By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Yet with Israel’s increasing privatization comes an atmosphere of domestic tribalism (Russians against Moroccans, secular against religious), with Israel’s once rich civic culture disappearing.
Nissim Calderon, a leading Israeli intellectual, observes, "We are coming from a strongly collective society with a network of organizations for housing, education, cooperative supermarkets, kibbutzim, strong trade unions — even our publishing houses were owned by collectives. Leadership was always considered a joke in Israel. Now, the whole system has collapsed and a consequence is a crazy belief . . . that Napoleon will save us. The new [electoral] law was believed to give us a strong prime minister, not dependent on parties. What we got was a weak prime minister dependent on 20 parties."
The mood in the country favors privatization and individual initiative — even the kibbutzim are hiring yuppie management consultants to revamp what was once the great socialist experiment — and Barak is going along. The lone Labor Party social-democratic voice, Shlomo Ben-Ami, was offered the job of Minister of Internal Security, not finance. The Histadrut trade-union federation, once the glue that held the country together, is literally bankrupt. They still haven’t paid their 1,500 staff members’ June salaries, and they are nonexistent in the burgeoning economic sectors such as high tech.
But the hard political fact is that Barak must deliver some measure of social justice in the domestic sphere to succeed with his peace initiatives — Israel’s version of a peace dividend. Netanyahu left 200,000 unemployed, a wide gap between rich and poor, and an increasing rift between the elite of Israel, who are of Ashkenazic or Western European background, and the Oriental Jews of North African descent. One reason the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party gained 17 seats in the Knesset was due to the party’s support for kindergarten and after-school programs for the poor, and its leadership on behalf of the poorest sector among Israeli Jews, those of Moroccan descent.
Many of these same voters could lose jobs when low-wage industry, as part of the peace process, moves from Israel to the West Bank and Jordan. To break the Shas stronghold on the Israeli body politic, Barak has to offer more social services, and offer retraining and education for the poorest Israelis in an economy that is increasingly geared to high tech. In this regard, he should recall Shimon Peres’ failure; Peres never succeeded in making the majority of Israelis see the economic or security benefits of the peace process.
Plus, Barak has committed himself to placing final peace proposals to public referenda. If he does, he will be acutely dependent on the very Labor Party he wants to dismantle, plus the Peace Now Movement, to mobilize against the settlers and the Likud Party (which, in its current tattered state, can create problems for Barak) in the Golan Heights and on the West Bank. Even in the age of individualism, the Israeli public will have the final collective say.