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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Finance Minister’

Lapid Freezes Funding for Draft-Delayed Haredim

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday froze the money going to Haredi yeshivas, following a Tuesday Supreme Court ruling that ordered the state to halt all payments to yeshivas whose students’ draft has been postponed.

Lapid instructed the Finance Ministry’s comptroller to freeze the payments, but on Thursday he issued a statement saying that, after discovering that the funds had already been sent to the Education Ministry, he convened an emergency meeting with his comptroller following which he ordered her to block those funds as well.

Lapid’s statement said that this was done in an effort to obey the high court’s ruling.

Now the two offices will be cooperating to separate the 18- to 20-year-old yeshiva students with an August draft postponement, who will not be paid, from the rest of the yeshiva students.

“These will no longer receive state funds,” said the Lapid statement. “Only once the Education Ministry’s examination of their cases is concluded will the Finance Ministry release the funds to those yeshiva students not included in the court ruling.”

The Supreme Court ruled on several appeals from so called good government groups. The court ordered government to issue an updated announcement by March 31 regarding the pay, saying the justices might issue a new decision should the Knesset not come up with new legislation by then.

Meanwhile, the justices have prohibited government to transfer any funds “intended to support Torah institution students born in 1994, 95 and the first half of 96, who received their draft date starting in August, 2013, and who have not shown up to be drafted based on general decisions to postpone their draft made by the IDF Chief of Staff.”

So, everybody wins: Lapid gets to show his few remaining potential voters that he’s tough on parasitic Haredim; the Haredi yeshiva deans get to show the world that Israel hates Torah; and Yeshiva students and their families get a rare opportunity to drop their nasty habit of eating several times a day and living in homes.

The Next Round: Will Netanyahu Retain His Title?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Netanyahu had no real opponent in the recent election for Israel’s 19th Knesset, making his re-election clear before elections were even announced. Thus, despite what many analysts graded as the worst campaign of the Knesset’s 12 parties, the alliance between the Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Lieberman resulted in a clear win of 31 seats for Likud Beitenu. Second place Yair Lapid was the surprise of the elections, winning 19 seats, and he quickly announced he was looking to be a coalition member and not the Opposition Leader.

This Friday, Smith conducted a poll published by Globes, which put Prime Minister Netanyahu’s center-right Likud-Beitenu and Finance Minister Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid at a 30-30 tie.  While polling is not an exact science, polls provide us with the latest voting trends and they are the best tool we have for predicting election results. The Smith poll is significant because Smith is not only one of the highest rated polling companies, but it most accurately predicted the 2013 election results.

In addition, the Smith poll makes Lapid the first contender to achieve that kind of success in a mid-term poll since Kadima, under Tzipi Livni, hit 30 seats in polls following Ehud Barak’s split from Labor in early 2011.  Friday’s poll also indicated that the two other current self-labeled center parties, led by Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, would fail to pass the threshold in a new election, with their eight seats likely heading to Yesh Atid.

Ever since Netanyahu climbed to the top of the polls in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, there has been a shift of support from the traditional ideological left vs. right vote to the “Netanyahu & friends” vs. the “Anti-Netanyahu” vote. This phenomenon was evident when extreme left-wing party Meretz dropped to three seats in the 2009 elections because left-wing voters supported Tzipi Livni, hoping she would defeat Netanyahu.

In that election, Livni won 29 mandates, but Netanyahu, with 28 mandates, nevertheless formed the coalition. After Barak formed the Independence party and Labor faced another possible split led by MK Amir Peretz, polls showed that Labor voters began to support Livni. A few months later, however, voters have pulled their support from Livni. That’s because while Netanyahu hasn’t had any real competition since – he has now.

Although the current government has an unconventional make-up, splitting the Knesset into its traditional blocks, the key to the next government, shows a tie between the right and left. The poll gives the right-religious block of Likud-Beitenu, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ 60 seats. The center-left-Arab block of Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad win the other 60. One could argue that the Arab parties would never join a coalition, but splitting the seats between the traditional blocks gives a good indication for Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government. That’s because one can expect members of the center-left block to not join a Netanyahu government unless they expect him to form a coalition without them.

Many in the ideological-left camp feel that Labor, the third largest party, will be a big player in the next election. But Labor ran as the alternative to the Netanyahu government this past election and won a disappointing 15 seats. The Smith poll has Labor falling to 12, lower than the 13 seats Labor achieved under Ehud Barak in the 2009 elections. Labor, which has seen six leadership changes in the last dozen years, has become somewhat of a joke in many political circles. It seems highly unlikely that the party, under whichever leader it chooses, will be able to convince the Israeli voter to yet again look to them as the alternative to Netanyahu.

Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi came in fourth place in the recent elections with 12 seats. Bennett is an obvious future candidate for Prime Minister and will be a key player in the next election. The Smith poll has Bennett’s party in third place which means that after the next elections, he may have a chance to play the traditional kingmaker role of Israeli politics deciding between his former boss Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new best friend Yair Lapid. The thought of Bennett not backing the right-wing candidate seems improbable, but not if Netanyahu treats Bennett during this administration as poorly as he did in the weeks following the recent elections.

Lapid is Still on a Roll, Poll Says

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

As many of you have known for a long time, I’m as out of the box as they come. My opinions rarely are the popular ones. If the Smith poll, which IMRA wrote about here, had asked me my opinion wouldn’t be like most others.

The poll shows/indicates that Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid political party is gaining in support and would receive as many seats as the combined Likud Beitenu (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu). Many of the new voters would be those who are abandoning Kadima and Tzipi Livni’s Movement.

Here are the poll’s results:

If elections held today (expressed in Knesset seats) Current Knesset seats in [brackets]. Please note: There are 120 seats in the Knesset. Parties must receive a minimum of 2% of the valid votes cast in the elections to be included in the Knesset – this comes to 2.4 seats. After elections are held the coalition forming a government must receive 61 votes in a vote of confidence in the Knesset. 30 [31] Likud Beiteinu (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu) 30 [19] Lapid “Yesh Atid” Party 13 [12] Bayit Yehudi 12 [15] Labor 10 [11] Shas 07 [07] Yahadut Hatorah 07 [06] Meretz 00 [06] Livni party “Hatnua” Party 00 [02] Kadima 11 [11] Arab parties

Of course this poll is just taking into account the political parties in today’s Knesset. Every time we have new elections, new parties sprout up like weeds. And to be super honest, I don’t see a party I’d vote for.

Actually, Lapid as Finance Minister, isn’t doing all that well. After campaigning to reduce the budget, he’s now raising it. Actually he had planned on increasing it much more but was taught that Israel would suffer in terms of its rating.

Following a downgrade to Israel’s S&P credit rating Thursday night, Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Friday backed down on his proposal to raise the 2013 deficit target to 4.9% of GDP from its current 3%, agreeing to set it at 4.65% instead. [Jerusalem Post]

Arutz 7 reports something very troubling about Lapid and how he’s functioning as Finance Minister.

“On Thursday it was reported that Lapid planned to increase the deficit target for 2013 to 4.9%. The move was met with anger because Lapid did not involve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his deliberations.

Lapid’s decision surprised Bank of Israel head Stanley Fischer as well. Fischer reportedly first heard of the news on Thursday evening as he landed in the United States.”

It would be better if Lapid was more a team player. He’s not supposed to be making such policy decisions on his own. Of course this is my opinion, and not all Israelis seem to agree with me.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Yair Lapid’s Unexpected Failed Affair with Two Mrs. Cohens

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Populism is a double edged sword, as likely to stab the politician who brandishes it as it does his targets. Israel’s new Finance Minister Yair Lapid is a case in point. One of the ways Lapid has distinguished himself as a practitioner of “new politics” has been his Facebook presence. Of course, every Israeli politician, with the possible exception of the Haredim, has a robust Facebook presence, but Lapid, formerly a successful journalist and TV host, actually writes his own entries.

It’s been the secret of his success, being one of the people, the ultimate citizen-politician coming to the aid of his country. He spoke ingratiatingly to the “middle class” (in Israel, with its Socialist and classless history, the term is “middle strata”), singing the familiar tune about the most productive chunk of Israeli society, who pay the bulk of the taxes, serve in the military (including reserve duty, well into middle-age) and carry the national burden on their shoulders.

Who were not among those prized citizens? The populist answer that brought in 19 Knesset seats to his brand-new “Yesh Atid” party was simple: The tycoons, who make millions but manage to evade honest taxation with savvy lawyers who know all the loopholes; and the Haredim, who give nothing and just take, take, take.

Mind you, populist messages don’t have to be true, they only have to sound good. In the case of who is to blame for Israel’s inequality in sharing the burden, it should be noted that the local tycoons pay a whole lot more into the state coffers than do their fellow fat cats in the U.S.; and while the Haredim comprise a mere 8 percent of the population, the majority of Israeli Arabs, comprising more than 20 percent, contribute even less. And as to reserve duty, it has been established that residents of the settlements—who are also vilified as an unfair burden on the state budget—comprising 5 percent of the population, shoulder about 30 percent of the reserve duty burden.

Following his celebrated victory in the last (his first) elections, and then following a brutal stretch of coalition negotiations, Lapid landed one of the top three government jobs that aren’t Prime Minister: Foreign Minister (reserved for the embattled Avigdor Liberman), Defense (retained by Likud and given to former IDF chief Moshe Yaalon), and Finance.

Many Israeli pundits surmised that this was a clever trap laid out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to force Lapid (who fought to get the foreign office) into the worst and most ungrateful spot as the man in charge of the budget (currently in arrears to the tune of $15 billion), or, more accurately, of cutting the budget, and worse yet – of raising taxes. Wouldn’t that tarnish some of this cocky winner’s sheen?

Possibly. The new finance minister was in a bit of a shock after his first encounter with Israel’s budget ailments, which he called “monstrous.” Incidentally, in a world in which the U.S. public debt is estimated at $11.917 trillion, or about 75% of the GDP, going gaga over a puny $15 billion seems a stretch – but Israeli law prohibits a government deficit of more than 3 percent of the budget, which is part of the secret of Israel’s remarkable success, posting a 3 point growth even in 2012 (more than 5 points in 2010).

After his initial, well publicized shock, Lapid’s solution to his Finance job woes was to employ his tried and true, unabashed populism, speaking directly to the voters over the heads of his civil servant experts at the finance ministry. In short, rather than cower before their superior knowledge of economics and markets and all that boring stuff (I’m not making this up, I’m practically quoting verbatim), Minister Lapid forced them into his arena.

Here’s Lapid’s Facebook entry from Monday (while the rest of us were in shul, celebrating the splitting of the Sea of Reeds):

“I want to talk about Mrs. Cohen,” I told senior Treasury officials few days ago.

They paused, surprised.

We were in a large meeting that dealt, as usual, with trying to close the deficit. The long table was littered with cups of long since chilled coffee, and the big screen was showing yet another infinite column of numbers.

“Who is Mrs. Cohen?” someone asked from the far end of the table.

“Ricky Cohen from Hadera,” I explained. “She is 37, a high school teacher. Her husband has a minor hi-tech job and they make together a little over 20 thousand shekel (exactly $5,538.94) a month (or $66,467.28 a year). They own an apartment and they travel abroad every two years, but they have no chance of buying an apartment for any of their three children in the future.”

A few smiles broke through around me.

“We sit here,” I said, “day after day, talking about balancing the budget, but our job is not to balance Excel sheets, but to help Mrs. Cohen.”

“We need to help her,” I continued, “because she is helping us. It’s because of people like Ms. Cohen that our state exists. She represents the Israeli middle class – people who get up in the morning, work hard, pay taxes and do not belong to any interest group, but carry on their backs the Israeli economy. What are we doing for her? Do we remember that we’re her employees?”

The smiles were replaced with thoughtful looks.

“I want us to hold a special meeting about Mrs. Cohen,” I said, “where each of us will suggest how we—as the Ministry of Finance—can help her. I want structure for her programs and reforms to help her make ends meet, to improve the quality of her life, to lower her cost of living, to make her feel that her tax money really works for her.”

Now, that’s well written populism. And it was rewarding to imagine Minister Yair Lapid, in his leather jacket and James Dean hairdo, forcing his Finance bigwigs and wizards not merely to sit through the kind of stump speech one could hear anywhere there was a barn and a bale of hay on the great American prairie, anytime between 1920 and 1928 – he actually made them turn it into a policy discussion. Bravo.

But he who lives by Facebook would most likely die by Facebook. And he who makes populist brownie points using Mrs. Ricky Cohen can end up staring into the unamused gaze of an altogether different Mrs. Ricky Cohen.

“Finance Minister Lapid, look into my eyes and tell me how we get from here to a new reality in Israel? It’s unacceptable that children would come to school hungry,” this Mrs. Ricky Cohen, a social activist and a single mother of five children, said to Lapid through the kind services of a Channel 2 morning show.

She added that, unlike the Mrs. Ricky Cohen from Hadera who vacations abroad every two years, she only dreams of vacationing, and while she’s at it, she’s also dreaming of one day maybe owning a car. Because she only makes 4 thousand shekel a month ($1,107.79, or $13,293.48 annually before taxes).

Lapid’s Facebook entry has been bombarded with mostly angry, make it livid, responses, each one putting the self-made wealthy journalist deeper in his place. It also turned out that with her and her husband’s combined income, Mrs. Ricky Cohen from Hadera is nowhere near Israel’s median, income wise – she is closer to the top 80 percent.

Lapid’s enemies on the left quickly showed him what real populism sounds like.

“The post published by Lapid reveals that our new finance minister has no idea who the Israeli middle class is,” accused Meretz Chairperson MK Zehava Gal-On. “Lapid’s remarks are arrogant and out of touch,” she said.

“It must be that an income of 20 thousand shekels is not a lot of money for Lapid and his millionaire friends,” accused Gal-On’s fellow faction member MK Issawi Farij. “Lapid said today clearly for whom he came to work: for the top 20 percentiles of Israeli society – not for his imaginary Mrs. Cohen from Hadera, but for Mrs. Levy from Ramat Hasharon and Mrs. Berkowitz from Ramat Aviv,” Freij slammed the new finance minister.

I must admit it’s fun to watch Lapid doing his first public stumble in his new job. It’s probably a thousand times more fun to watch if you’re a senior Finance Ministry official who’s just been lectured on your civil service duties by a guy without a high school diploma.

But don’t expect this embarrassing Mrs. Cohen incident to come even near sealing Yair Lapid’s stint as the man who authors Israel’s budget plans. True, his name and both Mrs. Cohens’ will remain forever together on Google, but Lapid has already shown the kind of political skill you don’t get from a high school diploma, and he’s going to learn the lesson and come back with a better thought out tune.

Perhaps a tweet this time.

New Finance Minister Lapid: Economy in Monstrous Straits

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

A week into his new job, Finance Minister Yair Lapid says that the picture that unfolds before him regarding the state of Israel’s economy is much worse than he expected, and that he intends to reduce spending and make painful cutbacks.

According to Lapid, Israelis who will be feeling this year that their situation has worsened should know that it’s only temporary.

On his Facebook page, Minister Lapid wrote that Israel’s deficit is monstrous, ominous and growing worse. “The reason the deficit – wasting of money we didn’t have and making commitments that we shouldn’t have made.”

The Finance Minister stressed that his first year in office will be devoted to reducing the deficit, so that next year it will be possible to reduce housing prices, pursue burden equality, help small businesses, and improve education.

Lapid, who initially pressed for the Foreign portfolio, was aware that becoming minister of finance could become a career ender for him. Practicing fiscal responsibility in government is not the type of task that makes for great popularity – have a look at Greece and Cyprus these days, or review Israel’s 2011′s summer of social protests. Undoubtedly, it would have been easier for the flashy television journalist to strut his right stuff as foreign minister.

Indeed, some have suggested that Prime Minister Netanyahu has lured his younger challenger into the finance ministry trap precisely so that the youthful Lapid age fast and lose his shin trying to deal with the $15 billion plus deficit left him by his predecessor.

But from his first statement on the state of the economy, it appears that Lapid continues to understand communications better than the prime minister, and, in fact, could turn his stint at his troubled office into an even more meteoric rise to the premier’s seat.

By describing Israel’s economy in the worst possible details, Lapid is laying the ground for his own eventual role as the savior of the same economy. Israel’s economy remains robust, but could stand to improve in terms of a more equal distribution of jobs, goods and services.

On April 25, 2012, Fitch Ratings affirmed Israel’s credit rating at ‘A,’ with an outlook of ‘stable.’ The agency predicted 3.00 percent growth for 2012 and 3.50 percent growth for 2013. The “monstrous deficit” Lapid describes can be attributed to the fact that, with a poorer Europe’s appetite for Israeli goods diminishing, Israel’s tax revenues have not hit the anticipated mark. It shouldn’t have been allowed to slide and accumulate as it has done, but it remains more robust than most.

Politically, Prime Minister Netanyahu may rue the day he invited his arch nemesis to get his hands on the state books – because Lapid could actually improve them, or at least look really good trying.

New Netanyahu Coalition Govt All Cobbled and Ready, Maybe

Monday, March 18th, 2013

On Monday evening, the Knesset will host the swearing in ceremony for Israel’s 33rd government, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term—second consecutive—as prime minister (his first term ran from June 1996 to July 1999).

Immediately after the ceremony, Netanyahu will convene a brief cabinet meeting, with a toast. Then the bunch (22 ministers and 8 deputies) will travel to the presidential residence, for the traditional group picture.

The Knesset session will open with the selection of the Speaker of the House. It will likely be Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who will replace the former Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, who wanted very much to continue in his post but, unfortunately, had committed the ultimate sin of criticizing the Prime Minister’s anti-democratic tendencies, not the kind of slight which Netanyahu’s wife Sara easily forgives.

As usual, Netanyahu never shared with Rivlin his plan to depose him. In fact, as far back as a year ago, he assured the popular Speaker—who is also closely associated with the Settlement movement—that he’d have his support for the post of President when Shimon Peres completes his 7-year term, 2014.

Yuli Edelstein’s life’s story is fascinating: Born in the Soviet Union to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity (his father is a Russian Orthodox priest), Edelstein discovered his Jewish connection through his grandparents. He studied Hebrew back when that was considered a subversive act, for which, in 1984, he was sent to Siberia (the charges were drug related, but everybody knew it was the Hebrew thing). He made aliyah with his wife, Tanya, served in the army, and entered politics, ending up in the Knesset in 1996. He has switched between several parties, until finally landing in the Likud, and has held several ministerial portfolios. And if he doesn’t catch Sara’s ire, he could become as memorable a Speaker as Rubie Rivlin.

But the biggest losers, without a doubt, are the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. They were almost literally kicked out by Yair Lapid, who stated openly that, should he be seen in the government group picture with the Haredim, his voters would abandon him. Surprisingly, Naftali Bennett, his newly found brother from a different father (Yair’s father, the late MK Tommy Lapid, was a true hater of the religion), supported the dubious position that, in order to truly help the Haredi public, government had to first be cleared of Haredi partners.

Shas, a party that depends completely on patronage for its very existence, is seething with anger over Bennett’s “betrayal.” It’s hard, however, to take seriously the victimized self-pity of Shas, whose spiritual father Rav Ovadia Yosef dubbed the Jewish Home party a “Goy Home.” Altogether, it appears that, perhaps counter intuitively, the National Religious leaders as well as the rank and file, have been harboring heaps of resentment against the Haredim. The Haredi slights of several decades, including their occupation of the Ministry of Religious Services and the Chief rabbinate, doling out jobs to Haredi officials who reigned over a population that looks nothing like them—those slighted chickens have been coming back to roost.

Take for instance Rabbi Hayim Drukman, who responded to both the Haredi pols and to Netanyahu, who accused the Lapid-Bennett axis of “boycotting” the Haredi parties. Rabbi Drukman Argued that “the Haredi public are the biggest boycotters, boycotting for years the Torah of the national religious public.”

“Any Haredi apparatchik who gets elected to the Knesset, immediately becomes a rabbi, while the real rabbis of the national religious public are noted in the Haredi press by their first names (without the title ‘Rabbi’). Is this not boycotting?” Rabbi Druckman wrote in the Saturday shul paper “Olam Katan.”

Inside Shas, the short knives have already been drawn and they’re aimed at MK Aryeh Deri, the former convict who came back from the cold to lead Shas into a glorious stalemate (11 seats before, 11 after).

“We were very disappointed in Deri,” a senior Shas pol told Ma’ariv. “He did not bring the votes he promised Rav Ovadia, there was no significant change in seats, and, in fact, Deri is responsible for our failure.”

In United Torah Judaism they also seem to regret their alliance with Shas, it’s highly likely that, in a few months, they’ll opt to enter the government without Shas.

Finance Minister: Evacuating Beit El Is Morally Reprehensible

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Sunday morning objected during the weekly cabinet meeting to the court-ordained plan to evacuate and demolish the Ulpana Hill neighborhood in Beit El.

Saying there are certain things which simply cannot be done morally, Steinitz added: “It is prohibited to evacuate Ulpana Hill on logical, Zionistic and moral grounds.”

He further noted that “even within the Green Line will not be evacuating an entire settlement or an entire neighborhood. I have suggested the principle of ‘seven square,’ meaning that any community with seven households or more, and has been on the ground for seven years or more will not be evacuated, even if someone proves ownership. Instead defendants would pay punitive damages. We would not have destroyed a neighborhood in Tel Aviv and Kfar Sava, even if after 20 years someone proves that he has title to the land.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak sharply criticized the Likud ministers who have been calling to prevent the evacuation of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood.

“There’s no no point in this rant,” Barak said at the start of the cabinet meeting, “much of this fervor is not based on a pragmatic discussion of the Ulpana neighborhood but comes out of other considerations which I do not wish to describe. The Defense and Civil Administrations are seeking, along with the Attorney General, to try and exhaust all our options.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/finance-minister-evacuating-beit-el-is-morally-reprehensible/2012/04/22/

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