Students, 'experts' hold social justice press conferences

60 academics, economists, public leaders offer assistance to protest leaders; Student Union wants dialogue only when government serious.

August 15, 2011 18:09
4 minute read.
Tent City press conference

Tent City press conference 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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An “alternative team of experts” has vowed to work to create a better and more just Israeli society and economy, during a press conference on Monday in which they announced the launch of their work.

Billed as an alternative to the 22-member subcommittee headed by Professor Manuel Trajtenberg appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week, the team of experts includes over 60 academics, economists, and public leaders who will work independently to find solutions to the social issues facing Israel. The team is not employed and was not appointed by the tent city protest movement, but on Monday representatives said that they will work to assist and council the protest leaders as much as possible.

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Professor Yossi Yonah, associate lecturer in the Department of Education at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told the press conference that “we need to change the process in Israel…which has for spun out of control. Economists have forgotten what the purpose of the economy is. It is supposed to serve the society; the society is not there in order to serve the economy.”

Yonah said that the group had not been formed out of any frustration towards the protest leaders, who have been criticized for not issuing a clear, detailed set of demands.

Yonah said “we respect their independence; they are taking part in intensive meetings and discussions. They are the leaders of the struggle, and they can adopt the things that we suggest if they want. We are here to help them.”

He added that they were not appointed by the protest leaders or employed by them, and that they are working independently, searching for advice and solutions that they can offer to the protest movement.

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Team member Adina Bar-Shalom, the eldest daughter of Shas Spiritual Leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the president of the Haredi College in Jerusalem, said she decided to speak at the press conference because “the social protests are for everyone; religious and secular, everyone. The protest is helping us develop a more just society that looks after the other,” she added.

“I am here in order to help raise the voice of all those who have trouble feeding their families. I’m here to help those families who have trouble finding a quality education for their children,” Bar-Shalom said.

She added that the problems that are driving the social justice protests are dealing with issues affecting both Haredi and Secular Israelis.

Also Monday, Trajtenberg released a Youtube video in which he praised the group of experts, and said that he would listen to their suggestions.

In the video, Trajtenberg says “I was very happy to hear that a group of economists, academics, and sociologists was founded in order to think about solutions for the protest. I have always said, and will repeat that no one has a monopoly on wisdom or on the knowledge and figures needed to deal with this complicated situation.”

He also said that he is personally familiar with and respects many of the people on the team and will be happy to take their advice and discuss with them the ideas they come up with.

Almost immediately after Monday’s press conference, Itzik Shmuli, Head of the National Union of Israeli Students, told reporters at the headquarters of the union in Tel Aviv that the protest movement is only interested in dialogue with the government that leads to concrete solutions.

“We aren’t holding protests for the sake of protests, and we don’t expect the government to hold a dialogue [with us] just for the sake of dialogue.”

He also vowed that if at the first meeting with the Prime Minister or with the Trajtenberg committee they see that it is only “dialogue for the sake of dialogue”, they will walk out.

“We need to see if the government is talking about a change in the daily agenda of the country and its priorities? Are they talking about what we’re talking about; greater welfare in the fields of employment, housing, health and education, not only in the center but in the periphery as well.”

“We also want to know where the money will come from,” he added, saying that the students would not agree to a plan that saw funding for one sector of society being taken to help another.

“We already know this trick. We are not in this game to take from one person in order to give money to others.”

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