People whose views and instincts I trust (see Chanan Kubitsky’s piece below) assure me that the protest movement over the cost of living is the real thing and will lead to significant change. Not having experienced the beginnings of the social revolt myself, I defer to their greater knowledge.
I have my doubts, however.
1. I find it difficult to accept that, after 44 years of silent acquiescence to (if not actual participation in) the brutal colonization of the Palestinians, Israel’s middle class – or its more youthful component – has suddenly woken up to the fact that injustice exists in Israeli society. In my experience, Israelis are, on the whole, far too indifferent, self-satisfied and mercenary to make much of an effort for the common good. As soon as the individuals that make up the movement feel that they have achieved something for themselves, most of them will return to their middle class self-indulgence, I suspect.
2.There are many reasons for the skewed nature of the Israeli economy. Some, including the neocon favoritism shown to the wealthy and well-connected, are dealt with by Chanan in his piece below. Others, such as the global financial crisis, are not easily dealt with by any national government. But there are two which I believe are both at the heart of the Israeli situation and have the potential of destroying the protest movement: the out-of-control and untouchable defense budget and the spending on settlements and the occupation.
Without reform of the defense budget and drastic reduction in the sums spent on the occupation, there will never be enough for the necessary social spending. Whatever reforms are implemented and however welcome they are, they will never be enough. The danger, of course, is that an unwillingness to question the judgement of military men and a tendency to accept their pronouncements without question is deeply inculcated in the average Israeli. The movement is likely to get bogged down and then to split as soon as the really difficult questions regarding defense spending begin to be asked.
3. The movement seems to have taken on a social welfare hue; that is retrogressive. Not that social-oriented government is a bad thing – it’s not – but the last thing the country needs is a return to Histadrut socialism. That would be the wrong solution to the wrong problem. The rampant tycoon capitalism of the last 20 years – a combination of Bush-era regulatory neglect and Yeltsin-era transfer of state assets to cronies – is undoubtedly galling, but it’s not the root problem. Even is all the Tshuvas and Ofers were reduced to riding buses, the country would still be fucked.
Here, in a nutshell, is the problem with Israel: The country can’t afford the cost of the occupation and forty-four years of brutality towards the Palestinians have succeeded in brutalizing Israeli society as well. If the protest movement succeeds in putting that to rights then I have seriously misjudged them.