Israel Economic Protests: Government Panel set up to review demands following mass Israeli protest

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: JTA, 8-7-11

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a committee to examine the demands of leaders of the social justice protest movement following one of the largest demonstrations in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday morning announced the formation of a 15-member panel to review the demands, and to submit proposals in the next month for social and economic reform.

The previous night, an estimated 300,000 demonstrators protesting the rising costs of living had gathered in Tel Aviv, with another 20,000 protesting in Jerusalem and several thousands more in cities throughout the country.

It was the third such demonstration — and the largest —  since the protests began more than three weeks ago. Protesters chanted, among other slogans, “The people demand social justice” and “An entire generation demands a future.”

Protest leaders have already decried the committee, saying that they are looking for direct dialogue with Netanyahu. The committee will be headed by Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, chairman of the National Economic Council, and made up of Cabinet ministers, observers and economic experts.

Announcing the formation of the committee, Netanyahu said, “We are aware of the fact that working couples with children are finding it difficult to finish the month. We recognize the plight of students who cannot pay their rent. We are aware of the distress of the residents of neighborhoods, of discharged soldiers and others. We want to provide genuine solutions.

The Israeli leader acknowledged that the committee’s proposals will not please everybody, but he pledged that “We will listen to everyone. We will speak with everyone. We will hold a genuine dialogue, not pressured and perfunctory, but we will really listen both to the distress and to the proposals for solutions. In the end we will consider practical solutions. Practical solutions require choices. They also require balance.”

On Saturday night, Israeli musicians Shlomo Artzi, Rita and Yehudit Ravitz entertained the demonstrators, who also heard speeches from Daphne Leef, founder of the movement, and Rabbi Benny Lau, founder of the Beit Morasha social justice institute.

“If I could, I would show you how people have demanded social justice since the origin of Judaism,” Lau told the crowd.

Advertisements

Israel Economic Protests: Full Text PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting about Housing Protests

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: PMO, 8-7-11

“In recent weeks we have witnessed public protests that are giving expression to genuine distress.  The distress is focused on the cost of living and the cost of housing but it has many other aspects.  I understand this distress; I am attentive to it, as is the Cabinet.  We started to deal with several of the problems when the Government was formed; for example, housing reform, the plan that saved higher education and a plan – for roads and railways – that is now bringing the periphery closer to the center.

However, there are additional areas that need to be dealt with.  It is impossible to ignore the voices coming from the public and there is no reason for doing so.  We want to give genuine solutions.  We will give them.  I would like to give these solutions, in a thorough – not cosmetic – way, i.e. a genuine change in the order of priorities, a change that will ease the economic burden on Israelis.

We are aware of the fact that working couples with children are finding it difficult to finish the month.  We recognize the plight of students who cannot pay their rent.  We are aware of the distress of the residents of neighborhoods, of discharged soldiers and others.  We want to provide genuine solutions.

Today, I am appointing a professional committee chaired by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg.  The Trajtenberg Committee will be comprised of professionals from within and outside the government.  Prof. Trajtenberg will need a day or two to complete the list of outside experts.  This Committee will hold a broad dialogue with different groups and sectors within the public.  The committee will listen to the distress and to proposals, and will make recommendations that will be submitted to the Social and Economic Cabinet chaired by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

After the Social and Economic Cabinet hears these proposals, final recommendations will be formulated and submitted to me.  I intend to submit the plan to the whole Cabinet.  I want full Cabinet backing for the major change that we are about to bring to the Israeli economy.

I would like to say a few words why I chose Prof. Trajtenberg to chair the Committee.  Manuel is a rare combination of an economist and a man with social sensitivity.  Until recently, he chaired the National Economic Council.  Afterwards, he took it upon himself to save higher education, which had been in deep crisis for a decade, and did so in exemplary fashion.  Indeed, there is a change and everyone can see it.  Much of this is due to you, Manuel.  You outlined a vision and brought the solution.  Manuel is familiar with the Government as well as the public.  He also believes in the idea of the roundtable, or, I should say, round tables, since I will need to open many round tables in order to listen to many people, within a short time.

My request is that the recommendations of the professional committee that you will chair be brought to Social and Economic Cabinet and afterwards to the entire Cabinet within the next month.  This is not a lot of time.  The workload will be heavy but I know that it will be done with great effort, in order to really bring about change.

This change must be focused on several areas that I will define to the Committee.  First, proposals to change the list of priorities in order to ease the economic burden on Israelis.  Second, change the combination of tax payments.  Third, expanding access to social services.  Fourth, increasing competition and efficiency in the markets for goods and services in order to reduce prices.  Five, steps to implement the housing plan that we have already launched.  I add that the team’s recommendations will give expression to the need to maintain fiscal responsibility in the state budget.  Responsibility is especially necessary in a period of economic uncertainty.

We are in a period of economic uncertainty.  Yesterday, something happened which had not occurred in the previous 70 years, since countries began to receive credit ratings.  The credit rating of the US, the greatest economic power in the world, was lowered by Standard and Poor’s.  This event joins with the crisis that is spreading to the major economies of Europe.  It is possible that 120-130 million Europeans live in countries that are on the verge of bankruptcy and mass unemployment.

Therefore, we must act with economic responsibility here while making the corrections that express social sensitivity.  We must act in two spheres simultaneously.  It is very difficult to build an economy.  I have dealt with this, along with many of you.  We dealt with building the Israeli economy.  Twice, we led it from severe crises, in 2003 and in 2008.  We did so successfully.  We built the economy.  The economy is strong and it withstood these crises as it will yet withstand others that await us.

However, we know that we must make the internal corrections.  As we succeeded in crossing stormy economic waters, we will also make the social corrections, with sensitivity, and with responsibility.  I am convinced that we will succeed.

A last remark.  We will be unable to please everybody.  One cannot please everybody.  It is impossible to take the sum total of the demands regarding all the distress and say, and boast, that we can meet them all.  We will listen to everyone.  We will speak with everyone.  We will hold a genuine dialogue, not pressured and perfunctory, but we will really listen both to the distress and to the proposals for solutions.  In the end, we will consider practical solutions.  Practical solutions require choices.  They also require balance.

I think that the Cabinet can unite behind the professional team that we are bringing here.  I would like to very much thank Manuel, that you agreed to take upon yourself this difficult task.  I know that you held intense discussions and were not without hesitation.  We know that there are things which are not yet clear; we will need to clarify them.  I am certain of one thing.  I am certain that I chose the best person in the State of Israel to take up this difficult mission.”

Professor Trajtenberg: “In recent weeks, we have witnessed a very strong, very impressive and unconventional process that has taken place in Israeli society and among the Israeli public.  What clearly arises from it is that on the one hand, there is the expression of frustration, pain and disappointment that a reasonable economic existence seems distant, even uncertain, for young working families.  On the other hand, there is, within this process, the expression of a very tangible yearning, hope and longing for social justice.

Pain on the one hand and longing on the other signify a great potential for a change for the better within Israeli society.  To a large extent, this depends on the ability to translate these genuine feelings from the language of protest into a language of deeper professional understanding and eventually into the language of action, policy and implementation.  The translator’s task is not easy.  The dictionaries of the past will not help.  They failed.  We must find, we must perhaps invent the Rosetta Stone that will allow us to do the work.

Mr. Prime Minister, I decided to accept this task and this is a tribute to your powers of persuasion and your Finance Minister’s entreaties.  But I admit that I do so with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I do so with great excitement because we have before us a rare opportunity to bring about genuine change in our dear country.  On the other hand, I do so with a deep awareness of the great responsibility that this task entails, given the expectations and the risks.

Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you very much for the confidence that you have vested in me.  You may be certain that beyond the mix of excitement and unease that I feel at the moment, my commitment, and that of the team that will be set up, is full and without hesitation.  We have no alternative but success, success – first of all – in listening and in outlining a wise and very responsible policy given the reality around us.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Thank you very much.  On behalf of the entire Cabinet as well as – I think – the Israeli people, thank you.”

Israel Economic Protests: 320,000 Protesters Take to Tel Aviv Streets

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Virtual Jerusalem, 8-7-11

An estimated 320,000 Israeli protesters took the streets on Saturday night to protest the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing, more than double the number that had turned out the previous Saturday night.

The demonstrators were specifically protesting the enactment of the israel protestsNational Housing Committee Law, which they do not see as a solution to the housing situation.

In the largest show of force, 280,000 Israelis marched from Habimah Square to the government office complex in Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, while 30,000 demonstrated in Jerusalem, and there were smaller demonstrations in other cities across the country.

Protesters chanted “The people demand social justice” as they marched through the streets of Tel Aviv.

In response to the demonstrations, Minister of Transport Israel Katz said, “The message has been heard. The prime minister will announce the setting up of a team of ministers to negotiate with the leaders of the protesters and by September we will form a new economic plan. We will change our order of priorities. Government cuts are not on the agenda and it will be possible to divert some budgets and lower some of the indirect taxes.”

One of the protest leaders Stav Sapir said, “I don’t think it is possible to stop this huge protest. The people are out on the streets. I pray that this thing succeeds. For a long time this has not been the protest of just the middle class – this is a protest of the entire people that simply cannot make ends meet.”

One protester carrying his son on his shoulders told “Globes,” “I’m here for my son. It is not right that a father cannot help his son but that is the situation in our country.”

Student Union leader Itzik Shmuli received a massive response when he demanded the release of Gilad Shalit. Singer Shlomo Artzi had the crowd rocking with the chorus of his song that “Yesterday was great and tomorrow will be too.” Artzi also led the chants of “The people demand social justice.”

Israel Economic Protests: More Giant Housing Protests Planned for Upcoming Weekend

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Virtual Jerusalem, 8-3-11

Protest leaders met again today to formulate their demands from the government, after writing a preliminary list of demands yesterday. National Union of Israeli Students chairman Itzik Shmuli said that progress was being made, and that the protesters have no intention of giving up their struggle.

“We are united, but not uniform, and we have a common goal,” he said. “We won’t stop for a moment, and we’re preparing for a huge protest on Saturday night following the signals we’re getting from the prime minister. Let there be no doubt, we’re fighting for just one thing – to build our home in Israel. This is a protest of the whole nation. Last Saturday night, 200,000 people from the People of Israel – not weirdos or anarchists – went into the streets. We won’t give up.”
israel protests
The protesters also reacted angrily to the news that the Knesset had passed the National Housing Committee Law and blocked major junctions across the country. The protestors also plan a major march in Tel Aviv tomorrow night to protest the passing of the law.

Specific demands reached by all the parties so far include cutting indirect taxes, especially VAT, investing surplus tax revenues in citizens through the state budget, increasing the Ministry of Housing and Construction’s budget for mortgage and rent assistance and easing eligibility criteria, and increasing government aid. The protesters have also agreed on extending free education from the age of three months; to add positions, hospital beds, equipment, and infrastructures to the healthcare system nationwide to OECD levels; and to halt the privatization of welfare and mental health agencies and an and to outsourcing civil service jobs.

This is still only a first draft of demands, and more drafts will be written.

The protest leaders said today that various demands published in the media and detailed in financial costs originated in a position paper for changing Israel’s social and economic policies written by Dror Israel several months ago. That position paper relies on data and studies by top Israeli and foreign economists.

Responding to Ministry of Finance claims that the costs of the demands are inaccurate, the protest headquarters said that this was disinformation. “First, we consider the emerging public debate on how to increase the budget to be important and significant. The heart of the matter is an argument between world views. One view holds that the optimal state budget is one in which the government intervenes as little as possible in the market, privatizes as much as possible, and reduces its involvement. This is the policy that has existed for over 30 years in Israel, and it is precisely why people have hit the streets.

“The second view promotes policies which say that if there are tax surpluses, the money should be invested back in us, the citizens. The time has come to realize that citizens, too, have the right to an opinion on economic conduct.”

As for the financial estimates, the protest leaders say that cutting VAT from 16% to 5% would cost NIS 60 billion (NIS 15 billion a year over four years). At the same time, cancelling the cuts in income and company taxes would generate NIS 22 billion in revenues. A protest leader said, “The pricing in the plan is based on calculations by the Government Revenues Administration about the consequences of not implementing the Rabinovich committee recommendations.”

Another protest leader said, “There have been claims that there are no surplus tax revenues. First of all, this is a figure that the Accountant General has published. The argument that there are no tax surpluses is based on Israel’s debt, but there is no country without debt. The surpluses we’re talking about came after the massive reduction in the debt-GDP ratio – the fastest reduction in the OECD.”

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – http://www.globes-online.com

%d bloggers like this: