All posts by mihlala

For the first time in three decades, an increase in the percentage of unionized workers in Israel

A survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published last week, found that for the first time in 30 years there has been an increase in the number of unionized workers in the Israeli workforce. According to the survey, 200,000 new workers have unionized since the beginning of the mass wave of labor organizing in 2008; the percentage of unionized workers rose by 2% – from 25% in 2012 (when the last survey on the subject was conducted) – to 27% today.  Considering the rates of retirement and the transition of jobs abroad, the increase in the percentage of unionized workers since 2012 is 5%. The rise of the organized labor is a unique phenomenon to Israel, whereas in the rest of the Western world the trend is reversed.

Between 1995 and 2007, the percentage of unionized workers in Israel dropped as a result of privatization processes, the transition of workers to contracting employment, a change in the structure of the Histadrut (the General Federation of Labour in Israel) and neoliberal government policies. The current wave of unionization, which the CBS survey examines extensively, started in 2008, with the establishment of Koah LaOvdim (Power to the Workers – an Israeli labor union organization) and continued in 2010, when the Histadrut established a new department for unionizing new workers. These processes, along with the 2011 Israeli social justice protests and a precedent-setting ruling from 2012, that established that an employer is forbidden to intervene in the unionization of his employees, resulted in hundreds of new unions joining the workers’ organizations. The new unionized workers come from all sectors of Israeli society and economy: kindergarten teachers, workers of insurance and high-tech companies, security guards, bus drivers, teachers, supportive housing workers and bank employees.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Israel_Housing_Protests_Tel_Aviv_August_27_2011.jpg#filelinks

The survey shows an increase in public support for organized labor. 69% of the workers who are union members say the labor organizations representing them protect employees from arbitrary behaviour of the employers, prevent dismissal and provides legal protection. More than half (56%) of unionized workers are satisfied with the activity of their union. 89% of the public support the workers’ right to unionize and 64% believe that a workplace with a union will have better job security. These findings are consistent with the findings of a survey conducted by “Midgam” for the 2017 May Day conference of the Social Economic Academy, according to which 75% of the public believe that unions reduce social inequality, and 89% view the current wave of unionization as a positive phenomenon.

The increase in the percentage of unionized workers has a positive effect on the entire Israeli society, including non-unionized sectors and workers. The minimum wage in Israel has risen in recent years after years of erosion, and the Gini index, which measures inequality in income distribution, has decreased for the first time in many years. In addition, following an agreement between the Histadrut and the State, over the last two years thousands of workers that were previously employed through contract agencies have been hired directly by the state.

Rami Hod, the executive director of the Berl Katznelson Educational Center and the Social Economic Academy, referred to the findings of the survey: “The Israeli society, which was built on the foundations of organized labor, is returning to its roots, and shows renewed confidence in the unions. The unions give back: beyond the obvious concern to their own members, they work to help all workers in the Israeli economy. We still have a lot of work to do, but it is obvious that this massive current wave of unionization, with 200,000 new unionized workers in the last decade, is the most important and profound social change taking place in Israel. ”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Demonstration_against_the_housing_prices_in_Haifa_30.7.2011_-_Yitshak_Garden,_Ahuza_(10).JPG

Why American Jews Need to Break Their ‘Apolitical’ Taboo and Start Collaborating with the Israeli Left

Rami Hod, Haaretz – Opinion, Published on July 11, 2017

Move on from your outrage on the Wall. To really change Israel, the Left must win power. That means you breaking your ‘apolitical’ taboo and supporting it

 

The freezing of the agreement to establish a shared prayer space at the Western Wall is a severe blow to the accepted values of most American Jews. Nevertheless, Israeli citizens, politicians and social activists are apathetic about the cancellation of the agreement, in the same way they were apathetic to the decision about making it.

In recent years Israelis have held mass demonstrations against giving our natural resources to a handful of oligarchs. We have held rallies for free public pre-K education and won. Two hundred thousand Israeli workers have joined unions as part of an unprecedented revival of the labor movement taking place in the country since 2008. But the protests and prayers of Women of the Wall have never achieved a similar public effect.

We need a frank discussion about this gap between Israeli indifference and American Jewish outrage. Not because it’s surprising, but because despite both sides recognizing it, there’s still an assumption a rightwing Israeli government will embrace political change contrary to its nature. And why would it?

A dose of hard reality is in order. The Israeli Reform and Conservative communities are politically weak. Their concerns rank at the bottom of priorities for left and center parties.

And only few members of Israeli city councils, communities and social organizations take part in their just struggle. Why, bearing all this in mind, would someone think it is possible to rise above the internal power relations in Israel and accomplish something?

Two explanations are generally given as to why. First is the government’s need for amicable relations between Israel and American Jews. Namely, the government will placate the Jewish diaspora by upholding its values. Secondly, and more cynically, the threat of American money – or withholding it. Our American uncles will stop sending us money if we cross them. It’s hard to completely dismiss these arguments. Still, it’s rather strange to think that one side can convince the other something is black when they see it as white.

So why did liberal American Jews think that the agreement would be implemented in the first place? And similarly, why do some of their leaders continue to believe Netanyahu’s hollow promises to work for a two-state solution?

The key to an answer is hidden in the strategy guiding a considerable part of the institutions of liberal American Judaism in attitudes towards Israel. The formula is simple: conservative American Jews support the Israeli right while liberal American Jews support Israel. Not the Israeli left, but Israel. As Mikhael Manekin wrote, some progressive American Jews don’t think the Israeli left exists. And if it does, it has no strategy on how to change Israel and no chance of winning.

However, conservative American Jews support the Right’s educational program, pre-military academies, Torah settlement groups, think tanks and public campaigns. The American Jewish right and Israeli rightwing are synchronized in their objective to influence Israel’s power relations, to win the war of ideas, and to strengthen a political camp and its institutions.

Liberal Jews, however, are do-gooders. They “strengthen social cohesion in Israel,” “advance a vibrant civil society,” and “create dialogue between the various tribes” in the spirit of President Reuven Rivlin’s diagnosis.

But one taboo undergirds these shibboleths: liberal American Jews can’t be political. The Reform movement, liberal federations and various liberal-leaning foundations can’t be perceived as partisan on Israeli politics or as supporting organizations with a certain political agenda. There are certainly exceptions like the New Israel Fund and some family foundations, but though liberal Jewish organizations are politically engaged in the United States, they remain Apolitical in their action in Israel. The annulment of the Kotel agreement proves that is a mistake.

The lesson is clear: Liberal American Jews need to give up on the faith a rightwing government ruled by rightwing ideology will advance anything resembling a two-state solution, social justice or Jewish pluralism. It just won’t happen. No matter how many government ministers attend Reform movement conferences. Or if Conservative Judaism helps build community centers in the Israeli periphery.

It won’t happen because to really change Israel, the Israeli left must win power. And for the Israeli left to win, we must build a political civil society, not one that serves as a provider of social services the government privatizes, or merely advocates abstract values of solidarity and partnership between peoples. We need a civil society with think tanks, pre-military academies, educational programs, journals, local communities, unions and campaigns- all working to promote progressive solutions and to build power. Just like the rightwing does in partnership with conservative American Jews.

The shameful cancellation of the Kotel agreement is certainly a step backward. But it’s also an opportunity. Liberal American Jews must exchange moral outrage that falls on deaf ears with new, more daring and explicitly political strategy. Only then will we move forward in strengthening our shared values and build a truly effective progressive movement both in Israel and in the United States.

Rami Hod is the Executive Director of the Berl Katznelson Educational center and the director of the Social Economic Academy (SEA) in Israel. Twitter: @Rami_Hod

Rami Hod – Executive Director

Holds a BA from Haifa University’s program for Social-Economic History and Sociology, and an MA in Sociology from Ben Gurion University in the Negev, with his research focusing on education policy in Israel. Prior to joining SEA, Rami worked for five years at Koach LaOvdim -a democratic Workers’ Organization which represents about 25,000 workers from a variety of fields. Rami was the organization’s first paid employee with its establishment, serving a pivotal role in developing its professional and organizational structure, as well supervising budding organizations. In the past he coordinated a scholarship program at Haifa University for jewish and arab students involved in community  organizing and social change in impoverished communities. Rami is a  lecturer and a regular commentator and publicist in Israel’s newspapers and journals on topics of social policy, inequality and social change.

Rafi Kamhi – Program Director, Leadership Development Program for Labor Leaders

Born, raised and currently resides in Haifa with his family. From the first graduates of the Teuda seminary for developing leadership in Judaism, community and social justice, and currently a teacher at the seminary. One of the founders of the Dor Shalom (Generation of Peace) organization, former northern campaign manager for One Israel party during the 1999 national elections, and that of the Green Movement in 2009. Took part in of the groundbreaking struggle of Haifa Chemical workers in 2011, which led to a change in the factory’s employment process. Coordinates and works with budding workers’ organizations; a group facilitator, community organizer with a focus on education and welfare. Founder of the Worker Films Festival in Haifa.

Omer Feitelson – Program Director, Progressive Economists Program

An economist with experience in working with the Israeli public sector and with conducting research in the public policy. Omer holds an MA degree in Public Policy and a BA in PPE (Philosophy, Political Science and Economics), both from the Hebrew University and both with Cum Laude honors. His thesis concerning moral hazard and unemployment went on to be mentioned in both ‘The Marker’ newspaper and the Van leer magazine. Omer had a chance to learn how government works from the inside while working during his time in the university in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and later in the Israeli Employment Service. After graduating he went on to work in consulting firms where he was involved in various public sector projects, involving tasks such as policy research, formulation and evaluation.

Lessons from America: How teachers’ unions can mobilize for public education \ Talila Eylon

During April 2016, a group of Israeli teachers, who are taking part in a leadership program for labor leaders of the Social Economic Academy (SEA), toured the U.S. as part of an immersion program put together by the  American Federation of Teachers (AFT). During the tour, Israeli teacher leaders held work sessions with representatives from the AFT.  Among those participating in the tour was Talila Eylon, one of the founders and leaders of the Hila Program  teachers’ union. The Hila Program is the last educational opportunity for at-risk youths, who have dropped out of Israel’s public education system. Some 1600 teachers work with some 8000 youths.

The first impression one gets from the AFT is its sheer magnitude and power. The American Federation of Teachers, as its name suggests, is a federation of local organizations in the different states and major cities across the U.S. The AFT unions serves as a labor union not only for teachers, but for all ‘para-educational’ workers, like school nurses. We met with representatives from New York’s United Federation of Teachers and from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The main issue addressed in our work tour was teachers’ unions’ attempts to battle the privatization of the U.S. education system.

One of the central aspects of the privatization of the education system in the U.S was the formation of a new type of school called Charter School. Ironically, the logic behind these schools was first outline by former AFT president and leader – Albert Shanker, who envisaged an experimental school in which the teaching staff enjoyed full autonomy over school policy to better advance students’ education. Today, this idea is long gone and the public education system is now a vocal critic and advocate against charter schools, which go largely unregulated, except when they need to renew their ‘charter’ – or license – once every five years. The most grievous claim raised against such schools is that their funding comes at the expense of publicly run schools, mortally depleting the poorer public schools of their financial lifeblood. Moreover, though public funding is contingent on the school being open to all potential students, over the years charter schools have developed methods to become elitist and selective, at times even expelling students who threaten their success rates.

with UFT hosts at NY Public school
with UFT hosts at NY Public school

When charter schools are examined from the perspective of worker rights, it becomes evident that most teachers in these schools are not organized and that any attempts to unionize them are quashed or strongly discouraged schools’ management.  Moreover, because these schools are largely free from public supervision , they are free to employ as teachers even those without the required training, for example,  graduate students or academics, hiring and firing them solely at the administration’s will. The AFT is now investing its resources in trying to unionize the teachers at these institutions, and made a strategic choice to employ specially dedicated full time labor organizers for this purpose, something almost inconceivable in Israel.

The level of professionalism and dedication these labour organizers bring to the task of unionizing left a strong impression on members of our delegation. The process of unionization is clearly defined and each stage of it is outlined in advance, with clear criteria for evaluation and follow up: from the decision to unionize and up until the signing of a collective agreement and even afterwards. While learning about this impressive workflow I could not but be amazed at the success of the HILA teachers’ union, whose leaders had to learn the unionization process on the fly, as we progressed. Though much professional aid was received from our organizers , there is much to be learned from the sheer  professionalism and organizational resources we saw in New York, and it should serve as a model for future unionization processes in Israel.  

An additional aspect of unions’ work, which could be of benefit to us, is their partnership with different organizations and bodies active in and around the school system, for example, partners-teachers associations, which are even given an office on the school premises and have a full time representative tasked with community outreach. In neighborhoods with a high percentage of immigrants, these associations even offer educational opportunities and at times health care to poorer parents. Additional partnerships initiated for the schools’ benefits were with local religious leaders and organizations of faith (Jewish, Christian and Muslim). In my opinion, the most important lesson that can be learnt from these projects was the community’s ability to act  together around a common goal, agreeing to put aside and ignore controversial and divisive issues which are predominantly irrelevant to the educational issues at hand. We saw a beautiful and impressive example of such cooperation in our meeting with the Congregation Rodeph Shalom
in Philadelphia.

With UFT hosts
With UFT hosts

As part of their support for Clinton’s presidential bid, members of the AFT also canvass poorer neighborhoods in search of potential minority voters, far from the affluent and white central Philadelphia. I must admit that upon entering an all-black neighborhood, where we joined AFT canvassers,  I was initially somewhat apprehensive, and felt the necessity to ask our guide, herself an African American woman, if it was safe for us to be present there. She quickly reassured us that we had nothing to fear. This experience, of being the only non-black in a poor black neighborhood highlighted for me how economic stratification falls along racial line in America and how, despite claims of prosperity by its capitalism, income gaps and economic inequality run rampant.

One of the more important meetings we held during our visit was with the president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, who initiate our work tour together with the Social economic academy. Weingarten, a true friend of Israel and a significant partner in our common struggle for a more just Israeli society, ended our meeting with a firm request that we continue our struggle for social justice in Israel, promising to follow up on our activities and monitor our development.

Meeting with professionals from the field of labor organization, rich with experience of successful struggles for unionization, reinforced my belive that a successful labor struggle is possible only when the majority of the respective workers are dedicated to and involved in the process, and that its leaders should, and indeed must demand such involvement by them. More than anything, this tour taught us what we mustn’t allow happen in Israel: wild and irresponsible privatization of the education system, instead of improving and advancing the existing public one. The creative and powerful struggle the AFT leads against privatization in education and the positive actions it takes to strengthen the public system and partner with communities, exposed us to important tools for our continued efforts in Israel.

Talila Eylon

May 2, 2016

 

SEA’s first annual conference draws crowd of over 500

Our annual conference was a resounding success! More than 500 attendees came to hear 41 panelists. Lawmakers, public officials, labor leaders, city council members, heads of NGOs, journalists and activists came together to discuss both the challenges and successes of the movement for social justice in Israel.

We opened the conference with a presentation of the results of a survey conducted into Israelis’ positions on social-economic issues. The survey showed that since 2011 Israelis increasingly take more progressive social and economic positions: the right of of workers in new industries to organize and bargain collectively, a fairer division of income and capital and expansion of the welfare state. The survey’s results can be seen here in an interview with SEA’s director Rami Hod (Walla! Hebrew).

We held round table discussions about the contemporary social and economic trends in Israel and forged new partnerships for the future. During the conference we discussed not only the challenges but also major successes: since 2008, over 150,000 new workers from all over the country have formed unions, making Israel one of the very few countries whose labor movement is growing; parents’ campaigns to have the state provide compulsory education for three year olds and increase the number of teaching aides in preschools; mass protests that forced the government to fix unconstitutional aspects of the natural gas deal; and halting the privatization of Israel’s public health services. Meanwhile, people are increasingly dedicated to social justice, be it local communities improving their self-organizing capabilities or  lawmakers embracing progressive issues. The 2011 social justice protest has spurred people from all  socio-economic and cultural backgrounds  to join in the fight for a juster, more equal economy and society in Israel.

Here is a selection of pictures from the conference. We invite you to see the full album here as well as a 4 minute-long video clip about the conference.

האולם בבית דני היה מלא עד אפס מקום.
The main hall in  south Tel Aviv was packed with over 500 attendees.

רמי הוד, מנכ"ל המכללה, פתח את הכנס והציג את תוצאות הסקר שערכה המכללה עבור האחד במאי.

Rami Hod, SEA’s director general, opens the conference by highlighting the progressive camp’s achievements and the challenges it still faces in the struggle for social justice in Israel.

For Rami’s full speech (in Hebrew)

ח"כ שלי יחימוביץ' דיברה על ההישגים החברתיים-כלכליים של השנים האחרונות ועל האתגרים הרבים בהמשך הדרך.
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor Party) spoke about the political and social challenges of the progressive movement.
הפאנל המרכזי בכנס- רוית הכט (הארץ) הנחתה. ח"כ פרופ' יוסי יונה ופרופ' יובל אלבשן התווכחו (באווירה טובה ומכבדת) עם העיתונאית מירב ארלוזרוב ועם עו"ד דן כרמלי, מנכ"ל איגוד לשכות המסחר.
Central panel: Ravit Hecht (Haaretz Daily Newspaper), moderator; MK Prof. Yossi Yona (Zionist Union) and Prof. Yuval Elbashan (Ono Academic College) debate social and economic policies with the journalist Merav Arlosoroff (TheMarker, financial supplement of daily national newspaper Haaretz.) and Dan Carmel, head of the Chamber of Commerce Union.
אחד מארבעת השולחנות העגולים בכנס עסק בשאלה- מהם הרעיונות החברתיים-כלכליים שצריכים לקדם בישראל 2016. גיא פדה, יו"ר הועד המנהל של המכללה, הנחה את השולחן המרתק.
Round table discussion on what main social ideas need to be advanced in 2016.
אבי יאלו, המנכ"ל הנכנס של ארגון הל"ה, ועדי פלד, ממובילות המאבק נגד מתווה הגז.
Avi Yallo, head of the educational group Parents for Education in the Periphery , and Adi Peled, one of the key activists in the campaign against Israel’s natural gas framework deal.
בוגרי הקורס "חרדים למדינה" של פולי-תקווה, בהובלת מיכל צ'רנוביצקי ורמי לבני, השתתפו גם הם בכנס.
Graduates of our program with Ultra orthodox communities among the attendees.
שולחן עגול בנושא האם דור המחאה החברתית מצליח לקדם שינוי חברתי-כלכלי בישראל? צליל אברהם (מאקו) הנחתה.
Round table discussion about the impact of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests in shaping public discourse.
האם המגזר הציבורי בישראל משנה את פניו ומקדם החלטות טובות יותר? את השולחן העגול בנושא הנחה מיקי פלד (כלכליסט). בתמונה- ראונק נאטור, מנכ"לית שותפה של עמותת סיכוי, ניר קידר-סמנכ"ל לתכנון אסטרטגי וכלכלי במשרד הבריאות, ודניאלה גרא-מרגליות, רכזת תחבורה במשרד האוצר. ברקע- מעין ספיבק וניב בן יהודה, סטודנטים במחזור ב' של התוכנית לכלכלנים חברתיים.
Round table discussion on whether the Israeli public sector is changing for the better.
 מהי הבשורה שמביא גל התאגדויות העובדים לחברה הישראלית? יאיר טרצ'יצקי, יו"ר ארגון העיתונאים, הנחה את השולחן בהשתתפות חברי כנסת, מומחים ושלושה מנהיגי עובדים - גד רביד, יו"ר ועדעובדי סאפ, אנגדאו יעקב- ממובילי מאבק עובדי מוקדי הקליטה של יוצאי אתיופיה בישראל, רסמיה זבידאת- ממנהיגות איגוד מטפלות המשפחתונים.
Round table discussion on the impact of the the surge in renewed unionization in Israeli society? Yair Tarchitsky, chairman of the Union of Journalists in Israel, moderated a discussion among different labor leaders: Gad Ravid, chairman of the Workers Council at SAP Labs Israel; Angadu Yaakov, Chairperson of the Workers’ Committee of at the Ethiopian immigration absorption centers, Rasmiya Zavidat, Chairperson of the Preschool Caregivers union, and others.
 מיכאל ביטון, ראש מועצת ירוחם ותומר לוטן, מנכ"ל המרכז להעצמת האזרח, שניים מהדוברים בכנס.
Michael Biton, head of the Yeruham Regional Council, and Tomer Lotan, Director-General of the Center of Citizen Empowerment, addressing the conference.
חברי תנועת הבוגרים של השומר הצעיר שהצטרפו אלינו לכנס.
A group of Shomer HaTzair youth movement alumni who attended the conference.

Our first annual conference has been an excellent starting point for future joint ventures among community and labor leaders, Members of the Knesset, local leaders and academics. In the following years, we will continue to discuss together the successes and challenges facing the social movement in Israel as well as how we can work together to strengthen grassroots level engagement and promote economic and social justice, thereby helping all our citizens, men and women, Jewish and Arab, secular and religious, realize a better life.

Listen to an audio podcast with Rami Hod

Rami Hod, Executive Director of the Social Economic Academy (SEA), talked about Building Constituencies for the Israeli progressive movement, as part of the podcast series hosted by the Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI).

Rami spoke about a “quiet revolution” taking place in Israel in the past few years. Israelis from diverse cultural backgrounds are demanding a fairer economy and society and more participatory democracy. The revival of an active public sphere has begun to make inroads, most notably the huge increase in union membership.

To listen to the audio podcast

 

The Social Economic Academy (SEA) partners with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to train Israeli teachers on social justice

SEA’s Leadership Development for Labor Leaders Program seeks to inspire and educate a new generation of labor leaders in Israel. The program promotes worker rights issues and develops grassroots leadership, providing the tools and knowledge to labor leaders from different professions and organizations. Over the course of ten days, April 10-20, the AFT is hosting a delegation of four teachers from Israel who are taking part in SEA’s leadership program. The delegation will visit several AFT projects in New York and Philadelphia, experiencing first-hand its campaigns against privatization of public services in education, efforts to improve public education and to promote activism and political participation in the public sphere.

The delegation is headed by Rafi Kamhi, the director of the Leadership Development Program and one of the leading labor organizers in Israel. Rafi helped found the Dor Shalom (Generation of Peace) organization, ran programs for young people aimed at revitalizing the values of democracy, social justice and tolerance following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ; organized the longest strike in Israel’s history, which led to a change in the employment process at Haifa Chemicals in 2011; and established the Workers’ Film Festival in his home town Haifa, now in its ninth year.

The call for participation published by the SEA
The call for participation published by the SEA

A few words on the members of the delegation. Two of the participants are a part of a new teachers movement that arose following the 2011 Israeli social justice protests and promotes teachers assuming greater influence on educational policy, and in particular promotion of tolerance, pluralism and equality in the curriculum. The other two are veteran educators have been leading the fight against the outsourcing of public school services in Israel. One of them is Lily Ben-Ami. Lily has been mobilizing her colleagues to oppose contracting out teachers. In her words, “the struggle for fair employment of teachers in Israel is part of a wider struggle for a more just Israeli society. The more social organizations deal with the everyday problems of Israelis, be it in the workplace, the community or educational system, we will be able to exert far more influence on society as a whole and increase the power of the progressive camp. We hope that the tools we will acquire during our training with AFT will serve us well back in Israel.”

Lily Ben-Ami speaks at a teachers demonstration in Jerusalem
Lily Ben-Ami speaks at a teachers demonstration in Jerusalem

Commenting on the new partnership with AFT, Rami Hod, the Executive Director of the Social Economic Academy, stated that “in the past few years, Israeli society has witnessed a dramatic expansion of union membership and organization. Over 180,000 workers from different industries and various classes have joined trade unions. This is part of a growing movement for social justice that is slowly changing the face of Israeli society. On my recent visit to the US, I was delighted that AFT wanted to help our Leadership Development Program and share its professional knowledge with activist teachers from Israel. AFT President Randi Weingarten is a true friend of Israel and a significant partner in our common struggle for a more just Israeli society. Our partnership with AFT binds us Israeli and American progressives to a common vision as well as common challenges. This will also help us build a new alliance of progressives from Israel and the US, an alliance based on shared learning and development of skills that will strengthen the progressive camp in both countries. We are delighted with the partnership and look forward to its expansion in the coming years.”

Upon their return to Israel, the four participants will apply the newly acquired skills to promote social and economic justice in their schools and communities, a step toward creating a more progressive society in Israel.

20th year since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin- What should the Progressive camp Do?

Article by Rami Hod, SEA’s Director, and Mikhael Menekin, the director of “Molad”. Originally published in Haaretz

After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin exactly 20 years ago, Israel’s two major political camps emerged with very different conclusions. Members of the left felt, as one of Rabin’s supporters famously put it, that the state had been “stolen” from them. The right, on the other hand, decided to become the state. The contrasting approaches explain much about Israel today.

The right wing, comprised of some secular ideologists and a large group of religious and messianic activists, was shocked by how close Israel had come to ceding territory to the Palestinians in the Rabin years. They realized that the only way to prevent the division of Greater Israel, and the rise of the next Rabin, was not to protest but to actively shape the state in their own image. “The eternal nation does not fear a long journey,” once a nationalist slogan sung during provocative marches through Arab areas of east Jerusalem, became the motto for persistent, daily work aimed at building a well-organized and broad political camp. The right did not tailor its positions to flatter the public – instead, it created mechanisms for influencing public opinion and joined powerful existing institutions. The public sector, the media, and the military, once the stronghold of the old elites, became seen by the right as tools it could use to impact the Israeli mainstream.

But that wasn’t all. The right also created independent institutions that began working together to promote shared goals. Research institutes such as Shalem College, the Institute for Zionist Strategies, and the Kohelet Policy Forum, were formed as intellectual hothouses for economic and political conservatism. Dozens of military preparatory programs appeared, aimed at training teens to think in terms of “us” and “them.” Small groups of committed religious activists known as garinim toranim (literally, “seeds of Torah”) scattered throughout Israel and began engaging in educational and community activities. All of these put down roots in Israeli society and grew to form the foundation of the political Right. The organized push to sign up new members of the Likud Party in order to affect leadership elections and policy from the inside, and the transformation of the old and narrow National Religious Party into an “all-Israeli” party with a new name, Jewish Home – these were the parliamentary expression of the same fundamental move. These moves, coupled with a clear ideology and pride, created an effective political camp.

The left, reeling from the loss of its leader in 1995 and the loss of power in the election of 1996, took the opposite approach. Instead of fighting for the character of the state and for the heart of the public, its activists turned to tapping the many business opportunities created by the Oslo Accords, and to founding well-meaning progressive minded NGOs that avoided institutional political affiliation. The left wing, lacking an effective leader, looked on as the Labor movement’s institutions crumbled before its eyes and slid into ideological stagnation. The left stopped establishing educational and social ventures, and spiraled into confusion about the way forward. Some parts of the left ended up adopting the basic premises of the right – that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, that the Zionist project was messianic to begin with, and that the far-right approach to economics was best. Others parted ways with the Israeli public, sure of their ideology but contemptuous towards the rest of society.

As a result, the leading part of the left, Labor, repeatedly joined unity governments as the junior partner of the right, further speeding the left’s fall from grace as an ideological and governmental alternative. Many Israeli academics gave up trying to influence Israeli society. The intellectual hobby of deconstructing political positions, along with a growing conviction that the entire left wing in Israel, past and present, is neither worthy nor essentially different from the right, led to a drop in the number of publicly active left-wing intellectuals seeking answers for the fundamental questions facing Israeli society.

While the right built a political camp working to win over the public, the left built energetic civil society organizations with little impact on the mainstream and with an ethos of seeking compromise with the right. While the right adopted the classic modus operandi of Israel’s Labor movement – the gradual and persistent conquest of “one acre at a time” – in the public sector and in local and national politics the left had no plan at all.

Even the most determined of the post-Rabin left-wingers failed to consistently pursue long-term goals as the right was doing. A good example is Dor Shalom, “Peace Generation,” a movement founded hours after Rabin’s assassination, which engaged in educational projects and election campaigns. The movement evaporated within several years after its leaders took up private business ventures. Its core members, initially devoted to change, grew into caricatures of crony capitalism. Founding member Rafi Barzilay became an advisor to the hawkish Avigdor Lieberman, coining the anti-Arab slogan “No loyalty – no citizenship.” Tal Silberstein, another of the founders, became a servant to the highest-paying political master. Erez Eshel, who led a famous student strike in 1998, migrated to the far right.
When the left’s ethos of globalization and desire for reconciliation with its opponents met the right wing’s mission-driven ethos, the victory of the latter was overwhelming.

The silent majority in Israel – which, in contrast with the common left-wing assumption, is pragmatic and moderate – followed the camp that displayed more belief, confidence, and effort. It followed the largely religious, ideological right whose attempt to become synonymous with the state worked well enough to cause many to believe that was true.

In the last decade, and especially since the large social protests of 2011, change has begun to seep into the basic assumptions and activities of those wish to continue Rabin’s legacy. Essentially a generational shift, this subterranean movement has yet to be translated into a broad national and political force. Members of Israel’s third generation, and especially young supporters of the two-state solution, of a fair economy, and of civil equality, are realizing that political change takes place through institutions and policy making. These young adults are joining the public sector in larger numbers than ever before in order to shape policy; they are forming labor unions on an unprecedented scale, reviving organized labor as a crucial institution for minimizing social inequality; they are building new Zionist and humanist pre-military volunteer frameworks and preparatory programs; they are fighting to add a second teaching assistant in preschools and reduce classroom crowding, and have already won free state education from age 3, changing the face of public education; they are challenging security paradigms; and they are entering parliament, having gradually accepted that change requires political work. Although sporadic, all these steps are positive.

They indicate a shift away from the previous generation, which failed to oppose the right’s mission to change Israeli society, abandoned the “we” in favor of “me,” and gave up the struggle for the future of the Zionist project. Today’s young left-wingers understand that they must move on from the trauma of having the country “stolen” and fight seriously, every day, for the country they want.

Twenty years after Rabin’s assassination, it’s time to offer a real alternative to the discouraging claims that the right won because the public believes in right-wing ideas, because of Netanyahu’s campaign skills, or because of the personality of the current opposition leader. These arguments not only overlook the right’s skillful institutional work, but also evade the most important question: What should we do now?

The answer: We must rebuild Rabin’s political camp. The left needs to construct institutions spanning civil society and politics; it needs representatives in the public sector who know state systems from the inside; and it needs an appealing ethos and clear ideas. Only then can the left can regain public trust – and achieve political victory.

Rami Hod is Executive Director of the Social Economic Academy
Mikhael Manekin is Executive Director of Molad – the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy

An international student call for pluralism in economics- Sea’s progressive economists program going global

“Economic Students Forum”, which has been active since 2007 in Haifa University under the oversight of the SEA, has joined an international network of economics students campaigning for pluralism within economics.The international student initiative for pluralism in economics is a collaboration of 65 associations of economics students from 30 countries around the world, all work together to create pluralism in economics studies. The initiative is part of Rethinking Economics – an international network of students campaigning for pluralism within economics, particularly the economics curriculum, which is, at present, heavily biased towards the methods of the neoclassical school.“Economic Students Forum”, which has been active since 2007 in Haifa University under the oversight of the SEA, has recently joined the initiative. Along with groups from USA, Sweden, Germany, India and more, The Haifa students took a central role in writing the open letter which received wide media coverage all over the world.For the open letter- An international student call for pluralism in economicsIn the end of June, The students participated at the Rethinking Economics london conference at the University of London, featured keynote speeches from Lord Adair Turner and Dr. Ha-Joon Chang, plus over twenty other speakers, including Prof. Victoria Chick, Prof. David Tuckett and Will Hutton. Throughout the two-day conference , student groups from around the world have explored both the problems with the current system and, more positively, alternatives to the status quo. The “Economics Students Forum” is an initiative of Israeli economics students from the University of Haifa, founded in 2007 under the supervision of the Social Economic Academy. The forum seeks to stimulate the economics discourse at the universities, to expose students to economic issues relevant to Israeli society, and to give them a better understanding of the economic world. The forum is motivated by the growing criticism being sounded both in Israel and abroad, regarding the way economics is being taught, and thus tries to promote a pluralist and interdisciplinary pedagogy of economics in the universities As a major part of the “Economics Students Forum” at Haifa University’s activities, the forum offered students a non-academic course throughout the second semester of their studies. At this course the students were exposed to the significant role economics has on everyday life, learned to expand the available methodologies, and challenged the current solutions being modeled and taught. In the semester preceding the course, the forum’s leaders hold a social-economic workshop ( “Beit Midrahsh”) conducted by the head of the northern branch of SEA.

We’re here for the long run – A few words ahead of the elections by Rami Hod, SEA director

The upcoming elections bring with them a real opportunity for change in social and economic policy in Israel.

As a grassroots organization, every day we encounter over-crowded classrooms, a severe crisis in Israel’s health services and devalued wages. These are all results of the power relations between competing sets of ideas and the social and political organizations behind them. Therefore, We attribute the utmost importance to voting and taking an active role in these elections in an attempt to put social and economic issues at the heart of Israel’s public discourse.

But be assured- the struggle for social Justice is not one that ends on March 17th – election day. This struggle needs to be waged wisely and with a long term plan in mind. After many years during which the social discourse was marginalized and neo-liberal ideology ruled supreme as the only viable policy, we are witnessing real change. Increasing public criticism at the unholy coupling of politics and big money; winning campaigns against the privatization of national health services, for raising the minimum wage and against the monopoly over Israel’s national gas reserves; initiatives like the attempt to form Israel’s first cooperatively owned bank; and Over 100,000 workers who have unionized since 2011 and changed the labor market.

As a school for social change established in 2004, a time of dramatic cuts in social services and public indifference, we find inspiration and hope in wake of these recent changes, which reaffirm our belief in hard work. But building a progressive welfare state will not happen overnight in the course of a single election or even two. Building a social movement that works to promote equality and social justice within local communities, in the education system, in the labor market and in both local and national politics, with a solid ideological foundation, practical policy solutions, widespread support and cadres of dedicated activists, is the only way to make substantial progress.

In contrast to the past, we can say with pride that this movement exists in Israel and that it already making many significant strides. Still, much work remains to be done, to spread progressive values and people focused ideas and practices among local communities, students, youth and and workers across the country.

These elections provide the perfect opportunity to re-engage in political involvement and to achieve policy change. But if we truly want to implement a long term strategy, we must remember that an effective political force whose goal is promoting social change can only grow if large portions of the Israeli public demand it. Therefore, the important work is the one done in between elections, through the creation of local groups together for change all year round.

In the days that remain until we go to the ballots, we call on our partners and graduates to take an active part in this election cycle; and the day after the vote, regardless of the results, to continue working for hearts and minds as well as practical change in Israeli society. We at the SEA are here for the long run.

Progressive Economists Program starts its second year

Progressive Economists is the only program of its kind in Israel that educates and trains economists to re-address social issues through economics studies. It’s mission is to develop new economic leadership by training young economists and update economic thinking to encouraging them to develop new ideas and enter into carriers of meaningful change.

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35 outstanding economics students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Haifa University receive scholarships from SEA. Their intensive training includes weekly courses on progressive trends in economics to give an emphasis on social impacts on individuals, families and communities. These are given by prominent scholars and government officials. Bolstered by internships in national and local government. The internship provides students with a window into real world economics and encourages them to develop a career in public service and create a change from within.

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Our goal is that a significant number of student leaders move on to meaningful careers in the public service and will lead change in social and economic policy. Others will pursue doctoral degrees at Israeli and internationally renowned universities. We believe the program’s alumni will be tomorrow’s leading economists and decision-makers.

Visit the program’s new website

Students try to fight inequality by diversifying economic studies

With support of the Social Economic Academy, economic students are working to change the curriculum of economics studies in the hopes of creating a new generation of socially minded economists. Originally Published on Ynet, 2.9.2014

Way back in 2007, when Yuval Ofek-Shanny, then a BA student in Haifa University, and his friends first thought up the idea of a forum where economics students could learn topics outside their curriculum, the economic world was very different than it is today. The global financial crisis had yet to erupt, mass protests for social justice were in the distant future and public discourse was still controlled by free-market, trickle-down economics pundits.

Ofek-Shanny, today the proud owner of an MA in economics, says that even then, “economics students were starting to feel that their studies, though well situation in the social sciences faculty, neglected the connection between economy and society, and failed to discuss Israeli society, specifically its economic history and controversies.”

  Forum's students at Haifa University  (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Forum’s students at Haifa University (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Ofek-Shanny and his friends turned to the Social Economic Academy – a non-profit education and training organization promoting social change, through workshops given by leading academics and social activists – and planted the seed of the first forum where economics students were taught to “think beyond the numbers,” as the forum’s motto says.

Students listen to Prof. Eytan Sheshinski  (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Students listen to Prof. Eytan Sheshinski (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

With the guidance of Rafi Kanhi, the head of the Academy’s northern branch, the forum has since held five courses open to Haifa’s economics students, dealing with topics considered marginal at the time but which are now at the forefront of public debate: privatization, inequality, workers’ unions and co-ops.

Aided by speakers including Prof. Ariel Rubinstein, an Israel Prize laureate and one of the Academy’s founders, Prof. Joseph Zeira from the Hebrew University and Dr. Nili Mark, the forum started to gain momentum, even winning the support of the Haifa University Economics Department.

Prof. Eytan Sheshinski  (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Prof. Eytan Sheshinski (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

 

Since the forum was established, public discourse over economic and social issues has seen some dramatic changes. The causes of social justice and fair distribution of resources are no longer just a rallying call: The economic establishment itself is starting to change as well.

Last January, in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (a far cry from Tahrir Square, Rothschild Boulevard or the Occupy Wall Street’s tents in New York) a survey of 700 experts revealed they believed the greatest risk the world is facing is inequality.

At the same time, debate over what is taught and, mainly, what isn’t taught in economics departments became even more prevalent. Dr. Nili Mark, a lecturer with the forum since its inception and the writer of ‘introduction to economics’ textbook, which is widely studied in economics departments, said she has no doubt significant changes must be made to the subject matter.

“For instance,” she explains, “the discussion of market failures must be widely expanded. Identifying instances in which government intervention is justified for economic reasons, not only social reasons, is no less important than understanding the free market, possibly more. Economic history must be taught more thoroughly, and ideological considerations influencing economic policy must be presented.”

“Mainly,” she concludes, “the guiding principle should be that economics doesn’t really stand on its own as a science, but is part of the social sciences.”

Recently, an unprecedented global initiative of 21 economy students groups, including the Haifa forum, called for an overhaul of economics studies, a call which was widely covered by global media:

“Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Indeed, students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have filled lecture theatres in weekly lectures by invited speakers on topics not in the curriculum; we have organized reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analyzed current syllabuses and drafted alternative programs; we have started teaching ourselves and others the new courses we would like to be taught.

“We have founded university groups and built networks both nationally and internationally. Change must come from many places. So now we invite you – students, economists, and non-economists – to join us and create the critical mass needed for change.”

At the same time as joined with global initiatives, the Haifa forum has also increased its influence and managed to draw about 50 economy students every week to its course on critical economic thought in the second semester of 2014.

Alongside lectures on subjects such as the Nordic Model, privatization and nationalization, and ecological economics, students were taken on a field trip to Jerusalem where they met with Bank of Israel Governor Dr. Karnit Flug, economy journalist Shaul Amsterdamski and the chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, Prof. Avishay Braverman.

Students with Bank of Israel Governer Prof. Flug (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Students with Bank of Israel Governer Prof. Flug (Photo courtesy of Social Economic Academy )

Ori Rubin, a forum member, said the growing interest in the forum’s activity opened new possibilities. The forum’s primary goal, he explains, is to bring about “real change to the curriculum, knowledge and moral values students will take with them to the job market.”

“We plan to expand the forum’s activity and have a real influence over the economics graduate and over the discourse in those departments,” he says.

“The activity of the forum is part of a deep process taking place in Israel and around the world,” adds Rami Hod, the director-general of the Social Economic Academy. “A growing number of groups are interested in studying the social reality in order to change it, and when the call for change comes from economics students that’s especially promising.

“Those same students will soon work for the public sector where Israel’s economic policy is formed. Some of them will pursue an academic career, becoming the teachers of future generations. Therefore, their ability to question the theories they study and their knowledge of topics missing from the curriculum, like inequality, has the utmost importance.”

Will then economy departments, widely perceived as the hotbeds of capitalism, actually become the locus of change?

Yossi Levin – Fundraising officer

Holds a MA in Middle East Studies from Ben Gurion University and the American University in Cairo, in the past a human rights intern with the UN, Geneva, Switzerland. Has a rich background in communal and organizational fundraising in Israel and the US, with a long record of establishing diverse fundraising operations. Yossi established and manages a social-communal business venture in Haifa which focuses on community empowerment of the city’s Arab residents from Wadi Nisnas through the development of local industry (Nisnas Industries) and its promotion abroad.

Ayala Brilliant

Training director.
Experts in Training : Leadership skills, building political power, community organizing and Volunteers management. Certified Group facilitator, holds an M.A from the IDC in Government, Diplomacy and Conflict resolution. Served as the training director of the V15 campaign, and the leadership program director of One Voice Movement. In her past served as the Jewish Agency representative to Baltimore and the head of the pre-military volunteer project of the Kibbutz Movement.

How the Israeli worker was disenfranchised?

Precarious employment via employment agencies has reached the Israeli middle class. A collection of essays published by the Social Economic Academy offer cures for the malady.

Originally published in Haaretz, 12.8.2013

What do Sonol, the Open University, Pelephone, Cellcom, Clal Insurance, the credit card companies, Shefa Catering, Burgeranch, U-Bank, and a few dozen other companies in a variety of fields have in common? Their employees decided to organize with the Histadrut or with the smaller workers’ organizations, and form a union to represent them against the management. After years of fear and hesitation, many workers – in recent years their numbers have swollen to 60-70 thousand – decided to try and change the terms of their employment. It’s not class warfare, but it’s something.

These attempts at organization were influenced by a myriad of factors. The recession which started in 2008 and gave the employer the upper hand made many employees long for job stability. Protection against arbitrary terminations seems more important today than a pay raise. The increase in violations of workers’ rights, combined with the state’s feebleness in enforcing labor laws, also contributed to the will to organize. Another factor is the many forms of employment in Israel and the flourishing of a particularly precarious one: Contract work, or employment through go-betweens called “employment agencies,” or “service companies.” There are no exact numbers as to how many Israelis are employed by these companies, but estimates place the number at 300-400 thousand, or over 10 percent of salaried employees – well above the average in developed countries.

Therefore, “Precarious Employment: Systematic Exclusion and Exploitation in the Labor Market” is relevant today, and probably will be for many years to come. Precarious employment patterns were not created yesterday, but developed in Israel over decades. Those most exposed to them are immigrants, minorities, migrant workers and, in recent years, a growing portion of middle class Israeli-born citizens. Outsourced employees in general and those employed through agencies in particular are everywhere: In both the public and the private sectors, in retail and in the manufacturing sector, in local municipalities and in government offices. Even the education system, including higher education, has been infected. Precarious employment occurs when the direct or indirect employer deliberately attempts to keep pay or benefits from the employee. It is an attempt to discriminate between employees under a legal guise, or by a flagrant violation of the law, in denial of the employer-employee relationship obligations.

The book’s editors, Dr. Daniel Mishori and Dr. Anat Maor, as well as most of the writers represented in it, have backed workers’ struggles against precarious employment and for workers’ right to organize. The book draws on many examples of exploitation in universities (perhaps because most of the writers are academics themselves), and less on cases of exploitation in factories, municipalities and private businesses.

The first part of the book generally outlines precarious or discriminative employment and links it to privatization. Economist Itzik Saporta claims that in Israel, the administration and the employers both consider what happens in the workplace to be of no importance. The dominant discourse, not only among employers but among the general public as well, is not about terms of employment but about markets, supply and demand, and interests. This discourse paints a picture in which the market allots every employee with what he deserves relative to his contribution to his employer’s profits.

Prof. Itzhak Harpaz claims in his essay that the Israeli job market at the start of the 21st century is reminiscent of the 19th in terms of discrimination and harassment of different sectors of workers, expressed by violation of labor laws and collective agreements. Dr. Efraim Davidi writes that workers were always grouped into opposite types in Israel: First, Israeli workers versus Palestinians, which were later replaced by migrant workers – the principle always being getting cheap labor. Davidi claims the government encourages precarious employment patterns. Anat Maor says that since the 80s, especially between 1997 and 2007, Israeli governments led processes of dismantling organized labor and lowering labor costs, ignoring their duty to defend disenfranchised workers.

Prof. Dani Gutwein links between precarious employment and privatization, which aims at dismantling organized labor in Israel. “Privatization is a political project which serves the interests of capital and is responsible for the dismantlement of the welfare state,” Gutwein writes. “Thereby the middle class’ social security is eroded, while the lower classes are pushed below the poverty line and gaps between different sectors increase.” Prof. Gadi Algazi and Orly Benjamin warn that these processes of privatization and discrimination are currently at work in universities, mostly damaging non-tenure track lecturers and the administrative and custodial staff.

Attorney Itay Svirski, one of the founders of Koach La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Organization in 2007, reaches the conclusion that given the lax enforcement of employment norms by the state and by the Histadrut, organized labor and unions are the most effective tool to realize workers’ rights. The writers testify that the pessimism they felt while writing the book has given way to more optimistic feelings, which may be due to a positive trend in 2012, following a new pro-workers legislation package and the 2011 protest movement. It would have been better if the book was not authored only by academics and professional unionizers, but also by politicians and public figures from across the political spectrum, including members of government. Then, the book could have influenced circles outside those which are already aware of the magnitude of the problem of exploiting disenfranchised workers and leaving them out to dry.

Executives can do with less \ Amnon Portugali

Originally published on Ynet, 04.11.13

On November 24, 2013 the citizens of Switzerland will vote in three referendums. One over the “1:12” initiative, which limits the pay of companies’ top executives.Citizens will decide whether to approve an amendment to the Swiss constitution which limits the highest salary in a company to 12 times the lowest salary.

The questions voters will have to answer are: “Are you for the popular initiative ‘1:12 – for fair wage’?” and “Are you for the recommendations of the Federal Council and the parliament?”

The Swiss business world is deeply averse to the initiative, as are the political right and center. The Federal Council and the parliament recommended against it, and it was forecast to be rejected by the referendum. But a poll commissioned by the Swiss public broadcasting company, SSR, and released late October revealed the initiative’s supporters and its opponent are tied at 44%. Previous polls gave supporters only 35%.

In November 2012 in Israel, the Knesset passed a minimalist government bill to limit top executives’ salaries in public companies, based on the Neeman Committee’s recommendations from the previous year. The bill doesn’t limit salaries, but sets provisions according to which salaries would be determined. The bill was passed as an alternative to the private bills sponsored by lawmakers Shelly Yachimovich and Haim Katz, who proposed to limit the salary of top executives in public companies to no more than 50 times that of their lowest paid employee.

The Swiss initiative

In a referendum held on March 3, 2013, the Swiss approved an initiative setting limits to executive salaries in publicly traded companies. The initiative was meant as an amendment to the Swiss federal legislation so that it will, for instance, require an annual vote by shareholders on the total remuneration of the board of directors and executives. It also required companies’ articles of association to include the directors and executives’ bonus schemes and pay plans.

The Swiss also banned advance payments for new executives and severance packages for departing ones, and required an annual vote by shareholders for the president and other members of companies’ board of directors. The initiative also banned corporate proxy and the representation of shareholders by depository banks.

The initiative, which Swiss media termed the “against rip-off salaries” initiative, also banned giving bonuses to executives if the company they head has been taken over by another company, and required loans and pension plans for executives and board of directors members to be more transparent.

In addition, the initiative required pension funds that hold controlling shares of companies to

participate in the aforementioned annual vote for remuneration for top executives. For violating these provisions, the initiative levels criminal sanctions of up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to six years’ remuneration.

According to the Swiss government, about 2.4 million citizens have cast their vote, some 46% of eligible voters. Some 68% supported the initiative and 32% were opposed, one of the highest rates of support a popular initiative has ever received. The origin of the initiative’s success can probably be traced back to public discontent with the $78 million paid to the chairman of Novartis after his departure and the large bonuses awarded to executives who brought the Swiss bank UBS to near collapse.

Quid pro quo

Wall Street Journal slammed the referendum, saying the Swiss have lost their way by limiting executive remuneration, and that requiring shareholders to vote on these matters is “unnecessary.” If shareholders and investors disapprove of a company’s pay plan, the article argued, they should express their displeasure by voting accordingly or by selling their stock and investing in companies with more conservative and transparent pay plans.

Simply put, if you don’t like the executives’ pay, sell your stock. It’s a common argument which is usually well received, but it is completely opposed to the essence of the corporation. The shareholders are the corporation’s owners, and if the remuneration set by the shareholders or by the state is not to the executives’ liking, it is they who should quit, not the shareholders.

The state awards corporations, especially the public ones, with a variety of legal privileges, grants and tax benefits. The state can and must require corporations to oblige with proper codes of conduct – including limits to executive pay.

We should learn from Switzerland.

The writer is a lecturer at the Social Economic Academy and a researcher at the Center for Social Justice and Democracy at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

Noa Richke

“From the moment the the first SEA course opened in 2004, I knew the organization would be able to address a deep-seated need in Israeli society. This is the need for a substantial and critical debate regarding the way we as a society manage ourselves and the tools we require to change our social reality. The SEA allowed many people, myself included, to learn and develop as social activists, and shed light on knowledge usually kept in dark corners. The tools I received from the SEA are still with me today in every project I embark on.”

Ilan Tal Nir

“After leaving my position as manager of city of Givatayim Education Department, I worked as an educational consultant for an organisation called Academia whose goal is to assist youths from the periphery to reach higher-education and took an SEA course on inequality in education. The course had a profound influence on me, and gave me, after years of working in the field, a new perspective on social justice and equality in education.”

Sagit Erel

“As a social activist I felt that despite my faith in social justice and workers rights, activists like myself were still in dire need of knowledge pertaining to rights and their actualization, as well as the manner we can truly aid other organization attempts. Thus, at the beginning of 2014, I put together a course on worker organizations for SEA activists and course participants. The lecturers were top-notch and the interaction with people who had already registered significant gains in this field were inspiring and motivating. After the course, I became active in the field and through the tools I received I began aiding group attempting to fulfil their rights.“

Luni Natanzon

“The SEA represents for me an alternative route to social and economic development in Israel. An alternative front which blends academic thought and field work. I feel that I received many skills from the SEA’s courses in which I participated.”

Michal Zernowitski

“During the last municipal elections (2013) I established a political ticket comprised only of ultra-Orthodox women from the city of Elad. For the first time in Israel, women vied for a seat on a city council of an ultra-Orthodox community. After the elections, a few women talk about how to continue to work together, and we decided to begin a learning process focusing on social issues at the municipal level in an attempt to lead a change in our city. We soon opened a course and workshop program with SEA, in which men and women from different parts of the city can come and learn. The learning experience and the interaction with experienced public activist and community organizers helped us consolidate our group identity, decide what issues we hope to tackle and find inspiration in numerous successes stories.”

Ran Livne

“In the past I helped organize a group of janitors at Tel Aviv University and I was one of the founders of an entrepreneur center at Tel Aviv University; during the tent protests (of 2011) I was responsible for liaising between the Rothschild protest encampment (where the protest leaders were situated) and the National Student Union; I also led the consumers boycott of Shufersal and Tnuva.
“The SEA is one of the most important and inspiring social initiatives in Israel. It connects between knowledge and action, academia and field work. The extent to which the SEA developed my skills and critical-practical thinking is unmatched and I owe SEA much of my success.”

Hayra Alu-Hamra

“The profession of social work is a statement regarding a desire to improve the quality of life of our clients. Following of the courses and training programs I took at the SEA, I understood that without a deep understanding of the organizational and structural relationships in Israeli society, as well as in implementing changes in policy, the role of the social worker will always be lacking.”

Yosef Baruch

“I participated in the SEA’s Co-operative training Program. In my opinion the SEA is a true source for a social change. The content of the SEA teaches is offered in only a few other places in such an organized and structured way. The SEA led to a real shift in consciousness, from passivity to activity.”

Noah Notsani

“Over the years I have always had the feeling something was off, a feeling I did not how to articulate into words. I saw the hardships of Israeli reality, in which people work but remain poor and unacceptable inequality is rampant. I was searching for answers on how to change this situation and when the SEA was established I enrolled in its first course.
“The SEA was the missing piece in my puzzle – it connected between my feelings and the data, showing me that the social reality in Israel is not the result of a force of nature, but of policy – policy which can be changed.
“The combination of the knowledge I gained, the people I met and the skills I developed at the SEA led to to where I am today.”

Tom Dromi Hakim

“I joined the SEA in 2011 through a fellows training course and today I lecture on co-op activity and economy before numerous groups. The SEA has played a pivotal role in expanding the public’s knowledge on social and economic issues and also in changing the face of Israeli society as I see it. The fellow’s program is an amazing way for people like myself to expose divers groups and communities to new and more nuanced understanding of society and economy”. “

Prof. Dana Ron

“I began studying at the SEA when it was first established (in 2004). One of the most extraordinary things the SEA does is bring together a diverse group of people – from different ages and backgrounds – whose common denominator is a real desire to know and understand, and on the basis of this understanding and knowledge, lead social change.”

Union busting won’t help – Israeli workers are organizing in unprecedented numbers

Union busting won’t help – Israeli workers are organizing in unprecedented numbers

Rami Hod’s article on TheMarker, published on 11.8.2015

In recent days many of Israel’s workers will celebrate the two year anniversary of the landmark ruling by Israel’s Labor Court, led by Chief Justice Nili Arad, that decreed that a company’s management is strictly forbidden from intervening or even voicing its opinion about any attempt by workers to unionize. The ruling was promptly followed by a surge in the number of workers’ union.

The last five years witnessed over 120,000 workers join labor unions in Israel. These workers include outsourced teachers, hi-tech workers, cleaning staff, fast food workers, college lecturers, bus drivers, mobile providers’ workers and more. This number is unprecedented, and is the clearest expression and most significant manifestation of the social awakening which began to take over Israel in the protest movement of the summer of 2011.

But this wave of unionization has also sparked a backlash by managements, using new direct and indirect tactics to circumnavigate the labor court’s ruling and sabotage workers’ attempts to organize. One of the most common of such tactics is setting up an in-house or internal union (one not linked to any labor union). These are usually set up by management and is presented outwardly as an authentic workers’ organization.

The labor court is now called to address a suit filed by the works at Menora Mivtachim Holdings (one of Israel’s largest insurance suppliers), that unionized under the auspices of the Histadrut labor federation, and are calling for the court to instruct the company’s management to desist from undermining the union and stop all attempts to set up an internal workers’ union of its own. The question the court now faces will have dramatic implications for the status of Israel’s workers – should the internal union be recognized it would thus grant legimty to the the practice of union busting, a move which would render the initial ruling obsolete.

Unsurprisingly, some have gladly greeted this ‘new’ tactic: Oriel Lynn, the owner of Lynn-Bichler Human Resources and a well known objector to any form of labor unions, recently dubbed the appearance of internal unions a “new ray of light in labor relations in Israel,” adding a recommendation: “Many employers would do well to look into this organizational model, for internal unions free of external power are a positive thing in the field of labor relations.” Lynn was joined by the author Irit Linur, who wrote a tongue-in-cheek post on her popular Facebook page that the internal labor union would be a “shame for the Histadrut to lose 7 million NIS of annual members’ fees, think of all the prime time advertising minutes they could have bought.” The joking being that the internal unions only constitute an economic loss for the allegedly greedy and press-driven labor federations.

The formation of in-house unions are depicted by Lynn and Linur as a struggle for freedom against the stifling and terrible unions. But nothing could be farther from the truth. To understand why a workers’ organization is not possible without the support of a union, we should ask the workers attempting to unionize how their struggle would look without their backing. There is logic behind the Israeli law’s decision to permit only general labor unions, those consolidating workers from different sectors, to sight collective bargaining agreements. They are the only ones that have the experience and ability to do so, giving workers organizational and legal aid against abuse by managements.

The primetime campaign ad that was the butt of Linur’s joke – assumably the “You’re Stronger When You’re Unionized,” actually helped create dozens of new labor unions. Those defamed ‘membership wages’ she quipped about are the only way a union can free itself of big money’s control, give aid to the diverse groups of workers that knock on its door and lead powerful and influential social struggles of solidarity for a higher minimum wage – a struggle that an internal union could not allow itself to participate in.

Organized labor in Israel must be strengthened by the formation of more and more unions, independent of their respective managements and bolstered by labor federations. These are the most important bulwark democratic societies have against the shift of wealth from the many to the few and the most important mechanism to reducing inequality.

Rami Hod is the Director of the Social Economic Academy

Boaz Gur

“During my BA studies I received a National Lottery scholarship for excellence in military service, and that’s how I first met the SEA. As a young student with a newly discovered interest in social change, SEA gave me requisite tools to understand social reality and to change it. During the 2011 social protests, I organized the forum of the northern protest encampments, and during the 2013 municipal elections I ran for Haifa city council and was in charge of community organizing for “Living in Haifa” movement. Over the years, I have always stayed part of the SEA, coordinating courses and training workshops, because I understand that only daily connect between studying and doing can lead to a change at both the national and local level.”

Moria Avnimelech

A lecturer in social policy and economics at the College of Management Academic Studies, specializing in the field of economics and society. The author of Sweet Welfare: The Economics and Politics of Welfare in Israel (Hebrew); Lost Treasure: The Pension as a Tool for Economic Growth (Hebrew); and Zeus on Wall Street: An Odyssey of Economic Literacy (English).

Yuval Ofek Shani

One of the founders of the Ofek Cooperative for Investment Capital, leader of Israel’s first cooperative bank and a member of its management council. One of the founders of the Economic Students Forum at Haifa University, which operates under the supervision of the SEA. An expert in social-economic policy and cooperatives.

Yair Alberton

The director-general of the Kayhila (Community) organization and a member of the urban kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh. His work focuses on forging communities, the role of community in cities and promoting economic development, social involvement of kibbutz members as well project-oriented learning in high schools in pre-army prepatories.

Yaniv Afuta

Yaniv serves as an assistant to the Yerucham Regional Council chairman, Michael Bitton, and the regional council’s spokesman. He is a board member of the regional councils spokesmen union and one of the leaders of the committee for borders and revenue distribution between Yerucham and Ramat Negev regional councils. Yaniv is an expert of Distributive justice and local government.

Sagit Erel

BA and MA graduate in economics. Sagit took part in various roles, including a research assistant in the Van Leer institution social economic program, a senior macroeconomics analyst in Bank Leumi’s research department and a bank analyst.  Today she acts as financing analyst in Bank Leumi and an assistant lecturer in macroeconomics course at IDC Herzliya.

Adv. Tzvika Aren

Founder and Director-General of Midot, an NGO which works to promote efficiency and increase the influence of NGOs and NPOs working in Israel. A social activist, founder of the Midreshet Nachshon, the first secular pre-military preparatory. An expert in public policy.

Tamar Ben Yosef

Economist and journalist. In the past was a weekly columnist for Globes (Israel’s leading economic newspaper), writing and commenting on the state of the Israeli market. She also served as deputy director-general of economic planning, at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry (currently the Ministry of Economy) . Her work focuses on analyzing economic policy in Israel and around the globe.

Lilly Ben Ami

 A lecturer and educational program developer. Holds a Masters in education from the Hebrew Univeristy. An expert in the privatization of the education system, gender, popular culture and child development. Host a spot on social issues on the popular television news show Osim Seder (What’s What). Head of the National Coalition for Direct Employment and head of WIZO’s Neora Center. Founder of the Lobby for Equality Between the Sexes and one of the leaders of the subcontracted teachers struggle.

Yaniv Bar Ilan

 A doctorate student of communications at Tel Aviv University. The spokesperson for Koach LaOvdim and a lecturer at the Open University. An expert at leading public protests and struggles, focusing on communication strategies.

Prof. Danny Gutwein

A fellow professor in the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa, and one of the most prominent and influential thinkers in the field of society and economics in Israel. He focuses on the different aspects of privatization in Israel and on formulating alternative socio-economic policies.

Raifi Goldman

 Head of the Center of Developing Cooperatives and the founder of the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. A graduate of London University and Ben Gurion University in the Negev with a Masters in History and Economics, as well an MBA. A member of Kibbutz Urim with 25 years of experience in managing industrial and agricultural cooperative corporations. A consultant for developing cooperatives in Israel as well as developing countries in Africa and Asia.

Prof. John Gal

Dean of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, member of the Council for War on Poverty. Focuses on policy practices and social work, social security and protection in Israel, the development of welfare policy in Israel and international perspectives on welfare policy.

Eli Gershenkroin

Holds a masters in economics. In the past he has served as senior deputy to the head of investments at the Ministry of Economy (then Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor), and served as economic advisor to MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) when she was the Israel’s opposition chairwoman. Currently he runs the Institute for Structural Reform and is an active partner in a number of social initiatives. An expert in public policy, the public sector and the State budget.

Prof. Avner de Shalit

A political philosopher and senior lecturer of philosophy and political science at the Hebrew Univeristy. Head of the Global Community Development Studies program at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem and the Max Kampelman Chair in Democracy and Human Rights. An expert in political philosophy, with a focus on poverty, equality, democracy and human rights, as well ecological political and ecological justice.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch (MD.)

Head of the Center for Health Policy Research in the Negev, a senior lecturer at the Department of Health Systems Management, Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben Gurion University in the Negev. An expert in public health policy and privatization process.

Dr. Efraim Davidi

Founding member of the SEA. A senior lecturer at the Department for Social Work and the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, and the Department for Latin American Studies at Tel Aviv University. An expert in globalization, Israeli society and social movements.

Prof. Yossi Zeira

Professor of economics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. An expert in macroeconomics, economic growth and the Israeli economy. Lead the economics team in the Spivak-Yona experts’ team during the 2011 social protest movement.

Noga Cohen

נגה כהן, בוגרת תואר אשון בפכ”מ (פילוסופיה, כלכלה ומדע המדינה) באוניברסיטה העברית ומאסטרנטית להיסטוריה באותה האוניברסיטה. עובדת בשוק הפרטי. כותבת ב”הארץ” בלוג פמיניסטי בשם “ידועות בציבור” ומומחית בנושאי פמיניזם ומגדר, כולל נשים בעולם העבודה.נגה כהן, בוגרת תואר אשון בפכ”מ (פילוסופיה, כלכלה ומדע המדינה) באוניברסיטה העברית ומאסטרנטית להיסטוריה באותה האוניברסיטה. עובדת בשוק הפרטי. כותבת ב”הארץ” בלוג פמיניסטי בשם “ידועות בציבור” ומומחית בנושאי פמיניזם ומגדר, כולל נשים בעולם העבודה.

Shay Cohen

One of the founders of Koach LaOvdim and the organization’s current secretary-general, a social and ecological activist. In the past he headed the Haifa and northern branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), and was the chairman of the SEA’s governing council. An expert in workers rights, ecology and managing social protests.

Hanin Majadli

A social activist and doctorate student of social work at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem. Volunteers in numerous organizations and movements working for the benefit of society at large, promoting the status of women, women’s health and relations with the Arab sector of Israeli society. An expert in East Jerusalem and women in Arab society.

Dror Mizrahi

 A communication, media and strategy consultant. An expert in political and public campaigns. Parliamentary aid and spokesperson for Meretz Chairman MK Zehava Gal-On. Led the Meretz election campaign in the Ramat HaSharon mayoral race in 2013; he also ran for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council. A regular commentator in Israeli news media sites and newspapers.

Martin Villar

רכז תחום עובדי קבלן בעמותת קו לעובד. מלווה מאבקי עובדים ממגוון סקטורים וממובילי מאבק עובדות הניקיון באוניברסיטת בן גוריון והאוניברסיטה העברית. מומחה לשוק העבודה, העסקה קבלנית וזכויות עובדים.

Dr. Yofat Sollel

Chairwoman of the Cooperatives Alliance for Social Economic and Environmental Justice. A civil rights lawyer who focuses on public, with a focus on legislation, Supreme Court petitions and national policy. Researches and writes about social, economic and legal issues.

Prof. Arnon Brown

A professor of social worker and head of the Human Services Department at the Tel Hai Academic College. Holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Social Work from the Hebrew University. Wrote his doctorate work at Bristol University (UK) and has since taught social work at Haifa University, Hebrew University, Hong Kong and Botswana (Africa). An expert in social policy with a focus on poverty, and social and community work.

Adv. Boaz Gur

Haifa City Council member and lawyer specializing in public law, regulation and public policy. One of the founders of the Living in Haifa local political movement. During the 2003 municipal election, Gur led the movement’s community mobilization unit, which was established together with local initiatives and activists throughout the city and was operated by local volunteers. Was one of the leaders of the 2011 social protest movement, serving as the liaison to the protests’ northern activities. Gur joined the SEA northern activities in 2006 as part of a scholarship and has since been active in the SEA, working to promote the SEA and volunteering in its different programs.

Amnon Portugali

A research fellow at the Chazan Center for Social Justice and Democracy at the Van Leer Institute. Founder and leader of the Forum for Civilian Action which led the struggle for Israel’s natural gas royalties.

Tamar Shchory (Lawyer)

Tamar is a Vice President in the World Jewish Congress, the international representative body of Jewish communities and organizations in nearly 100 countries.

Tamar is a social activist promoting social justice and gender equality and is currently a leading member in various socio-economic forums.

In previous positions, Tamar has served as the Chairperson of the Ben Gurion Student Association, followed by a term as the Chairperson of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS). Tamar was also a director in the Israeli office of UNICEF and the director of Academia and International Students Affairs in the Tel Aviv-Yafo Global City initiative.

Tamar has BA in Politics and Government and the Studies of the State of Israel from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, MA in Law from Bar Ilan University and a BA in Law from the Netanya Academic College.

Prof. Dani Filc (MD)

A senior lecture at the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, a member of the Adva Center’s management, and a member of Doctors Without Borders. An expert in health policy.

Michal Zernowitski

Leader of the Eir vaEm (City and Mother) – Mother’s for Elad movement which ran for the Elad city council during the 2013 municipal elections and was the first female party to ever participate in the local elections of a ultra-Orthodox city. A prominent political and social activist in Haredi society. A hi-tech worker and mother of three.

Dr. Irit Keynan

Head of internships at the Graduate Program for Education, Society & Culture at the College for Academic Studies Or Yehuda. Former director-general and founder of the Rabin Center. Focuses on running public institution and NPOs, social and corporate responsibility, social education, social justice, nationalistic-related trauma; reconciliation and ethnic coexistence.

Guy Pade

Chairman of the SEA’s Managing Board and one of the SEA’s founders. He is a lecturer at Haifa University and the Open University. A graduate of the Yitzhak Rabin Pre-Military Preparatory, Guy lectures on social-economic policy in Israel and the world, as well as relations between the center and the periphery. He is one of the editors of the book “City and State in Israel: Local government towards Israel’s decade”.

Linda Shushan

A lecturer in communications, a political spokeswoman and strategy advisor, in the past she was the spokeswoman for the Center for Local Government; she manages educational courses, established numerous leadership programs, formed the spokesperson unit for Israel’s Home Front Command, and serves as a reserve soldier in the IDF’s Spokesperson Unit.

Shay Golub

Shay is a campaign manager and a strategic advisor. He is known as an expert of political-public campaigns based on field work. In the past filled the role of a spokesperson and the manager of “Megama Yeruka” (an ecological organization) and one of the founders of the Israeli Green party. Recently he has helped several politic campaigns including Stav Shaffir’s primaries campaign for the labor party. Shay is also the chairmen of “Ha’yatzia” organization, which acts to include local football fans in their team boards.