His Rivals Are Drafting Economic Plans, but Netanyahu Has Nothing

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Isaac Herzog (left), Manuel Trajtenberg and Tzipi Livni at a press conference February 3, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag

If the public relations team of Likud, not to mention the party’s leaders, had attended the press conference held Tuesday by Zionist Camp heads Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Manuel Trajtenberg, they might have collected some decent ammunition for their smear campaign.

“The media are showing their true face, once again the journalists are with the left,” they would certainly have said after hearing the applause that followed the presentation of the Zionist Camp’s socioeconomic program. Admittedly, the audience included many campaign workers, but nonetheless I can’t remember the last time I heard so much clapping at a press conference.

Presumably, no Likud people were there, and the party’s knee-jerk response was uninteresting and unimportant. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the ruling party is absent from the socioeconomic debate. The applause might symbolizes Israelis’ need to have their troubles discussed, to make promises and draw up plans, even if it’s clear that many of them will never be implemented. At least there will be someone to be disappointed with. After all, that’s how the disappointment began in Yair Lapid, who promised the world and delivered almost nothing.

The Zionist Camp, in contrast, has a worthy candidate for finance minister, a detailed socioeconomic program and, most important, the unequivocal commitment of its leaders.

Of course the program has many holes. It lacks, for example, important and necessary structural reforms to the labor market, the public sector and Israel Electric Corporation. In addition, we did not see it addressing the problems of the defense budget and of state-supported noncontributory pensions. The absence at the press conference of the Zionist Camp’s “social-welfare” candidates also struck a sour note. Not to mention the haste with which Herzog rushed to defend the honor of Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn over the future of the big trade unions.

Still, it is now clear that Likud’s main challenger has a strong position on socioeconomic issues, and a vision for the future. Trajtenberg laid out three principles for his future policies: people in the center, renewed government responsibility and the values of social justice, morality and compassion. He called the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic policies “depressing,” adding, “growth did not trickle down to everyone. We need to change direction, change policy, change perspective. The path of recent years has expired. That’s it, it’s over,” Trajtenberg said.

Likud’s newest platform is from 2009

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party has also selected a candidate for finance minister: Moshe Kahlon. It has a written platform and the commitment of its leaders. The same can be said for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, even if we can assume that Lapid is not interested in becoming finance minister again. Which major party lacks a written platform? Likud. Its most recent platform was written for the 2009 election and it has not put forth a candidate for finance minister, not to mention the commitment, or lack thereof, of Netanyahu and other party figures to an economic policy of any kind.

The funniest part is that Likud already controls the treasury, which since Lapid was fired as finance minister on December 2 has been run on Netanyahu’s behalf by Nimrod Sapir, a 31-year-old lawyer who was a senior economic adviser to former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. He was brought in from the private sector without a proven record. Is that not negligence? Would it have been a problem to appoint a Likud Knesset member as acting finance minister? It’s a political game that harms the public interest.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s press conference, a heavenly voice called out from the cellphone of someone in the audience, announcing, “You have reached your destination.” Perhaps a reference to Netanyahu, who has no destination, no map and no GPS.

Since the end of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu has been repeating the mantra of security only, as if all the other issues will manage on their own. He vowed to increase Israel’s defense budget by “many billions more for defense” and continued to speak endlessly about Iran, Hamas, ISIS and Hezbollah. Now, in his campaign, he puts up Facebook posts about the proverbial 3 A.M. phone call and who will be responsible adult who will protect our children. There was an unforgettable (and never-repeated) moment in which he talked about a plan to eliminate value added tax on certain basic foods products, and on two occasions he promised to change the system of government. There were even slogans and billboards written about it. But why change the system of government if there is no plan and he is not interested in ruling?

Putting out fires

In Zionist Camp, Kulanu and Yesh Atid there are people thinking about programs, arguing over clauses, deliberating over the cost of the proposed changes. They are asking themselves whether to include in their platform the recommendations of a panel headed by then-Health Minister Yael German and the Alaluf report on poverty or to exclude them because of their high cost. And Netanyahu does nothing. Can the prime minister present conclusions from even one meeting, one position paper prepared by a team of professionals, one conference, one study or even one expert consultant to show that Likud is making plans for the next four years that will benefit the citizens of Israel? And what about the next decade?

The party that has been in power for the past six years has already conducted two election campaigns without a platform, a vision or a plan. Just a group of people, some of them good, who took the wheel and all they want is to keep on driving.

Some of the economic data for Israel are good, and the economy is stable, but the problems are too big, the inequality too great and there is no future. We cannot continue to drive this way, on automatic pilot. Anyone who visits Likud headquarters at Tel Aviv’s Metzudat Ze’ev will notice the anachronisms: The main hall is still hung with slogans from the 1980s, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister. Even his son has already retired from politics. What large corporation or even small business that you know operates without thought and without long-term planning, with only a team to put out fires and deal with tomorrow’s headlines?

There is a good reason why Israel has become a place where anyone who is close to someone or something takes what they can for themselves, arranges jobs for their family, and as for all the rest — almost no one cares. That’s why Netanyahu and his supporters are whining about the media’s engagement with the nonsense of bottle deposits and scented candles instead of the main issue. They should be reminded that they too are not exactly addressing the important issues.