There are several ways of describing the essence of politics. All of them mean pretty much the same thing.
- Go along in order to get along
- Recognize your limits
- One who demands too much may end up with nothing
- There is no absolute justice
- Justifications for one or another demand are subject to counter justifications articulated by someone else
- Life is tough in the fast lane; every day you may have to eat ---
These are guidelines rather than clear rules. Politics is more art than science. (Political science--at its best--is a systematic way of understanding politics, not doing politics.) A political activist must learn to judge possibilities. It is impossible to know, for sure, how much to demand. The penalties for asking too little may not differ from those for demanding too much. Both extremes are costly, both in material accomplishments and in the loss of one''s reputation. Without a decent reputation, no power holder may accord you a serious listening.
Currently there are several issues on Israel''s agenda where the participants are in danger of suffering from the hubris of demanding too much.
Actually there are only one issue on the agenda. One has dropped off, seemingly because its promoters went too far.
The Palestinian leadership shot itself in the foot. Not only have they demanded their prizes without bothering to negotiate. They have ignored the one government--Israel--with the capacity to give or deny what they want.
One sign of the Palestinians'' dropping off the Israeli agenda is that Israeli leftists are not speaking for them. They are dealing with social issues, without even a mention of the "political" item that used to be central on their agenda, namely the need to be more accommodating with Palestinians.
You may say that there is only one important item left on the agenda--social justice--but it has developed with several components.
1) A generalized demand for justice, including shrill opposition to the proposals of the government appointed committee whose recommendations have been accepted by the government, but not yet turned into Knesset actions or readied for implemented by administrative bodies.
Activists are organizing what they say will be a mass demonstration on Saturday evening the 29th of October, and then a general strike on November 1. Currently it is hard to tell if the government proposals for partial remedies will deflate mass enthusiasm. One hears economists and other commentators urging the protesters to recognize accomplishments included in the proposals approved by the government, and the unlikelihood of protesters getting all of their demands. Plans for the end of the month may fizzle into a weak celebration of Halloween in a country where All Saints Day is not widely accepted as a Kosher holiday.
2) The particular issue currently front and center is the labor action of medical residents. About half of them have rejected the agreement signed by the Physicians'' Association after protracted labor actions of some 129 days. Activists among the residents are demanding more money and less work, and about half of them have signed on to a mass resignation. Perhaps half of those signing resignations have actually stayed away from work and have risked the integrity of critical services at several major hospitals.
One can argue long into the night about the substantive justice of the residents'' demands, and the government''s petition at the Labor Court to forbid their resignations as an illegal labor action that threatens public welfare.
One can hear support for the residents by some media commentators, but also criticism of organized resignations that threaten patients'' welfare and may violate medical ethics.
3) The Labor Federation has joined in the spirit of social justice, and threatened widespread work stoppages over the issue of contract workers.
Guesses are that there may be as many as one million Israelis doing professional and menial jobs for public and private sector employers while actually employed by contractors. Typically they have lower wages and benefits, and lack protection against arbitrary reassignments or dismissals enjoyed by workers directly employed by firms or public bodies. The contractors who are their employers receive payments for recruiting the workers, paying their salaries, arranging pension payments and vacations (if any), and other personnel matters.
Unfair? In many regards yes. However, it is the labor restrictions achieved over the years by the Labor Federation for organized workers that lead private firms, government departments, universities, hospitals, and other organizations to avoid direct hiring as much as possible, and obtaining the flexibility they want by seeking workers from contractors.
It would violate the introduction to this note if I were to predict the outcome of any issue considered here. They are all testing the staying power of the Netanyahu government. Indeed, the presence of all these hot button issues on the agenda may reflect a judgment--or hope--that the government is fragile.
So far the prime minister is dodging and weaving, offering this and that, promising even more but not being pinned down to all the specifics. The Palestinians seem furthest removed from realities, and least likely to get what they want. Medical residents have gotten some improvements in benefits as a result of an agreement signed by the government with the Physicians'' Association. The residents may get more, but some may be allowed to resign and go out into the world under a cloud of sacrificing patient welfare for personal gain.
The plight of individuals working not as regular employees but as the employees of contractors has some sympathy in the public, but it must compete with other issues being flogged under the heading of social justice. The Labor Federation is not the powerhouse of days gone by. Its leader''s adoption of contract workers'' welfare may reflect nothing more than his alliance with the woman who recently won the primary for leadership for the Labor Party, and the opportunistic hope of them both that they can exploit the generalized feeling in behalf of social justice for the sake of revitalizing a once mighty political party and labor movement.
Are we on the cusp of a revolutionary movement in behalf of social justice?
I hope not. Revolutions are dangerous. People get killed. Seldom do they achieve much of what they have claimed to be their goals. Political activists can often claim accomplishments, providing that they recognize the limits of political give and take. They include giving as well as taking.