Wearing a black mask, Benjamin Netanyahu sat in the Knesset and couldn’t believe his eyes. He recalled the good old days when he was finance minister under Ariel Sharon (2003), when he passed a budget filled with reforms and structural changes that propelled the economy forward. And now here he was sitting on the opposition benches, being forced to listen to his former aide, Avigdor Lieberman, who had submitted a revolutionary budget just as good as the one from 2003.
Bibi knows that since 2003 he did not submit a budget worthy of the name. He knows that in his last 12 years in power he became a cowardly politician who thinks only of himself, a politician who doesn’t dare carry out any reform that would require clashing with pressure groups – tycoons, farmers, industrialists, the Histadrut – so that the only thing he can do now is give “fake news” speeches filled with crude lies about the budget.
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The thing that really galls him is that those “communists” from Labor and Meretz are voting in the Knesset in favor of the kind of extensive reforms that once upon a time, long ago, were the type of thing one could expect from Likud. For these are reforms that loosen bottlenecks, increase competition, lower prices, ease the way for imports and raise the standard of living for all of us – i.e., free economy reforms. And a free economy was once Likud’s calling card. There was a time when Likud was a liberal party that touted such reforms. Today it is a populist party that knows only how to give out more and more goodies, and then some more, without a thought for the resources needed for that.
Yisrael Katz, Bibi’s finance minister, also sees the big reforms in the budget and feels resentful. He wasn’t able to pass a single budget or a single reform during his year as finance minister, an unprecedented record that makes him the worst finance minister in history. Instead of pouring his efforts into programs that would promote growth and employment, he was busy sowing strife and increasing the deficit. He operated as the indentured servant of the criminal defendant whose aim was to blow up the unity government as a step toward halting his trial. The two of them together sacrificed the Israeli economy on the altar of Bibi.
Under Katz, work relations at the Finance Ministry hit an all-time low. Some top officials who could no longer bear being abused and publicly denigrated by him got up and quit. Today the ministry is completely different. Relations between Lieberman and ministry officials are good. He appreciates their knowledge and gives them respect. He listens to what they have to say, even if he thinks and decides differently. Contrary to early expectations, Lieberman works at the ministry from early morning until late at night. On Tuesdays, he starts the administration meeting at 7:30 in the morning, and he holds several work meetings every day of the week. He appears to be enjoying the job – especially the ability to effect changes and reforms. Moshe Kahlon, for example, was not present in the ministry very much. Katz would mainly show up to insult and humiliate the professionals there.
With Lieberman, the meetings are short and to the point. He doesn’t like small talk. He listens to the department chiefs, asks questions, expects brief answers and then makes up his mind quickly. He doesn’t linger over small details or regale the others with endless fairy tales about himself, as Katz did. Neither does Lieberman blame anyone for mistakes the ministry makes; he takes responsibility. He doesn’t get irritated or raise his voice. He’s a cold fish, but a dangerous fish.
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Netanyahu knows better than anyone how dangerous he can be. It was Lieberman who prevented Bibi from forming a government in 2019, touching off the chain reaction that ultimately sent Bibi to the opposition, where he received the biggest punishment of all: having to listen to his former aide pass the big list of reforms that he himself was too cowardly to carry out.