Israel Economic Protests: What Game is Being Changed?

This past April, the Forward reported:

(The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has reported that poverty is almost twice as widespread in Israel, 19.9% of the population, compared to the OECD average, 10.9%. The gap between the overall standard of living in Israel and that of the lowest tenth of the population was three times higher than the OECD average. In its latest release of data, made public April 12, the OECD reported that 39% of Israelis find it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current incomes, well above the OECD average of 24%.

Those stats might explain this more recent news out of Israel:

More than 150,000 protesters took to the streets in 12 Israeli cities, calling for a change in the division of wealth and the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Tel Aviv, an estimated 100,000 protesters marched from Habima Square to the Tel Aviv Museum. “We are happy to see the people of Israel taking to the streets, each in their own city, each with their own troubles, but many troubles that are common to all of us,” said one of the organizers, Yonatan Levy.

This one is a game changer, no question, but the jury is still out on how much it might eventually change, or what the game even is. Indeed, as Dahlia Scheindlin and Joseph Dana have just reported in +972:

Every grievance is coming out: there are slogans against the huge concentration of the country’s wealth into the hands of a very few, slogans raging against enormous economic gaps between rich and poor in Israel, lists of demands for just resource distribution and for various elements of a welfare state, salary hikes and lower costs, better education conditions and health care; against the national housing committees law, against the government, for Tahrir. At 10pm on Friday night, when a song group spontaneously burst into chants of “The people! Want! Social Justice!” one young woman sang out beatifically, “The people! Want! All Sorts of Things!”

It’s also notable that one critical cause of this economic disparity is glaringly absent from the protesters’ concern, as Aziz Abu Sarah noted last week:

What amazes me is many Israelis’ inability to make the connection between the continuation of the occupation and the domestic problems Israel faces today; Israel is building constantly in the West Bank but it is failing to provide housing to its citizens within Israel proper. The current Israeli government’s focus on improving living standards in settlements while failing to do the same for the rest of the country is a moral failure.

According to a Peace Now report published on July 20, settlers in the West Bank receive 69 percent discount on the value of the land (so that buyers have to pay only 31 percent of the price of the land) and 50 percent funding of the development costs of the building project. In 2009 Israel investment of settlements public building (excluding East Jerusalem) was 431 million shekels, which was 15.36 percent of all public investment in construction for housing that year, despite the fact that they compose only 4 percent of the residents of Israel.

Scheindlin/Dana drive this critical point home in their article as well:

On Friday, some protesters hassled other Palestinian protesters, citizens suffering from housing crises. It came to scuffles. The diminutive Palestinian flags they hung were removed. Joseph recalls the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow south. Can we imagine the ruling classes there demanding “social justice” without addressing their gravest internal injustices? What does the term “social justice” mean if so many who don’t have it are left out? Sure, let’s protest exorbitant housing costs – but why call it “social justice” if the very crux of social justice, namely equality, is not addressed? Can Israelis have a social justice revolution without speaking about the rights of people they control and occupy?

The remarkable power of these grassroots protests is undeniable – but just how far it goes in shifting power still remains to be seen.

(While we wait, however, at least we can enjoy this great mix by Israeli viral video satirist Noy Alooshe – see above…)

7 thoughts on “Israel Economic Protests: What Game is Being Changed?

  1. i_like_ike52

    It is important to understand WHY Israel’s wealth is concentrated in the hand of a very few….this is a legacy of Israel’s diseased, degenerate Marxist Socialist heritage which was imposed on the country by the Labor Zionists who came during the Second Aliyah period, before World War I. This gave the MAPAI-Labor Party control over most of Israel’s economy and much of the country’s industry. All these industries ended up, as can be expected in a socialist system as corrupt, incompetently run, money-losing enterprises. Finally, as a result of the reforms in the Israeli economy in the 1980’s that led to the eradication of the hyperinflation the country suffered from for years it was realized that these industries had to be privatized. However, instead of opening them up to investors from around the world, they were generally given for less than their true values to cronies and Labor party-politically connected friends. These are the tycoons we keep hearing about. Thus, today the average Israeli is forced to pay high prices because these tycoons control the banking system which keeps potential competitors from getting loans to open new businesses and foreign products are kept out of the Israeli market. For example, even though there is supposedly a free-trade agreement with the US, there are fewer American food products available for the Israeli consumer than there were 10 years ago. Much of the consumer market is controlled by cartels and monopolies, as was illustrated during the recent cottage cheese boycott. The dairy producers run inefficient dairies whose costs are higher than those in other countries due to their knowing that the gov’t would allow them to charge higher than world prices to Israeli consumers and that they were protected from foreign competition.
    Thus, the solution is NOT more socialism, but more free-market capitalism and more competition. The time for true reform has arrived!

  2. Laurie

    The government of Israel, in its effort to rid themselves of the Palestinians and impress the world with its might, is molesting its own people who have been the backbone of their society. Like so many world leader powers – they disregard the people who built the base.

  3. Clif Brown

    Capitalism will, unless there is some method to restrain it, result in money flowing to and pooling at the top. Why? Because money makes money. The rich get richer because they have access to the leverage and resources that allow it. They can buy more than enough legal and political power to keep the accumulation going, not to mention the equity that brings huge loans to buy out competition. This is why there have to be ways of holding such power back, be it prevention of monopoly, progressive income taxing, or public financing of elections. All of these have been rolled back or not tried in the United States and I suspect Israel is similar. According to a presentation by an Israeli that I heard last Monday evening, 20 families control 50% of the GDP in Israel.

    The power of the lobbies, not least the Israel lobby, in Washington comes from the fact that politicians sell their lawmaking ability to finance their campaigns. More than anything we need public financing of elections to reduce the power of all lobbies. It sounds to me from what I hear is happening that Israel is a similar case of unresponsiveness of government to the people.

    The price that the wealthy must pay to maintain a system that rewards them lavishly and that is not under threat of revolution, is government regulation and redistribution of income. The last few decades have seen a failure to recognize this an all-out bid to sweep away these stabilizing measures. It is extremely dangerous to the very people who rant and rave against government.

    For capitalists to cry for unlimited capitalism is to take the road to self-destruction.

  4. i_like_ike52

    I am curious what you and your congregation are doing , as Progressive American citizens, regarding the ongoing repression and loss of life in Syria.
    Why is there not a call for armed intervention like there was in Libya, after all, the situations are very similar and President Obama and other progressive forces want to prove that American and the West DO care about violations of human rights in the Arab world.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      This is wrote about Libya on March 21:

      First, and probably foremost, whatever is happening in Libya, it is not close to the scale of a genocide. If that sounds overly crass, it is worth asking why we are eager to engage militarily with Libya yet have chosen not to act on behalf of Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or any number of other countries whose governments are committing atrocities that are no less brutal than Kadaffi’s (and in some cases more so.)

      … (We’d) do well to ask whether or not it’s our place to engage militarily with every oppressive regime around the world. Especially given our recent history of military regime change with Muslim nations, our operations in Libya might at least give us cause for concern.

      As for me, I believe it is profoundly ill-advised for our country to pursue yet another war against an Arab country. While it is true that the Arab League voted to back a no-fly zone, that support is already waning now that air strikes are killing Libyan civilians. Make no mistake: we are now waging war in Libya…

      But beyond the moral absolutes there are difficult and painful questions we must face when confronted with human rights abusing nations: when should we deem it necessary to authorize the use of military force? Why are we compelled to act in some cases but not others? To what extent are our decisions motivated less by need than by national self-interest?



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