Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for months avoided approving the state budget to ensure that he remains as a caretaker prime minister after the Knesset dissolves, thereby proving that his actions are driven by one consideration only – staying in power at any price. His failure to pass the budget and the accompanying Economic Arrangements Law, which includes economic reforms, at the height of a severe economic crisis, means that when it comes to the economy, Netanyahu’s vision is strictly short-term.
On Sunday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz unveiled an economic plan in the same vein. It’s a collection of steps that sound good, like reducing regulation and helping businesses, but are actually nothing but window dressing for the centerpiece – election bribery. One of the measures it includes is paying 750 shekels ($230) to every adult in the seven lowest deciles, regardless of whether he or she has been hurt by the crisis or not, as well as 500 shekels per child for all 10 deciles. The deciles that will get the 750 shekels contain most of the people who vote for Netanyahu’s Likud party and its ultra-Orthodox allies, and its goal is transparent – to put cash in their pockets so that they’ll put the right ballot into the ballot box.
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As usual, Netanyahu and Katz didn’t bother consulting the governor of the Bank of Israel, Prof. Amir Yaron, whose job includes serving as the government’s economic advisor. They also ignored the treasury’s professional staff, as well as Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s order to refrain from election economics and from using the public purse to give Likud an edge over its political rivals. Even the press conference at which the plan was unveiled was announced by Likud, and no professional agency participated in it.
And they know why. The Bank of Israel released a statement on Monday that underscored how half-baked and unserious this plan is. “The plan lacks many details that would have made it possible to form a professional opinion of its cost and effectiveness,” the central bank said. “Public resources must be handed out on the basis of economic efficiency and the criterion of damage incurred from the coronavirus. Universal, undifferentiated handouts such as a grant for every child, with no means test, are inefficient.”
Netanyahu, whose every action is filtered through the prism of his legal situation, has discovered the magic of the budgetary “boxes” created in response to the coronavirus crisis, which enable him to hand out money to victims of the crisis with no oversight and no consultation, just because he feels like doing so. Netanyahu has given up on governability when it comes to enforcing the lockdown, which would require clashing with his ultra-Orthodox partners. But when it comes to handing out money, he is trying to exploit the crisis to achieve maximum governability. His decision to hand out grants right now is an election bribe in every respect. Mendelblit must stop it from happening.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.