PM: We must help middle class, protect economy

Netanyahu says he has full faith in Trajtenberg committee; ‘Alternative’ group of experts to help protesters present solutions to government.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Menahem Kahana)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Menahem Kahana)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told members of the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday that he has instructed the Trajtenberg committee – tasked with responding to the ongoing housing and cost-of-living protests – to find solutions to socioeconomic problems, while safeguarding economic stability.
“Israelis are struggling to finish the month and socioeconomic gaps are growing,” Netanyahu told the committee members during a meeting in his Jerusalem office.
RELATED:Trajtenberg makes surprise visit to TA tent campPM: Housing crisis solutions must not bankrupt country
“The aim is to reduce the gaps and to ease the burden on society, particularly on the middle classes, while safeguarding the economy and maintaining financial stability.
“We must not break out of the [current economic] framework,” he added. “It is possible to protect the economy while also finding solutions. If we safeguard the economy, we will protect the state and can therefore solve problems and prevent financial difficulties.”
Netanyahu said the establishment of the Trajtenberg committee presented a major opportunity to deal with market failures and implement “a big change.”
He said the committee needed more than just a couple of days to present its findings, but that “it can be done within several weeks.”
“I want to make a real change here and to manufacture the right balance between the economy and society,” the prime minister said.
“On top of the global economic troubles, Israel has its own specific problems,” he added, listing housing, taxation and cartels as the main issues his government would have to deal with.
The prime minister’s bureau issued a statement on Monday evening saying that in an economics discussion at his bureau earlier in the day, Netanyahu said that just as “the government I head adopted the recommendations of the Sheshinski Committee [on the state’s share of natural gas discoveries off the coast], I am certain the government will adopt the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee, in which we place our full trust.”
At the Finance Committee meeting, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin called for things to be put in perspective. “Our economic turbulence is still minimal compared to what is happening in the rest of the world,” he said.
Rivlin added, “We must deal with the public’s demands while keeping a meticulous eye on the situation of the Israeli economy. We are all responsible to the state even though each one of us represents the public and takes care of those who got them into the Knesset.
But first of all we have a responsibility to the economy, to the state, and within that, we must find a solution to the social troubles.”
Meanwhile, an “alternative team of experts” 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 Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, appointed by the prime minister last week, the team of experts includes more than 60 academics, economists and public leaders who will work independently to find solutions to the social issues facing the country.
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 counsel the protest leaders as much as possible.
Prof. Yossi Yonah, associate lecturer in the Department of Education at Ben- Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, told the press conference that “we need to change the process in Israel... which has 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 the group had not been formed out of any frustration toward the protest leaders, who have been criticized for not issuing a clear, detailed set of demands.
“We respect their independence.
They are taking part in intensive meetings and discussions,” he said. “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 said the “alternative team of experts” was not appointed by the protest leaders or employed by them, and that the they are working independently, searching for advice and solutions that they can offer to the protest movement.
Team member Adina Bar-Shalom, the eldest daughter of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the president of the Haredi College of 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 said. “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 the problems that are driving the social justice protests are dealing with issues affecting both ultra- Orthodox and secular Israelis.
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 said, “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 said 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.
On Sunday night, Trajtenberg paid a surprise visit to the tent city at north Tel Aviv’s Hamedina Square, where he held spoke with and listened to protesters.
While he was largely praised for the visit, some criticized him for visiting Tel Aviv’s smallest tent city, and one that is far from the heart of the movement on Rothschild Boulevard.
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 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 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.”
Click for full JPost coverageClick for full JPost coverage