11 reasons why summer 2011 was momentous in Israeli history
Summer 2011 was not marked by economic crisis or war, it marks the start of a revolution in the Israeli mind.
The tents have been folded, the papers have lost interest in the protest, television has reverted to reality shows. Everybody is “disappointed” by the Trajtenberg Committee. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas are sparring as usual at the United Nations and the pundits are grinning that the protest movement is dead.
Nonsense. Tents may be furled but Israelis have changed. The new ideas may stay on the back burner but they will flare up, hopefully without burning down the house, when the next economic storm arrives.
Precisely because the summer of 2011 was not marked by economic crisis or war, it marks the start of a revolution in the Israeli mind. The revolution is in its infancy, and for the sake of all, we must hope it will be slow and steady, not fast and fierce.
What changed in 2011? What has been learned?
1 The public realized that, once it shook off that apathy and acted, it had power. A few thousand tents on city boulevards and squares and two mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people changed the public debate overnight. Even the media outlets controlled by tycoons and politicians had to change their tune.
2 Anybody can have influence. The idea that the individual is helpless and should therefore focus on his own advancement and leave society to be changed by politicians and bureaucrats, has been debunked. People gain power when they join forces to advance broad goals, not their personal interest or that of their sector.
3 Economics isn't just for economists. For years, perfectly intelligent Israelis ignored economic issues on the grounds that they wouldn't understand them anyway. One morning, hundreds of thousands of Israelis realized that economics is central to their lives and is intertwined with politics, culture and values. Recusing oneself from the public debate is to recuse oneself from the social debate, and the debate over our future.
4 I'm not the only one living in overdraft. For a decade the number of middle-class families living in debt has grown, but many were ashamed to admit it, feeling it was a personal failure, not a failure of the political or economic system.
5 Social solidarity isn't a historic aberration: it, and basic values, matter even in a free, competitive economy. One doesn't need to be communist, socialist or a naif to believe in social solidarity as a recipe for strength. Widening social gaps are not a means to boost the economy, they are a hindrance. The more people are left outside in the cold with their noses pressed to the glass windows, the sooner the explosion.
6 Facebook isn't just a hobby for bored people. It is a tremendous tool by which people have learned to share information and organize groups, bypassing the oft self-serving traditional media. Facebook helped the masses overthrow Arab dictatorships and is now helping to reform economies that may seem modern and open, but are controlled by a few powerful people and their minions in government.
7 Most of the tycoons do not make a real contribution to the economy. Some actually cause damage. As long as they controlled the public debate through the press, they could mislead people and politicians alike into thinking they were just successful businessmen who built companies and created jobs. Now people realize the tycoons are a bunch of entrepreneurs who took control of financial institutions, bankers and investment managers, borrowed tens of billions of shekels and used the money to buy monopolies and oligopolies. They don't build factories and don't create jobs, and certainly don't create competitive companies because that takes long-term planning and commitment, and real management culture. The tycoons are generally experts at pulling strings and using other people's money. They're machers, not makers.
8 The American dream isn't real. Social mobility in America is a lot smaller than Hollywood and Wall Street made people think. The financial community in America and the world still hasn't done its soul-searching about the deadly financial crisis that brought western banks to their knees, but what's needed is a fairer model than the American dream. A fairer distribution doesn't mean communism or socialism, it means a freer market with fairer rules of the game.
9 Israel isn't really a startup nation. We've been selling that story about our competitiveness and innovative qualities, but after the summer of 2011, we know that the "startup nation" is a tiny segment that is not driving the rest of the economy anywhere. Its share of GDP hasn't increased for years. Most of the economy isn't competitive at all. Thrumming restaurants are not a criterion of a competitive, dynamic economy.
10 The Israeli economy is concentrated and uncompetitive, in contrast to what many media outlets have been trying to sell for years. Now people know that's a lie sold by the tight club with vested interests in the status quo. Even the prime minister, the finance minister and the governor of the Bank of Israel say so now.
11 The Haredim aren't the only ones who can boycott. For years the Israeli majority was helpless before the monopolies and oligopolies in retail, food, finances, commercial and services, and watched the Haredim bend giant companies and, sometimes, the political system too through boycotts. In the summer of 2011, tens of thousands of Israelis - starting with Itzik Alrov, the man behind the "cottage cheese protest" - proved that they could influence big business too if they stopped accepting the giants' monopolistic behavior.