Opinion

The unbearable cost of a unity government

For Israel’s struggling working men and women, a paralyzed government is simply not a viable option.

Israelis enjoy their day off work at coffee shops in central Jerusalem during the second round of elections on Sept. 17, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Israelis enjoy their day off work at coffee shops in central Jerusalem during the second round of elections on Sept. 17, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Gidon Ben-Zvi
Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to The Algemeiner, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

Ever since Israel’s snap election on Sept. 17, the country’s chattering class has ginned up its campaign to convince Israelis that what they really want is a national unity government. To drive home their point, pundits, commentators and other members of the country’s intelligentsia have drawn parallels between Israel circa 1984 and today. This is a false equivalence.

When Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power in 1984, the Israeli economy was teetering on the verge of collapse, with inflation running rampant. Israel was also a country at war in 1984, the first Lebanon War.

Fast forward to 2019 and Israel’s economy and security are relatively stable, and have been for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t fighting a ground war on enemy territory.

Yet Israeli’s cultural, media and educational elites are bum-rushing citizens like a used car salesman trying to unload a lemon. Why? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious and economic lines, even seasoned observers are intoxicated by the appeal of national unity. But their enthusiastic embrace of a grand coalition is worse than naive, it’s dangerous to the wellbeing of Israeli society.

A national unity government would be a clunker for most Israelis because of the exploding cost of living here. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is amplifying alarm bells that most citizens have been hearing for years.

Daily life in Israel is grotesquely expensive. Food here is 19% higher than the OECD average. Meanwhile, apartment renters in Israel spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent while homeowners paying mortgages spend 15%, a discrepancy that’s among the highest in the OECD. Since 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing prices have shot up by over 90%.

If you’re raising children in Israel, good luck. Elementary school education and academic studies are 17% more expensive than a decade ago, while the average cost of preschools has risen by 14%. And Israel’s floundering public healthcare system is forcing many Israelis to supplement their mandatory universal medical insurance with out-of-pocket private policies. According to the OECD, only 8% of Israelis rely solely on public healthcare.

Here’s one more stat to consider: Israel ranked a lowly 38th on the economic freedom scale, dropping one place from 2018, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2019 Annual Report. In general, the higher a country’s level of economic freedom, the better off its citizens are.

What you won’t hear advocates for a national unity government say is that history shows that such grand coalitions hit the pause button on the implementation of desperately needed policy changes. Neither Shamir nor Peres were able to advance any major policies during their national unity government because each was immediately scuttled by the other.

Israel’s next government will be tasked with an awesome responsibility: to develop and carry out policies that remove the disproportionately large financial burden being carried by Israel’s working men and women. For millions of Israelis today, a government of national paralysis is not a viable option.

The cost of prolonged stagnation is simply too high.

Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to “The Algemeiner,” “The Times of Israel,” “The Jerusalem Post,” CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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