The Trivialization of the Zionist Experiment


January 2012


After covering and analyzing events in the Middle East for more than 45 years, I have learned that it is often the very things that the media fail to cover that drive events in this region. This truism applies equally to Israel and the Arab states.


Take the series of crises that Israel has undergone in recent years—almost all of which were either predicted or predictable. Israelis have witnessed the murder of a prime minister, multiple economic collapses, multiple teachers’ strikes, doctors’ strikes, strikes by the social workers, a huge growth in disparities in incomes, a growth in poverty, attacks by politicians on the justice system, including the Supreme Court, rioting and terrorism by the so-called “hilltop youth,” a steep rise in the cost of living, a mass public revolt over the cost of living, an attempt to demean women in public places and a massive fire in the Carmel forest—to name but a few of the salient events Israelis have lived through.


And you’ll note that I haven’t even mentioned anything dealing with the peace process or foreign relations.


Most of the events I did mention could have been avoided or their impact at least limited.


At first glance, there would appear to no connection between these various events. But as I hope to show in this article, all of these phenomena are closely interrelated and they are the product of the trivialization of the Zionist experiment.


The Zionist movement was founded in the belief that the only way to solve the so-called “Jewish problem” of discrimination and pogroms was by establishing a nation-state in which Jews could take on all the roles necessary to create a functioning modern state, from garbage collection to negotiating with foreign leaders. The idea was revolutionary at the time because it was based on the premise that work, not merely prayer and waiting for the messiah, could and would bring about the establishment of the third Jewish commonwealth.


The term, “the Jewish problem” was actually a misnomer because the Zionist movement’s founders were trying to solve a great number of problems that the Jews were facing at the time.


For that reason, the greatest emphasis of the early Zionists was on creating what was called “the new Jew”—one who could live what was called “a normal life.” Among many other things, this included enabling Jews to find employment in their own chosen field of endeavour, and life satisfaction through work. In fact, for many of the early Zionists, especially the socialists, work became almost a new form of religion.


The idea was that, in the new order, Jews would be able to fulfill their personal longings because, in a Jewish-run state, they would be able to use their natural capacities for something other than just surviving. This meant that Jews could even return to many fields of endeavor from which they had been excluded for two thousand years, such as farming or leading an army or…running a country.


Very quickly, the Zionist movement became divided into four basic ideological streams—the socialists of various stripes, the nationalist liberals, including the Revisionist Movement, the religious nationalists, and the Canaanites, who sought just to live among the Arabs who were already resident in Mandatory Palestine.


Significantly, with the exception of the tiny group of major citrus plantation owners, there was no classical, right-wing political movement that was based on landholding, minimal central government intervention in the economy and inherited wealth.


In other words, at its most basic level, the focus of the Zionist movement was a humanitarian one, based on a belief that politics and state-building should aim not just at enabling Jews to survive as a group, but also at encouraging the personal fulfillment of each individual Jew as a human being. That was one reason why, if only for a short time, the idea of establishing this Jewish homeland in Uganda was also considered seriously.


Each political group’s ideology—the way each perceived how the future state should be constructed—was a crucial contribution to this effort, because it provided each of the groups with a comprehensive framework for approaching the task that it had undertaken—and a stated set of long-term objectives to which the ideology’s adherents committed themselves.


Even more importantly, having a comprehensive ideology that included all the elements of governance such as social policy, an economic policy, an approach to military planning and other things, forced the leaders of each movement to work hard to constantly revise and refine their ideology to cope with the ideology’s faults and lacunae…and changing needs and circumstances. This meant having to constantly change priorities among any number of social and political ideals to which the ideologists adhered. And that took work—hard work. Maybe the best example of this approach to managing change during the pre-state period was the painful and divisive decision to accept the UN partition agreement.


Every once in a while, as I go blind reading 6 point type and obtuse footnotes, one fact or statistic leaps out at me and seems to encapsulate or summarize everything I have been reading. As I waded through all the data on Israel this year, one graph in one report—in this case by the highly respected Taub Institute—did just that for me.


It showed that up to 1975, Israel had been remarkably successful in becoming a “normal” society.


One very important measure of “normality” in any society is its productivity, when compared to other states. As this graph showed, in Israel, in 1975, productivity, which is measured as the GDP per person per hour worked, had almost reached the level of the G7, the major industrialized nations. In that year, productivity for both was about 23 dollars per hour worked. However, now, the gap between the two has widened again—big time. Israel’s productivity in 2008 was about 35 dollars per hour worked, while the average among the G7 was about 47 dollars.




In other words, the gap in the standard of living of Israelis and the nations Israel seeks to emulate has grown remarkably in the past 35 years—despite the fact that those Israelis who do work, work more hours per week than the residents of all but two other OECD countries (The United States and Mexico). The reason most often given for the gap is that only 62 percent of Israelis of working age are actually employed, as compared with 77 percent of Norwegians.


But that is not the sole reason.


“What went wrong? What has happened in the past 35 years to make Israelis so “abnormal?” Why do they accomplish less than others despite appearing, at least, to be putting in more effort?”


Almost all the academic studies on the subject have focused on the fact that fewer Haredim and fewer Arabs work. But I think that there is more to the phenomenon than that.


After reading just about everything I could read about Israel, I think it is possible to reduce the reasons for the slowdown in the move to “normality” to two critical factors—the death of ideology and its replacement by an addiction to euphemisms—and changing attitudes by the country’s politicians about what constitutes work…including the work that adhering to a flexible ideology entails.


As I noted earlier, it was these two things, a comprehensive approach to governance and hard work designed to achieve rationally-set, long-term goals, that had been critical to the success of the Zionist movement and had enabled Israel grow from a war-torn, bankrupt state populated largely by refugees from the Holocaust and the Arab states into a functioning nation-state.


But in recent years, there has been a shift in political power in this country from workers to work-avoiders. And this has changed the country’s political, economic and social playing field beyond recognition.


When most people think about major events in this country’s history, they usually point to the UN partition resolution in 1947, the War of Independence or the 6-Day War.  Until I read that graph, I did the same. But now, in retrospect, I have become convinced that 1975 was no less a pivotal year because in that year, political ideology finally died, and the country’s politicians began to shift their emphasis from doing real work to what Harvard professor Ronnie Heifetz has called “work avoidance.”


Heifetz defines work avoidance as a tactic that people use to escape from doing the work they are supposed to do. The idea is that people make themselves appear to be so busy doing so many things that don’t matter so that they can flee the need to tackle the real issues that they have been mandated to deal with.


The very idea that Israel’s elected representatives, for example, may have been spending their time avoiding doing their jobs during the last 4 decades may seem outrageous. But, according to every academic study that has been done on the subject, more than 70 percent of the decisions taken by the governments during this time were never implemented—nor was there ever any intention to implement them. And Yossi Kuchick, a former director general of the Prime Minister’s office, says that the number is actually over 90 percent.


Next, think of all the meetings that must have been held prior to the government making its decisions to approve one law or another, or the number of studies undertaken prior to those meetings that involved thousands of civil servants over time, or the costs involved.


Think too of all the special studies done by experts in their fields, and the conclusions that were never implemented.


And then think about the number of crises that were predicted in advance by the state comptroller or some august public inquiry committee—from the committee that predicted that Israel would soon be facing a water shortage to the two comptroller reports that castigated the government for failing to establish a proper fire-fighting agency equipped with aircraft to fight forest fires.


Finally, think too about problems that are so obvious to you that you didn’t need the comptroller or an investigating committee to identify them—from road congestion that results in the loss of hundreds of millions of shekels to the economy each year to the vast overcrowding in the country’s hospitals, to the utterly inhumane failure to resolve the plight of the 300,000 Israeli residents who are not registered as Jews or Moslems or Christians and so are incapable of even being married in the same country that they defend with their lives during their army service.


And then try to convince me—or yourselves—that there has no been epidemic of work avoidance on a massive scale by the country’s politicians.


Instead of work designed to prevent crises, we have been witnesses to serial, post-facto, crisis management.


So how did this situation, in which Israelis have limped from crisis to crises, come about? How is it that so many people are being paid to do a job…and fail to do it—and are still not fired?


All of which brings me back to 1975—or rather to the period of 1974-1976.


By then, Labour had lost its way. It had been in power for so long that governance had come to be seen as a right. Self-examination had become almost a sin, and crony mismanagement and corruption had become rife. There had not even been a programme put in place to allow an orderly passage of power to the next generation—at a time when the founders were dying off at an increasingly rapid rate. As a result, the Labour party and its affiliate, the Histadrut, which had accumulated huge human and financial assets over the years, would soon become politically, financially and intellectually bankrupt.


The Likud, which would soon take power, was also in turmoil. Originally a party based on a set of social and liberal democratic political principles, it had become a populist party in order to attract the votes necessary to gain office for the first time.


The National Religious Party too was in the midst of a revolution. It had once a been a party led by rationalists and worldly men dedicated to reason and to resolving social issues—especially through the search for pragmatic, halachically-acceptable solutions to the problems Jews were encountering in the modern world.


But by the mid-1970s, though, the NRPs old guard was being challenged by a younger generation that had been brought up in the closed confines of the yeshiva—and for whom a narrow, mystical dedication to achieve national redemption through the control of all of the Biblical “Land of Israel” had become its primary and virtually only goal.


Even more importantly, while previously the NRP’s leaders had formulated policies and then run them by the rabbis to ensure that they conformed to halacha, the younger generation began to seek out the rabbis first, and then tried to craft their policies to match the rabbis rulings. In other words, they used the rabbis, who may have had no comprehensive knowledge of the subject at hand, in order to escape having to confront real, pressing issues.


And almost invisible to all, a social and economic revolution was also building. In 1975, a year after it had been founded by a returning Israeli, Intel’s first research lab in Israel was beginning its first project. As well, in that same year, the first group of students from the first course ever established in Israel for the study of computer science, graduated from the Hebrew University. Until then, anyone wishing to work in computer programming had to become a mathematician, a physicist or an engineer first.


With no agenda for action to debate, the Labour party began to focus more and more on personality contests, political manipulation, and intra-party conflicts for power than on formulating a platform—political work avoidance at its most extreme and usually an almost terminal illness for political parties. The man most responsible for this state of affairs—and the man who probably has done more than any other to undermine Israeli democracy in recent years—was Shimon Peres.


It was he, and not Ariel Sharon or Menachem Begin, who was the real godfather of the settler movement. In a desperate attempt to try to keep the support of the NRP, just prior to the 1976 elections, he negotiated the establishment of Elon Moreh, the first settlement in Samaria—without even taking into consideration what the long-term consequences of that decision would be. As I will show in a moment, the whole settlement programme then became the biggest work avoidance scheme in Israeli history.


After Labour lost the election, instead of doing the same sort of hard work of reassessing its platforms and actions as the socialist parties in Europe did during this period, Labour began a series of internecine wars within the party—most of them orchestrated by Peres, who could not imagine any government in Israel without him.


Labour tried to join every coalition government it could—and because it refused to focus on creating its own political agenda, it deprived the country of one of the most important agents of democratic government, an effective, fighting, loyal opposition that is prepared to take over the reins of government when the government in power has failed in its duties.


While Labour soon had less and less to offer voters, the Likud went in the opposite direction by trying to all things to everyone. Instead of prioritizing government spending—arguably to most important function of any government—it went on a spending spree. The primary culprit here was David Levy, who managed to turn what had been an ideologically-based party into a populist one.


The combination of overspending and the first Lebanese war eventually drove the country into bankruptcy. At one point, government spending reached the awesome figure of 109 percent of GDP, and inflation skyrocketed to 450 percent.


Over at the NRP, things were also getting worse and worse. Although the party claimed that it was still following the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who had died in 1935, it was actually becoming a party of monomania, focusing almost entirely on the teachings and narrow interests of Kook’s son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. While the elder Kook had emphasized the Jews’ obligation to all mankind, and the need to adapt the Halacha to modern circumstances, the younger Kook was a fervent, xenophobic, nationalist isolationist for whom established religious practice was inviolable.


As a result, from being a party that had based its approach on compromise, professional expertise and rational thinking, the NRP became a party in which sincerity, tradition and religious conviction had become the supreme values. Knowledge of a particular field of human endeavour, other than religion, was no longer considered to be a qualification for public office.


Very quickly, this single-minded belief in the redemptive value of settlement, took the place of careful study of the nations problems and searches for solutions to those problems. So, among many other things, the plight of the poor communities on the periphery was ignored because any development funds the party could attract, were shunted to the settlements.


At this point, this belief and an increasingly emphasis on stringent religious practice became one of the greatest rationales for work avoidance in Israeli history—matched only by the ultra-Orthodox factions’ new-found belief that Torah study by everyone (even those incapable of doing so) was superior to making a living.


By focusing so heavily on settlement and outward signs of piety, the NRP slowly but surely abandoned many of its founding principles—especially the desire to find solutions to national, as opposed to strictly sectoral problems. As part of this process, it eventually gave up its control of the rabbinical courts and even the chief rabbinate (which had been established especially for the elder Kook), where much of the real job of marrying and adapting Halacha to modern life should take place.


Eventually, having abandoned so many of their founding principles, the religious nationalists found that they could not marry couples as they saw fit, and even their conversions were no longer accepted by the ultra-Orthodox, who had taken control of these bureaucratic positions.


More importantly, by increasingly isolating themselves in self-made ghettos, the national religious became more isolated from and more unable to communicate with the secular population.


In order to excuse its behaviour, the movement began coining euphemisms about itself. For example, it started called itself “right wing.” Of course it was nothing of the sort. Unlike all classic right-wing conservative movements, it believed in central planning and high taxation in the service of nationalist settlement. In other words, it had become more a Russian-style Bolshevik movement than anything else.


Other euphemisms, such “hilltop youth” and “price tag” have also since entered the Israeli political vocabulary.


But, to my mind, the best example of the national religious flight from responsible, honest work has been its decision not to confront the implications of the murder of Yitzchak Rabin. Instead of soul-searching why a national religious adherent had murdered the prime minister, as the rest of the country does on the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzchak’s assassination by a national religious adherent, the national religious schools invented a new holiday in order to avoid the work of introspection. For the first time in Jewish history the Biblical Rachel’s death (which is believed to fall on the same date) became a date of note. That is certainly the trivialization of one of the most traumatic events in modern Israeli history at its most extreme.


The growing power of the ultra-Orthodox (known as the Haredim) as the balance of power in the government did not have an impact just on the NRP, but on Labour and the Likud as well. There cannot be a better example of a desire to enter into work avoidance than the decision by the major parties to welcome the Haredim’s entry into Israeli politics in a big way. That is because the Haredim’s supreme ethos is work avoidance in order not to have to confront the task of adapting to modern life.


But not only are they supreme work avoiders, by, among other things, refusing to earn a living or defending the country, the Haredim have become supreme enablers for the other parties to avoid work as well.


Whenever you hear a Haredi flack try to justify their lifestyle and proclaim that they are saving Jewish culture, you should always remember that the Haredim are anti-Zionist and really don’t care whether the Zionist experiment, certainly a central part of modern Jewish life, goes down the tubes.


In fact, they have a stake in making Zionism appear to be a trivial exercise. That is partly because they themselves have no ideology—only discrete, religious dogmas. Therefore they are incapable of addressing those issues that come with statehood. All they really care about is ensuring that they get enough money from other Jews to pay for their flight from having to cope with modernity and its challenges.


One of the ways by which they enable work avoidance by the other political parties is very simple. Since the 1985 economic collapse, the Finance Ministry has been mandated to focus almost solely on preventing another economic catastrophe and hyperinflation. In order to do so, it spends most of its effort trying to prevent excessive government spending by setting revenue and spending goals.


When the Finance Ministry prepares its budget, it first lays out projections on revenues and then presents the government with options for cuts or additions in spending in order to prevent the budget deficit from getting out of hand. When the Haredim enter the government, they make no bones about the fact that they are there primarily to foster their own sector’s interests—especially money for yeshivas that don’t teach the core curriculum of math, science, history, English and civics…and thus condemn their pupils to a life of unemployability. When the pupils grow up, these unemployables then draw money out of the state kitty for welfare benefits, but don’t add to the kitty because they pay little or no direct taxes.


The Haredi focus on spending for their own purposes then sets off a contest among the other ministers to protect and find additional spending for their own sectoral interests. By the time all the money has been divvied up, there is no way that national spending priorities can be set—which, as I said earlier, is the primary job of any government. So, by default, the need for things like roads, hospitals, and secular education are simply ignored.


It is important as well to always keep the Haredim’s claims of service to the country in perspective. For example, their claim that they are repository of “authentic Judaism” is a historical lie. Haredism, as we know it today, was actually an invention of the 17th and 18th centuries as a reaction by Ashkenazim to their social and economic plight and the seductions of the Enlightenment.


But because they have been so successful with this ploy, once they face a particular problem, all they have to do to avoid dealing with it is to take some Biblical or Talmudic passage to the extreme, make new demands for religious observance, and then blame their failure to confront the real problem at hand on those who have not behaved in the newly-prescribed manner. When they are criticized for this behaviour they claim that it is all a secular conspiracy. The separation of men and women on buses serving Haredi neighbourhoods, which had not existed before 1997, is but one recent example.


Not only that, by claiming to be the ultimate arbiters of a particular situation, even if they do nothing, they have been able to relieve the other parties of the need to confront new and unfamiliar challenges—not the least of which has been the desire by tens of thousands to convert to Judaism—something that has not happened since the days of the Second Temple.


I have included the high-tech folks in this survey because, although they are extremely hard workers, ironically, they too have been work-avoidance enablers. For one thing, they were able to create a bubble—a labour market that was almost totally independent of government funding or government regulation. This meant that the high-tech workers did not feel an obligation to join the public debate when work avoidance by the politicians became an epidemic.


Not only that, the high-tech workers’ very success as major sources of foreign exchange and tax revenues has enabled successive governments to avoid having to make difficult spending priority decisions. As a result, for example, precisely because the amount of tax revenue from high-tech kept growing, the government was even able to avoid feeding this golden goose during the past decade. The simple fact is that while high-tech workers were earning more and more money for the country, less and less money was being spent on producing future high-tech engineers and scientists…and more and more money was being spent on producing unproductive unemployables and work-avoiders.


In effect, Israel, like most of the Arab states has developed a rentier economy. A rentier economy is one in which natural resources are used up, but the revenues produced are not reinvested in productive, job-creating enterprises. Israel doesn’t have commodities, such as timber or minerals as major natural resources that can be tapped with ease. As the country’s politicians have blathered on for decades, and as the World Bank’s studies have shown, Israel’s only real natural resources—other than its new-found gas fields—are the minds of its people. And work avoidance by the politicians is wasting this precious, renewable resource.


The failure to set national, as opposed to sectoral priorities, has in fact trivialized the potential contribution the nation’s best minds and hardest workers do and could make to their country.


Inevitably, all those productive people who have suffered under this system have rebelled. The recent series of strikes by teachers, doctors and social workers who were being vastly underpaid, the consumer street protests, and the flight of academics to other countries are just one set of examples. For example, 24 percent of the foreign-born university teachers in the United States are now Israelis.


But the rebellions have taken other forms as well.


Maybe the most important of these rebellions has been the constant appeals to the Supreme Court. I think that it’s only natural that when the politicians fail to do their job that those who are affected would appeal to professional advocates to aid them when approaching what they view as a neutral body in order to seek redress.


Some, such as the consumer protesters or the four mothers who laboured to get Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, manage to attract the press to their cause.


A few even set up research units to document and to justify their complaints about work avoidance by the government.


The reactions by those politicians who came under attack inevitably followed very quickly. The politicians who were doing the least real work began leading campaigns attacking the very outfits that had exposed the politicians’ failings—such as the Supreme Court, the Finance Ministry, public protesters, journalists and NGOs.


The first and most common tactic was to label the complainants with some indefinable epithet such as that they are “leftist” or “anti-Zionist” or “Nazi” or “anti-democratic”—whatever those terms may mean.


If that doesn’t work, a second-best option has been to raise conspiracy theories or to begin trumpeting a new or old security threat.


Another, frequently used technique has been the use of political spin and the re-writing of history. The best recent example of that was the introduction that Netanyahu’s spinmeisters wrote to be delivered by the master of ceremonies before Netanyahu spoke at the memorial to those who died in the Carmel forest fire disaster.


In a masterpiece of cult-of-personality flackery that would have done Kim Jung Il’s cronies proud, the master of ceremonies at the event was forced to intone that Netanyahu had been the one who had  foreseen the disaster, and that it was he who had been the first to ask for international support, etc, etc.


Naturally, no mention was made of what the state comptroller had found…that the government had been wholly unprepared to fight the fire.


If spin fails, some politicians try to appear to embrace the challenge and promise change, but then, just as quickly, renege on their promises. The best recent example has been Netanyahu’s treatment of the Trajtenberg report, which had been ordered by the government, ostensibly to address the issue raised by the street protesters. Originally he had promised to abide by all the report’s recommendations. But now we find that he has decided not to implement the central recommendation, which was to cut the defence budget and use the savings for other social purposes.


Bibi also used another well-worn maneuver to the same end. Secret reserve spending funds are always hidden away in some obscure provision in the budget bill. For example, in 2011, a big chunk of the money was hidden in the section dealing with housing loans to young couples. The budget set aside 1.5 billion shekels for this task—a very noble idea. But it just so happened that the interest rate for these mortgages was set at a level that was higher than what most people could get from the banks. But instead of lowering the interest rate and thus responding to the protesters, the left-over 780 million shekels was then handed over to the Defence Ministry—thus even increasing the ministry’s budget when that same money could have been used to provide public housing. Altogether, these kinds of shenanigans increased the defence budget by over 5 billion shekels in that year.


Another common technique is simply to ignore a problem. For example, successive Israeli governments have all failed to deal with the rule of law—the foundation of all modern democratic states. They all chose to turn a blind eye to the issue of violence and terrorism by extremist settlers, who have uprooted Palestinians’ trees, stolen the Palestinians’ olives and poisoned their sheep for many years. The current government was only roused to appear to be doing something about what the army now belatedly calls “Jewish terrorism” when these extremists decided that they were immune to prosecution and began attacking the very Israeli soldiers who had been sent to defend them.


If a court judgment goes against their wishes, the politicians invariably then begin attacking the courts. The recent attempt to pack the Supreme Court and to make judicial appointments subject to Knesset approval is the latest and most dangerous stage in the attempts to delegitimize the High Court.


Another thing that has happened is that the courts have even been bypassed. For example, by law, anyone who knows of a case of suspected paedophilia is required to report it to the police—and this especially applies to the law-makers themselves. But when such suspicions were leveled against one of the senior leaders of the national religious movement, Rabbi Motti Eilon, the movement, with the acceptance of its political leaders, set up a court of its own, which sentenced Eilon, who might otherwise have been subject to a long prison term, to exile in the Galil. It was only when Eilon repeatedly broke the terms of his banishment that the police were informed and a formal complaint registered.


If journalists do their job and uncover malfeasance, the press also becomes the target. The latest attempt to pass a law that would vastly increase the penalties for libel even if no damage can be proven, is again yet another stage in the attempt to strike fear in the press. That move also came at the same moment that the Knesset members once again failed to pass an updated code for their own conduct.


The recent attempt to ban Israeli NGOs from receiving research money from foreign governments, while not also prohibiting such payments by private, interested individuals and corporations, is another example of an attempt to silence those who have collected data on the politicians’ failures. One may disagree with the NGO’s political agenda, but trying to limit their capacity to gather facts undermines the very system of democratic rule.


Another too-often used technique is to create a diversion. For example, in late 2011, the state comptroller issued a devastating report on the lack of preparedness by local authorities in the event of a natural disaster or a major missile attack on the country. Clearly the growing missile threat by Iran and its proxies is the single greatest external existential threat that Israel currently faces. If war were to break out again, thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of Israelis could be killed. But did the politicians even address the issues the comptroller had raised?




Instead, they all focused on that most trivial of issues—whether a small group of virulently anti-Zionist religious extremists could prevent women from walking on the same sidewalk as men.


Another way of avoiding criticism is to play with the statistics—which brings me back to the graph I mentioned at the beginning. When the consumer revolt began to gather steam, the government beat its breasts by pointing to the continued rapid growth in GDP, while the economies in Europe were in a meltdown. Essentially, Bibi and Finance Minister Yuval Steinmetz argued that “you’ve never had it so good.” But, a closer look at the figures showed something quite different. While imports were growing at a heated pace and raising the GDP, export growth, the lifeline of the economy, was much slower. When the final figures did come out, they showed that for the first time in 7 years, Israel had had a current account deficit.


But worse than that, much of the growth in GDP had come from the two areas the protesters had taken to the streets about—the rapidly rising cost of housing and the rapidly rising cost of food and fuel. The failure to prepare for an economic downturn meant that in 2012, the government had to rush through emergency tax increases to cover the increased sectoral and defence spending and the drop in the growth of income and corporate taxes.




In conclusion, so long as “Jewish problems” remain unaddressed, the Zionist experiment is being trivialized—and by trivializing it, it is being endangered.


The rabbis, who have become ever more involved in politics, have wanted power, but refuse to take responsibility for what they do or do not do. In particular, they have been leaders in fostering work avoidance in others—not least because they have failed to take the personal and spiritual and intellectual effort to speak out on issues of critical, existential importance to the nation.


By now, you may have become steamed up about the fact that I have discussed the Haredim, the National Religious Movement and the Likud—and have made no real mention of Labour or Kadima.


I didn’t forgotten them. My problem is that, while the parties that make up the ruling coalition are in a position to do something, the opposition has decided to do nothing. Therefore, I have nothing to say about the opposition parties because they have chosen to make themselves irrelevant—another form of work avoidance.


At best, they have belatedly reacted to events. But they have yet to produce a real agenda of their own or to lead a fight for anything. Instead, they have simply sat back and waited for the Likud to fail enough, so that voters will turn to the opposition out of sheer fatigue, frustration and disgust.


The country is currently being divided in ways that don’t fit the old patterns of Mizrahi/Ashkenazi, religious/secular or whatever. In one camp are those who cannot tolerate change and in the other are those who seek change—even if this means greater uncertainty and ambiguity. Because of the stalemate between these two camps, and the inability of those in power to bridge the gap, the only time that real change comes to Israel is when there is a crisis that cannot be ignored. Of course, once the crisis passes, the ongoing need to work for change is forgotten.


And one last point. I think that it is particularly noteworthy that the three people who worked hardest to defeat the raft of bills that would have undermined Israeli democracy and the Israeli legal system were Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, and Ministers Benny Begin and Dan Meridor—the three remaining Revisionist ideologues in the Likud. It is especially noteworthy that Rivlin and Begin are among the staunchest supporters of the settlement project, but they realize that there is more to governance than settling the Whole Land of Israel or following one single dogma at the expense of real work.


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