In election season, parties make claims. Some are true. Some are not, and some are brazen distortions that can easily be checked. The following looks at certain central claims made by the coalition parties Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid. Are they bona fide, borderline or outright balderdash?
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Likud: Whose law is it, anyway?
The spin: “The Netanyahu government enacted a law providing free day care from age 3, saving each family in Israel thousands of shekels a month” (extract from propaganda advertisement).
The truth: The Netanyahu government enforced a preexisting law to provide free day care from age 3. However, first of all it wasn’t the Netanyahu government now in power; it was the one before it, in 2009. Secondly, it didn’t enact a new law. It decided to finally enforce a law enacted in 1984, one that had been shelved decade after decade, until the social protests began in 2011.
Finally implementing the moldy old law was among the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee, which was established to discuss ways to lower the cost of living in Israel. (It bears mention that most of the Trajtenberg recommendations were ignored, including the ones on education.)
In any case, execution of the law is proving problematic. First of all, implementation is being done based on moldy old standards, which wound up worsening conditions in kindergartens and outraging many a parent in recent months. Netanyahu – who has also been acting education minister for several months – has been ignoring the resulting uproar.
The spin: “Unemployment in Israel is among the lowest in the West, and employment is the highest in the OECD” (from a Likud campaign broadcast).
The truth: Unemployment in Israel is low, especially by international levels – because the great global crisis that started in 2009 caused joblessness to soar in a lot of places, but not here. Employment is not the highest in the OECD. In the third quarter of 2013, Israel ranked 16th among the 34 OECD nations, with employment at 67.8% (the share of people of working age who actually work). The OECD average is 65.7%.
During Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, employment did increase, but so did the proportion of Israeli families with two breadwinners who still live in poverty: 5.7% of families in 2013, up from 5.5% in 2012 and 2% in 1999.
The spin: The “A computer for every child” plan is on Likud’s list of achievements (from a Likud campaign broadcast).
The truth: That plan arose from Netanyahu’s promise, during his first term as prime minister (1996-99) that every child would have a computer. That led to the formation of a nonprofit association – whose funding sources include the Prime Minister’s Office – which hands out computers to impoverished families. But although many years have passed since the initiative’s birth, no, the government did not give computers to all children. If anything, computerization at school is way behind other developed nations. In the last year, some schools began requiring parents to buy tablet computers for their kids.
The spin: On Likud’s list of achievements is building a medical school in Safed (from a Likud campaign broadcast).
The truth: A medical school was built in Safed in the term of this government, but the same government has been holding up budgets for it, stifling its development.
The spin: “Likud abolished TV tax” (from a shelved Likud campaign broadcast, in which “victims” of reforms were shown next to a Hamas operative).
The truth: It hasn’t been abolished. Television tax lives and breathes. The Israel Broadcasting Authority Law has not come into force yet, and the public has to pay the broadcast tax for 2015 – immediately after the election, in fact. Lately, the IBA reform has stumbled into all sorts of obstacles and TV tax may be here to stay for a while.
The spin: The port workers have been hurt by the Netanyahu government’s reforms (from the same shelved campaign ad).
The truth: Reform at the ports? Hasn’t been any, although the government has been trying to do that very thing since 2005, if not before. The previous Netanyahu government did promote the establishment of private ports to compete with the two government ones (Ashdod and Haifa). But the state-employed port workers remain among the highest-paid employees of any government company in Israel.
Habayit Hayehudi expands on the truth
The party run by Naftali Bennett makes a number of claims that stand on shaky legs.
The spin: Bennett pushed unemployment benefits for the self-employed, an initiative shot down by Yair Lapid (from a Habayit Hayehudi campaign billboard).
The truth: The bill was sponsored by Ilan Gilon (Meretz), not Bennett, and it fell in cabinet. The ministerial legislative committee did not support the bill and deferred debating it for 60 days. Meanwhile, an interministerial committee (finance, economy) was set up to study the issue. Bennett expressed some support for the concept, but cannot claim an achievement in this respect. Gilon says he wrote to Bennett and Lapid, but never got answers. He feels the government tried to effectively bury the bill by putting off the discussion.
The spin: “We lowered the cost of living in Israel by 5%” (from Habayit Hayehudi billboards, campaign TV ads).
The truth: The Food Prices Index (including fruit and vegetables) dropped by 3.6% in 2014, mainly because the situation of Israeli households deteriorated, partly due to an increase in the VAT rate. Consumers simply cut back on spending, leading retailers to expand their discount offerings. However, consumption remained tight.
Bennett takes pride in moves that lowered food prices, but most of them were not his initiative. He did approve some of them in his capacity as economy minister, but most aren’t even in force yet.
The spin: “We broke the cement monopoly and opened the cement industry to competition” (Habayit Hayehudi campaign TV ads, comments by Naftali Bennett)
The truth: Breaking the cement monopoly was partly a combination of initiatives by Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo, and the former head of the Finance Ministry budgets department, Gal Hershkovitz. Not Bennett. His contribution was to approve reform of the cement industry in the Cost of Living Committee he headed.
The reform, however, has yet to be implemented. It involves selling the Nesher plant at Beit Shemesh to competitors and opening the market to competition. The plant remains unsold and the market closed to competition.
The spin: “We raised the minimum wage for cleaners and security guards from manpower companies” (Habayit Hayehudi campaign TV ads, comments by Naftali Bennett).
The truth: The wage increased, but not because of Bennett. It was because of an agreement signed in July 2013 between the Histadrut labor federation and an umbrella organization of cleaning companies. Bennett issued an expansion order for the agreement in 2014.
Yesh Atid’s wonky math
The spin: “We reduced the cabinet to 18 ministers and saved hundreds of millions [of shekels], which went to day care and small businesses” (Yair Lapid, in videos and in interviews).
The truth: Lapid didn’t save the public hundreds of millions of shekels by reducing the number of ministers. The cost of an office for a minister without portfolio is about 2.5 million shekels ($623,000) a year, so at most he saved some millions of shekels. And the cabinet website says it has 21 ministers, not 18.
As finance minister, Lapid did not budget for building day-care facilities – the Economy Ministry has had a budget for that for years. Lapid did cause the budget’s release, though. In any case, based on sample checks, under Lapid most of the centers were built in the settlements. The entire 2014 budget for day-care centers went to the settlements, according to Molad – the center for the renewal of Israeli democracy. Even if some of Lapid’s moves helped people get through the money, others did the opposite – for instance, his VAT hike, cutting child allowances, increasing corporate tax and parents’ payments for schools, hiking city taxes and almost entirely abolishing subsidized afternoon activities for schoolchildren.
The spin: “Because of Yesh Atid, ultra-Orthodox institutions of education teach English and math” (Yesh Atid campaign ad).
The truth: Horsefeathers. Requiring the Haredim to study core subjects was one of Yesh Atid’s main campaign promises the last time around. And like most promises, it wasn’t kept. The education and finance ministries never did get final signature on agreements regarding the teaching of core subjects at ultra-Orthodox schools. Instead of requiring the schools to teach these things, a decision was made to set up infrastructure to teach core subjects at Haredi schools in the future.
The spin: “The ultra-Orthodox are going to the army and getting jobs” (Yesh Atid TV ad).
The truth: The Israel Defense Forces hasn’t announced figures for Haredi draft in 2014, so we don’t know what figures Lapid is relying on. Partial data and indications on the ground show that, if anything, the pace of drafting the ultra-Orthodox is slower. Nor are there any figures for employment of Haredim, so again, what Lapid is relying on is not clear.
The spin: Yesh Atid has a plan to fight corruption and increase transparency.
The truth: The members of Yesh Atid opposed bills that would have increased transparency on the ministerial legislative committee, and expand protection of whistle-blowers.
The spin: “We will reduce crowding in classrooms”
The truth: It was on the watch of Yair Lapid as finance minister and Shay Piron as education minister that the “Sardines protest” began – a battle by parents to reduce crowding in classrooms. Lapid and Piron rejected the parents’ position that classrooms shouldn’t have more than 32 children – a limit the government set in 2008, but which the Education Ministry never implemented. The ministers explained there was no budget for change. Israel’s classrooms are among the most crowded in the West.
The spin: “We found solutions for working single mothers, but the state has hamstrung us.”
The truth: Lapid said he would increase negative income tax for single moms by 80 million shekels. That never happened and isn’t in the 2015 budget; the Tax Authority explains that it can only happen after legislation is in place.
The spin: “We made sure that every Holocaust survivor would get free medicines” (Lapid).
The truth: He did. Lapid increased the budget and equated the conditions for all Holocaust survivors, granting full subsidies for drugs – including for survivors whose eligibility had previously been only 50%. The cost of the subsidies came to some 130 million shekels and the cost of increasing allowances added 730 million more. It was an easy enough reform to make. Nobody opposed it. It is the only promise we found that Lapid kept in full.