A VIEW FROM ISRAEL: Beyond the horizon

Will the government ministers, now installed in their new positions, successfully tackle the country’s most pressing issues?

March 21, 2013 16:21
4 minute read.
The New Government

New gov. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

President Barack Obama’s visit and the Passover vacation have perhaps created a speed bump in the daily routine of our new government, but the steam will pick up in two weeks when everything returns to normal.

The ceremonies that surround the installation of a new government have a way of raising the hopes of the public that campaign promises will be fulfilled and reform is around the corner.

On Tuesday, a day after the government was sworn in, Israel’s new ministers were inaugurated in official “changing-of-the-guard” ceremonies.

At the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, outgoing defense minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and other senior officials attended a ceremony to mark the start of Moshe Ya’alon’s term as defense minister.

Former deputy health minister Ya’acov Litzman handed over the ministry to Yesh Atid’s Yael German.

Former education minister Gideon Sa’ar moved into the Interior Ministry, replacing Eli Yishai, whose Shas party joined the ranks of the opposition.

Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen is the new welfare and social services minister, and I am hopeful that he will succeed in improving the lives of the many citizens who rely on his ministry for assistance.

According to the Foreign Ministry website, “Israel’s comprehensive welfare system is based on legislation which provides for a broad range of national and community services. Care of the elderly, support programs for single parents, children and youth, prevention and treatment of substance abuse, and assistance for new immigrants comprise a large part of available social services. Correctional services encompass probation frameworks, remedial programs for school dropouts, and residential and observational services for youth in distress. Sheltered workshops and employment counseling are among the rehabilitation services provided for the blind and physically disabled.

The ministry determines policy, initiates legislation, enacts regulations for the operation of social services and supervises those offered by public and private organizations.”

But the system is faulty and there is still a lot of work to accomplish.

According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, “As a result of privatization of social services in Israel, private spending is considerably higher and services are provided by workers in non-governmental social service agencies with substantially lower wages – with potentially commensurate reductions in service quality.”

Cohen will need to deal with a slashed budget and limited resources to accomplish the stated aims of his ministry. I only hope he succeeds.

NEWCOMER AND Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has enormous challenges ahead of him as finance minister to try his hand at fixing a system he found so much fault in.

But while Iran, the Palestinian issue and the economy will remain at the top of the agenda, there are in fact other issues that are absolutely crucial to determining the future of our country.

Naftali Bennett’s new position as economy and trade minister means he can work to break monopolies – such as the ports – which create high prices on imported goods, forcing consumers to overpay on, well, nearly everything.

The public is fed up with overpriced housing costs, outrageously high salaries in certain sectors, steep prices for basic goods, a spendthrift government and rising living expenses.

From their unique positions, Lapid and Bennett together can directly influence change in these areas and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of suffering citizens.

As religious services minister, Bennett can change the way official religious affairs are conducted and can attach a positive, palatable face to religion.

But it is Education Minister Shai Piron who has the true, challenging task ahead of him. Education represents the future, since today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders. The next generation can still be molded by ours. It is up to us to ensure that our youth grow up with the right values, obtain the proper tools to secure a better future and contribute toward a healthier society.

The Education Ministry’s aim is “to prepare children to become responsible members of a democratic, pluralistic society in which people from different ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds coexist. It is based on Jewish values, love of the land, and the principles of liberty and tolerance. It seeks to impart a high level of knowledge, with an emphasis on scientific and technological skills essential for the country’s continued development.”

The State Education Law of 1953 outlines “the objectives of state education with regard to universal values; the values of Israel’s society and heritage; remembrance of the Holocaust and heroism; development of the child’s personality, abilities and creativity; various disciplines of knowledge, science and the arts; physical activity; and culture and recreation.”

But, considering the high level of violence prevalent in schools across the country, it would appear that many pupils today are not walking away with these values.

Perhaps the Education Ministry should launch an initiative to educate parents on how to maintain control and discipline at home. It is not up to schools to teach children how to behave; this is the responsibility of every parent.

Let’s hope this new government, with its fresh batch of ministers, can tackle the nation’s biggest problems and introduce the reform that the country’s citizens have been seeking.

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