Published in The Jerusalem Post on August 1, 1999
In this country, high politics revolve around security, peace and religious-secular relations. All the other, significant quality-of-life issues usually get bumped to the backburner. Now is the time for the Barak government to show us that it is different.
It was to be expected that Ehud Barak’s coalition negotiations would focus on things like settlements, withdrawals, a constitution, and the draft of haredim. And predictably, the prime minister has spent his first weeks chasing the grand Middle East Peace panacea like a chicken without a head.
But I still hope that the other, “little” – yet quite important — things plaguing our society won’t be totally forgotten.
Mr. Barak: Peace is good, but don’t forget the promised socio-economic revolution.
Little things like crime. This is becoming a dangerous place to live. At least one car theft takes place every 12 minutes; a break-in to a home or business every 15 minutes; a physical assault every 21 minutes; a sexual assault every five hours and a rape every 12. Gang rapes by youth are no longer an uncommon occurrence.
Men are bumping off their wives and burning their children alive, it seems, almost monthly. The beating of a wife to a pulp is no longer sensationalist enough to make the news. Happens every day, everywhere, all the time.
There is an armed robbery at least 4 times daily; and a murder every 56 hours. This calculates to over half a million criminal cases a year. And I haven’t mentioned drug-related offenses.
I know that the peace process is important. But who is going to protect me from this growing menace? Is there government leader – Education Minister Yossi Sarid, perhaps — with the guts to put sexual morality, traditional values and family structure back on the public and educational agenda? Can Police Minister Prof. Shlomo Ben-Ami retool our anti-terrorist-oriented police force in order to tackle domestic violence and strife?
Then there is another little problem called poverty. The poorest 20 percent of population is very poor and the income gap is widening. The average gross income in the top decile – the richest ten percent of the population – is 48 times the average income in the lowest decile.
Put another way, 25 times more money goes to the richest fifth of the population than to the poorest fifth. There is not one Western country, not even the US, that even comes close to us in inequality of income distribution.
I know that a constitution championing secular freedoms from religion is high on Justice Minister Yossi Beilin’s agenda and that Finance Minister Avraham Shohat is busy warring with Bank of Israel Governor Yaacov Frankel over monetary policy. But who is going to ensure socio-economic justice?
On the roads, mayhem reigns: 25,977 traffic accidents with 50,688 injured and over 600 dead last year. So, if it were up to me, I’d put aside the thirty new highway interchanges, the Ayalon extension and the fancy toll-roads being planned at great expense by our Transport Ministry.
Instead, let us see Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who once considered himself to be the only guy worthy of the top government job, take forceful action to lower the traffic fatalities and build, finally, a high-speed railway network.
Sarid and his new deputy, Shaul Yahalom of the NRP, are busy divvying up the religious and secular educational fiefdoms, busily introducing amendments to ensure the “independence” of each system and to secure growth budgets. Very nice.
But aside from banning knives in the schools and “allowing” principals to expel students who bring weapons to class – this was the prime recommendation of a real smart, blue-ribbon commission on the issue – what are they going to do about violence in the schoolyard?
According to recent reports, 50 percent of our kids have experienced classroom violence in grades six through ten; 45 percent report “a lot” of hooliganism, bullying or property destruction in their school; and 14 percent have required medical attention from injuries sustained in school violence.
Not that our schools are in great shape, either. Seven percent drop-out every year in grades nine through eleven – that is 20,000 kids. In Sderot the drop-out rate is a whopping 21 percent; 28 percent in Netivot. New immigrants are also dropping out of high school at a higher-than-acceptable rate. Sixty-two percent of high school kids do not complete bagrut.
So, what worries you more: the remote possibility of a stray Saddam projectile heading this way — or the danger of roaming gangs picking on your kid in the mall and dragging him into drugs? Black hats — or drunk drivers? National security – or personal security?
Mr. Barak: don’t forget the promised socio-economic revolution!