The Bottom Line / Meretz to the Coalition's Rescue

The governing coalition was saved by the skin of its teeth the other night. Only a slim margin of 47 to 45 in the Knesset on Wednesday allowed it to remove a hallucinatory bill submitted by the chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, Moshe Kahlon (Likud), from the agenda.

The bill sought to postpone implementation of new regulations imposed by Supervisor of Banks Yoav Lehman, which set restrictions on overdraft credit limits. Kahlon submitted his bill even though the purpose of the regulations is both to reduce risk to the banks and to lower the interest rates paid by customers.

But facts did not interest the Knesset members. They wanted headlines.

If the bill had passed, it would have turned the supervisor into just another clerk serving Kahlon and his cronies - who, of course, are well-known banking experts. These MKs wanted to take away the supervisor's authority and transfer these powers to themselves.

This is clear political intervention by lawmakers who also want to be regulators. The next stage would be for them to decide who receives credit, how much and at what interest rate - all according to the pressure applied by the party's central committee members.

A number of coalition members skipped the vote. Ruhama Avraham and Yoram Marciano, both members of the ruling coalition, voted with the opposition.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who speaks loftily about the importance of supervision, regulation and the fight against corruption, also voted for Kahlon's proposal. He should be ashamed.

And who in the end saved the day and provided the coalition with its slim majority?

The MKs of Meretz, lead by Yossi Beilin and Avshalom Vilan. They refused to surrender to cheap demagogy, instead explaining that the new credit limit regulations "would lower interest rates and improve the situation of the poor, as well as that of the general public."

Looking after your own poor

Professor Arik Carmon, the founder of the Caesarea Conference, wanted the conference to influence decision makers while at the same time maintaining its academic credentials. But you need to work hard if you want to earn respect.

On the first day of the conference last week, Professor Gadi Wolfsfeld of the Hebrew University's political science and communication departments presented his research on the coverage of poverty in the Israeli press. He claimed that the Israeli media discriminates against poverty as a subject in its coverage.

According to his research, the four large Israeli newspapers - Haaretz, Maariv, Globes and Yedioth Ahronoth - devoted only 0.3 percent of their coverage, including both articles and op-ed pieces, to the poverty issue.

The results showed that Haaretz's coverage matched the average: According to Wolfsfeld's research, the topic only appeared 404 times in Haaretz over the year running from April 2005 to March 2006.

The numbers really surprised me.

If, for example, he had claimed that this was the case 10 years ago, I would have believed it. But the research covered the past year, a time when the problems of poverty and the gap between rich and poor were media darlings - and rightly so.

So how could there have been a lack of reporting about or interest in the poverty issue?

I checked Haaretz's archives using the keywords used in the study. My search results showed that the word poverty was mentioned 345 times; while the word poor appeared 216 times.

The words "decreasing poverty" showed up 74 times, and "poverty program" was mentioned 11 times. The words "poverty cycle" appeared 52 times, while "the poverty report" produced 85 items, and hunger appeared 406 times. "Social deprivation" produced four items, "social gaps" 205, and "allowances" appeared 334 times.

I could have checked for many more phrases, but in any case, these results certainly do not seem to agree with the conclusions of Wolfsfeld's research.