During his inaugural address in 1961, US president John F. Kennedy spoke the
immortal words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do
for your country.”
While this quotation is widely used and sourced, few
truly understand the significance of these words.
general election in 2010, the then-opposition Conservative Party created a
flagship policy idea called the “Big Society” that became the theme for its
successful election campaign.
One of its central thrusts was to encourage
people to play a role in their community and their country, to contribute to the
state, rather than just benefit from it.
These ideas have in common the
idea of contributing to one’s society by transforming one’s surroundings and not
merely to take and to benefit.
In Israel, we have an unequal and unfair
society. For many years, our opponents have attacked Israel Beiteinu as
discriminatory, while completely ignoring the inequalities and disparities long
adopted and sadly accepted in our country.
In every sector in Israeli,
there are those who serve and contribute and there are those who do not.
Obviously, in some sectors the numbers of those in the latter category vastly
outnumber those in the former. However, I do not want to single out a community
but rather to push an agenda of complete equality before the law and in terms of
While it would not be helpful to penalize those who
do not serve in the IDF or complete National Service, it is patently absurd to
refrain from extending benefits specifically to those who do serve our
The recent debate surrounding the so-called “Free Education Law”
is a case in point. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s idea of free education for those
three- and four-year-olds is one that in principle Israel Beiteinu supports.
However, as always, the devil is in the details.
To fund this populist
law, Netanyahu has to eat significantly into the budget of almost all government
Can we afford to reduce the budget at the Welfare and Social
Services Ministry at a time when social workers are among the most poorly paid
workers in the country? Those who care for our elderly and ensure that children
are not subject to abuse will no doubt suffer further. Should our police and
fire services suffer further from chronic underfunding? Surely, it is time to
provide incentives to serve the country and to give back to those who make
An Israeli man who serves in the army, which
is sadly no longer a given, contributes three of the best years of his life to
work hard ensuring the safety of his fellow citizens and country, for negligible
The same is true of our female soldiers and of those religious women
who volunteer for National Service, but for less time.
They enter the
workforce later than those who do not serve, meaning they start contributing to
their pension funds later, and play catch-up in their professional career for
We, as the government, need to give back to those who
contribute. All Israelis have equal rights and receive equal benefits, but they
do not share equal responsibilities. This equation should be equalized; equal
benefits should entail equal responsibilities.
Of course, many who are
not required to serve in the IDF can and should not be forced to do so, but they
can contribute through national or community service. No sector in Israel is
without its poor, ill and disadvantaged; let the people who do not serve in the
IDF contribute to the needy in their own locale.
Of course this does not
apply to those who are unable to serve due to injury or illness, or to
immigrants who arrived in Israel beyond the age of conscription.
Beiteinu long ago called for free education, not from the age of three, but from
the age of six months. We did not need a Trajtenberg Committee to tell us the
benefits of such a law.
However, if this law is applied across the whole
population the cost will be prohibitive. It must be implemented incrementally so
that its benefits will be felt by the economy before its scope is extended. No
sector deserves to benefit from free education more than those who contribute
fully to our society and our economy.
That is why Israel Beiteinu
continues to call on the prime minister to pass a new free education law
applicable to those who served in the army and where both parents work and pay
Today, Israeli society is split between the “benefiters” and the
“contributors.” While some contribute little to our country, they continue to
benefit, while others contribute and break their backs to pay taxes to fund the
benefiters, while rarely being able to make ends meet.
There was a reason
why the middle classes were overrepresented in the summer protests. It is time
to equalize the system in Israel, end the discriminatory policies and provide
incentives to society’s contributors.
The writer is deputy foreign
minister and a member of Israel Beiteinu.