Trajtenberg will fail because of New Israelis' folly

New Israelis like Shmuli and Leef are idealists that they need to know that if they want to fight for what they believe in – and that includes revolutionary ideals – they should form their own political parties as opposed to making radical demands of existing ones.

Dafni Leef 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Dafni Leef 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Poor Manuel Trajtenberg didn’t stand a chance. Even if he had harnessed the moon and laid it at the New Israelis' feet, they still would have torn him to pieces.
That much was clear the morning after his appointment when Daphni Leef, the young woman who triggered the mammoth protests and who was subsequently raised to a position of unexpected leadership, brutally criticized him and demanded his immediate resignation.
It was also made clear when the latest guru of the New Israelis, Professor Yossi Yonah, declared that Trajtenberg should resign immediately based on the odious fact that he is a ”neo liberal” or neo-something else.
Actually, since Yonah’s curious appointment as the protesters’ guru, the clash was inevitable. Professor Yonah holds some very radical opinions about Israel's society and economy, and there was no way that he and his new allies would agree on the appointment of any expert and of any committee.
In spite of his previous efforts to counter his female counterpart and keep a cool head, Student Union leader Itzik Shmuli, also became swept up in the drunken success of his colleagues who continue to operate under the notion that they are truly in the process of carrying out a revolution and changing the face of Israel forever.
Unfortunately for everyone, the media, thrilled by the popular response to the young people’s protest, only added fat to the fire by swearing unconditional allegiance to every word Leef and Shmuli et al uttered.
Let’s put things in perspective for a moment: The Israeli economic regime had indeed taken a wrong—a very wrong—turn. Particularly in the last few years, Israel has become a rich country with impoverished citizens. The newly acquired riches of tycoons, companies, monopolies, conglomerates, simply did not trickle down to the middle strata of society.
Every morning, banks found a new trick to rob us; companies paid fabulous salaries to their executives but not to the middlemen; prices of food, clothing and plenty of other commodities were arbitrarily raised; laws passed decades ago were never implemented.
30 years ago, on the first day I was elected to the Knesset, I passed a law for compulsory, free education starting at the age of 3. I was very proud of this success, but over the course of 30 years, my law was buried time and time again. 20 years ago, in 1991, I passed another law for a long day of schooling (until 4pm) that met with the same fate. At the same time, Israel became an economic miracle, yet nobody had money to set aside for our children's education, to give them a chance to build their own homes, or money to improve the lives of our poorer citizens or our senior citizens.
The pretext always was the same: Social justice can wait, we need the money for defense.
In 1960s a fierce debate raged between my friend and mentor Moshe Dayan and the Histadrut Secretary General Yitzhak Ben Aharon. Dayan said that at this dangerous period of our existence Israel should raise only one flag – the flag of security. Ben-Aharon, on the other hand, maintained that Israel should raise two flags simultaneously: the flag of security and the flag of social justice.
In spite of my close ties with Dayan, on this occasion I felt that he was wrong and that Ben-Aharon was right. It was enough just to cast a look back at the history of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael. At the most precarious moments of our existence, when dangers of physical annihilation were hovering over the tiny “Yishuv” and security was of paramount importance, we didn’t stop, even for a moment, to build a society based on the tenets of justice. Kupat Holim (health care), the education system, cooperation, the Histadrut, and later on the National Security were all created in spite of perilous threats to our very existence.
The fact that many of those momentous achievements gradually fell into disrepair or were put on the back burner was sufficient enough for hundreds of thousands Israelis to take to the streets in protest. They demanded a return to Social Justice and they were fully justified in doing so.
But from the first moment of the protest it was clear that not everything could be changed and that not all the demands could be met. 500,000 people marched in the March of the Million. Yet each one had different demands. No powerhouse in the world could satisfy all, or even most of them. The movement's leaders had to make a hard choice to either keep demanding it all or compromise. Unfortunately, they chose to keep on demanding – and as a result they simply lost steam. In every respect, the summer of 2011 is well and truly over.
The demand for revolution in particular was rather a farfetched one. Some leaders of the movement lamented that Israel will never be the same again and that therefore a revolution is in order.
But the truth is that Israelis don’t really want a revolution. We are not Tahrir Square. We have democracy, freedom of speech, a dynamic economy, a Zionist bond and an army that we cherish. We don’t want to change that. We have an egalitarian society. We don’t want to change that either. Even if we desire their power to be curtailed to some extent, we certainly don’t want to drag our leaders into courtrooms or throw our tycoons in jail.
Therefore the change that needs to be implemented must happen on several different levels, including education, housing, health, prices, unjust gains of fat cats, and the unfair distribution of wealth. That’s what the Trajtenberg committee and others are rightfully promising us in their fight to combat the centralization of power.
In order to see changes of a revolutionary nature, people like Leef and Shmuli need to realize that in a democracy the only real platform for action is in the political arena. Since so many of the New Israelis are idealists, and indeed, many of them inspire us with their hopes and dreams, they must know that if they want to fight for their ideals – and that includes revolutionary ideals – they should form their own political parties or else join existing ones.
They will be more than welcome.
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.