PMO Chief Tells Israeli Social Protesters Government Policy Will Not Change

Campaign leaders say Prime Minister's Office outgoing director general's statements reflected Netanyahu's lack of interest in the public's demands and his unwillingness to listen to the people.

This government will not change its economic policy in the wake of the nationwide tent protests and will not provide social rights, the Prime Minister's Office outgoing director general told protesters late Wednesday.

"In terms of social justice, [the Trajtenberg committee for socioeconomic change] is not going to change economic policy, to put it bluntly," Eyal Gabai said in a conversation with protesters demanding social justice outside his Modi'in home. Gabai is a member of the Trajtenberg committee, which was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate with the demonstrators.

Eyal Gabai - Michal Fattal - 19082011
Michal Fattal

Campaign leaders said after the meeting that Gabai had made it clear the committee did not intend to deal with their problems seriously. They said Gabai's statements reflected Netanyahu's lack of interest in the public's demands and his unwillingness to listen to the people.

Dozens of protesters from the tent encampment in Modi'in demonstrated in front of Gabai's house on Wednesday, chanting slogans such as "the people demand social justice." Gabai, who was at home, invited about 15 campaigners into his yard to discuss their demands. Haaretz has obtained recordings of the meeting.

Gabai is due to resign from the PMO in September, but will continue to be active on the team.

Asked about the changes the Trajtenberg committee will bring about, Gabai said "in the government's terms it will make a difference the likes of which has never been seen. In terms of social justice, it's not going to change the state, to put it bluntly."

Asked whether part of the social change would include social rights, he said "certainly not...There will be no change in the [economic] system...The government's economic policy is that of a free market - that is what Israel's policy will ultimately be. There will be no change in the system unless MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) becomes prime minister."

He also said "unless Yachimovich is prime minister, there will be no legislation of social rights."

Asked what, in this case, would lead to a change, Gabai said "things will change in elections. This government will not become a welfare state."

Gabai dismissed issues pertaining to single mothers, saying "the term 'single mother' doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned."

"When my wife died and I had a three-year old child, I was a single parent. But when you're divorced there are two parents. The father doesn't disappear. Both divorced parents are responsible for the children," he said.

The protesters were offended and disappointed by Gabai's statements.

"How can we believe that committee will achieve anything after what he said? It's obvious the committee did not get a real mandate to deal with our problems, which are more than just housing," said Gilad Bihari, an activist from the Modi'in encampment who attended the meeting.

"He treated us with real scorn," said Nava Levy-Zakin, a single mother of three who stormed out of the meeting.

"I couldn't go on hearing him - he was cold and insensitive. I was furious," she said.

"It is regrettable the most senior official in the PMO is diverting the discourse to a political debate. His statements reflect Netanyahu's real feelings. Netanyahu isn't interested or willing to listen to the people, which include left and right, religious and secular," said Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Student Union.

Gabai also said the ultra-Orthodox youngsters must serve in the army and go to work.

"They don't make money or take part in the economic burden, it's insanity," Gabai said. "We must stop this. The ultra-Orthodox must go to work and eventually serve in the army."

The Prime Minister's Office commented: "The PMO director general had a positive, friendly conversation with protesters for three hours on Wednesday in his yard. It is wrong and impossible to summarize a three-hour discussion in three unilateral, biased minutes. As for the state's character, the director general said its economic policy is a free market policy and all the governments and parties in the past 20 years have employed this policy. He also said that a socialist state - a welfare state, means raising taxes for everyone, without ensuring the improvement of social services accordingly."

As for the committee, the statement said, "as Gabai told the demonstrators, this is a historic opportunity to make a significant change and the committee intends to do so."

Protests for social justice have taken Israel by storm in recent weeks, with mass protests taking place every Saturday night in Tel Aviv and other major cities throughout the country. Last Saturday, the protests were held in towns in the periphery, including Eilat, Rosh Pina, Nahariya, Dimona, Modi'in, Petah Tikva, Ramat Hasharon, Hod Hasharon, Netanya, Afula and Beit She'an.