Yair Lapid: If Israel's Finance Minister Fails, He Takes the PM With Him

'The finance minister’s seat doesn’t have to be filled by an expert, but by a politician with substantial political power behind him,' writes Lapid.

As he prepares to take over as finance minister, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid shared some of his thoughts about his new job on his Facebook page.

“The Finance Ministry needs skilled economists, and it has more than a few of them. Part of my job will be to convene the best professionals around me and have them work together. However, the finance minister’s seat doesn’t have to be filled by an expert, but instead by a politician with substantial political power behind him,” Lapid wrote on Friday.

“Only a politician can stand up to the series of pressures that are applied on the Finance Ministry from various sources,” he added. “Only a politician can and must set national priorities. Only a politician is capable of fighting over a provision in the budget against other politicians. Only a politician who is not dependent on anyone else can do what the finance minister needs to do every day − say ‘no.’”

The economic principles contained in the coalition agreement for the government that will be sworn in Monday obligates it to work to reduce the cost of living “by every means at its disposal,” including enhancing free market competition and reducing the concentration of power within certain sectors of the economy and in the economy as a whole. It is also committed to reducing economic disparities within the population and to an “uncompromising” fight against poverty.

As part of that coalition government, Lapid’s Yesh Atid received four ministries in addition to Lapid’s Finance Ministry post. They are the Education Ministry, which will be headed by Rabbi Shay Piron; the Health Ministry, whose minister will be Yael German; the Social Affairs Ministry, to be headed by Meir Cohen; and the science ministry to be headed by Jacob Perry. Perry served stints in the business sector in top positions at Mizrahi-Tefahot bank and at Cellcom, the cellular firm.

On Friday, Lapid met for a working session with outgoing finance minister Yuval Steinitz. Lapid and Steinitz decided not to disclose information about their meeting, but it is known that Steinitz presented Lapid with a review of the accomplishments of the Israeli economy in recent years. He is also said to have sketched out the current economic situation here as he sees it and the steps that must be taken in the coming months. Steinitz is also understood to have spoken to Lapid about the key people in the Finance Ministry and their strengths and weaknesses.

Lapid meeting economy’s VIPs

Lapid initially demanded the post of foreign minister, but last week informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would accept the offer of the Finance Ministry. Since then the Yesh Atid leader has met with figures from the business community and former senior public officials and discussed the country’s economic agenda. This week Lapid will be meeting with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, who is his post at the end of June.

In his Facebook post Friday, Lapid made reference to his ultimate decision to take the Finance Ministry. “I am aware of the shrewd idea that Netanyahu offered me the ministry so that I would fail and then in the process he would be able to get rid of a potential rival. Like most conspiracy theories, however, this one too does not hold water. Even those who don’t believe Netanyahu need to know that if the finance minister fails, he takes the prime minister with him. If we don’t manage to extricate the Israeli economy from the deep morass in which it finds itself, Netanyahu will be harmed no less than I will. The need to work together is a common interest of both of ours, and interests are something very strong.”

In explaining his decision further, Lapid noted in his Facebook posting that after he had repeatedly considered his options, he decided that opting for any other position would be taking the easy way out. “True, the Foreign Ministry ‏(which I couldn’t get in any event‏) would have been more fun. True, I would have come in for less criticism in the Interior Ministry. It is true that I am not an economist, but I went to the polls with the slogan “Where’s the money?” as a representative of the Israeli middle class, and that’s a statement that comes with obligations for me.”
 

Michal Fattal