A New Year and Its Problems

In its efforts to reduce the budget deficit, the treasury proposed substantially slashing the budget for the Knesset for 2002.

1.In its efforts to reduce the budget deficit, the treasury proposed substantially slashing the budget for the Knesset for 2002. But Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg and MK Yisrael Katz ignored the treasury and the public and two weeks ago approved a Knesset budget that exceeded the treasury proposal by 20 percent.

Among other items, Burg and Katz approved a 17 percent increase in foreign travel expenses for Knesset members and a 300 percent increase in the budget for English language lessons for MKs.

When all this came to light in the media, the two were subject to such a torrent of criticism that they understood that they would have to quickly backtrack because the public would not forgive them for this "institutional corruption."

This week, Burg, Katz and a few other MKs sat down and loudly proclaimed to the media that they had shaved a modest 9 percent off the Knesset budget. But the truth is that 3 percent of this comes from the cancelation of a salary increase for 2002, and another 3 percent from the fact that the government's 40 ministers and deputy ministers receive their salaries from the ministries and not from the Knesset budget. So, the real "meat" of the cut is just 3 percent. And that is far too little for an institution as habitually wasteful as the Knesset.

2.Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon is under attack from the agricultural lobby, particularly kibbutzim, opposed to his plans to equalize the price of water to the agricultural sector with the price to urban consumers. Simhon plans to undertake this important reform, which will put a stop to a monstrous waste of water, because once the price of water rises to its real cost, farmers will shift from growing produce that requires a lot of water to produce that needs a lot of sun, as appropriate for a desert nation.

As compensation, the farmers will receive a subsidy to work their land. But the kibbutzim are opposed. Zev Shor, the head of the Jordan Valley regional council, wrote the following to Simhon: "Your agreement to increase the price of water to agriculture constitutes a betrayal of us, your public; and your signature on such an agreement without our support will be an irreconcilable divorce from us... We will not sit on our hands when our hope for a better future is crudely crushed by a malicious hand."

Simhon may be learning what we have known for years: Hell hath no fury like an agricultural lobby scorned.

3.This week, MK Nahum Langental proposed a bill called "prohibition of trade on the Sabbath." The bill calls for banning not only trade but also all any other productive or economic activity on the Sabbath. That is to say, all the big shopping centers that have developed outside cities will be forced to close on Saturdays.

Kibbutzim and moshavim that cannot survive economically from agriculture will be hard hit. Thousands of Israelis who work hard all week long and can only go shopping out of town with their families on Saturdays will have to huddle at home. All because Langental, a wolf in sheep's clothes, wants to impose his minority world view on a majority and determine what they will do on the Sabbath.

If the proposal had come from an extreme ultra-Orthodox MK, it might be understandable. But it comes from such a nice MK, who even visited India and was "very impressed." So, it may be a pity that Yitzhak Levy ceded his place to Langental in the Knesset.

4.On January 15, David Ivri's term as ambassador in Washington ends. Sharon told him a long time ago that his candidate to replace him is Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. But Shimon Peres has another candidate: Danny Gillerman, chairman of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.

Gillerman is the better candidate. He has a lot of personal charm and an infinite ability to acquire friends. The main function of an Israeli ambassador to the United States is to act as a spokesman to explain Israeli policy, mostly on television. Gillerman has no equal in this field. If he is appointed, in no time at all, he will be best friends with the most senior editors and journalists in Washington, and George Bush will play tennis with him in the morning, before work. And if that seems unrealistic to anyone, that's only because they don't know Gillerman.