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Israel’s Bread And Butter Dilemma

Tidbits From Israel

By Ron Jager

Judging by the results, it is fairly accurate to state that the public voted almost exclusively on alleviating the alleged plight of Israel’s middle class, ignoring issues pertinent to security and foreign policy. It seems that the Oslo Agreement and the endless political negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs have lost all relevance to the Israeli public. Senseless withdrawals in response to delusional Palestinian Arab demands will no longer be tolerated in the public discourse. The Israeli public has been convinced that after 20 years of fruitless negotiations, a viable peace agreement with the Palestinians is unattainable in the foreseeable future.

A dominant cultural characteristic of Israelis is that they despise being “friers” (suckers); they have turned their backs on a political process that led to Israeli concessions in return for Palestinian terror. The election results reflect a major shift on the part of the Israeli public, and so a new national agenda must emerge that reflects this change. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett being alongside Benjamin Netanyahu not only represents this major shift but can also bring about this change.

Israel circa 2013: The voters have spoken and they have clearly stated, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today, Israel’s working class and middle class have had enough, and voted according to this idea: you, the political leaders, must stop wasting time and energy on the peace process, which is a code word for worthless negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs, and instead confront and focus on internal challenges.

This means that Israel’s soon-to-be-established government with Netanyahu as prime minister will focus on the economy and find a way to lower the cost of living so that the working class and the middle class can afford decent housing, a family car, and, yes, a yearly family vacation.

The new government will allow Israelis to believe and feel that they are being treated equally as far as civil obligations are concerned. If military service or national service is compulsory, then it should be compulsory for all. Major segments of the population such as the chareidi and Israeli Arabs will no longer be automatically exempt from national obligations and must begin to send their children to serve in the army or national service.

This tectonic change will not only give meaning to equal rights alongside equal obligations for all, but will also strengthen the unique social fabric of Israel and make for a fairer society. Equal obligations and opportunities for all will most likely be the major focus of the next government.

So with all this said and done, I am compelled to ask if the Israeli public has gone into denial mode, giving priority to issues of “bread and butter” over those of “life and death.” Can we avoid the conclusion that Israel’s voting public has become dangerously detached from the real challenges the nation needs to address? Neither Iran’s nuclear bomb nor the extreme Islamic nations cropping up one by one on Israel’s border seem to be a major concern. Is our economic plight in Israel so bad that we can allow ourselves to deal solely with mundane issues of economic well-being?

What’s even more confusing is that poll after poll, both foreign and local, have shown extremely high levels of satisfaction with life in Israel, well above that in most industrial countries. Important socioeconomic indicators are better in Israel than the average in the OECD countries. Life expectancy—usually taken as an indicator of the level of a country’s healthcare—is almost 82 years in Israel. A stroll through urban Israel will reveal that restaurants are full, cafés crowded, pubs jam-packed. The recreation industry appears booming, with beaches teeming in summer, the ski slope crammed in winter, rural byways swarming with off-road cyclists over the weekends, decked out with the latest equipment and accessories.

So against this backdrop of prosperity and a widespread leisure society, the eruption of economic discontent as reflected in the election results seems oddly misplaced and representative of something else going on.

It seems that a new day is dawning upon us, a day in which Israelis want to be left alone. For the past few years, Israel has enjoyed the longest period of calm for decades. Economically, the Netanyahu government stewarded the Israeli economy successfully through the global crisis that affected much of the industrial world, leaving Israel largely untouched and accustomed to economic prosperity alongside a reasonably quiet security situation.

What may seem to those far away as a vote of no-confidence may very well be an attempt by the Israeli electorate to maintain the ship of Israel on a steady course. They may very well be implying that they don’t want to endanger our economy and our well-being with delusional political negotiations or reckless economic handouts and entitlements, making all sectors of the Israeli public active participants in strengthening the economy. The Israeli public knows what is at stake and what they have to lose—they want a strong and stable environment and they know that the leftist-socialist brand of politics will only endanger this in the years to come.

Quite simply, most Israelis have voted for the center and right-wing political parties because they see no immediate hope in peace talks and regard figures like Benjamin Netanyahu as the best guarantee of the country’s economic and security well-being. v

Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic advisor to the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. To contact him, e-mail medconf@netvision.net.il or visit www.ronjager.com.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.