The Summer of Our Discontent

If you have been keeping up with the mass demonstrations in Israel and are scratching your head to figure out exactly what’s going on, you are not alone.  Many Israelis, myself included, are similarly perplexed.

I’ll give you an example.  I had the following conversation with my grown kids.  My son and daughter-in-law, both hardworking Israelis raising four small children, and burdened with house, car and childcare payments, thought the whole thing was laughable.

“Did you see who is leading the ‘baby carriage’ protest?’” my daughter-in-law said.  “Two mothers who have ONE KID each who live in Herzliya.  Yeah, they want the government to give them more stylish baby buggies!  And who is going to pay the taxes for it, me!”

The general gist of what I’m hearing from my kids is that: “They’re out there smoking and drinking in Tel Aviv, playing their guitars.  When the summer is over, they will all go back home.”

Apparently, along with many others, they seem to feel the protests are politically motivated, just another Leftist plot to overturn the will of the people who elected Benjamin Netanyahu.

And indeed, when a popular Sephardic singer who is identified with the poorer classes announced that the demonstrators were “a bunch of spoiled North Tel Avivians who are angry their grandparents didn’t leave them an apartment on (fashionable) Rechov Bazel,” her statement was met by a storm of protest that reminded me of the way the Peace Nowers reacted to anyone suggesting the Oslo Accords weren’t going to bring peace on earth and good will towards all men.  Indeed, there is a preponderance of left-wingers involved, including all the usual suspects in the arts.

But then I went to shul on Shabbat, and my very learned and truly pious rabbi, with whom I agree on almost every issue, told the Bar Mitzvah boy: “Don’t let anyone tell you that these protests are fake.  They are in the name of social justice.”

Well, that made me think again.

It is certainly true that for the last year I have been looking at the bill coming out of the supermarket cash register with greater and greater amazement.  How can it be? I ask myself, shocked, when the bottom line for a week’s food seemingly doubles and triples from week to week.  And we are just two people who don’t eat that much, admittedly with a grown son who does, but still.

I often wonder how a normal Israeli family can afford to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads on Israeli salaries.  And the truth is, the price of cottage cheese, bread and other staples is higher than that in the U.S. or Europe, with no earthly justification.

On the other hand, we have an enviably robust economy, with very low unemployment rates, and no housing bubbles or disasters.  It is true that the gap between the tycoons that run the Israeli economy and the middle class who support their billionaire status has widened, and the burdens that the Israeli public shoulder are heavy because of our defense budget.  And I certainly do sympathize with the medical interns who are quitting en masse because of low pay – 29 NIS an hour.  I pay my cleaning lady 40 NIS.

But I resent any public gimmick to unseat our duly elected government.  And I resent the atmosphere of self-appointed leaders threatening anyone who opposes what they are trying to do.

I think Bibi together with Stanley Fisher have done a magnificent job in keeping Israel’s economy booming.

That is not to say I don’t sympathize with young families and students who are finding it hard to make ends meet.  But the list of demands by the so-called leaders “leaders” of this social protest, have been downright silly.  Public education starting at age three months?  Huh?

When the weather cools down, and the tent cities disappear, we hope the government we elected and still support will figure out some way to make things better for everyone, whenever possible.

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