Many years ago, in 1979, a Knesset delegation took a diplomatic trip to Australia and New Zealand. The eastbound flight was long and exhausting. The airplane took off from Germany, stopped in South Africa and went on to Sidney – a total of 38 hours. The delegation was headed by Yitzhak Shamir, then the Knesset speaker and later to become prime minister. He didn't dream of requesting a seat in business class, never mind first class, but sat in economy class beside Knesset member Adi Amorai, with two empty seats next to them.
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After a few hours, Shamir said to Amorai, "I'll sleep on the four seats on the first night and you sleep down on the floor of the plane, and on the second night we'll switch places."
But when the first night passed and the second night came, Amorai said to Shamir, "You're the Knesset speaker, you're older than I am, and I can’t let you sleep on the floor at my feet. Let’s stick with the current arrangement."
Shamir cut him off, saying, "An arrangement is an arrangement," and lay down on the floor of the airplane to get a few hours of sleep.
Can you imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acting like Shamir instead of stretching out on his flight to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's funeral in London last month on a double bed that costs taxpayers half a million shekels?
Note also the monstrous increase in the budget of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Netanyahu's watch. The prime minister spent NIS 64,000 on clothing, makeup and hair care in a year when there are people for whom this is an annual wage. Another NIS 1.2 million went to cleaning and housekeeping services, which alone warrants an investigation. And when Netanyahu traveled to China last week, the inflated delegation cost twice as much as usual.
This ostentatious waste is especially blatant and infuriating in the context of the recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report putting us in last place in the group in the poverty-rate rankings and against the backdrop of a week Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid spent raising taxes and making budget cuts that will hurt all Israel's citizens.
This is a budget that has one major achievement: decreasing the deficit to 3% in 2014. Nothing is more important than this now, when the credit rating companies are scrutinizing us carefully. Converging on reasonable deficit will prevent a financial crisis and bring back some of the credibility we have lost. The NIS 3 billion cut in the defense budget is thus praiseworthy.
However, there are also big failures in the budget. On the revenue side, no tax exemptions are being cancelled: not on fruits and vegetables, not on Eilat, not on tourism and not on advanced professional training funds. Yet there are increases in income, valued added and company taxes. These decisions represent surrender to the Histadrut labor federation and the farmers to prevent strikes and demonstrations. The result will be less growth and more unemployment.
Another area in which the failure is considerable is in the area of reforms. There is no treatment for the economy’s chronic ills, like those in the ineffectively managed and inefficient public sector, and nothing has been done about the unions' control of the ports, the Electric Corporation and the Israeli Airports Authority.
Nor has there been any action on increasing the retirement age for women or reducing import duties on food products, which could have helped lowered the cost of living. The bottom line is the pressure groups have won. Lapid was afraid to confront them. He has not touched a single group that could organize, demonstrate and go on strike. Above all, he wanted quiet.
Therefore, only one sector is expected to suffer blows: the ultra-Orthodox. There will be cuts to National Insurance Institute allowances for children, the budget for yeshivas and all the discounts the ultra-Orthodox get on daycare, property taxes and housing. Anyone who wants to receive benefits from the government will have to prove that he works or at least is looking for work – a high standard for yeshiva students.
While it is true there was no alternative but to push the ultra-Orthodox into the labor market, cut expenditures and raise taxes, Netanyahu has to understand that he cannot continue to behave like the king of an African country at a time when his subjects are collapsing under the burden.