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Op-Ed: Netanyahu's Jab at Economic Reform

The Netanyahu family's lifestyle is up for scathing sarcasm.
Published: Saturday, March 08, 2014 9:30 AM


I don’t know many businesspeople who believe the government statistic that unemployment in Israel hovers around 6%.  Most smirk, “it is probably 15% or higher.”  Worse is underemployment, where overqualified people take low-paying jobs nowhere commensurate with their training, education, and experience, because they are desperate for income.

Licensed financial professional Aaron Katsman tells of having over 100 people apply for a secretarial position in his firm. “I am comfortable saying that whatever the Israeli unemployment rate is officially listed as is overly optimistic. “ And, “Very qualified people are looking for jobs and can’t find them.” There may still be exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs, but the economy is slowing, strangling from high taxes.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is a seasoned expert in national finance, and citizens can feel confident his personal economic stimulus plan will prevent a collapse of the nation’s economy. As finance minister from 2003-2005, when Israel was in its worst economic crisis, Netanyahu’s policies shot the country into prosperity.  His strident critic and nemesis, Haaretz, conceded, “He succeeded beyond all expectations. His decisiveness, courage and rectitude in pursuing unpopular but important policies succeeded in stabilizing Israel’s economy.” His recent plan is utter hardihood.

The government allowance for the Netanyahu family living expenses was over budget in 2012 by design.  Household expenditures for their family residences were NIS 1m in excess of government allotment for housekeeping, decorating, landscaping, furniture and clothing.

Perhaps his plan was to reinvigorate the slowing economy by putting an army of maids, servants, house painters, designers, security guards, and gardeners to work. All are local talent having a difficult time finding work in the private sector. This spending has a trickledown effect putting furniture makers, salespeople, seamstresses, and others to work by buying made-in-Israel goods.

The $127,000 sleeping cabin the PM had built for overseas flights employed machinists and carpenters in the Israel aircraft industry. An entourage of 18 people by one account travelled with the first family to China. The family telephone bill of NIS 26,000 encouraged new hires at Bezeq.

One can only imagined the number of jobs the Netanyahu’s created in the scented candle, ice cream and flower businesses. Who makes less money than maids, laundry mistresses and food servers?  By targeting these industries spending millions of government shekels, the Netanyahu’s fulfill the capitalist mantra of helping the poor pull themselves up in society by their own bootstraps.

To assuage the critics, the Netanyahu’s made significant cuts their household 2013 expenses. 

The result, Israel experienced its worst economic slowdown in the second half of 2013 since 2009, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. GDP fell, CPI fell, bond prices rose, leading one expert to warn, “The economy is far from operating at full capacity.” Don’t blame the Netanyahu’s. They did their part in service to the nation.

Overwhelmed by bad local and international press dedicating stories to a “capricious, hedonistic lifestyle,” the first family cut their household spending in 2013 by NIS 800,000. The family cut spending in half on low wage earning gardeners, maids and food servers. Purchases of furniture and household items were cut by one-third. Perhaps it was to make up for the cutback that, in a show of magnanimity and to keep the stimulus kicking, Netanyahu ordered that every Israeli be equipped with their own gas mask.

I sometimes wonder, like Mark Twain, “whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.”

February 20, 2014