Not ri­ot­ing, just dream­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Miriam Sha­viv

AF­TER A month in Is­rael, I’m about ready to join a demon­stra­tion against the cost of liv­ing here my­self. Even armed with pounds (ad­mit­tedly not worth as much as they used to be) this is a re­ally ex­pen­sive coun­try. I feel con­stantly ripped off on small items — NIS 99 (£17) for sun-screen, NIS 75 (£13) for some wa­ter-melon and grapes (I re­turned the grapes). Day-care seems roughly equiv­a­lent to Lon­don, but with the av­er­age Is­raeli salary stand­ing at NIS 8,700 (£1,506) a month, it must form an even big­ger bur­den for many work­ing par­ents.

Then there is the big­gie — prop­erty. Jerusalem is for dol­lar mil­lion­aires only; the once-cheaper op­tion for young couples, Modiin, is now equiv­a­lent to Edg­ware. Even smaller sub­urbs of the big cities, such as Tzur Hadas­sah, out­side Jerusalem, start in the 1.5/2 mil­lion shekel range (£260,000£350,000). Good­bye to my dream of sell­ing up in Lon­don and buy­ing mort­gage-free in Is­rael.

So the hordes of Is­raelis protest­ing that they can­not make ends meet have a point. Is­rael’s eco­nomic boom, with GDP growth of 4.7 per cent last year, a strong shekel and un­em­ploy- ment at just 5.7 per cent, has passed by too many mid­dle-class peo­ple.

I have less sym­pa­thy, how­ever, for their so­lu­tions. Here, the lead­ers of the revo­lu­tion seem not only mis­guided, but dan­ger­ous— ready to risk Is­rael’s eco­nomic mir­a­cle at a time when much of the West is fac­ing fi­nan­cial ruin.

The prob­lem is that most of those shap­ing the move­ment come from the rad­i­cal left, in­clud­ing tiny par­ties such as Hadash (an Arab-Jewish fac­tion with four Knes­set seats) and Balad (three seats), and or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the New Is­rael Fund. Their eco­nomic so­lu­tions come from the rad­i­cal left as well.

The word that re­peat­edly comes up is “so­cial­ism”. When, two weeks ago, the head of the His­tadrut union men­tioned “cap­i­tal­ism” to the Tel Aviv demon­stra­tion, the crowd booed.

What ex­actly do they mean by “so­cial­ism”? Do the ma­jor­ity of the demon­stra­tors re­ally hark back to Is­rael of the 1950s, with its food stamps and jobs for the boys — that is, Labour party mem­bers?

No, but they clearly want a much higher level of in­ter­ven­tion and sub­si­dies.

Many of their ba­sic de­mands are ut­terly un­re­al­is­tic: free child-care from three months up­wards, for ex­am­ple. Nor can the gov­ern­ment be ex­pected to mirac­u­lously make “affordable” apart­ments avail­able in cen­tral Tel Aviv.

Many of the de­mands seem to based on a sense of en­ti­tle­ment known as “ ma­gia li” — “I de­serve” even if I can­not af­ford. No one has the right to live in the most de­sir­able ar­eas; few English­men ex­pect to live in cen­tral Lon­don.

Most im­por­tantly, none of the de­mands have come with price tags or ex­pla­na­tions of where the money — when cal­cu­lated — is go­ing to come from. The demon­stra­tors want Is­rael’s bud­get to be busted; this must not hap­pen. And it would be equally fool­ish to se­ri­ously shift the ori­en­ta­tion of Is­rael’s econ­omy to­wards mid­dle-class ben­e­fits and in­ter­ven­tion, when it is al­most unique to­day in its up­ward tra­jec­tory.

The man who can take most credit for this is Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, whose right-wing eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy and be­lief in the free mar­ket has guided the econ­omy for years.

One look around Europe, on the verge of a dou­ble-dip re­ces­sion — and Lon­don’s ri­ots — shows what the fu­ture holds if they mess with the win­ning for­mula. The pro­tes­tors do not re­alise how lucky they are col­lec­tively.

The gov­ern­ment’s Tra­jten­berg panel, set up to pro­pose so­lu­tions to the demon­stra­tors’ com­plaints, is due to re­port within weeks. The demon­stra­tors have set up an al­ter­na­tive com­mis­sion.

It is a shame that this is shap­ing up to be a battle rather than a di­a­logue, as many prob­lemspots need ad­dress­ing: not only the le­git­i­mate frus­tra­tions of the mid­dle class, but also the ne­glect of de­vel­op­ment towns and Arab towns, in­come gaps be­tween rich and poor, starv­ing ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets, high un­em­ploy­ment among Charedim and Arabs, out-of-pro­por­tion in­vest­ment in set­tle­ments, et cetera.

Ne­tanyahu must be re­spon­sive and do what­ever he can. But un­der no cir­cum­stances should the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter risk the coun­try’s ba­sic eco­nomic health. And if these rad­i­cal par­ties dis­agree, let them win the ar­gu­ment through a vote — not on the streets.

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