By Suzie Patt Benvenisti
When I began working at the Taub Center in 2012, we had a strong reputation within the policy sphere for being a trusted source of information, but it was unclear to me what kind of a broader impact we were having on Israeli society. After all, it’s easy for a Member of Knesset or Minister to agree that a subject such as alleviating poverty is important behind closed doors, but who exactly was holding them accountable for taking action? In strong democracies around the world, that is the job of an informed citizenry – and in Israel, the public often seemed to be concerned about, and voting according to, geopolitical and security-related issues.
But in 2012, we were on the heels of the 2011 social protests, when a few frustrated young adults pitched tents on Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv, and soon thereafter tent cities and protests had popped up across the entire country. That summer, our researchers began giving lectures to newly formed groups of activists and Israelis looking to learn more about the inner workings of their beloved country’s society and economy. Among them, our current Social Welfare Policy Program Chair, Prof. Johnny Gal was a member of the advisory council offering the protest leaders expert policy input and our current Executive Director, Prof. Avi Weiss, was busy on the Trajtenberg Committee listening to citizens and experts alike and constructing plans to lower prices in Israel. Following that pivotal year, when there was such a desire to bottle the spirit of the protests for the sake of positive social change in Israel, it became evident to us that we needed to start developing tools to reach wider audiences.
Thus was born the Picture of the Nation annual series. The idea occurred to us in 2012 and the first edition was published on Yom Haatzmaut 2013. At first, we aimed the publication – with its easy-to-grasp graphs and quick explanations – to these young adults and the circles in which they ran. We envisioned it to be a publication that could take the kinds of research being read by policy makers in our larger State of the Nation Report and make it accessible to those who don’t have a background in economics or social policy.
And then something surprising started to happen; we saw the demand for the publication broaden to include the audience we least expected. As policy makers are so busy, many did not actually have the time to read the full research studies and just wanted to see the bottom line clearly laid out before them. In fact, over the years, countless policy makers have privately told us that they carry the Picture of the Nation around in their briefcases, have given copies to fellow policy makers as gifts, and generally keep them close at hand in case they need to reference something quickly. Each year, we further streamline the publication, making the graphs even easier to understand and using them to tell a story of what is happening in Israeli society.
As the political landscape continues to drift further from data-driven to dogma-driven decision making, the need for every person to have easy access to this kind of material is more pressing than ever before. This book welcomes its readers, without any pretenses, to explore Israel’s shifting demographics and the implications for the future wellbeing and strength of our country; to understand what’s really happening in the education-to-employment pipeline among Arabs and Haredim, underscoring both the achievements to be celebrated and the challenges that still lie ahead; to examine whether the Education Ministry’s goals, and the Elalouf Committee’s War on Poverty goals, are being met; to understand the ramifications when citizens with universal healthcare turn more and more to private insurance.
The need for policy-making based on data and a clear understanding of the problems underlying our challenges is growing from day to day, not just within Israel, but among our friends and family around the world. With growing concern on both sides of the ocean that the Israeli and American Jewish communities understand each other less and less, the Koret Foundation has recognized the potential that this publication has in serving as a bridge between the two communities. We are proud to be partnering with the Foundation over the coming years to expand our dissemination efforts, to reach decision makers more effectively, and to get everyone working from the same page when it comes to Israel’s social and economic situation.
With the release of the fifth edition of the Picture of the Nation this week, I welcome you all to dive in and deepen your understanding of Israel’s society and economy. The publication is available for free download on our website and if you’d like hard copies for yourself, your staff, your board, your congregation, your students – shoot us an email and we will gladly send them your way. After all, we all know that knowledge is power, and in this case, that power is just a few clicks away.
Suzie Patt Benvenisti serves as the Taub Center’s Managing Director. She oversees the Center’s impact and dissemination strategy and can be reached at [email protected].