In January, shortly after Yair Lapid was crowned the big winner in the national election, the progressive Adva Center research institute released a report describing Israel’s middle class.
The description outlined, which defines the middle class as households headed by a wage-earner and whose gross income ranges between 75% and 125% of the national median, in no way resembles what Finance Minister Lapid refers to when he talks about the middle class.
In 2010 the middle class included all households with monthly income ranging between NIS 9,700 and NIS 16,300. Accordingly, Mrs. Cohen from Hadera, who was said to represent the middle class and earns, together with her husband, NIS 20,000 a month, is actually a member of a higher class.
The report also labels the middle class as “the working class,” with 42% having just a high school education and only 27% having advanced to higher studies.
“When Lapid talked about the middle class, he was actually speaking about the higher class,” according to sociologist Noga Dagan Buzaglo, one of the report’s authors. “The ‘middle class,’ as perceived by Lapid, is fictitious.”
The fact that Lapid sees “Mrs. Cohen” as a symbol of the middle class disturbs Dagan Buzaglo because, she says, it means he is still captive to a mistaken view of the entire structure of Israeli society. Moreover, she adds, he’s focused on the “troubles of the rich” while ignoring the weaker classes and their distress.
“People like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid, and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett aren’t looking down; they don’t come with a history of taking a social or equality approach,” says Dagan Buzaglo. “An idea like imposing value-added tax on fruits and vegetables is the most unjust measure there is. If the poor can’t buy these items you destroy their nutrition and sentence them to eating junk food.”
Prof. Dan David, a Tel Aviv University economist and executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said: “The discussion is ostensibly on the middle class, but it’s a discussion between the top deciles about the top deciles. Lapid hears about the troubles of people in his milieu and lends them an ear. True, these people might not feel rich because they don’t belong to the top 0.1% and don’t have millions in the bank and a house for each child, but statistically they aren’t middle class.” But Prof. Avia Spivak of Ben-Gurion University’s economics department, a former deputy-governor of the Bank of Israel and a top consultant to the cost-of-living protests, sees a more promising side to Lapid’s angle on the economy.
“It is refreshing that the finance minister is looking at what the budget needs to do, not just at its framework,” says Spivak. “This shows that the finance minister isn’t only absorbed with the deficit and debt, but also with the budget itself, which is the primary tool for shaping economic policy, and what he can accomplish. It’s true that the middle class is being loosely defined, but here’s a statement that he’s interested in helping society’s productive people.”