I'm Not Bibi, I'm a Finn

When Israel itself was much more egalitarian than it is today, its students were also at the top of the international class, and when Israel became a land that devours its people, its students tumbled to the bottom of the list.

Today everyone knows that socialism ruined the world and brought misery to countries and peoples, while capitalism collects sweat from the brows of the workers only to save humanity. There is, therefore, not the slightest chance of a person with a socialist world view like myself, convincing others that Israeli, Netanyahu-esque capitalism is destructive. And yet, because of an obsessive need to participate in last-ditch battles I will make one more effort at persuasion that democratic socialism, or social democracy, is more essential than ever in Israel today.

A few months ago, the results of the PISA standardized educational assessments, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), were published. Some 4,500 Israeli students aged 15-16 participated in the study, along with students from 41 other countries. Dr. Bracha Kramarski and Prof. Zemira Mavrech of Bar-Ilan University's School of Education headed the study.

The findings shocked the country. We were ashamed of our kids, and mainly of ourselves. Most people understood suddenly that the scholastic achievements of Israeli children were very poor - at the bottom of the list compared to other developed nations. Among the 41 countries, Israel also was found to have the greatest gaps in achievement based on the economic background of its students.

It can be said that the students' achievements and the gap's size are linked. The greater the equality, the greater the achievements. There is, therefore, no contradiction between achievement and equality, as common wisdom here dictates. Quite the contrary, equality is apparently the key to achievement and its main generator. If that is the case, a more egalitarian reality is not only more moral, it is also more useful, because only from within such a reality can the economy flourish.

The malignant and destructive regime that arose in the former Soviet Union was totalitarian; it took the name of socialism in vain, sullied it and pulled the rug out from under it. It became a disgrace, and rightly so. But what is the connection between Bolshevism and socialism? There is none. Soviet societies, like unmistakeably capitalistic societies, created the greatest gaps in the world, societies ruled by a small and hedonistic class not unlike the class that rules capitalistic Israel today.

In the demagogic debate that engulfs us here at times, those who speak out in favor of equality and solidarity are immediately reminded of the cursed Bolsheviks, the failed and failure-inducing Marxists, and even Cuba and North Vietnam. No, we don't want to be like Cuba, but we do want to be like Finland.

Why Finland? Because Finland, and not Israel, took the lead in the PISA results - its children outshine ours. Finnish students understand reading better than all other children on earth. And, miracle of miracles, Finland is a more egalitarian country, with only Denmark ahead of it, and Denmark also has a remarkably successful education system.

But why should we go as far away as Scandinavia? When Israel itself was much more egalitarian than it is today, its students were also at the top of the international class, and when Israel became a land that devours its people, its students tumbled to the bottom of the list.

You also probably have heard on more than one occasion that Israel invests more in education than other developed nations. Wrong again. Finland invests three times more in every student than Israel does, almost all of it from government sources. Gideon Eshet wrote a fascinating article in Yedioth Ahronoth about his visit to Finland this month, reporting that the Finnish authorities must provide education for every citizen from the age of one until the end of university. "In that country, not only do they pay for university tuition, but also they receive rent subsidies and a grant for each student," Eshet wrote.

Finland has really gone crazy; Netanyahu and his people at the budgets department would probably hospitalize it immediately. Finland, unbelievably, also has a level of taxation several times higher than Israel's, which is said to be the highest in the world - another lie. Those crazy Finns also pay their retirees, their unemployed, and their new mothers three and four times more than Netanyahu pays our benefit recipients. And if all that is not enough, after all those fantastic government expenditures, Finland has no budget deficit. So don't tell us that there is no other way, that we have to suffer; don't hang all the excuses around the neck of security, meanwhile graduating entire generations of children from a defective education system that the Dovrat Committee is supposed to rescue but will not.

There are different ways. The whole world is not America. There is a choice. And in this choice I am not Bibi - I am a Finn.