By Ari Bussel
“And now, Israel, what does God, your Lord, ask from you but to fear God, your Lord, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and serve God, your Lord, with all your heart and all your soul.” Deuteronomy 10:12
There are so many people standing in line to support Israel, in fact fighting among themselves to have the privilege who will be able to defend the Jewish state, that Israel can really afford to be choosy.
Maybe the prevalent attitude is that “God your Lord is inside you, a great and awful (mighty) God” (Deuteronomy 7:21) and a feeling that “my power and might of my hand did for me this achievement” (ibid, 8:17)
Israelis seem to also think that they are doing just well with their efforts of public diplomacy. According to the union of Foreign Ministry employees, they not only risk their lives continually but have fared so well in the international arena, that they deserve a substantial raise. They were so adamant that one must be coming their way, that they completely ignored the ramifications of their work stoppage and slowdown, affecting crucial diplomatic efforts at the height of crisis for Israel. To them, extra benefits and a very fat salary come first. Israel can wait.
What does the common Israeli thinks? Nowadays he is busy either going away overseas (it is cheaper to spend a week away of Israel with the whole family than it is to take them for a short weekend in Israel) and partying on Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv demanding social change.
The new buzzword in Israel is the Cottage Revolution, named after an “uprising” and a “revolt” due to the increase in the price of cottage cheese. There is a basket of basic-necessities items whose prices are controlled in Israel. Everything else is open to free market competition. This said, there is a situation characteristic of distribution in Israel, making Israelis particularly fond of “exclusive agencies.”
Israelis are used to work on hundreds of percents profit margin. Thus, an item that may cost a dollar or two here at a supermarket (say a box of Kleenex), may cost four, five or even six times as much in Israel. Same box, same make, same brand name. There is only one small difference: The typical Israeli has much lower purchase power than his American equivalent. Israel’s average monthly salary is considerably lower than in the USA and the cost of living considerably higher.
Why now? Nothing is new under the sun. Same profit margins. Same race to have more overall and more than one’s neighbor. Also the same expectation to be able to go on vacation, and to buy the kids whatever they wish (and more) and a competition who has more.
Thus, when expectations are solidified, people live beyond their means and one is not satisfied and grateful for what one has been blessed with, then people are dissatisfied and try to vent their anger elsewhere. The current government of Israel has been chosen as the target for all of Israel’s difficulties, past and present, the culmination of decades of lack of attention.
People recognize it is not necessarily the current government’s fault, but they go out to the streets any way. Well, they do it primarily after work, and spend the night hours there partying. It is one big “happening.”
Different elements try to crush the party, adding flavors of politics and social justice, etc., but the main issue is simple: For the typical, middle class Israeli couple with three kids, two respectable salaries are not enough. Prices keep going up (from real estate to pre-kindergarten education to the price of imported French butter), and living beyond one’s means is not working any more. So let’s go “riot” in the streets.
The “riots” are subdued, for everyone takes the situation very seriously. The country’s economic financial position is stronger than it has ever been, why spoil? There is also new reserves of natural gas, and the royalties that will be paid to the state, and overall the situation is very good. The main obstacle, the tycoons are living a life so many envy. Just next door there are high rise condominium projects most cannot afford, and richness is of the type that definitely makes other want the same. It is outwardly and not sharing.
So Israel has to tax the super-rich?
No, there are much simpler steps. Milk and produce are too expensive because of all the intermediaries who make enormous profits. Teachers are underpaid. There is no rent control and no governing municipal codes (that will ensure that those overcharging for their units will also be responsible for basic maintenance such as no exposed electrical wires) and other “simple” solutions. But to achieve those, many will have to get used to lower-than-normal money stream. Yes, 30% profit instead of 300. Then five percent instead of 30. Just a gradual reduction to normalcy.
But then everyone will have to work harder.
Everyone, possibly other than the government bureaucrats (at all levels) and the politicians. These are a breed on their own. No responsibility to anyone and anything other than themselves and their own comforts. No accountability. Indicted on wrongdoings? No problem – just wait a term and jump right back in. Nothing much missed. Have three pensions from different government positions you held? Really, do not worry, it is not an issue. Make sure please your son has a job at one of the companies you ran for the Government.
I remember the work stoppage by the Foreign Ministry. The union spokesperson had to formulate his own arguments, since they did not even sound credible to himself. The person heading the legal department of the ministry, though, was much more used to making baseless claims. His explanation was “we follow the letter of the law,” he said to me, meaning it is irrelevant what the consequences of our actions may be, the law allows us to ask for more, and we negotiate.
I was astonished, particularly at the fact that to me the negotiations did not seem to be in good faith. Good faith would be a teachers’ union looking at salaries over 64 years and making a just claim that the salaries cannot attract the best and brightest. Or that it is becoming more dangerous to be a teacher at a school even in the best neighborhoods.
Alas, Israel’s middle class problems are essentially those stemming from wanting to have more, like what others have and I do not. Sounds trite? Old and stale.
I am reminded of many years ago when something similar took place in the Israel Defense Forces. It was the height of the Dot Com boom, and startups were mushrooming everywhere. Every kid fresh out of the military was being snatched up, many while in service.
The military was struggling to keep the best and brightest. They were too occupied making a list of demands: For the car, I want color XYZ, an offshade of ABC, and no one dares say a word. The competition was that intense.
What people forgot is that it was the military that was providing the best education, training and experience in these fields, and that these young geniuses were indebted to their “first employer” (the military). There was no long term vision, only maximizing what one could get here and now.
So many left to form their own companies, or to join other startups, and the military had a very difficult time retaining any of its people past their obligatory number of years service.
Then the Dot Com bust took place and guess where everyone ran back to be considered for employment. Gratitude, that is what their behavior must be described as lacking.
Fighting for more money, for one’s conveniences or benefits and for maximizing the squeeze on the system are all the wrong reasons in my dictionary to be called a hero or serve as an example. I thus, with somewhat of a heavy heart, dismiss today’s partying in Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as anything of concern.
A reporter asked some of those in the tent cities why not a single organized bus left to the south, to show solidarity with the victims of the most recent terror attack on Israel that claimed eight or the dozens of Grad missiles that ensued, an attack from Gaza. Oh, this was quickly dismissed since Social Justice for the Middle Class is now on the front burner.
Indeed, Ari, your priorities are completely confused!
Apparently, I entertain myself, for while I write these lines, a friend had cancel a date to attend a dinner for Glen Beck who is in Israel now. The prospect was astonished: Glen Beck? Postpone a date with me?
In Israel, Glen Beck’s Restoring Courage tour is quite controversial and not generally appreciated. Israelis view him as “fanatic,” “extremist,” “unpopular even in the USA” and other descriptives that belittle him and his mammoth achievement.
What non-profit organization not salivate of the idea to bring tens of thousands of paying foreigners on a mission to Israel? What non-government organization would not go crazy to duplicate Glen Beck’s tour, as much as they may object to his content? But particularly, Glen Beck managed to anger all of the phony Israel-supporters, those who claim that they are “pro-Israel and pro-peace” but that “Glen Beck does not speak for me.” He managed to frighten Israel’s haters, for his stance is simple, and the truth on which he shades light is not pleasant to their ears.
Glen Beck stands for Israel, in much a similar fashion that Israel stands for the West and the Free World. Unappreciated. Alone. Maligned. Belittled. And just.
Israelis seem to live in a world of their own creation, a bubble completely disconnected form what is happening around them. Israel is hated, maligned, delegitimized. Jews (thus Israelis by extension) are demonized. The Holocaust is about to happen again, and everything bad about to happen to Jews is justified, it is of their own doing, thus deserving.
Except that Israelis do not see that much, as they are busy partying under the heading “Tent Cities Tel Aviv” or going abroad for a week’s vacation, gambling or shopping. No, not all Israelis of course, but a sufficient majority to generalize nonetheless.
Thus I return to Deuteronomy, where Moses recaps the events of the recent past (then forty years and slightly more). He repeats his conclusion that his people are a very stubborn lot. Nothing has changed from his speech at that time and current day events. We are still a very stubborn lot indeed.
Moses is frustrated, as he recounts the greatness of God and the repeated, deliberate behavior of God’s – his – people who do what they want. In his frustration he patiently describes, like a parent to a child, what God expects, so very little, and everything the Israelites have and will continue to get in return.
Moses describes the Land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey, as a garden of herbs, a place that is constantly being watered (“as the rain of heaven cometh down”), a place that God keeps a watchful eye always, from the beginning to the end of the year, always. (Ibid, 11:9-12)
And what does God asks, says Moses, than to love him and worship him with all your heart and all your souls. For He is your glory, and he is your God, who created you, the wonders and the awful things that you have witnessed with your eyes (ibid 11:13, 10:21).
Stubborn people, we are. All we are expected, asked and required to do is to extend equal justice to all, not to take bribes, to try the case of the orphaned and the widowed and to love the foreigner to provide him with bread and wardrobe. We need to love the foreigner, for we ourselves were foreign in the Land of Egypt.
Ungrateful people we are, for we see a person who comes and asks nothing from us in return. He comes to strengthen our hands, hearts and souls. He reminds us who we are and why we need to fight for our continued survival. He opens our eyes to what must be obvious and yet is absent from our view.
He comes because he believes in what the Bible – our Bible – tells him: “Just in your forefathers God has delighted, to love them. And He has chosen their seed after them, in you of all the nations, as if it is in this very day.” (Ibid 10:15) He cries and spills his soul, and we repay him not in kindness but with snide. How appropriate. We have not changed our way.
As in ancient times so in present, Israelis refuse to see what is good and those who want to help and support them. We can still turn and see the light. All we need to do is return to the basics – who we are, in whom do we believe, what are the tenants of our belief. So little is expected of us and so much promised in return.
Glen Beck’s visit to Israel is extraordinary, since he is unafraid, among all the nations of the world to stand up and say: I SUPPORT YOU. I PRAY FOR YOU. I AM (not Jewish, but I am) ISRAELI.
How many were willing to do the same during the Holocaust? We can see some of their names at the Avenue of the Righteous in Yad VaShem in Jerusalem. We are witnessing the same rare kindness as Glen Beck is visiting Israel this week. Who knows, maybe a day will come, long from now, that a tree will be planted and his name, too, will be engraved on a placard in front of that tree?