Cherchez La Femme

The latest issue of Academia, a journal published by the Israeli Association of University Heads, featured a study conducted by Haifa University's Prof. Baruch Nevo about the promotion process of Israeli academics.

Arie Caspi
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Arie Caspi

The latest issue of Academia, a journal published by the Israeli Association of University Heads, featured a study conducted by Haifa University's Prof. Baruch Nevo about the promotion process of Israeli academics. Nevo studied the path traveled on the way to the coveted position of full professor, the highest academic rank. Among other things, he examined the number of women on each rung of the academic ladder.

There are four status levels for senior academic staff: lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor and full professor. Out of all Israeli lecturers - the lowest academic status - 40 percent are women. The higher the rung on the academic ladder, the lower the percentage of women. In 1999, only 8.8 percent of Israel's full professors were women.

The small percentage of women in key positions is usually explained in one of two ways. Some argue that child-rearing causes women to lose valuable years that are necessary for promotion. Others claim that women have been conditioned to accept their low status and therefore lack ambition. But neither explanation accounts for the small number of women at the top of the academic pyramid. Most academic staffers from the level of lecturer and up are between 40 and 68 years old, an age when most women no longer have small children to care for. To become even a lecturer, a woman must be highly motivated. Gaining a foothold on the lowest rung of the ladder requires a PhD from a respected university. Degrees from the University of Latvia just don't cut it. That's why female lecturers are necessarily ambitious women who have invested a great deal of effort in making it to this starting point. But their ambition doesn't help them later on.

One possible explanation is that women have no brains. Only men are born with the gene for academic brilliance. This is the accepted explanation in Afghanistan. Another explanation may lie in the simple fact that academic promotion committees are comprised of male professors, most of whom are apparently prejudiced. They perceive women as less capable and stop their professional advancement. It seems that enlightened Israeli academia is almost as conservative as the equally venerable educational establishment run by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Justice on paper

The High Court of Justice recently ruled on a petition filed by the heads of Israel's Arab local authorities. The court decreed that Arab locales will from now on be included in Israel's "renewal project." The project provides funding to disadvantaged neighborhoods and areas, allowing them to improve both their physical infrastructure and the social services offered to their residents. According to the court's ruling, Arab communities will now receive funding from the project in proportion to their relative size in the population.

Finally, it seemed, the Arab local councils would be given the same rights as their Jewish counterparts. But this equality is on paper only. The reality will remain much as it has always been. The renewal project has been operating for nearly 20 years, almost exclusively in Jewish areas. The Arabs, Israel's poorest sector, have been left out.

The High Court's ruling is not worth the paper it was written on, because the court did not require that the state compensate its Arab citizens for the 20 lost years. The court promised the Arab population funding proportional to its size, but ignored the fact that the rate of poverty within the Arab sector is twice as high as it is among Jews. The court did not even require that the ruling be implemented immediately. The justices did not want Jewish settlements to be dropped from the project. They therefore agreed that carrying out the ruling immediately was not the appropriate measure, stating only that implementation had to begin soon. What does soon mean? Allah knows.

Up until now, the renewal project has given Jewish settlements billions of shekels in public funding. It is doubtful whether the Arab settlements will end up getting even a small fraction of that. The project's budget has dwindled over the years. By the time the Arab local authorities get their turn, there may not be anything left.

The real poor

A week ago, economic commentator Nehemia Strasler appeared on Channel Two's weekend news magazine and presented a comparison of two hypothetical families: one that works and lives off its own earnings, and one that lives solely off the welfare benefit known as "income assurance." According to his calculation, which has also appeared in Ha'aretz, both families end up with the same net income. This, claimed Strasler, is why low wage earners have no motivation to work.

The conclusion Strasler presented on television was that people who did go to work every morning deserved praise, encouragement, lower taxes and whatever assistance the state could provide, all so that they would keep working. The data he presented implied, though this was never actually stated, that the aid given to families with no income should be reduced, thereby increasing their motivation to work. Such a conclusion is perfectly compatible with the treasury's current intention to cut social security benefits.

Let's examine the facts. Some 140,000 Israelis receive the "income assurance" benefit, which guarantees families a minimal income. Most of them are older people under the age of retirement. Over a third are new immigrants. Others are sick people, alcoholics, drug abusers, single parents, orphaned children, and people who work for a particularly low wage. The income assurance benefit is paid to families with no other income. If one of the parents is a yeshiva or university student, or if the family owns a car - even an ancient wreck - it is not eligible for this benefit.

The stupid people of Israel have apparently yet to discover what Strasler has found out: that living off income assurance is a good bargain. Only about 26,000 families receiving income assurance have any chance of rejoining the work force. Out of these, only in about 5,000 families are the parents younger than 46, an age when they still have a genuine chance of getting jobs. If only there were jobs.

The problem with Strasler's chart is that it relies on inaccurate data. Strasler based his comparison on two families: one with no wages at all, living solely off income assurance, and the other with a single working spouse earning a salary of NIS 6,000. He tried to prove that in the final analysis, the net income of both families was the same.

We'll now go over this calculation step by step. In the average Israeli family, both spouses work outside the home. According to the chart that accompanied the Ha'aretz article two weeks ago, the working family pays NIS 670 in income tax. This is true only if all its income is earned by one spouse. The amount of tax paid actually depends on how the income is divided between husband and wife. If, for example, the husband makes NIS 4,000 and the wife brings in NIS 2,000, the maximum tax they will pay is NIS 240, and in most cases even less. The amount of social security taxes paid in such a case would also be considerably lower.

Strasler claims that a family receiving income assurance will also get an NIS 1,166 rent subsidy from the Ministry of Housing, whereas a working family will receive no such help. Wrong. People on income assurance get help with the rent only if they do not own an apartment. But working families who earn low wages and do not own an apartment can also get the same assistance, in accordance with Ministry of Housing criteria.

According to the chart, people on income assurance pay less for public transportation. Wrong. According to the Egged bus company spokesman, only senior citizens get public transportation discounts. The author of the chart also claims that families on income assurance automatically pay a reduced fee for childcare outside the home (day care, nursery schools and kindergartens), a benefit for which working parents are not eligible. Wrong. Residents of development towns get the maximum childcare discount. Elsewhere in Israel, it is actually the working mothers of young children (under the age of three) who automatically get a discount on day care. Parents of older children (aged three to five) can get reduced rates according to their level of income.

People on income assurance, on the other hand, have trouble obtaining childcare discounts, because for that they need the approval of the local welfare office. The offices do not give their approval, because the social workers believe that women who do not work outside the home should care for their own children. In short, people on income assurance get far less than the Strasler chart suggests, while working parents get a little more than is indicated in the chart.

This populist presentation of the facts encourages those who believe that the poor are responsible for their own poverty. This worldview is typical of wealthy social strata everywhere. It relieves the rich of taking social responsibility for poverty. In Israel, it is very hard to blame the unemployed for their joblessness. The people discussed here cannot get jobs because there are no jobs to be had. The data presented on Channel Two and in Ha'aretz is certainly no reflection of the reality in which most of Israel's poor live.

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