The Bottom Line / The Penny's Dropped

Knafo has encapsulated the social-economic truth of the State of Israel of the past 30 years: more budget allocations to the Haredim who do not serve in the army and do not earn a living, and lots more handouts to the settlements.

* Vicki Knafo

After months of trekking and demonstrating opposite the Finance Ministry, Vicki Knafo has finally understood. On Wednesday, speaking on Channel 1's Mabat current affairs program, she said, "The Haredim have got it, the settlers have got it, we haven't. If no one had it, then I would go home. But they have it."

And so in one sentence, Knafo has encapsulated the social-economic truth of the State of Israel of the past 30 years: more budget allocations to the Haredim who do not serve in the army and do not earn a living (80 percent of the male adult ultra-Orthodox do not work, and live off state handouts), and lots more handouts to the settlements (grants for buying property, subsidies for mortgages, building pretty cottages and fancy neighborhoods, paving bypass roads, putting up public buildings, building a promenade in Hebron, expensively keeping an IDF guard, expropriating land, abuse of another people).

And when the money goes on the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers, there is none left for paving fast highways to the south, no resources for a quality education system in development towns, no money for promoting arts and health care, and nothing left to set up factories or to train single mothers so that they can earn a decent living.

* Derby branch

The Higher Education Council recently decided that it would be impermissible to establish a seat of learning in Israel that aims to make profits. Such an institute, the council determined, should be a NPO, a non-profit organization, thereby overturning the conclusions of the Shoshana Netanayhu Committee which had decided quite the opposite in 1994, allowing for a profit-making institute, but setting the ground rules that would safeguard its academic standards.

The council discussed the matter due to an appeal by the local branch of the U.K. University of Derby. Its owner Avi Beitan, entertained the idea of changing from being just a foreign branch of the British university to a fully-fledged Israeli institute, while still keeping its profit motivation. Now what is wrong with that?

Do private owners of newspapers, hospitals or washing machine manufacturers not worry about the quality of their products? In fact they would be the first to know if the goods were shoddy, because the public would not want it, so in time, they would lose money and eventually close. So it is in the owners' interests to keep up standards and reputation.

And that term NPO is misleading. Instead of taking the extra income as profit, the NPO raises wages to its senior staffers, gives grants, takes on extra staff, so that everybody is as happy as if they were in a profit-making company - heaven forbid!

But of course one of the differences, is that private owners know how to save and work efficiently, and that is blatantly clear when you look at our universities, with their vast inefficiencies and wasted resources. Avi Beitan can pride himself on his administration, which manages 3,500 students with one-fourth of the staff found in our universities and colleges. And he has no swathes of profitable land going to waste, or underused buildings, and he pays lecturers according to the courses they actually teach, and not according to six hours instruction a week for just 28 weeks in the year.

So a profit-making educational institution is not a dirty term. The question one should ask is what standard of education does it offer, and for that there is a Higher Education Council to check and report to the public.