Spotlighting Israel’s internal root (shoresh) existential challenges

Long-run perspective of Covid-19 in Israel

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President Truman: "The buck stops here"

On May 26, after curbing the first Covid-19 wave with a total nation-wide lockdown – and lacking any strategy for the future regarding the still contagious and deadly virus – Israel’s prime minister announced: “We received great news today. The government is allowing restaurants, pubs and bars, the large parks, swimming pools. You can return as closely as possible to your daily routines. Drink a cup of coffee, drink some beer. Enjoy life.”

The graph shows clearly what happened immediately after May 26.

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Extensive governmental dysfunction at a time when Israel faces one of the worst crises in its history

Israel's health system entered the Covid-19 pandemic with the developed world's most overcrowded hospitals, a relatively small and aging healthcare workforce, and mortality rates from infectious diseases far higher than in every other developed country. These opening conditions mandated a nationwide lockdown quickly after the pandemic reached Israel, which in turn led to a near eradication of the virus within the country by the end of May. Instead of utilizing this opportunity to implement policies in preparation for future waves, while gradually opening the economy, the government developed no strategic plan for the future. Significantly compounding the situation, the prime minister broadly announced that it was then possible for the public to resume its normal activities. Almost immediately thereafter, the second, considerably deadlier, virus wave began, with almost twice as many deaths in August alone as in the entire first wave, while Israel plunged into the worst recession in its history.

Extensive governmental dysfunction and a complete lack of leadership led to often contradictory – and completely ineffectual – patchwork policies costing huge amounts of public money. The policy disarray at the top led to considerably less compliance among the Israeli public, particularly in ultra-Orthodox and Arab-Israeli communities who lead the list of most infected municipalities. Only after nearly five months into the pandemic did the government appoint a person to coordinate its policies for combating the virus. Within days, cabinet ministers and other leading politicians from the governing coalition began to undercut his authority and call for his firing.

The quality of high school education is higher in Israel’s center than in periphery. Math education has a greater impact on future wages than any other field of study. The higher the quality of math education, the higher the future wages.

Employees who attended upper secondary schools in central Israel (the center) earn nearly 11% more than those from the country's periphery. This study, examining all Israelis born in 1978-85 and employed during 2012-16, focuses on the relationship between wage gaps and differences in the quantity and quality of schooling, while controlling for many other characteristics affecting wages. The number of matriculation (bagrut) study units in mathematics (a higher number of units indicates a higher level of study) is found to have a much greater impact on future earnings than the number of matriculation units in other subjects. Pupils from the center tend to study more math matriculation units, have higher matriculation scores and earn higher wages. The higher the share of individuals continuing to academic studies, and the higher that level of study, the smaller the wage gap between former pupils from the center and from the periphery. The study concludes that a substantial upgrade of periphery schools – particularly in the quality of their math education – should ensure better opportunities for their pupils in the labor market, and reduce income gaps between them and their counterparts from the center.

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Watch Shoresh president Prof. Dan Ben-David speak at an unconventional venue

(English version, Hebrew version)

Israel’s political establishment has been leading the country straight towards the iceberg for decades. The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing neglect of the healthcare system are just the tip of the iceberg. Decaying education and transportation infrastructures, for example, choke the labor productivity – GDP per hour worked, already among the lowest in the industrial world – that determines Israeli wages. In fact, productivity gaps between the leading developed countries and Israel have risen more than three-fold since the 1970s. When roughly half of the country’s children, who tend to belong to Israel’s fastest growing population segments, receive a third world education, then the nation’s ability to maintain a first world economy – which is a necessary condition for physically surviving in the planet’s most dangerous region – begins to seriously threaten Israel’s future existence.

Given on the Jerusalem street across from the prime minister’s residence at the invitation of protest organizers, the talk was made with a clear understanding that the presentation would be a professional and evidence-based analysis of the kind that Shoresh provides senior government ministers and opposition leaders alike. Its focus was on the internal changes that Israel has undergone, their magnitude, their impact, and on the need for significant changes in the country’s national priorities while the window of opportunity is still open.


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