Paint it black!

By JEREMY RUDEN
August 7, 2011 23:02

A couple of weeks ago, there were those calling the demonstrators all sorts of names, from spoiled brats to anarchists.




Social justice protest on Kaplan Street

Tel Aviv protest 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com

Anyone who likes media as I do is getting their fill over the past few weeks. The demonstrations sweeping the country are making for some very interesting reports, articles and editorial comments from what seems to be about every sector.

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That’s the good news. The bad news is that because the media is so desperate to fill its pages/newscasts/websites with material about the protests, they are presenting items that are filled with misconceptions, false sympathy and outright lies designed to besmirch the social uprisings.

Let me start by pointing out that most people understand that it’s not a good idea to come out against the protesters.

A couple of weeks ago, there were those calling the demonstrators all sorts of names, from spoiled brats to anarchists. That’s changed now, and almost every op-ed I read says something along the lines of “there are legitimate grievances but….”

That doesn’t stop writers from inserting their own political biases, though. Two excellent examples are the efforts by the traditional Left and Right to link the demonstrations to the status of the West Bank.

In an op-ed in The New York Times last week, two writers, one Arab and one Israeli, tried to argue that as long as the “occupation” continues, there will be no end to social inequality in the country, the logic being that a good chunk of our budget goes to maintaining our presence in the West Bank. Freeing up those funds would allow more spending in other sectors.

On the other hand, the head of the Council for Judea and Samaria said the housing problem could be solved if more people from the cities moved to the West Bank. This line of argument was repeated again and again throughout the past week by individuals representing the settlers.

They don’t get it. This is the wrong game to be playing. In my mind, the demonstrations have nothing to do with “new” or “post” Zionism, the Palestinians or Israel’s security situation.

Polls showing massive support for the movement from all sides of the political spectrum are evidence of that.

Next, we have the seemingly endless number of analysts calling this a socialist movement. Some columnists, including at least one here at The Jerusalem Post, suggested some oldfashioned capitalism to help solve the problems. I was particularly taken aback by the statement by Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, who took a page from the GOP by calling for an Israeli version of compassionate conservatism.

We all know how that worked out.

In any event, I had no idea that cutting taxes and government expenses were part of traditional socialist demands. The truth is that for those analysts who have yet to learn the history of Israel, we had a strong movement toward capitalism back in the 1980s under the first Likud government.

At the time, prime minister Menachem Begin was so anxious to rid the country of the ways of Labor Party that he and his finance ministers brought the country close to bankruptcy, accompanied by a whopping 450% inflation.

THOSE CALLING this movement a socialist one don’t get it. What’s going on now is beyond the standard terms of socialism and capitalism. Markets in Israel are not open. The tycoons and monopolies in the various sectors are the direct result of government policies. People who are heavily taxed and poorly paid have every right to demand services and a decent standard of living. We might have low unemployment, but every year more and more people slip below the poverty line. There’s something fundamentally wrong, and it has nothing to do with whether we operate in a free market or not.

The most interesting attacks come from those who can’t seem to understand what the demonstrators want.

There are too many groups with too many opinions, they say. They’re divided. What they are asking for is unreasonable. This whole effort will go nowhere unless there are specifics.

What is “social justice” anyway? The people saying such things not only don’t get it – they’re not listening.

The way I see it, Israel’s economy must change. The system is failing, and there are both short- and longterm goals.

For the short term, the rule is simple: level the playing field. Companies that provide products or services must not be allowed to raise their profit margins as they see fit. Monopolies and cartels infect every industry, from housing to food to utility providers, and the list goes on. These cartels exist because the governments, both past and present, gave them the right to do so. It’s time to admit that this was a huge mistake. Either open up the market to fair competition, or start regulating prices.

If housing is the main sticking point, then take immediate steps to bring down prices. It could be done tomorrow.

Let’s say a young couple wants to buy their first home. The government could make the interest a tax deduction like in the US, or not charge VAT.

Of course that would mean the Treasury would be giving up income, which leads me to the long-term goals.

THE KNESSET and all the ministries have truly lost sight of their role. They work for the people, and must answer to them. Israel should not be run like a cutthroat business that’s looking to make as much money as possible.

Unfortunately, our political system has failed. Now it's time to change. Either the current political parties must figure out a way to make themselves directly responsible to the electorate (and not just to special interest groups), or a massive overhaul might be needed.

This is a very loud wake-up call, for if this movement becomes a political one, then everyone in the Knesset should be worried. It could change the entire axis on which politics in this country revolves.

Perhaps it’s time for that to happen.


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