Opinion |

A Zionist Dream Jump-starting Israel Into the 21st Century

Israelis are proud of their improvisational abilities, but that’s no way to run an entire country. Patchwork policies are no substitute for a vision that specifies where we want to go and a strategy detailing how to get there (Part I of III)

Dan Ben David
Dan Ben-David
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Israeli Independence Day on the Tel Aviv beach, American Jews welcome. 2 May 2017.
Israeli Independence Day on the Tel Aviv beach, American Jews welcome. 2 May 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod
Dan Ben David
Dan Ben-David

My Zionist Dream is about the type of country we should have in a fast-approaching future, one where technologies and machines replace people in ever greater numbers. This could be a better future where we work less and enjoy higher living standards. But it may also be a future where a few very wealthy people live behind walls protecting them from everyone else.

The future that our children receive will depend on our ability to think ahead, plan and outline a vision that targets where we want to go. This is true for all countries. It’s particularly true for today’s Israel, a place where the demands and desires of certain communities may bring them fulfillment today but will eventually result in devastation for themselves and for the rest of us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If Israel so decides today, it can ensure that when it celebrates its 80th birthday in just over a decade, its elderly and disabled will not be poor, while its sick will have enough doctors and nurses amid short waiting periods and the world’s best hospitalization conditions. Everyone in Israel would sign on for this small sample of the larger dream, because it’s not dependent on either religion or one’s degree of religiosity.

Realization of the full Zionist Dream will be possible only if we prioritize policies benefiting everyone over policies catering to narrow and sectoral interests.

To get from here to there we’ll need money – lots of money. Realization of the Zionist Dream requires both enlarging and reprioritizing the distribution of Israel’s national pie. The path toward increasing resources passes through other parts of the dream, providing equal opportunities for everyone and shutting down options for not shouldering the economic burden.

A considerably upgraded core curriculum would prepare all of Israel’s children for a world with increasingly flexible employment conditions. Such a core curriculum must be mandatory in each of the country’s schools. This isn’t just a basic right of every child, it’s the key to adult life in a country that one day will provide aid only to those unable to work and will shut the faucet completely to those who don’t want to work.

Systemic education reform should not be confined just to what is taught, it also needs to focus on who teaches and the way teachers are trained, compensated and employed. A normally functioning education system must include measures that enable accurate and constructive appraisals of the state of education in the country – what works and what doesn’t.

Good basic education will widen the funnel into higher education – and this requires another fundamental change in approach. Israel doesn’t need more people with degrees, it needs more people with knowledge. The Economy Ministry reports that for every three open positions in computers there is only one applicant, while Benjamin Bental and Dan Peled’s research shows that the supply of academic degrees in technology fields is similar to demand. The problem isn’t the number of Israeli graduates, it’s that the quality of knowledge that many have doesn’t match the requirements of a modern economy.

Machinating, cutting corners, not going the extra mile in completing projects: These are recurring themes in Israel. But a competitive global economy greatly reduces the freedom to take shortcuts. Want a degree? Get a real one, not a piece of paper that doesn’t require serious study or knowledge of English. Building an interchange? Then do it right, without traffic lights, so that traffic will flow freely and reduce congestion.

Want tourists? What’s the point of investing huge amounts in advertising abroad when sewage flows freely into the sea and the rivers stink to high heaven? Want a minimum wage that protects our weakest? Then it might be a good idea to invest in enforcing the existing minimum wage instead of instituting endless increases that benefit only half of those eligible.

We are proud of our improvisational abilities, but that’s no way to run an entire country. Patchwork policies are no substitute for a vision that specifies where we want to go and a strategy detailing how to get there. If we want to move Israel to a sustainable socioeconomic trajectory, we need to revise and redefine the Zionist Dream – and then implement it.

Prof. Dan Ben-David is an economist at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy and heads the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research.

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