Wolfish Economic Tyranny

I hold to the hope that Jews will remember that justice is our way and without it we lose ourselves.

Wolf Art 521 (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Wolf Art 521
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
ONCE UPON A TIME I BELIEVED THAT justice was a Jewish value. I believed that we, above all peoples, understood that the weak and unprotected needed our defense. I believed that justice and service to the poor were connected in Jewish texts, in Jewish experience.
Actually, as a young girl, I really believed that Jews who had suffered so much understood the suffering of mankind, would do all they could to end suffering, if ever they had power over the machinery of government.
I believed in the Zionist ideals even if, in my New York home and my peculiar corner of America, I probably understood very little of the politics and nothing of the economics or the actual conditions of Eretz Israel. I did believe that Zionism would always oppose oppression and speak out for justice. I thought my tree planted in the ground of the new state was a tree planted for all its citizens, as a token of my hope for a better world for all. I was 12 years old in 1948 and 12-year-olds are dreamers, not cynics.
However, it seems now that something has happened in Israel that has astounded my old eyes, tired ears, and battered head. The forces of capitalism that devour the weaker, stymie the less wel-lplaced, and stall the upward push of the population have dominated society. There are people, Jews as well as Arabs, in the streets, protesting against their own elected officials, against the inequities in opportunity and housing and against the unfair distribution of wealth.
It’s not news that Israel no longer guarantees a fair shake to all, but it is news that this wolfish economic tyranny has become so endemic that many citizens of Israel are protesting, objecting, and organizing to push for change.
Justice in the old biblical sense, justice in the newer humanist sense, justice that one recognizes in one’s gut – that justice seems to have slipped away in the night and is perhaps in hiding or in exile.
Of course, there are worse places on the globe. There is worse poverty in African towns and villages. There is political and religious tyranny and persecution in China and Tibet, and in Iran, Syria and Pakistan. I could fill several columns with the vicious behavior of states in all the hemispheres. So perhaps it is unseemly to complain that the income gaps in Israel are too large or that the rich control too many of the good things a society should offer.
But then I never thought that the world was a just place – only that when Jews had a country of their own it would always be driven by compassion and would never turn its back on its Jewish nature.
And so it is that the rejection of the two-state solution and the unwillingness to stop the settlement building reflect the political and economic pulls and pushes inside Israel. So many resources are being used to sustain the settlement movement, so much of Israel’s might and force is turned to finding ways to humiliate and push back the drive for independence of Palestinians who, despite the ill-conceived attempts to drive Israel into the sea, have villages, towns, memories of their own to fight for, to dream about, to require attention on the world’s stage.
Without a peace process there are many fewer resources left for Israel to take care of its own society. It is not a coincidence that Israel keeps building in the occupied land of its neighbors and behaves in ways that diminish the economic hopes of its own people. Once we have a policy that is unjust to some Arabs, who want to plant olive trees in the groves their great-grandparents tended, we also have policies that are unjust to the Jewish citizens of Israel, who need affordable housing, child care, social justice.
In a universe where might makes right and the wealthiest take from the middle and the poor, justice is the first victim.
Here in America, I am accustomed to the voice of greed fighting against taxes that would pay for the health care of those who need it.
I hear some on the Right objecting to federal taxes to improve schools or hospitals or develop programs that would put people to work improving our bridges, tunnels, train routes. The Right thunders its views and tells America that those who have should keep what they have and those who have not should just bear their lot in silence. When Jews in Israel befriend the likes of Glenn Beck and other right-wing extremists, they betray the Jewish people wherever they may live.
Jews are taught that we should leave the edges of the field for the poor to harvest. My grandparents from Poland believed that as soon as they made money, they should give it to the community for Jews less fortunate then they. Jews always believed that if they were the czar or the king or the boss of the factory, they would behave with concern for all. This we can now see is a fairytale born of suffering and forged in a history of pain.
Still, ancient as I may be, I hold to the hope that Jews will remember that justice is our way and without it we lose ourselves.
Contributing editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and jounalist living in New York.