Something between the demonstrators and the general public is getting lost in translation, at least within the Anglo community. There is an extreme, and in my opinion surprising, backlash against the current protests.
Recently I have seen the protestors in Israel’s new social justice movement portrayed as "whiny wealthy kids" who want to live in fancy apartments in Tel Aviv and need to learn how to “suck it up” and live frugally. This is usually coming from people who have in fact lived frugally, many of whom do not own their own home or cars, and some who are right now struggling financially. Many of the people who are speaking out against the protests will in fact, benefit the most from what the protestors are asking for (like the recent aborted tax hikes on gasoline and electricity).
Let’s start by making it clear that the protests have evolved past the housing crisis and now embody the need for social and economic justice in Israel. It was sparked by the lack of affordable housing but in fact, it is a much greater issue. The Israeli middle class is shrinking and those who remain have been bearing the brunt of supporting large elements of society who don’t work AND supporting an elite wealthy class who are reaping the benefits of an outdated and bad socioeconomic policy.
The middle class is notoriously difficult to engage in real social action because they are usually complacent. If the middle class is taking to the streets by the thousands in cities all over the country it is a sign that the situation must be really bad- and it is, really, really bad.
I have been spending a lot of time in the tent city at Modi''in and have had a lot of interesting conversations. As opposed to the Tel Aviv protests, the tent city in Modi’in is populated mostly by young families. The kids almost outnumber the adults and the crowd is made up almost completely of young professionals. People who despite working hard are frustrated and feel stymied.
Through numerous conversations I have seen a unifying factor- in people’s private lives their financial situations have been getting worse and worse. But if you are middle class and working hard you think that it must be your fault if you are struggling and can''t make it to the end of the month. Perhaps you didn’t negotiate your salary well enough, or you could be more frugal and lower your needs... There is a lot of guilt and shame involved with not being able to pay your bills and needing help. But once the issue was raised people looked around and realized that it wasn’t “them” or their failure. It is a failure of the current economic system.
When people are constantly receiving the message that the Israeli economy has weathered the storm and it is in great shape it was only a matter of time before people would want to see this reflected in their homes, their buying power and their quality of life.
Fact: prices have been soaring and wages have been stagnant. Sooner or later there would be a breaking point.
It is not even a question of socialism vs capitalism or a free market economy. The truth is, if anything, this country is suffering from a lack of a truly free market. Almost 50% of the cost of a tank of gasoline is tax, and as my friend says “Everytime you fill up your car you are buying one tank of gas for yourself and another for the government.” There is nothing even vaguely competitive about our domestic economy right now.
The worst, I think comes from Finance Minister Steinitz''s love of “flat taxes” on basic necessites like utilities, gas, housing and food (thankfully his fruit and vegetable tax was shot down in advance of taking effect). When you really need something- you pay for it and suffer. You can cut down your use to a certain degree but there is a basic subsistence level of usage that cannot be ignored. The reality a flat tax on basic necessities hit some people disproportionally harder.
Here is who it hits the hardest: the middle class. Here is why: people in poverty qualify for help and people who are rich can afford to pay more. Hard working people in the middle end up being disproportionately affected.
We need real economic reforms that will take the pressure off of hard working people. If you want to call this whining then go ahead. You can follow Sarah Nadav on twitter HERE @sarahnadav