The Cynical Sycophant

Labor MK Yitzhak Herzog has some budgetary demands in the context of joining the government. He demands more budgets, more allotments and more government involvement - an archaic socio-economic approach that toppled the Communist bloc. It makes sense to go with the cynical explanation.

The new coalition that appears to be forming has Labor Party people in a tizzy. It is not every day that they get a chance to be ministers, to enjoy the status and power. Yitzhak Herzog might only be in the Knesset for 18 months, but he already regards himself as a minister. But if Shimon Peres brings a preordained list to the party's Central Committee, Herzog doesn't have a chance. If there's a secret ballot, by name, for each candidate, the battle will be open and the center could surprise - if Herzog doesn't make it to minister he could at least be a deputy minister.

Herzog knows the party's Central Committee, the large group of veteran activists and the "ex-es" - former mayors and deputy mayors, Histadrut and Workers' Council activists, unionists, farmer representatives - people who believe in the economics of yore, with massive government intervention, planning and management from above, the good old socialism that brought down all the East European countries.

Herzog, who as a lawyer represents the top thousandth percentile - the wealthiest people in Israel - is a former cabinet secretary for Ehud Barak (who believed in a free market, privatization and competition) who apparently has decided to adapt himself to the Central Committee. That's why we are lately hearing from him such populist slogans as "lower unemployment," "narrow gaps," "solve distress," and various statements of support for the most powerful unions in the country. It's all music to the ears of the party's dinosaurs.

Regarding the ports, for example, Herzog rolls his eyes and asks in amazement, "Why doesn't the treasury wait a few more days with its legislation, and that way avoid the enormous damage done by the strike?" - as if Benjamin Netanyahu had waited "a few more days" after he waited 300 days, the workers would have agreed to break up the monopoly. After all, their goal was clear: to postpone the legislation until the Knesset went on recess and Labor joins the government. Then the legislation would be dropped from the agenda, the only whip in the government's hands would be gone, and the state monopoly at the ports would go on, together with its inefficiency and overblown wages. Clearly, without legislation the negotiations would never have finished, just as the reforms of the pension funds would not have gotten under way without the legislation.

And that's all nothing compared to the disingenuous approach to the Electric Corporation. Herzog says that the company is the most efficient in the world, enjoys the advantages of size, its rates are lowest, and therefore there is no need to break it up and create competition. Unbelievable. The company is corrupt, and tainted by bribery scandals - just listen to what its former chairman, Adi Amorai had to say about it. Nepotism is rampant with the encouragement of management, which is over-staffed, pays inflated wages, is wasteful, makes bad decisions, and is mostly made up of political appointments. The union controls management - but Herzog supports those who get free electricity, hoping it will add a few fingers raised in his favor at the Central Committee.

Herzog has some budgetary demands in the context of joining the government. He doesn't refer to cutbacks, efficiency measures, and reducing the inflated government machinery. That's not popular. All his demands are in one direction: more budgets, more allotments, and more government involvement.

This archaic socio-economic approach is what toppled the Communist bloc a little more than a decade ago, and it is what drove Israel's standard of living down, to poverty and unemployment. It is the approach that inflated the public sector, raised taxes, drove away investors, increased allotments, and made more people live on those allotments rather than go to work.

There is, of course, another explanation for Herzog's statements; that he really believes in all he's saying. But then he is positioning himself to the left of Amir Peretz and Ran Cohen. So it is more logical to go with the cynical explanation - sycophantism toward the powerful unions and the Central Committee, the people who will soon decide which of Labor's politicians will end up as ministers.