The time has come for a civil revolution - opinion

The thin coating of hi-tech can no longer hide the decay that has taken place in the public and political systems, and the economic prosperity is an optical error.

 Dr. Esther Luzzato (photo credit: Michal Luzzato )
Dr. Esther Luzzato
(photo credit: Michal Luzzato )

Last week we observed Tisha B'av, and in about a month, in the middle of the month of Elul, the Selichot will begin in preparation for the "terrible days" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This period invites self-reflection on the space between the national and the private, which in Israel always intersect.  

The public needs to wake up and demand a change before we deteriorate and lose the third house.

And this year, more than in previous years, there is an acute feeling of gloom and frustration within the public. These are due to the loss of the way of the political leadership, which is supposed to steer the ship and seems to have lost its direction. The cynicism and selfishness of the politicians, who demonstrate detachment from the public interest like a spaceship that has separated from the mother ship, give rise to deep fear and concern about the direction in which Israel is going.

The interesting thing is that this feeling is shared by many parts of the people, regardless of party affiliation and political identity. You hear this both from settlers and people of the right and from people of the left, and - whether we like it or not - from the mouths of the new emigrants, who have found a new home - in Portugal, Berlin and the Silicon Valley. You will no longer hear apologies from them but rather an explicit statement about the preference for the diaspora and the loss of Israeli identity.

The many revelations about the bankruptcy of essential organs, such as the legal system, sharpen the frustration. From Judge Hila Gerstel, who served as the review commissioner for the prosecution system, to Moshe Saada, former deputy head of the Criminal Investigation Department, a disturbing picture emerges of a tainted and corrupt system that cares first and foremost about preserving its power. The prosecutor's office and the police are sick bodies, and those who head them are not worthy of their position.

Gloomy scenarios for the future of Israel

Israel can boast a booming economy, a strong army, and a thriving hi-tech. But when you peel back these husks, you discover a complex picture at best and a bleak, disturbing picture at worst. You find a country with acute threats and failed conduct, which the thin layer of hi-tech covering it - which is also beginning to crack - cannot hide. Economic prosperity is nothing more than an optical illusion. In a small country, the great success of a specific sector obscures the failure of the other sectors.

It is also impossible to take comfort in the strength of the IDF, especially if you listen carefully to the words of Major General (Ret.) Yitzhak Brick, who since 2018 has sharply criticized the IDF's readiness for war. Brick says explicitly, "if a war breaks out today, the Yom Kippur war will be a walk in the park by comparison."

It is not only Brick whose criticism the army – in its best tradition - shrugs off. In his new book, "The Fifth Catastrophe," the futurist David Pasig sketches a gloomy future scenario for Israel and seeks to warn against the sliding of the State of Israel into a civil war and the complete disintegration of the Israeli kingdom, as happened to its predecessors.

The big question is whether the current results predict a catastrophe. Have we reached the point of no return, or is there still a way to fix it?

Warning signs

Many signs warn of a real danger to the future of society and the country. These dangers stem from worrisome depth processes in the Israeli leadership and society, which cannot be solved relatively quickly and simply. Under every stone you lift, a failure is revealed. A deadly combination of lack of planning, slack and fraud, alongside an amazing collection of mistakes, loopholes, lies, and concealments; the picture is one of broad systemic failure.

Take, for example, the matter of road accidents. In the crazy news cycle, the issue only gets prominence when a fatal road accident occurs. This was the case with the horrific accident on Highway 6, in which Anat Tal-Katelev and Nitzan Moshe, senior executives of the ICL company, were killed, leaving behind eight orphans. A driver from the Bedouin diaspora, who was driving madly and without a license, was the one who murdered them. I witnessed this terrible accident up close, and, like many, I was filled with rage and helpless frustration at the situation on the country's roads.

According to the data of the European Road Safety Council, Israel is at the bottom of the list of countries that have managed to reduce road accidents in their territory since 2011, with a reduction rate of only 5%, compared to 52% in Norway, 47% in Greece and Malta, and 24% in Finland.

Lag in infrastructure and lack of governance

The accident problem is related to two macro issues, infrastructure and governance, in which the depth of the government's inadequacy screams to the sky again. Israel is about 30-40 years behind in infrastructure compared to the OECD countries. The level of investment in roads, ports, and public transportation does not meet the needs of an advanced economy. Although the investment in the transportation infrastructure in Israel in recent years is similar to the average investment rate in the OECD countries, this rate is far from the one required to reduce the gap in transportation efficiency compared to the leading countries, both due to the gap that has accumulated and to the rapid demographic growth in Israel.

The second issue is the governance in the Negev, a painful problem that has been going on for years but has reached new heights in the last year or two. After all, this is not the first accident, nor the first time it has been caused by an irresponsible Bedouin who drives wildly and at the risk of human life. According to the State Comptroller's report on the governance in the south (more correctly, the lack of governance), the involvement of drivers from the non-Jewish population in severe and fatal traffic accidents in the Negev, as well as in minor ones, is significantly higher than their rate in the Negev region (10%) and in the general population (21%).

In a poignant report, the auditor details the sad reality of the Bedouins in the Negev - the low socio-economic ranking of the Bedouin settlements in the Negev compared to the other settlements in the Negev, extortion of sponsorship fees from business owners, private contractors, educational institutions, and factories; the closing of polygamy cases without filing an indictment, and false reports to the National Insurance. Everyone who lives in the Negev has witnessed these dire phenomena firsthand, and this reality has been going on for years.

The loss of governance in the Negev is not just another issue on the national agenda. This is a phenomenon that, if it continues, could endanger the very existence of Israel as a single state. The actual autonomy that the Bedouins enjoy could lead to the tearing of a region away from Israel.

The public systems are sick

But the Negev is just one of many symptoms of the unbearable reality in which we live. In a month, classes are supposed to start in the education system, and there is no certainty that they will open. The threat from the teachers' organizations not to open the school year has become a regular ritual, and no one will stand firm against Yaffa Ben David, who has her hand on the most critical switch in the country.

The education system is sick. There is a massive shortage of teachers and kindergarten teachers, the preschool system is not functioning, school discipline is deteriorating, and good teachers are leaving the system. Student scores in critical subjects are among the lowest in the OECD, even though the national expenditure on education is the second largest in the state budget after the defense budget. Above all, the education system is unable to train the youth for the digital age and the future world of work.

Although Israel is the start-up nation, the basic work skills of workers in traditional industry result in low labor productivity, as there is a direct - and causal - correlation between the quality of education of the workforce and productivity. It is essential to understand that the disparities in the quality of education in Israel exist in almost all age and education groups and are not limited to a specific segment of Israeli society. That's why the treatment must encompass all levels of education and start at an early age.

But not only the education system is sick, and not only teachers are in short supply. Doctors and nurses are also missing; drivers, technicians, engineers and industrial workers are missing. And what happens when there is a lack of workers? If we return to the topic of transportation, when there is a lack of drivers, they also employ unfit drivers. See the number of cases where truck drivers roam the roads with a glorious record of convictions.

Violence has become a permanent phenomenon

The transportation, education and employment systems are three of the public systems that are not functioning. The health system is also on the verge of collapse. Try to get an appointment for knee replacement surgery, a fairly common operation. Try to get a speech therapist. Try to get a psychologist for a child with special needs. Those who rely on public medicine will not get an appointment until many months from now. In such a situation, those who can afford it go to private medicine, but even there, the situation is not outstanding.

And we haven't even talked about the skyrocketing cost of living, the accidents at work, the overcrowding, the distortions in the distribution of income, the social disparities, especially between the center of the country and the periphery, and the endless traffic jams, which worsen the already low labor productivity. And as mentioned, the justice and law enforcement systems are revealed in all their glory: from the scheming of the police to the pimping of young female prison guards to buy silence and intelligence from terrorists—disgraceful failure upon disgraceful failure - moral and operational failures.

I could go on, but it seems to me that the picture is clear - something bad is happening to Israeli society in its 75th year.

The politicians no longer answer to the public

There are two different ways of handling Israel's national challenges. One, by the emergence of new leadership that will produce a wide-ranging and far-reaching national strategy. The chances of that are not high. The politicians, the regulators, and the senior officials - those who are supposed to lead the country, set priorities, plan, budget, and move forward complex systems towards achieving national goals - have already proven that they are no longer committed to the public. The public interest is eroded and forgotten in favor of their private interest, and all their concern is to preserve their power.

For a long time, we have witnessed the formation of a new breed of politicians - careerists, ambitious, opportunists, unrestrained, and lacking an ideological backbone. They depend on the puppeteers - the capitalists, the media, organizations and associations that use foreign money, the senior officials and the legal elite.

The fact that no public system is functioning, or is functioning poorly, is not accidental. The least qualified people with limited skills come into politics today. They lack the ability to execute and a sense of mission. A significant part of the politicians are not elected by the general public, they are elected by one person who is the party, and the party is him. He anoints, and he fires. In the absence of internal democracy in the parties, direct contact between the voter and the elected is avoided. In the Knesset, which is supposed to be the people's mirror and representative, the member of the Knesset is only obligated to the head of the party and those who stand behind him and his messengers. For the most part, these are the ones "pulling the strings" - capitalists, media people and other unelected "elitists" who strengthen their power even more at the expense of the entire nation.

As an aside, it is up to the public to determine that it chooses only democratically run parties in which a broad public chooses its representatives in primaries. Only in this way will the members of the Knesset be committed to the voter and will be his messengers.

Today, a large proportion of politicians is not motivated by an ideology that is supposed to force rules, limits and alliances but is motivated solely by personal gain, which informs the alliances and coalitions with the help of powerful TV studios that function as echo chambers and aggressive public officers. We get a glimpse into the boiling, bubbling and stinking fire of capital-government-newspaper connections, institutional corruption, and political anarchy.

A just civil-public struggle can succeed

The incredible absurdity is that the rot in the political system occurs at a time when the majority of the public agrees on most issues. Therefore, there is a place for a civil awakening, an awakening that is not only the order of the hour but also has the potential for consensus. The awakening will be led by the stance that "citizens take responsibility and change reality." And basically, the citizens are the responsible adults who will take care of designing a healthier and more correct reality. 

Will it happen? I draw encouragement from several small revolutions. Here is a struggle against the cost of living; there is the organization of workers and, in other places - dozens of associations that step into the vacuum and create change.

One of them is the "Israel for the Negev" association, which I have the privilege of chairing. This association fought for four years to implement the government's decision to transfer the intelligence base to the Negev - which was already passed in 2002 - and against all odds and attempts at sabotage by powerful entities, it managed to ensure the implementation of the government's decision. The association's success is the success of the Negev, which will now have the privilege of a tremendous growth engine of 60 billion shekels in 20 years and the creation of approximately 50,000 new jobs. We have proven that a just civil-public struggle can succeed and bring about significant changes.

The general public as the "responsible adult"

This article was born out of a feeling of concern for the future of Israel. As a nation endowed with historical memory, we must reflect and take stock of our contemporary existence and remember that political independence is no small matter. It was bought with blood but maintained by leadership with values and a high moral standard, as David Ben-Gurion taught and demanded.

In issues that concern everyone as individuals and all of us as a whole - the future of our children and future generations - It is worth remembering: the Zionist revolution took place out of taking personal responsibility, vision, and faith, which led to the uprising of the people and the building of the state. Many thousands sacrificed their lives. We, the general public, are responsible for taking active civil action to bring about the change. We, the general public, should be the "responsible adult."

 The author is the CEO of The Luzzatto Group and the chairman of the "Israel for the Negev" association.