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Kaplan street in Jerusalem faces the Knesset. Crowds of hostile citizens squat there. The area turns into a hot house of distress, disappointment, neglect and bitterness. It becomes home for a while: tents and blankets and small children looking for food attract TV cameras and onlookers. Kaplan Street is the only recourse for those who have no other way of catching the attention of Knesset members. Loud speakers blare demands. Banners are held high in hopes that someone will notice.
A mini-rebellion of single mothers has camped out on Kaplan Street for the last few weeks. These single-parent families were among the hardest hit by recent welfare cuts which took effect early this month. Mainly divorced or widowed mothers, some have never worked at all, others who do work, rely on welfare supplements to finance their monthly bills.
It all started with one womanâ€™s humble attempt to make a point. Draped in an Israeli flag, Vicki Knafo, a divorced working mother of three, marched, alone and on foot, from Mitzpeh Ramon to Jerusalem and demanded an urgent meeting with the finance minister. Within days, this one-woman demonstration had evolved into a grass-roots protest movement, with dozens then hundreds of single mothers, from all parts of the country, Jewish and Arab, marching on the capital. These women have made Kaplan Street their home. Till their troubles are listened to, that is.
How would Eliezer Kaplan, the first Finance Minister in Ben Gurionâ€™s provisional government, respond to current Finance Minister Netanyahu? Would Kaplan slash welfare checks of tens of thousands of families? Beyond forcing the chronically unemployed back into the job market, Netanyahuâ€™s idea was to cut huge government outlays on welfare spending. Would Kaplan agree with how Netanyahu is executing his program? Would Kaplan suddenly cut people off from their main source of sustenance without providing them with an alternative, namely a job or at least the means for getting a job?
No preparatory work was done. No professional training, support or guidance was offered these women. Go fend for yourself! shouted Netanyahu, and instead of weaning these mothers gradually off government assistance, their monthly welfare checks were reduced in one sudden blow.
What would Eliezer Kaplan think of Netanyahuâ€™s miscalculation that triggered this march of women from all corners of the country? Would he view the unemployed as victims who need to be helped, or, like Netanyahu, see them as criminals to be punished?
Eliezer Kaplan was among the 37 signers of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. He was one of the leaders of the state-in-the-making. He directed the financial affairs of the Provisional Government and laid the foundations for Israelâ€™s economic policy and shaped its first budgets and its taxation structure. In July 1948, Kaplan declared the Israeli currency to be the Israel Lira (IL) which replaced the Mandatory Governmentâ€™s currency. During the transitional period in which arrangements were being made for the establishment of the State of Israel, he directed the financial affairs of the â€˜Peopleâ€™s Administrationâ€™. Upon establishment of the state, he was elected to the Knesset and appointed minister of finance, a position he held until shortly before his death in l952, when he was appointed deputy Prime Minister.
Eliezer Kaplan was particularly concerned with the development of agricultural settlement, in strengthening its economic foundations and finding new methods of financing it. He also contributed to the organization of the Bonds in the United States and collected large sums from the Bonds to finance development schemes of independent Israel.
Born in Minsk, Belarus, White Russia in l891, Eliezer Kaplan immigrated to Israel in l920. He was born into a prominent Zionist family and was active in Zionist affairs at an early age.
In l908 he was a founding member of the social movement, Zeirei Zion ha-Tehiya, and of the Russian Delegation to the Comite des Delegations Juives, representing the Jewish people during the peace negotiations in Versailles, France. He graduated from engineering studies in Moscow in l917. In l920, he was a founding member of the worldwide association of Hapoel HaZair and Zeirei Zion, Hitahdut and headed its Berlin central office until 1922. The organizationâ€™s purpose was â€˜pioneering and labor in Eretz Israel and popular socialism.â€™
Kaplan settled in Palestine in l923 and served as a member of the administration of Works Office of the Histadrut, later known as Solel Boneh. He was also active in economic institutions associated with the Histadrut and was a member of the Tel Aviv municipality. In l933, he was elected a member of the Jewish Agency Executive and became its treasurer. He obtained the first foreign loan for the Jewish Agency in the early 1930s from Barclayâ€™s Bank in London and in l949 obtained the first loan for the State of Israel from the United States Import and Export Bank.
Eliezer Kaplan was moderate in his political views. He was a staunch follower of Weizmann and came into open conflict with David Ben-Gurion at the Congress in l946 where he headed the majority of the Mapai delegation that pitted Weizmann against Ben-Gurion.
In l951, as Minister of Finance, Eliezer Kaplan, appointed the Committee for the Establishment of a State Bank. The committee, which he headed, submitted its findings in September l952. These consisted of general recommendations in two areas: the organization of the bank and the relationship between the bank and the government. The report provided the basis for the preparation of the Bank of Israel Law. The major issues define the relationship between the central bank and the government, and guaranteeing the Bankâ€™s independence.
At the present time, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to reduce the independence of the Bank.
In the last months of his life, Eliezer Kaplan was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in which capacity he dealt mainly with economics matters.
He died in Genoa, Italy while receiving medical treatment.
The Eliezer Kaplan School of Politics and Social Sciences of the Hebrew University, the Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot, and the Kiryat Eliezer neighborhood in Haifa bear his name.
Year of Birth: 1891