The State of Israel is approaching a fourth election in a short term and has already functioned for two years without having passed a budget. Besides the huge cost of an additional election (NIS 2.5 billion), the lack of a budget directly and painfully harms the socially disadvantaged.
Now is the time to examine changes to the structure of budget allocation. Now, when elections are underway, we must ensure a social budget, a budget mainly focused on education and narrowing gaps. Now is the time to strengthen teachers and lecturers, to reinforce the education system and to lend a hand to third-sector organizations. This is today’s real national project, more than national infrastructure projects, with all due respect. Otherwise, without a social budget, as always the first to pay the price will be the socially disadvantaged, the social and geographic periphery of the State of Israel.
The coronavirus crisis erupted out of the blue almost a year ago, and we will see its ramifications for many long years to come economically, socially and health-wise. The social gaps between those on the periphery of Israeli society are not new. Now, on the backdrop of the health and economic crisis, these gaps will most likely worsen and grow to dimensions the country has not yet seen. After many years of neglecting towns in the periphery, they threaten to erupt like a volcano, like boiling lava. This is the real epidemic – the social epidemic. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the pale face of Israeli society and further highlighted the gaps between center and periphery.
In the coronavirus period, with growing demand for social services, there is increased concern that many nonprofit organizations and institutions may face the threat of budget cuts. Therefore, now is the time for Israel to be more social-oriented, to show compassion, and most of all, to give hope for the future. The large-scale plans to build an airport in Nevatim or to lay railway tracks to Eilat and to create an intricate system of highways and interchanges can be put off for several years. Now more than ever it is important to grant funds, and quickly, for education and social services, to allocate more grants to the periphery, create more opportunities for the socially disadvantaged, encourage and develop employment for towns in the Negev and the Arava, advance vocational training and conversion programs and enable everyone to acquire higher education.
Education and schooling are the key to the successful future of our children and our country, and as an enlightened society we should not let the weak fall by the wayside. We must help them keep their heads above water. In the coronavirus age and in a world in which economic and social gaps and the cost of living are major discourse topics, we should go back to talking about the welfare state, to narrowing the gaps between the rich and the poor, between the Center and the periphery – the sooner the better.
Now is the time to coalesce, Right and Left and all points along the political spectrum, in order to overcome the current challenge together. Even under a continuous budget until the formation of a new government, we can ensure that the socially disadvantaged will not suffer, that we protect social services, that we care for day centers for the elderly or shelters for battered women and that we support for soldiers completing their army service and for students.
This is the most important mission that must concern the caretaker government. This must also be the undertaking of the next government: to narrow the social gaps.
The writer is the president of Shamoon College of Engineering in Ashdod.