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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For many policy analysts, public servants and journalists, Dan Ben-David is one of the central figures in the country's current public policy debates. While he has worked and specialized in international trade, even serving as an adviser to the World Bank and the Director-General's Office of the World Trade Organization, Ben-David has spent the past seven years identifying problems in Israeli educational and social policy and developing working papers that suggest ways of repairing them.
"Over the past five years, Dr. Dan Ben-David's analyses of trends in education, employment, poverty and economic growth have been among the most influential factors in this country's public economic debate," wrote Guy Rulnik, editor-in-chief of The Marker and the Ha'aretz business section.
"Several years ago, Ben-David published an article that documents the disintegration of Israel's society and economy... a recession that actually began many years before anyone spoke about it... since then this article has become the bible of critics of the Treasury's economic policy," wrote Ronit Vardi of Globes.
A married father of three, Ben-David (who spent his formative years and received his doctorate in the US) says he began focusing on the local situation when he "internalized the implications of Israel's long-term trends and the existential danger that they'll pose in another generation or two."
An internationally renowned economist, Ben-David received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, studying under Nobel laureate Robert Lucas. He has taught economics at Tel Aviv University for the past 12 years, winning the Outstanding Teacher Award in the Social Science Faculty two years ago.
The Blueprint for Improving the Employment Situation in Israel report published in March 2004 by an interdisciplinary academic team he headed was supported by representatives of both sides of the labor debate, the employers and the unions.
He was also a member of the independent ELA committee which prepared the report A Proposal for Structural Reform of Israel's Education System, which was presented to education minister Limor Livnat and to the Knesset Education Committee in November 2003. The committee's proposals comprise the bulk of the Dovrat Commission recommendations.
Ben-David entered politics last year at the request of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. He occupies the 34th slot on the Kadima list and co-authored the party's socio-economic platform.
The controversy surrounding Ben-David and the budget all started in 2000, when he delivered some shocking findings on the education system to then-prime minister Ehud Barak.
After Barak's election, the new prime minister asked Prof. Haim Ben-Shachar, a former president of Tel Aviv University, to put together a team of some of the leading economists in Israel that would act as an ad-hoc council of economic advisers for a short period. The committee included such men as Prof. Elhanan Helpman, Dr. Dan Ben-David, Dr. Dani Tsiddon, today a senior manager at Bank Leumi, and others.
In April 2000, Ben-Shachar, Helpman and Ben-David met with Barak and then-director-general of the Prime Minister's Office Yossi Kuchik. Upon hearing the economists' report, Barak made an unprecedented decision to convene the entire cabinet for a full-day special meeting - in effect a seminar - in May 2000.
One of the central issues raised by the team through the findings of Ben-David's research, was the steadily worsening condition of the education system.
Ben-David's findings were earth-shattering not because they showed falling test scores. Rather, he demonstrated that the falling scores occurred at a time when the system was being lavished with enormous budget increases year after year.
In the presentation, Ben-David showed that, though the education budget was one of the highest in the western world, the results achieved by Israeli education were the lowest in the West. Ben-David essentially called into question whether the education system was effective enough to utilize the funds it was provided.