In my first decade of life the worst insult that could be hurled at you by your under-aged Sabra peers was an insolent "bourgani." None of us quite understood what it meant. Only lots later did I realize it was the Hebraized form of "bourgeois" - esoteric terminology bequeathed by Marxist parents to their uninitiated offspring, who unthinkingly repeated it as a terrible pejorative.
It somehow became important not to deserve the denigration, whose actual definition always eluded us. But when I was six, an elementary-school first-grader, I came very close to earning the dishonorable distinction. It was when my teacher asked us how many books each of us possessed. Our homework assignment included counting our volumes - only ours, not those of our parents.
I had 40. I remember the number well. It was seared into my juvenile soul.
My property disclosure turned into a childhood trauma. It emerged that I had the largest personal library of all my classmates and this - in those days of austerity - triggered instant commotion, with everyone yelling accusingly at me: "you're rich!"
I didn't remotely comprehend how I had transgressed,and held back my tears, but by the time I ran home I was sobbing desperately.
My mother, smiling knowingly, assured me that "we're not rich, but it's no great sin to be rich. There are good and bad rich people, just as there are good and bad poor people." Our house is so full of books (my father kept buying them compulsively), mom explained, "because books are our preference. Different people spend what they have on what they deem most important - it's a matter of individual values." Mom went on to expound on our modesty, and lack of ostentation or conspicuous consumption.
I RECALLED that day's enduring introductory economics lesson five years ago, when Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz warned that "if we have no choice, we'll declare war on Israel's millionairesâ€¦ the ground burns so fiercely that this country's rich shouldn't be surprised if they're beset by groups who will charge their houses and simply chase them out of their homes, or if their daughters will no longer be able to walk outdoors."
Outrageous threats of pillage and assault aside, I wondered who's a millionaire. Who in Peretz's eyes is rich? My earliest economics lesson tangibly demonstrated that wealth is in the beholder's eye. If you hate the rich, you can call anyone you hate rich.
Mustachioed Stalin dispatched many a barely subsisting family to his Arctic gulags for the crime of alleged capitalism. When mustachioed Peretz threatens unidentified millionaires, he potentially threatens us all - even those who like myself are very far from the top of the income scale.
This doesn't only involve really serious economics, including theories that a thriving free marketplace, good business and high profit generate income and growth that benefit all strata of society. Prosperity begets prosperity.
The stifling of initiative and enterprise only imposes squalor on folks aspiring to improve their circumstances.
Beyond this plain sense is the scary prospect that those who'll get battered worst in the class war which Peretz hectored about will be ordinary citizens, those who worked diligently, managed money prudently, saved a little for a rainy day and succeeded in maintaining a respectable bourgani standard-of-living.
The extravagantly affluent can take care of themselves. In fact, Peretz might well drive them away from this country, along with many ambitious creative entrepreneurs.
Whose houses and whose guiltless daughters will Peretz's mobs then attack? Those more accessible, vulnerable and in greater proximity. Our houses and our daughters.
THE RESURGENCE of this country's erstwhile brand of belligerent socialism is about the last thing 21st-century Israel needs as it strives to tackle the challenges of globalism - defending its productive sectors against Third-World cheap labor while trying to hold on to its young talent and intellectual resources lured by First-World opulence. Already caught in the middle of merciless multinational machinations, Israel cannot afford a populist premier who intimidates its middle class.
Labor leader Peretz will doubtlessly try to convince us in the months to come that we-in-the-middle mustn't be frightened of him. Indeed, his Histadrut record of championing only the most powerful trade unions of the highest paid and most perk-laden of employees - with their hands extortionately tight around this nation's at-risk throat - shows he isn't really the friend of the downs-and-outs.
Concomitantly, however, this only underscores Peretz's verbal versatility.
If he can call Electric Corporation and Ports Authority staffers needy, he can call anybody else rich and target anybody arbitrarily. That's the real menace.
Its destructive potential today far exceeds anything we knew in the state's salad days. Even food may have been at a premium then, but Zionist idealism was in abundant supply. Today we live as well as most Western countries, yet our idealistic commitment is equally as scarce as theirs.
It's to begin with dangerous for Israel to be an American wanna-be. Imitations - often vulgar, crass and cheap - can never match the original.
Israel is already hard-put to stay competitively attractive for its younger generations, who hanker after America but must make do with a local skewed fourth-rate impersonation. Peretz's slick proletarian demagoguery won't supplant the pretentious-cum-presumptuous American dreams of young Israelis with worthier goals. Our still-beleaguered, existentially threatened state won't be able to hold on to frustrated materialistic bourganim if America-in-Israel is rendered even less attainable, and if Peretz starts counting the proverbial books on enviable shelves.