The Platform of Yisrael B'aliya - Israel on the Rise


Introduction
Peace, Security and Democracy
Democracy, Accountability and the Rule of Law
Religion and State
Israel and the Diaspora
Education
The Israeli Economy
A Non-Working Sunday


Introduction

The State of Israel, the embodiment of the dreams and struggles of the Jewish people through a long historic process, today continues to face myriad challenges, as it has in the past. The challenges of the future, however, are likely to be different from those faced in the formative years. The first fifty years were marked by challenges to the formation and viability of the state itself. Even as Israel continues to fight for its existence today, it is to be expected that the main issues to be faced by the citizens of the state in the next fifty years will involve not the formation of a state but of a viable Jewish and Israeli nation living in a modern democratic state, peacefully coexisting with its neighbors and capable of guaranteeing its security and that of its citizens.

Israel needs at once to be a pluralistic society that embraces the model of a mosaic of communities over that of the paternalistic melting pot, while at the same time retaining both its central Jewish identity and hewing to the highest standards of democracy. It must ensure that it develops economic standards of living in line with the leading industrial countries of the world whilst simultaneously absorbing waves of immigrants and maintaining social cohesion in all parts of the country. It needs to guard the lives and security of its citizens in the face of vicious terrorist attacks in a volatile corner of the world, while remaining an attractive place to reside, move one's family to, and pursue life and happiness.

In responding to these challenges, it is not accidental that Yisrael B'Aliya is a movement that has inscribed the word aliya in its name. The word aliya has two meanings, "immigration to the Land of Israel" and "rising". The visions that have guided the composition of this new platform in the English language embrace both of those meanings. The State of Israel is by definition a process of aliya. It cannot survive without its Jewish connection, nor can it survive without recognizing that it was created from an ingathering of exiles and must continue to be a place attracting immigrants from many lands, who may each bring their unique contributions and identities to the exciting society that exists here within a national framework. If in the past most immigrants came to this country seeking shelter and haven, Israel must now become a magnet for incoming immigrants, drawn by the quality of its free, Jewish life.

The survival of the State of Israel also depends on the second definition of "rising", that is, growing, developing, changing - rising to the challenges of modern statehood while retaining that Jewish identity which first gave birth to Zionism, and attaining the national and social goals detailed in the chapters of this platform.

Peace, Security and Democracy

It is an understatement to say that no discussion of a vision for the future of the State of Israel can avoid the subject of peace and security. There is no more fundamental a role of government than the protection of the very lives of the citizens and residents of the country and national defense. The governments of Israel, literally from the moment of the country's declaration of independence, have been forced to concentrate a majority of their time and efforts to matters of defense and protecting the citizenry from attacks by enemy countries and terrorist groups. At the same time, the pursuit of peaceful relations with all of the country's neighbors has remained a goal of the highest national importance.

The State of Israel has a right to live and flourish in the Land of Israel with security and with peaceful relations with its neighboring countries. It does not wish to control the lives of other peoples, and is therefore willing to make certain compromises on the road to security and peace. These compromises, however, can only be made within the context of binding agreements and with partners committed to honoring those agreements in practice and striving towards mutual peace and security. Reciprocity between the two signatory parties, in the fullest sense of the word, must be a guiding principle behind any agreement signed within the framework of the peace process.

In recent years the danger that every resident of Israel faces from terrorist attacks has reached an appalling level. One need only consider the litany of terrorist incidents and injured or murdered citizens appearing with frightening regularity in the daily news to realize how severely disastrous a situation has developed. Just as disturbing is the realization that in part this has come about due to poor decisions made by well-meaning but misguided Israeli policy makers during the course of the Oslo peace process. Yisrael B'Aliya believes that these mistakes can be corrected and the path towards both peace and security can be found again, but only if Israeli policy in these matters is guided by the understanding of the profound connections between peace, security and democracy.

The Power of Democratic Ideals

Democracies do not go to war with one another, which is why promoting human rights is so important for international security. Democracies are inherently non-belligerent because the vast majority of peoples everywhere prefer peace to war and prosperity to poverty. While there are people in every society who will countenance using any means to achieve their ends, they almost never represent a majority. In democracies, where governments are dependent on the people they represent, the personal interest of the political leadership is inextricably linked to improving the lives of its constituents. In contrast, in non-democratic states where the people are dependent on their rulers, the incentive to promote domestic well-being is absent. The power of the rulers is maintained by rigidly controlling the minds and bodies of their subjects, which in turn depends on the manufacture of internal and external enemies.

Surrounded by belligerent, authoritarian states, Israel, the one democratic country in the Middle East, has for too long refused to believe in the universal power of its own ideals. Sceptical of its ability to promote change in the Arab states and tired of the diplomatic deadlock, Israeli policymakers initiated the peace process at Oslo while ignoring the real key to a 'New Middle East' - direct linkage between the liberalization of Arab regimes and the peace process.

The Mistakes of Oslo

The premise of Oslo was that the abyss faced with the Palestinians would be traversed in one giant leap of faith, with the mutual recognition called for in the accord triggering an irreversible political and economic chain reaction that would usher in a "New Middle East." Israelis and Palestinians were thus told simply to forget the past, instead of overcoming mutual distrust by seeing concrete changes in the present.

The issue of Palestinian compliance was also blatantly ignored. This caused many supporters of the Oslo accords to view dangerous Palestinian violations such as extraditing terrorists and disarming militants as "insignificant" when placed in the context of the greater cause of "peace". The architects of the Oslo process also seemed to completely discount the importance of reaching a broad national consensus within Israel, disdainfully ignoring virtually all opposition.

But the gravest mistake of the Oslo process was the belief that the undemocratic nature of Arafat's regime would serve Israel's interests. The possibility that such a regime would inevitably need external enemies to justify internal repression and maintain its power was discounted. Though nothing would have enhanced Israel's security more than promoting a Palestinian society founded on democratic principles and institutions, Israel ushered in a "peace" process that subsidized tyranny.

Steps Towards Security

Restoring Israel's security in the face of the violence that has raged since the month of September 2000 requires focusing attention on the source of the violence rather than the symptoms. The roots of the violent attacks are not found in the Palestinians themselves, but in the non-democratic regime that represents the greatest threat to peace and security between our peoples. Such a regime, like any other dictatorship, needs an external enemy to maintain its authority, and Israel is perfectly cast for this familiar role. Palestinian despotic rule has increased the level of hatred towards Israel to unprecedented levels. The Oslo process recognized the PLO and transferred land to its authority without demanding the one concession that might lead to the genuine reconciliation of our peoples and an end to our conflict - the liberalization and democratization of the newly emerging Palestinian regime. Correcting these past mistakes requires the following steps:

  • Israel cannot tolerate terrorist attacks aimed at its citizens - and indeed no nation on earth could tolerate attacks such as those that have taken place in Israel since September 2000. As long as terror has its own autonomy with a deep military infrastructure and an educational system devoted solely to inculcating hatred, there can be no chance for arriving at a peace agreement.

  • The IDF must be given every opportunity to uproot and completely destroy the infrastructure of terror. Nothing short of this can be acceptable.

  • Israel can count only on its own strength to fight terrorism, not the forces of any other nation.

  • Israel must restore its weakened deterrent power and so prevent the current violence from escalating into a regional war. To do so, the Israeli government cannot capitulate to pressure or reward aggression. On the contrary, we must make it clear that all the agents of terror against Israel will pay a steep price for sponsoring and carrying out terror. We must be prepared to weaken Arafat and at the same time directly strengthen the Palestinian people by supporting measures that will free their closed society.

  • Israel can never speak in two voices in the fight against terror. A situation in which its interlocutor in the peace process is a terrorist is intolerable. No terrorist can at the same time be a partner for peace. The hope for peace can only be realized when the partners Israel has for peace have fully and firmly renounced terrorism.

  • The fact that the peace process is indeed a "process", requiring patience, must be accepted by Israel. Attempts to seek and implement instant "now" solutions, in any form, will inevitably lead to disappointing results.

  • Israel must once and for all free itself from the notion that a "strong dictator" serves our interests. The time has come for the democratic world, including the one state that shares its values in the Middle East, to stop placing its faith in corrupt, authoritarian leaders and start helping the Palestinian people directly. Authoritarian leaders need enemies for their survival. The reason the Oslo process will illusory is ultimately connected to its failure both to recognize this elementary fact and to stress the power of democratic ideals.

  • Israel should directly link the economic benefits received by the Palestinians to the liberalization of Palestinian society and should persuade its allies to do the same.

  • All the moneys that currently go to unaccountable people or institutions in the Palestinian Authority should be re-channeled into investments and joint projects that assist the Palestinian people directly and that are subject to international oversight. In addition, all democratic states including Israel should contribute to a Palestinian "Marshall Plan" to be used to promote the development of a civil society and the democratic institutions. The current situation in which twenty percent of Palestinian VAT receipts are transferred to private bank accounts and hundreds of millions of dollars of Western money are placed at the personal disposal of Palestinian leaders is intolerable because this money does not go toward helping the Palestinian people, but towards supporting the corrupt junta that represses them.

  • Any future peace process must link political and economic concessions to the development of the type of society that upholds human rights.

  • The return of the Jews to Zion must be a national priority. Israel can survive in the long run only if it retains its Jewish identity.

Democracy, Accountability and the Rule of Law

Introduction

While in the past the overriding issues challenging the State of Israel were the formation and viability of the state itself, the main issue faced by the citizens of the state today is the formation not of a state but of a nation living in a modern democratic state, peacefully coexisting with its neighbors and capable of guaranteeing its security and that of its citizens. Forging a consensual political culture and strengthening the democratic institutions of State are inseparably linked matters, since only a nation united in its sense of purpose can provide the foundation for a truly strong state.

Our goal is to mold a democracy that will enable citizens from different countries of birth and backgrounds, religious and secular, veterans and new immigrants alike, to feel themselves an equal, integral part of an Israeli society free of discrimination and favoritism, wherein they take pride and take part in a democratic political culture warranting their loyalty and participation.

Yisrael B'Aliya rejects categorically any attempt, by religious or "progressive" pressure groups, to present the juxtaposition of "Judaism" and "Democracy" as a dichotomy in which one national value must yield to the other. Rather, YBA recognizes the centrality of Judaism in the ethos of the State of Israel. Concurrently, YBA is firmly committed to the principles and values of democratic political theory, which confirms the preeminence of the human and civil rights of the individual, and the responsibility of government for the welfare of the individual under its jurisdiction. Recognizing the contribution of democratic principles to the stability and viability of modern society, Yisrael B'Aliya proposes numerous solutions to challenges to the democratic nature of the State that remain consistent with a concurrent belief in the significance of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in guaranteeing personal and national freedoms and security.

YBA also emphasizes that in this period of great challenges facing the State, Israel needs broad-based coalition governments ensuring that fateful government decisions are achieved with as far-ranging a consensus as possible.

Government Institutions - Accountability and Responsibility

Faith in government is a prerequisite both for a law-based society and for a culture that wants to encourage participation in its own governance. In Israel's current reality, public interests are too often sacrificed to political and party considerations. Moreover, in recent years "political reality" in Israel has created a farce of democracy: existential decisions on the future and character of the state have been taken based on slim minority governments.

Outside the security realm, Israel's political culture has created the opposite of a "meritocracy": political considerations create situations where ministers are appointed who make momentous decisions affecting Israel's society and future on the basis of the selfish interests of a particular group of voters and not of the entire society. In education, welfare, health, housing, trade, business, agriculture, infrastructure, environment, and almost every other area of interest, ministers are chosen not on the basis of a combination of ability and political affiliation, as in other democracies, but rather solely on the basis of the number of votes deliverable in the Knesset.

These two related issues - minority or slim-majority governments executing policies affecting existential issues and the refusal to appoint specialists or qualified political leaders as ministers - call for real reform of both Israel's political institutions and our political culture. The effort to bring real accountability and responsibility to Israeli politics may take years, or even generations. Yisrael B'Aliya will strive to reform the political system to resemble the "checks and balances" inherent in other recognized systems of democratic regimes, where the elected legislative body passes laws that are enforced by the elected executive authorities and that are reviewed by an independent judiciary, which is in turn appointed by the executive, which is in turn watched over by the legislature.

Eventually, MKs remaining in the Knesset will monitor the activities of an administration assembled by the Prime Minister not on the basis of party and coalition interests, but rather made up of qualified specialists, or at least loyal professionals committed to the efficiency and success of the elected Prime Minster's policies rather than party functionaries dedicated only to their own political fortunes.

Similarly, Yisrael B'Aliya believes that Supreme Court justices, and judges at lower levels of the judiciary, must be appointed by a combination of members of the judicial/legal profession and the elected political leadership, not as present only by legal peers. Though certainly it must protect minorities and promote equality before the law, the role of the judiciary must be to interpret and decide the legality of cases before it, not to act as a quasi-legislative body with its own political and social agenda.

In addition, the party advocates an aggressive policy of decentralization, whereby more decision-making power and supervisory/financial authority rests with local or regional councils, which are by nature more directly answerable to their local electorates.

Finally, Yisrael B'Aliya advocates the drafting of a permanent constitution as the third part of the electoral reform movement (direct election of the PM, regional in addition to proportional representation, and drafting a constitution). As a framework for legislation, a constitution should be the document that guides - and in some cases dictates - the manner in which the Israeli body politic manages its legislative function. Such a constitution will govern how the Knesset decides which issues are "existential", and therefore require special procedures or voting majorities. It will establish basic parameters for deciding - and the framework for allowing legislation which will reflect changes in society - on issues relating to the character of the state, borders, foreign relations, and other substantial issues relating to the infrastructure of state. Such a constitution will offer a foundation for amicable and consensual decision-making on Israel's most divisive questions.

As an initial step towards these goals, Yisrael B'Aliya proposes the following first tangible measures to strengthen Israeli democracy and its democratic institutions and culture:

1) Adding regional representation: For the purpose of increasing Knesset members' accountability to the electorate, Yisrael B'Aliya advocates adopting a mixed method of forming the Knesset: 50% through electoral districts, 50% through party lists as today.

Regional representation, even if constituting only part of the composition of the Knesset, will allow the population throughout the country to regain both the feeling of connection to political leaders and the confidence in their ability to be responsive to the needs of the "common people". Commensurately, an MK elected from a particular region will be expected to protect and defend that region's interests; he/she will suffer the obvious consequence of defeat at the polls if that effort fails or is perceived to fail. At the same time, MKs elected through party lists will be expected to represent national interests above local ones, thus providing a necessary balance between local and national concerns.

2) Raising the Electoral Threshold: The electoral threshold required to join the Knesset should be raised from 1.5% to 2.5% for each party, providing a more stable base of a limited number of larger parties.

3) Separation of the executive and legislative branches of government: Members of the executive branch should not be permitted to hold concurrent seats in the government administration and the Knesset. Any MK who receives a ministerial appointment must resign from the Knesset - with the proviso that he or she can return to the Knesset seat upon leaving the ministerial position. A true separation of powers should be achieved, to ensure the independence of the executive and the oversight capability of the legislature.

5) Reducing conflicts of interest: MKs must absolutely be prohibited from engaging in direct or indirect business activity. Running a private or publicly-traded company, serving as a member of the board of directors of such a company or even being a significant shareholder of a corporation should be items included in the list of business activities so prohibited.

6) "Referendum" and "Special Majorities": Yisrael B'Aliya believes that crucial decisions capable of affecting the nature and future of the nation - and the identity of the Jewish people as a whole - may only be made on the basis of a broad national consensus. A simple majority of MKs, voting at times on the basis of political expediency, cannot be a sufficient threshold for setting significant policy for the nation. Consequently, YBA attaches special significance to the use of national referendums, to be held on the eve of fateful decisions, and to issues requiring "special majorities".

This is especially critical to the ongoing endeavor of gathering the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, when the role, character, and future of the state are still being debated. We believe that such issues as territorial compromise, changes in the relationship between religion and state, and changes in the Law of Return can only be decided on a broad consensual basis; what is more, the decisions must be made by a significant majority, not a narrow margin. Consensus should be our goal, as noted in the section relating to the creation of a constitutional framework for dealing with these issues. Yisrael B'Aliya believes that legislation should be a last, not first, resort. The nature of the questions, the terms and the time-frame of the special majorities and/or referendum are issues to be resolved by appropriate law. YBA proposes a minimum of 80 MKs (67%) as an appropriate threshold for issues relating to foreign policy such as treaty ratification and territorial concessions, as well as for issues relating to the character of the State.

7) Good Governance: Yisrael B'Aliya maintains that sweeping changes in Israel's political culture are necessary both to ensure higher levels of service and honesty, as well as to encourage young, capable professionals to enter public service. YBA believes that greater responsibility and accountability of public servants and elected representatives can be accomplished without major legislative effort, by empowering the office of the State Comptroller with improved capabilities in research, publicity, and discipline/punishment.

8) Direct Election of the Prime Minister:YBA believes the direct election of the Prime Minister was a first step towards the goal of increasing the accountability of elected officials in Israel to the electorate, and will work to re-instate this mechanism of direct accountability. The first two experiences with direct election of the Prime Minister were, unfortunately, negative - and thus the direct election law was repealed by the Knesset. Yet the correct way to tackle the difficulties of the new system is not, in our opinion, to return to the previous approach, with its numerous shortcomings, but instead to move towards a more comprehensive and balanced reform, to include constituency representatives in the Knesset alongside nationally elected members, separation of powers between the different branches of government, a constitution, and a directly elected head of government.

Human and Civil Rights and The Rule of Law

As a Jewish State with the goal to gather and unite the Jewish people in its historic homeland, Israel also constitutes the only democracy in the Middle East - what is more, a democracy compelled to be in a state of war with many of the countries in the region. Such a constellation (the Jewish character of the state, its democratic principles and the challenges related to an ongoing military situation) carries with it objective difficulties that must be taken into account. Yet Yisrael B'Aliya supports Israel's continuing to guarantee its citizens' basic human rights, in the context of the particular circumstances in which our country finds itself.

Yisrael B'Aliya advocates that Israel must:

1) Expedite the legislation of additional Basic Laws, guaranteeing freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, and giving statutory support for the principles of equality of citizens. To date, only two such laws have been passed: guaranteeing the protection of the honor and dignity of man and the right to free enterprise. A human rights law must be added to these, guaranteeing the following basic freedoms: speech, religion, association, and movement. In addition, the legal system should guarantee the equality of all citizens before the law, specifically those citizens of minority groups, such as Arabs, Bedouin, Druze, immigrants, members of non-Orthodox Jewish movements, and non-Jewish citizens.

YBA also favors the enactment of legislation of a basic law guaranteeing fundamental civil and social rights: to education, medical service, social welfare, and other services. Immigrant populations and other neglected minorities, especially Arab municipalities, must be the target of "reverse discrimination" to bring the level of services available to these communities up to that of the Jewish communities in the State. At the same time, effective administration, overseen by the State Comptroller and the Knesset, must be demanded of all communities in Israel.

In particular, in recent years various interpretations of archaic statutes regarding "incitement" have been introduced into legislative and judicial activities, prompting both abuses of the statutes by police authorities as well as random and seemingly arbitrary application by the courts. Yisrael B'Aliya contends that freedom of speech is a pillar of true democracy, and will endeavor to present and pass new laws to regulate and provide a narrow legal definition for incitement and "anti-State" activity.

2) Combat all employment-related discrimination - whether based upon nationality, religion, sex, age, or country of origin.

3) Prevent discrimination of certain categories of employees denied the opportunity of signing either a collective or an individual labor contract. A series of laws must be passed regulating labor relations, including a law on obligatory conclusion of a labor contract between employer and employee.

4) Guarantee the right of mothers with children up to seven years old to special social benefits and a partial work-week with no decrease in pensions. YBA also advocates increasing the number of paid sick days for care of a sick child, up to complete recovery.

5) Combat defamation of any national or ethnic groups in the Knesset, the media, and the educational streams. A basic condition of Yisrael B'Aliya's participation in any government is its willingness, by all possible means, to underscore the importance of ongoing Aliya for the State, and to emphasize the benefits that Aliya brings to Israel.

In a democratic state, the mention of the ethnic origins of a detainee or a suspect in the media or other public forum is considered an offense. In Israel this phenomenon has become standard practice, especially with regards to immigrant populations and other minorities, with no protest made by either the government (Ministry of Justice) or the public. Yisrael B'Aliya is determined to utilize all means available, including the courts, to remedy the existing situation.

6) Significantly reduce bureaucratic and police abuse of power. To this end:

  • limit preliminary detention to 24 hours;

  • ensure a detainee's right to a meeting with an attorney during the first 24 hours after arrest (at present the detainee can be denied such a meeting for 48 hours, and in cases involving national security, for as long as one month);

  • provide State legal aid in all criminal procedures, and guarantee the right of the suspect to a translation of the legal process into a language which s/he comprehends.

  • ensure speedy, efficient and effective responses to citizen's complaints of arbitrary or unfair decisions by government or police representatives.

Religion and State

Introduction

The statement that Israel is both a democratic and a Jewish state should not be viewed as a dangerous dichotomy but rather a positive duality granting the country its unique character. It is a Jewish state in that it is the national homeland of the Jewish nation. At the same time, it is a democracy striving to give each and every individual citizen the fullest democratic, human and civil rights in his or her pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Israel cannot exist except as a Jewish state; Israel cannot exist except as a democracy.

More than fifty years after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, it is apparently still imperative to make the positive statement that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation is as deserving as any other in the family of nations to its independent and sovereign nation-state, within its historical and ancient homeland. The State of Israel, as such, is deserving of making use of the symbols of the Jewish nation as part of its state symbols. The national holidays follow the rhythms of the Hebrew calendar; the language used by the majority of its citizens is the Hebrew tongue; the Star of David is an integral part of the national flag. Israel has no chance of existing without being Jewish and without its national roots. It is against this background that the special concern that the state has had and will continue to express for the welfare of the Jewish people and religion, the Right of Return and deep connections with the Jewish communities of the Diaspora are to be understood.

At the same, the promises of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, ensuring that the State of Israel be a state of development for the benefit of all its inhabitants as well as a state based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and peace, a state in which all the inhabitants will enjoy equality of social and political rights, along with freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, need to be reiterated and applied properly as well. A society that is the ingathering of immigrants cannot exist over the long run without strong democratic institutions. People gathered from different cultures cannot be forced into a melting pot - the contributions of all participants in society is necessary. This basic fact can only become more important as Israel moves from being a shelter and haven for immigrants to becoming an immigration magnet.

The way to attain the optimal balance between being a Jewish and a democratic state is by adopting an ethos that respects Jewish traditions and values and the desire of a majority of the citizens of Israel to define their society as a Jewish state, within a framework granting each citizen and community individual rights. Discrimination and injustice against any person due to his or her ethnic background or religious beliefs cannot be permitted in a country recognizing the equality of all before the law. Nor can the rights of any individual to full expression be denied.

From the basic rights of individuals to free expression and association are built the rights of communities of like-minded individuals to define themselves and their ways of life without impinging upon the rights of others or coercing them into a life-style not of their choosing. Our movement rejects the theory of the "melting pot" and the paternalistic attitudes that come with it. YBA believes that the free development of each culture is the basis for the development of Israeli culture in general, enriching it and giving it depth and variety. The melting pot ideals of the past must give way to a new Zionist recognition of a mosaic of communities living in pluralistic harmony and equality, alongside an agreed-upon national core of education, ensuring a rich synthesis and interaction of cultures.

Decentralizing Religion in the Public Domain

The separation of state and religion in the strictest sense is not applicable to Israel, and YBA therefore believes the state has a role in positively supporting and providing religious services to the populace - whilst at the same time not imposing on individuals any particular life-style. The subject of religious-secular relations has become, unfortunately, a political minefield in recent years. The way to defuse the subject is by first and foremost demanding mutual respect between all involved, understanding that if the goal of maintaining a flourishing Jewish culture in this country is one agreeable to all then the right direction can be found, and "decentralizing" many aspects of the tension by seeking creative solutions at the levels of the private sectors, communities and freely associating individuals rather than the national government level.

In the sphere of religion and state, "ideological victories" can in the long run only be defeats, because the ideological victory of one side leads to unresolved resentment on the other side. Practical solutions that all sides can live with are the only viable possibilities.

These principles lead to the following implications in several broad areas.

Policy Recommendations

  1. In principle, decisions involving religion and the public domain should be decided at as local and decentralized a level as possible. Communities, down to the level of neighborhoods, should have the right of determining such matters similar to the power they have in establishing zoning laws. Decentralizing these matters down from the national level is the best way of reducing or even eliminating the tensions surrounding religion and state in Israel, by enabling individual citizens a greater sense that their personal preferences in these matters are taken into account. By taking this approach, we may come closer to the ideal of mutually-respecting pluralistic communities existing side by side.

  2. With regard to matrimony, it is intolerable that persons who under religious statutes cannot be married or divorced on Israeli territory be obligated to leave the state in order to do so. Denying certain individuals the possibility of establishing legally recognized life partnerships and families is a terrible limitation, to say the least, on their liberties. Those who cannot get married under current law should be given the opportunity to register. However, in light of the danger to the unity of the Jewish people and its very existence which hasty and thoughtless actions could bring, we propose that the modification of the present status quo be made only upon having attained the approval of a wide consensus.

  3. The problem of public transport on Saturdays should be resolved. This has long ago become a social rather than a religious issue. While the owners of private means of transport have the luxury of completely unhindered movement on Saturdays, those who do not own cars are confined to their four walls. The root of the problem is not in governmental decrees, but in a state monopoly on public transport. As partially state-run enterprises, Dan and Egged - the two companies servicing the entire public - do not operate their buses on Saturdays. In order to solve this problem, YBA supports the establishment of small private transport companies, which could operate during the whole week, including Saturday, without the limitations imposed upon state companies. At the same time, no one can deny that there is a special atmosphere in Shabbat-observant communities on the Shabbat. This, however, must be applied in both directions - communities which choose to do so should have the right to zone private commercial activity and the establishment of small private transport companies, which could operate during the whole week, including Saturday, without the limitations imposed upon state companies.

  4. It is imperative to clear all bureaucratic obstacles standing in the way of those seeking conversion (giyur). YBA believes that in light of the large number of mixed marriages, the question of conversion giyur is crucial for the aliya from the former USSR. Therefore, Yisrael B'Aliya deems it necessary to accept the suggestions of the Ne'eman Commission calling for the recognition of a 'machon giyur' uniting all the religious streams, for the sake of the unity of the Jewish people. This, however, should be done along with the full support of the rabbinate.

Minority Rights

Much of what appears above can be appropriated as well in dealing with the minority communities in Israel. At root, the State of Israel must continue to grant each and every individual citizen full human and civil rights, as an individual, equal to others before the law. Upon this bedrock, we may further recognize the rights of minority communities to equality in maintaining and building themselves, in defining their own identities, languages, creeds and beliefs. The State of Israel, as both a democratic and a Jewish state, must view as a positive goal the reversal of years of neglect and discrimination with respect to communities of minorities.

Israel and the Diaspora

"Kibbutz galuyot" - ingathering of the Jews of the world in the land of Zion - remains a basic goal, but this does not mean the rejection of the Diaspora as an equal and legitimate part of Jewish society. Israel and the Diaspora of Jewish communities around the world share a mutual destiny and joint future. The support of Jewish communities and Jewish life in the Diaspora is therefore one of the goals of Zionism. Work directed at aiding the Diaspora should be carried out in tight coordination between Israeli, international and local Jewish organizations - especially with regard to the Jewish education of future generations, which should move towards unification of basic core curricula in Israel and the Diaspora. Jews of the Diaspora should have the opportunity to take an active and direct part in the development of our nation, without recourse to complex bureaucratic structures. They should feel themselves able to participate in decisions which concern the entire Jewish people. The relations between Israel and the Diaspora must be rid of narrow partisan interests and influences, and become a "contract" between the Jews in Israel and the Jewish community of the world.

At the same time, today's challenge is to attract those Diaspora Jews who are fully capable of moving to Israel but are simply unwilling to do so. To attract them, the traditional idea of aliya must be transformed. Rather than seeing Israel as a refuge for oppressed Jews, we must work to create a society that provides the opportunity for Jews across the world to live in a state that forges a profound connection with our people's collective past, while offering each individual the freedom to fulfill his or her own aspirations. The absorption distinction between immigrants cmoing from poor and rich countries needs to be maintained, but at the same time the needs of immigrants from the rich nations - which go beyond the simple calculation of budgets - must be fully taken into account by the agencies of the state.

The following policy recommendations are suggested:

  • Encourage the participation of Disapora Jewry in issues in Israel involving the core of Jewish identity, such as the Jerusalem, the Law of Return, etc.

  • Budgets must be allocated for educational programs in Diaspora Jewish community, especially those bringing them closer to Israel, such as the Birthright program.

  • A shared Core Curricula in Jewish studies should be developed and implemented, both in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world.

Education

Introduction

Yisrael B'Aliya views education as the building block of the Jewish people and views improvements in education as the highest priority. We must focus on strengthening and improving the caliber of the schoolteacher, with the aim of making the teaching profession more competitive and more rewarding. The second focus is on introducing a "core curriculum" into all Israeli school.

The core curriculum would be composed of secular subjects (including Hebrew (language and literature, English, math, science, world history and a foreign language) and well as two 12-year-long courses on the Bible and Jewish history.

Jewish education is also the basis of the bridge between Jews the world over. The core curriculum would also include sections on the Diaspora as part of Jewish culture, so that children in Israel may attain an appreciation of its importance. At the same time, efforts must be made to co-ordinate the syllabi of Jewish schools in the Diaspora with the core curriculum in Israel, so that Jewish children throughout the world have a shared common core of education.

Teachers and the Core Curriculum

Yisrael B'Aliya would focus on improving two fundamental areas, whilst bearing in mind many other peripheral improvements that might be made to the system.

The first major area regards the level of the teachers. The profession of teaching should be regarded - as it has been in the past - as a most noble profession, and the Ministry of Education should work on building a system that attracts the highest caliber people to teaching, and rewards them accordingly. On the one hand, this means an increase for teachers over today's salaries; but at the same time, this should not be a blanket increase. Additional salary might be used recruit young, high-caliber people into the profession, or used to reward excelling teachers within the system. An increase in wages would also make the profession more competitive, drawing a larger candidate pool.

At the same time, steps should be taken to reduce the bureaucracy of the Education Ministry. Trimming in this area might free up more resources for local schoolteachers and principals. Another effort might be geared toward raising the requirements and the content of professional teachers' training courses.

The other focus toward improving the education system regards the curriculum. Yisrael B'Aliya envisages a core curriculum, including both secular and Jewish studies, which would be taught in all schools, whether religious or secular.

The core curriculum would include Hebrew language and literature, English, math and basic computer science, science, world history and a foreign language. (To help encourage introducing this secular core curriculum in Haredi schools, the Ministry of Education might consider 'lending' qualified teachers to the Haredi religious school or offer financial incentive for schools introducing these as new subjects) At the heart of injecting Jewish tradition into the school system, a core curriculum for Jewish studies would be implemented in all state schools. The core curriculum would consist of two basic courses, both of which would run from 1st to 12th grade.

The first course would be the Bible, which forms the basis of Judaism and Jewish tradition and the foundation of Jewish literature/language. There is no reason why every Jewish Israeli should not be fully versant with it, especially as it is easily accessible to the Hebrew speaker. The knowledge of the Bible is so fundamental to every person's life as a Jew, and for the Jewish people's presence in the Land of Israel, that if all that were to be achieved by the course was that every Israeli schoolchild would have a good, working knowledge of the entire Bible, this course will have served its purpose.

The second course would teach Jewish history and tradition. It would teach Jewish history from Abraham, but especially from where the Writings leave off, through Zionism; and it would teach about the Jewish holidays, prayers and customs within the context of history. Instead of using textbooks, the study would be based on source material.

Minorities of other religions would substitute for these two Jewish core courses studies of their own religion and heritage.

Policy Recommendations

There are also other areas which would enhance the overall learning environment in school which bear a brief mentioning here:

  1. Lengthening of the school day.

  2. Making so-called "free" education truly free. The state of Israel has a law guaranteeing state-subsidized, free education yet the sums asked by schools for various field trips, parties, services, not to mention schoolbooks, reach up to 1,500 NIS per pupil, with school expenses growing from year to year.

  3. Introducing a full day of study in schools and mandatory state kindergartens (gan chova)

  4. Creation of a system of specialized schools for gifted students in physics, mathematics, the fine arts, areas which deserve special training and cultivating of students who show a natural predisposition to excelling in these areas

  5. Widening the network of open universities, and of educational programs on radio and television dealing with the history, culture, literature, science, etc.

  6. Encouraging the development of sport in Israel; the organization of sports events such as national competitions and the promotion of Israeli participation in sports competitions abroad; increasing the number of hours spent on physical education in school and developing a network of sports schools for youngsters

  7. The process for attaining an Israeli teacher's certification needs to be simplified for those who have already received foreign certification.

  8. Greater control of educational decisions at the local level, as opposed to the national level, must be encouraged.

The Israeli Economy

Israel's quest for peace and security has understandably dominated the public agenda since the founding of the state, but the quest for greater economic prosperity and opportunity is no less important for our quality of life, and ultimately for our security as well. The current economic stagnation and level of inequality threatens to rend our social fabric at the precisely the time that unity is most important. Further, the goal of attracting more new immigrants is highly dependent on fulfilling our true potential for economic growth.

Just as Yisrael B'Aliya rejects the claim that we must choose between Judaism and democracy in the political sphere, we reject that the goals of spurring economic growth and reducing inequality are in conflict. On the contrary, we believe that it is impossible to materially reduce the gaps between rich and poor without robust economic growth. Though great strides have been made over the past two decades, further reducing the weight of government on the economy is critical both for economic growth, and creating an economy based on opportunity and enterprise rather than government connections and manipulations.

Israel is a land poor in natural resources, with a small domestic market and very little trade with its immediate neighboring countries. The only way it can overcome these disadvantages is to invest heavily in the one natural resource it has in abundance - human resources. The greatest role that the government of Israel can have in bettering the economic conditions and employment opportunities of the country is to provide the conditions for the residents of Israel to continually improve their skills and experience the fullest expression of their potential talents.

As a country absorbing immigration, Israel also requires conditions conducive to economic growth and expanding employment opportunities. All the areas of the country, not only the center but particularly the periphery, should enjoy the highest quality infrastructure, as lack of proper infrastructure drives away potential employers and international corporations. These two issues - immigrant absorption and economic growth in the periphery - are national priorities, stimulated not by the profit motive but rather by national interests. Thus our economic programs must take into consideration factors beyond the purely academic or theoretical perspective.

With these issues in mind, YBA believes the greatest weight of government spending in Israel should be diverted to education, including professional and adult-oriented education, and to improving infrastructure in all parts of the country.

Economic Proposals

  1. Subsidize Labor, Not Capital

  2. Israel's investment incentives and grants are structured to subsidize capital rather than labor. This leads to the construction of factories that are financially non-viable and excessively dependent on capital-intensive technologies. It also breeds corruption and favoritism. Instead of bribing companies to open factories, Yisrael B'Aliya advocates granting employer tax write-offs to encourage companies in preferred areas to hire more workers. The system would be designed to favor economically viable factories, and would encourage investment in labor-intensive technologies more appropriate for Israel's peripheral areas.
  3. Tax Reforms

    • Combine Social Security and Income Tax Systems

    • The separate social security tax system represents a wasteful duplication of effort. Social security taxes should be merged with income taxes, eliminating an unnecessary government bureaucracy. This measure would lower the cost to firms and individuals of complying with tax rules, thereby stimulating economic growth. In addition, merging of the two systems would enhance social equity. Currently, even low-income workers are required to pay social security taxes, although they are exempt from paying income taxes. The elimination of the separate Social Security tax system would therefore produce a significant tax cut to workers who should not be paying taxes at all.

      The taxation system in Israel should move towards becoming a simple and progressive one, in which income from all sources is taxed equally in a clear, consistent and graduated manner.

    • Lower the capital gains taxes from 50 to 20 percent

    • As a first step toward a more comprehensive tax reform and lowering of the tax burden, the 50 percent tax on capital gains on foreign instruments of investment should be reduced to 20 percent. Israel's unusually high capital gains taxes produce little revenue, while distorting economic decisions and driving companies to incorporate outside of Israel. Reducing the tax would help keep jobs and tax revenue in Israel, producing great benefits at no cost to the government's budget.
    • Eliminate limits on institutional investment abroad

    • Currently, kupot gemmel, pension funds, and insurance companies are discouraged from investing in foreign capital markets. There is a wide consensus amongst economic decision-makers that this is harmful to the economy, and unfairly discriminates against people whose savings are primarily deposited in provident or pension funds. Most of Israel's wealthiest citizens hold foreign bank accounts and invest a good proportion of their wealth outside Israel. Citizens who are less well off cannot take advantage of the benefits of foreign diversification. To allow them to do so, the 5% limit on foreign investments by institutional investors should be cancelled. In addition, foreign investments should be taxed on an equal footing with local investments. If kupot gemmel do not pay taxes on the purchase of a local stock or bond, they should not have to pay taxes on the purchase of a foreign stock or bond.
    • Prevent situations in which immigrants will face the possibility of "double taxation" in Israel and their countries of origin

    • Bilateral agreements must be attained between Israel and countries that could potentially impose taxes on immigrants to Israel, in order to prevent situations in which the prospect of double taxation and its attendant tax burden will drive away potential immigrants. It would also be wise to consider eliminating the imposition of Israeli taxes on various income sources that immigrants had assumed all their lives would be tax-free in the countries from which they came - an excellent example of this are Individual Retirement Account payments in the United States, which are not taxed there but conceivably could be taxed under present Israeli laws.

      The law should state that, for any country with which Israel has a tax treaty, any account or payment that is associated with a retirement/pension scheme approved by that country will not be subject to taxation in Israel. The law will require the immigrant to report the existence of the account or pension payment, and to identify the pension scheme with which it is associated. The Ministry of Finance will have the right to review and challenge in court the tax exemption on any accounts or payments it deems are not truly part of a pension scheme.

  4. Equalize child allowances

    • There is no justification for child allowances per child to rise with the number of children. Currently, child allowances rise steeply starting with the third child. It is wrong to act as if the third or fourth child is more valuable to society than the first or second child. If anything, there is an argument for child allowances to be weighted towards the first two children, since the costs per child are higher for a new family, and new families are the least financially established. We propose equalizing child allowances at NIS 350 for every child, the level now granted for the third child. The change would not apply to child allowances received for existing children.

  5. Housing policy

  6. Government subsidizes for mortgages for young couples and new immigrants should be changed so that they can be used toward the cost of rent, as well. There is no reason why the government should, through subsidies, encourage the purchase of homes rather than rental. The current system impels those who can least afford to do so to buy homes. Studies show that a weak rental market raises unemployment and hurts the economy by making the labor force less mobile. In addition to ensuring that subsidies do not favor mortgages over rent, mortgage subsidies should be redesigned to provide more assistance early on, when it is needed most, rather than spread over the life of the loan.
  7. Modernize transportation management

  8. Traffic jams, besides detracting from quality of life, represent a major loss to the economy. YBA therefore strongly urges greater investment in the railway system and the introduction of light rail in major cities.

    Improvements in mass transit and road infrastructure, and ending Egged's bus monopoly are necessary but they are not a sufficient answer to the problem of traffic congestion. A number of cities in the United States, Europe, and Asia have successively reduced traffic jams by using smart technology to charge drivers to enter the congested areas or for driving on highways at the most congested times. Today's technologies allow the collecting of funds on the fly, without having to stop at tollbooths, and the funds collected can be returned to the public by reducing gas taxes. As a result, the real cost of using the roads is distributed more fairly, and drivers benefit by a great reduction in traffic, one of our society's greatest headaches. In addition to reducing traffic, this program would reduce social inequities, unemployment, and air pollution.

A Non-Working Sunday

Introduction

The Israeli work-week has traditionally been a six-day week, Sunday-Friday. For many years, Friday was a half-day, as it remains in the education system. In recent years, government ministries, the armed forces, and industry leaders have migrated to a five-day work-week, with Friday a day-off for most if not all employees. In general, banks and service companies, as well as entertainment and food businesses, remain open on Friday. However, Friday is not, in Israel, the "weekend" day of recreation as appreciated in the Western understanding. With Shabbat beginning at sundown, even less traditional Israelis (and particularly those with children in school and those - a sizable minority - who work) are limited in the activities they can pursue on a Friday.

YBA recommends replacing Friday with Sunday as a day off, making a weekend that would increase recreation and relaxation for all Israelis, and increase the interaction between religious and secular. The plan calls for returning to a shortened workday on Friday (9am - 2pm) and instituting Sunday as the second (after Shabbat) day off for business, government and schools, though allowing retail stores and places of entertainment and transportation to operate freely.

The goal of such a maverick-sounding idea would be to allow for a day of recreation for all Israelis, religious and secular, rather than have the weekend centered only around Shabbat, as it is today.

The Case for Sunday as a Day-Off

At present, with Friday and Saturday as days off, the weekend focuses mainly on Saturday. For part of the population this is a religious day of rest, for another part it is a day of recreation that is limited because many places are closed by law .In addition, on weekends as they are constituted today there is no opportunity for interaction at leisure between religious and secular. The religious spend most of the day Friday and all of Saturday preparing / keeping the Shabbat. The secular need Friday to shop/prepare for the weekend (because all shops are closed on Saturday), and Saturday becomes the only day of recreation. Yet this recreation is limited because many places of entertainment and shopping are closed, and there is no public transportation. If Friday were to be a shortened workday (as it is for observant Jews in the Diaspora, and as it was in Israel a decade ago) Saturday, the first day off after the workweek, could indeed serve as national day of rest, while Sunday could serve as a day of leisure and recreation for everyone, and serve to promote an more relaxed, better rested society.

This serves as a perfect example of what is meant by strengthening the Jewish nature of the State, without imposing religious laws on anyone. By having Sunday in addition to Saturday, Saturday would serve as a day of rest for everyone, and limitations of Saturday would be offset by a full unrestricted day of leisure on Sunday. Having Sundays off might also contribute to allowing Israelis to being less pressured overall, with a full day of recreation to replace the inescapably hectic Fridays.On Saturday the present status quo of work restrictions would be kept; on Sunday banks, schools, and government offices should all be closed whilst shops, places of entertainment, transport etc. and even places of commerce and work could operate freely.

Perhaps most importantly, it would help break the almost two separate worlds in which the religious and secular live. A joint day of leisure would, at least functionally, bring together secular and religious at places like public parks, nature reserves, and cinemas. The only time one can see this happening today is on Independence Day and on the intermediate days of Succot and Passover. Further, the conflict already emerging between religious and secular over the nature of the Shabbat in Israel would become less acute, since on Sunday everything would be open.

The main difficulty with this proposal is economic, namely a whole workday would be lost, and in its place would come a shortened workday (namely Friday). As many European countries have recently done, Israel would move to a four and a half day working week. In fact, by working until 2pm on Fridays and an extra 30 minutes or so each day, the same number of working hours would be maintained.

The main sector to lobby regarding this proposal would be the business sector to see how strong the opposition is and whether it could be modified. It might be particularly helpful to approach the banking sector, for whom Sunday is an international day off, while Friday is a normal day of business. If this sector were to spearhead the Monday through Friday week, perhaps other sectors would follow. In favor of the proposal is the fact that as Israel becomes more closely linked to the world economy, it makes sense for Israel to have weekends on the same days as other countries. In this way, Israeli businesses can still work with companies in other countries on a Friday.

Many people in the financial sectors already do not work on Sundays; many high tech companies, which work closely with the US are frustrated by the different weekends in Israel compared to their clients and customers abroad.

In principle, the move would gain popular support if there could be agreement on its merits by the business and political echelons.


Source: Yisrael B'Aliya