Opinion |

Israel’s Worst Finance Minister Ever

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Finance Minister Yisrael Katz at a press conference in the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, July 1, 2020.
Finance Minister Yisrael Katz at a press conference in the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, July 1, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Let’s start with the bottom line: Yisrael Katz is the worst finance minister in Israel’s history. And I apologize to Yoram Aridor for saying in a previous op-ed that both of them were equally bad. Today it’s clear that Katz beats Aridor by a knockout.

What the two have in common is that they did not create their crises but inherited them. And they have something else in common: Both operated with shocking irresponsibility and out of narrow political considerations, and thus they, each in his time, worsened the crisis and devastated the economy. But the damage – the deficits and unemployment – that Katz has caused now is far greater than the damage done by Aridor. That’s why Katz is the winner.

It’s not just that this year we are suffering from negative growth (minus 6 percent) an insane budget deficit of 13 percent, and terrible unemployment (800,000 people!), but that this is going to continue next year as well – because Katz hasn’t submitted a budget and he has no plans for encouraging growth. This is an economic terror attack on the unemployed and independent businesspeople, itself a sufficient reason for him to be thrown out of the ministry. That’s why during 2021 we will continue to wallow in a deep pit, with zero growth, a huge deficit (8 percent) and around half a million people out of work.

If Katz only knew how many desperate calls I’m getting from well-known businessmen, once the cream of society, who are on the verge of tears. What’s wild is that while all this is happening, he seems to find unlimited time and endless energy to harass two senior officials in his office, whose only crime was that they joked about him in a private exchange. They called him Herod (as he had once dubbed himself), and now he is threatening to file a disciplinary complaint against them with the Civil Service Commission. He doesn’t even understand that making fun of a minister is not a violation of any kind. Imagine someone secretly photographing Katz’s WhatsApp and discovering what he really thinks of the prime minister. The sky would fall!

Instead of a complaint to the Civil Service Commission, Katz ought to investigate his spokesman, Yotam Ben Yitzhak, and find out why he photographed the smartphone screen of treasury legal adviser Assi Messing, in violation of the law. Ben Yitzhak denies he took the picture, but in any case, whoever took it and passed it on to TV news, as well as to Katz, who made use of the information, should go home. Photographing someone’s screen is a gross violation of privacy laws, and carries a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.

It’s true that in North Korea they execute people for such mockery, and that the real Herod would have chopped off everyone’s heads, including those of his own family. From here it emerges that the new Herod is a merciful and charitable minister, so we have nothing to complain about.

But the truth is that Herod is already passé. Katz’s new star is King Solomon. He wrote in one of his recent posts that if he had been a left-wing minister, everyone would recognize his greatness and be calling him Herod and Solomon together. After all, both of them built ports.

Katz’s obsession with ports would be an unfailing source for a psychological study. Katz repeatedly talks about his role in expanding the ports in Ashdod and Haifa, and it seems to me that this is really a desperate cry for understanding and pity.

Katz is essentially saying: Once, not long ago, I did great things. I erected, I developed, I paved and I built ports. Now, as finance minister, I’m not doing anything. I have no work plan, I have no budget, no policies, no priorities, and I’m not even responsible for the size of the deficit or the depth of the debt. I’m spending billions on all kinds of political objectives and there is no reform that will bear my name. So what am I doing here? How will the world remember my legacy?

That’s the reason he’s clinging to the past, to the ports and the trains. Those were the points of light in his life.

Katz, of course, understands that the economic statistics are bad, and they are what will mark him as the biggest failure in our economic history. He even understands that he isn’t really “finance minister” but just another slave of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decides everything for him. Katz searched for kingship and found donkeys. King Saul in reverse.

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