Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Israeli Pork Barrel

The cafeteria in the Israeli Knesset building may be strictly kosher, but its politics is the epitome of the Pork Barrel kind. Only here they call it coalition building. Each government comprises more and more ministers to "cement" the agreement with lard. Olmert broke his promises, and instead of reducing the cabinet and the very high expenses each minister and assistant minister requires, his government will be the largest ever!

Israeli governments consist of various parties, which are tied together less by ideology and more by need. That's why the religious parties and the most anti-religious parties end up sharing the cabinet table.

The religious parties, especially Shas and UTJ-United Torah Judaism desperately need to get some of the pie to support their various institutions. That's why ideology takes a back seat to the pork. It's also one of the main tensions between the National Union-Moledet & Tekuma and NRP-Mafdal, the National Religious Party, even though they have joined together for the 2006 elections. The NRP was always the traditional coalition partner with whichever party was in power, in order to support its educational system, while the NU is more strongly ideological.

Olmert and his staff have been negotiating with potential coalition partners even before Election Day. They were hoping that the polls would be correct, and they'd have 40 seats, which would give them a commanding 2/3 of the 60+ needed to make a majority of the 120 member Knesset. If that had been the election result, they would only have needed just over 20 more MK's to rule. Not only that, but the other parties would be begging for a chance to join, rather than the situation we now have. Because Olmert received much fewer than he had hoped for, he's in the position of needing support, and the other party leaders are playing poker with him. Every few minutes, there's a different new flash. Now, 7am, Sunday, April 23, the news is:
Kadima-Labor Deal Far from Certain
07:10 Apr 23, '06 / 25 Nisan 5766

( The reported decision to grant the Labor party seven ministries is far from certain and could spark a crisis, according to the Hebrew news site NFC. Along with the report of Labor's receiving seven Cabinet portfolios, Kadima also announced that the division of ministries would be one portfolio for every 3.5 mandates.

According to this formula, Labor's 19 seats would earn it only five ministries.

In the end it will depend on who's a better card player, but it's still Olmert holding the knife.

And when he finishes spreading the pork and all the gravy, more than one quarter, that's one out of four, Members of Knesset will be getting extra salaries and perks as ministers and assistant-ministers. That sweetens the deal for all those miss-matched bedfellows. That's how Israeli coalitions include politicians with such different and conflicting beliefs. Their need for money unites them. That's one of the reasons I don't vote, never have, for religious parties.

And more:
Unlike the United States, which has a more "technocrat" cabinet, the Israeli Cabinet is filled with politicians, active, competitive, ambitious politicians. This colors every decision made by all Israeli Governments. Combine this with the "self-appointing" Israeli Supreme Court, and it's very clear why our governments are so corrupt and incompetent.

Government reform must deal with these issues, because they are the core problems.

Until this is done, most Israeli politicians will just keep on fighting for their piece of pork and lick of the gravy.


westbankmama said...

Very well said, Batya. How long will it take for our taxes to be raised (as if they aren't high enough now?)

Batya said...

I'm sure that Olmert has it all planned, and he'll blame it on us.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few scenarios. According to some reports, which are also denied by some, the Kabalist Rav Kaduri zt"l said that Sharon would be the last PM before Mashiach. Note that Olmert has up to now only been acting PM. We may still have a deadlock. It is not inconceivable that some ornery Labor Party members could get up and say "OK, Peretz is our party leader, but there are plenty of better candidates for Defense Minister in Labor." They could propose Fuad, who has been it before, or Matan Vilnai, both former generals. If one or more of them decided to refuse to support the prospect of a DM with no experience in the field, it would be a big problem. Meanwhile, back in Kadima, Shaul Mofaz, who left the Likud in order to continue as DM, has now been double-crossed. What is he going to do now? I bet a lot more people in Kadima have been promised jobs than there are slots to fill them. In addition, Joe Settler at proposes that perhaps Amir Peretz as DM will work out not badly. If Amir goes at the bloated defense establishment with a knife, he will be able to divert the savings for the social programs he wants passed. If so, he will be a big hero. But Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer, an agent for the international financial establishment, will not let Amir's minimum wage proposal go through. Amir doesn't understand that the raising of minimum wage would only cause more spending plus more under-the-table illegal employment which would put many of his constituency out of their jobs. Olmert's government will not be ready for the May 4 deadline.

Batya said...

Anything's possible at this point. Let's see.