Who Wants to Be Israel's Next Finance Minister? Not Me

With budget cuts imminent, Netanyahu may have trouble finding someone to head the treasury.

The job of finance minister, highly-prized during the term of the outgoing Knesset, has turned into a hot potato in the coalition that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to form. At the moment, no one is angling to grab the post other than the incumbent finance minister, Yuval Steinitz (Likud).

Whoever is finance minister in the next government must present plans to cut the budget by NIS 15 billion.There may also be no alternative to increasing taxes to generate additional revenue. By deciding what should be cut, the new finance minister could become a ready target of the public’s wrath, perhaps damaging a budding political career.

This would be especially true for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who garnered 19 seats in the incoming Knesset as a champion of middle-class concerns, and who may see himself as a prime ministerial candidate several years down the road. As finance minister, Steinitz was the target of criticism from activists within his own Likud party because of unpopular steps he took.

Currently, the options for finance minster are:

1. Yair Lapid: Over the weekend, Netanyahu met with Lapid and apparently offered the Yesh Atid leader the choice of either heading the finance ministry or the foreign ministry. (The third senior post in the cabinet is the defense minister’s job). Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned just before the election in the face of an indictment on fraud and breach of trust charges, has expressed interest in returning to the Foreign Ministry and last week suggested that Lapid take the job of finance minister in a Netanyahu-led future government.

Sources in Lapid’s party say the Yesh Atid leadership is not currently talking about cabinet portfolios, but rather about commitments from Netanyahu over legislation that would lead to a more equal “sharing of the burden,” as the issue has come to be known, through the drafting of ultra-Orthodox young men. Up to now, most draft-age ultra-Orthodox men have engaged in religious studies instead of being conscripted. Yesh Atid is making such legislation a condition for joining a Netanyahu-led government. If Yesh Atid does join, the party’s leadership is interested in heading ministries that closely relate to its political agenda.

The job of education minister would apparently be given to Yesh Atid’s Shay Piron, and the party also appears to be interested in the Interior Ministry, the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Energy and Water Resources Ministry.

2. A professional: Likud sources say Netanyahu is looking into the possibility of filling the finance minister’s job with a trained economist. The name of Tel Aviv University economist Manuel Trajtenberg, who headed a panel that developed socioeconomic policy for the government following the social justice protests of 2011, has been mentioned as such a candidate.

In that case, the prime minister could demand the adoption of the Trajtenberg committee’s recommendation that NIS 3 billion be cut from the defense budget as well as proposals the committee made on criteria to qualify for housing benefits.

Although yesterday a source at Trajtenberg’s office said the professor is not dealing with such a matter, Knesset sources think he could be persuaded to take the post under certain circumstances. “I have never rejected a proposition that I have not received,” Trajtenberg said over the weekend.

3. Avigdor Lieberman: Finally, there is the possibility that, despite his legal problems, Avigdor Lieberman could ultimately be finance minister, with Steinitz staying in the post until Lieberman’s criminal case is concluded.

Daniel Bar-On. Tomer Appelbaum