A few months late, the International Monetary Fund amended its forecasts for Israel. It cut its estimate for GDP growth in 2002, made only four months ago, from 4.5% to 1.7%.
The IMF update follows amendments by Israel's Finance Ministry, which after six months of playing games was forced to admit to the harsh reality and begin the painful process of adjusting the national budget to the harsh economic environment.
The business sector had preceded the treasury by a long time. Most companies have long since reduced their spending. Hi-tech may have been the first to feel the pain, but it has spread throughout the entire marketplace, touching new and veteran companies alike.
Is anything immune from the recession? Is anything out there standing strong against the economic typhoon?
Turns out there is. There is one entity utterly detached from the international financial system, the Israeli economy and the business sector, one entity untouched by unemployment or even budget cuts by the treasury.
It is a lone economic miracle, a living fossil autarky that relies on no external bodies and is unaffected by anything outside itself.
It is the last true bubble left in the world, dear readers. It is the one headed by Knesset member Avraham Burg. It is, in a word, the Knesset itself.
The bubble members convened on Monday at their bubble offices at the Knesset. While the storm of budget cuts howled outside their insulated dome, with the treasury brandishing its ax at everything that moves and doesn't, the bubble members happily approved a 2.9% budget increase for themselves for 2002. Sound like peanuts? It isn't.
First of all, state revenue from taxes are expected to collapse next year, leading to budget cuts across the board, in all ministries and spheres. Secondly, the bubble members gave themselves NIS 62 million more than approved by the Finance Ministry. Thirdly, their increase follows years of sharply climbing Knesset budgets.
And it's only the beginning. Perusal of the budget articles shows that MK wages are losing 8.4%, without which the budget increase would have been far greater. But don't think that cut demonstrates MK awareness that they too should share in the economic crisis.
The drop in budget for MKs derives from another scandalous state of affairs ¿ namely, that the cabinet under Ariel Sharon is the biggest since the establishment of Israel in 1948. It has no less than 28 ministers. The bloat severely impairs its functioning ¿ ever try to hold a debate with 28 people? Moreover, the wages of the 28 ministers and their 12 deputy ministers are paid from the prime ministerial budget, not the Knesset budget.
Will the fact that the Knesset budget for 2002 has inflated to NIS 311 million stop "social-rights" representatives from leading a noisy public campaign against the budget cuts? Course not.
Will the rampant waste and profligacy at the Knesset stop its members from rolling their eyes at the TV cameras while bemoaning the plight of the unemployed? Course not.
Will those reps of the downtrodden, including the Shas party and labor leader Amir Peretz and all the rest who shed tears over social issues vote against the inflation of the Knesset's own budget? Will they reroute the monies to burning issues of the day? Course not.
The economy may collapse, the deficit may burgeon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip may burst into flames, but the Knesset will remain ensconced in its airtight bubble, entirely removed from the nation around it.