Equal benefits, equal responsibilities

Netanyahu’s idea of free education for those three and four-year-olds is one that in principle Israel Beiteinu supports. However, as always, the devil is in the details.

Danny Ayalon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Ayalon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
During his inaugural address in 1961, US president John F. Kennedy spoke the immortal words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
While this quotation is widely used and sourced, few truly understand the significance of these words.
During Britain’s general election in 2010, the then-opposition Conservative Party created a flagship policy idea called the “Big Society” that became the theme for its successful election campaign.
One of its central thrusts was to encourage people to play a role in their community and their country, to contribute to the state, rather than just benefit from it.
These ideas have in common the idea of contributing to one’s society by transforming one’s surroundings and not merely to take and to benefit.
In Israel, we have an unequal and unfair society. For many years, our opponents have attacked Israel Beiteinu as discriminatory, while completely ignoring the inequalities and disparities long adopted and sadly accepted in our country.
In every sector in Israeli, there are those who serve and contribute and there are those who do not. Obviously, in some sectors the numbers of those in the latter category vastly outnumber those in the former. However, I do not want to single out a community but rather to push an agenda of complete equality before the law and in terms of societal obligations.
While it would not be helpful to penalize those who do not serve in the IDF or complete National Service, it is patently absurd to refrain from extending benefits specifically to those who do serve our country.
The recent debate surrounding the so-called “Free Education Law” is a case in point. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s idea of free education for those three- and four-year-olds is one that in principle Israel Beiteinu supports. However, as always, the devil is in the details.
To fund this populist law, Netanyahu has to eat significantly into the budget of almost all government ministries.
Can we afford to reduce the budget at the Welfare and Social Services Ministry at a time when social workers are among the most poorly paid workers in the country? Those who care for our elderly and ensure that children are not subject to abuse will no doubt suffer further. Should our police and fire services suffer further from chronic underfunding? Surely, it is time to provide incentives to serve the country and to give back to those who make significant contributions.
An Israeli man who serves in the army, which is sadly no longer a given, contributes three of the best years of his life to work hard ensuring the safety of his fellow citizens and country, for negligible pay.
The same is true of our female soldiers and of those religious women who volunteer for National Service, but for less time.
They enter the workforce later than those who do not serve, meaning they start contributing to their pension funds later, and play catch-up in their professional career for many years.
We, as the government, need to give back to those who contribute. All Israelis have equal rights and receive equal benefits, but they do not share equal responsibilities. This equation should be equalized; equal benefits should entail equal responsibilities.
Of course, many who are not required to serve in the IDF can and should not be forced to do so, but they can contribute through national or community service. No sector in Israel is without its poor, ill and disadvantaged; let the people who do not serve in the IDF contribute to the needy in their own locale.
Of course this does not apply to those who are unable to serve due to injury or illness, or to immigrants who arrived in Israel beyond the age of conscription.
Israel Beiteinu long ago called for free education, not from the age of three, but from the age of six months. We did not need a Trajtenberg Committee to tell us the benefits of such a law.
However, if this law is applied across the whole population the cost will be prohibitive. It must be implemented incrementally so that its benefits will be felt by the economy before its scope is extended. No sector deserves to benefit from free education more than those who contribute fully to our society and our economy.
That is why Israel Beiteinu continues to call on the prime minister to pass a new free education law applicable to those who served in the army and where both parents work and pay taxes.
Today, Israeli society is split between the “benefiters” and the “contributors.” While some contribute little to our country, they continue to benefit, while others contribute and break their backs to pay taxes to fund the benefiters, while rarely being able to make ends meet.
There was a reason why the middle classes were overrepresented in the summer protests. It is time to equalize the system in Israel, end the discriminatory policies and provide incentives to society’s contributors.

The writer is deputy foreign minister and a member of Israel Beiteinu.