“The People Demand Social Justice” has become the rallying cry for public protests currently taking place in Israel. These protests have united a wide spectrum of citizens – from university students, young couples, parents of young children, middle class families, and medical interns, to the general public who simply want to purchase basic food items at reasonable prices.
They felt that not only had water prices risen drastically, but that the cost of living as a whole was drowning them. They were disappointed to discover that those who are supposed to be responsible for planning economic policy and for the public accounts had forgotten to take them into account.
They went out into the streets to remind the policy makers that they exist, that the problems exists, and that their demand is the most basic that the people could make from its leaders: social justice. One should ask oneself: why should it be necessary to remind the government of such a basic need? Shouldn’t it be one of the main reasons for a government’s existence, and a key objective for its activities? What weight is given to this demand in economics courses? Or in political science? Is this value included anywhere in the education system’s curriculum?
The schools – which are the incubators for the citizens of the future – also serve to shape the businessperson, the politician, and the government official of the future?
The British used to pride themselves that their victories on the battlefield were won on the playing fields of the prestigious school, Eton. Perhaps we could paraphrase this, and ask – what school in Israel gave rise to an economic policy that forgets the citizens at the end of the chain? What generated the greed and materialism of the managers of business corporations, with their unfair tactics that reign supreme? Is this the outcome of an Israeli education system that has placed achievement above fairness, consideration and social sensitivity? The answer to this inconvenient question is not hard to find – it lies in the educational system’s curriculum – or, rather, in its absence from that curriculum.
Two weeks ago, representatives of the Israel Consumer Council appeared before the government committee examining competition in the food industry. Among the requests they raised was the following: that certain basic products – in inexpensive, generic versions – be made available in all categories of foods, and that stores be opened to sell food products directly to the public, while bypassing the unreasonable profit margins normally added to the prices of such products. The committee was also asked to introduce a long term policy that would include measurable goals at critical junctures in the food marketing process, accompanied by short term measures to bring down prices. Furthermore, the Council’s representatives added an extraordinary request: that the committee also issue a public statement that would relate to the moral and ethical dimension of food pricing.
The Consumer Council asked the committee to advocate a conceptual revolution in the education system, including the higher education system, so as to integrate the values of social justice into their curricula, and to allocate specific class time to the study of these values, whose absence is now being felt by many Israelis in their own hip pockets.
Many years ago, the then president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, said, that Education without values is the time bomb of tomorrow’s society.
It seems that, in recent weeks in Israel, that bomb has gone off.
* Ehud Peleg is the CEO of the Israel Consumer Council.