Koret hopes Knesset aide grants will boost free market

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Rafael Eitan, leader of Israel's right-wing Tsomet party, is looking forward to the fall, when twice as many Koret interns will help him and other members of the Knesset analyze economic issues.

The intern program, funded by a $205,000 two-year grant from San Francisco's Koret Foundation, provides members of the Knesset with legislative assistants to address and research complex issues of economic reform.

Unlike members of Congress, who each have many aides, a Knesset member must often share a lone all-purpose office assistant. That person usually is burdened with secretarial work and has little time to research vital issues that come before the Knesset. That's where the interns come in.

A second Koret grant, $45,000 for one year, will enable the interns to meet for a full month with government officials and congressional aides in Washington, D.C., and with American Jewish community leaders.

Both programs are in their second year.

"The intern program is a key element in our support for several new initiatives in Israel that encourage free market reforms and development of entrepreneurial activities," says Tad Taube, Koret president.

"The program's expansion from five to 10 interns, top-ranked graduates of Israel's universities, is a direct result of the first year surpassing our expectations."

Eitan, who recently announced his candidacy for the prime minister's office, is ecstatic over the contribution of his Koret fellow, Ishai Ashlag. He has asked Ashlag to rewrite Tsomet's economic platform, which will promote a flat tax.

The intern program was the brainchild of Professor Alvin Rabushka, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and co-developer of the flat-tax concept. He proposed the program to overcome the lack of support personnel for members of Knesset, and "raise the level of economic literacy in the Knesset" as well.

The impact of the pilot program is clear. At the beginning, Rabushka reports, "we had difficulty finding MKs willing to match up with the interns. Halfway through the year, there was a waiting list. Now, other MKs want to borrow them."

Sometimes an intern's work exceeds what's expected. In the case of Ashlag, his work in the Knesset "had prepared me so well…I was able to make suggestions which were adopted by proponents of the flat tax in Washington."

In addition, what Ashlag learned in Washington — especially in briefings from such mentors as House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Andrew Laperriere, Armey's tax policy adviser — broadened his scope so he can further the evolution of economic policy in Israel.

Another Koret fellow, Sharona Ehrlich, attended meetings of the House Budget Committee as it debated proposed cuts. Ehrlich has been working in the Knesset with Likudnik Silvan Shalom, who acknowledged the intern's merit on television and says she was "instrumental in helping me research my proposed income tax reform."

Part of Ehrlich's Washington time was spent educating politicians about the fellows' purpose.

"We [were not there] to win aid to shore up socialism and the government sector, which is choking Israel," she says. "We are young Israelis interested in limiting government to guarantee growth and freedom."

Of last year's five interns, all will return this fall except Ilan Suleiman, who has become the sole economic adviser to Minister of Energy Gonen Segev. Five more will be added, and a replacement for Suleiman is probable.

According to Taube, a major part of the program's goal is "preparing these young researchers to become tomorrow's economic leaders. In the long run, Koret's mission will be fulfilled — helping Israel create a freer and more vibrant global economy."