"We will have to deal with Ashdod Port because it is a scandal, and we will have to deal with the Israel Electric Corp. because it is a scandal," Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Ynet.
During the special interview, held shortly after the cabinet approved his State Budget proposal, which entails tax hikes and across-the-board cuts, Lapid said the large labor unions would be at the top of his agenda. "The discussion about the Israel Electric Corp. and the ports has already begun; it is being conducted under the radar.
- Op-ed: Lapid the media wizard?
- Lapid won't cut funding for Shas schools
- 12,000 protest against austerity measures
"I won’t stand by and say 'this is not happening'; it is happening, and it must be dealt with. No one has dealt with it for 65 years. I've been finance minister for two months and we are already dealing with it. I hope people forgive me if it takes some time, and it will be conducted responsibly and at the right pace," the Yesh Atid party leader said.
"I will not become another flag that is raised and then lowered in shame – this is how I work. There is a process, and it will be carried out correctly and at the right pace – not according to the question of which headline I need to make two days from now," he said.
Addressing the agreements he had reached with Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini in order to prevent a general strike, Lapid said: "My agreement with Eini states the following: The working public gives a billion and a half shekels (about $400 million), and this (agreement) will also secure calm (in the economy) for the next year and a half. It's a great social-political-economic deal for all sides involved – it was the right thing to do.
'I have one job only.' Lapid with Steinitz (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"Many people wanted us to seize the opportunity and go to war with the Histadrut, which would lead to a general strike. A general strikes costs between two billion and 2.4 billon shekels a day ($550-660M). Ten days of a general strike – and the cuts we just introduced are increased by 150%. This would be irresponsible, and I'm a responsible person."
Lapid told Ynet he does not fear his popularity will decline due to the harsh austerity measures he has introduced. "Because I have so much media experience – it allows me to be patient. I know there are these waves that last a few weeks, in which everyone blames one person for all of the State of Israel's problems throughout the generations – and that's fine.
Protest outside Lapid's home (Photo: Ofer Amram)
"I know I am doing what is right. I know they (the measures) hurt, but they won't hurt for long – so forgive me if I'm not impressed by it. I only regret that people are protesting…I feel bad for my neighbors because all those who protest do it on my street, but our house – the bedrooms face the opposite direction, so the only ones who are awakened (by the protests) are the neighbors."
During the interview, Lapid addressed the huge deficit, but refused to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessor in the Finance Ministry, Yuval Steinitz. "I have one job only, and that is not to lay blame on others, but to get us out of the mud. Since I know that a year-and-a-half from now we will be in a situation where people will say 'the man succeeded in getting us out of the mud,' I don't want to look for an alibi for the failure – it is also a political calculation," he said.
'It's a process.' Lapid with Eini (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The finance minister attacked Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, who claimed earlier in the week that he had prevented a budget cut in his party's educational network. "I'll tell you what happened. (Education Minister Shai) Piron came to me at around 1 am and said, 'Look, we have a problem with a certain clause that does not allow us to immediately cut (funding) for schools that do not teach the core curriculum. First we must set up another school system, and this will take a few months.' I told him 'fine, if you are certain it will take a few months – then fine.'"
"I told him, 'Inform Deri; let's be polite.' I always try to be fair. So we told Deri and went back into the room, and Deri, like Deri, told all the newspapers he had conducted negotiations with me. I didn’t exchange a word with him, and saying that he prevented the cut in the Shas school system is simply not true, but he got the main headline. I won't do business with him anymore because he is not truthful.
"I know the latest accusation against me is that I am not forceful enough when it comes to the haredim – you have to admit this is amusing," Lapid said.
The minister rejected the claims that PM Netanyahu pressured him into taking the finance portfolio so he would fail. "I am aware of all these conspiracy theories. I do not think anyone played a conspiracy trick on me," he told Ynet. "I've been given a great opportunity – only due to my 19 mandates, by the way – to change the country and get it out of the mud. This is something I welcome."
A senior member of the workers’ union at the Ashdod Port said, “We are not enemies of the State, we are not the cause (of the high rate of poverty). The opposite is true. We bring money into the country, and we earn our money from honest, hard work. If the Finance Minister wants to deal with the recession, he must do so with the chair of the Histadrut, who emphasized to him in the not so distant past what the power of law is in a democratic country.”
The Electric Corp. has not remained indifferent either. Yaakov Davida, chair of the workers’ committee for the northern district, said that the committee had planned a reform outline, which was stopped by the Finance Ministry. “They want de-facto reform, without meeting with representatives of the workers. It must be remembered that the outline of successful reform must be win-win, in which everyone benefits. It cannot be one-sided. The Finance Minister must define what he wants – to close the deficit or to fight committees. At the moment he is zigzagging because he is reading Facebook.”
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop