(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
At a recent conference at Tel Aviv University’s School of Government, a
gathering that was supposed to feature an academic discussion on the desired
distribution of income to be derived from the finding of natural gas off our
shores, was an example of how politics are taking over our universities.
Sponsored by the New Israel Fund and three organizations affiliated with it, the
conference espoused a political agenda whose conclusions were emblazoned on huge
posters at the entrance. The “debate” it featured was a sham, giving voice
mostly to those who supported its foregone conclusions and limiting the few
opposing voices to three minutes each.
At the root of most ills –
academic, organizational and budgetary – afflicting our universities is their
Large chunks of the social sciences and
humanities departments are dominated by tenured professors who, under the guise
of academic freedom, promote a postmodernist nihilism (i.e. since all knowledge
is merely someone’s domineering “narrative,” everything goes) and obsess about
establishing a Palestinian state. As if the Jewish state’s legitimacy depended
on it, no matter how dictatorial it will be, and how oppressive the Palestinians
already are to their own people.
Our “social-minded” liberals also uphold
a neo-Marxist ideology, hostile to free markets and growth. They have
brainwashed generations of students, indoctrinating them with an ideology that
50 years ago, when the horrors of communism were not yet famous, they had
absorbed as innocent students.
SUCH REGRESSIVE views have done enormous
damage to the Israeli economy and society. A damaging ethos of “welfarism” and
distributive politics has come to dominate not only academia but our cultural,
military and even our business elites. It believes that profit derives from
exploitation, and that every deal, especially commercial, is a zero-sum game, a
winner exploiting a loser. It promotes the old Marxist class-struggle conundrum
and defends monopolistic unions as necessary to protect workers.
destructive view of economic activity has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Perhaps that is why it is often difficult to do business with Israelis. An
adversarial attitude to labor relations and the imposition of Histadrut-generated
“progressive” labor laws has so politicized the workplace that the capable
Israeli worker is unable to produce more than two-thirds of what an American
worker produces. Low productivity translates naturally into low
Such negative attitudes toward enterprise are why the economy,
endowed with enormous potential, the best human capital in the world, and
hundreds of billions from foreign investors, has performed – until the recent
pro-market reforms– like a Third- World economy. The continued domination by a
few tycoons and their oligopolies is a continuing reason why the economy can’t
fulfill its great potential.
Our academics seem oblivious to all this,
and to the fact that economic concentration created by government domination of
the economy constrains competition and damages efficiency. Lack of competition
enables tycoons to inflate prices, and lack of efficiency helps them justify the
low wages they pay. High prices and low wages dictated by monopolies – and not
exploitation by the free market system, as these academics claim – is
responsible for the fact that most Israelis, especially the lower-paid strata,
are unable to make ends meet (altogether, only dogmatic Marxists can imagine
that the economy, still replete with government intervention and
government-sanctioned monopolies or entry barriers, is capitalist;
“Thatcherite”, no less.) Our academics have therefore stood aloof from the
effort to break our economy’s excessive concentration of wealth and
Many of their pro-welfare organizations get substantial
contributions from the tycoons, helping legitimize them.
protect the weakened strata that welfare keeps weak and dependent (since the
high taxes required to maintain its proliferating bureaucracies and wasteful
practices check growth and spread poverty), our academics have developed a
complete theology of “rights” that the government (namely the taxpayer) must
translate into entitlements. They are blind to the fact that, generally,
government interventions in the economy help the politically privileged, but
hurt the rest.
List all “underdeveloped” areas in the country, including
the Negev, the Galilee and Jerusalem, and you get a list of places on which the
government spent billions to “help.”
The universal failure of communist
and socialist regimes and the repeated bankruptcy of welfare systems are in
great part due to the fact that they must be run by governments.
academics’ advocacy of radical welfarism also makes a mockery of Zionism, which
was originally meant to help Jews become productive, selfsufficient people.
Instead, welfarism made Israelis dependent on a corrupt and corrupting political
system that is forcing them to fight for government favors. But Marxism acts as
blinders. Our academics cannot understand that a welfare state means big
government, and big government is inevitably wasteful and corrupt.
we still prove why academic politicization is ruining the few last preserves
where one can hold an open pluralistic discussion? Those in doubt should please
explain how Israeli elites came to resemble “a one-note choir,” as Prof. Amnon
Rubinstein once put it.The writer is director of the Israel Center for
Social and Economic Progress.