One mid-summer morning, at the beginning of the tent protest, Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the Students Union, received an angry telephone call from Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, head of the committee appointed to address the protesters' demands. How come you're demanding a free study year from Benjamin Netanyahu while we're negotiating over the tuition, Trajtenberg asked.
Shocked, Shmuli said, it's not me; I asked for no such thing of Netanyahu. It was they who offered it to me.
Look how hysterical Netanyahu's office was then. They were willing to offer everything in order to split the protest's leadership. They realized that without the organizational power of dozens of students committees nationwide the protest would have trouble taking off. So they proposed a free year of study - reported here for the first time - just to prevent Shmuli from joining the Rothschild tent encampment.
But Shmuli turned them down. He wanted the students to take an active part in the struggle for social change, rather than deal only with their own problems.
Today nobody would dream of offering Shmuli anything. His "price" has gone down in the market. The protest hardly exists and who even remembers the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations?
One part of the recommendations did pass. The tax part. But that's no biggie, because today nothing is more popular than raising taxes. Indeed, the cabinet easily passed raising the marginal income tax to 50 percent and the tax for companies and the stock exchange to 25 percent.
But here everything stopped, because the interested parties intervened. The first were the manufacturers, who blocked Trajtenberg's recommendation to enlarge the employers' payments to the National Insurance Institute. Then they sabotaged one of the committee's major recommendations - a swift reduction of customs duties.
The decision the cabinet made regarding customs duties is complicated and depressing. It depends on obtaining trade agreements with India and China. As though these two giants care about the tiny trade with Israel. The public feels this failure in its pocket every day, buying in the supermarket. The huge customs duties cause bloated food prices.
Because when there's a 190 percent tax on imported beef, 170 percent on poultry, 212 percent on powdered milk, 140 percent on butter, 298 percent on fresh onions, 127 percent on olives and more than 100 percent on imported olive oil, canned tuna, tomato sauce, ketchup, canned corn, roasted peanuts and honey - the local producers can raise prices. This is why it is more expensive in Israel than in Europe and the United States.
The Kedmi committee was supposed to give the cabinet a list of customs' reductions for processed and fresh food products. But Industry Minister Shalom Simhon decided it was more important to see to the farmers' and manufacturers' interests than to the welfare of Israel's 7 million people.
In housing, the situation is no less depressing. Shmuli and protest leader Daphni Leef believed something would change. Although the Trajtenberg Committee recommended giving priority to the tax-paying, working public, Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas ) decided the ultra-Orthodox would continue to get the cheap apartments. Atias did so by removing the criterion pertaining to "wage-earning capacity" and leaving the criteria "marriage years" and "number of children."
In addition, the ultra-Orthodox leadership isn't even dreaming of accepting Trajtenberg's recommendation to conduct core-curriculum studies in its schools, or to lower the number of ultra-Orthodox married men in yeshivas, living at the tax-payers' expense. MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, has already said this clause in the Trajtenberg Report "doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned."
The struggle over the defense budget ignores the Trajtenberg's Report, which recommended a significant cut in the defense budget in order to release additional funds for education, housing and other welfare plans. But Defense Minister Ehud Barak continues to bombard us with threats from Iran and scary stories about Shahab 3 missiles aimed at the heart of Tel Aviv. It is clear to everyone that without a slash in the defense budget even the little that remains of the Trajtenberg Report will be impossible to carry out.
So maybe Shmuli should have taken the "bribe" and received the free study year. That way at least something would have come out of the social protest.
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