretend to be "social," but the truth is that they were sent to the Knesset for only one reason: to bring as much booty as possible to the homes of the Haredim, at the expense of the donkey called the secular taxpayer.
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