Rhetoric v Reality

June 2, 2013 by Ron Weiser
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No question that Yair Lapid was the outstanding success story of the Israeli elections held earlier this year…writes Dr Ron Weiser.

Dr Ron Weiser

Dr Ron Weiser

He had some slogans or principles such as “social justice”’, “sharing the burden” and “the importance of the peace process”, all of which resonated with the electorate, but with little in the way of actual policy detail.

Lapid offered a fresh (and good looking) face and the electorate jumped at the chance of the promise for a new internal direction.

His own party members and fellow MK’s, largely unknown nationally and virtually without any exposure during the election period itself, stand for many different and often contradictory positions.

So how is it all working out?

1 – Social Justice

Either by dint of his own commitment to his slogan or by the smarts of PM Netanyahu, Lapid ended up as Finance Minister.

This at a time of a rising government deficit could easily be seen as somewhat of a poisoned chalice.

Lapid’s budget of just a couple of weeks ago brought headlines such as:

“Israel’s middle class to feel the brunt of Lapid’s ‘budget of hope’” and “Israel’s poor stay poor, while its rich get rich”.

About the most favourable headline was “Lapid’s budget, is it really that bad?”

Some protests were held, albeit smaller than the massed rallies that brought “social justice” to the fore.

Oren Pasternak, one of the organizers of the Tel Aviv rally, said: “We are protesting against the fraud of the finance minister and the prime minister, who told us throughout the election campaign that taxing the middle and lower classes would be a red line”.

Of course Lapid maintains that the State’s finances are in much worse condition than he had anticipated – where have you heard that before?

Lapid said: “The budget includes the largest cuts in the history of the country … This is a painful cut, intended to return Israel to the path of fiscal restraint. It corrects decades of structural distortions, creates a feeling of equality and is directed at the good of the working person.”

Basically he is telling those who voted for him that near term pain will bring them a better future.

His reputation and future electoral prospects will depend in large part on this eventuating.

2 – Sharing the Burden

These are code words for having the Ultra Orthodox do some sort of national service and more importantly perhaps, empowering them to become gainfully employed.

That is, to deal with both the security and financial burdens that every day Israelis face in order to lessen the load they carry.

The Peri Committee which was tasked with this extremely sensitive issue, concluded its suggested legislative Bill on Wednesday and now it will go for Cabinet approval and then to be voted on in the Knesset.

The term of an Israeli Government is up to 4 years, particularly significant in this case.

Basically the Bill proposes that there be a period of time over which approx 75% of the Ultra Orthodox who currently do not do army service be encouraged to do so. After this transition period criminal sanctions on draft dodgers will apply.

This issue was very heated and Lapid even threatened to withdraw from the Government over this proposed Bill.

Initially the transition period was to be 3 years.

Defence Minister  (and former IDF Chief of Staff) Ya’alon (Likud) was strongly opposed to this, particularly the criminal sanctions, and wanted this to be left to the Defence Minister’s (his own) discretion.

Ultimately in exchange for Ya’alon not having the power to intervene, the suggested transition period has been extended to 4 years which of course means that there will be at least one more election before draft dodging becomes a criminal event – and anything can happen over the 4 intervening years.

To use the carrot and stick analogy, we will have to see just how successful the carrot approach alone will be to move this issue forward.

If the legislation gets through the Knesset.

3 – Settlements

Lapid continues to gather “leftist” headlines whilst espousing Bibi’s self declared policy – “2 States for 2 Peoples”.

Lapid and Bibi say the same thing – Lapid gets lauded for it and Bibi gets tarred and feathered.

Could the master of public relations learn something from his new coalition partner?

In his first interview with the foreign press the New York Times headline of May 20th shouted “Lapid: Settlers will likely be uprooted”.

He was actually referring to one day into the future when a 2 State for 2 People agreement might take place saying “thousands of settlers would be removed in a future arrangement” something he called “heartbreaking.”
The article goes on to say that Lapid “claimed that Israel should not change its policy on settlements in the West Bank in order to revive the peace process”

Moreover he said that “Jerusalem should not serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state”.

Well, there is rhetoric and there is reality.

Ron Weiser is the Immediate Past President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.

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