Israel's New Finance Minister Faces Tough Job

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Newly appointed Finance Minister Yair Lapid has his work cut out for him, literally, cutting Israel's 30 billion shekel (about $8 billion) deficit.

While most Israeli families spent the Passover holiday picnicking and hiking, Finance Ministry employees were in their offices pouring over budget and tax data to find solutions for the deficit.

That deficit may sound manageable compared to other countries, but Lapid says it's "much worse" than he expected and Israelis can expect higher taxes, fewer tax exemptions and budget cuts for various ministries that will directly impact a wide segment of the population.

Together, raising taxes and cancelling exemptions will yield an estimated 10 billion shekels (about $2.75 billion)

A weekend post on Lapid's Facebook page had opposition parties accusing the newly appointed minister of being out of touch with reality.

In the post, Lapid created the fictitious Cohen family -- the mother a school teacher and the father a hi-tech company employee -- with a combined income of 20,000 shekels (less than $5,000) a month.

"As far as I'm concerned, Mrs. Cohen is the reason I came to the Finance Ministry," Lapid wrote. "The Israeli economy -- any economy for that matter -- is based on the middle class."

"We sit here day after day talking about balancing the budget," Lapid said in his post, "but our job isn't to balance Excel spreadsheets, rather it's to help Mrs. Cohen. It's because of people like her that this nation exists."

"True, this is a difficult period and it's also true that in order to close a 30-billion-shekel overdraft, tough decisions need to be made," he continued. "I will make those decisions because I refuse to let us turn into Greece or Cyprus on my watch."

Lapid said the Finance Ministry's job is to improve the quality of life for middle class families by reducing the cost of living.

The opposition went ballistic.

MK Zehava Gal-On, head of the ultra-left-wing Meretz Party said "his job isn't about writing long posts of Facebook."

"In this miserable Facebook post, Lapid showed his ignorance and condescension over the middle class, and even over the Finance Ministry economists whom he described as surprised to hear" about his fictitious middle-class family.

On segment that's sure to be affected are large ultra-Orthodox families who have received sizable government subsidies for years.

The Finance Ministry has six months to present its budget for Knesset approval.

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