Lapid Says He Understands Israelis Leaving the Country for Financial Reasons

The finance minister reverses his position of a year ago, when he lambasted young people for heading off to Berlin.

Ofer Vaknin

Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday he understood the economic hardships of young people who have chosen to leave Israel for places like Berlin.

The re-eruption of the cost-of-living debate was sparked by a Facebook page opened by Israelis living in Berlin. They provided information to help their countrymen “make aliyah” to the German capital, using the phrase that normally refers to immigration to Israel.

“Those day-to-day calculations are terribly difficult,” Lapid told Army Radio. “We should admit that the question is not just about the high cost of living, but also about Israel’s identity and purpose.”

A year ago, Lapid sharply criticized Israelis who left the country for financial reasons. He wrote on Facebook that he was “a bit impatient with people who are willing to throw the only state the Jews have into the garbage because it’s easier to live in Berlin.”

On Tuesday, Lapid said he agreed with many of the points recently raised by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who once headed a committee on socioeconomic reform. “Not only do I agree with them, I also established Yesh Atid and ran for office over those things,” Lapid said, referring to his party. “ I think we must never take our eyes off the social-justice threat in Israel.”

But he noted that during his first year in office he had to “deal with the budget pit that was awaiting me, so only after a year did we start addressing the things that Trajtenberg was talking about justly and wisely.”

On Tuesday, Lapid submittied the 2015 state budget to the cabinet.

“I’d be happy to sit with [Trajtenberg] and show him the budget, which contains more for health, education and welfare,” he said, noting that the social affairs minister and the head of the War on Poverty Committee were receiving 1.7 billion shekels ($463 million) to begin implementing the panel’s recommendations.

“We’re starting the process that we need to take further,” he said. “We need stronger welfare policy in Israel — I agree with that completely. But this budget is definitely one that promotes social justice.”

Lapid also commented on the notion that the social protests of 2011 might make a comeback.

“I fear the public atmosphere will become more and more troubled. I share the public’s anger. I would have started the process we’re in now a year and a half ago if I could have,” he said.

“Israelis are looking around and asking why it’s cheaper in Berlin. If they look at the current budget they’ll see that more and more products are under regulation. We will continue putting more products under regulation without asking manufacturers.”

The Israelis’ Facebook page mentions grocery items that are cheaper in Berlin, including the German equivalent of Milky, a packaged pudding made by Israeli food conglomerate Strauss. The German version at one Berlin retailer was selling for 90 agorot (24 U.S. cents), according to the Facebook posting. In response, some Israeli retailers are lowering their price for Milky.

Eyal Ravid, who owns the Victory supermarket chain, said this week his stores would sell Milky at 90 agorot. The Rami Levy supermarket chain said it would sell Milky for 1 shekel (27 U.S. cents). Milky sales at Victory have surged more than fivefold since the promotion was launched, Ravid said.

“This shows that Israelis want lower prices, and that when prices are lowered, Israelis buy a lot,” Ravid said.

Referring to the food protests of 2011, when some Israelis stopped buying cottage cheese due to allegedly excessive prices, Ravid said people weren’t “punishing Milky as they did with cottage cheese, when sales dropped despite promotions.”