Time for Likud, Labor and Kadima to Join Forces
international standing is in a freefall and the security risks that it faces
pale in comparison to the implications of the socioeconomic point of no-return
that is just around the corner. Netanyahu
and Livni are meeting today. Together with
Barak, this must be their hour.
Iran is on
the verge, while the terrorists just beyond Israel’s northern and southern
borders are able today to launch terror into all of the country’s cities at a
scale that we have never seen before. As
if this were not enough, Israel’s international standing is in a freefall. The wave of delegitimization and demonization
of Israel abroad is growing to tidal wave strength.
country still showing any sign of willingness to stem the rising tide, which
can easily turn into legal and economic sanctions against Israel, is the United
States – and even there, the current atmosphere on American campuses on Israel-related
issues will be soon be reflected in the national attitude toward Israel as
today’s college students assume their future places of leadership in government. This is the same country that is pressing
Israel to decide if further construction on the other side of the Green Line is
more important than the protective umbrella that it provides us in
was ever a time for the three parties representing the main stream of Israeli
society to come together at Israel’s leadership helm in order to stop the
freefall in the country’s ability to function internationally, it is now.
important as the international and national security considerations are for
bringing these three parties together, it is even more crucial – if that is
even possible – that they come together from an internal, socioeconomic
consideration. Since the 1970s, Israel’s
standard of living has increased, but it has nonetheless been falling farther
and farther behind in relative terms compared to the leading Western economies,
while rates of poverty and income inequality have reached Western peaks. For decades, Israel has been situated on
socioeconomic trajectories that are unsustainable in the long run.
treatment of the primary issues is needed
deterioration that has continued for over three straight decades is primarily
due to the fact that a large and increasing share of Israeli society is not
receiving the tools and conditions for working in a modern, open and
competitive economy. Source treatment –
as opposed to the current focus on symptomatic treatment – must include three
policy spheres: creating incentives and providing tools; creating a supportive
environment; and a long-term strategic plan.
These are detailed in a document published by the Taub Center in 2009
for the new Knesset and government taking office, “A Comprehensive Program for
Reducing Inequality and Poverty and Increasing Economic Growth in Israel.” The problem is not in a lack of solutions, but
in the lack of ability to implement them from a political standpoint.
example can demonstrate how simple the problem is to identify, how fast it is
bringing the country to the point of no-return, and what should be the solution
that Israeli governments have been unable to pass or implement. Among Jewish non-haredi (i.e. non-ultra-orthodox)
Jewish men of prime working age (34-54), rates of non-employment are 25 percent
higher than the OECD average. Non-employment
rates among Arab-Israeli men is more than twice the OECD average, while two-thirds
of all prime working age male haredi Jews are not employed. This compares to
non-employment rates of “just” 21 percent among similarly aged haredi Jewish
men in the late 1970s, and compared to the current OECD average of 12 percent.
today, about half of all primary school pupils study in haredi or Arab-Israeli
schools. As shown in the figure, during
the last decade alone, the number of Arab-Israeli pupils rose by one-third
while the number of haredi pupils rose by 51 percent. In the non-religious state schools, the
number of pupils today is lower than it was a decade ago.
the issue of government aid at levels that enable healthy individuals to make
lifestyle choices of non-work and the enforcement of existing laws with regard
to employment, there is the problem of education. In a modern economy, the demand for educated
and skilled workers is steadily growing while the demand for uneducated workers
is falling (in relative terms).
Only a new
government coalition can
of education that Israeli children receive today is at the bottom of the
Western world. A large and growing
segment of the pupils is not receiving an educational toolbox that would enable
them to become an active part of a competitive economy. A comprehensive systemic reform is needed
with regard to what is taught (more focus on core subjects), on who teaches (how
teachers are chosen, taught and compensated) and on the way that the system is
managed, budgeted and regulated (from the school level up to the Ministry level).
case of the haredim and Arab Israelis, the level of education that they receive
in core subjects is even lower. While
each person has the right to choose the lifestyle that he/she wants, they do
not have the right to prevent their children from receiving the tools that will
enable them to work and make a living as adults. In the political constellations that have
governed the country thus far, there is no chance that the State of Israel
could establish its sovereignty in haredi schools and determine that their
pupils receive – in addition to the religious studies desired by their parents
– an education compatible with the needs of a competitive economy and a modern
society. In these same political
constellations, there is an equal chance (i.e. zero) of providing sufficiently
differential budgeting for Arab-Israeli schools alongside the regulation, oversight
and managerial provisions that would enable a substantial upgrade of their
basic education levels.
between education and employment, fertility, poverty and growth is well-known. It has been shown to exist around the world
and also in Israel. This is the central
component (though not the only one) in increasing employment and economic
growth and in reducing levels of poverty.
Considering the fact that graduates of the non-religious State schools –
those who have run the country since it attained independence – already belong
to a minority in the primary schools, with just 39 percent of the total number
of pupils, the importance of the education that is received by children in
today’s classrooms must be clear to all.
They will determine the country’s future – and if there will even be a
looks at what graduates from the non-religious State schools, those who are in
the government and in the Knesset, are currently dealing with and what is on
the line, it is hard to understand why they are unable to distinguish between
what is truly important and what is not.
Today, there are still – barely – enough Knesset members who could come
together and save the country’s future. In
a number of years, the parties that these MKs belong to will no longer have a
majority in the Knesset. By then, today’s
children will have become adults. If
they do not receive the best education in the world today – and this must
include the haredi and Arab-Israeli populations – then it will be too late to
supply them with the skills that would provide Israel with the sufficient
number of engineers and physicians that it will need for its subsistence and
is needed for a wake-up call to the country’s leadership?
is Executive Director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel
and an economist in the Department of Public Policy at Tel-Aviv University. All opinions are his alone.