PM Netanyahu appointed a professional committee chaired by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg to address the issues behind the public protests against the cost of living.

 Cabinet communique

 

(Reuters archive photo)

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 7 August 2011:

1. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following remarks:

"In recent weeks we have witnessed public protests that are giving expression to genuine distress. The distress is focused on the cost of living and the cost of housing but it has many other aspects. I understand this distress; I am attentive to it, as is the Cabinet. We started to deal with several of the problems when the Government was formed; for example, housing reform, the plan that saved higher education and a plan – for roads and railways – that is now bringing the periphery closer to the center.

However, there are additional areas that need to be dealt with. It is impossible to ignore the voices coming from the public and there is no reason for doing so. We want to give genuine solutions. We will give them. I would like to give these solutions, in a thorough – not cosmetic – way, i.e. a genuine change in the order of priorities, a change that will ease the economic burden on Israelis.

We are aware of the fact that working couples with children are finding it difficult to finish the month. We recognize the plight of students who cannot pay their rent. We are aware of the distress of the residents of neighborhoods, of discharged soldiers and others. We want to provide genuine solutions.

Today, I am appointing a professional committee chaired by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. The Trajtenberg Committee will be comprised of professionals from within and outside the government. Prof. Trajtenberg will need a day or two to complete the list of outside experts. This Committee will hold a broad dialogue with different groups and sectors within the public. The committee will listen to the distress and to proposals, and will make recommendations that will be submitted to the Social and Economic Cabinet chaired by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

After the Social and Economic Cabinet hears these proposals, final recommendations will be formulated and submitted to me. I intend to submit the plan to the whole Cabinet. I want full Cabinet backing for the major change that we are about to bring to the Israeli economy.

I would like to say a few words why I chose Prof. Trajtenberg to chair the Committee. Manuel is a rare combination of an economist and a man with social sensitivity. Until recently, he chaired the National Economic Council. Afterwards, he took it upon himself to save higher education, which had been in deep crisis for a decade, and did so in exemplary fashion. Indeed, there is a change and everyone can see it. Much of this is due to you, Manuel. You outlined a vision and brought the solution. Manuel is familiar with the Government as well as the public. He also believes in the idea of the roundtable, or, I should say, round tables, since I will need to open many round tables in order to listen to many people, within a short time.

My request is that the recommendations of the professional committee that you will chair be brought to Social and Economic Cabinet and afterwards to the entire Cabinet within the next month. This is not a lot of time. The workload will be heavy but I know that it will be done with great effort, in order to really bring about change.

This change must be focused on several areas that I will define to the Committee. First, proposals to change the list of priorities in order to ease the economic burden on Israelis. Second, change the combination of tax payments. Third, expanding access to social services. Fourth, increasing competition and efficiency in the markets for goods and services in order to reduce prices. Five, steps to implement the housing plan that we have already launched. I add that the team’s recommendations will give expression to the need to maintain fiscal responsibility in the state budget. Responsibility is especially necessary in a period of economic uncertainty.

We are in a period of economic uncertainty. Yesterday, something happened which had not occurred in the previous 70 years, since countries began to receive credit ratings. The credit rating of the US, the greatest economic power in the world, was lowered by Standard and Poor’s. This event joins with the crisis that is spreading to the major economies of Europe. It is possible that 120-130 million Europeans live in countries that are on the verge of bankruptcy and mass unemployment.

Therefore, we must act with economic responsibility here while making the corrections that express social sensitivity. We must act in two spheres simultaneously. It is very difficult to build an economy. I have dealt with this, along with many of you. We dealt with building the Israeli economy. Twice, we led it from severe crises, in 2003 and in 2008. We did so successfully. We built the economy. The economy is strong and it withstood these crises as it will yet withstand others that await us. However, we know that we must make the internal corrections. As we succeeded in crossing stormy economic waters, we will also make the social corrections, with sensitivity, and with responsibility. I am convinced that we will succeed.

A last remark. We will be unable to please everybody. One cannot please everybody. It is impossible to take the sum total of the demands regarding all the distress and say, and boast, that we can meet them all. We will listen to everyone. We will speak with everyone. We will hold a genuine dialogue, not pressured and perfunctory, but we will really listen both to the distress and to the proposals for solutions. In the end, we will consider practical solutions. Practical solutions require choices. They also require balance.

I think that the Cabinet can unite behind the professional team that we are bringing here. I would like to very much thank Manuel, that you agreed to take upon yourself this difficult task. I know that you held intense discussions and were not without hesitation. We know that there are things which are not yet clear; we will need to clarify them. I am certain of one thing. I am certain that I chose the best person in the State of Israel to take up this difficult mission."

Professor Trajtenberg: "In recent weeks, we have witnessed a very strong, very impressive and unconventional process that has taken place in Israeli society and among the Israeli public. What clearly arises from it is that on the one hand, there is the expression of frustration, pain and disappointment that a reasonable economic existence seems distant, even uncertain, for young working families. On the other hand, there is, within this process, the expression of a very tangible yearning, hope and longing for social justice.

Pain on the one hand and longing on the other signify a great potential for a change for the better within Israeli society. To a large extent, this depends on the ability to translate these genuine feelings from the language of protest into a language of deeper professional understanding and eventually into the language of action, policy and implementation. The translator’s task is not easy. The dictionaries of the past will not help. They failed. We must find, we must perhaps invent the Rosetta Stone that will allow us to do the work.

Mr. Prime Minister, I decided to accept this task and this is a tribute to your powers of persuasion and your Finance Minister’s entreaties. But I admit that I do so with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I do so with great excitement because we have before us a rare opportunity to bring about genuine change in our dear country. On the other hand, I do so with a deep awareness of the great responsibility that this task entails, given the expectations and the risks.

Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you very much for the confidence that you have vested in me. You may be certain that beyond the mix of excitement and unease that I feel at the moment, my commitment, and that of the team that will be set up, is full and without hesitation. We have no alternative but success, success – first of all – in listening and in outlining a wise and very responsible policy given the reality around us."

2. Pursuant to (inter alia) Article 11 of the 1959 State Service Law (Appointments) and the State Service committee’s 26.7.11 decision, the cabinet decided to exempt from public tender the position of Director of the Unit for Government Service to the Public, in the Prime Minister’s Office.

3. The Cabinet approved arrangements and supervision regarding the supply of cannabis for medical and research uses – this is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases. The Health Ministry will – in coordination with the Israel Police and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority – oversee the foregoing and will also be responsible for supplies from imports and local cultivation.

4. The Cabinet approved the creation of the National Cyber Directorate. The Directorate will lead development in the field of cyberspace in Israel, coordinate between the relevant agencies dealing with the issue, expand the cybersecurity of national infrastructures against cyberattacks and encourage promotion of the issue in the industrial sector. Thus the State of Israel will become a global focus of knowledge and cyber industry, in cooperation with academia, industry, the security establishment and other public bodies.

5. The Cabinet decided to support Education Minister Gideon Saar’s proposal to create an information system to assist in rebuilding administrative tools in the education system.