The summer-long protests over the cost of living have presented an opportunity to change society that must not be missed, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg said Sunday night, in his first public speech since being appointed head of a government committee to find solutions to the crisis.
Trajtenberg and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke at the official launch of a manifesto on utilizing human resources, which was signed by more than 300 leading employers and which commits them to giving university graduates a fair opportunity to enter the workplace.
“We are standing at an historic moment... Israeli society has risen to its feet and said in a clear voice, ‘We yearn for values of solidarity and justice’ – expressions that we thought had disappeared from our lexicon,” Trajtenberg said before an audience of mostly businesspeople at Tel Aviv University.
“[Society] requires this. And those who think that we can wait for the first rains – which will soon come – to wash the streets clean, those people are mistaken.”
Trajtenberg warned “change will not be immediate,” saying he and the
members of his committee “are doing the best that we can to our
ability,” but they could only lay the groundwork and an entire
generation must contribute in order to enforce permanent societal
Turning to the businesspeople in the audience, Trajtenberg said they
would be scrutinized more than ever before, and told them: “Don’t stand
on the sidelines.
Don’t erect barriers. History will not excuse you.
Join, for your sake and for ours.”
The 14-member Trajtenberg Committee is set to present its
recommendations to the government in the coming weeks on how to lessen
the financial burden of Israeli citizens. While Trajtenberg did not give
much away, he did warn an unrestrained market economy would bring
Israel down in the same way that it has damaged the entire developed
world in the past four years.
“To my great regret, in the past decade, the same destructive elements
of an unrestrained economy have found their way to Israel. We must look
the reality in the eyes, know it and fix it in time,” he said.
“Firstly the state must take care of this. The state must supervise and
impose forceful regulation in order to prevent the excesses of
monopolistic force and market concentration,” he said, adding that
progress had been made with the establishment last year of the
government’s Committee on Market Concentration.
“But the state is just a part of this,” he added. “There is a role for businesspeople to play too, the role of self-moderation.”
Trajtenberg lauded the market economy in his speech, calling it “the
idea that works together with human nature, and not against it.” The
market economy is the only method that enables change he said, and with
it comes what he called “the just aim of making profits.” But, he added,
“There is a difference, although it’s sometimes blurred... between
profit making and greed.”
Steinitz came to the stage immediately after Trajtenberg, but his speech
was delayed by one minute as security personnel removed around
half a dozen protesters chanting “the people want social justice” and
calling for the finance minister’s resignation.
He was interrupted by another small group of demonstrators in the middle of his speech.
Steinitz seconded Trajtenberg’s appraisal of the market economy, but
said there was one negative effect of capitalism that had not been
mentioned – that it promotes materialism above other values.
“In capitalism, materialistic competition turns materials from a means
to an aim... and profit becomes the aim,” Steinitz said, adding that
Israelis were beginning to adopt the values most prevalent in the United
States, where people worry about material concerns like who has a
Because of this, he added, youngsters entering university now choose to
study what will benefit them financially, rather than choosing what
interests them and expands their mind.
Steinitz said he did not want to preempt the Trajtenberg Committee’s
recommendations, but he did say it had the chance to implement massive
change not only in easing the cost of living, but also in the areas of
taxation and income distribution.
Steinitz and Trajtenberg’s speeches followed the launch of the manifesto.
The signatories read as a Who’s Who of Israeli and international
companies, including Google, Teva, Strauss, El Al, Coca-Cola, Bezeq,
IBM, and all the major banks, universities and insurance providers.
“The decision has been made by our organizations to update the primary
academic requirements and job definitions, or these have already been
updated, in a manner that will enable us to discover Israeli society’s
human capital,” the companies declared.
The manifesto outlines its signatories’ belief that an individual’s
personality is the key to their capabilities, that education and
academia have a role in developing those capabilities, and that those
capabilities can be developed further in the workplace.
“In the changing world of the 21st century, practical knowledge can
become irrelevant while at the same time individual capabilities remain
and enable continuous productivity and achievements of employees and
management. The practical knowledge that employment candidates sometimes
lack can be attained in the workplace. That is our commitment as
employers,” it says.