The perils of our increasingly unequal Israel


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A month before the start of the school year, Israel lacks 5,600 teachers. The figure was announced by the Ministry of Education on Sunday as a thunderclap, but the crisis did not appear overnight.

Classrooms have long been overcrowded, well above the OECD average. Wages are low – well below the OECD average – with a nationwide strike looming as the Treasury resists union demands to raise the monthly wage to around NIS 10,000 (just $3,000) for workers. new teachers. Veterans are leaving the profession; fewer students are training to join.

But the crisis in teaching staff is also emblematic of a fundamental problem in the economy, which can be summed up as the worsening of inequalities. This is not unique to Israel, but it is particularly dangerous for Israel.

The land of kibbutzim and Jaffa oranges has long since gone high-tech, and thank goodness for that. We could not have progressed and perhaps would not have survived without it. Israeli creativity and tenacity generated first a start-up nation, then a full-scale nation, attracting colossal sums of foreign investment and largely confirming this financial faith with a seemingly endless succession of viable companies based on breakthroughs and advances from the trivial to life-saving. Despite the global economic slowdown, Israeli technology attracted $10 billion in new investment in the first half of 2022; Led by the tech sector, Israeli exports are heading for a record $165 billion this year.

But while those working in tech largely thrive – but not always and not everywhere; In recent weeks, some 3,000 people in the industry have lost their jobs – many, if not most, others are being left behind financially. The average salary in Israel is around 12,000 NIS (about $3,500). The average salary in tech, which employs just over a tenth of Israel’s workforce, is more than twice as high, at around NIS 27,000 (around $7,900).

Executives of Israel-based cybersecurity firm SentinelOne ring the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange, June 30, 2021, to celebrate its IPO. (NYSE)

Buying a home in many parts of the country has long been beyond the means of any Israeli hoping to finance the purchase with an ordinary salary. Rather than revising the dysfunctional process by which land is made available for construction and ensuring that areas further from the center are accessible and attractive, the government has recently resorted to the absurd practice of organizing lotteries whereby groups crudely and unfairly defined eligible Israelis are bound to compete for the opportunity to acquire a somewhat cheaper home in an area where they may have no particular desire to live.

Now rental prices have also reached the stratosphere – as the haves invest in ever-growing real estate and exploit the have-nots.

Israelis set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, protesting Israel’s soaring housing prices and social inequality, on October 2, 2021. The sign in yellow roughly translates to: ‘You shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to buy a home.” (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Everywhere you look, the cost of living is rising and unscrupulous elites are exploiting the most vulnerable. Bread prices are rising. Monopoly food importers are raising prices, saying they are powerless to resist global inflation while paying their shareholders huge dividends, prompting union federation chief Histradut on Tuesday to call for a consumer boycott . Electricity is about to skyrocket. Gasoline prices – double what furious Americans are paying at the pump – are frankly insane.

Which brings us back to our teachers – and nurses, and social workers, and many others in vital service professions – whose skills and sense of mission, by any sensible barometer, should be better rewarded. Along with workers in many other fields, they now look at high technology with a mixture of envy and despair. And, more and more, they conclude that the only way to put a roof over their heads and shop is to give up the job they were trained or intended to be trained for, and to earn twice or three times as much in technology doing something they weren’t. I’m not attracted and don’t feel as important.

Further down the economic chain, for Israelis with fewer skills and fewer options, the financial strain is even greater – and the disconnect even greater.

We seem to be descending into an iteration of the spectacularly unequal societies that Hebrew University historian and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari writes about – dividing into an elite of “superhumans” and a vast mass of “useless” people left to account. And in the current transition – again, by no means limited to Israel – the rise of “superhumans” is a function not only of an innate or equitably acquired quality or advantage, but of a socio- economy that exacerbates rather than seeks to alleviate inequalities and disadvantages.

Israeli soldiers and volunteers pack boxes of food for needy families ahead of the Sukkot and Rosh Hashanah holidays, hosted by the Horowitz family in memory of their son Eylon who died during his military service, in Avney Eitan, on the Golan Heights, September 2, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

This too is not new, of course. Societies have always been unjust; the few were born into wealth and power, and naturally did their best to retain their hold on the many.

Modern Israel was certainly not immune to this, even in the early days of kibbutzim and Jaffa oranges; ask most Sephardic immigrants. But our relatively less unequal nation was a key factor in our national cohesion. As many Israelis as possible had to be integral to our national progress – we could not afford wide chasms between haves and have-nots – because our very survival in this treacherous region required a healthy society with family units. self-sufficient, benefiting greatly from our economy. progress and therefore able to contribute to our national resilience and our national defence.

In an Israel that then embraced capitalism with too few constraints on its wildly unequal consequences, this broadly equitable national economic framework has collapsed – and thus also, by extension, our cohesion and resilience. Fixing this problem, with shrewd reforms, is an urgent government mission that requires stable and accountable leadership – a key reason why our current political dysfunction is so crippling.

A shortage of teachers directly jeopardizes the future of our high-tech economy, because without the awesome recruits to the teaching profession that only reasonable salaries can attract, where will the extraordinary innovators of tomorrow go to get their skills today? basic skills ?

But these missing teachers also highlight the ongoing, even more fundamental, gradual disintegration of at least reasonably fair socio-economic parameters in Israel — a country with near-miraculous achievements over three-quarters of a century that cannot be sustained by elites. mega-successful, sometimes exploitative. and a majority increasingly demotivated and in financial difficulty.

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