Trajtenberg: The opportunity to change society is now

Head of committee to find solutions to social justice movement and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz address business leaders at human resource meeting.

Trajtenberg Committee 'Rothschild Team' 311  (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Trajtenberg Committee 'Rothschild Team' 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
The summer-long protests over the cost of living have presented an opportunity to change society that must not be missed, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg said Sunday night, in his first public speech since being appointed head of a government committee to find solutions to the crisis.
Trajtenberg and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke at the official launch of a manifesto on utilizing human resources, which was signed by more than 300 leading employers and which commits them to giving university graduates a fair opportunity to enter the workplace.
“We are standing at an historic moment... Israeli society has risen to its feet and said in a clear voice, ‘We yearn for values of solidarity and justice’ – expressions that we thought had disappeared from our lexicon,” Trajtenberg said before an audience of mostly businesspeople at Tel Aviv University.
“[Society] requires this. And those who think that we can wait for the first rains – which will soon come – to wash the streets clean, those people are mistaken.”
Trajtenberg warned “change will not be immediate,” saying he and the members of his committee “are doing the best that we can to our ability,” but they could only lay the groundwork and an entire generation must contribute in order to enforce permanent societal change.
Turning to the businesspeople in the audience, Trajtenberg said they would be scrutinized more than ever before, and told them: “Don’t stand on the sidelines.
Don’t erect barriers. History will not excuse you.
Join, for your sake and for ours.”
The 14-member Trajtenberg Committee is set to present its recommendations to the government in the coming weeks on how to lessen the financial burden of Israeli citizens. While Trajtenberg did not give much away, he did warn an unrestrained market economy would bring Israel down in the same way that it has damaged the entire developed world in the past four years.
“To my great regret, in the past decade, the same destructive elements of an unrestrained economy have found their way to Israel. We must look the reality in the eyes, know it and fix it in time,” he said.
“Firstly the state must take care of this. The state must supervise and impose forceful regulation in order to prevent the excesses of monopolistic force and market concentration,” he said, adding that progress had been made with the establishment last year of the government’s Committee on Market Concentration.
“But the state is just a part of this,” he added. “There is a role for businesspeople to play too, the role of self-moderation.”
Trajtenberg lauded the market economy in his speech, calling it “the idea that works together with human nature, and not against it.” The market economy is the only method that enables change he said, and with it comes what he called “the just aim of making profits.” But, he added, “There is a difference, although it’s sometimes blurred... between profit making and greed.”
Steinitz came to the stage immediately after Trajtenberg, but his speech was delayed by one minute as security personnel removed around half a dozen protesters chanting “the people want social justice” and calling for the finance minister’s resignation.
He was interrupted by another small group of demonstrators in the middle of his speech.
Steinitz seconded Trajtenberg’s appraisal of the market economy, but said there was one negative effect of capitalism that had not been mentioned – that it promotes materialism above other values.
“In capitalism, materialistic competition turns materials from a means to an aim... and profit becomes the aim,” Steinitz said, adding that Israelis were beginning to adopt the values most prevalent in the United States, where people worry about material concerns like who has a bigger house.
Because of this, he added, youngsters entering university now choose to study what will benefit them financially, rather than choosing what interests them and expands their mind.
Steinitz said he did not want to preempt the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendations, but he did say it had the chance to implement massive change not only in easing the cost of living, but also in the areas of taxation and income distribution.
Steinitz and Trajtenberg’s speeches followed the launch of the manifesto.
The signatories read as a Who’s Who of Israeli and international companies, including Google, Teva, Strauss, El Al, Coca-Cola, Bezeq, IBM, and all the major banks, universities and insurance providers.
“The decision has been made by our organizations to update the primary academic requirements and job definitions, or these have already been updated, in a manner that will enable us to discover Israeli society’s human capital,” the companies declared.
The manifesto outlines its signatories’ belief that an individual’s personality is the key to their capabilities, that education and academia have a role in developing those capabilities, and that those capabilities can be developed further in the workplace.
“In the changing world of the 21st century, practical knowledge can become irrelevant while at the same time individual capabilities remain and enable continuous productivity and achievements of employees and management. The practical knowledge that employment candidates sometimes lack can be attained in the workplace. That is our commitment as employers,” it says.