'Election Economics': Netanyahu and Katz Unveil Plan to Send Payments to Israelis, Treasury Kept in Dark

Plan includes direct payments to citizens, despite attorney general's assertion that any such move during an election campaign must have his approval

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then Minister of Transport and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yisrael Katz, Jerusalem, February 24, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then Minister of Transport and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yisrael Katz, Jerusalem, February 24, 2019.Credit: Abir Sultan / POOL EPA / AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz announced an economic plan Sunday that includes various grants for individuals and businesses. The two drew up the plan without the involvement of Finance Ministry professionals, and despite the fact that the attorney general made it clear that during an election campaign any such move must get his prior approval.

The plan includes payments directly to individuals, a move made twice in the past and which generated criticism. This time the grants will be based on income and given only to citizens in the seventh income decile or lower. Under the proposal, every adult in this category would get 750 shekels ($229); every family will also get 500 shekels for each child through the fourth, while for the fifth child onwards it will get 300 shekels per child.

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The plan also gives grants to businesses whose income was reduced by 25 percent or more. Businesses with turnover of between 18,000 and 300,000 shekels would get grants of between 8,000 and 15,000 shekels.

Businesses with higher turnovers would get up to 30,000 shekels while those opened during 2020 would get 8,000 shekels. For the first time, the plan also includes unemployment payments for the self-employed, something the cabinet has until now refused to approve.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wrote to Katz last week warning him not to use the state budget to promote what he called “election economics” by distributing grants and not to mention grants to the public in Likud’s election advertising. This is probably why Netanyahu and Katz are presenting the plan as an announcement of intent, and not a plan that will be implemented soon.

Katz last week also announced various plans under the title “From braking to growth.” One of them is grants of tens of thousands of shekels to be paid to unemployed who return to work. Finance Ministry professionals have opposed such grants, saying they were not effective.

The Justice Ministry responded to Sunday’s announcement saying that the ministry had no idea what Netanyahu and Katz’s plan was about, and that it had not gotten the attorney general’s approval.

“The details of any economic plan – to the extent it exists – were not brought to the attorney general so nothing could have been coordinated in any case,” the ministry said. “Last week as well no plan was presented to the attorney general; what was said in his letter (to Katz) was based on general and preliminary information that was brought to his attention.”