Housing protest is not a genuine non-political social protest

The protests smack more of political frustration on the part of the opposition and its media cronies, than of genuine economic deprivation of the middle class

Into The Fray: Come to the carnival, comrade!

By Martin Sherman, JPOST

With little political steam left in the “peace process,” the left-leaning opposition is looking desperately for a new card to play. Their unlikely, inappropriate and outdated choice: “Social justice.”

With commendable professional integrity, Uzi Benziman, editor of the Israel Democracy Institute’s blog The Seventh Eye, posed this candid question: “There is a puzzling discrepancy between the bitterness expressed in the housing protest and the satisfaction with life in Israel expressed in recent polls. Could it be that the way the rebellion is depicted in the media is influenced by the journalists’ personal identification with its objectives?” It is question that must be addressed both in the specific context of the ongoing protests and in the general context of how the public discourse is manipulated in this country, and why certain issues are accorded prominence, while others are consigned to obscurity.

Grounds for genuine grievances

Don’t get me wrong! Israel’s socioeconomic fabric is far from unblemished! Social workers’ salaries are scandalously low – and dangerously shortsighted. An underpaid, overworked police force is a guaranteed formula for the spread of corrosive and crippling corruption and lawlessness. The meager remuneration for teachers and doctors is wildly out of sync with their value to society.

Yes, there is little room for social complacency.

This is a country whose only significant productive resource is the human resource. Widespread social iniquities would entail huge economic costs. Accordingly, outlays on health, education and public safety should not be considered unproductive welfare expenses, but investments in capital maintenance. Without a healthy, well-educated, motivated workforce, the economy would be unable to compete as a modern wealth-generating entity. This is not bleeding- heart socialist doctrine, merely hardheaded capitalistic realism.

In this regard, criticism can reasonably be leveled at the Finance Ministry – under both the current and past governments. This is particularly true of its influential Budgets Division, which is often afflicted by both short-sightedness and tunnel-vision, consistently subordinating long-term, systemic considerations to a short-term, “penny wise, pound foolish” dogma of fiscal austerity.

The Budgets Division has made the deficit the overriding criterion for providing – or rather, not providing – resources for sorely needed national enterprises, thus delaying projects clearly capable of eventually generating revenues that would have easily covered the initial budget outlays – and conceivably prevented much of the current outcry.

Down with daily difficulties

That said, the sudden rash of country-wide protests has a distinctly unauthentic ring. It is one thing to decry exorbitant overpricing by private corporations in uncompetitive, centralized local markets and/or chronic deficiencies in supply induced by bureaucratic gridlock. It is quite another to demand sweeping restructuring of the entire socioeconomic edifice with a “back-to-the-future” reinstatement of a “socialist paradise” and an unaffordable, anachronistic welfare state.

As such, the protests smack more of political frustration on the part of the opposition and its media cronies, than of genuine economic deprivation of the middle class. They are being seized on as tool for social division rather than for social solidarity, to ferment – with the use of incendiary innuendo – resentment against the “settlers” and the religious.

With business slow in the “peace industry,” they are increasing being exposed as a flimsy pretext to denigrate the government rather than in a sincere endeavor to reform society.

Suddenly, perennial proponents of Palestinian statehood have morphed into socially sensitive activists, advocating the elimination of difficulty in daily life, and demanding the enhancement of everything. Suddenly, everything in country – from housing through medical services to food prices – is a legitimate target of revolutionary rage.

From the picture painted by protesters – and eagerly conveyed by a brazenly biased press – one might think that life in Israel was an unbearable ordeal for most of the downtrodden masses. It is a picture that sits uneasily with the facts.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth

Last year, Israel was admitted to the prestigious OECD group of the world’s most-developed nations, and while the inequality index in Israel is somewhat higher than the OECD average, its is just slightly above that of the UK, Australia and Italy and not that different from that of Japan and New Zealand.

So it seems that Israel’s impressive economic development has not been accompanied by any inordinate socioeconomic iniquities, relative to other OECD members. Indeed, there is compelling evidence that the Israeli economy – and many Israelis – are faring considerably better than their counterparts in much of the developed world.

Last April, in a Gallup survey to gauge “well-being” in 124 countries, Israel scored remarkably well. In only 19 countries, a majority defined themselves as “thriving,” rather than “struggling,” or “suffering.”

Israel ranked seventh, with 63 percent seeing themselves as “thriving,” tying with New Zealand, close on the heels of Finland and Australia and ahead of the Netherlands, US, Austria and UK.

These findings closely parallel those in a study by the OECD itself, assessing the quality of life in member countries. Again Israel fared well. Seventy-two percent of Israelis were satisfied with life, well above the OECD average. They were also better educated and enjoyed higher life-expectancy, reflecting favorably on the general level of health care in the country.

Locally conducted polls reinforce this picture.

A Central Bureau of Statistics survey published in mid-2009 showed Israelis greatly satisfied with their lives, their professions, their places of employment… and their income.

Pampered, pompous and politically partisan

Looking at the Israel economy overall, especially in the light of the teetering fates of several other OCED nations, the sudden outburst of outrage is difficult to comprehend.

As the polls referred to above attest, it certainly cannot be attributed to years of simmering dissatisfaction. The outrage can, perhaps, be traced to what the BBC diagnosed as the frustration caused by aspiring to Swiss living standards on Greek-level incomes. Largely untouched by the world economic crisis and accustomed to increasing consumption, Israelis are refusing to tailor their expectations to their means. Keeping up with the Joneses is becoming increasingly onerous, inducing many to live stressfully beyond their means.

But justified or not, the frustration is real, and is being hijacked for political ends.

Claims that the protests are non-partisan are patently ridiculous. To accuse the government of pandering to the wealthy is wildly unjustified. Arguably more than any of its predecessors, it has been willing to challenge the monopolists/oligopolists and to confront the “tycoons” – even incurring plutocratic wrath by retroactively raising royalties on the profits from the newly discovered natural gas fields.

The left-wing bias is clearly evident not only from what the protesters are demanding, but from what they are not.

Indeed, their demands appear to be a hodge-podge of poorly thought out proposals for a cradle-to-grave welfare state that has brought several EU countries to the verge of collapse. In a risible attempt at economic alchemy, the protesters specify no discernable source of finance for this package of “social justice” other than reducing indirect taxes.

But even more revealing is what is not on the protesters’ agenda. Conspicuous by absence is any suggestion of consumer boycotts against the avaricious private monopolies/ oligopolies, the real culprits for much of the excessive price hikes. (After all, high prices can only be maintained if consumers are willing and able to pay them.) Nor do they advocate assertive measures to decentralize the economy, or reducing prices by encouraging more competitive imports – perhaps out of fear of alienating the agricultural sector that runs large dairy farms supplying the “cottage-cheese” producing oligopolies.

Likewise, there are no proposals to reduce rampant tax delinquency in the Arab sector, or to end the general lawless in the Negev.

While they berate the low cost of real estate the “settlers” allegedly enjoy, there is no word about the illegal takeover of state land by the Beduin in the South, and the attendant cost to deal with it.

Apparently that would be too politically incorrect for the “new social order.” While they bewail funds for the ultra-Orthodox, they are silent on the scandalous expenditure of tax revenues that sustain polygamy among the Beduin, involving multiple marriages to women brought in from Gaza and the Palestinian Authority.

Described by police sources as a pervasive “social trend,” this is a growing iniquity funded by welfare payments from the National Insurance Institute that seems to leave the protesters’ social sensibilities un-offended.

Last but not least, the cost of housing.

Surely any non-partisan body genuinely concerned with high housing prices would embrace the most obvious and proven measure for reducing them: an end to the building freeze in the “territories” and accelerated construction there to increase the supply of accommodation so as to arrest the upward pressure on markets in the Dan region.

And surely if the protesters have no political affiliation, they would not eschew such an immediate remedy. After all, this is precisely what the Rabin government did! Despite 1992 electoral pledges to freeze construction across the Green Line and “dry up” the settlements, it quickly realized that this produced skyrocketing real-estate prices.

The prompt response was to approve – in mid-1994 – massive construction in the “settlements,” which kept price rises in check.

There is little doubt that current constraints on building in “the territories” are a major factor contributing to the exorbitant prices of housing in country – but one the protesters studiously eschew mentioning.

In conclusion

Genuine non-political social protest? Give me a break!

August 7, 2011 | 13 Comments »

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13 Comments / 13 Comments

  1. @steve ornstein
    We live for over 17 years in one of the most advanced and pleasant cities in Israel. KARMIEL, 55000 people.
    Before that we lived here as well for 11 years. Total of 28 years.
    There is very little if any unemployment, much as in the rest of Eretz Israel. That I know of, no housing problems albeit no housing FREEBIES.
    This town has been run since its birth by MAPAI and later labor Mayors and staff.
    Veteran residents know who is who in this towm and consequently also know who are the “community organizers”.
    100% former “peace now” elements now unemployed as such.
    It is also now known who is their main financial sources based overseas in most cases and in some cases using funds provided to them by foreign governments. Yesterday the latest source explained his actions on his own disclosure. Not surprisingly it is an US billionaire solidly identified with the unJewish and “peace” camp.
    The main Israeli State Radio, which is also a solid provocateur element on the behalf of the “protesters”, is, at this moment attempting to deny such link…

    Bottom line:
    The unJewish aggregate originally hijacked the word” “peace” SHALOM, to bring losses and mayhem having been exposed as internal enemies at that, now adopted another front.
    They must be again severely set aside.
    Construction of apartments and single family homes may be facilitated to those credit worthy persons that will apply to the government sections in charge of such allocations.
    FREE lunches? Out of the question.
    Equally also NO on every single attempt to pillage billions as the “kibbutzim” did decades ago.

  2. @steve ornstein – I will ask Ted to ask Dr. David Sternlight to comment on this. He is the best person I know to truly evaluate this movement, its backers, and its consequences.

  3. @ emmess:
    This is one time when many of you are creating “red herrings” where there isn’t one. Both the right and left are trying to use this protest as an opportunity to trash each other instead of listening to the people. This is a broad based movement from all sectors of the population tired of the cartels, monopolies and anything but a free market economy. The burden falls on the middle class and of course the working poor. If for once your readers would stop with a knee-jerk political paranoia response to a unique and worthy protest for better and fairer conditions regarding taxes,health care,housing, etc then maybe some positive change can take place.

    If you attack and minimize this movement by asserting that it is a left-wing conspiracy for socialism then you are so off the track.Voices from the left are part of the total voice. Right wing, religious(all shades) are part of the voice. The Voice and out cry is as vast as the citizenry. This one is not going away. A middle class revolt with out violence: Jewish/Israeli style.

  4. I can agree with a couple of things in this article, but mainly this point, which I have already said in many conversations:
    “But even more revealing is what is not on the protesters’ agenda. Conspicuous by absence is any suggestion of consumer boycotts against the avaricious private monopolies/ oligopolies, the real culprits for much of the excessive price hikes. (After all, high prices can only be maintained if consumers are willing and able to pay them.) Nor do they advocate assertive measures to decentralize the economy, or reducing prices by encouraging more competitive imports – perhaps out of fear of alienating the agricultural sector that runs large dairy farms supplying the “cottage-cheese” producing oligopolies.”
    But re: your overall thesis, I fail to see how this is evidence of a left-wing conspiracy. Rather, I think it’s fear of ineffectiveness, or a bow to the deep-rooted consumerism that ultimately conflicts with some of the protest rhetoric. That was basically my argument here: http://972mag.com/socialhousing-protesters-wont-defeat-capitalism/

  5. The truth is probably in the middle.
    There is a crises but the left wants to own it. It is disappearing and it needs a cause or fabricate one.
    This being said: All over the world, the wealthy are too wealthy and too many and for many of them it was acquired dishonestly.
    Unchecked Wealth in any form, shape corrupts. It brings unchecked power.
    I am for controlled capitalism.

  6. It does not take much to discern where from do the majority of those “protesters” hail, I am refering to the “community organizers” leading the “spontaneous” assafsuf, (rabble), and of course the Israeli media controlled since long ago by unJewish elements.
    In turn the talking heads obtain money and directions from Norway and like countries or from the USSD with some help from the CIA. Not by chance Oslo was the location to where the Rabin-Beilin-Peres-Arafat partnership went to fabricate the Oslo accords. Not by chance after Barak went to Washington to get his orders, the protests rose in noise.
    Some correction within the control limits of the Master Economic and Social Plans will in time be effected including building in YEHUDA & SHOMRON, Judea & Samaria, and the far periphery to provide lower cost housing to those found to be in real need as worthy citizens.
    Freebies, NO WAY! There are no free lunches bought with the LITTLE RED BOOK. (This book did in fact exist during the extreme left total control of the country. It served the citizen to gain access to all kinds of benefits if the citizen voted for the “right” candidates.

  7. If Bibi is indeed a free market proponent, this demonstration is his perfect opportunity to revolutionize the Israeli economy by meeting the gist of the demands but with methods totally contrary to the socialism longed for by the useful idiots of Shenken Street.
    They want lower prices on dairy and other food products; eliminate the monopolies and oligopolies that were the “birthright” of the old Sabra-Marxist industrialists (what an oxymoron). The way to meet the objectives of the revolting leftists is do everything that offends them. Now if we could only start with the electoral system, things could begin to work very well.

  8. Shy Guy Said:

    Ted, is there a comment of mine here waiting for moderation or did the internet completely swallow it up?
    Reply – Quote

    Tried submitting again – I don’t see even an “awaiting moderation” copy of my comment.

  9. Resubmitting a comment I wrote elsewhere:

    Both the leftist, socialist, Marxist, communist organizers of this protest, along with the government of Israel itself, are all tiptoeing around the the cause of and the solution to many of the problems being protested about: Israel’s absurd taxation rates to feed it ever-fattening government bureaucracy.

    Forget about the defense budget. Every ministry is bloated beyond reality. The Knesset itself feeds from the ever overflowing trough of taxpayer money to pamper its ministers (with and without portfolios) and their office staffers and perks galore.

    Taking the budget knife to our precious bureaucratic beast would mean tossing myriads of redundant workers into the streets and eliminating corruption and bureaucratic laws and regulation which hinder every aspect of personal and economic life in Israel. If someone would finally get rid of the useless paper pushers, we could have a flat tax of 20%-25% and possibly a zero corporate tax, which would attract Jews with capital to this country like never before and move businesses here, providing employment in all sectors of competitive economic life.

    So why is no one mentioning this – not the government nor the protesters? Because they all know it means the spigot of seemingly endless money to fund their unions, parent’s/aunt’s/sibling’s/spouse’s useless public clerk jobs, and special causes will all come to an end. No pain, no gain.

    Look at this chart and spot the relevant anomaly:

    Government Spending as a % of GDP

    It’s been that way for a long time. It’s the reason why Tax Freedom Day comes so late for the average Israeli:

    Israelis celebrate Tax Freedom Day on June 29th this year: 7 days later than in 2010

    How does it feel, fellow Israelis, to pocket only 6 out of 12 months of your salary? Even that statistic is underestimated, when you calculate in the VAT and numerous other government and municipal taxes we fork over every day of every week for the most essential of items.

    Who’s protesting about any of this? Ask yourself why not.

  10. Let me amend my previous statement . I should not have used the words “increasing taxes”. What I should have said was increase government revenues. Increasing taxes often has perverse effects and may thus actually reduce government revenues. The problem of discussing economic issues is that there are many simultaneous interacting complex factors.

  11. Ted, is there a comment of mine here waiting for moderation or did the internet completely swallow it up?

  12. I agree with the writer and believe that his article deserves wide circulation among American Jews. That is because much of the American media and the Jewish media in the United States are economically sympathetic to the slogans of the demonstrators. However,There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    Either government services and industry must become more efficient (which may actually lower employment) or taxes will have to be increased to get increased services. You cannot get more out of the system that you put in.Housing construction and housing permitting could be much more efficient. This is probably true of many other sectors of the Israeli economy.

    As soon as the nitty-gritty of achieving a balance starts to play out then factions will be at each other’s throat.

    However, unity in the public’s dissatisfaction is not enough. The problem to be solved is how to increase productivity and how to upgrade both employment and skills so that individuals and families are not left behind.

    Choices will be difficult. And until a meaningful consensus is reached about specifics, as soon as any specific solution is attempted, the currently perceived unity (of dissatisfaction )will fall apart.

    The danger to Israel is that the existing discord between the various factions will increase and recriminations will poison the current feeling of goodwill and community.

    Israel lives in a dangerous world. Ted and the many contributors to this blog play key role in reminding Israelis not to squander Israel’s economic and political advantages over its neighbors . I share the belief that they protests in the reports of the protests are political. And I have seen elsewhere the identification of the political affiliations of most of the speakers and organizers of these rallies. These names and affiliations should be public so that these behind-the-scenes manipulators are exposed for what they are: dishonest, hypocritical, manipulative, and just plain wrong when it comes to economic and social theory.