What is the difference between outgoing Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz and incoming Minister of Finance Yair Lapid? Despite the temptation to note that Steinitz knows that Copernicus was not a Greek philosopher, the relevant answer to the question should be found in the realm of political platforms, not in education or knowledge. Upon taking the finance portfolio, Lapid will be a man with a social agenda, which he has sworn to carry out. He is not taking the job as the choice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and/or his wife, but on the strength of the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him.
What Lapid's party Yesh Atid chose to do with this power is seen in the coalition agreement signed with Likud-Beitenu on Friday. The document represents the party of the new finance minister and all the party members, who are just as responsible as the chairman for the document's implementation and performance. The thing that stands out above all in the document is the powerful desire to hit, cut, reduce, and minimize the subsidies and welfare payments given to the haredim (ultra-orthodox). This is almost a second thread in the coalition agreement, from the second paragraph, "Bearing the burden" through the final paragraph, entitled "Miscellaneous."
There is no other issue in this coalition agreement which is spelled out in such detail as the campaign against haredi subsidies; from enforcing the standard curriculum in state education through the reduction in National Insurance payments, after many years of abuse, to eligibility for affordable housing. As an operational program, each of these measures could be included in the desire for the haredim to be integrated into Israeli society, but in this case, the natural thing would be to demand increased job training and/or the setting of assistance for people who quit haredi structures and an empowerment program for haredi women.
The absence of paragraphs to support the integration of haredim is no coincidence; it reflects the "I believe" attitude of Yesh Atid MKs. The document they signed does not mention the social rights of citizens. There is not one word about the development of mechanisms or legislation to guarantee the rights of all citizens' to welfare, job security, the prevention of harmful employment, health and education, the narrowing of the divide between rich and poor, equal opportunity in education, or guaranteeing the standard of living of retirees.
In another reality, with other politicians, a coalition agreement would include a demand to pass a basic law for social rights, alongside a promise to institute a multiyear plan to reduce poverty and job discrimination among Arab citizens, and to guarantee equal opportunity for women. But as far as Yesh Atid MKs are concerned, these are apparently not issues to fight over compared with the supreme joy of slashing the money going to the haredim.
In essence, this choice by Yair Lapid's party has a clear internal logic. Had the finance minister-designate asked during the election campaign "Where's the money?", or "Where is the money going?", the coalition agreement reveals the answer, and what Lapid intends to do to change the situation. In this case, too, what the coalition agreement states should be examined as much as what it does not state. For example, "the money" that Lapid is seeking will not include the billions of shekels that the Israeli government is pouring into the settlements.
On the contrary, with this coalition agreement, Yesh Atid has become a party to the "settlement enterprise", as the heads of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) MK Naftali Bennett and minister of housing-designate Uri Yehuda Ariel call it. There is no restriction on construction in the settlements, and the ministerial housing committee, which will be established under the coalition agreement, will have a clear majority from the settlers lobby.
We should not be surprised by this willingness to continue supporting the outpouring of money on settlements. When a political party does not mention in its coalition agreement illegal outposts, the presence of armed militia in the West Bank, or the activity of "Price Tag" attacks, to ask it to increase spending on housing, health and education within Israel's borders is to be deluded.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 17, 2013
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