Netanyahu, Kahlon Tussle Over Credit for Economic Policy Steps

Prime minister cuts and pastes finance minister's list in Facebook posting without acknowledging his colleague.

Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu, August 14, 2016.
Emil Salman

The Jewish year 5776 was a busy one for economic policy. Who should get the credit?

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in a press statement released on Wednesday detailed 14 measures he had led over the past year. But a few hours later, the same 14 appeared on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page, without giving any credit to Kahlon.

“These measures, and a great many others, have contributed to the continued growth of the economy and a decline in the unemployment rate to a historic low. Israel today has record high employment rates,” Netanyahu’s posting boasted.

As of Thursday it had 1,800 likes and 175 shares. Presumably none of them were from Kahlon, who claims credit for all or most of the achievements.

“In the past year the Finance Ministry has brought about a reduction in prices in a wide range of areas, among them food, public transportation and insurance,” said the statement from Kahlon, whose Kulanu party captured 10 seats in the 2015 Knesset election and became Netanyahu’s biggest coalition partner by promising to tackle the high cost of living.

This much is indisputable. After a slow start, the economic growth has picked up in recent months and the Bank of Israel in its latest forecast for growth in 2016 raised its projection to 2.8% from a previous 2.4%. Unemployment, meanwhile, fell to 4.6% in August, its lowest in decades, while the percentage of working-age Israelis in the labor market has grown.

But who can take credit for the 14 steps?

Of the 14, Kahlon was the one who initiated the policy in all but three — even if he enjoyed the prime minister’s backing.

Kahlon’s achievements, all of which Netanyahu included in his Facebook posting, include lowering the value-added and income tax rates as well as opening the market for dairy products to more imports and cutting the price of public transportation.

The Kahlon list also included programs for coaxing more ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs into the workforce and cutting red tape for small businesses by among other things shorting the procedures for planning and building.

Kahlon was also responsible for expanding the program of free dental treatment for children under age 14 and boosting old-age allowances and enabling older people to find jobs. Kahlon also took credit for raising the minimum wage and launching a government-sponsored savings program for children. Likewise, he was responsible for lowering electricity and water rates.

Where Netanyahu deserved the credit among the 14 — and took it as well — was for winning approval for the gas-framework agreement. The prime minister was also responsible opening talks on trade agreements with China, Japan and India and for helping to turn Israel into a global cybersecurity power by encouraging investment.

In defense of the prime minister, a Likud party source asserted Thursday that Netanyahu hadn’t just copied and pasted his rival’s work and taken credit for it. The prime minster had detailed the same list of achievements at a party conference last week at Kfar Maccabiah in front of hundreds of activists — and there he lauded his finance minister for his contribution.