Half of Israel’s NIS 180 billion budget goes to pay salaries for civil servants and employees of public companies, according to the salary report released this week by the Finance Ministry’s wages commissioner. This is quite an impressive sum of money by any measure. I have no problem with the total amount paid to public employees in Israel but what I do find extremely problematic is the way these funds are allocated. The government’s priorities have a dramatic impact on society and can also potentially bring about a great deal of harm to certain sectors of society and our quality of life here in Israel.I question the state’s priorities when making decisions regarding the distribution of public funds, since clearly certain sectors of Israeli society are being paid much larger wages than others. I will begin by pointing out the illogical disparity found in the salaries of Israel’s most sensitive position: the IDF chief of staff. According to the Finance Ministry’s wages commissioner, the head of the IDF currently receives close to NIS 100,000 (gross) per month. The Israel Commissioner of Prisons and Israel Police Commissioner also receive similar salaries. This salary is tens of thousands of shekels higher than the salary paid to the country’s president and prime minister. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of civil servants in Israel earn more than the country’s president and the prime minister. This unjustified phenomenon illustrates the distorted understanding of the responsibilities these two leadership positions entail. I would be the last person to undervalue the importance of positions such as the president of Israel’s Supreme Court, especially at the present time. The individual filling this role faces tremendous responsibility and wields great influence, which of course should be reflected in the amount the country pays them for their hard work. However, is it reasonable that the president of Israel’s Supreme Court’s salary be tens of thousands of shekels a month higher than that of the president of the country, Israel’s number-one citizen, who symbolizes the sovereignty of the country? Is there anyone on a higher level than that?Perhaps only the prime minister. Is it conceivable that thousands of civil servants, including employees of the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, Justice Ministry and other government offices, take home each month more than the person who makes critical decisions that affect the entire country every single day? Another area that requires immediate attention is salaries paid to teachers. We must understand that nowadays, young Israelis are not considering becoming teachers because of the low salaries. Doesn’t the government understand that these are the people who are educating our precious children and grandchildren?During my tenure as prime minister, together with minister of education Prof. Yuli Tamir, I initiated an extensive reform of the Israeli educational system, called Ofek Hadash (New Horizon). The reform brought with it significant benefits, such as an agreement with the Teachers’ Union with respect to elementary schools and a number of middle schools. With time, it extended to high schools, as well, and brought about dramatic changes in the higher classes. Twelve years ago, with the onset of the Ofek Hadash Reform, salaries for teachers with a bachelor’s degree rose to NIS 5,300 per month, which was almost double the salary that had been paid up until then. The minister of education and I felt great embarrassment from the fact that Israel’s teachers were being paid so little. According to the wages commissioner’s report, a teacher with 20 years of teaching experience currently receives NIS 14,000 a month, and a teacher with 40 years of experience receives NIS 18,800 a month. The average salary of education system employees is NIS 12,800. THESE NUMBERS are shocking. You can play around with the statistics and make all sorts of complicated calculations, but at the end of the day, it’s clear that the fact that teachers receive such low salaries means that there’s no incentive for young people to choose education as a career. Almost all of our talented, energetic and ambitious youth will instead choose a field that compensates them monetarily for their skills and hard work. I know the Israeli education system well, and I can tell you that our teachers are wonderful people who are extremely dedicated to educating our children – and I commend them for this. However, the results and achievements of our students indicate a clear weakness in the quality of teaching taking place in Israeli public schools. I’ve never encountered an excellent school with a bad principal. I have, however, seen many principals and teachers whose ability and desire to inspire their students could be significantly improved. This observation is clear to everyone and does not need more explaining beyond the details presented here. The same can be said about Israel’s health system, especially with respect to young interns and doctors during the first few years after they’ve completed medical school. In addition to showing average salaries, the wage report also features salaries of senior doctors, who are oftentimes highly respected surgeons who make considerable amounts of money due to extra work they perform in private hospitals, on top of their positions as department heads of public hospitals. Many times, this phenomenon causes great anger. Most of Israel’s doctors, including veteran doctors, have been working around the clock for many years under extremely demanding conditions. They provide top-notch treatment but are making such pitiful salaries that they cannot purchase a decent apartment or provide their children with a quality of life expected of someone who has spent 15 years studying in prestigious academic institutions acquiring such vital knowledge and expertise required to keep our society healthy. The same goes for social workers, whose workload is in no way proportionate to the poor salaries they receive. From past experience, we know that social workers as a group have no bargaining power that would enable them to exert the appropriate pressure on the government, which would lead an increase in their salaries and working conditions. This list could go on ad nauseam, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s obvious that there’s something wrong with our priorities. Since we are in the midst of a seemingly endless election season, I would like to ask, which of the candidates are putting forth a platform that calls for a change in our national priorities?Which candidate shows leadership qualities and cannot sleep at night due to the unfairness of wage gaps that our teachers, doctors and social workers suffer from daily? And what about the thousands of families living in poverty that have no money with which to buy food for their children?I don’t think any of the candidates have touched on these topics. In fact, not one of these issues has been on the public agenda at all during these past few months, and I am willing to bet that none of the candidates has given these issues much thought at all. I believe the time has come to say to all of Israel’s potential leaders, that while there is no existential threat to Israel’s existence, the quality of our medical services and schools are deteriorating right before our eyes. If we continue to pay insultingly low salaries to our doctors and teachers, then we are undermining the last vestiges of hope we have for achieving a quality of life for Israeli citizens. The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel. Translated by Hannah Hochner.