The Bottom Line / So What if Meir Sheetrit Is the Right Man?

Given that the prime minister's director general, Raanan Dinur, proposes to abolish the Wisconsin Plan and return to the bad old days when welfare is more rewarding than work, Meir Sheetrit is the right man for the Finance Ministry. He is the only candidate with a clear view of this critical issue.

Years back, Sheetrit urged that Israel "abandon the culture of handouts for a culture of work." As the argument raged in 2003 over cutting income supplements, Sheetrit didn't fear to say, "Israel doesn't have unemployment. It has bums." When serving as justice minister in 2002, Sheetrit said he had been seeking a housekeeper for ages but couldn't find one, "because only foreign workers are prepared to work."

He always stressed the dignity that work confers. "During Israel's first 30 years, we absorbed immigrants, developed infrastructures and also grew fast, because most people worked for a living," Sheetrit said in 2003, at the height of the financial crisis. "But in the following 25 years, people stopped working and there was a steep increase in the number of people receiving handouts, because of populism, because of the election method, because all Israeli governments bowed before political pressure groups."

Sheetrit is the right man for the Finance Ministry in that he'll also protect the budget, which is crucial these days as the clamor for spending grows. He has proven his mettle when he supported Benjamin Netanyahu's budget and tax cuts.

He also supports a general duty to file tax returns in order to improve the probability that people will actually pay what they owe, and says that tax dodging ought to be considered a serious crime, assuring offenders of time in prison.

Sheetrit is not afraid to be unpopular. He opposed the Winograd report proposing lower tuition fees for everyone. Why subsidize middle-class and rich students? Sheetrit wondered. Help the poor ones. He also supported differential social security (National Insurance Institute) payments: Not everybody should be entitled, he feels, only the needy.

True, Sheetrit has his faults. He is hasty. He reaches decisions too fast, believing that in that way he can solve everything. But for each problem he solves, 10 new ones rear their heads. He has another flaw: He's nobody's yes-man. He won't give Olmert the service that the prime minister wants; he won't pave the path to future power for Ehud by slathering taxpayer money on every power broker who wants some.

In keeping with the tradition of the Israeli government, we can be rest assured that the best man for the job, professionally speaking, won't get it.