Kahlon’s sweet revenge
Op-ed: Even without the IPBC affair, the finance minister’s decision to hold a press conference on his new financial plan without informing the prime minister is understandable. The way Netanyahu rushes to take credit for his ministers’ achievements has been getting on their nerves.
Nothing should have surprised us in Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s new plan, neither the issues he chose to deal with nor the timing or the way it was done. Saying that the writing was on the wall would be a serious downgrading of Kahlon’s abilities. In other words, it could have been much worse.
After the trick that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played on Kahlon with the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) affair, insisting on a compromise that sets up a new, separate news corporation without Geula Even—the wife of Netnayahu adversary Gideon Sa'ar—at its helm, it was only a matter of time before the finance minister had his revenge. Kahlon said it himself in different ways—The IPBC affair was the turning point for the finance minister. It’s not that everything was perfect beforehand, but this time he felt exploited, deceived, betrayed, humiliated and mainly—as is always the case with Netanyahu—he felt as if he had been thrown along the side of the road. The thing that frustrated him the most was that although he was deeply familiar with the prime minister’s conduct, although he had already left the Likud party for similar reasons—Netanyahu managed to do it to him again.
The question was how would this revenge be served. So instead of matzah and bitter herbs, Netanyahu was served with a sweet revenge straight to his face.
Kahlon’s financial plan is only part of the revenge. It’s a part that cannot be downplayed, as it strengthens his position as the social minister, the man who is touched by the distress of young Israeli families. The "Net Family Plan," as it is called, is an effective name for a program that may one day even be named after Kahlon.
This takes us to the second part, if not the main part, of the revenge: The finance minister’s press conference, which the prime minister was not informed of and not invited to.
Even without the IPBC affair, the finance minister’s decision to hold a press conference without Netanyahu sticking his head in the frame is understandable. The way Netanyahu appropriates his ministers’ achievements and immediately turns them into his own success—or the success of his government or any other wording that immediately belittles the minister’s achievement—has been getting on the ministers’ nerves. Kahlon experienced it recently, when immediately after the IPBC affair, he was forced to visit the cities of Beit Shemesh and Or Yehuda with Netanyahu leading the way, once again taking credit for housing agreements that the finance minister had worked on for a year and a half, while Kahlon sat next to him, humiliated and angry, without his famous smile.
Until now, ministers wouldn’t dare do what Kahlon did Tuesday—hold independent press conferences in blatant defiance of the prime minister. This isn’t the first time, however, that Kahlon acted as a pioneer vis-à-vis Netanyahu. This time, though, he did it with unusual elegance and effectiveness: It seems to be a good and important program. If there were elections on the horizon, we would call it an election strategy. And if the elections are indeed closer than they seem, Kahlon has succeeded in strengthening his public standing, and maybe even regaining a Knesset seat or two, which has slipped away from him over the past year.
It is therefore unsurprising that the smile has returned to Kahlon’s face. One can only imagine how satisfied he must have felt, standing there on his own, elaborating on his financial plan, enjoying all the attention, basking in all the compliments.
The initial reaction from the prime minister’s associates was a typical response from Coalition Chairman David Bitan: We won’t let him hurt the disability pensions—as if the disability pensions were the apple of Netanyahu’s eye. Moreover, as if the plan to raise the disability pensions was the flagship plan of the coalition chairman, who strongly opposed it only several months ago.
The response that followed this response was much more moderate: “The proposals presented will be examined in a positive manner.” Here’s another attempt to humiliate the finance minister.
But we can count on Netanyahu. He is too experienced to let this thing slip away from his hands. The initial reactions will soon disappear and will be replaced with generous credits to the prime minister and to the government he leads, for a plan that he identified first and that Kahlon only executed.