International, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who served as the finance minister during the previous government's term, leveled harsh criticism at Finance Minister Yair Lapid Saturday, saying, "Lapid is hurting this country. He has created a massive deficit and an economic crisis. He owes me and the public an apology."
In an interview with Channel 2's "Meet the Press," Steinitz said: "When we're talking about a lack of credibility and the misleading [of the public] by the finance minister, the gravest thing is the deficit. I pegged the deficit at 3 percent, and then a new finance minister comes and misleads an entire country. He all but deceived the government and the public, saying that he was handed a difficult situation and that the deficit would be set at 4.9%, and after two days he revised it to at 4.65%."
According to Steinitz, "Lapid has to apologize for that. No one in the Finance Ministry or in the Bank of Israel told Yair Lapid in April that there was any reason to think the deficit would reach 5%. It is going to reach 3%, just like I said prior to the elections, so where did he get that idea?"
Steinitz continued to criticize Lapid, saying, "The damage that was done was not done to me personally, but to the State of Israel. [Lapid] created a public panic over a massive deficit and an economic crisis. He caused Israel's local credit rating to drop. With that kind of deficit, he had to raise taxes. Lapid owes the public an apology, not me.
"By the way, what assured that the deficit would be set at 3% were the tax package and the trapped revenues bill we outlined during the previous [government's] term."
Steinitz went on to compare Lapid to the "fake" sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, saying his conduct was "full of gimmicks" and "as meaningless as the gestures signed by that interpreter."
The former finance minister went on to say that his successor was embarrassed during last week's cabinet meeting, when he told ministers that the Finance Ministry was against acquiring a state plane for the government's use, when, in fact, the ministry supported the move.
"I can't remember any other time when a minister who serves as a party chairman spoke against the prime minister like that," he said. "The majority of European countries have a plane that serves their heads of state exclusively. The fact that we don't have such an aircraft is a security failure. We're not the Netherlands. In Israel, we have to have a direct line to the prime minister even when he is on a transatlantic flight. Lapid's conduct in this matter is irrelevant and populist," Steinitz said.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid's office declined to comment on Steinitz's statements.