Protest panel - Alon Ron - August 2011
Panel members Adina Bar-Shalom, Prof. Avia Spivak and Prof. Yossi Yonah appearing at a press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday. Photo by Alon Ron
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An independent committee of experts formed in response to the tent protest movement will apparently release its interim conclusions within 10 days. One leading committee figure, Prof. Yossi Yonah, stated yesterday that a relatively long period of time would be required before final conclusions could be drawn.

"The protest movement is not going away," he added nevertheless.

Yonah said his team's goal was to devise a new socioeconomic policy centered upon citizens' welfare.

No timetable has been set for work undertaken by the committee's nine sub-groups, which are comprised of some 60 academics and experts in fields of economics and social welfare, many of the identified with social democrat outlooks. Seven of these sub-groups have already held their first meeting; the two others should convene this week. At a press conference staged yesterday in Tel Aviv, Prof. Avia Spivak, a former senior official at the Bank of Israel, outlined three initial demands - the establishment of a two-year state budget, an increase in taxes, and the expansion of government expenditure.

"The government has come and said things to the public that, regrettably, are not true," Spivak charged. "The government says that budgetary allocations cannot be increased. That is an error. The basis for stability is forestalling budget deficits and ensuring that expenditures are not larger than revenues. If additional expenditure is funded by increased taxes, then there's no problem."

Heads of the independent committee expressed doubts about activity undertaken by the official team appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They said there was little chance that this government-appointed committee, headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, would bring about real change in public priorities.

"The public wants more government involvement," Spivak declared. "Current expenditure rules dictate that if more preschools for children are established, then budget cuts will have to be made somewhere else - but these rules do not allow the government to improve Israeli society. That's not the way to attain social justice."

According to Yonah, "Along the same lines of the great outcry being sounded by the tent camps, we too believe that something here has been lost, that something is out of control.

"We, too, believe that the government leadership has forgotten what the purpose of economic policy should be, that the economy should be at the service of the society, rather than society being compelled to serve the economy. The welfare state has turned into an impressively profitable enterprise, but its fruits are piling up only among the uppermost tier of the economy; they are not spreading to lower tiers."

Yonah stressed that his committee of experts was an independent initiative, and that its purpose was to assist those who were conducting the protests. He pledged that the committee would operate openly and in coordination with those who are leading the citizen protests.

Criticizing the Trajtenberg committee, he stated: "We have no desire to negotiate with an ad hoc committee established by the government; that's not our purpose. Like the protesters, we have no intention of discussing matters with committees whose goal is to mislead the public and to squander this opportunity to repair distortions in Israeli society." Heads of the tent protest movement, along with representatives of student organizations and youth movements, also held a press conference yesterday. They evinced support for the formation of this independent committee of experts and expressed skepticism about the prime minister's intentions and the Trajtenberg committee's ability to bring about real change.

Itzhik Shmueli, who chairs the National Student Union, said that student leaders had conferred with tent protesters concerning the composition of the Yonah-Spivak expert committee, but insisted that the committee was neutral and independent.

Shmueli suggested that the student union groups would agree to meet with the Trajtenberg committee should any such meeting be initiated.