Tuesday’s concession by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the excessive monetary demands of the defense establishment and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and increase the defense budget for 2021 and 2022 by over 10 billion shekels ($3.07 billion) could endanger the outcome of the other changes they are introducing.
The new government has earned public and professional credit for its declarations of intentions to implement courageous, in-depth economic reforms that have been needed for years. The proposals hinted at a necessary reordering of priorities to expand the number of people in the labor market, encourage competition, reduce bureaucracy and improve services for the public. All this, even at the price of clashing with the interests of pressure groups such as the Haredi community and farmers.
Israelis responded with relative equanimity to the government’s proposals for raising taxes, because they focused on areas in which there seemed to be justification for them on health or environmental grounds, such as on sweetened beverages or disposable tableware. But the credit was extended to the government under the impression that it was acting with budgetary restraint, while at the same time allocating increased funding for public services, infrastructure investment and repairing the education and public health systems. It is doubtful that Israelis would have extended this credit if it thought the additional money the government plans to collect from them was intended for the benefit of interest groups that do not contribute to the public welfare and to raising national productivity.
In a meeting Tuesday, Bennett, Lieberman and Gantz – each of whom served in the past as defense minister – decided to break the continuation budget set 2020, to exclude from the discussion the Finance Ministry’s professional ranks and to grant the Israel Defense Forces billions of shekels without requiring the organization to become more efficient or even to keep its own promises to do so. All this while concealing the details of their decision, despite its pertaining to the largest expenditure category in the national budget.
As if all this were not enough, just hours before their meeting it was reported that the pension obligations of the defense establishment shot up by 30 percent in two years, to 366 billion shekels, accounting for 40 percent of Israel’s actuarial debt. Despite these figures, the ministers nevertheless decided not to address the IDF’s excessive pensions, and even to regularize them.
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If they truly want to bring about real change, the three ministers must bring the IDF into the national campaign for efficiency, not cultivate islands of corruption and the waste of public funds. First they must change the government’s organizational culture, which makes weighty decisions while ignoring professional considerations – and does so in secret.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.