Be an MK: Summer Camps in Israel

This is the first issue of “Be an MK”, a new column written by Dan Illouz where you submit suggestions to Israeli Members of Parliament. Each column will include three parts: First, a suggestion proposed by a reader. Then, Dan will contact MKs for comments. Finally, Dan will conclude the piece with his opinion on the question at hand. To suggest a proposal you can post a comment to this article. Proposals should be suggestions for practical reforms and not theoretical questions. You can contact Dan Illouz through his facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/danillouz.

The Proposal: When I grew up in America, my parents always had the option to send me to camp during summer vacation. This allowed them to go to work without having to worry about what to do with us. In Israel, there is no such option and it is incredibly difficult for working parents to manage work with their children’s vacation. Why not use financial incentives to encourage the establishment of camps in Israel? David Shapiro, Jerusalem, Israel

I suggested David’s proposal to MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) and MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) and these are their answers: 

 

dovlipman

MK Dov Lipman, Yesh Atid: I have been looking into the camp issue in Israel since we moved here.  As an educator I know how much growth my students achieved via summer camps and how much damage came from lack of programming during the summer vacation.

 

The problem is we need more than just some budgets to enable children to attend camp.  We need to actually establish camps. Once the initial reforms in the education ministry are enacted and once we regain control of the country’s fiscal situation through the current budget, I plan to explore ways that the government can set up summer camps and assist children with the costs.

amrammitzna

MK Amram Mitzna, Hatnua (Chair of the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee): It is clear that were the budget of the Education Ministry unlimited, we would be able to consider the option you suggest. However, even in the current situation, there are still solutions available that provide educational activities for children during vacations without hindering their parents’ work schedule.  Nevertheless, considering the financial pressures of many parents, I am confident that the Educational Ministry needs to take initiative and build official camps in elementary schools and kindergartens, thus also giving teachers an opportunity to increase their income by working in summer camps. (For the full version of the comment, in Hebrew, click here.)

Dan Illouz‘s thoughts:

Dear David,

Thank you for your question. You are raising an important issue that many parents deal with during summer vacation.

Still, my initial reaction when I read your question was disappointment. Once again, in Israel, when one believes something is not exactly how it should be, instead of this shortcoming inspiring initiative, it inspires governmental demands: incentives, financing, and intervention.

However, when I delved deeper into your question, I understood that by rephrasing the question, we can raise an even stronger question: Let us not ask “Can the government incentivize the creation of camps?” but rather, “Why are camps not a profitable enterprise in Israel like they are in other countries?”

By rephrasing the question as such, we can get to the real problem at hand. The problem is not one of lack of government incentives. Such incentives do not exist in all countries in which camps exist. Rather, the problem is in the general economic environment in Israel.

See a few examples: One of the major costs of summer camps are the costs of the land on which camps take place. In Israel, land prices are incredibly high, largely because the state still owns about 93% of the land!

And in another example: In Israel, the average person spends a high percentage of his salary on basic needs, and thus does not have money to save for summer camps. The main cause of this situation is the high cost of living in Israel which itself has its reasons, which include various monopolies (ports, electricity etc…) and lack of competition. This means that the price parents can pay for camps does not cover camp costs.

Therefore, when digging deeper, we can see that the real problem is not the lack of government incentives but rather the lack of a truly free and competitive market in Israel, which make camps unprofitable.

Since this is how I see the situation, I believe that the true solution lies in deep reforms and not “band-aid” solutions such as financial incentives.

That being said, there is another side to the story: Deeper reforms take time to implement, and the current situation has a high cost on the efficiency of workers in Israel. Whether the workers are forced to take several vacation days to be with their children during summer vacation, or whether they bring them to work for several days in the year (and turn their work environment into a mini summer camp), these situations hurt the efficiency of Israel’s work force. It also hurts the welfare of those who must use their vacation days according to their children’s schedule and can never plan vacations according to their schedules.

Therefore, since much of the problem has been caused by the lack of a truly free market in Israel, and since anyways the deeper reforms that are needed must include the privatization of much of state owned land, I suggest the following model:

Youth groups in Israel are incredibly powerful and have a strong and positive educational effect on youth. In the past few decades, their strength has lowered. Giving them the tools to organize the summer camps can be what they need to regain their previous strength.

If the government was to give land to the youth groups at a preferred price, with the long term commitment that this land would be used in the next 10-20 years during summer vacations for summer camps, then this can go a long way in making camps profitable. During the year, this same land can host vacation homes which can also help in subsidizing the camps and be an additional source of income for those youth groups.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions: what will the price of the camps be after such a significant contribution from the government? Should it be regulated or left to competition? Which youth groups will receive what land? And many more.

However, I believe that this direction is worth exploring and might hold the key to enabling long summer camps to become a reality in Israel and help alleviate the economic costs of the school’s summer vacation on Israel’s economy.

What are your thoughts? Who do you agree with? Do you have a proposal you would like to suggest to MKs? Post your comment!

About the Author
Dan Illouz is a member of the Jerusalem City Council with the Hitorerut movement.
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