Policy Wonks and Public Present Ideas to Trajtenberg Committee

Ten invitees share views with socioeconomic panel on subjects ranging from education to Arab town planning.

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The Trajtenberg Committee on socioeconomic reform Tuesday began a series of public hearings to listen to the public's ideas.

The hearing was held at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. So far, some 1,100 people and organizations have asked to either appear before the panel or submit material in writing.

The panel's chairman, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, opened the session by saying he was "very excited by everything that has happened in recent weeks - that a young generation is standing tall and making its voice heard clearly, and in such a dignified fashion, on social and economic issues."

Ten invitees then presented their views to those of the panel members who were present.

Dov Lautman, a former president of the Manufacturers Association, told the panel, "There's only one way to close the gaps in society, and that's to invest in the education system." Schools should get differential funding - "it's inconceivable that a school in Sderot or in an Arab village should get the same per child as a school in Ra'anana" - and those that don't teach the core curriculum should not receive state funding at all, he said: "Twenty-five percent of Israeli 18-year-olds haven't studied English, math and science."

"I don't accept the statement, 'I'm busy with diplomatic issues and therefore don't have time to deal with social issues,'" he added. "A good manager and leader must know how to deal with more than one issue at a time."

Attorney Kais Nasser, a lecturer at Hebrew University, said the Arab community's housing shortage has been exacerbated by "massive" demolitions: "In 2010, 227 buildings were demolished in Arab towns." The state deems this illegal construction, he added, but it has made legal construction almost impossible.

"There are 77 Arab towns without valid master plans, and a similar number of Arab towns live in the shadow of outdated master plans approved in the 1980s," he said. "Though the Arab population has grown eightfold since the state's establishment, the city limits of Arab townships have remained as they were."

The day's first speaker was Shai Reifman, an accountant from Be'er Sheva, who said that for middle-class workers, high income tax is the greatest burden. The solution, he said, is to widen tax brackets "so someone who earns in the NIS 10,000 to NIS 20,000 range will pay less tax and be left with a little more for his own use," while adding two or three new brackets for the highest earners.

While value-added tax is also high, Reifman added, studies have shown that the big retail chains did not pass most previous reductions on to consumers. It would thus make more sense to cancel VAT altogether on staples while leaving it unchanged for other products, he argued.

Dror Gershon of Merhav, an organization promoting urban renewal, said the country's planning policy is "outdated, appropriate for Israel of the 1960s, when we had only two million people." This policy favors small towns and population dispersal rather than big urban centers with high-rise building and leaves people dependent on private cars - which 50 percent of Israelis don't have, he argued.

But correcting this problem requires no extra funds; it only requires changing the national master plan to favor high-rise building, he continued. "European cities have 30,000 residents per square kilometer," he said. "Tel Aviv has 7,000 per square kilometer; the most crowded city is Bat Yam with 15,000; and the other cities have 3,000 residents per square kilometer."

During the hearing, panel members also read and responded aloud to questions that people submitted via the committee's website.

The other panel

The alternative panel of experts set up by protest leaders also held hearings for the public Tuesday, but in Tel Aviv. Six of the panel's nine subcommittees set up shop in different rooms at Tel Aviv University. But in contrast to the Trajtenberg Committee, this panel's limited resources precluded live broadcasts over the Internet.

Many of those who addressed the alternative panel were activists in social organizations, but some ordinary citizens also came. Shmuel, for instance, came to the subcommittee on employment with a four-page document containing his ideas for encouraging the employment of people over 40, such as incentives for employers to hire older workers. He himself has had trouble finding suitable employment and wanted to be sure this issue was addressed.

Attorney Tali Nir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the subcommittee's members, said its recommendations would be influenced by the hearings, which produced "very interesting ideas and lines of thought."



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