Shay Piron was an exceptional education minister in many ways, but he had a special gift for saying things that seemed not to serve his interests. Even by his standards, he could surprise me. “I’m not a good education minister,” he once told me. “I’m disappointed by my performance.” I prayed that I managed to stifle the automatic nod.
Why did I want to nod? Piron had been the director of Hakol Hinuch, an advocacy group that sought a more equitable distribution of state funds to schools — to give more to the have-nots. Simple, but that’s not how it works. Over the years, the Education Ministry rejiggered its formulas so as to give less to the poor (mainly Arabs, but also ultra-Orthodox Jews) and more to religious Zionist schools.
Piron vowed to change this, but after being appointed to his dream job he proved incapable of overcoming the opposition (mainly vis-a-vis his boss, Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid) of those who refused to take a little more from those used to getting a lot more. No wonder he was disappointed with himself.
That’s just one example of a pattern that is perhaps unprecedented. A party with enormous political power was in the government for two years and was unable to establish one irreversible fact that affected our lives and was not erased a second after it left the coalition.
Yael German of Yesh Atid left no mark on the Health Ministry. She wasted her entire tenure as health minister studying the material in a course called the German Committee. As social affairs minister, Meir Cohen established the Alalouf Committee to Fight Poverty in Israel, little of which has remained.
The finance minister — Lapid, as you will recall — took it upon himself to battle rising home prices. He wasted a lot of time setting up a government agency that would build 150,000 rental apartments. That generated a few sporadic projects. The zero-value added tax plan was buried long ago, and housing prices continue to rise.
Lapid fought to the death to impose criminal sanctions on Haredi draft evaders. The sanctions were canceled. He invested all his political capital into fighting to have all Haredi schools teach the core curriculum; two weeks ago that law was also dumped. Lapid also promised cabinets with 18 ministers, and no ministers without portfolio. Ha!
On the Yesh Atid website there’s a section called “Reforms carried out.” Here are some of its headlines about those reforms. Under “Cost of living,” one of the party’s central objectives, it says “putting white cheese under price supervision.” Wow. Under “Holocaust survivors,” it lists, “a calculator for Holocaust survivors’ rights.” For that it was really worth entering the Knesset.
Under “changing the system of government,” the achievement was, “no-confidence motions will be debated only once a month.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the first to welcome that.
Along with the reforms “carried out,” there’s also a category called “Reforms stymied by Netanyahu.” For the last interview I did with Netanyahu, I came with numerous questions about promises that weren’t kept. His standard answer was “The citizens of Israel didn’t give me enough power to carry that out.”
Lapid long ago adopted this approach. But recent polls position him as the only viable rival to Netanyahu (at least so long as Isaac Herzog continues to stubbornly destroy the Labor Party).
People like me might have to swallow hard, but in the end we will prefer Lapid over Netanyahu. That’s why it’s so depressing to see — from the perspective of only a year and a half — the pathetic use to which Lapid put the political power that he had.
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