Kahlon: 'Netanyahu tried to ambush me with the IPBC'
In an interview with Yedioth's business newspaper Calcalist, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon talks about being optimistic about the housing crisis, the motivation behind his new tax plans, his regrets about recusing himself from dealing with Israel's natural gas monopoly, and his relationship with the prime minister following the IPBC crisis.
Even though the dispute between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) has been resolved, the future of the coalition is still uncertain, with the threat of going to early elections now more prevalent than ever.
Minister Kahlon sat down for an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth's business newspaper Calcalist to discuss the recent political tribulations and the still-pressing issue of the high cost of living, which is keeping him occupied.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, are we heading toward elections?
"There was a time when I could answer that, but after what happened with the IPBC, I really don't know."
Do you still wish to avoid elections?
"I think that it's no longer up to me to decide. There is no rational discussion over the subject anymore. Whether I wish for it or not, it's no longer relevant. You saw for yourself how it all almost crumbled overnight."
Is it possible that the prime minister has his own reasons to go to elections? For example, because of the investigations against him?
"I really don't know. When he said that we're about to go to elections, I was very surprised."
Did you take offense on a personal level?
"I took offense on a national level. We have goals to accomplish. I see a country that's growing, an economy on an upturn, the public finally starting to feel a difference. That's my opinion at least. And then, to come and put everything on hold? It doesn't seem too responsible in my eyes. But if that's what they want, then alright."
Is there still a rift between you and the prime minister, or did you have a chance to talk?
"I haven't spoken to him on a personal level. I attended meetings for party leaders and government meetings, but I have no dealings with the prime minister."
Can you have a coalition like this?
"Yes, it can work; you don't have to be friends."
Do you have any guarantees that your import taxes reduction plan will work?
"Yes, I guarantee that the plan is good. If I had the budget, I would reduce all import taxes in Israel. Customs are redundant, import taxes are redundant. Where I can lower import taxes without harming the industry or causing unemployment, I will."
Let's talk about the housing crisis. Is the battle to lower prices more difficult than you imagined it to be?
"We build and we build, and four indexes in a row now have shown that the price hikes have been halted. Believe me, it will work out. Was it more difficult than I thought? No. I knew what I was getting into. I take care of things no one else even touched, like I did with the cellphone reform and the bank reform. I came here to work, and it's not easy. Those who do, get hit."
Is it really that problematic?
"Other than young couples, no one wants housing prices to go down. That's the true story."
Can you explain the prime minister's motivation regarding the IPBC?
"What was his rationale—I really don't know, but you saw where it ended. I spoke with him frankly, without hiding anything. We agreed on one thing, and the next day he had a change of heart. He arrived at a coalition team-building event and announced it. That's the whole story."
How did you feel at that moment?
"I left beforehand. I had inside information that he was about to ambush me, so I didn't let him and just left."
Do you see yourself sitting down and writing a post against a journalist? Personally criticizing him?
"No. I've never done that, and I hope to never get to that point. We all take hits from you guys. So what? Tomorrow, someone else is going to be in the coalition, and you'll attack him. That's life, and I accept it."
How would you conclude the whole affair?
"There's no doubt that the IPBC crisis is not something to brag about to our grandchildren."
Do you regret having recused yourself from dealing with Israel's natural gas?
"It was indeed a mistake, and I'm going to do everything I can to ensure it won't happen to me again. If I had known that that's how things are going to transpire, I would not have recused myself.
"I made a promise when I didn't know that I was going to be the finance minister. Afterwards, it became clear to me that I can't legally keep my promise, so yes—I made an error. And if I'll have to pay for it, I will."
Will you consider returning to the Likud party if, let's say, Netanyahu doesn't head it?
"I'm not going back to the Likud party. I have a party with a social world view that is operating in a completely opposite way to what has been the norm so far. People always thought that if they gave tax breaks and reliefs to the top, it will trickle down to the bottom, and I said no. I'm just going to give to the bottom, to the lower class and young couples."
(Translated & edited by Lior Mor)