Just picture the scene: The new Israeli government, in which Shaul Mofaz serves as vice prime minister to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decides at its very first meeting to slash ministers' salaries by 30 percent. It's a symbolic step but, in the view of the new rulers, it's also necessary at a time of general belt tightening.
In reality, of course, the new-old Israeli cabinet, whose founders crafted wonderful slogans branding it a team that would change the face of Israeli society, never even dreamed of taking such a step. Why should it? Fully 94 Knesset members support it. Moreover, such a step could imply that MKs' salaries also need to be cut.
We shouldn't learn from the French on every issue. Moreover, comparisons between two such different countries always involve a touch of demagoguery. Nevertheless, in a flush of enthusiasm over the change of government - something that's always refreshing in a democracy - the first decision the new French cabinet made was to cut ministers' salaries. This was a breath of fresh air to the French, and not only to them.
When former President Nicolas Sarkozy took office five years ago, one of the first decisions he made was to raise his own salary, by 170 percent. The reasons were complex, and not unconvincing, but the symbolism was clear: I deserve more. And now a new French government has arisen and said, we deserve less (almost 10,000 euros a month, down from 14,000 ).
Nor does the symbolism end with money. Of the new cabinet's 34 members, 17 are women. President Francois Hollande's government, headed by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, is the first French government ever to truly and wholeheartedly implement the principle of gender equality. This was the first campaign promise that the Socialist Hollande decided to carry out to the letter. Not almost, not approximately, but full equality.
Granted, the portfolios considered most important (aside from justice, now held by Christiane Taubira, who comes from French Guiana) all went to men. But even if the ministers of finance, interior and education are men, the cabinet table in the Elysee will no longer be surrounded mainly by men in suits, with three women thrown in for decoration.
The 17 women in the cabinet include many new faces (as do the men). That's something else we Israelis had almost forgotten was possible in politics. Almost 30 ministers in the new French government have never held a ministerial portfolio.
One of the most promising is Culture and Communication Minister Aurelie Filippetti. She is just 38, a Socialist member of parliament and a gifted author, the daughter of a coal miner. In France, the culture portfolio is one of the most highly regarded and sought after, and Filippetti will be the youngest minister ever to sit in the office next door to the historic Palais Royal in the heart of Paris. That's another element of political life that has been almost forgotten in Israel: young men and women, not just as demonstrators, but also as ministers.
Modesty, equality, new faces, youth. It could be that all these will turn out to be nothing more than empty symbols once the new French government starts to govern and is forced to contend with an incomparably complex economic, social and political situation. Nevertheless, it's a refreshing start. It promises at least an appearance of trying to deal with the problems, by setting a personal example to the electorate.
The "new" government set up by Netanyahu and Mofaz is promising dramatic changes in the system of government. As a first step, confidence-building gestures toward the voters would have sufficed.