The Israeli Spring

By Jeffrey Goldberg

One of the reasons I haven't posted much of anything on the Israeli protest movement is that I can't quite figure out what to think of it. As a former longtime resident of a semi-unsustainable but socially-cohesive and programmatically and financially generous kibbutz, my heart is with the demonstrators. But as a former resident of a semi-unsustainable but socially-cohesive and programmatically and financially generous kibbutz, my head is not with the demonstrators, but with the people who wrenched the Israeli economy away from the socialists (who allowed, among other things, the kibbutz movement to slowly wither away, by refusing to adapt to reality) and built a vibrant, technology-driven, free-market state that today has an extremely low unemployment rate and a very healthy export culture.

On the other other hand, I know from friends that life, even for people with good jobs, is atrociously expensive in Israel. And I know that the gap between the rich and poor is widening in a way that would have broken Ben-Gurion's ascetic heart (and would have made Ber Borochov throw up in his borscht.) Mainly right now I'm reading (I'm waiting, in particular, to read more of what Abu Muqawama has to say about his visit to the tents) and hoping to get back there sometime soon. I'll also post from time-to-time interesting observations about the demonstrators, such as this one, from Nadav Eyal:

The demonstrators, then, are not just "sushi eaters" from Tel Aviv, as one Likud politician called them; they are middle-class Israelis -- taxi drivers, doctors, and mothers who are angry about a variety of issues, including working hours, the rising cost of living, and the growing gap between rich and poor. Since the 1970s, Israel has experienced extensive deregulation and privatization, shifting from a welfare state with relatively controlled market prices to a free market focused on encouraging competition.

This shift has ostensibly strengthened Israel's economy. Most recently, Israel emerged from the global economic crisis relatively unscathed, and, according to the Bank of Israel, boasts 4.8 percent growth and six percent unemployment this year. But economic success has contributed to inequality, creating unprecedented wealth for some yet failing to benefit the middle class. According to Meitav Investment House, a respected financial firm in Israel, the price of groceries has risen 16 percent since 2007 and the cost of fuel has risen 19 percent. Deregulation has allowed cartels and monopolies to stifle competition in many sectors. For example, two large manufacturers control the baby formula market in Israel. When they raised prices earlier this year, the cost for baby formula rose by 15 percent nationwide, outraging consumers. Thanks to artificial pricing set by the government, olive oil is more expensive in Israel than in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that olives are grown in Israel. And many argue that privatization has led the government to neglect social services such as public transportation, education, and health.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/08/the-israeli-spring/243443/