Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right, declares Nehemia Shtrasler in his op-ed last week, “Hot Air and Natural Gas Agreements.” The piece provides little proof of this claim but tries to convince readers I’m wrong.
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He claims that I (like anyone who dares oppose the natural-gas framework and the anti-democratic way the prime minister is advancing it) want to leave the gas in the ground and steal its fruits from Israel's citizens.
To a great extent, Shtrasler relies on the claim that I don’t understand economics. He uses words that scream contempt and chauvinism: “Galon is convinced she understands natural gas and economics better than Prof. Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council, economist Eytan Sheshinski, treasury budget chief Amir Levi and Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht.”
“Who are they next to her?” he writes. And really, how could someone like me have the chutzpah to present views different from those presented by these important men?
After all, history proves that economists are always right. That was true with the experts who argued vehemently that there was no problem of concentration in the Israeli economy.
Regulators and government officials are never wrong either, and they always serve the public interest. They’re not dependent on the prime minister for plum jobs, and it wouldn’t enter their minds to accept the tempting proposals offered by tycoons after they retire from public service.
I’m not claiming, God forbid, that everyone who supports the gas deal is tainted by corruption or serves the tycoons. But the claim that men with economics degrees are necessarily right — and that anyone who argues with them is at best a woman who doesn’t understand economics and at worst a female politician who wants to leave the gas underground — is unfounded and infuriating.
Shtrasler, like Netanyahu, doesn’t understand how the threat “the gas will stay in the ground” hasn’t convinced those opposed to the framework. Those who have bought, as he calls it, the “populist” argument, know that gas has been flowing from the Tamar reserve for two years and will be supplying energy for many years to come. That’s enough time to design a gas framework that will let us develop the Leviathan reserve without criminally abandoning the public interest and turning the Israeli economy into an oligarchy run by gas barons.
True, I don’t have the economic training of Kandel or Shtrasler, but I do have considerable training in identifying business-government connections. The deal in which Arye Dery has transferred the Economics Ministry to Netanyahu is only another scandalous step by Netanyahu to advance the gas deal.
It was preceded by the unabashed use of baseless security arguments — while ignoring Egypt’s gas exploration — to justify bypassing the antitrust commissioner and the disgraceful ousting of electricity authority chief Orit Farkash after she dared say the proposed gas deal would cost the people 100 billion shekels ($26 billion). It was also preceded by many meetings with tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva that Netanyahu has refused to talk about.
To prove his claim that it’s serial lack of comprehension on my part, Shtrasler makes a strange comparison, which he took from Netanyahu, between the gas battle and the battle over Route 6 — the Trans-Israel Highway.
“A few years ago, Galon poured fire and brimstone on plans to build Route 6 .... I tried to explain to her that this was the most ‘social’ highway of all .... She has yet to apologize. That’s why I don’t expect an apology ... when we realize how important it was to get that gas out of the ground.”
There’s no arguing that Route 6 is a popular highway, but one can argue about whether it’s a social asset. Whatever the case, opposition to its construction was based on social and environmental arguments that have not been disproved by its popularity.
Similarly, the arguments against the gas framework won’t be disproved if we surrender to all the monopoly’s demands. We’ll “get that gas out of the ground” and pay a high social, political and environmental price.
Zehava Galon is the chairwoman of the Meretz party.