Mirage From the Back Bench

Braverman's proposal for the national budget says, in effect: Eat and drink today - because tomorrow I need to be re-elected to a top slot in the party primary.

The person who only two years ago was the great white hope of Israeli politics is now discovering that he has been skipped over. The person who left the university for the sake of the hard life in the political swamp is discovering that not only is he not number 2 and not the minister of finance but rather a mere soldier on the Knesset's back bench.

When Labor MK Amir Peretz came to his home in Be'er Sheva two years ago to persuade him to join the great victory march to Jerusalem, he was depicted as the new star of the Labor Party and 100,000 voters put him in third place in the party's primary, a very respectable place. He was ahead of Yuli Tamir, who is now education minister; Ami Ayalon, who is now a minister without portfolio; Eitan Cabel, who was a minister without portfolio until May of this year; and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who today is minister of national infrastructures. But then came the first betrayal: Peretz did not choose him to be a minister. Then he was betrayed by Ayalon, who entered the government without him. And so today, instead of being in a position of governmental influence, MK Avishay Braverman is fighting for every minute of media exposure. This, apparently, is the explanation for the hallucinatory proposal for a law he submitted last week.

Under Bravernman's proposal, the annual rate of growth in the national budget will not be 1.7 percent, as is stipulated in the current law, but rather a great deal higher than that: two-thirds of the previous year's rate of economic growth, with the additional money to be directed to social aims. Braverman does not mention, of course, the waste and the inefficiency in the budgets for defense, education, welfare and health, but speaks only of extra spending. This is much more popular.

The proposal meets neither the political test nor the economic one. Politically, it is absurd to submit a private member's bill to increase the budget three months after the government, including the ministers from the Labor Party, has approved it. After all, despite everything Braverman is a part of the coalition. Economically, the absurdity is even greater. Only a month and a half ago, the Finance Ministry's director general, Yoram Ariav, signed an agreement with his American counterpart wherein Israel committed to staying within the 1.7 percent limitation on budgetary growth. In return, the United States agreed to extend the guarantees agreement. Is it conceivable that Israel would break its promise and put the American aid at risk?

The credit rating agencies are also keeping a close eye on Israel. The moment it breaks its commitment and increases the expenditure framework, they will immediately lower the country's credit rating and the result will be an increase in interest rates, a decline in investments and a mudslide in growth. Is this what Braverman intends?

Apparently he has learned nothing from the experience of the past four years, during which the captains of the economy have maintained a restrained budget, put the public sector on a strict diet and are now harvesting the fruit. The economy is growing at the rapid rate of more than 5 percent annually, 400,000 people have joined the job market (which is the correct social solution) and all of this is attributable to a policy diametrically opposite to Braverman's recommendations.

Thanks to the rapid growth, the gaps between rich and poor have narrowed in 2006 and 2007, and an impressive increase in income from taxes has also been chalked up; thus the government is now able to spend more on social aims but also to reduce taxes and decrease the large and dangerous national debt.

The decrease in the debt will reduce next year's interest payments by about NIS 1.2 billion, all of which will be directed to increasing the social budgets, a move that is not possible to carry out in Braverman's outline, which in effect says: Eat and drink today - because tomorrow I need to be re-elected to a top slot in the party primary.

The traces of Braverman's confused thinking were already evident when he was dealing with the Labor Party's economic platform, which was noteworthy for one thing only: increases in expenditures for every sector and every pressure group. And when the 2007 budget was submitted, Braverman also said that it was not necessary to cut anything in it but rather to increase it - this time for the benefit of the country's North. It is a pity to see what has happened to him. Braverman is an educated and knowledgeable person, a man of the world, and he left a career (as president of Ben-Gurion University) and a position in order to try to change things. But precisely when a person like this makes a mistake, it is fitting to hasten and issue a warning - so as to prevent others from being seduced by the mirage that he represents.