Yair Netanyahu’s gaffes

To be honest, it was not Netanyahu’s fault that Israel’s exports fell drastically after 2008 – the year of the major world financial crisis.

IN THE time before Benjamin Netanyahu, were there only oranges for export in Israel? (photo credit: REUTERS)
IN THE time before Benjamin Netanyahu, were there only oranges for export in Israel?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yair Netanyahu’s latest gaffe was the following statement made during a videoed talk with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New York last Wednesday: “[My father] took a country back in the 1990s that, besides the existential threat that it was in, was in horrible economic [shape], it was pretty much a Soviet-style economy, socialist-primitive economy. No exports, for example, besides oranges or something like this. It was very isolated in the world. Obviously, the main reason Israel was isolated in the world was because it was weak. Nobody wants to be friends with the weak; everybody wants to be friends with the strong. So he has changed the economy of Israel to a capitalist, free-market, prosperous economy and now Israel’s GDP per capita surpasses Japan.”
Indeed, according to figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics for 1995, the year before Netanyahu was first elected as prime minister, 3.8% of Israel’s exports were agricultural products, of which about half was citrus fruit. However, Israel’s total exports were more than $19 billion, of which some $17.2b. were industrial products. In 2008, the year before Netanyahu assumed the premiership for the second time, Israel’s total exports were $61.3b., of which 2% were agricultural products. Citrus constituted 0.14% of all exports. In 2018, Israel’s total exports were $54.1b., of which 2.1% were agricultural products. Whoopsie.
In fact, the main cause for the increase in Israel’s exports in the course of the 1990s was the aftermath of the 1990 Madrid Conference (to which prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was dragged by the administration of Bush the father, with Benjamin Netanyahu serving as spokesperson), and the Oslo Accords of 1993, which resulted in China and India, and dozens of other countries establishing diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time since its foundation, and the almost total disappearance of the secondary and tertiary Arab boycotts of Israel, and even part of the primary boycott. Israel was anything but isolated. To be honest, it was not Netanyahu’s fault that Israel’s exports fell drastically after 2008 – the year of the major world financial crisis.
What is very noticeable in Netanyahu Junior’s utterances is his constant mention of Israel’s “primitive-socialist economy” that his father inherited. At the outset it should be noted that the citrus branch was not part of the “socialist economy.” Most of the citrus growers in British Mandatory times and after the establishment of the State of Israel were not members of the Labor parties, and were private farmers. My own grandfather, for example, who was a citrus grower from 1932 when he immigrated to Israel from Chicago, to the early 1950s, when he passed away, was an avid capitalist, and a member of the General Zionist Party. He was not unusual.
Now, there is no doubt that long before Netanyahu became prime minister, a large part of the Israeli economy was publicly owned and run, and until 1977 the leaders of the country for over 40 years were ideological social democrats – some even Marxists. Soon after the First World War the bulk of American Zionists left the Zionist Organization over a bitter argument as to whether the economy of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine should or should not be based on capitalist principles.
ANYONE FAMILIAR with the economic reality of those days cannot but conclude that had the American Zionists got their way at the time, the economic achievements of the Yishuv until 1948 would not have been as impressive as they were, though some fine privately owned industries started to emerge in the 1930s, largely thanks to the Transfer Agreement with Nazi Germany. Also in the 1950s capitalism could not have contended with all the economic and social challenges and problems facing the new states – it simply wasn’t an option.
However, the privatization process began many years before Netanyahu descended upon us, and when the Likud first came to power in 1977 it started giving parts of the outdated socialist economy a hard time. However, the difference between Netanyahu and the Likudniks of 1977 is that while they believed in capitalism with a soul, one which supports the welfare state (as did Jabotinsky), Netanyahu advocates a swinish variety of capitalism where unbridled privatization has (for example) brought Israel’s public health system close to ruin, and has given rise to do-gooders such as Rabbi Elimelech Firer who, with the help of private donations, arranges medical treatment for people who approach him, but should have been able to receive it by right.
It is undeniable that on the macro level the Israeli economy has done well in the last decade, though social gaps have grown in parallel – for both of which Netanyahu can undoubtedly take credit. However, it is not he who created Israel’s magnificent hi-tech sector. It wasn’t he who developed Israel’s glorified arms industries. It wasn’t he who started to plan Israel’s new railway network, and not even the new Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv line. Netanyahu took advantage of the inauguration of the new line to mock the old line he remembered from his childhood, which was constructed at the end of the 19th century when the country was ruled by the Turks – as if nothing had happened in between the two events.
It is perfectly legitimate to be anti-socialist, and to believe that capitalism can fix everything. The problem is that in the case of Yair Netanyahu, the hatred for all brands of socialism is pathological, blind and based on embarrassing ignorance. Not so long ago he described the buildings for conservation in Tel Aviv from the International and Bauhaus styles as “ugly communist housing projects,” even though nearly all the said buildings were the privately planned and constructed homes of Tel Aviv’s bourgeoisie, and Tel Aviv was anything but a socialist city when they were built.
But why bother attacking the prime minister’s scandalous son, and thus afford him more publicity than he deserves? The reason is that even though the prime minister is known to have reservations about some of his eldest son’s written and oral utterances, he never admonishes him publicly, and one gets the impression that in certain respects the son expresses his father’s views – for example his anti-socialist bias.
That Yair repeats things his father said without checking their accuracy is also a fact. For example, it was Benjamin Netanyahu who stated exactly one year ago that Israel’s per capita GDP was $42,120 compared to Japan’s $40,850. All the statistics published by the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD refute these figures. Only UN figures for 2017 show Israel’s per capita GDP in current prices to be $42,452 and that of Japan $38,120, though in 2010-based constant prices, the figures presented are $36,609 for Israel and $48,301 for Japan. Whoopsie again.