Amos Oz's Mistake

Nostalgia had an adverse effect on the Ozs memory; coloring Israels past economic condition with strong hues of pink despite the fact that the prevailing color was dark gray.

Until this week, I didn't know that Israel was once a paradise. That was during the first 30 years after it was established. "The poverty was not acute...Those who worked could make a modest but a respectable living for themselves and their families," the writer, Amos Oz, stated in Tuesday's Haaretz. Oz continued to speak nostalgically of the magnificent past, adding that this was an egalitarian society in which new immigrants, refugees and those who lived in transit camps were granted education, health care and public housing. However, he stated, "all of this has been destroyed in the past 30 years as the big-capital governments encouraged and inflamed the economic jungle laws."

The only problem with with this idyllic description is that it is not correct. Because nostalgia is a bad adviser. It colors the past with strong hues of pink despite the fact that the prevailing color was dark gray. The first 30 years after the establishment of the state were difficult years, years of poverty and shortages, ethnic discrimination, and a low standard of living. It's lucky we are no longer there.

To this day, I remember how every single morning our neighbor would ride his bicycle from the north of Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv to his place of work in Jaffa because he did not even have money for the bus. Who had a car then? Who went out to eat in a restaurant? Who dreamed of going abroad? Only the political activists. At a later stage, when the trips abroad began, the most amazing tour was not of the Louvre but of a local supermarket to see the abundance of food, the diversity, the colors - while we had only Shenhav toothpaste, Elite instant coffee and Osem noodles on our shelves.

Oz writes that "almost all the women and men worked." Even that is not correct. Because in order to work during those happy years, you had to have a red membership book from the Histadrut labor federation. And Oz's egalitarian society distributed beautiful apartments at half price only to "those who are close to us" while in the low-income neighborhoods people wallowed in terrible conditions.

Education for all? Where did he get that? There was excellent education with good teachers for the Ashkenazi elite, but the "teachers" who were sent to the poor neighborhoods and the development towns were nothing more than female soldiers who had completed high school and who could not keep a class quiet for more than five minutes even if their lives depended on it.

Health care? That too is a myth. After all, until the reform introduced by former Histadrut head Haim Ramon, at the beginning of the 1990s, some 250,000 people did not have health insurance because they did not pay dues to the Histadrut. Only in 1994 did we receive a national health law and now everyone can receive medical attention even if they do not work at all, do not pay one agora, and have 10 children. And this happened in the last 30 years and not the first.

Once upon a time, you could waste away in poverty and then a representative of the welfare authorities with a grave expression would come on a house visit and perhaps dish out a few coins. But in the past 30 years, there have been child stipends that everyone receives, and there is also supplementary insurance for those who do not earn enough - something that did not exist at all in Oz's paradise. It inconceivable that Oz does not remember the revolt by the Black Panthers at the beginning of the 1970s.

Our luck was that the founding fathers, despite the fact that they came from the socialist revolution in Europe, understood that in the long run socialism leads to poverty and want, and they moved over to a market economy after a relatively short time. This process, which is still ongoing, saved us. Our standard of living rose dramatically in the past 30 years. Imports were allowed and the selection increased while the prices dropped. From a closed and backward economy that relied on exporting oranges, we turned into exporters of high tech at the forefront of technology.

But of course the situation is not perfect. The gaps are too wide and they need to be corrected. That is because a market economy requires strong regulation and constant concern for the weaker elements in society. Therefore it is good that the tent protest has erupted.

In order to improve the lot of the middle class, the government must deal with the monopolies and cartels, the large workers' committees, the tycoons who control too much of the economy, the exaggerated military budget and the crazy taxes that are imposed on food products. It must also deal with those who have excessive rights - the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers.

With regard to this last point, there is no one who will agree more with what Amos Oz said than I do.