Thursday, May 02, 2013

So Where's the Money?

By Moshe Feiglin

22 Iyar, 5773
May 2, ‘13

Translated from Makor Rishon

Finance Minister Yair Lapid asked, “Where’s the money?” The answer is that it is in the defense budget, the Israel Lands Authority and the printing presses of the Israel Bank.

The largest slice of Israel’s budget – before education and health – is mostly kept secret. But we all know that there is no such thing as big money left in the dark for years that does not trickle over to unworthy uses. Thus, under the cloak of “secrecy” and under the cover of the security “ethos”, the great robbery of public coffers is taking place.

This week, a brave former army officer publicized what everybody already knows. The IDF pensions are robbery of the public coffers. “The pension that I receive when I finish my army service – before I begin a new civilian career,” explained the officer, “can only be earned by the average person through long and hard years of labor.”

But that is only small change. The IDF of the Six Day war was built on a population of two and a half million Jews and on a two and a half year term of military service. The army was fighting all the regular Arab armies with methods that were essentially no different from the methods employed in World War II – methods based on manpower. The situation was basically the same during the Yom Kippur War.

Today, there is no regular army facing Israel on its borders, except for the Egyptian army, which received new American weaponry in Israel’s merit. (If not for the “peace accords” with Egypt, its army’s condition today would be similar to that of the Syrian army and the Egyptian tanks and planes would still be Soviet leftovers from Yom Kippur.) Most of the Egyptian army is on the other side of a demilitarized zone.

The battlefield of the future will mostly be based on hi-tech and elite units. In other words, the army will need much less manpower. But, paradoxically, many more soldiers are drafted into the army today, they serve for three years and even women enlist for combat duty.

What does all of this mean?

It means that there is concealed unemployment in the IDF – in amazing proportions. No financial institution would be able to survive it for a more than a month. Now the Finance Minister wants to add thousands of Ultra-Orthodox to the ranks of the IDF unemployed.

We can convince ourselves that the immense military budget is earmarked for “defense”, but what we are really paying for is “The People’s Army Ethos”. This is detrimental to Israel’s security.

The following is an outline of my Volunteer Army Proposal:
Every Israeli should be drafted into the army for basic training for no more than two months. This basic training would prepare the inductees to carry out security assignments and home-front services, while freeing them to study and work as they please. Those who choose to volunteer to serve in the professional army would be offered a track similar to what the air force offers its volunteers today: Highly professional training, university studies, a good salary and most of all – social status. There is no doubt that the young people’s demand would outstrip supply. The IDF would be able to choose exactly who it wants and needs. In case of war, all those who received basic training would be drafted.

Simply put, not only would this plan save a lot of money, but it would also vastly improve the professionalism of the IDF and the quality of Israel’s security.

Most of the MKs with whom I discussed this plan, from all the political parties in the Knesset – both Left and Right – did not accept it. It kills the “equal burden” horse on which everyone is currently riding. But they all admitted that their opposition was not due to security concerns. It is simply difficult for them to part with the military melting pot. Every side believes that through the army, it will “melt” Israeli society into agreeing with its stand. The Left presents the main opposition to this idea. But the religious Zionists oppose it, as well. “We thought that we would become part of Israeli society through the army. Don’t take that away from us!” they say.

It is the army’s job to provide security. The melting pot must be based on Jewish identity.

The wastefulness in the military budget extends to other areas as well: weapons deals for equipment such as the F-35 for which we have no use. Nobody really knows what interests motivate these purchases. Just like German reparations, US aid leads to major corruption.

While the military budget directly drains money from Israel’s coffers, there are also deep processes that erode Israel’s economy. The major drain is the most fearsome of cartels: Israel’s Land Authority. The Land Authority controls 93% of land for construction, doubling the price of housing in Israel. The nation’s land should be distributed to the nation: to every Jewish family in Israel.

Another money drain is the creeping inflation: the cumulative effect of printing money. There is no difference between a state that prints money out of thin air to a private counterfeiter who prints some bills and buys a car or house. In both cases, the counterfeiters gain and everyone else has to work longer and harder to fund them. That is the reason that our generation works longer hours than our parents’ generation to attain the same standard of living. 

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