Trajtenberg: Government Too Preoccupied to Lead Social Change

The professor whose name is linked to the 2011 protests says change requires work, not patience.

Tomer Appelbaum

Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, the economist who headed a state panel that recommended a raft of reforms in the wake of Israel’s 2011 social protests, says the government still does not pay sufficient attention to domestic problems and he called on young people to put socioeconomic issues back on the public agenda.

Speaking at a Knesset conference on prevent emigration, Trajtenberg said the issue of the high cost of living in Israel could not be deferred until after the country’s geopolitical issues with its neighbors are solved.

“It’s unacceptable for us to say first we’ll settle the Iranian [nuclear issue] and then Syria and Egypt, and after that we’ll have the time to address the cost of living,” he told the audience, which included representatives from youth organizations. “Unfortunately, we will live with many other threats, but there are lives here and families to support.”

Trajtenberg was effusive in his praise for Daphni Leef, one of the main people behind the 2011 social protests, calling her swift assumption of leadership an “amazing story.” But after Trajetenberg left the conference, Leef failed to return the compliment, saying the panel he headed failed to bring about change.

Trajtenberg, the chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education and a former chairman of the National Economic Council, told the conference that Israel was unusual in that its leaders devoted nearly all of their policy-making efforts on defense and foreign policy, not domestic affairs.

“In Israel, 95% of the prime minister’s time in spent on defense and foreign affairs, not on socioeconomic issues,” he said. “We cannot have such a situation in any country, but particularly not in a country in which the socioeconomic fabric is so important.”

“You need to work nonstop in order to create change in the people who are running the country, on issues that are important to you, he told the audience. Trajtenberg specifically mentioned the shortage and high cost of housing in Israel, the monopolies in goods and services and the need to improve government services on the national level.

“If we had a major deficit, a big problem with debt and high inflation, I would say, ‘Be patient, first we need to fix up the building.’ But the overall structure of the building is absolutely fine, the problem is what’s inside, and we have the wherewithal to change that,” Trajtenberg said.

Continuing, he said, “There’s a significant disparity between the micro and the macro [economic situations]. On the macro level, we are an extraordinary success story. If you look back 10 years, in light of the [global] economic crisis, we’re among the four best countries in the world,” together with Germany, Australia and Canada. “But on the micro level, there is protest, there is pain and there are housing shortages.”