Populism Wins

The MKs are not interested in the good of the economy. They seek only power and influence. They want all the reforms to be transferred to the Knesset committees.

There is one terrible law that is trying to do away with democracy, destroy the Knesset, damage the economy and lead the state to the threshold of real tyranny. All the MKs oppose it. MK Reuven Rivlin, when he was Knesset speaker, called it "the Knesset-eliminating law"; Dalia Itzik, the present speaker, says that she will not allow "the Knesset to become superfluous"; and MK Stas Misezhnikov, chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, says that the law is "anti-democratic, unworthy and out of place."

At issue is the Economic Arrangements Law, the law that has accompanied the Budget Law for 22 years and has become an inseparable part of it. While the Budget Law determines the amount of public spending and its division among the ministries, the Arrangements Law determines the structural changes and reforms that will lead the economy to an increase in the level of competition, lower prices, rapid growth and a decline in unemployment.

In the early 1990s the Economic Arrangements Law opened the economy to competitive imports from Southeast Asia, enabling the public to buy a shirt for NIS 20 instead of NIS 100 and a television set for NIS 800 instead of $800. The law brought competition to the communications industry; without it the public would continue to pay overly high prices for cell phone and for international phone calls.

They succeeded in transferring the Israel Defense Forces to a cumulative pension only with the help of the Arrangements Law, and brought the judges down to a pension of 2 percent annually (instead of 7 percent) only with the help of that same terrible law. The opening of the fuel and gas market to competition was also accomplished by means of the Arrangements Law. Without it the legislation for open skies would not have passed, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor would not have established a Fair Trade Authority. The transition from guaranteed income allowances to work was also carried out with the help of this law, as was the reform in the post office, the ports and pensions. And this is a very partial list.

The law is not passed in the dead of the night, as claimed by the MKs who are leading the incitement campaign against it. Before it reaches the Knesset it is carefully screened by the attorney general, who removes any bill that is unrelated to implementing the State Budget. The MKs were given 11 weeks this year to study its provisions, debate them and even change them, but they want to eliminate it entirely. Why?

Because they are not interested in the good of the economy. They are not looking for a way to streamline the domestic gas economy, public transportation, the health service organizations, communications, electricity, water and sewage - important reforms, which are included in the present Arrangements Law. The MKs seek only power and influence. They want all the reforms to be transferred to the Knesset committees - and then wealthy businessmen, lobbyists, lawyers, large workers' unions and members of the party central committee will come to them on pilgrimages all year long in order to apply pressure and to plead for a cancellation of the reforms. Last year, for example, every reform that was removed from the Arrangements Law and transferred to one of the Knesset committees never returned. It simply died in committee.

The MKs' fight against the Arrangements Law has caused it to shrink steadily over the past two years. This week Finance Minister Roni Bar-On capitulated to the pressures of Itzik and removed one-third of the reforms from the law, and Misezhnikov promised to remove quite a few additional changes and reforms, because he also wants his pound of flesh in the populist media.

In the everyday workings of the Knesset, the lobbyists (representatives of those with money and those with vested interests) form a personal relationship with the MKs and turn them into puppets and instruct them how to vote in order to torpedo the reforms. Misezhnikov promises to eliminate the law entirely by next year. If he and his friends succeed in their mission, the economy will regress. The standard of living will decline relative to Western countries, the level of competition will be lower, prices will be higher, and the unemployment rates will be more threatening.

Until one day, when the unavoidable crisis arrives: They will all wake up, including today's opponents of the law, and say "We need a new Arrangements Law, we need reforms, because we don't want to lag behind the rest of the world." It's only a pity that we will have to undergo another economic crisis in order to recognize the importance of the Arrangements Law.