10 Things I’d Like To Change About Life in Israel

When not thumping out writing projects for technology clients or tending to my new and thriving YouTube channel (just kidding, I have 10 subscribers), I have been known to frequent the odd Facebook group.

Although they can be addictive, over time I have found a way to make them work for me without derailing my work day: log out of Facebook rather than close the tab down and disable notifications when you’ve had enough of the back and forth.

One of the groups I have discovered is one which — controversially — provides a safe forum for those considering leaving Israel. In Israeli circles, ‘yeridah’ — the process of leaving Israel — has always been rife with controversy (The Jerusalem Post has a good piece explaining the dynamic here).

The group comprises individuals that have already left Israel after moving here, those that are hell-bent on doing so, and those who — like me — are just kind of continuously thinking about it (one study I read indicated that 40% of olim eventually return to their countries of origin, so those in the undecided category has to comprise a pretty large contingent!).

Although it could well be my imagination, I believe that in recent weeks and months I have noticed a change in the discourse about leaving Israel — a more open and tolerant one emerging, in which pointing out some of the things that need urgent rectification in the country is no longer met with the typical aggressive and dismissive response of “if you don’t like it here, you can leave”.

I have seen this at the national level in which even right-wing voters have been unable to contain their disgust at the extravagant government that has been assembled during a time of national austerity (a wave of protests swept through the country). 

And I have also seen this on an inter-personal level. Now, with the country partially shut down and citizens swiftly deprived of the Amazon free shipping offer which took the country by storm, it’s painfully obvious, once again, that Israel is vastly overpriced and simply unaffordable for too many to live in.

And so — emboldened by my previous Medium post on this topic as well as a blog post I contributed to this website about how I would like to see Israel in ten years — here’s a slightly expanded wish list of the things I would like to see change in the country by the time the next generation arrives.

1. A Lower Cost of Living

As I mentioned in my blog post, an informal poll which I initiated on aforementioned Facebook group showed that for the vast majority of people, Israel’s extremely high cost of living (it was recently named the eight most expensive country in the world) is the main factor pushing people out of Israel.

My Facebook poll. Source: Author

Studies have shown that as many as 41% of the country lives in some kind of overdraft.

Although it may sound like the stuff of conspiracy theories, a vast percentage of the Israeli economy is controlled by a small number of tycoons.

Israel’s economy is one dominated by oligopolies and monopolies at virtually every level. And immigrants are tired of being paid insufficient salaries that don’t match up to the cost of living. Despite the rosy picture painted by Nefesh b’Nefesh and other organizations, I and many olim can attest that many of our first friends in Israel have since left the country for precisely this reason: they found maintaining a reasonable standard of living in the country, or surviving, simply impossible (and yes, that even includes those working in “high tech”!). Although it typically happens with less fanfare than the arrival of a Nefesh b’Nefesh flight full of new immigrants, olim are voting with their feet and leaving the country — and have been for some time. Israel’s absurd cost of living is unsustainable. To keep voluntary migrants in the country, this simply has to change.

Possible solutions:

  • Israel enacting more aggressive antitrust law and lessening bureaucracy to encourage international competition in the market as well as local small
  • Israel could consider abandoning its often restrictive policy of not recognizing international standards which again restricts foreign competition.

2. Breaking The Property Bubble

Israeli currency. Many of these are needed to buy property in Israel! Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If you thought that $10 beer was bad, just wait until it’s your turn to start thinking about getting on the property ladder.

This piece, by Simona Weinglass (for this website) does an excellent job of summing up the dynamic for far too many.

To quote from that article:

“Unless they are in the top 20 percent of income earners, Regev told The Times of Israel, or unless they already own significant assets, a typical professional couple making aliya from abroad will likely never be able to save enough money for a down payment on an apartment.” (Eitan Regev was one of the researchers at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies that commissioned the paper being referenced in the piece).

This generation’s difficulty in getting on the property ladder is well-known and not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. But with absurdly high real estate prices propped up by restrictive government control of land the dynamic in Israel is exaggerated.

Possible solutions: Israel developing currently sparsely populated peripheral areas such as the Negev and Golan and making them attractive for young people to move there. Most saliently, these areas — and Jerusalem — needs jobs. And lots of them.

3. Less Shitat Matzliach (Taking Advantage)

Tel Aviv: the home of the Israeli high-tech scene. And some immigrant exploitation. Source: Wikiemedia Commons.

I’ve talked about freier culture in several pieces before.

If that word is new to you then this piece I wrote about how to work with Israelis — and do so while keeping your sanity — might be of interest.

A working culture prevails in some quarters in Israel in which it is seen as smart and tactful to try out-negotiate the vulnerable — often new immigrants — into taking bad deals or accepting salaries that are not commensurate with their skills.

Too many immigrants end up getting repeatedly burned by unscrupulous employers. Again, immigrant exploitation is not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. But, as the only Jewish country in the world, and one premised on Jews uprooting their lives in order to share in a collective form of national self-determination, I feel like we can and must do better than taking advantage of one another at every opportunity. Many Israelis are the grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants. Taking advantage of those two generations down the line is nothing other than shameful opportunism.

Possible solutions: Some kind of collective moment of national reckoning that life is not a zero sum game and compromises can be reached at whereby both parties in an employment relationship benefit. Mercilessly haggling down contractors and employees is not a great way to get them to do their best work. Additionally, a raising of the national minimum vacation day allowance from its current paltry figure of 12 to 20, which would be more in line with (non-US) international norms.

4. Better Customer Service

A shopping mall in Israel. Source: Wikimedia.

If you’ve never been to Israel then you might be unaware that customer service is often painfully bad here.

Putting a finger on ‘how’ or ‘why’ isn’t all that simplistic. A the retail level, tellers will commonly ignore customers and pay attention to their smartphones instead (or complete their stock take and keep the customer waiting in line until it is convenient for them to serve them!).

At a more national level, many Israelis and immigrants alike have amassed vast collections of horror stories about dealing with some well-known national utility and telecommunications providers. By the standards of Western democracies, Israel’s current defamation laws are also stifling. This contributes to a culture in which businesses feel able to treat customers with impunity. They know that they don’t have many alternatives. And even if they did, complaining about their treatment on Facebook, to warn other customers, could constitute an actionable offence.

Possible solutions: A gold standard customer service award, independently audited, which would allow those Israeli businesses which take customer service seriously and treat their customers fairly to objectively demonstrate this. More international competition and exposure should raise standards. More generous consumer protection law would prevent businesses from being able to treat customers poorly.

5. Politicians That Serve The People (Rather Than Themselves)

I don’t want to slant this politically by advocating for a political side of the political spectrum, although recent happenings have indeed pivoted me to one end of that spectrum.

Instead I will say this: recent events in Israel have made it abundantly clear (for me and for many) that too many Israeli politicians care about very little other than their own preservation in power or that of their “tribe” — which might be a particular religious sect or a narrow demographic of immigrants. As I wrote in my last piece decrying the grossly bloated government we’ve been foisted with, it’s a system which seems to have cronyism and a lack of accountability hard-wired into it.

To my eyes, Israel’s political system is thus both hopelessly divided and myopic in terms of its relentless, though justifiable, focus on security matters. Voters vote in party lists rather than individual candidates with constituencies and politicians have a longstanding habit of forming tiny splinter parties the moment they hit a disagreement with the party leader. As a result, the vast majority of the country which doesn’t share in the bounty of the “high tech” job market (the ‘periphery’ — the country beyond the ‘merkaz’) finds itself underrepresented. But even within the merkaz there is no door to knock at when, say, your local municipality decides to begin a noisy street party outside your front door and refuses to listen to your complaints or those of local residents .

Additionally, the national level focus which this system necessarily engenders continuously pushes what for me are the “hot button” issues (cost of living, cost of property) to the periphery of the political discourse. Instead, macro issues, of collective importance, dominate the political agenda at both municipal and national level. Thus, a cable car to the Western Wall is deemed a vital infrastructural project for Jerusalem despite the fact that many residents oppose it. It strengthens Israel’s connection to the Old City and shows off that connection to the world. Never mind the fact that many local residents think that it is going to be an eyesore and an extravagant waste of the city’s perennially limited budget. There are other more controversial examples. But suffice to say that in Israeli politics whoever is perceived as toughest on security traditionally wins the game.

Possible solution: Reform of the political system led by experts in the field.

6. And End to Hasbara (And National Gloating!)

People won’t like this one — at least not the second part — but I’m going to include it anyway.

I’ve long argued that hasbara (Israeli public diplomacy) has not demonstrated a positive return on investment (ROI), despite the millions that are pored into it.

Furthermore, I believe that this form of global echo-chamber self-righteousness is a prodigious waste of the intellectual resources and energies of many devoted and talented friends of Israel worldwide could put towards more constructive ends.

Instead of serving as needless and often overlapping amateur spokesperson for the Jewish state (or commandeering organizations with often almost identical mission statements)  these individuals could focus on developing skillsets that are of use to the economy here and move to the country they so profess to cherish.

Hasbara, to my mind, is like a national attempt at defeating the classroom bully by dint of protracted reason and logic. In my view, it’s never going to work. Israel’s existence hasn’t made anti-Semitism go away — it has merely changed form and become harder to detect. I would love to see Israel draw what I feel is the right conclusion from this lesson and pull the plug on this insidious waste of resources that serves the detrimental purpose of constantly putting Israel and Israelis on a defensive footing when it comes to justifying their positions.

Although Israel’s achievements are impressive, if it were to put an end to hasbara culture perhaps — just perhaps — Israel also might be a little less hyperbolic in the claims it makes about itself to the world.

In my view, Israel is a country that is doing tremendously given the circumstances and its age. Nevertheless, its leaders, I believe, are too trigger-happy to claim that it is the “best in the world” at every endeavor under the sun. Israel has made achievements in the space of 100 years that few would have thought possible. But rather than engaging in vain and premature boasting about its handling of a public health crisis, mending its fences and internal divisions would be an important activity that merits attention at this moment.

Possible solution: Stop funding hasbara organizations unless there is clear evidence that they serve a constructive purpose and do more than make people feel good about answering fire with fire. While at it, stop answering back every criticism the worlds make. Let people disagree and think differently. Instead, focus inwardly on construction and on growth.

7. Better Tenant Protection Law. Better Renting Options.

For many immigrants that face a lifetime of renting, Israel’s rental system, at least in its current guise, simply doesn’t serve their needs.

The country’s rental stock is overwhelmingly dominated by what are colloquially referred to as ‘mom and pop’ landlords — ie one of the hundreds of thousands of sabras who chipped in on property when it was cheap and are now renting them out as sources of passive incomes to more hapless recently immigrants.

Unless Israel’s macroeconomics are to dramatically change and property is to suddenly become affordable, Israel needs a stock of professionally managed property. Additionally, it needs proper tenant protection law unlike the Fair Rental Law which ultimately proved teeth-less. Otherwise, renters will continue to be used and abused by often unscrupulous landlords that cannot be held to any kind of account. Renting in Israel is currently a jungle. That needs to change.

Possible solution: Devise tenant protection law that isn’t so hopelessly ambiguous that it gets thoroughly twisted by those adept in the art of practicing shitat matzliach. Involve actual renters in the formulative process for that legislation and not MKs who are unlikely to have ever rented in their lives.

8. Better Consumer Protection

Like tenant law, consumer protection law in Israel currently, frankly, often sucks.

Israel, in my opinion, should enact far more generous consumer protection law that force retailers to do better than fob them off to usually unhelpful (and monopolistic) “official importers” whenever a defect emerges with the pricey electronic they bought just a few months ago.

Possible solution: Enact consumer law with teeth. Again, the gold standard idea: devise a way to highlight businesses that are expending effort to buck the often downward trend.

9. Better Post-Aliyah Support

Despite some glossy web pages and brochures from official government organizations, Israel’s approach to post-aliyah, at the moment, can essentially be summarized as “you sink or you swim and we don’t care much either way”

It’s time that Israel recognized that the survival of the fittest methodology may work in army bootcamp — but it doesn’t work towards keeping people in the country and becoming happy and constructive citizens of it.

Many olim have become discouraged and demotivated by far too many negative experiences in Israel. The rate of suicide among olim in Israel, tragically,  remains at a multiple of the national average. It’s time that the State prioritized keeping those that have already made the move to the country. Post-aliyah — and those olim that have moved here — have for too long played a very distant second fiddle to those who are already in the country. Priorities need to be reshuffled. It’s time to change this.

Possible solution: Invest in post-aliyah to the same extent as investing in aliyah. If as many people leave Israel as come in, all that has been created is a revolving door of Jewish immigrants!

10. Better Banking

If one thing epitomizes so much of what is wrong about life in Israel, for immigrants, then it is the banking sector.

Banks, in Israel, often offer notoriously poor customer service, charge outlandish fees for the provision of very little service (including extremely limited opening hours), offer miserly credit card rewards, and are held to absolutely no form of accountability. Paradoxically, for a high tech pioneer, banking and financial services in Israel can often also seem rather surprisingly low tech: PIN codes on credit card payments are only just being introduced and contactless payments are still a far cry.

Possible solution: Reduce bureaucracy so that Israeli FinTech pioneers don’t just see the country as a tiny test market not worth investing in. Introduce an efficient and online only bank that can afford to charge reasonable fees.

That’s All I’ve Got!

That’s about the totality of my quick brainstorm.

I could write a list of twenty things that I like about Israel (right now, summer watermelon would be very close to the top).

But I feel like focusing on things that need to change might be more constructive.

Israel is always fast changing. I hope that in the years to come it will continue to innovate and become an even better place in which to live.

About the Author
Daniel Rosehill is a professional writer based in Jerusalem specializing in ghostwriting long-form thought leadership content for technology executives and public sector clients.
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