Israel, like America, is convulsing. 300,000 Israelis of all political stripes have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest economic conditions and call for greater “social justice” and equality within Israeli society. Working middle-class Israelis cannot pay their rent and salaries are not keeping pace with inflation, despite Israel’s national economic health and global leadership in start-up companies in bio and communications technologies.
How has it come to this? Here are some of the reasons.
More than a dozen years ago economic reforms put in place by then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reduced government regulation and thereby encouraged start-up companies and the emergence of an entrepreneurial class. The government also eliminated subsidies of basic goods such as cottage cheese and bread. At the same time billions of dollars were spent (and continue to be spent) by successive governments building up West Bank settlements which Amos Oz, in Haaretz recently, characterized as “the greatest mistake in the state’s history as well as its greatest injustice.” For years Israel has also poured mammoth sums of money into the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas where “generations of ignorant bums grow, filled with contempt toward the state, its people and the 21st century reality.” (These words are not mine, but I wish they were. They belong to Leonard Fine.)
What is going to happen? That is anyone’s guess. Politically, my cousin, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin of the Likud Party, was quoted this week saying that Israel might never reach the November 2013 scheduled elections. This government could fall at any time and new elections would be held.
Yes, by the way, my Israeli family are right-wingers and always have been going back to my Great-Great Uncle Avram Shapira, known as the Shomer (i.e. policeman) of Petach Tikva. Uncle Avram helped settle the town with his family and four other families beginning in 1880. They had come from Russia in 1878, lived in the Old City of Jerusalem for 2 years before moving to this town, now a suburb of Tel Aviv. I met Uncle Avram at the age of 7 when he visited us in LA in the winter of 1956, but that’s another story.]
And then there is looming on the horizon September 20 when the Palestinian Authority has called for massive non-violent demonstrations. The following day, September 21, the PA intends to bring to the United Nations General Assembly (not the Security Council because it knows that the US will veto it) a resolution for Palestinian statehood.
Indeed, Israel has a few challenges on its plate.
Months ago, one of the best articles I have seen on what is happening in Israel, who is running the government and why this government is the most right-wing government in the history of the State, appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times written by Yossi Alpher, the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. I recommend your reading, saving and distributing it. It is prescient!