Some time ago, a Texas friend wrote to ask how Glenn Beck’s pending mission to Israel was being received here.
My response: it wasn’t.
A few days ago, I wrote to him again with the news that Israel Today, the most conservative of the daily papers, had a story about Beck’s upcoming visit on page 15.
Now Beck has arrived in advance of hosting a demonstration next week. He has also receive some attention from Israeli media. The headline in Ha’aretz is representative, “Glenn Beck calls Israel social protesters ''communists''”
My primary observation: Beck does not understand the society he claims to be protecting from its enemies in America and elsewhere.
Perhaps when he visited the tent city in Tel Aviv he did not engage the residents in conversation. No indication that he met the daughter of the man appointed by the Prime Minister to head the committee appointed to propose reforms. She is one of the protesters, along with other offspring of the establishment. Many of those demonstrating are already members of the establishment, or will be joining it before long.
In Beck’s terms, a large portion of Israel’s population may deserve the label of communist.
Moreover, a large portion of the population has not noticed Beck or his visit. The headline above appeared in Ha’aretz’ English language internet site, but not on its Hebrew language site or the Hebrew print edition that provides morning news for much of the upper levels of Israel’s government and society.
The picture is one of two societies. One based outside of Israel, reading English, with high levels of empathy for what it perceives to be the Israeli phenomenon. The other Israeli and reading Hebrew. “Communist” for much of the former is a term of insult. “Capitalist” for much of the latter is a term no less colored by disrespect.
Israel is neither communist nor capitalist, but a complex mixture. Many Americans, like Glenn Beck, may not realize that the mixture is characteristic of most democracies. All countries of Western Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Israel are firmly in the camp of the social democracies. Also the United States since FDR, even though a lot of Americans are still kicking and screaming about what they think is ungodly.
No two countries do it exactly alike. There is a great deal of dispute about the details. In most countries (exempting the United States) there is not much dispute about the heavy involvement of government in financing and providing social services. Health care and education are widely perceived to be rights of citizenship. The laggard United States shows itself in life expectancies significantly shorter than for the rest of us.
Israel like a number of other countries has drifted from the socialist left to a greater mixture of free enterprise and government control. Current demonstrations are protesting the degree of the shift and some of the details. Most of what we are hearing from the street are demands for specific services rather than a total change in the economy. Some of those chanting deserve the labels of anarchist or communist. I doubt that Beck understands the Hebrew. Even if he did, he might not understand the nuances.
The issue Israelis have been arguing in the most recent 20 years is not about economics or social policy, but the Palestinians. When we talk about left and right in politics, we mean how far each would go in accommodating Palestinian demands.
The left has not done well in recent elections. Leaving aside the largely Arab parties (11 seats in the Knesset of 120) who do nothing but protest themselves to insignificance, the clearly left of center Meretz has dwindled to 3 seats in this Knesset. What remains of the Labor Party has only eight seats.
Currently the demonstrators are doing what they can to vitalize the discussion of left and right on matters of economics and social policy. Some have sought to recruit Israeli Arabs to their cause, but they are doing what they can to avoid the issue of Palestine. We know from personal experience that many of these economic and social leftists are also left of center on the issue of Palestine, but the linkage of the two issues would be deadly in terms of political realities.
We can expect Glenn Beck to emphasize Israel’s defense against Arabs and their western friends. There he will have support from Hebrew speakers who may comprehend his tone if not his details. Should he wander off that reservation and into his denunciation of communists and their fellow travelers, the applause will come largely from American true believers. Among them will be some Jews who have not learned the lessons of the Prophets or absorbed their norms of social justice.