Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz’s official excuse for breaking his election promise – which was not to serve in the same government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under indictment for bribery and other felonies – was the health and economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus.
This could have been a reasonable explanation, had it been accompanied by suitable conditions in the coalition agreement. But the agreement being hashed out reflects the most bloated cabinet in Israel’s history. It will probably have 34 ministers, split ministries and mutual veto rights on senior appointments.
Even the unfounded idea of an official, state-funded residence for the deputy prime minister was brought up, and one can only imagine who suggested it.
Such an agreement, in the midst of a crisis in which the unemployment rate soared to 25 percent of employees (more than 1 million people), is a slap in the face of Israelis, who are shuttered in their homes and are dealing with health and economic anxieties as well as social and family distancing.
This agreement is about finding jobs for politicians, which means heavy costs, increasing the bureaucracy and red tape in the government’s administration and the public sector. It’s also proof that as far as the politicians are concerned – right and left – they put themselves ahead of everyone else.
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This is not the way to manage a crisis. Managing the coronavirus crisis requires the public’s confidence, cooperation and sacrifice, for it’s being called upon to pay a hefty price. Netanyahu and Gantz may think a spendthrift government will provide them with quiet and political stability. They’re wrong. Stability derives first and foremost from the level of confidence the public has in the politicians, whom it expects to find a solution for a million unemployed workers and for tens of thousands of businesses on the verge of bankruptcy.
The hasty decision to hand out one-time allocations to families for 500 shekels per child (up to four children a family) and to the elderly shows Netanyahu understands that broad social unrest is brewing, which could be directed against him as well. But this tranquilizing pill cannot hide the wastefulness of the bloated government being planned.
Before he hands out freebies to the public – which will be called on to pay for them in the future – Netanyahu and his coalition must set a personal example of downsizing and government efficiency, not a cynical, extravagant distribution of loot that will outrage the public in these hard times.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.