Lapid Lauds Dimona Mayor, Despite Damning Unemployment Data

Lapid claims 'unemployment rates decreased' during the tenure of Meir Cohen - who is on his ticket for Knesset election - but official data indicates they actually rose.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Twenty-four hours after the Kitan textiles factory in Dimona laid off its last workers, political hopeful Yair Lapid praised Mayor Meir Cohen's success in fighting unemployment.

Cohen, Dimona's mayor for the past nine years, is in the fourth slot on the ticket of Lapid's party, Yesh Atid, in the upcoming election.

Cohen is credited with opening new theaters in Dimona, but it is also true that the city has been running heavy deficits.

The announcement of the fabled Kitan factory's closure left city residents concerned over the future of industry there. Yet Cohen likely won't be available to provide answers, as his eyes are set on the next Knesset.

When the party unveiled its list Sunday, and at a press conference during which Lapid, the leader of the new party Yesh Atid, announced Cohen's addition to his ranks, Lapid said of the Dimona mayor: "In his tenure as mayor, unemployment in the city dropped and movie theaters and a shopping center opened."

Contrary to Lapid's claims, employment actually increased during Cohen's stint as mayor.

According to estimates from Israel's Employment Service, in September 2001, two years before Cohen was elected, unemployment in Dimona was 13.4 percent; in 2010, it rose to 14.8 percent; and in October 2012, it rose further 15.5 percent – not including the impending layoffs at Kitan.

In addition, according to the local authority's annual financial report for 2011, Dimona's cumulative deficit stands at NIS 28.7 million, which is equivalent roughly to 15 percent of the authority's annual tax revenue. It has therefore reached critical mass, requiring an external auditor to vet the city's books.

It is true that the deficit is lower than in 2003, when it stood at NIS 36.8 million. But instead of deficit spending, the city has simply been borrowing more from government: In 2011 it borrowed NIS 110 million from the state, compared with NIS 78 million in 2003.

"Meir Cohen lowered Dimona's unemployment rate by tens of percentage points to an unprecendented low of 7.6 percent in 2008," said a Yesh Atid representative. "That year, mass layoffs began at the Kitan factory, and that is what drove up unemployment."

The factory had, up until recently, been owned by Nochi Dankner and gradual layoffs began under his helm. Dankner, who is presently under investigation for alleged securities fraud regarding a bond issue by his firm IDB Holding Corp., is still thought to be one of Dimona's greatest benefactors.

Yeshi Atid chairman Yair Lapid, center, with Herzliya mayor Yael German, left, and Dimona mayor Meir Cohen, Oct. 22, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

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