Israeli Finance Minister Draws Fire Over Remarks on Middle Class

Israel’s new finance minister, Yair Lapid, was accused by political rivals today of being out of touch with how the middle class lives.

Lapid touched off the uproar yesterday by writing on his Facebook page that a household that earns 20,000 shekels, or $5,511, belongs to the country’s middle class. That figure is about one-third higher than the average household income and more than twice the average salary.

“The finance minister has no clue about the Israeli middle class,” said Zehava Gal-On, leader of the opposition Meretz party. “Someone who makes 20,000 shekels a year belongs to the top 20 percent” of income earners, Gal-On said in an interview today with Army Radio.

Lapid was a well-paid television anchor and bank pitchman before entering politics last year. His Yesh Atid Party won 19 of parliament’s 120 seats in January elections after promising to champion the interests of a middle class that has been battered by a steadily rising cost of living. He took office two weeks ago.

On his Facebook page, Lapid wrote that in a meeting with finance ministry officials he cited the example of a hypothetical “Mrs. Cohen” who works as a teacher and together with a husband employed in the technology sector earns 20,000 shekels monthly.

“They own an apartment and travel abroad twice a year, but have no chance in the future of buying a home for one of their three children,” Lapid wrote.

The average Israeli monthly salary in 2012 was 9,022 shekels, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The average household wage was 14,629 shekels, according to the bureau’s 2011 income survey, published last year.

“There are many more ‘Mrs. Cohens’ in Israel that earn 5,000 shekels a month, and together with their husbands just 10,000 shekels,” Labor party parliamentary representative Isaac Herzog told the Maariv daily.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said today that Lapid understands the depth of the problems facing the economy and is taking those challenges seriously. On his Facebook post yesterday, the finance minister also said “tough steps” would be necessary to reduce the budget deficit.

“We are talking all the time about the middle class, and that’s very important; it is no less important to deal with society’s poor, and also to help them,” Fischer said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio.

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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