Unaffordable housing prices ignited mass social justice protests in Israel. At issue is settlement developments at the expense of other construction, creating a supply/demand imbalance enough to cause prices to skyrocket. Israelis demand that issue be addressed responsibly.
In response, Netanyahu's government announced thousands of illegal new West Bank/East Jerusalem settlement units on stolen Palestinian land, harming them grievously. At the same time, he arrogantly ignored the urgency of addressing serious shortages in Tel Aviv, Haifa, West Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities.
In addition, Israel's Knesset passed a controversial housing bill despite popular protests against it. It calls for solving Israel's housing crisis by expanding West Bank settlements, defiantly avoiding what's needed.
It also called for quick action to expedite construction of 50,000 apartments, circumventing planning commissions that take time to decide. Doing so, however, will exacerbate Israel's housing crisis, making an intolerable situation worse.
Since protests began, Netanyahu signaled no meaningful change, saying "solutions (must be) economically sound." In other words, business as usual will continue, papered over with minor cosmetic concessions sure to ignite greater anger sooner or later.
In early August, he appointed Professor Manual Trajtenberg to head a 14-member "panel for socioeconomic change," saying its "recommendations will reflect the need to maintain fiscal responsibility in the state budge. Such responsibility is especially necessary at a time of economic uncertainty," signaling minimal changes at best, far less than vitally needed and demanded.
Neoliberally constructed, Trajtenberg's panel will conduct discussions, propose solutions, and present them to Israel's socioeconomic cabinet (composed of establishment figures headed by neoliberal finance minister Yuval Steinitz) by late September.
In late October, Steinitz will present his own recommendations to Netanhayu, who'll review them and deliver a final proposal to Israel's cabinet by early November, giving officials enough time to let street protests subside. Or so they hope to get away with minimal changes, if any.
Trajtenberg's Socioeconomic Change Panel
Besides himself and Steinitz, the panel includes senior government officials, including:
Eyal Gabai: Netanyahu's Director-General
Eugene Kandel: National Economic Council head
Gal Hershkovitz: Finance Ministry's budget chief
Avi Simhon: Finance Ministry's senior economic advisor
Michal Abadi-Boiangiu: Finance Ministry's accountant-general
Esther Dominisini: National Insurance Institute's director-general
Shlomi Frizet: Antitrust Authority's chief economist
Karnit Flug: Bank of Israel's deputy governor
Other members include:
Professor Yoram Gabby: Israeli tax expert
Shahar Cohen: entrepreneur
Professor Pnina Klein: 2011 Israel Education Prize Laureate
Professor Rafi Melnik: Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center vice president
Professor Tali Regev: economist
Panel advisors include other establishment figures from government ministries, related agencies and think tanks.
Panel head Trajtenberg also is an establishment figure, formerly Netanyahu's National Economic Council head, appointed in 2006 by Ehud Olmert.
An economist, he heads Israel's Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education. Without explaining whether he favors change, he calls himself "a fervent Zionist who devoted three years of his life to bringing Jews to Israel, an Israeli patriot with a South American soul, and a doctorate in economics from Harvard."
At the same time, he worries about Israel's commission system, saying it's set up to kill, not solve, issues, which begs the question why he agreed to get involved in the first place, knowing it's an exercise in futility.
In fact, he said "(A)nother panel with all the familiar faces will be no good here. Unless the political leadership unites behind the recommendations, it won't work."
Knowing he won't succeed, nonetheless, he came on board adding, "we must take the risk," that may, in fact, be rhetoric, not conviction.
At the same time, he's a possible/perhaps likely choice to become the Bank of Israel's next governor when his Planning and Budgeting chairmanship term expires in a year, replacing Stanley Fischer, head of Israel's central bank since 2005.
No social democrat need apply. Of course, Netanyahu didn't appoint him socioeconomic change head to become one.
Perhaps it's why protest leaders have their own expert panel, separate from Trajtenberg's, knowing any government commission will spurn them. In fact, some of its members openly endorse non-cooperation with Netanyahu's appointees.
Composed of 60 academic and public figures, it's divided into nine sub-units, coordinated by Education Professor Yossi Yonah and Professor Avia Spivak, a curious choice, having been a former Bank of Israel deputy governor.
Some units have already held working sessions. Others will do so shortly. Each will handle priorities in their field of expertise. Within weeks, they'll present their conclusions and demands.
A public statement said:
"(R)ecent statements of senior ministers suggest that the government does not understand what is happening here. Those who look down on the protest and surround themselves with tycoons do not understand the depth of the revulsion at the economic processes they have led, which enrich the rich at the expense of the rest of the public. This method has created enormous gaps, greed and deteriorating public services, education, welfare and health."
It added that "the demands of the public today are for fundamental change in the method, not just some improvements in it. The Trajtenberg committee, whose mandate and scope for maneuvering have not been publicized, does not appear to be capable of leading such change."
Of course, it was appointed to prevent it, a sham smokescreen for business as usual.
Alternate panel sub-unit heads include:
Professor Yossi Ze'ira: economic issues
Emily Silverman: housing and transportation
Professor Yitzhak Gal-Nur: public administration
Professor Ya'akov Kashti and Rabbi Shay Piron: education
Professor Danny Filc: healthcare
Nadia Ismail: employment
Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer: legal issues
Professor Bilha Tadher: social security issues
Professor Yossi Yonah: "fundamentals of a policy of social justice"
On August 14, New York Times writer Stephen Farrell headlined, "Israeli Leader Vows Fiscal Reform but No Quick Fixes," saying:
On Sunday, Netanyahu "tempered a promise to find 'concrete solutions' to demonstrators' concerns with a warning that the global financial crisis precluded quick change," saying:
"We know one thing: We want to find solutions that are economically sound. For if we end up bankrupt or face economic collapse, a reality in which some of Europe's leading economies find themselves in today, we will solve neither the economic problems nor the social ones."
During dire economic times, going it slow is counterproductive and destructive, assuring worse, not improved conditions. Moreover, doing little, nothing, or forcing austerity when stimulus is needed assures disaster.
When times are tough, pump priming is critical to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. At all times, moreover, just democratic societies are mandated to provide essential social services to all its citizens, including education, healthcare, housing help, and welfare for their least advantaged.
In contrast, neoliberal states like Israel, America, Britain and others serve wealth and power interests only, spurning their social obligations altogether, disingenuously saying it's for the greater good.
Netanyahu lied urging "financial responsibility alongside social sensitivity," when he favors the former only but won't say.
As a result, achieving social justice requires protest leaders accepting nothing less, or as Haifa University student Adi Gross said:
"These protests are not going to stop before a (just)," solution is found," and social worker Suhair Halabi added:
"Nobody is free until everybody is free," saying also "(w)e are fighting a national and a class battle" too important to lose.
Going for broke is crucial. It's critical that spirit and energy driving it not be lost. Otherwise, the battle for social justice will be, letting an historic moment pass unfulfilled.
A Final Comment
Working cooperatively with Netanyahu's government, municipal authorities began harassing protest encampments, forcibly trying to disrupt them by dismantling tent cities.
In fact, inspectors issued eviction notices in Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina plaza, and confiscated the symbolic guillotine erected on Rothschild Boulevard. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) strongly condemned the move, saying mayors are trying to "push the police to silence the protest."
ACRI attorney Avner Punchuk added:
"(T)he role of the police is to protect freedom of expression, not to pander to mayors and municipal authorities, who have their own agendas, while using unreasonable excuses for eviction such as the expected Palestinian declaration of statehood in September."
ACRI is providing legal help to end harassment, at times successful, but this struggle has a long way to go with major hurdles to overcome.
Protesters now face municipal officers tearing down tents, other encampments, signs and confiscating equipment to crush resistance - representing an extremist right-wing government determined to spurn them.
Knowing what they're up against, Israelis vow to stay the course. No matter how many victories are won, social justice struggles never end because dark force plotting never quits, devising new ways to undermine or regain lost ground.
As a result, it's vital to keep the spirit for change alive, never letting it wane because doing so assures defeat. Winning social justice isn't easy, quick or enough. Keeping it is key.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.