A few months ago the polls were showing that what remained of the Israeli left could fit in a large phone booth. The three Meretz MKs were making little noise, and the eight who remained in the Labor Party after Ehud Barak took away the centrists to a new party were busy fighting over which of them would take on the unenviable position of leadership.
Now there is hope. The national happening that is Israel''s summer of protest has energized all of the predominantly Jewish parties to the left of Likud. If Arab parties are planning their strategy, the details haven''t reached the popular media.
The common theme: Israel needs a remaking, and the Netanyahu government is not up to the job. People speaking for Labor, Kadima, Meretz, the Labor Federation, and housing protesters agree that the proposals offered to deal with the housing problem are not the answer.
Some activists with credentials as economists have found reason to praise the proposals coming out of the Prime Minister''s Office, but even they qualify their remarks by noting the sectors that will not benefit, reminding us that it will take years to see the results in the form of apartments ready for occupants, and warning that the proposals still have to pass some difficult hurdles before they are assured of implementation.
Physicians are working to keep their issue above the noise made by housing protests. Reports were that the Physicians Association was close to an agreement before the hospital residents began their counter claims. Now the leader of the Association is working to keep his members in line. He declared a personal hunger strike until there is an agreement that is fair to all. Some hundreds of residents have signed letters of resignation and are threatening to deliver them. A number of physicians are marching toward a planned protest at the Prime Minister''s residence in Jerusalem.
It is common to criticize the Prime Minister for his blustering claim to have produced a workable program for housing in a few days of intense meetings. He has earned a reputation for fastening on grandiose ideas to deal with problems that require attention to numerous details. He dealt with a catastrophic forest fire by deciding quickly to rent a 747 equipped to dump large amounts of water. The project was expensive, the plane had to come from North America, and it took so long to replenish its water tanks after each drop as to cast doubts on its cost effectiveness. It produced an epigram for critics of the Prime Minister. They ask what kind of supertanker he will summon to deal with housing or the physicians'' strike.
The motley collection of protesters offers little hope for national salvation. Demands are all over the map of unfulfilled desires. Desirable apartments in good locations for affordable prices, limitations on entrepreneurs who are said to have made themselves rich at the public''s expense, lower prices for food and the use of cell phones, and generalized insistence on a more fair distribution of resources. I haven''t noticed anyone demanding a better deal for minorities or a more generous offer for Palestinians.
Political realities do not auger well for the protesters. Their demands are far too leftist to attract support from religious parties that do well by trading support for goodies. Religious politicians may be asking themselves where the housing protesters on the important issues of Shabbat and Kashrut are. The former residents of the Soviet Union who make up the constituents of Avigdor Lieberman are not inclined to another dose of socialism. Bibi''s political manipulations have served him well even though they invite the ridicule of intellectuals who are inclined to the left.
Commentators agree that the government is one of the strongest in years. An election is not mandatory prior to 2013. By then two seasons of rain will have sent the tent dwellers to their homes, undesirable though they may be.
The head of the Labor Federation has said that he will use all the tools available to bring about social justice. Enthusiasts have translated that to mean a general strike, but that would be an extreme measure. The labor leader''s primary constituencies are the heads of prominent unions, and they are not any more sympathetic to revolution than counterparts in Western Europe and North America. Calls for redistributing wealth do not appeal to unions whose members already have higher than average benefits. Unemployment levels are at multi-year lows. Claims of widespread hardship may appeal more to university students than to workers.
One must be careful forecasting outcomes in the midst of protests that have proven to be popular. Nonetheless, I will risk the prediction that Israel''s prospects of significant economic redistribution are about as promising as one democracy emerging from all those protests in Arab countries.