Daphni Leef, (one of the leaders of the social protest movement who did not enter politics last year), announced that this Saturday night, the social /economic protest demonstrations would resume. I am sure there will be a crowd who show up to protest. However, most Israelis will stay home. They will ask themselves – actually, what is the point.. Israelis came out in large numbers two years ago. After two years it can be said conclusively that nothing has changed; in fact things have gotten worse.
Prices have not gone down. Food is still much more expensive in Israel than it is in the United States or Western Europe. The government has stated repeatedly, and vehemently, that bringing down prices is a priority. Yet, instead they globally raised prices thanks to a 1% rise in V.A.T. Housing prices have continued to rise as well. The only way to bring housing prices down is to flood the market with new housing. Nevertheless, the opposite happened. The Israel Lands Authority sold 34% less land this past year than they sold the year before. The new Housing Minister has “a great idea”– build thousand of units of housing in Jerusalem or in the West Bank (that is exactly where the average dweller of Gush Dan wants to move.)
On another matter, (if anyone is paying attention), election reform turned out to be a complete joke. Finance Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid posted a celebratory comment on Facebook congratulating himself for his accomplishment in getting the cabinet to approve his election reform bill. The central point to the bill calls for raising the number of votes required to be elected to Knesset. That is considered election reform?
Finally, let’s not forget “equalizing the burden”. It was a great slogan. However, in reality, there will be no “equality of the burden” in this generation (certainly not with the cautious half measures that the current government is undertaking.)
Thus, there is indeed a good reason to demonstrate. Will this new round of demonstrations succeed? Definitely not. I believe they will fail, for the same reason they fell short last time: the protest pleas were exceptionally unspecific. The demands of the demonstrators were as general as — they would say in the United States — “demanding Apple Pie.”
EVERYONE favors more social justice, more freedom, cheaper housing. With such general demands it was simple for Yair Lapid to hijack the sense of protest and discontent and ride it to his recent election victory, (even if he actually agreed with few of the central beliefs of the organizers of the demonstrations.) In order to succeed, the protesters must stipulate a specific set of demands. They must be demands that can be realistically be implemented – otherwise, any one taking to the streets Saturday night is just wasting their time.
Here is my “short” wish list for economic change in Israel.
1) End V.A.T. on food. Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has V.A.T. or sales tax on food. Why is food so expensive here? Start with the fact that the prices we pay are automatically increased by 17% to give the government its taxes. To make up for eliminating the tax on food I would increase the V.A.T. on other less essential items and increase income tax across the board. Charging V.A.T. on food is highly regressive and hurts all but the rich.
2) Eliminate tariffs on food imports. Allow the free importation of food (and even allow brands to be imported without having Hebrew labels.) That will allow entrepreneurs to experiment with different brands and sources without long term risks. This will force true competition in the food industry. It will hurt some of the agricultural sector, but there are only 35,000 people working in that sector and there is no reason that whole country should pay ridiculously high prices to maintain an old Zionist dream.
3) Disband the Israel Lands Authority and the Jewish National Fund. These two organizations control most of the land in the country. Turn the land over to a professional committee, whose mandate would be to sell as much of the land as quickly as possible – for the purpose of building (while keeping in mind long-term environmental needs.) The new land disbursal committee’s overriding goal will be to jumpstart new building, and not maximize its income (which seem to be the goal of the ILA and the JNF). In addition, the new committee should be empowered to announce the building of a new city right in the middle of Gush Dan – (maybe between Herzilia and Netanya). The creation of a new city in the center of the country would seriously impact the cost of housing in the area where most Israelis currently reside (and are likely to continue to want to live). If people know that in 3-5 years housing of a whole new city will come on the market – in a place where people want to live – it will impact the psychology of the market place. The time for the government to tell Israelis where to settle has passed; it’s time for the government to respond to the needs and wishes of its citizens. To that end, there is plenty of open land between Hadera and Gedera.
4) Demand that the government find some way to convince either Costco or Walmart to open 6 super stores here. Opening either of these megastore chains could do for the general cost of living what IKEA did for the price of furniture in this country.
These suggestions are not pain free, and some sectors will get hurt. However, it is not possible to maintain an advanced economy when the cost of living is among the highest in the world and the median wages are among the lowest in the Western world.
You, the protestors, are free to replace my suggestions with any of your own. However, I implore you to bring specific proposals, not just slogans to the demonstrations. Please do not waste our time again with worthless slogans like: “social justice”, or “equality of the burden”. It is time for action, not time for new slogans.