Israelis have good reasons to complain. In that trait, they resemble the residents of 192 other member states of the United Nations, plus Palestinians and others who want into the club.
Currently the problems have gone beyond the price of cottage cheese and housing, and have spread to the plight of young physicians having to work long hours in order to acquire the credentials of specialists. Tent cities are springing up to demonstrate the plight of people who say they cannot afford decent housing, there continue to be media reports about cottage cheese, and physicians have walked out of their wards to assemble on the grass and wave their signs.
The New York Times correspondent has written that the "Spirit of Middle East Protests Doesn’t Spare Israel." Ethan Bonner is careful to distinguish the demands of Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans et al from Israelis, but he draws a parallel, and sees Israelis learning from Arabs how to jostle their government.
Perhaps. But his article reminds me of praise in the same newspaper for Arab protests that were seen to herald the onset of democracy.
Anyone with good sense should be a long way from predicting the nature of regimes that will emerge in the Arab countries upset by mass demonstrations and violence. Likewise, it is early to say what will happen as a result of Israelis protesting the details of public policy. If the young people of Israel are learning from Arabs how to recruit demonstrators, the officials of Israel are not behaving like their Arab counterparts. Instead of sending in the police to tear down the tents and beat protesting physicians, the prime minister is meeting with advisors and politicians who are falling over themselves to meet with various groups of protesters and offer solutions for their problems.
There are also argumentative Israelis questioning the motives, policy goals, and activities of various protesters. While I cannot claim enough expertise in each field to judge the disputes, I cannot resist the fray.
Prominent in the demands of young people feeling themselves un-housed is their quest for housing that is "decent," "affordable," and located in desirable neighborhoods. The vast majority of these people are not homeless. A disproportionate number of them are university students, which means that they come from the upper slice of the country''s economy. Without judging what they mean by decent housing, it is difficult to decide how different they are from many people in many countries who cannot afford the housing they would like in desirable locations.
Protest organizers have been careful to assert that they are seeking social justice and not political gains. Yet those who speak do so with a leftist accent. Most notable was the young man heard on one of the news programs who coupled his concern for cottage cheese with housing, and demanded an immediate reduction of 30 percent in the price of all food.
Physicians preparing to be specialists knew the demands that would be made of them before they began advanced training. Moreover, the training of specialists here is similar to that elsewhere. While protesters say that they want the hiring of more physicians to ease their workload, skeptics in the profession have said that there may not be enough candidates to fill the increased number of positions. What we may be seeing is the shortfall of material and personnel resources needed to provide high quality medical service.
Israel''s medicine is a mix of public and private. Critics say that the drift has been too much in the private direction, and that there should be more resources allocated to the public sector. Maybe. That is hard to judge. We all have basic coverage, and 70-80 percent of the population pays more for the supplemental coverage offered by the HMOs.
That extra coverage is pretty much standardized from one HMO to another, and regulated. There are other insurance schemes, offering even better options, said to be acquired by 20-30 percent of the population. It is fair to say that the large majority is well covered when judged by international standards. Complaints continue, but resources are limited. This is not one of the very wealthy countries, and we each have to invest in tanks and military airplanes.
So far there are no signs of democracy coming to the countries participating in Arab spring. Where commotions continue in what is now Arab summer, there are more reasons to expect something other than democracy in their near future.
Israel''s democracy, like those of other countries well endowed with decent politics, undergoes frequent tests. Israel''s may be tested more often than other countries, given its neighborhood and a population that inherited an intensity of criticism from Prophetic ancestors. No one should predict the price of cottage cheese, or the responses of the government to the protests about housing or medical training. Politicians are scrambling to help on all of these issues.
With all guesses taken into account, we will remain a light unto a neighborhood that few neighbors are willing to acknowledge. Currently we''re ranked #8 in the world for life expectancy, ahead of most Europeans and even further ahead of that country in North America that dictates to everyone else. According to the latest data, I will have two years more of complaining than people there who receive these notes.