Taking Stock / Just a Bunch of Covert Lobbyists

The nation is not kicking up a fuss.

Yet if you talk with importers, traders or industrialists whose merchandise had been stuck at the ports for a month, you'll quickly understand the magnitude of the insanity. A fat-cat gang of glutted employees working for one of the strongest monopolies in the land has the business sector by its throat. And the public couldn't care less.

The desperate manufacturers and importers told Haaretz this week that they'd even raise prices, they'd do anything to get the public's attention, to force the deadened masses to notice the dimensions of damage the violent, illegal strike at the ports caused.

But the sad truth is that most of them can't raise prices, because they operate in competitive markets. They can't roll their problems onto the consumers. They aren't in banking or cellular communications: in most cases demand for their goods is elastic and they can't afford to alienate buyers with price hikes.

Among the hardest hit are exporters waiting for weeks to get raw materials to produce goods for buyers overseas. Their customers couldn't care less about Bibi's plan to reform Israel's ports; the longer the strike lasts, the greater the chance they'll simply buy from some other supplier.

Importers of finished goods aren't in great shakes either. Remember, Israel's consumers are still embraced by the woes of recession. With all due respect to the impressive economic growth and other figures the Central Bureau of Statistics keeps releasing, the reality remains grim for most Israeli households.

It isn't only that most of the economic growth this year was created by export-oriented industries; it's mainly that the first half of 2004 looks impressive because it's being compared with the same period of 2003, which was a horrible time. The economy in recession was even more deeply depressed by the wait for the war with Iraq. We are unlikely to see the same pace of improvement in the third quarter, in fact several indicators indicate that the direction of developments has reversed.

The public's indifference to the strike at the ports and to the billions of shekels in damage it has caused is purely astonishing. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs in the last couple of years as businesses cut back and collapsed; thousands upon thousands of people are helplessly watching their wages erode more and more; but the only ones calling strikes and flexing muscles are the powerful unions.

A source of jobs for the boys

And look who's on strike. Look who's managing to strangle business and get its pleas on prime-time TV. Look who it is - the people who earn the fattest salaries in the public sector, tens upon tens of thousands of shekels a month.

And the treasury is fighting the good fight all by itself. When it comes to reforming the monopolies, everybody else living off the taxpayer's shekel, from Knesset members to authorities, suddenly turns deaf, blind and dumb.

That is no surprise, really. Israel's entire political system is built on political appointments at all those bodies living off the taxpayer's shekel. All the members of the party centers come from these organizations. The Knesset members and politicians who are supposed to be representing us are mostly a bunch of covert lobbyists, secretly helping the workers of the great monopolies and the corrupt institutions of the land of Zion, which are a yoke around the people of Israel's collective neck.

Two workers at the Ports Authority spoke with Haaretz this week and put it beautifully, really. Tal Perman: "After all, the port is turned into a government company, it will be sold. The ones to cut a coupon will be the friends of Omri Sharon, and we the workers will pay the price." Omri Sharon, son of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is considered to be one of the powers at the Ashdod Port and said to have a say over appointments. David Levi, who operates heavy machinery, offered: "Sure, let them publish our salaries, instead of inciting the people against us. The ones getting salaries of NIS 20,000 or NIS 30,000 a month and driving fancy BMWs are all Likud activists and their cronies, who get farmed straight into top jobs. And what about Bibi? Isn't he getting three salaries?"

A year and a half ago, as Israel moaned and groaned in crisis, the time was perfect to push through major far-reaching reforms that would have passed over the heads of the covert lobbyists at the Knesset and at the party centers.

But we got the U.S. loan guarantees, the global economy is recovering, and the guillotine is vanishing over the horizon. Now people feel, hey, there's time, there's enough money to go around. No prob, we can afford these insane strikes.