1984 on Rothschild Blvd.

It's instructive to learn protest leaders' identities, and which grievances are genuine, which are demagogic, politically motivated.

Beersheba Protest 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Beersheba Protest 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Communism wasn’t the only looming spectre in George Orwell’s futuristic nightmare 1984 ; he was even more concerned about the threat posed by technological devices such as television, the internet or the Blackberry to the future of democracy – by controlling people’s thoughts and actions. The so-called “Arab spring” is proof of the power of electronic thought stimulation that Orwell foresaw – optimists hope in a positive direction, while pessimists (and realists) see rather more dire consequences.
Ironically, the inscription on several placards hoisted in the demonstrations in Israel read “from Tahrir Square to Rothschild” – their authors probably not realizing, or perhaps not caring, that enmity to Israel is becoming the common denominator of the so-called “Arab spring.” That, of course, wasn’t the only political banner in the tent cities around the country; others attacked Netanyahu personally, or exhibited the features of international terrorist Ché Guevarra. Stalin was fortunately absent, though this didn’t prevent the Israeli representative of Stalin’s political party being feted there, while red-shirted Arab communists led one of the more boisterous demonstrations.
It is instructive to learn the identities of the ringleaders of this not-so-spontaneous protest movement, but it is no less important to discern which grievances are genuine, and which are blatantly demagogic and politically motivated.
The high cost of housing can certainly not be ignored, and neither should the reasons for it. The government has, therefore, acted correctly by rushing through concrete measures, including the long overdue reorganization of the “Israel Land Authority,” in order to alleviate the situation. But it is precisely in connection with housing that the disingenuousness and political leanings of the protest leaders became evident – attempting by force to prevent the Knesset from legislating special procedures to speed up construction of new apartments, especially for the benefit of the young and underprivileged; it showed not only their lack of respect for democracy, but also their adherence to Lenin’s dictum that “the worse it gets, the better it is” [for communism]. Readers of Orwell’s book won’t be surprised by these stratagems, nor by the “Newspeak” employed by the spokespersons of the campaign (echoed by parts of the media).
IN ORDER to separate the genuine from the mendacious, the government has now created a panel of experts, with the prime minister promising the speedy implementation of its recommendations.
That’s all for the good, provided that the underlying ideology and principles which have turned Israel over the past few years into an unprecedented economic success story, not least to the benefit of its middle class, enabling it to withstand the vicissitudes of the international economic crisis, don’t fall prey to the populist demands of the “protesters” or to the compromise-at-all-costs inclinations of some of these experts – or even by members of the government. Also, there are those, including politicians, who will try to suck up to the protesters – believing that this might advance their own political futures. It won’t! Adequate housing apart, many of the other protesters’ demands are nonsensical or counterproductive (also the demand for cheap flats in Tel Aviv is questionable, given that there is scarcely any publically-owned land in the city) – and as Ha’aretz’s senior economic editor, Nehemia Strassler, correctly pointed out, if many of those slogans were implemented, it would be the young and disenfranchised who would bear the cost, while messing with the budget in order to enlarge it would quickly lead us down the path of Portuguese and Greek insolvency.
The demand of the protesters that the government take responsibility for more or less everything – the price of consumer goods (as if the current price-rises weren’t mainly the result of the price increases of raw materials and food around the world), for building flats, and in general telling its citizens what to do and what not – would inexorably lead not only to economic inefficiency, but also to an Orwellian “Big Brother” tyranny, as typified by North Korea or some other collectivist hell. In a democracy, the state’s role is to create for its citizens basically equal opportunities, which Israel on the whole does – and to regulate the proper functioning of the market – regulate, not control – in order to eliminate excesses or infractions. “Social Justice” is a political slogan, not an economic one. The personal situation of an individual reflects in most cases, for better or worse, a country’s macro-economic policies – as well as the specific talents, aptitudes and family history of the individual him or herself.
True, not all the demonstrators are politically motivated, probably not even most; some clearly regard it as a summer “happening” – but many of the left-wing groups which organized and bankrolled the events (often with funds from foreign sources) certainly are. Their aim is not to reduce the price of diapers and baby-suckers, but to topple the democratically elected government of Israel and weaken Israel internally and externally.
But weren’t there also some extreme right-wingers involved? The answer is yes, and some of them also seek to topple the government, though for opposite reasons from those of the Left. After all, the extremes of Left and Right often meet… The power of the “street” enhanced by Facebook, Twitter, etc., and the disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law lead to anarchy – and at the end of the road, to fascism or bolshevism (no great difference there) – or in other words, to the 1984 of which Orwell so eloquently and frighteningly warned us.
The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister’s forum of US-Israel Relations.