Another Tack: Red flags in Tel Aviv (II) – Mapai memories

It's not "what I can do for my country" but "what my country can do for me."

Orwell's privileged pigs of 'Animal Farm' 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Orwell's privileged pigs of 'Animal Farm' 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
So sweet is the enticement of deluxe revolution, requiring no risk or real effort, just lots of self-applied ego massages, outdoor happenings, free entertainment and nonstop media hype.
We can all feel like heroes by just coming out to hear mediocre renditions by opportunistic crooners who infuse us in high decibels with affectations of purpose and camaraderie.
Altruism isn’t part of the equation. Entitlement antics mandate no self-sacrifice. Quite the contrary. It’s not “what I can do for my country” but “what my country can do for me.” While the world precariously teeters on a recessionary precipice, we indulge in anti-capitalist conniptions, incongruously powered by the profit motive.
The summer heat and humidity have finally steamed the leftovers of our collective gray matter and sent this nation into a hissy fit. Our irrationality is fueled by devil-may-care irritability. We’re seemingly ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater, to the delight of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, et al. Boiled brains, mass neuroses, greed and trendy tantrums make us perfect patsies for political exploitation.
Regardless of the blatant Marxism now preached by cynical protest-mongers, most individuals who fume with righteous indignation don’t realize they’re mouthing out-and-out communist slogans. The last thing they want is to vanquish capitalism, their mantras notwithstanding. If anything, seeking personal gain, they crave to reap the benefits of more capitalism. Pretentious petulance dims memories of what this country was like under the socialist domination of its first decades.
During our socialist phase – under the pre-state and early-state hegemony of Mapai (yesteryear’s acronym for the Israel Labor Party) – we voluntarily were the USSR’s ideological quasi-outpost, albeit a democratic-cum-erratic one. Young Israel was tied to mother Russia by sentimental bonds, yet was quite unwilling to endure communist hardships.
When labor unions doubled as Israel’s biggest employers, then-ruling socialists forced returning Israelis, for instance, to muck up fridges purchased abroad because only used goods were allowed in without sky-high tariffs. Why import fridges? Because in the heyday of state control (for which many of our headliners and self-acclaimed experts now longingly pine), you had to await your turn for anything locally produced. If you couldn’t pull the right strings or avail yourself of useful connections, it often took years.
The wait for a telephone was more excruciating. It was a privilege for which you shelled out plenty while the well-placed apparatchik pretended to do you a favor you didn’t deserve.
In those halcyon days of “social justice,” if you dared bring in a reel-to-reel audio-recorder, you could count on begrudging customs officers to unwind your tape and measure it. The homeland could only abide so many meters of tape and no more.
Unspectacular wages were in the 80% income-tax bracket, and electrical appliances were taxed like diamonds. Ready-to-wear apparel was drab yet extraordinarily pricey. Movie tickets were subject to a “pleasure fee” (no kidding). Washing machines were luxuries. Trips abroad meant exorbitant travel levies.
And, last but not least, housing – shoddy and cramped – was famously unaffordable, while the draconian mortgages could never be paid off.
The standards of living in mythical Mapailand were nothing to wax nostalgic about. Neither was there equality. Some were always more equal, notably The Party’s functionaries.
Foreign currency controls led to the blossoming of the black market. Life’s hypocrisies were straightforward and predictable. Everyone knew there was a righteous façade and a thriving subterranean reality. Mapainiks sanctimoniously preached to hard-working commoners and berated them for breaching class solidarity.
A kid who flaunted a new plaything was denounced as a bourgani (bourgeois). No youngster quite knew what bourgani meant, but it was a pejorative.
Self-satisfied socialists addressed each other as haver (comrade) – which was Bill Clinton’s parting epithet for Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin indeed came from sterling socialist stock (his mother, Rosa Cohen, was a solid rock of the Histadrut establishment). While Israelis groaned under stringent arbitrary restrictions, he kept an illicit bank account in America (even if in the wife’s name).
The transgression wasn’t so awful in itself. It shouldn’t have been made an offense to begin with. Rabin, however, did nothing to de-criminalize it for Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli, while allowing himself exemption from rules imposed ruthlessly on others.
The exposure of Rabin’s lapse contributed to Labor’s 1977 rout. Thereafter, Israel began steadily gravitating toward the other extreme. Begin’s government took hesitant first steps. In time, our universities churned out enough free-marketers of the Friedman-Thatcher-Reagan mold to speed along the reaction against Marx, Lenin, Borochov, A.D. Gordon, etc.
New-breed socialist converts to no-holds-barred capitalism, mind you, weren’t averse to still adhering to old-Left ultra-dovish maxims and advocating in their infinite wisdom that Israel forthwith divest itself of all its existentially vital strategic assets. Apparently a miniature vulnerable nine-mile-wide state – wedged into what fellow ultra-dove Abba Eban dubbed “the Auschwitz lines” – is good for business. What’s good for business is perforce good for Israel.
And so, a new vogue was born – frenzied privatization – ironically subscribed to most avidly by the sorts who nevertheless keep pompously attesting to their socialist credentials and fanning the current flames of protest.
If once bosses couldn’t fire the worst incompetents on their payroll, today the most diligent wage-earners feel unsafe. Inscrutable “reorganization” can make valuable employees redundant overnight.
Our proven penchant for extremes gives rise to genuine grievances. The predatory nature of our extreme Left, still lurking latently – though potently – in the offing, is to expediently seize on discontent and magnify it to lure suckers and impress them with slogans about the “demise of the old system,” and “the people defying the elites.”
But few dupes recognize in these the populist hallmarks of pitting undefined “ordinary folk” against the undefined “privileged classes.” Consider the lyrics of “The Internationale” and see how closely they resemble the Rothschild Boulevard slogans:
Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers
…Servile masses arise, arise
We’ll change henceforth the old conditions
…So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face.
THE HEBREW version of the socialist/communist anthem – more relevant in our case – is way more inflammatory. Poet Avraham Shlonski’s flamboyant (if inexact) translation envisions “flames of vengeance licking the heart.” It promises that “we will destroy the old world to its foundations.... Our world we shall construct anew.... This will be the last battle in a world war.” No less.
Fashionable poseurs in love with the fad probably won’t bother comparing their catch-all catchphrases to “The Internationale,” certainly not to the parody thereof in Animal Farm.
Nevertheless, protesters who unwittingly mouth similar mantras should pay heed to how the Orwellian saga evolved.
The pigs, “generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals,” took on the task of mobilizing the chumps. Yet in no time, swinish intellects morphed from tools of enlightenment to implements of oppression. No sooner were the revolutionist pigs tempted with material advantage, than they ditched their professed doctrines and deceived the gullible saps.
A word to the wise (or the not-so-wise bandwagon-climber).
The second of two parts