The New Government’s Civil and Social Challenges Through the Prism of National Resilience
By Mr. Lior Akerman | November, 2022
|Photos: Kobi Gideon-GPO|
Now that the fifth election campaign in three and a half years has ended with the cautious hope of a term that will last longer than a year or two, the key challenge that the Israeli government now faces, as did all the administrations that preceded it, should be discussed: The challenge of restoring the civil and social systems in Israel, while regaining governmental stability and governance.
In late 2022, Israel’s education system is in the midst of one of its gravest crises. Ostensibly, salary agreements and employment terms have been signed with the two leading teacher organizations in the country; however, these will not resolve the education system’s key issues. It is in a process of perpetual collapse. Israel is not promoting plans and projects that cultivate excellence, and refrains from building an adequate national cultural infrastructure. Budgets for new classrooms and the spacing of existing ones are not transferred, nor are those earmarked for expanding free afternoon childcare services. The academic system is underdeveloped and controlled by a rigid regulator with ulterior motives. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get accepted to university, yet Israel is not investing in becoming attractive to outstanding scholars to ensure that they remain here by providing scholarships and incentives. Israel is ranked among the last of western countries in student performance, classroom crowdedness, and teacher terms of employment.
As for personal safety, the Israel Police remains an impoverished organization unable to bolster itself, gain authority or power of deterrence. The number of police officers per capita is among the lowest in the western world, and those that do serve in this capacity are underpaid, receiving little support from their superiors or the law for their actions. This state of affairs is allowing crime and citizens’ sense of lack of personal safety to soar, leading to greater organized crime and government corruption, which are relatively common in Israel as it is.
The huge crisis endured by the health system in Israel made headlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in Israel and, indeed, worldwide; however, the symptoms and issues have been there for many years. According to all international index comparisons conducted, Israel ranks among the lowest of western countries with respect to the numbers of physicians and nurses per capita. The same is true for the number of MRI machines and ICU hospital beds. In late 2022, Israel does not have enough places in which physicians can learn, or enough jobs, working hours exceed the number acceptable in the rest of the world, and the wages earned by physicians and nurses fresh out of medical and nursing school is among the lowest in the world.
In late 2022, Israel’s welfare systems are experiencing a severe, ongoing crisis. The number of welfare workers is among the lowest in the western world, and their salaries are also among the lowest. Each year, dozens of thousands of people drop below the poverty line, and, in the absence of government-provided solutions, are cared for by private NGOs and organizations.
And what about transportation infrastructure? Are many roads indeed being paved in Israel, thereby improving matters? In late 2022, the state of Israel’s transportation infrastructure development and adaptation is lagging several years behind the current state of affairs. According to transportation experts, Israel is at least a decade behind its transportation needs. The scope of roads paved are far from meeting the number of vehicles that use them annually. Mass transit infrastructure has yet to be built and operated in Israel, and the most optimistic forecast for their operation is within the next decade. The existing train also reaches very few places, and, ultimately, we are left without adequate transportation solutions.
From a social perspective, the situation is, unfortunately, no different, and worse still. In the absence of a vision or long-term strategy, the Israeli governments throughout its history have failed to formulate plans for the development and preservation of future generations, leading to a loss of thousands of young men and women who relocate overseas for academic and employment opportunities. Thus, in higher education, Israel does not generate programs and projects that cultivate excellence, and refrains from establishing adequate national cultural infrastructure. Budgets for new classrooms and the spacing of existing ones are not transferred, nor are those earmarked for expanding free afternoon childcare services. The academic system is underdeveloped and controlled by a rigid regulator with ulterior motives. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get accepted to university; however, Israel is not investing in becoming attractive to outstanding scholars to ensure that they remain here by providing scholarships and incentives. As for employment and wages, less and less young people are being hired for jobs that ensure an adequate income, the average wages in the economy are consistently getting eroded, and do not provide young people with sufficient economic security. Many university and college graduates are not guaranteed work at all, and when they do get hired, they are forced to make do with very low wages, even if they are employed by corporations that make millions. In housing and the soaring cost of living, no steps are being taken to reduce market monopoly, encourage both import and local SME production, strengthen pricing oversight and regulation, or release state-owned land for low-cost construction. Israel does not implement reforms that could abolish the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and Israel Land Authority (ILA) structure in order to expedite construction processes and render them more cost-effective, no budgets are being allocated for public housing, the minimum wages are not going up to match the rising cost of living, Israel is not lowering VAT on basic food and consumption items, nor does it implement income tax reforms, reduce bank fees, or vehicle taxation. As a result, young educated men and women in Israel cannot sustain themselves and lack the ability to develop in future, leading them to leave the country in growing numbers, and make a life for themselves elsewhere.
No strategy has been formed for the integration of the ultraorthodox and Arab sectors into the labor market either. According to data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the ultraorthodox are expected to comprise over 20% of the Israeli population in 20 years’ time. Nevertheless, Israel continues to enable the exclusion of hundreds of thousands of them, who do not acquire basic higher education, engage in productive, income-earning and tax-paying employment, or in military or national service, as prescribed by law. The Arab sector has been suffering from neglect for many years in areas such as education and industry infrastructure, as well as from total lack of governance.
Israeli society is divided and polarized, and we continue to focus, prompted by elected public officials, on the issue of its citizens’ origin – in the difference between those who come from Moroccan, Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Polish, or Ethiopian descent – while separatism, polarization, and social rifts keep deepening. Public discourse, particularly that found on social media, is becoming increasingly more extreme, with hate statements being blunter than ever. Israeli society is being torn apart instead of uniting under a single Israeli identity after 74 years of existence, completely ignoring the need to formulate a vision and strategy in this field.
For years now, Israel has been ranking low among western countries on the global corruption index. In fact, of all western countries, the only ones worse than it are Greece and Italy, leaving Israel to be considered as one of the most corrupt countries in the western world. Local polls conducted have indicated that a large percentage of its citizens believes that most government agencies, as well as Israel’s political parties and elected public officials, are corrupt, engaging in bribery and obtaining personal favors for themselves and those close to them. In a democratic country, where the regime’s strength is measured by the citizens’ trust in their elected officials, such a rating is a mark of absolute failure for the government’s conduct.
Things are no better from a bureaucratic perspective. For historical political reasons, Israel has multiple cities and councils, dual administrations and rabbinates, religious councils, water corporations, and other municipal organizations operating under the local authorities at tremendous costs. According to data published annually by the Israel Police, corruption in city halls and local councils is on the rise, and, for many years now, the Israeli government has avoided implementing an existing plan designed to reduce their number, uniting local councils and authorities, and dramatically streamlining to save billions of Shekels, while clamping down on public corruption.
In all civil and social areas, it is the duty of Israel’s leaders, regardless of their being rightwing or leftwing, to build the foundations that would ensure this country’s future. The Israeli government must set up a strategic planning unit within the Prime Minister’s Office, and give it broad jurisdiction to formulate long-term action strategies in each of the areas specified, while ensuring that the various government ministries allocate budgets and implement the plans approved by the government. Furthermore, the government should approve a multiannual budget anchored in legislation and government resolutions that would bind any future elected government. All government ministries will be obligated to formulate and present long-range plans to obtain the government’s approval, which will set clear goals for the years to come in each of the areas noted while anchoring them in binding legislation.
In the following papers we will discuss each of these areas in greater detail, explaining the appropriate solutions required.
Authored by Mr. Lior Akerman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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