Israeli panel recommends $8 billion more for social welfare


(JTA) — An Israeli government committee established to respond to this summer’s protests recommended expanding social welfare spending by $8 billion over five years.

The long-awaited recommendations of the committee, which were presented Monday evening, garnered praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressions of disappointment from protest leaders and opposition politicians.

The committee headed by Manuel Trajtenberg, a Tel Aviv University economist, said the increased spending should come out of the defense budget.

While acknowledging the threats faced by Israel, Trajtenberg said, "Israel’s social security is as important as its physical security," according to Haaretz.

During the news conference announcing the committee’s recommendations, protesters stormed in and shouted their disappointment before being removed by security.

Among its recommendations, the committee proposed expanding free education to 3- and 4-year-olds; reducing the excise taxes on fuel and tariffs on electrical products and foodstuffs; increasing benefits for working mothers; and implementing health and regulatory changes. The report also called for the construction of nearly 200,000 new apartments, encouraging smaller apartments and rental units, and imposing fines on empty apartments and development-ready sites that are not being used.

On the revenue side, along with defense spending cuts, the committee recommended increasing taxes on high earners, corporations and capital gains, as well as freezing planned tax cuts for the middle class.

In a statement, Netanyahu called the committee’s conclusions "an important milestone for the Israeli economy and society." He said that implementing its recommendations will "lead to Israelis being able to purchase, and do more, with their money."

Opposition politicians, however, criticized the committee’s recommendations. The Kadima Party called it "a resounding disappointment." The Labor Party’s newly elected leader, Shelly Yachimovich, said the committee’s proposals “cynically take advantage of the protests in order to implement a deeply capitalist policy,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Miri Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, also criticized the report.

“There’s nothing new here,” she said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “There is no news for the people of Israel, who will wake up in the morning and continue paying for the expensive cost of living.”

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