How have people responded to your budget?
When I introduced my economic plan for the first time, people had mixed views because it’s the largest cut in the history of Israeli budgets. We have a big deficit caused by the fact that the former government took upon itself too many obligations.
Weren’t you elected to help the Israeli middle class?
True. Then they said, “Okay, now he’s raising taxes.” They were upset.
Because you raised the value-added tax?
Yes, from 17 percent to 18 percent and the income tax by 1.5 percent on everybody. Israel’s income tax is the most progressive in the world, so when you raise it, it doesn’t mean that you raise it on the poor as much as you do on the rich. But it’s still a raise, and people don’t like it when their taxes are raised.
Do you think that in the long run, Israelis will look back and think that you did the right thing?
I’m sure they will. Even now, when they’re upset, they feel better that somebody’s doing the responsible thing, even if it’s inconvenient politically.
You also said that the ultra-Orthodox have been receiving benefits and payments from the government without contributing.
I felt that we had become a society ruled by sectors, by interest groups — whoever’s connected [to the government] gets more.
So you felt it wasn’t fair.
Me and apparently a lot of other people. We felt that the people who should benefit most from the country are the people who contribute the most, which is the middle class, who are drafted into the army, spend three years there and 25 years in the reserves. That is why I had enough votes to create out of nowhere the second largest party in the country.
You used to be a journalist?
Three generations of my family were journalists — my grandfather, my father and myself. My grandfather, who came here in the early ’30s, was the first journalist of Yediot Aharonth [a leading Israeli newspaper]. My father was a journalist and a politician. I worked for Yediot Aharonth, too.
Why did you decide to go into politics?
My children are growing up, and I became worried about the ways things are being handled in this country. I felt there’s a lost generation of people who feel misrepresented, and that they’re doing their best for the country but the country is not doing its best for them. We are all looking at our children and wondering whether or not they will see their future in Israel. They looked at the country before the last elections and saw it becoming more and more Orthodox. There was a strong sense of unfairness.