All in Favor / Taking Credit for Saving Sderot

Who will help the small business people in Sderot? The government, the coalition, or the opposition? That is one of the burning questions facing the house these days. Last week, in opposition to the government's stand, the Knesset passed the preliminary reading of a bill, sponsored by former finance minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), to assist small businesses in the rocket-plagued southern town.

The bill would provide assistance to small and medium-size businesses hurt in the fighting. It would set eligibility for compensation, establish an assistance fund, and give breaks in reporting and paying taxes. It would apply to residents of the whole region, now including Ashkelon.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said that personally he was in favor of the bill, however he was duty-bound to oppose it because of the government's opposition. Nevertheless, nine coalition lawmakers from Kadima, Shas and Labor voted for it.

The battle is now over the legislation process. Knesset regulations state that the bill has to go through the Knesset Economics Committee, which deals with issues involving small businesses.

However Knesset Finance Committee Chairman MK Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu) wants the law in his committee. Misezhnikov, who leads the Knesset's support for small businesses, is not about to give up credit that would help both him and his party.

But Shalom is worried that the coalition will pressure Misezhnikov into burying the bill until government-supported legislation on the matter is introduced.

Last year, Shalom was burned when he submitted a bill calling for negative income tax, which was buried in the Finance Committee until the government's bill was submitted and was eventually combined with Shalom's.

Political dividends of Likud

It is still unclear how much longer Misezhnikov will remain Finance Committee chair. Shalom therefore would prefer the bill be discussed in the Economics Committee, headed by fellow faction-member MK Gilad Erdan. Economics Committee approval of the bill would mean political dividends for Likud.

Shalom offered to establish a joint economics-finance sub-committee to move the bill ahead, but Misezhnikov has refused.

The government wants the bill moved to the Finance Committee, where, obviously, it will indeed stay buried until the government submits its own bill.

The government and Kadima do not want to let Shalom and his party, Likud, to make huge political hay by being identified with legislation assisting the people of Sderot and Ashkelon.

The Knesset House Committee is to decide on the matter soon.

And what about the people of Sderot? They complained at the beginning of the week to Shalom, who had come to meet them, that ministers and MKs come to the city for photo-ops, but then vote against legislation that would help.