Fairy Tales Netanyahu and Lapid Told Israelis

For a year and a half Yair Lapid sat at the helm of the Finance Ministry, serving as Bibi’s monkey paw and wasting the powerful mandate he received from the voters.

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Yair Lapid, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu
Yair Lapid, left, and Benjamin NetanyahuCredit: Marc Israel Sellem / Jerusalem Post
Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik

Amazing, the reforms our finance minister is leading. Hats off to Yair Lapid!

And when does he choose to announce these crucial reforms? On the day he left the Finance Ministry.

The list of “reforms” that Lapid announced, which were highlighted by the news websites affiliated with the tycoons and led by a reform to the banking system, was most impressive. It looks like it was taken from TheMarker columns in recent years.

Yet Lapid didn’t so much as mention banking reform in his speeches over the last year; for the most part, there was no such animal in the last Economic Arrangements bill he submitted two months ago.

It is important to state that for all the criticism I have of Lapid, I’m doubly critical of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He appointed Lapid, he wanted him to fail and bears responsibility. Netanyahu’s castigation of Lapid for “failing” is pathetic, after two years in which the prime minister neglected the economy and advanced no reforms.

Worse, the meetings scheduled between Netanyahu and tycoons, which were revealed last week, beg difficult questions about the prime minister’s conduct regarding the economic concentration law and the gas monopoly.

But Netanyahu’s voters mostly like his diplomatic line, buy his stories about Iran and a “strong prime minister,” and are prepared to inflate the defense budget more and more. Netanyahu gives them exactly what he promises: more and more threats, terrorism and a dense “security” smokescreen.

Lapid on the other hand fooled hundreds of thousands of young and middle-class people who don’t have connections in some monopoly or other public teat, and who thought he would be the man to take care of them. He sold them a story that there are tens of billions of shekels going to the ultra-Orthodox but didn’t tell them where the money really is, even after long months at the Finance Ministry.

Lapid sat at the Finance Ministry for a year and a half. He did not touch the banking cartel, or even mention it. A year and a half he sat at the Finance Ministry and housing prices just keep climbing, creating more and more impoverished young couples by the month, slaves to their mortgages taken to buy housing at the highest prices in the world. A year and a half he sat at the Finance Ministry and the monster of noncontributory pensions, which the public pays out of its taxes to tens of thousands of people who do have connections, just kept swelling.

For a year and a half he sat at the Finance Ministry like Bibi’s monkey paw, helping to inflate the defense budget; for a year and a half he sat at the Finance Ministry and ignored, didn’t even mention, the many holes remaining in the economic concentration law like the one that enabled Shari Arison to continue controlling both Bank Hapoalim and the giant construction company Housing & Construction. For a year and a half he sat at the Finance Ministry and squandered the 19 seats in the Knesset, given to him by the public, at a time that the finance minister had an unprecedented tailwind from the public to go to bat for them, and tackle the interest groups.

The missed opportunity is colossal, given that he had not only a terrific tailwind from the public, but a party with no primary elections or debts. Only he could do it, and he preferred to sell dreams about “sharing the burden” and “zero-VAT” on housing.

Time wasted on Facebook

And after all that, we wasted a year and a half on Facebook posts about sharing the burden, zero-VAT something or other, the squabbles and public humiliations his team subjected him to, and the odd bizarre statement he issued on diplomatic and security affairs during Operation Protective Edge. We wasted the tailwind of hundreds of thousands of Israelis giving him 19 seats in order to bring on the revolution. We wasted the atmosphere of economic crisis in early 2013 and discussed cosmetics and budget juggling, much of which had been handled by his predecessor, Yuval Steinitz.

But that’s spilled milk. Looking ahead, could Lapid and his party Yesh Atid deliver after all? The grounds for this spurt of optimism are his new rhetoric in the last week. It began when he stated, finally, that in the State of Israel, there is a small group of people who grew rich not by talent but by contacts in government. Then he explained that the Israeli economy has a group of “interested parties who got all the resources,” and finally, he added, albeit in feeble, cautious language, that government service needs to become more efficient.

Bingo, bingo, bingo! Yair, now we’re talking. That is no less than to grab the bull by its horns. Eighty percent or 90% of the economic and social challenges that Israel faces lie in those three things – crony capitalism and economic concentration; the reshaping of the economy by the interest groups (not “interested parties”); and the effectiveness of the public sector in general and the government in particular.

If he bases his economic policy and the economic policy of the Finance Ministry and the entire government on these three items, finally we can start moving in the right direction. There will be a future.

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