How Not to Manage a Country

In Israel, policy is conducted without advance planning and based on extraneous political considerations.

The country is in a tizzy. Its salads are at risk. Soon tomatoes will be disappearing from produce aisles. Cucumbers will be history and the public will not be able to deal.

What's at the heart of the dispute that gave rise to the farmers' strike? It's the 4,000 migrant workers whom the farmers are demanding permission to hire, since "without them, agriculture is not feasible in Israel."

This is the new Zionism replacing the "religion of labor" propounded by the early Zionist thinker A.D. Gordon. The farmers will get Thai laborers who work in slave-like conditions. The consumer will get fruits and vegetables at lower prices and the unemployed who are thrown off the fields will get unemployment compensation. You never got to see this, Mr. Gordon.

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon says the shortage of Thai workers is the product of a deliberate policy on the part of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who doesn't want to bring non-Jewish foreign workers into the country. But Yishai is the same interior minister who a week ago enthusiastically advocated the immigration to Israel of 8,000 Falashmura, Christian descendants of Ethiopian Jews, even though he knows they are not Jewish.

He is bringing them in under the Law of Entry and not pursuant to the legal provision through which Jews immigrate, the Law of Return. He is also demanding that they formally convert to Judaism.

But that's not the end of the absurdity, because while we argue about the future character of the country, every month 2,000 people from Sudan and Eritrea infiltrate the unsealed Israeli border from Egypt. Each month 1,200 of them are booked into the Saharonim detention facility in the south. The other 800 infiltrate undetected.

That means that in a two-month period, a similar number of foreigners enter the country as the number of Thais that are at the center of the labor dispute. Over a four-month time span, the number of foreigners is about the same size as the group of Falashmura that are to be brought to Israel.

Yishai, who fought tooth and nail against migrants who he said bring in a "profusion of diseases," is prepared to allow the immigration of 8,000 Falashmura because they undergo conversion to Judaism at institutions affiliated with his Shas party, and the young people among the group will be sent to Shas schools.

Yishai also knows that the Falashmura transit camp in Gondar, Ethiopia, will never be empty. The Sharon and Olmert governments, too, decided to bring residents of the camp to Israel "for the last time and that's it," but every time, the camp fills up again, until pressure grows and the next group is brought in.

That's how Israel's immigration policy is conducted - without advance planning and based on extraneous political considerations. That is also how wage policy is dealt with in Israel.

Notice that today is the seventh day of the prosecutors' strike. Their demands include a pay raise, adjustments to their job classifications and car allowances. They say lawyers in private practice earn much more than they do, but they don't mention that in the private sector, lawyers work longer hours without compensation, that salaries are only high at the top and that there is no tenured job security.

The prosecutors are demanding a 24.2 percent raise. Where did they come up with this precise figure? It all started with a strike by university lecturers. In October of 2007, they went on a strike that lasted so long that there was a risk that the entire semester would be canceled. They ultimately got a pay raise of 24.2 percent.

Next came the physicians. In their case, the Finance Ministry agreed to arbitration. The arbitrators ruled that if the state had agreed to give a 24.2 percent raise to university faculty, the doctors were entitled to an identical pay increase.

So that is why the prosecutors are demanding 24.2 percent. What do you want? Are they less important than the university lecturers and the doctors?

But if the prosecutors' demands are fulfilled, next in line will be the lawyers in the government ministries and the public sector asking for the same pay raise. And what about the judges, don't they have it coming too? When the doctors got their raise, the nurses and administrative and support staff didn't come away empty-handed.

The reason for all this is we have a government that doesn't manage anything. It just moves from crisis to crisis putting out fires. It's a government of extortion that is willing to pay any price for just a little bit of peace and quiet in the hope of surviving for another few days.

The atmosphere at the Finance Ministry is similar. Udi Nissan, the ministry's budget director, recently said they are no longer talking about cuts but about raises at the ministry, and the only thing in dispute is the order of priorities.

So it is clear why everyone is descending upon the public purse with steep demands. No one wants to be a sucker when the government is opening its wallet.