Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, who chaired the Israeli commission tasked with responding to last summer’s socioeconomic protests, discussed its findings during the annual Jewish Funders Network conference at the Tel Aviv Hilton last week. Interviewed by Guy Rolnik, deputy publisher of Haaretz, Trajtenberg issued a call for Israel to “unleash the same creativity that created the kibbutz” to solve the problems that triggered the protests: rising housing prices, excessive taxation, concentration of economic power in too few hands, and limited access to social services.
The professor, who teaches at the Tel Aviv University School of Economics, was deputized by Prime Minister Netanyahu to investigate the complaints, and demands, of the hundreds of thousands of protestors who populated or visited “tent cities” in every major Israeli municipality last August. “On a macro level, on a fiscal level, Israel is doing great,” with a budget deficit that “would be the envy of the U.S.,” Trajtenberg insisted. However, he noted, the Jewish state’s economic growth did not “trickle down to the average, young, hard-working, Israeli family.” He decried “entrenched monopoly power,” and urged the government to be “as receptive to innovation to open up local markets as it is to high tech exports.”
Rolnik asked whether the problems facing Israel could be boiled down to the simple binary of “socialism versus capitalism.” Trajtenberg quickly said no. “We should not look for answers in 19th century ideology,” he replied. “The whole world is clamoring for new models and new ways of organizing our economies with lessons learned from the 20th century.” He added, “The big mistake of Communism and socialism was going against human nature. People react to incentives and we should use them.”
Trajtenberg praised Netanyahu for his response to the report his commission issued in September, which was to endorse it. “Israel is the only country that experienced this sort of mass protest where the government undertook to systematically adopt recommendations to ameliorate the problems,” he claimed.
Prior to last August, according to Trajtenberg, the country’s “left-right divide” referred to how one viewed the Palestinian conflict. “Last summer, for the first time,” he said, “social and economic issues prevailed over the conflict.”
“Almost a generation went by after Oslo,” he added, “and we are still stuck. We can no longer wait for the resolution of issues that haven’t been solved in a hundred years. This is the time to build a normal society.”
Morton Landowne is executive director of Nextbook Inc.