Are we truly happier?

Israelis have to work even longer than hitherto to afford an apartment. Recent tax hikes on property purchases, sales and rentals have not brought real estate costs down.

Daphni Leef at social protest 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Daphni Leef at social protest 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The World Happiness Report published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute, which was commissioned for the United Nations Conference on Happiness, lists Israel as the 14th happiest country in the Western world.
The report measures people’s degree of happiness by asking questions pertaining to life expectancy, economic well being, how much they are affected by public policy and their success in handling environmental issues. The index does not cover human rights, political stability and freedom, standard of living and security.
So, are we truly happy? Despite the fact that the economy didn’t crash during the most recent world economic crisis, Israel’s serious economic problems and extensive deficit were two of the hottest items in January’s national election. The resulting cuts and changes that were intended to improve the economy will not significantly affect the economy. Although Israel has produced a relatively high number of hi-tech companies that were acquired by giant foreign corporations, only the entrepreneurs and the investment funds made money from these deals.
The entire market is controlled by an extremely small number of families, tycoons and corporations whose financial successes do not benefit Israel’s overall economic stability or government.
Why? Because most are not required to pay royalties on the national resources they export, they receive tax exemptions worth billions of shekels, and some simply carry out large “haircuts,” paying much less than they owe to creditors, when they fail to handle our money responsibly.
What else do we have to be happy about – new cars? Israelis are required to pay almost three times as much for cars as in other countries. On top of this, we are charged high annual licensing fees. These funds are meant to improve transportation infrastructure, but for the most part they end up lining the pockets of importers instead. As a result, infrastructure upgrades are decades behind the rest of the world.
For example, the Tel Aviv Light Rail’s first line, which was to open in 2012, will only be operational in 2022 (the cornerstone was laid in 1997). Barcelona, in contrast, constructed five light rail lines in just five years.
Israelis have to work even longer than hitherto to afford an apartment. Recent tax hikes on property purchases, sales and rentals have not brought real estate costs down. All they’ve done is make young couples’ dreams of owning a home even harder to achieve.
Billions of shekels have been channeled through religious nonprofit organizations, unrecognized yeshivas, haredi front organizations and illegal settlements (that even the state has not succeeded in uprooting).
Even after health insurance premiums skyrocketed, health funds are collapsing under the weight of huge deficits which every year the state covers.
Workers’ union monopolies run the country. They are the ones who are shaping the country’s identity and controlling Israel’s most sensitive sectors: the railways, ports, airports and the electric company.
The state spends billions of shekels on hundreds of local authorities, no matter how small, which in other countries would be small neighborhoods of cities. It also finances dozens of municipal religious councils which employ numerous rabbis and kashrut inspectors, using funds that could instead be used to finance important services for millions of needy people.
The average number of hours Israelis work is among the highest in the world, whereas the number of vacation days allotted is among the lowest. Israeli salaried workers are given between 10 to 14 vacation days a year, whereas the minimum number of days the European Union requires employers to grant their workers is 20. The minimum number of annual vacation days in Finland and France is 30.
According to OECD statistics, the average number of hours Israelis work per week is among the highest in the Western world: 48. In other countries, people work only 30 to 35 hours per week. The OECD index also reports that academic achievement in Israel is at the bottom of the list and shows a downward trend.
Israeli society is also racist; Arabs, secular Jews, women, homosexuals and Ethiopians are all treated poorly by state religious bodies.
Prices of products and services in Israel are among the highest in the world: Food, electricity, cars and clothing are sold all around the world at significantly lower prices. The social protest which took to the streets just a year ago has dissipated since its leaders won coveted seats in the Knesset and are no longer heard.
Telecommunication packages in Israel are among the most expensive in the world. There is very little competition between the cable and satellite companies, which charge very high fees and provide low quality service and programming. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of shekels to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which its workers’ union uses to pay its inflated workforce and to carry out policies dictated by the prime minister.
Governments continue to fall every two to three years, and as a result government strategic planning is almost nonexistent.
Personal security is on a downward spiral as crime rates skyrocket, due to poor planning and skewed priorities.
So, are we really happier than we used to be, or have we just become apathetic? Why do we settle for the status quo and make no effort to improve the situation? Maybe we need a social revolution and not just a social protest.The writer is a former brigadiergeneral who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.