Barak ran for prime minister promising change in government.
Very loudly and very often he said that he would redirect
government spending from the chareidim and the settlers to
the rest of the country, promising new growth and a
What happened once he got elected?
For starters, he chose Beiga Shochat as Treasury Minister
because he has been extremely loyal to Barak. It is widely
acknowledged that Shochat left the economy a mess after his
first try at running the economy under Rabin and Peres, and
when Barak announced his choice for the Treasury, the Israeli
stock market promptly showed what it thought of that choice
by dropping sharply. Though Shochat announced that he had
learned from his mistakes, Barak's choice was not one that
signaled his commitment to change -- quite the contrary.
The new budget that was submitted looked very familiar. It
sets very modest goals all around, but includes new spending
cuts of more than 2% of the budget, adding up to some NIS 6
billion (about $1.5 billion). It does not promise much fall
in unemployment, nor much growth.
Eli Yishai (Shas), Minister of Labor and Welfare, said when
he saw the budget, "This is a recycled bad budget. They
promised a change, I hoped for a change, but there is no
change." Shlomo Ben Ami (One Israel), Minister of Internal
Security, said, "We need a change. This is a budget that just
continues what the previous government did, but we need a
real change." Ron Cohen (Meretz), the Minister of Trade and
Industry, said that he cannot vote for the budget. "We will
be unfaithful to ourselves and our conscience if we do not
fight for a change in priorities," said Cohen.
MK Ofer Pines (One Israel), who is the coalition chairman in
the Knesset, said that the budget is not one that promises
growth and more employment. He also said that the expanded
government will make it even harder to push through any new
programs, as there will be that many more special interests
as each minister fights to preserve his own turf. "The fact
that there is no change in the budget of '99 should be a
warning to Barak," complained Pines.
Perhaps it should be a warning to someone else. Perhaps the
Israeli electorate should reevaluate Barak's promises.
With the exception of the law to draft yeshiva students,
Barak was long on general promises but extremely short on
specifics. He promised to bring growth, to change spending
patterns, but he never gave any specific proposals of what he
would do. He promised to move forward on the peace process,
but also gave no details. These promises were supposed to
offer something new, to get him elected against Netanyahu.
Instead, in social and financial affairs, his policies seem a
direct continuation of what Netanyahu was doing. The recent
Cabinet approval of structural changes in the economy are
just extensions of the policy that has been followed for
almost ten years -- and that Netanyahu especially pushed.
Even in diplomatic and foreign affairs, Barak is behaving
substantially no differently from what Netanyahu clearly
wanted to do -- and would have done if he had not been
stopped by his right flank.
Everyone knows that it is easy to promise, but always harder
to deliver. Barak built up very high expectations, but it
seems that he will not be able to deliver at all.