Justice, Israel Style

In one corner of the country, hundreds of people are being fired from the venerable Bagir clothing factory, and the heart aches at the sight of hardworking people impoverished and humiliated, while in the other corner, the Knesset passes the budget for 2002.

In one corner of the country, hundreds of people are being fired from the venerable Bagir clothing factory, and the heart aches at the sight of hardworking people impoverished and humiliated, while in the other corner, the Knesset passes the budget for 2002.

The two events are seemingly unrelated, but the truth is that they are very much related. They are the result of a cynical policy by a prime minister who only wants to survive politically, a finance minister who seeks popularity at any price, a crumbling government that can't govern and an unbridled Knesset. That's why the budget for 2002 hurts the middle class, working people who make their livelihood from the fruit of their labors, and people who serve in the IDF - all paying for those who don't work and don't serve, and the major capitalists.

1. Haredim vs. secular: Despite Ariel Sharon's ceremonial announcement on December 23 that "we will freeze all the private members bills... including the Large Families Law," the "fifth child" law remains in the books because of pressure from Shas and United Torah Judaism. The result is improved conditions for Haredi families, who average 8-9 children each. Their situation has improved since 2000, but conditions for secular families, single-parent families and new immigrant families, who average 2-3 children, have worsened. Instead of canceling the "fifth child" law, the government decided on an across-the-board cut of 12 percent for all child allowances. As a result, allowances for the first and second children dropped to NIS 150 a month, while allowances for the fifth child and more, went to NIS 750 a month.

In other words, working families, people who serve in the army and taxpayers have all seen their situation worsened. But for the Haredi community (where two out of three men don't work, living off the state in kollels and yeshivas) the situation has improved. Justice - Israel style.

2. The Negev vs. minimum wage: Sharon also promised to cancel the Negev Law, but under pressure from the Labor Party and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom he surrendered. That law is a symbol of political corruption, of straightforward paying for power, whether it's Yisrael Katz, Weizman Shiri or Silvan Shalom who is doing the buying.

The law does nothing to improve education in the Negev. It does nothing for the infrastructure or retraining the people fired from Bagir. It simply increases the take home pay of the wealthy people of the Negev. It will cost the taxpayer some NIS 500 million a year, which will mostly go to the wealthy of Be'er Sheva, Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, Omer and Lahavim. Those who earn NIS 14,000 or more will take home an additional NIS 1,050 a month. Those who earn minimum wage, NIS 3,200, won't get an agora, because in any case they don't pay taxes. Justice - Israel style.

To fix the distortion, Silvan Shalom is suggesting tax brackets be changed so minimum wage earners get to take home an additional NIS 53 a month. Shalom is a generous man.

So, here's a proposal to the finance minister: Turn it around. Transfer NIS 1,050 to the minimum wage earners and NIS 53 to Ya'acov Terner, Pinni Badash and Weizman Shiri.

3. Rich vs. poor: To gain some popularity, the government decided to impose a 1 percent tax on those who earn more than NIS 30,000 a month. That's not a major burden for the "rich," but that symbolic tax prevented the real burden from being imposed on them: capital gains tax and tax on the bourse.

Our problem is a surplus of taxes on labor and no taxes at all on capital or the stock market, which is completely unacceptable in the West. So, what does the finance minister do? He adds more taxes on labor, on the entrepreneurs, the professionals and the executives, doesn't tax the really rich for their capital and stock market gains, and imposes a tax on an efficient item inexpensive enough to be used by almost all: the cellular phone.

In fact, Silvan Shalom in effect reduced the tax burden on capital. According to his real estate reform package, taxes on real estate deals will be lowered, to the tune of NIS 500 million that the developers and real estate sharks won't have to pay. Justice - Israel style.

4. Yeshiva students vs. university students: For many years, prime ministers and finance ministers have refused adding the "special payments" the Haredim get for yeshivas and kollels into the budget's foundations. By now, that's NIS 500 million a year. It's money that is handed out without any criteria, supervision or monitoring. Now it's become part of the state budget, in perpetuity, and it's the only item in the budget that was not cut. But the Haredi extortion won't stop there, because from now on, that's only the basis for more negotiations when budget time comes around. Next year, new demands will surely come up.

On the other hand, a planned cut in university tuition was reduced by 6 percent. The students pay for their education, they work and even go to reserve duty. So they can be screwed. The Haredim go to kollels and yeshivas and not only do they not pay tuition, the state gives them "kollel allowances" and "guaranteed income," through the Religious Affairs Ministry, as well as all sorts of other odd benefits, because the policy is to encourage and glorify all those who don't work and don't serve. But it's for the glory of the Zionist state of Israel. Justice - Israel style.