With little political steam left in the “peace process,” the left-leaning
opposition is looking desperately for a new card to play. Their unlikely,
inappropriate and outdated choice: “Social justice.”
professional integrity, Uzi Benziman, editor of the Israel Democracy Institute’s
blog The Seventh Eye, posed this candid question: “There is a puzzling
discrepancy between the bitterness expressed in the housing protest and the
satisfaction with life in Israel expressed in recent polls. Could it be that the
way the rebellion is depicted in the media is influenced by the journalists’
personal identification with its objectives?” It is question that must be
addressed both in the specific context of the ongoing protests and in the
general context of how the public discourse is manipulated in this country, and
why certain issues are accorded prominence, while others are consigned to
obscurity.Grounds for genuine grievances
Don’t get me wrong! Israel’s
socioeconomic fabric is far from unblemished! Social workers’ salaries are
scandalously low – and dangerously shortsighted. An underpaid, overworked police
force is a guaranteed formula for the spread of corrosive and crippling
corruption and lawlessness. The meager remuneration for teachers and doctors is
wildly out of sync with their value to society.
Yes, there is little room
for social complacency.
This is a country whose only significant
productive resource is the human resource. Widespread social iniquities would
entail huge economic costs. Accordingly, outlays on health, education and public
safety should not be considered unproductive welfare expenses, but investments
in capital maintenance. Without a healthy, well-educated, motivated workforce,
the economy would be unable to compete as a modern wealth-generating entity.
This is not bleeding- heart socialist doctrine, merely hardheaded capitalistic
In this regard, criticism can reasonably be leveled at the
Finance Ministry – under both the current and past governments. This is
particularly true of its influential Budgets Division, which is often afflicted
by both short-sightedness and tunnel-vision, consistently subordinating
long-term, systemic considerations to a short-term, “penny wise, pound foolish”
dogma of fiscal austerity.
The Budgets Division has made the deficit the
overriding criterion for providing – or rather, not providing – resources for
sorely needed national enterprises, thus delaying projects clearly capable of
eventually generating revenues that would have easily covered the initial budget
outlays – and conceivably prevented much of the current outcry.Down with
That said, the sudden rash of country-wide protests has a
distinctly unauthentic ring. It is one thing to decry exorbitant overpricing by
private corporations in uncompetitive, centralized local markets and/or chronic
deficiencies in supply induced by bureaucratic gridlock. It is quite another to
demand sweeping restructuring of the entire socioeconomic edifice with a
“back-to-the-future” reinstatement of a “socialist paradise” and an
unaffordable, anachronistic welfare state.
As such, the protests smack
more of political frustration on the part of the opposition and its media
cronies, than of genuine economic deprivation of the middle class. They are
being seized on as tool for social division rather than for social solidarity,
to ferment – with the use of incendiary innuendo – resentment against the
“settlers” and the religious.
With business slow in the “peace industry,”
they are increasing being exposed as a flimsy pretext to denigrate the
government rather than in a sincere endeavor to reform society.
perennial proponents of Palestinian statehood have morphed into socially
sensitive activists, advocating the elimination of difficulty in daily life, and
demanding the enhancement of everything. Suddenly, everything in country – from
housing through medical services to food prices – is a legitimate target of
From the picture painted by protesters – and eagerly
conveyed by a brazenly biased press – one might think that life in Israel was an
unbearable ordeal for most of the downtrodden masses. It is a picture that sits
uneasily with the facts.Meanwhile, back on planet Earth
Israel was admitted to the prestigious OECD group of the world’s most-developed
nations, and while the inequality index in Israel is somewhat higher than the
OECD average, its is just slightly above that of the UK, Australia and Italy and
not that different from that of Japan and New Zealand.
So it seems that
Israel’s impressive economic development has not been accompanied by any
inordinate socioeconomic iniquities, relative to other OECD members. Indeed,
there is compelling evidence that the Israeli economy – and many Israelis – are
faring considerably better than their counterparts in much of the developed
Last April, in a Gallup survey to gauge “well-being” in 124
countries, Israel scored remarkably well. In only 19 countries, a majority
defined themselves as “thriving,” rather than “struggling,” or
Israel ranked seventh, with 63 percent seeing themselves as
“thriving,” tying with New Zealand, close on the heels of Finland and Australia
and ahead of the Netherlands, US, Austria and UK.
These findings closely
parallel those in a study by the OECD itself, assessing the quality of life in
member countries. Again Israel fared well. Seventy-two percent of Israelis were
satisfied with life, well above the OECD average. They were also better educated
and enjoyed higher life-expectancy, reflecting favorably on the general level of
health care in the country.
Locally conducted polls reinforce this
A Central Bureau of Statistics survey published in mid-2009
showed Israelis greatly satisfied with their lives, their professions, their
places of employment... and their income.Pampered, pompous and
Looking at the Israel economy overall, especially in the
light of the teetering fates of several other OCED nations, the sudden outburst
of outrage is difficult to comprehend.
As the polls referred to above
attest, it certainly cannot be attributed to years of simmering dissatisfaction.
The outrage can, perhaps, be traced to what the BBC diagnosed as the frustration
caused by aspiring to Swiss living standards on Greek-level incomes. Largely
untouched by the world economic crisis and accustomed to increasing consumption,
Israelis are refusing to tailor their expectations to their means. Keeping up
with the Joneses is becoming increasingly onerous, inducing many to live
stressfully beyond their means.
But justified or not, the frustration is
real, and is being hijacked for political ends.
Claims that the protests
are non-partisan are patently ridiculous. To accuse the government of pandering
to the wealthy is wildly unjustified. Arguably more than any of its
predecessors, it has been willing to challenge the monopolists/oligopolists and
to confront the “tycoons” – even incurring plutocratic wrath by retroactively
raising royalties on the profits from the newly discovered natural gas
The left-wing bias is clearly evident not only from what the
protesters are demanding, but from what they are not.
demands appear to be a hodge-podge of poorly thought out proposals for a
cradle-to-grave welfare state that has brought several EU countries to the verge
of collapse. In a risible attempt at economic alchemy, the protesters specify no
discernable source of finance for this package of “social justice” other than
reducing indirect taxes.
But even more revealing is what is not on the
protesters’ agenda. Conspicuous by absence is any suggestion of consumer
boycotts against the avaricious private monopolies/ oligopolies, the real
culprits for much of the excessive price hikes. (After all, high prices can only
be maintained if consumers are willing and able to pay them.) Nor do they
advocate assertive measures to decentralize the economy, or reducing prices by
encouraging more competitive imports – perhaps out of fear of alienating the
agricultural sector that runs large dairy farms supplying the “cottage-cheese”
Likewise, there are no proposals to reduce rampant
tax delinquency in the Arab sector, or to end the general lawless in the
While they berate the low cost of real estate the “settlers”
allegedly enjoy, there is no word about the illegal takeover of state land by
the Beduin in the South, and the attendant cost to deal with
Apparently that would be too politically incorrect for the “new
social order.” While they bewail funds for the ultra-Orthodox, they are silent
on the scandalous expenditure of tax revenues that sustain polygamy among the
Beduin, involving multiple marriages to women brought in from Gaza and the
Described by police sources as a pervasive “social
trend,” this is a growing iniquity funded by welfare payments from the National
Insurance Institute that seems to leave the protesters’ social sensibilities
Last but not least, the cost of housing.
non-partisan body genuinely concerned with high housing prices would embrace the
most obvious and proven measure for reducing them: an end to the building freeze
in the “territories” and accelerated construction there to increase the supply
of accommodation so as to arrest the upward pressure on markets in the Dan
And surely if the protesters have no political affiliation, they
would not eschew such an immediate remedy. After all, this is precisely what the
Rabin government did! Despite 1992 electoral pledges to freeze construction
across the Green Line and “dry up” the settlements, it quickly realized that
this produced skyrocketing real-estate prices.
The prompt response was to
approve – in mid-1994 – massive construction in the “settlements,” which kept
price rises in check.
There is little doubt that current constraints on
building in “the territories” are a major factor contributing to the exorbitant
prices of housing in country – but one the protesters studiously eschew
Genuine non-political social protest? Give me a