Who Needs Pull When You Have Connections?

When the Knesset approved the latest series of tax breaks for various regions in the country, Meretz MK Raz proposed a reservation according to which ministers and MKs would not benefit from them.

When the Knesset approved the latest series of tax breaks for various regions in the country, MK Mussi Raz (Meretz) proposed a reservation according to which ministers, MKs and directors-general of government ministries would not benefit from them, noting that it isn't fitting for lawmakers to vote for benefits that go directly into their own pockets. That borders on corruption, after all.

Raz's reservation was upheld; but then, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon received his salary chit - without the benefits - and a major earthquake ensued. How can one harm the nation's elected leaders like that? The prime minister was called immediately, and he said that he would soon initiate a law to reinstate the benefits to the MKs and the ministers. He'll raise the taxes for the rest of the Jews.

This little story illustrates something about the sentiment among senior government members and their associates. They are convinced that everything is coming to them, and they feel a sort of moral superiority that allows them to dip into the kitty and take even that which is not. The following are a few recent examples.

l Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: After UN envoy Terje Larsen pressured the Nobel Prize committee to grant the peace prize to Shimon Peres (together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat), and after the envoy and his wife, Yul, convinced the Norwegian government to contribute $1.3 million to the Peres Peace Center, Larsen and his spouse received a $100,000 prize from the center - a roundabout deal, which, this time, was carried out at the expense of the Norwegian taxpayer.

-Jacob Frenkel: According to a government decision from 1969, the salary and terms of employment of the governor of the Bank of Israel are equal to those of a minister, but Frenkel wanted more. He asked for, and received, additional benefits by redeeming sick days and vacation days, and by being granted a supplement to his perks to which he had no right. Furthermore, he asked the bank to set up a special fund for him for the purpose of accumulating academic rights to the tune of $189,000, to which he had no right either.

-Zvi Tal: The chairman of the State Bequests Committee, and a former Supreme Court justice, transferred NIS 4 million to the Emunah women's organization, although the organization had requested only NIS 2 million. Tal's wife is a member of Emunah's board of directors. At the same time, Tal also served as the chair of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, which also received an impressive budget increase. The conflict of interest in these cases is clear.

-Minister without Portfolio Ra'anan Cohen: These days, ministers and MKs are running to the media and complaining about the supervisor of banks because of the Trade Bank affair (involving the embezzlement of NIS 250 million over the past five years); but they, themselves, treat the state-owned banks as abandoned property with which they can do as they please. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Industry and Trade Minister Dalia Itzik want to appoint Ra'anan Cohen as chair of the Industrial Development Bank of Israel, whereas Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to do this favor for a Likud activist named Shimon Katznelson, the deputy mayor of Ashdod. And what about the good of the bank? And the depositors' money? And what about banking expertise? All these things don't bother our politicians.

-Shlomo Lahat: In 1999, the former mayor of Tel Aviv asked Roni Milo, who was mayor of the city at the time, for a car with a driver. Milo didn't hesitate, and passed a decision to have the city's residents pay - with their arnona (municipal real estate taxes) - for a luxurious Volvo with a driver for Lahat. Why? Didn't Lahat receive a salary and appropriate conditions when he was mayor? Now, Mayor Ron Huldai is trying to take the Volvo away from Lahat; but it's not so simple because around here, money that is released is not returned.

-Yair Rabinowitz: As chairman of the committee that reduced taxes on real estate transactions, and as chairman of the committee for tax reforms, Rabinowitz is very close to the finance minister, maintaining regular contact with him. Cigarette importers know this as well, and, therefore, when it emerged that the treasury intended to raise the tax on cigarettes, the importers hired the services of Rabinowitz as a lobbyist, urging him to put pressure on Finance Minister Silvan Shalom to lower the tax burden. And, in fact, Rabinowitz did meet with Shalom and with the Customs and VAT Authority director-general Eitan Robb (a Shalom appointee) on this matter.

Who needs pull when you have connections?