- Growing millions worldwide understand Israel's decades-long
project to colonize Palestine, dispossess its people, steal their land,
and terrorize them into submission. They also know it hasn't worked nor
- Too few, however, know how growing social and economic
inequality affects most Israelis. Since at least the mid-1980s, state policies
have disproportionately favored the rich, causing wealth disparities, unemployment,
poverty, hunger, homelessness and gradual loss of social benefits.
- A race to the bottom followed, notably since mass privatizations
in the 1990s, placing profits about human needs as in America where only
corporate and elitist interests matter.
- As a result, recent studies show 1.77 million Israelis
are poor in a population of 7.7 million (including Jews, Arabs and members
of other faiths). About 850,000 children live in poverty. About 69% of
them lack nutritional security. Around 75% of them miss meals, and 83%
of them lack proper dental care. Some, in fact, beg for money or steal
- Executive Director Eran Weintraub of the Tel-Aviv-based
Latet humanitarian organization said poverty increased significantly in
the last decade because of macroeconomic neoliberal policies. It shows
up noticeably in housing because of sharply rising prices, making it unaffordable
- According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, average
Tel-Aviv apartment prices doubled from 2007 - 2010. In Jerusalem, they
increased by 60%. Rents also rose steeply, creating an intolerable burden
for growing numbers of Israelis being priced out of a place to live.
- No wonder they finally reacted, protesting for affordable
housing for over two weeks in cities across Israel. What began as a Tel
Aviv middle class protest mushroomed after being joined by the National
Union of University Students and then others, turning small protests into
- On July 30, six Haaretz writers headlined, "More
than 150,000 take to streets across Israel in largest housing protest yet,"
- "Marches and rallies took place in eleven cities,
(the) largest ones in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva and Haifa."
- "The people demand social justice." "We
want justice, not charity." "Proper housing, legitimate prices."
"The power is with the citizen," and "This generation demands
- Thousands also held signs saying "Game over - Bibi
go home." They demanded government intervene to reduce prices, introduce
rent controls, and require affordable housing be built.
- Some observers compare visceral anger to uprisings in
Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, so far
with no violence.
- Tent cities were erected in protest - for some, a tent
city revolution. On Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd., Israel's Park Avenue,
they sprung up amid crowded cafes and ficus trees. In cities across the
country, they're blocking roads. Some activists practically besieged the
- In response, Netanyahu cancelled a Poland trip, and the
interior minister called for the Knesset to cancel its summer recess. In
response, Speaker Reuven Rivlin chaired a meeting that decided it will
be taken as planned, Rivlin saying:
- "The government is tasked with solving (the crisis),
not the Knesset." (However, if) during the recess the Israeli government
takes economic or social steps that require the Knesset's approval, I will
convene it immediately."
- The crisis, in fact, is serious given poll results, showing
87% of Israelis support the protests. According to Bar-Ilan University
Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig:
- "What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this
is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It's one of the few issues
that cuts across all political spectrums." As a result, he's "definitely
nervous, and he should be nervous."
- "Whereas the street has been relatively quiet in
the last 20 years, it's beginning to wake up and demand part of the national
wealth that does not seem to be trickling down as much as it should. It's
not a call to return to Israel's socialist past, but to a more collective
feeling of society as a whole."
- Indeed, the protests cut across Israeli society, including
secular and religious groups, Jews and Arabs, men and women, youths and
elderly, newly marrieds, veterans, Bedouins, and Israel's growing numbers
of homeless. As a result, Netanyahu's leadership and governing coalition
hang in the balance.
- In fact, calls are increasing for him to resign, including
from Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar, headlining an August 1 op-ed: "Netanyahu's
time is up," saying:
- Middle class Israelis "crumpled under the burdens
of the high cost of health, housing, education, food and gasoline"
for years. Moreover, their taxes are too high and wages too low.
- Under Netanyahu, grievances are now boiling over for
good reasons. He failed most Israelis and should go. By resigning as Israel's
Finance Ministry director general, Haim Shani perhaps agrees. Reports suggest
he disapproves of spending billions of dollars addressing the problem Israel
- Like other politicians, Netanyahu made promises, but
didn't deliver for everyone, leaving out Israel's middle class, workers
and most needy. According to activist Yigal Rambam:
- "Every section in Israel society suffers from the
housing problem and there isn't a general solution here. Any real solution
must deal with rental prices, the prices of buying land, public housing
and housing assistance."
- At the same time, Israeli doctors and social workers
struck for higher wages. Moreover, in June, a boycott protested high cottage
cheese prices, an Israeli staple. Now mass discontent targets unaffordable
housing, bringing growing numbers to Israeli streets, demanding long avoided
- Performing at rallies, prominent Israeli musicians support
them, including Hemi Rodner, Dan Toren, Yehuda Poliker, Barry Sakharov,
Yishai Levi, Avid Geffen, and others, names less familiar in the West.
- Most Israeli municipalities also expressed support by
calling a one-day August 1 strike, a symbolic statement, perhaps with others
- Bad policy is at issue, encouraging Israelis to move
to settlements, ramping up their development while neglecting construction
in Israel. The result - less supply, higher prices to unaffordable levels.
- Moreover, in Tel Aviv, only 3% of construction in the
last decade went for public housing, and none was built from 2006 through
- Finally admitting a problem, Netanyahu said government
would subsidize a 50% discount for purchase and rental units on state-controlled
land. He also promised public transportation costs would be reduced, and
commercial property owners would get incentives to convert their buildings
into affordable residences.
- However, even if he delivers as pledged (what few expect),
relief will take many months to arrive. Moreover, at best, it likely will
fall short, leaving the major problem unaddressed because no society can
undo decades of bad policies overnight.
- Moreover, for years, middle class wages eroded, lower
class ones even faster. Israel's rich alone amassed wealth at the expense
of working households. According to Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer,
about 20 Israeli families control banks, supermarkets, telecoms, real estate,
newspapers, high tech companies, utilities, and other basic industries
- The central bank's 2009 annual report showed these families
control 25% of Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-listed companies and 50% of total
market share, one of the highest concentrations among developed countries.
- According to the 2009 Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report,
5,900 Israelis have at least $1 million in liquid assets, and from 2005
to 2007, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country.
The net worth of its 500 richest, in fact, exceeds one-third of total GDP,
an extraordinary concentration level, and with it a chokehold on the economy
and government policy.
- Moreover, Israel has 16 billionaires. At the same time,
most workers earn low wages and eroding benefits. In fact, wages have fallen
from 68% of national income in 2000 to 63% in 2010, heading south as the
disparity between rich and others grows.
- Israeli Arabs, of course, are worse off, an issue the
above cited articles addressed.
- At the same time, falling wages and social benefit cuts
in healthcare, education, and other areas have widened the gap between
rich and most others.
- Among all developed nations, Israel, America and Britain
are the most unequal, a trend getting worse, not better, showing up now
on Israeli streets.
- In response, the Histadrut trade union federation has
done little to represent workers, its leaders protecting their own privilege
and status at the expense of rank and file members they don't serve.
- Though calling an August 1 general strike to address
grievances, supported by the Union of Local Authorities, it's subterfuge.
Chairman Ofer Eini did it, in fact, to reach accommodation with Netanyahu's
government, not bring it down.
- A Final Comment
- What's ongoing in Israel bears watching, including whether
it will inspire Palestinians to rally for their rights. Activists have
been calling for a third Intifada to demand peace, equal rights, social
justice, independence, and an end to Israel's occupation.
- They're all longstanding unresolved grievances. Perhaps
it's time now to address them throughout Palestine under popular unity
standing firm until they're gotten.
- In fact, doing it when fed up Israelis demand change
may prove opportune and effective. It's especially true if crackdowns target
them but not Jews, highlighting the gross injustice no one any longer should
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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