Israel needs a social revolution

Israelis were brought up to believe that the most important thing in the world was to serve in the army and protect our country.

Social justice picture 370 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Social justice picture 370
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Something strange is happening here in Israel. We were brought up to believe that the most important thing in the world was to serve in the army and protect our country.
So we join the IDF. Most of the boys try to get accepted into combat units, and then continue on to an officer’s course. We compete with each other, trying to prove that we are the toughest soldier in the group. And even when we’ve completed our mandatory service, we continue for many more years to participate in military reserve duty.
But when we leave the military and begin living our lives in the civilian world, our outlook on life begins to change. We go to college, get a job, take a trip overseas, get married and have kids.
Slowly we become indifferent to what’s happening to the rest of the country, and instead focus on our family. The public sector no longer seems as important as it did when we were young, and soon enough we realize that we are not willing to make an effort to improve the situation in the public sphere. We gain a little weight and become accustomed to the good life. Sometimes we receive a new car from our workplace, and vacation overseas once or twice a year – even if it’s on a rickety boat that’s crowded with lots of rambunctious families and offers cheesy musical performances.
People’s indifference toward society makes politicians and leaders’ lives easier, since no one cares enough to put up a real fight for anything.
No one cares about fighting for their principles. Some people write harsh words on Facebook about corruption, but for the most part, people just don’t care. Sometimes it seems like there is only one organization in Israel that is working for the welfare of the community: the Histadrut.
But then we find out that the Histadrut is also not really looking out for us. Instead, it represents strong lobbies which not surprisingly control all of Israel’s infrastructure companies: electricity, water, ports and transportation.
In addition, it also has power over our elected leaders.
And yet no one cares about any of this, and so we let these committee heads decide for us who will run the country and who will be in charge of our future.
But this is not the way it should be. For example, in Thailand, people are incredibly nice, quiet and polite. But when they are mistreated by the government, they wake up and take to the streets. There were uprisings in Bangkok in 2006, 2008 and again over the last few weeks.
The Thai people believe that their government is corrupt and so they are storming the prime minister’s residence. At the moment, the Thai people are vehemently demanding that the government decision to dismiss the charges of corruption against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra be rescinded.
In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government’s decision not to sign the trade and association deal with the EU due to pressure from “Mother Russia”. The people know that it is in Ukraine’s best economic interests to join the EU, however, President Viktor Yuschenko decided to side with Russia and as a result cancelled the agreement. It seems like this time the people are not willing to give in. They are not willing to remain a puppet of Russia, just as they didn’t in the “Orange Revolution” in 2004. The Kiev Chief of Police, Valeriy Koryak, recently resigned after riot police used “excessive force” against anti-government protestors, and I believe that it is just a matter of time until the prime minister follows suit.
Georgia also experienced a social democratic revolution in 2003. There were successful uprisings in Serbia and South Korea, as well, where the people joined forces to fight against corruption and overly strict regimes.
The State of Israel is a democracy, our system of government seems clean and transparent and we hold democratic elections. However, the structure of the political parties and the process by which party leaders are elected are highly dependent on the large labor unions, banks and other special interest groups. As a result, our government functions more like those in Central Africa than in Western Europe or North America. International surveys rank Israel high on the list of corrupt regimes.
Strangely enough, though, most Israelis remain absolutely apathetic to these problems.
We pay among the highest income tax in the world. Gas excise and taxes on cars, cellular phones and even hamburgers are considerably higher than in other countries around the world.
The ports, trains and government organizations are rife with corruption. A couple of years ago a social protest exploded and scores of people camped out in tents on Tel Aviv’s upscale Rothschild Street.
But what did this protest achieve in the end? Its most notable successes were reducing the price of cottage cheese by a few agurot and helping two young people win Knesset seats. But has anything really improved? We are still stuck with the same weak, unstable administration, amateurish economic management, massive brain drain, poor transportation infrastructure and a country that is run by corrupt unions.
What is needed to make us snap out of this destructive apathy? When will we begin fighting for the good of our country and take initiative in improving our quality of life? When will we truly understand that what we need here is a social revolution, not a social protest? The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.