The annual report from the Adva Center for Equality and Social Justice has disappeared from the public agenda as fast as lightning. The deepening of social gaps in Israel is being received with indifference, and is failing to stir those in power out of their tranquility.
The impressive achievements of the Israeli economy in recent years has not been felt by all. The state of Israel holds the dubious title of having the highest income gaps in the Western world, a fact which suggests that the weakest elements of society are not benefiting from the fruits of the economic prosperity.
Moreover, the income gap between the top tenth percentile and those in the lower percentiles is reaching new heights, characteristic of the third world, and significantly eroding the economic status of the middle class. The report clearly suggests a dangerous phenomenon whereby the main benefactors from the growth in the market are primarily employers and directors.
The widening Israeli social gap is already showing signs of a situation that could potentially destroy Israel's social fabric. The state of Israel cannot permit itself to exist disunited, and the first and foremost interest of the government of Israel needs to be the creation of a more equal society, based on the understanding that the continuation of this phenomenon constitutes a strategic threat to Israeli society.
The significant rise in minimum wage and the employment assistance for the weaker elements of the population are factors in bringing about an improvement in the status of the lowest tenth percentile, but it is not enough. Relying on such short-range, targeted solutions will not solve the root of the problem. We must recognize that only a significant, long-term, and comprehensive action to create equality and real opportunity in Israeli society will bring about the desired change.
Accordingly, it is necessary for all of the sectors in Israel join in the steadfast struggle until its goals are achieved. The wage gap in the public sector is not logical or just, and we need to set a maximum wage in the public sector. This wage must be linked to the minimum, and only when minimum wage is raised should the maximum rise, as well.
The private sector must also be a partner in this national mission to reduce gaps. There is certainly no intention to infringe on the free market, and no desire to interfere with the considerations of businessmen, but it is certainly possible expand the taxation of capital gains in ways accepted in the western world, by imposing a special tax on "golden parachutes" and million-shekel bonuses that are awarded to retiring managers.
Education is the main tool for the rehabilitation and strengthening of the weaker elements of the population, and the main factor in breaking of the cycle of poverty. The second tool is proper employment planning. The poverty afflicted sectors, areas, and communities in Israel are well known. We must grant them comprehensive attention beginning in the kindergartens and schools. Individual assistance will allow the children of low-income families to realize their potential and receive an education and a diploma. Later on, we must incorporate higher education as an integral element in the development of teenagers so as to give them equal opportunity in getting a profession.
It is the responsibility of the state to get directly involved in the many social and environmental aspects relating to poverty. We must determine our national priorities, invest in local authorities and targeted treatment of poverty-stricken areas so as to help those in need break out of their cycle of poverty. The state must not abandon the weak population to the mercy of social action organizations; taking care of them is the state's highest priority.
The writer was the former interior minister and former science, culture, and sport minister, and is currently a Labor MK who is campaigning for the chairmanship of the party.