Instant Ratification

Netanyahu needs to act now and not waste time with expert panels, says Dov Lautman, businessman and education policy wonk.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is setting up a team of experts headed by Professor Manuel Trajtenberg to give the 17-minister social-economic cabinet recommendations as to how to address the malaises addressed by the middle-class protest.

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But Dov Lautman, who founded and chairs an education nonprofit called Hakol Hinuch (Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel), calls the whole thing a waste of time.

David Bachar

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"There's no place for committees that will sit for months. Decisions need to be made," he said.

The social gaps that pushed protesters into the street are endangering the country, he said. "The time has come for us to examine their effect on Israeli society and its security," he said.

Lautman, an Israel Prize laureate and Delta Galil's former chairman, has been working in education for the past few years. A few days ago, he took part in a Tel Aviv protest calling for education system reforms.

What do you think sparked the current wave of protests?

"The gaps appeared in the beginning of the 1990s. I think there were prime ministers who addressed social matters more so than our current government, but the situation has gotten worse over the past decade. This was expressed when the public, all classes of the public, began to understand that the real problem in Israeli society is its social gaps.

"The current protests are of the top four or five deciles, they still haven't filtered down to the bottom deciles, which still haven't taken part. They'll start taking part when they're deeper in crisis. The government needs to take action, otherwise the protests will reach the bottom deciles and ultimately topple the government."

Many people are saying that the problems can't be addressed immediately, that it will take time.

"Ridiculous. The prime minister needs to address this efficiently, because the information to make brave decisions is there. He doesn't need to collect any more data - even if you drag this out for months, you won't know any more. And he also doesn't need to set up any 30-minister committees or any 15-minister committees. There are topics where decisions can be made within 24 hours. He should get a group of professionals to examine the relevant budgets and suggest what the government can allocate for social matters.

"The government may use the excuse that it's addressing diplomatic matters and that September [when the Palestinians are expected to ask the UN recognize a state] is approaching, and say that it can't address this. I'm the last person to make light of the diplomatic process, but it can't come at the cost of totally neglecting social matters. A good executive and a good leader needs to know how to handle several things at once."

The true danger: The kids don't speak English

At the "backpack protest" outside the education minister's house, protesters weren't addressing education as a whole, but just preschool education, and were addressing primarily the financial aspects. Has the public given up on the public education system?

"The protesters didn't make this their main demand, but they did demand differential budgets for the education system, even if they didn't get down into the details. At Hakol Hinuch, we've been talking about the risk inherent in education gaps for two years. We sent the Knesset a draft bill addressing core subjects and budgets, along with five supporting Knesset members. The ministerial committee will meet in October, and if it decides for coalition reasons not to support the initiative, we'll roll up our sleeves and fight until it passes as a private member bill. Maybe the government won't decide to support it, but at the least it won't impose coalition discipline and it will give Knesset members the freedom to choose."

Do you think the education minister relates to the protest? He hasn't been particularly vocal.

"I think so, but he has political constraints."

What should the protesters be demanding in order to close the education gaps?

"First, core subjects should be mandatory - arithmetic, English, and the sciences. Without this you can't use a computer. I have no problem with a yeshiva teaching Torah most of the day, but it needs to teach the core subjects at the minimum. By the way, if I were education minister, I'd do this immediately. Differential budgeting is also necessary. A child in Sderot is born with the same IQ as a child in Ra'anana, but the child in Ra'anana receives 70% to 80% more money for education than the child in Sderot, because the local authority contributes money, too, not to mention the parents in Ra'anana. Schools in Sderot or in Arab communities need to receive more money than schools in Ra'anana or Tel Aviv. The budgets need to be differential - otherwise, it's no wonder that gaps are being created.

"Doing away with discrimination is the final issue. A principal that discriminates against students shouldn't get Education Ministry funds. There are different kinds of discrimination, including grade-based discrimination - some schools won't take students whose grades are too low - and there's discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, location, quality and more."

Where will the money for decreasing gaps come from?

"We need to examine the cost versus the savings that could be made in the budgets for settlements and security, or to increase the deficit. I believe these gaps are much more dangerous than Hamas or Hezbollah.

"We can indeed think about cutting the defense budget - I'd argue that the fact that 25% of Israel's children don't speak English and haven't learned arithmetic weakens our security much more than cutting a few billion out of the defense budget. A tank operator needs to know how to use a computer nowadays, too. The problem is that many people don't know how to use a computer."