The Trajtenberg Report Redefines Success of Israeli Social Protest

The report has met opposition from many sectors, but it is an excellent starting point from which to continue the struggle; it has changed public discourse.

Rotem Shtarkman
Rotem Shtarkman
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Rotem Shtarkman
Rotem Shtarkman

Possibly the biggest fraud that was debunked in September, was that a tsunami was on the way with the declaration of Palestinian statehood. Facebook would get into it, millions would march to Jerusalem. The army and the police got ready, the settlers trained.

A second after it turned out that nothing happened, a new campaign of fearmongering began. Cuts to the defense budget must be avoided. All of a sudden, the Iron Dome missile interception system is in danger. So are training and reserve-duty days. "Do you want us to go back to the way things were before the Second Lebanon War?" is the question we face.

Social protest leaders viewing the Trajtenberg Committee's findings in Tel Aviv, Sept. 26, 2011.Credit: Nir Keidar

What chutzpah! The bloated and wasteful defense establishment, which retires people with a huge pension 25 years too early, is scaring the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and the communities near the Gaza Strip because of a NIS 2 billion cut to NIS 3 billion.

But the Trajtenberg Committee's report, published this week, was trounced not only by military people. Listen to Israel Manufacturers Association head Shraga Brosh, and Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. Note the opposition of Shas ministers and members of the Knesset. And that is just the beginning.

The disappointment is not surprising. The protest was easy to contain: it had widespread public support, it photographed well, its ideas were hard to argue with.

The problem starts when the bill arrives. For decades, there has been no change here because the powerful sectors did not want it to happen.

The Trajtenberg report is not a sugar-coated pill. Suddenly, Shas understands that some benefits will go to secular people, and that the ultra-Orthodox might have to help shoulder the burden. Suddenly, Histadrut realizes that the big workers' committees and the monopolies choking the economy might have to foot some of the bill.

Suddenly, politicians realize that nobody is going to help them get elected in the upcoming primaries by showering them with money. The business sector understands that competition is good for consumers but not for the people who own the big companies that milk the public. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets because their voice was not heard. Now, everyone is trying to steal the protest from them.

Of course, negative points can be found in the report, but massive opposition comes from vested interests. The Trajtenberg Committee seriously discussed the issues and did not sidestep the thorny problems. At most it claimed, with some logic, that some issues needed to be dealt with separately.

They say a good part of the solution is in agreeing on what the problems are. Manuel Trajtenberg pinpointed the problems in Israel's economy and society. He wrote that protest stemmed from three sources - the first being economic difficulties of young, educated, skilled, working families and their concern over their future, and the feeling of injustice and increased inequality. Another source is the extravagantly wealthy, who enjoy the fruits of economic concentration, exploitation of natural resources and excessive pay to well connected executives. The third source of protest is declining investment in government services such as education and health.

This is an important analysis, one that perhaps has never been done before by a government commission. Even if it contained no operative recommendations, it would be important. Moreover, the government has accepted it.

This is an excellent starting point from which to continue the struggle. So why are the protest leaders also against it? Perhaps their expectations were too high. Perhaps they want to preserve their leadership. That is alright, but they need to understand that Israel's problems cannot be dealt with instantly. Trajtenberg points out that somebody will have to pay Israel's national debt in the coming generations, too. He notes that half the population pays no taxes, so raising taxes to fund budgetary outlay will burden the same middle class. One of the Israeli economy's greatest achievements over the past two decades is keeping the deficit low, allowing it to prosper even in the midst of the global economic crisis.

The Trajtenberg Report does not bury the protest, but redefines how successful it was. It has changed public discourse.



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