Trajtenberg: A piece of paper or real social change?

Analysis: Those behind summer’s protests are cynical, say Trajtenberg doesn't have mandate to bring about profound socioeconomic changes.

Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg (photo credit: Mark Neiman / GPO)
Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg
(photo credit: Mark Neiman / GPO)
As the first autumn rains begin to fall and this past summer’s protesters have little choice but to roll up the canvas of the remaining tent cities, it seems eerily timely that the government-appointed Trajtenberg Committee, which was tasked with addressing the myriad of socioeconomic complaints put forth by the summer’s mass protests, is gearing up to Monday.
On Saturday morning, one of the main protest movement’s leaders, Stav Shaffir, reported on her Facebook page that she had spent the night helping the remaining residents of Holon’s tent city mop up and rescue their belongings as the first rains fell.
She called on her followers – now reaching into the thousands – to help out by donating household and other useful items to those who “have no homes to go to.”
While there is no doubt that her new-found clout will help these people to some extent, the question now is whether Trajtenberg will be able to come up with the goods to help the hundreds of thousands of other Israelis who – although not completely destitute or homeless – still struggle to live in dignity or earn with pride in this country.
The committee’s task is not easy and on Sunday its head, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, wrote on the panel’s official blog: “There is no doubt that we could not offer a solution to all the problems that were raised, or even most of them.”
It is true that the demands for action were far-reaching and touched on issues as wide-ranging as affordable housing, free educational frameworks from birth, less tax on some basic necessities and, most importantly, more government action to reduce the gaps between rich and poor and to address social justice in general.
Already snippets from Trajtenberg’s committee have created a storm of debates on whether those appointed will simply attempt to appease the people by providing a symbolic report, or whether what has been called the largest social protests in Israel’s history have been enough to tip the government’s agenda from defense to socioeconomic matters.
Those behind the summer’s protests are cynical – they say that Trajtenberg does not have a mandate to bring about profound socioeconomic changes.
Daphni Leef, another of the social protest movement’s leaders, responded recently that if the committee’s leaked recommendations are in fact true, then “it certainly does not address the reasons why hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest during the summer.”
She added: “these conclusions do not constitute a real and marked change in the desired direction.”
On Friday, in what was touted as the first Social Congress in Tel Aviv, Leef and her supporters vowed to continue fighting until the government creates a new social budget for 2012.
In addition, women’s-rights groups and middle-class families who led the concurrent “buggy” protests, which focused on a demand for free pre-school education and reduced taxes on certain household necessities, also expressed disappointment at the rumored recommendations, saying that free educational frameworks from the age of four is simply avoiding the core of the problems faced by young working families.
Despite their cynicism, economic and political experts do believe that the social protests were enough to cause a significant shift in the government’s political agenda.
“This report could bring some serious and significant reforms on how the economy is run,” said one expert. “This government might not be capitalist, only Bibi is – but really, if his main goal is being reelected then he had better take note of what happened this summer.”
Others have said that if the government does not go far enough to appease the public and generate enough socioeconomic reforms, then regardless of security developments that may arise from the Palestinian UN statehood bid, it will certainly face trouble in the next elections.
While there is no doubt that Trajtenberg will go some way in addressing the economic hardships that most Israelis, middle class and downwards, experience on a daily basis, it seems obvious – if only at Trajtenberg’s own admission – that there is no way to fully address society’s problems on a level that is deep enough to make a real change.
What remains to be seen now is whether the protesters – who were so successful in galvanizing an apathetic public into speaking out – will be able to keep up the momentum and keep up the pressure for social change, even if the coming rains mean no more tent cities.