- Unaffordable housing prices ignited mass social justice
protests in Israel. At issue is settlement developments at the expense
of other construction, creating a supply/demand imbalance enough to cause
prices to skyrocket. Israelis demand that issue be addressed responsibly.
- In response, Netanyahu's government announced thousands
of illegal new West Bank/East Jerusalem settlement units on stolen Palestinian
land, harming them grievously. At the same time, he arrogantly ignored
the urgency of addressing serious shortages in Tel Aviv, Haifa, West Jerusalem,
and other Israeli cities.
- In addition, Israel's Knesset passed a controversial
housing bill despite popular protests against it. It calls for solving
Israel's housing crisis by expanding West Bank settlements, defiantly avoiding
- It also called for quick action to expedite construction
of 50,000 apartments, circumventing planning commissions that take time
to decide. Doing so, however, will exacerbate Israel's housing crisis,
making an intolerable situation worse.
- Since protests began, Netanyahu signaled no meaningful
change, saying "solutions (must be) economically sound." In other
words, business as usual will continue, papered over with minor cosmetic
concessions sure to ignite greater anger sooner or later.
- In early August, he appointed Professor Manual Trajtenberg
to head a 14-member "panel for socioeconomic change," saying
its "recommendations will reflect the need to maintain fiscal responsibility
in the state budge. Such responsibility is especially necessary at a time
of economic uncertainty," signaling minimal changes at best, far less
than vitally needed and demanded.
- Neoliberally constructed, Trajtenberg's panel will conduct
discussions, propose solutions, and present them to Israel's socioeconomic
cabinet (composed of establishment figures headed by neoliberal finance
minister Yuval Steinitz) by late September.
- In late October, Steinitz will present his own recommendations
to Netanhayu, who'll review them and deliver a final proposal to Israel's
cabinet by early November, giving officials enough time to let street protests
subside. Or so they hope to get away with minimal changes, if any.
- Trajtenberg's Socioeconomic Change Panel
- Besides himself and Steinitz, the panel includes senior
government officials, including:
- Eyal Gabai: Netanyahu's Director-General
- Eugene Kandel: National Economic Council head
- Gal Hershkovitz: Finance Ministry's budget chief
- Avi Simhon: Finance Ministry's senior economic advisor
- Michal Abadi-Boiangiu: Finance Ministry's accountant-general
- Esther Dominisini: National Insurance Institute's director-general
- Shlomi Frizet: Antitrust Authority's chief economist
- Karnit Flug: Bank of Israel's deputy governor
- Other members include:
- Professor Yoram Gabby: Israeli tax expert
- Shahar Cohen: entrepreneur
- Professor Pnina Klein: 2011 Israel Education Prize Laureate
- Professor Rafi Melnik: Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center
- Professor Tali Regev: economist
- Panel advisors include other establishment figures from
government ministries, related agencies and think tanks.
- Panel head Trajtenberg also is an establishment figure,
formerly Netanyahu's National Economic Council head, appointed in 2006
by Ehud Olmert.
- An economist, he heads Israel's Planning and Budgeting
Committee of the Council for Higher Education. Without explaining whether
he favors change, he calls himself "a fervent Zionist who devoted
three years of his life to bringing Jews to Israel, an Israeli patriot
with a South American soul, and a doctorate in economics from Harvard."
- At the same time, he worries about Israel's commission
system, saying it's set up to kill, not solve, issues, which begs the question
why he agreed to get involved in the first place, knowing it's an exercise
- In fact, he said "(A)nother panel with all the familiar
faces will be no good here. Unless the political leadership unites behind
the recommendations, it won't work."
- Knowing he won't succeed, nonetheless, he came on board
adding, "we must take the risk," that may, in fact, be rhetoric,
- At the same time, he's a possible/perhaps likely choice
to become the Bank of Israel's next governor when his Planning and Budgeting
chairmanship term expires in a year, replacing Stanley Fischer, head of
Israel's central bank since 2005.
- No social democrat need apply. Of course, Netanyahu didn't
appoint him socioeconomic change head to become one.
- Perhaps it's why protest leaders have their own expert
panel, separate from Trajtenberg's, knowing any government commission will
spurn them. In fact, some of its members openly endorse non-cooperation
with Netanyahu's appointees.
- Composed of 60 academic and public figures, it's divided
into nine sub-units, coordinated by Education Professor Yossi Yonah and
Professor Avia Spivak, a curious choice, having been a former Bank of Israel
- Some units have already held working sessions. Others
will do so shortly. Each will handle priorities in their field of expertise.
Within weeks, they'll present their conclusions and demands.
- A public statement said:
- "(R)ecent statements of senior ministers suggest
that the government does not understand what is happening here. Those who
look down on the protest and surround themselves with tycoons do not understand
the depth of the revulsion at the economic processes they have led, which
enrich the rich at the expense of the rest of the public. This method has
created enormous gaps, greed and deteriorating public services, education,
welfare and health.."
- It added that "the demands of the public today are
for fundamental change in the method, not just some improvements in it.
The Trajtenberg committee, whose mandate and scope for maneuvering have
not been publicized, does not appear to be capable of leading such change."
- Of course, it was appointed to prevent it, a sham smokescreen
for business as usual.
- Alternate panel sub-unit heads include:
- Professor Yossi Ze'ira: economic issues
- Emily Silverman: housing and transportation
- Professor Yitzhak Gal-Nur: public administration
- Professor Ya'akov Kashti and Rabbi Shay Piron: education
- Professor Danny Filc: healthcare
- Nadia Ismail: employment
- Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer: legal issues
- Professor Bilha Tadher: social security issues
- Professor Yossi Yonah: "fundamentals of a policy
of social justice"
- On August 14, New York Times writer Stephen Farrell headlined,
"Israeli Leader Vows Fiscal Reform but No Quick Fixes," saying:
- On Sunday, Netanyahu "tempered a promise to find
'concrete solutions' to demonstrators' concerns with a warning that the
global financial crisis precluded quick change," saying:
- "We know one thing: We want to find solutions that
are economically sound. For if we end up bankrupt or face economic collapse,
a reality in which some of Europe's leading economies find themselves in
today, we will solve neither the economic problems nor the social ones."
- Fact check:
- During dire economic times, going it slow is counterproductive
and destructive, assuring worse, not improved conditions. Moreover, doing
little, nothing, or forcing austerity when stimulus is needed assures disaster.
- When times are tough, pump priming is critical to stimulate
economic growth and create jobs. At all times, moreover, just democratic
societies are mandated to provide essential social services to all its
citizens, including education, healthcare, housing help, and welfare for
their least advantaged.
- In contrast, neoliberal states like Israel, America,
Britain and others serve wealth and power interests only, spurning their
social obligations altogether, disingenuously saying it's for the greater
- Netanyahu lied urging "financial responsibility
alongside social sensitivity," when he favors the former only but
- As a result, achieving social justice requires protest
leaders accepting nothing less, or as Haifa University student Adi Gross
- "These protests are not going to stop before a (just),"
solution is found," and social worker Suhair Halabi added:
- "Nobody is free until everybody is free," saying
also "(w)e are fighting a national and a class battle" too important
- Going for broke is crucial. It's critical that spirit
and energy driving it not be lost. Otherwise, the battle for social justice
will be, letting an historic moment pass unfulfilled.
- A Final Comment
- Working cooperatively with Netanyahu's government, municipal
authorities began harassing protest encampments, forcibly trying to disrupt
them by dismantling tent cities.
- In fact, inspectors issued eviction notices in Tel Aviv's
Kikar Hamedina plaza, and confiscated the symbolic guillotine erected on
Rothschild Boulevard. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
strongly condemned the move, saying mayors are trying to "push the
police to silence the protest."
- ACRI attorney Avner Punchuk added:
- "(T)he role of the police is to protect freedom
of expression, not to pander to mayors and municipal authorities, who have
their own agendas, while using unreasonable excuses for eviction such as
the expected Palestinian declaration of statehood in September."
- ACRI is providing legal help to end harassment, at times
successful, but this struggle has a long way to go with major hurdles to
- Protesters now face municipal officers tearing down tents,
other encampments, signs and confiscating equipment to crush resistance
- representing an extremist right-wing government determined to spurn them.
- Knowing what they're up against, Israelis vow to stay
the course. No matter how many victories are won, social justice struggles
never end because dark force plotting never quits, devising new ways to
undermine or regain lost ground.
- As a result, it's vital to keep the spirit for change
alive, never letting it wane because doing so assures defeat. Winning social
justice isn't easy, quick or enough. Keeping it is key.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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