Countries, like humans, are cautious when it comes to change. Former US President Bill Clinton once said: “Everyone believes in change, but no one wants to see it happen.” Large systems are interested primarily in maintaining the status quo, protecting the routine and the traditional division and distribution of power. This goes on even after it is clear that the time has come to replace the foundations of the house in order to save it from collapsing all together.
That time has come. Israel’s 59th Independence Day is our time to save the house. There are moments in every country’s history when the ship needs to change its course.
Moment of truth
The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963 was one such defining moment.
Mao Tse Tung’s ‘The Long March’ in 1934 was another one. So was the clanging of the hammers as they demolished the Berlin Wall in November of 1989, De Gaulle’s withdrawal from Algeria in 1961 and the establishment of the State of Israel on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5708.
Every defining moment has its unique circumstances but they all have this in common: The few who led the many, the ideas thought radical at first that became consensus. Already existing institutions of governance had less ability to survive when the forecasters of change assessed that the silent majority – contrary to popular opinion – showed surprising flexibility in adopting new ideas. “Give them a flag,” said Herzl, “and they will rally around it.”
Israel had such a flag for half of its existence. Until the mid-Seventies, there was a clear ethos here. Everyone agreed about the essence of Israeliness: a fighting nation, small, whose strength comes from the fact that people depend on each other. The Mapai generation of socialism integrated – for a brief dramatic moment – with the lessons of the Holocaust.
‘The melting pot’ did not appear to be a kind of acculturation but rather an uncomplicated way to survive. There was a need to unite the population around a number of simple shared values: the Hebrew language, Israeli Defense Forces, the Bible, western democracy, technological advancement, favoring the many over the individual.
In the Eighties, things began to change. It was the country’s strength that enabled entire groups to feel that “they had been tossed to the side of the road.” They had been deprived of an equal opportunity to join the mainstream. The lifting of that fictional threat to our existence – in the wake of the peace treaties signed with Egypt and the stability and ceasefire along the northern border – enabled the individual to prosper, to worry about himself first and only then his country.
Parallel to this, the very enticing theory of multiculturalism emerged from academia, preaching “return to the sources.” That theory aggressively argued that “no one culture is superior to another.” Instead of trying to create a single ethos, the proponents of this theory urged every ethnic group to stick to its own ‘narrative’ and for each person to learn their own history and the traditions of the country from which he immigrated.
A recipe for disaster
In retrospect though, this is a recipe for disaster. Israel ended up with a concoction containing the worst of all possible worlds; amulets and whispers replaced the values of the Jewish tradition, ghettos of language and alienation took the place of admiration and validation of one’s ancestors. In place of a comprehensive peace, we got disputes, internal and external, which reached their pinnacle with the first political assassination of an Israeli prime minister.
The only remnant of socialism was a society that integrated a culture of destructive welfare benefits with an economic tradition in which the state is the primary employer who lacks the ability – or the desire – to carry out genuine reform, gradually transferring control from the public to the private sector. The Histadrut labor federation has turned into a safety net for the country’s biggest unions and a stifling bureaucracy that has taken over the country’s most important economic agencies.
Capitalism, which arrived late, underwent a violent mutation leading to a savage privatization process putting the power in the hands of a small group of people who have a lot of capital. Israel today is controlled by an unholy alliance of private heartless financiers and an impoverished government, distorting and paralyzing every one of the country’s vital services.
Shrinking of the mainstream
The social process was not slow in adapting to the economic developments. Instead of aspiring to join the mainstream, the different groups making up Israeli society, discovered that it was much more beneficial to live at its expense. Violated was the Platonic principle by which the State looks after the general welfare of the society, but not the welfare of any particular group.
Around the concept of an ever-shrinking Israeli mainstream have evolved a number of special interest groups who assumed the center was strong enough to carry their ambitions and needs: the haredi Ashkenazi tribe, the haredi Sephardi tribe, the National Religious tribe, the Russian tribe, the development town tribe, the left- wing socialist tribe, the Arab-Israeli tribe, and also smaller tribes who gathered around the State and demanded what was coming to them. Everyone is entitled though some more than others; it’s just that there is nothing left to give.
As the years passed the claims multiplied. The mainstream sense of being under siege intensified until it just turned inward and became a new tribe – another tribe – among the feuding families of Israel: the private sector tribe. The children and the grandchildren of the people who in the past held the keys to both the country's ideology and its practical existence learned to work alongside or parallel. They developed international contacts without government assistance, found legal ways to bypass the tax authorities and reduced "doing business with Israel" to the basic minimum. They assuaged their consciences and sense of civic responsibility by setting networks of humanitarian egos and funds to help the less fortunate. This was, in a way, a message to the State that they have lost their confidence in its ability to help the needy without help from outside groups.
Breakdown of the rule of law
The next stage was unavoidable; if you’re not responsible to the state you do not respect its laws. The penultimate watchdog of any developed society – the law – has been undermined. Not because there are no laws, but because there is no one to enforce them. Every year hundreds of new laws are passed in Israel. A good number of them are never implemented.
According to Knesset figures, 71 percent of the laws in Israel are not enforced. Can a state that constantly withholds salaries from workers force its citizens to pay its bills regularly? Can a state which channels illegal funds to illegal settlements demand its citizens to obey the building laws? Can a state which has hidden unemployment at every level of government expect citizens to fund it without question? Can a state which aids and abets an untenable bureaucracy believe the public will continue to have confidence in it and the wisdom of its decisions?
To be continued...