Rein in Lieberman Before He Brings Down Israel's Government

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Avigdor Lieberman.
Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Emil Salman
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

Freelancers, small business owners and the self-employed have recently demanded the reinstatement of some of the financial assistance they received from the government over the last year and a half. Uncertainty is at new heights, with talk of a lockdown, but what is urgent for Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the treasury officials is to fill its coffers and the public be damned. The coronavirus restrictions have already done damage to many branches of the economy. But the operation, you’ll be glad to know, is proceeding smoothly with unusual efficiency, almost as efficiently as the process to legitimize the illegal payment of an additional 1.3 billion shekels (about $400 million) to the pensions of career military personnel.

I repeat: On Sunday the government was set to approve this addition for retirees from the career security forces, which they took from the public purse in addition to their fat pensions. At the same time, the government sticks its hand into many fragile household budgets and takes back the aid it gave them – to finance this, among other things. Call me melodramatic, but nothing good will come from a place where such things can happen.

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While many countries are dealing with the pandemic by turning left economically, Israel and its finance minister are stuck in the past. U.S. President Joe Biden promoted and approved programs to invest in job creation, to deal with the climate crisis, to develop infrastructure and systems that have been neglected for years.

Lieberman, whose outmoded worldview has gone to the grave twice over – once with Ronald Reagan and again with Margaret Thatcher – chooses to cut welfare to give money to the rich, and throws the public a bone in the form of price reform – as if all of its needs can be summed up by the price of pineapple.

The tragedy is that this is happening at a time when the government, for the first time in years, has a solid social democratic representation: Meretz, Labor and some Knesset members from Yesh Atid and even Kahol Lavan. They should lend a hand to a clearly Netanyahuist economic program – not the Netanyahu of recent years, not the Netanyahu of universal grants, but the privatizing Netanyahu of 2003.

The people on the economic left entered the government to get rid of Netanyahu and look what happened: Their government, in a time of uncertainty, anxiety and exhaustion should be promising the public that it won’t let people fall, that it will stretch out a safety net below them. But the government demands that aid be given back and calls them lazy, although it doesn’t create jobs for them.

Lieberman prefers accounting over life, classic neo-liberal economics. Just to ensure that the salt covers all the wounds, the government intends on Sunday to legitimize a 12-percent increase in the budgetary pensions of a branch of the economy that is satiated to bursting. But at the same time it backtracks on its intention to raise the salaries of soldiers in the conscript army, which have been frozen since 2015. These soldiers earn a pittance, leaving parents to make up the difference from their own salaries, a heavy burden. One could explode from the idiocy of it.

Life here is a pressure cooker. If you’re on social media, you know that the situation now is the worst it’s been over the past two years. It’s all-out war: Vaccination opponents, opportunists and conspiracy-mongers, who yesterday were fighting the Netanyahu-Trump supporters, are now fighting the scientists and the doctors.

The nationalist right wing is brawling with supporters of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; the people from TV station Channel 20, aimed at a right-wing audience, and the West Bank-settler-based radio station Galei Israel were struck with fear of abandonment and are conducting a campaign they call “Return” – and everything is being drowned in a wave of fake news and false data that puts to shame even what happened here during the last four election campaigns.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid can talk in the studios about the people’s good spirit. The truth is different. Everything is about to blow up. The government that seeks the public’s trust and cooperation must also deal with its existential anxiety. The appointment of Lieberman as finance minister was a serious mistake. Now the government should rein him in before he brings it down.

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