Israel’s economy is at an unprecedented low. Without a state budget, without economic reforms, without a plan for next year and without a light at the end of the tunnel for tens of thousands of the self-employed whose businesses collapsed and the 800,000 unemployed who are barely getting by. Even though Finance Minister Yisrael Katz did not create the coronavirus crisis, he made it worse because he is acting out of narrow political considerations and a complete lack of understanding about his job.
This year will end with an unprecedented negative growth rate of minus 6%, a massive budget deficit of 13% of gross domestic product and horrific, 20% unemployment. According to the Bank of Israel’s forecasts, the crisis will continue into 2021, with near-zero economic growth, a huge budget deficit and high unemployment affecting of 500,000 people. Katz has proved to be a particularly bad finance minister. In addition to his serious missteps in handling the economy, he refuses to pass a national budget for 2021, so that Israel will begin next year, too, without a recovery plan.
All this, because the running of the state has been subordinated to the personal interests of Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister wants to keep open the option of dissolving the government in March, calling an early election and not following through on his rotation agreement with Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Neither Netanyahu nor Katz care that a fourth election will destroy the economy.
Instead of performing his duties as finance minister and submitting a state budget on time, Katz is serving his master while premeditatedly violating the coalition agreement. Under the agreement, Katz was to have completed the passage of the 2021 budget in the Knesset in August – three months ago.
Given all this, Katz’s recent interview with Israel Hayom stands out as particularly dismal in that he claims the attacks on him in the media are because of “my compassion for the nation, for the little and the disadvantaged people” , the weak and the little.” In fact, in his decisions not to submit a budget, not to enact reforms and to let the economy stagnate, with unprecedentedly high unemployment, Katz is hurting the disadvantaged, the small businesses and the unemployed.
The “compassion” Katz mentions nothing but crude election politics. He is handing out funding to various groups so that they will be beholden to him, as if he were the Welfare Ministry in the 1950s.
In addition to all of this, Katz has destroyed the Finance Ministry while demonstrating horrendous human relations. He offends, humiliates, insults and threatens the ministry’s senior officials as none of his predecessors ever did. This conduct caused three senior treasury officials to resign, and many more are on the way.
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The moment a politician becomes finance minister, he is obligated to work on behalf of the citizens. Katz is working for himself, for Netanyahu and for a Likud victory in the next election. Katz is derelict in his duties.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.