Opinion |

How to Save Israel

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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An overcrowded ward at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, February 2019.
An overcrowded ward at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, February 2019.
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

1. Healthcare collapse

If a Martian landed in Israel this week, he would think our health care system is falling apart and people are dying like flies in our hospitals. If he read Yedioth Ahronoth, he’d flee back to Mars out of terror. For an entire week, the newspaper gave a giant stage to doctors and patients who reported intolerable overcrowding, without a hint of journalistic objectivity.

Hospital occupancy rates do spike as winter approaches, but according to a recent study, 71 percent of Israelis are in fact satisfied with health services. Studies also show that our health system is good and effective, and that waiting times are below the European average. It gets high grades by any international yardstick, and experts agree that primary health care in Israel is among the best in the world – reports by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have called it “excellent.”

The wage agreement for Israel’s physicians ended this year. I don’t fear that their PR campaign against hospital overcrowding is a prelude to negotiations over a new contract, but to remove any suspicion, they would do well to announce that any rise in health care spending will go to emergency rooms, inpatient beds, medicine and additional positions, and that not a single penny will go toward increasing physicians’ salaries. Agreed?

Heavy traffic in Tel Aviv, October 29, 2019Credit: Ofer Vaknin

2. Traffic congestion

No one can dispute that Israel's public transportation mess is the worst civil failure in the country's history. There is no subway, no efficient bus service, not enough trains and traffic jams are becoming unbearable.

But these problems can be solved. On the supply side, spending on buses, trains and the light rail/subway system under construction must be increased, and more lanes must be set aside for buses and vehicles carrying at least two people.

On the demand side, price mechanisms must be employed: Congestion fees should be charged during peak hours, and Uber and Lyft should also be permitted to operate as a shared rides service – a proposal that former Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz opposed due to pressure from taxi drivers.

3. Not enough butter

The Israelites cried out to heaven: How is it that there is no butter to be found in the supermarkets? How will we cook without butter? Can a greater scandal be imagined? The media didn’t explain the reason for the shortage; they’re “uncomfortable” criticizing farmers. But the reason is that our dairy industry is 100 percent Bolshevik. Only North Korea can compare, if that. Instead of a free market, a dairy board, controlled by dairy farmers, sets the price of milk and the amount each farm will supply, according to a political formula. In addition, there are enormous tariffs on imported milk and dairy products. The result: shortages and inflated prices.

The butter market in Israel is highly regulated and subject to import tariffs.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

The solution is simple: Open up the industry to free imports, without customs fees, licenses or restrictions. When that happens, the shortage will disappear and the prices will drop. But the dairy farmers and Tnuva, Israel’s biggest food manufacturer, are against it. Turns out they’re more powerful than the country’s 9 million inhabitants.

4. Without the Meitzav

A few days ago the Education Ministry announced that it was canceling the Education Growth and Effectiveness Measures for Schools exam (known by its Hebrew acronym, Meitzav) as a tool for measuring school quality. Parents actually liked the Meitzav. It let them know where to enroll their children, but that’s exactly why the teachers fought it. They didn’t want to be graded. They didn’t want criticism. They like living in the dark. After all, without the Meitzav, the school comparison tables will disappear.

If that’s the case, the education minister should go one step further and get rid of all grades. Why should students know their standing within the classroom? We wouldn’t want to hurt their tender souls. They also shouldn’t exert themselves in order to improve. What’s important is for them to be happy – them and their teachers.

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