Trouble at home

It has been difficult to generate sufficient interest in many domestic issues.

ethiopian protest 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian protest 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The country's industrialists warn of an impending recession, the finance minister does a sharp about-face on key taxation policy, and the cabinet has yet to devote real attention to urgent university reforms despite the imminent danger of the new academic year not opening. High schools were supposed to teach well into the summer, to compensate for the prolonged strike earlier in the year; but many school districts are blithely ignoring the deal to keep schools open during part of the vacation, turning a written agreement into a farce. Israel's social workers have been striking for two long months; and for two weeks now the mobile post office has been out of commission. A group of disabled Israelis has been protesting the erosion of their disability and mobility allowances. THESE ARE only selected "highlights." There is much more on the domestic agenda, from the need for community intervention to help prevent youth violence to the issue of salaries and conditions for thousands of local authority workers. And yet it has been difficult to generate sufficient interest in these issues. Even worse, our elected representatives seem unperturbed. Our sense is that domestic concerns are not high enough on the government's list of priorities to merit appropriate attention. Let's focus on a few examples: • Social workers are entrusted with tackling some of society's most difficult problems. They are demanding more staff because not only are their salaries derisory, but their workload also keeps getting heavier. Their strike impacts on hundreds of thousands of Israel's less fortunate individuals, and yet the government appears in no rush to aid or lighten the burden of its most strained employees. • The mail carrier's woes arise from an episode of patently less than successful privatization. This strike also affects hundreds of thousands of individuals. However, the fact that most of them reside in outlying areas distances the problem from the authorities' consciousness, and compassion. The insecurities of obscure postal employees, and the hardships of pensioners denied their checks and of rural residents not receiving their packages seem too remote to matter much. • The critical condition of the country's universities, however - or so one would assume - ought not be removed from official hearts and minds. Yet here, too, the predisposition to procrastinate prevails. Then came Ronnie Bar-On's tax-overhaul extravaganza. There was no need for the finance minister to tinker with a largely workable tax framework and foment a showdown with the labor unions, owing to a failure to coordinate and communicate. His proposed tax reform nearly caused a disastrous and costly general strike. The fact that Bar-On had to backtrack in a hurry exposes the folly of his initiative in the first place - to say nothing of the fact that the reform would have raised income tax for over half the country's wage-earners in 2009. BAR-ON'S ODD vicissitudes - along with the government's disinclination to face pressing domestic and socioeconomic issues - are part of a pattern. They are functions of a palpable absence at the national helm, the sense that nobody is in charge. This government may be in its final throes. But, meanwhile, it is marking time, incapable of long-range strategic decision-making. Its energies, such as they are, are being frittered away on survival tactics. Under such conditions, less "sexy" domestic matters are the first to suffer neglect. We are tempted to suggest that the prime minister appoint a policy czar to coordinate, troubleshoot and liaise on the government's domestic agenda. But it is unlikely that the current prime minister is able to pave so revolutionary a path. THE OPPOSITION, too, is curiously unfocused. It has failed to present any coherent criticism of the shortcomings that so adversely affect our workaday reality. Nor is it putting forth alternative positions with any vigor. It is as if - especially with regard to the domestic agenda - Israel were operating on auto-pilot. Clearly, our present course cannot be sustained forever. No one doubts that Israel's survival in the Middle East demands a near-obsessive focus on security and foreign policy. Yet addressing the quality of our daily lives is no less important. The domestic agenda might not seem as "glamorous," but it requires an equal level of diligence and creative problem-solving.