ROME - Italy is suffering through a storm, and not only because of the rains that returned over the weekend. Mainly, it's because of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's austerity program, which includes mass dismissals from the public service, continued wage freezes and widespread cutbacks in pensions and social services.

Publication of the plan sparked a general strike throughout the country and angry demonstrations in the major cities, especially Rome. To the chagrin of many tourists, even the Colosseum was closed. "We won't let the government return to blinding the nation with circuses while it steals our bread!" exclaimed one placard near the entrance gate, and for a moment the voice of Spartacus emerged from the closed building and echoed in my head, calling for workers to rebel against the oligarchy and demand their freedom.

After the march, some of the protesters gathered to discuss the next steps. To Israeli eyes, the difference between them and us was almost immediately apparent. First, on the external level: During both the march and the meeting, the solidarity among various groups stood out. Priests and university professors, trade unionists and economic liberals, anarchists and professional politicians all marched side by side. Nobody was rejected.

My attempt to photograph a young girl with the likeness of Karl Marx on her shirt as she and a priest jointly held a banner aloft raised a few eyebrows. It apparently looked so natural to them that they couldn't understand my excitement.

But that's only the outer covering. A debate that went on for hours over how to eradicate unemployment without running up the deficit clarified the more important difference.

Each speaker began by introducing himself. One after another offered evidence of many years of professional experience in his field. One had been managing a social organization for dozens of years, the second was a professor of economics who specializes in mass employment, the third worked as an economist for a worker's organization for many years, and a fourth had spent his entire adult life running a factory with hundreds of employees. Maybe this is why the debate was at such a high level.

It's difficult not to contrast the amateurish approach to social issues here in Israel, on both sides of the fence - in the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office, and also among their opponents. For Finance Ministry officials, an overseas trip lasting a few days and reading two and half articles on the Internet suffice to turn them into experts on job placement for the unemployed. Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office think five meeting are enough to set a social policy, even if they came from the army and lack any experience in the field. Professors with expertise in another field have the nerve to produce position papers in fields not their own, which display an embarrassingly scanty level of knowledge.

The other side, to which I belong, is guilty of similar amateurism. Most social activists have only a few years' experience in the field, if any, and even less professional knowledge. It's enough for some high-tech entrepreneur to send two children through the education system and he already feels like a greater expert on education than someone who has been involved in teaching for his whole life. An activist who heard a few lectures in a social college feels like enough of an expert to reject a new social program without fully understanding it. These are but a few examples of a problem whose result is that the social discourse in this country almost always remains at the level of slogans, which in turn makes it difficult to translate this discourse into real-life changes.

There is no reason to be jealous of Italy's broken politics, but it's important to learn from it in the social field. Professionalism will produce the kind of solidarity that obligates people to work together long-term rather than engaging in chance, temporary cooperation.

Therefore, those who genuinely want to promote social change - on both sides - must become more professional. This will take many years, but only then will there be a real chance for real change.