Professor Manuel Trajtenberg
Professor Manuel Trajtenberg Flash 90

Professor Manuel Trajtenberg on Wednesday informed the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, which he chairs, that he was resigning in order to throw his hat into the political arena. “I have decided on this in order to allow myself the opportunity to take part in Israel's political system by running in the upcoming Knesset elections. I do this because I believe that I have the power to contribute to the development of a more just society in Israel,” he told the Committee.

Trajtenberg did not say which party he was planning to join, but the speculation in political circles is that he will become a charter member of Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party. Trajtenberg is best known to Israelis for heading a special committee appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to examine complaints by protestors during the “cottage cheese” protests of summer 2011, when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the high cost of living in Israel.

The Trajtenberg Committee, as the panel became known, recommended a long list of reforms in taxation, construction, reducing the defense budget, increasing minimum wage levels, instituting state-mandated pensions, and a slew of other issues, some of which have been adopted, and others that are still being discussed by the Knesset.

In Kulanu, Trajtenberg would join a like-minded group of “economy activists” who are already members. A report in Globes last Sunday said that among the Itzik Alrov, a hareidi Israeli from Bnei Brak who was the catalyst for the “cottage cheese protests” several years ago, will run on Kahlon's list. It was Alrov's Facebook page on the high cost of dairy products that set off a chain reaction that led to mass protests about costs.

Another prospective member of Kulanu is Avi Katz, a member of the Religious Zionist community who is Israel's “father of five shekel coffee.” Katz is the owner of the Coffix chain of coffee shops, which sells everything – coffee, juice, cakes, and sandwiches – for five shekels. In the wake of Coffix's popularity, other five shekel chains have sprung up around the country, and even “traditional” coffee shops have cut costs in order to meet Katz's prices.

According to some reports, the party may even include the penultimate Israeli bargain maker – Rami Levy, head of the eponymous supermarket chain – on the list. Levy's chain is known for discounting, and for running specials on basic items like chicken, which he sells for 5 or 10 shekels a kilo, especially around holiday time, when other chains raise their prices.

Kahlon himself is credited with lowering cellphone service prices significantly. Reforms that he undertook while Communications Minister turned Israel from one of the world's most expensive markets for cellphone service to one of the cheapest. 

According to a document of founding principles released over the weekend, the party will “strive to lower the cost of living, especially in housing, food, and finances, by encouraging competition. In addition, Kulanu will work to eliminate excessive bureaucracy.” In addition, it said, the party will “seek to arrive at an arrangement that will ensure security for all Israelis, while encouraging negotiations for a political settlement with our neighbors,” as well as “increasing personal security for Israelis by increasing the level of punishment for those convicted of property crimes and violent crimes.”