Opinion

Fed Up With the Oppressed

You think the unfortunate are the oppressed? You're wrong. It's the cabinet ministers with 45,000 shekel monthly salaries who suffer

Members of the Knesset vote to temporarily postpone voting on the Supermarkets Bill, January 9, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

You thought the disabled were oppressed? You were wrong. You pitied old people who barely scrape by? Wrong again. The genuinely oppressed who truly deserve your pity are the cabinet ministers, Knesset members, ministry directors generals and mayors.

They’re the ones who can’t make it to the end of the month. They’re the ones with the meager wages, who don’t get a government car and driver, don’t have personal assistants, don’t get a special clothing allowance, don’t get funds for “voter outreach” or trips abroad or an expense account. They must be rescued from their poverty.

One cabinet minister even publicized his measly salary: 45,000 shekels ($13,200) a month. I saw it and wept. Fortunately they managed to raise it to 50,000 shekels, so he’s been saved.

“I have pangs of conscience over the distorted reality in which MKs earn more than cabinet members,” said Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, whose sensitive conscience did not permit him to remain silent. That’s why he proposed raising ministers’ salaries by 5,000 shekels.

First of all, MKs didn’t make more than ministers; they earned about the same. And second, if you think there should be a wage differential, you should simply reduce MKs’ excessive salaries and be done with it.

Gafni also claimed, with characteristic deceptiveness, that the cost for all the ministers would be a measly two million shekels. But who knows better than he that other oppressed people will immediately join them?

And indeed, ministry directors general quickly chimed in and argued that they, too, deserve the raise. There are about 30 directors general, and 100 other officials whose salaries are linked to theirs. And after them in line stood the mayors and deputy mayors (several hundred of them), who claimed that they, too, deserve a raise.

Thus the new salary demands will snowball through the public sector, which is already well-larded, until they reach the big public-sector unions, which will demand the most of all. If the Finance Ministry had a serious budget director, he would have nipped this process in the bud. Unfortunately, we don’t have any such thing.

But it’s not just the amounts that are outrageous. It’s also the corrupt manner in which the MKs plunged their hand deep into the public’s pocket. They sat at that meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee like thieves in the night, presided over by their rabbi and teacher, Gafni, and branded the Knesset with a mark of shame.

After all, they themselves appointed a public commission chaired by Prof. Haim Levy to determine their salaries, but the moment the panel recommended lowering their pay by linking it to the Consumer Price Index, they rejected the proposal contemptuously and raised their salaries. Then they raised the ministers’ salaries as well. Levy’s comment on this was, “The MKs only accept the committee’s recommendations when they’re convenient for them.” That isn’t corrupt?

It’s also important to understand that linking ministers’ salaries to the average wage is fundamentally corrupt to begin with. It means MKs and ministers get a raise every time the minimum wage is increased, or the high-tech market grows, or low-income earners are fired. In other words, for no good reason.

But this wasn’t their only corrupt act. They also invented the revolving door method. A decade ago, they passed a law mandating a three-year cooling-off period for senior army officers who want to enter politics, in order to eliminate serious rivals. It’s reasonable to demand a cooling-off period of one year, but three? There’s also a one-year cooling-off period for senior civil servants who want to move to the private sector.

But there’s no cooling-off period at all for MKs and ministers who are up to their necks in economic issues. Today you’re the finance minister, and tomorrow you’re doing business with someone whose commercial fate you determined. Is there anything more corrupt than that?

Recently, they also invented a new method of preserving their own jobs. They passed a law providing them with full state funding for their primary campaigns. The funding is in the form of a grant, meaning that if they aren’t reelected, it needn’t be repaid. But a new candidate running in the primaries will have to take out a loan to finance his race, and if he doesn’t win, he’ll have to repay every shekel he took. Could there be any greater corruption?

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the Knesset expanded its spokesperson’s unit “to improve MKs’ public image.” But it won’t help. We’re sick of your corruption!