Taking stock / Fifteen things you might have missed last week
Protests, upheavals, changes and announcements: here's a summary.
Very strange things have been happening here in recent weeks, certainly not the sort of things you might have expected in the heat of summer. Protests, upheavals, changes and announcements have chased each other at a dizzying pace. As a service to the public, in case you missed some of them, here are 15 things that happened:
1 You might have missed the main reason for the social and economic protests erupting at a pace Israel has never seen before. It has nothing to do with defense or security; it isn't politics. Nothing much has been happening in those arenas. What happened is that the usual smokescreens concealing the stark truth of reality - first and foremost economic inequality - vanished. Even the approach of September and the expected declaration of Palestinian statehood hasn't managed to create the usual war-around-the-corner sense of alarm.
2 Maybe you missed the preposterous, not to mention downright demented, proposals "experts" brought forward to cure Israel's social ills - cut tax, raise tax, cancel taxes, add new taxes, restore price controls over staple products, force product prices down through legislation.
This is a time of clamor and demagoguery, a time of shouting out incoherent, unreasoned "solutions" by self-anointed "experts" posturing and jostling for room in the spotlight. They're not about to miss this chance to exploit social need for their own ends.
Thus we get ministers, Knesset members, clerks and journalists who'd never had a word to say about social injustices before suddenly seeing the light - and they come complete with a position, an opinion, a solution to save the day. And if you don't like their principles, to paraphrase Groucho Marx: Well, they have others, just as half-baked as the first.
3 You might have missed the pearls of wisdom served up by Housing Minister Ariel Atias, a contender in the headline-of-the-week contest over housing issues. You might have missed, or simply forgotten, that this was the same Atias who spent three years warming the seat now occupied by Moshe Kahlon, minister of Welfare and Communications, the same Atias who, as communications minister, allowed the Israeli companies to peacefully suck the marrow from Israel's consumers.
4 You might have missed the amusing - however unsurprising - fact that not one of these experts who suddenly noticed the travails of the middle class and urged tax cuts thought to suggest how the hole in state revenue, caused by lowering tax income, would be filled. These experts and commentators are confident they have terrific ideas for resolving Israel's social ills. Where to find the money - that's a technicality.
5 You might have missed the fact that the government decided to set up an inquiry into dairy prices and published the committee's interim conclusions - all within less than three weeks. Until a month ago, all was thought to be well in the dairy market, but when it suddenly emerged there was a problem after all, it was taken seriously, studied and thought through - within three weeks.
6 You might have missed the fact that the Communications Ministry tender for a fourth and fifth cellular operator in Israel, to compete with the incumbent trio Pelephone, Partner Communications and Cellcom, looks like a farce. This is because the contenders have to come up with bank guarantees issued by Israeli banks, not foreign ones. But neither the banks in Israel nor the institutional investors for that matter have the slightest interest in financing competition in the cellular sector. They're already stuck with loans amounting to tens of billions of shekels, given to Israel's communications companies and the tycoons that bought them.
7 You might have missed the fact that reforms and regulations, even laws, have a tendency to pass - and then pass into the night, and all for the same reason. The reason being that without structural change to the highly concentrated structure of the economy, they remain a headline in the paper, but never reach execution.
8 You might have missed the fact that last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, began to fudge about the one initiative they concocted in their entire stint in government together, regarding Israel's structural economic problems - the economic concentration committee. Its conclusions will be delayed, they say.
9 You might have missed the fact that both said that in the same week it turned out that Partner Communications owner Ilan Ben-Dov wouldn't be paying debt owed to the public, which pays through the nose for the services and goods it buys. He's just the latest in a long list of business barons who doesn't intend to repay money borrowed from the public.
10 You might have missed the fact that after 20 years or more, during which politicians and journalists alike were busy polishing the crown on media magnate Rupert Murdoch's head, suddenly, last week, they noticed and howled that the immense power this one man held was a clear and present danger to democracy in Britain and possibly in the United States as well.
11 You might have missed the fact that a month after the terrific public ruckus over cottage cheese, the politicians have concentrated their firepower on the weakest link in the chain, the dairy farmers, rather than thoroughly investigate affairs at the monopolies of production, distribution and retail.
12 Given that it slipped from the front pages, you might have missed the fact that last week, Greece went into default: Bankrupt, it is crumbling economically and socially after 20 years of rich families, politicians and powerful unions robbing it blind and ruining its productivity.
13 You might have missed the fact that exactly a month before he announced he wouldn't be repaying debt to the public, Ilan Ben-Dov announced negotiations to invest in Channel
14 You might have missed the fact that almost all the media outlets in Israel are now owned by people who have two main problems in life - gigantic debts to the banks and the public, and businesses that are dependent on the regulators' decisions.
15 You might not have had a chance to visit the fly, sexy tent protest on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv this week. But if you did, you couldn't have missed that special smell in the air.
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