Thursday, August 11, 2011

Two Interesting Takes on the Social Protests in Israel: Shlomo Avineri & Ari Shavit

Social protesters represent real Zionism
Shlomo Avineri

Theodor Herzl was not a socialist but he understood well that a revolutionary enterprise like Zionism could not succeed if it was to be solely based on the capitalist market model.

In his book "Altneuland," he therefore describes the Land of Israel of the future as a social welfare society, a third way that would position itself between capitalism and socialism.

It would be a society in which natural resources - land, water, mineral wealth - are to be held by the public at large, where industry for the most part is organized through cooperatives, as is agriculture. Retail trade, however, would be in private hands. The society would provide its citizens with education and health and welfare. To staff social welfare institutions, everyone, both men and women, would be required to do two years of national service.

Herzl called this middle approach "mutualism," and it was based on the European social and economic experience. The future Jewish society would take the principles of liberty and competition from capitalism, and the principles of equality and justice from socialism.

These ideas are correct today, just as they were correct, and revolutionary, when they were written in 1902. The Zionist movement followed this path, as did the Jewish community in the pre-state period and in Israel's infancy, reflecting a deep awareness of the need to establish social solidarity as a necessary condition for the success of the Zionist enterprise.

It is no coincidence that Israel was the subject of admiration and emulation by so many people and movements in the West, because it managed, under difficult circumstances, to combine democracy and liberty with a strong foundation of social solidarity.

It would have been hard to call the young Israel a model society, and there is no point in engaging in excessive idealizing about it, but the ability to maintain social cohesion and a relatively large degree of equality were among its most impressive achievements.

This combination gave the Labor movement an edge over the Revisionist movement, which grew focused solely on national and diplomatic goals. The welfare state that was established here made it possible to absorb millions of immigrants from countries in distress in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, an amazing undertaking that, despite all its flaws, is without historical parallel in its scope. And this occurred not in some wealthy Scandinavian country or Switzerland, but in a poor society of limited means that was subject to diplomatic and economic siege. We underestimate this accomplishment too readily.

A lot has changed in the world and the historic failure of Labor was that it didn't manage to cope with these changes in a systematic manner. It was replaced by a simplistic model of privatization that espoused the neo-capitalist economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Israel's Likud governments led these steps, but one cannot deny that Labor also lost faith in the justice of its own approach.

The currently unfolding social protests are a product of distortions that this unrestrained market economy created. This was accompanied, due to political and coalition considerations, by a comprehensive system of government housing subsidies, public sector employment and extravagant tax benefits for Jewish settlements in the territories and for the ultra-Orthodox.

These two sectors are carried by the taxes, military service and economic accomplishments of those same young men and women who are demonstrating now.
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Israel's revolution must not become a missed opportunity
Ari Shavit
The power of the concept 'the nation' lies in the fact that it can be read both from the left and the right.
Three concepts burst from the belly of the earth in the summer of 2011: nation, state and social justice.

The power of the concept "the nation" lies in the fact that it can be read both from the left and the right. From the left, it's the storming of the Bastille, the red revolution, the organization of the working class. The nation is the rebellion of the oppressed against tyrants and dictators. From the right, the nation is the Jewish nation. The nation is the coming into being of a national entity.

That's why what happened here in the past month is unprecedented. Suddenly Israelis arose in the morning and felt they were a nation and began to walk. Suddenly a political power appeared that is not a party, ethnic group or sector. No longer a cold, sterile and socio-academic Israeli society, but a warm, concrete and smart Israeli nation. A nation that is broad, focused and potent. A nation that is both all of Israel and every individual in Israel. A nation that is all the Israelis, who are embarking on a battle against their exploiters.

The power of the concept "the state" lies in the fact that it offers a new state. Not a state from the top down, but a state from the bottom up. Not a state of foreign policy, defense and bureaucracy, but a state of citizens and human beings. Not a Jewish state against Palestinians, Arabs and gentiles, but an Israeli state against oligarchs, robber barons and centralized tycoons.

The demand for a welfare state now is only part of the story. The heart of the matter is the profound yearning for an ethical state that will restrain the market, block exploitation and reduce injustice. A just and insightful state that will express the desires of the Israeli community and organize Israeli life fairly. A state that will no longer serve selected minorities, but all Israelis. The people's state.

The beauty of the concept "social justice" lies in the fact that it is totally retro. There's nothing more fifties than social justice. There's nothing more Hashomer Hatzair than social justice. But suddenly, via Facebook, the fifties are making a comeback, the spirit of Hashomer Hatzair is making a comeback. And the battle cry of the comeback is not an advertising slogan, but the heartfelt cry of a nation that is demanding the most basic thing: justice. Justice, not charity. Justice for the individual and justice for society. Jewish justice, Israeli justice, universal justice. Social justice.

The 300,000 who demonstrated Saturday night have dispersed. Maybe they'll return another Saturday night, maybe not. But the three concepts of the 300,000 won't be erased. They have been engraved. Even before a political or economic revolution has taken place here, these three concepts have brought about a conceptual revolution. A revolution that says we will no longer allow reckless capitalism to tyrannize us via reckless privatization. We will no longer allow the unrestricted connections between big business and government. We will not accept Darwinist social gaps. The nations demand the reestablishment of a state that will guarantee social justice.
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George Jochnowitz said...

Israelis know how to disagree, which is a great asset. Political discussions and arguments are a way to help us understand reality. At the same time, moderation is required, so that the protests don't become too disruptive. Disruption might give Israel's enemies (most of the world) an opportunity to strike.

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