The publication of the recommendations of the War on Poverty Committee has been postponed because of “the security incidents.” According to Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen, who set up the committee, “Over the next few days, its [the committee’s] attention and that of the Social Affairs Ministry will be directed toward treating and supporting the families of the kidnapped boys.” This sounds reasonable, even when this is the fourth time that the presentation of the committee’s recommendations has been put off, mainly because there are insufficient funds in the budget to carry them out. For all practical purposes, that is the reason why the committee has been busy reducing and tightening its conclusions over the past several months — or “prioritizing them,” as they so elegantly put it.
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But the security tension and the budgetary shortfall did not stop the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry from putting together a deal in which another billion shekels would be funneled into the defense budget, after a supplement of 3 billion shekels early this year. The campaign being waged by the chief of staff and the defense minister, which included stopping military training, worked — the Finance Ministry gave in.
Many public and privately-owned companies in Israel are laboring under budgetary shortfalls, pay their employees lower wages than the ones paid in the army and do not allow them to retire with a full pension at the age of 46. Yet unlike the army, with its budget of NIS 60 billion, none of them raises money by resorting to a “work-to-rule,” or “Italian strike.”
To silence the criticism, it was reported that the Defense Ministry had promised to evacuate 20 dunams of Sde Dov by the end of 2014, and the entire military airport by the end of 2017. The announcement was replete with phrases such as “in-demand areas,” “increasing the supply of housing” and “lowering real-estate costs.”
But such slogans must not be believed. There is no reason for the army to receive a budgetary supplement for evacuating land that is state-owned in any case, and this act will have no effect on housing prices, certainly not within the next several years. It is not concern over housing prices or the high cost of living that motivated the announcement, but rather the desire to “launder” yet another supplement to the defense budget.
As painful and worrisome as the kidnapping of the three teenaged boys is, it does not change the assumption accepted by most of the experts: Israel is in the most comfortable security situation it has ever known, while its neighbors are mired in governmental, economic and social crises. This situation could help Israel seriously address the profound social problems, the high cost of living, the poverty rate and infrastructure The finance minister, who was elected thanks to the momentum of the social-justice protests, has turned out to be a weak minister who makes pacts with the wrong people — with former Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini early in his term, and now with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The result is the perpetuation of the government of those who are already strong, and their continued control over the public treasury.