The Lesson SodaStream Taught Israel

Nadav Eyal, foreign news editor of Channel 10 News, says if Israel wants to enjoy the fruits of globalization, it must pay the price.

Ayelett Shani
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Ayelett Shani

You’re the foreign news editor of Channel 10, but your area of expertise is actually globalization, which you studied in London. What is “political globalization?”

People perceive globalization as a process that simply happened to them, but globalization is not a developmental, but rather a political, phenomenon. It’s a political plan of the United States, which was conceived and implemented after World War II. The idea was to establish a world that would be as interconnected as possible, in order to cultivate the might of the West, to open new markets and to strengthen the West’s position in the face of the Communist bloc. But after the bloc collapsed, there was suddenly a leap forward of globalization, and that is what we are experiencing today. This is sometimes attributed to technology, but that is of course a mistake.

Is it? Isn’t the technological revolution the main driving force of globalization?

No. Between 1870 and 1914, for example, globalization was more powerful than it was, say, in 2001. You see this in the flow of capital from the north to the global south, then and now, and in the flow of capital between countries in relative terms. We feel that our world is a great deal more open today, but openness isn’t measured only by the ability to phone anywhere: It’s measured above all by people’s freedom of movement, by their ability to migrate. People possessed the greatest freedom of movement in the world of the Belle Epoque, and no one should know this better than the Jewish people, who benefited from the potential of this tremendous momentum of legal migration.

What’s most surprising about the world’s situation today, given the intensive globalization processes?

Nadav Eyal.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

There are two things. First, we don’t know where globalization is headed, and of course there is no one in control of it, not even the Americans. They created it, but it turned topsy-turvy on them, and all the foreign currency reserves flowed into China. The second thing is the underlying assumption that globalization is triumphing, that there will be no stopping the desire of the whole world to be part of it; that we will all submit to the globalization of American culture. But since the 9/11 disaster, a series of trends has been pushing in the opposite direction from globalization.

Such as insularity and isolationism.

Yes. Religious fundamentalism, for example, is a response to the threat of a global world. And not only Islamic, but also Buddhist or Christian fundamentalism.

Or Jewish.

Which is stepping up its presence, yes. Jewish fundamentalism is also a counter-response to Israel’s integration into the world. It’s often thought that nationality and localism are less pertinent because of globalization, but that’s not true. Ethnic groups are fighting one another: Shi’ites against Sunnis, Catalonians against Andalusians, Scots against English. Globalization heightens people’s desire to belong to smaller things; in the face of this wave, we are like a leaf tossed every which way. When we’re told that changes in currency rates led the Chinese to close down a factory in Dimona, we crave the security of the personal and the local.

An employee fills plastic bottles with instruction notes at the SodaStream International Ltd. factory in Mishor Adumim, near Jerusalem, Israel, Aug. 17, 2011.Credit: Bloomberg

Now, if you think that globalization is here to stay, you also have to ask yourself about the approach taken by your country. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected via reciprocal relations, we need to ask whether we are living in a society that is inclusive or exclusive. That is a crucial question.

Because the question is what kind of society you want to have here in another 10, 20 or 50 years. Are today’s children being given the tools to cope with the new world?

Indeed. From a purely self-interested point of view, you would want an inclusive society; an isolationist, exclusive society is fundamentally weaker. Great nations are those that know how to include many individuals within them and grant them at least part of their dream. That is the direction of the world today, whether you look at the European Union or at China. President Obama understands that, so he allows himself to pardon five million illegal immigrants with one executive order.

‘Shrinking into religiosity’

In the meantime, on the other side of the ocean, people are drawing up the nation-state law.

Israel is operating in an atmosphere of a built-in paradox that we all feel. On the one hand, we are a very global society and up to date in international trends. The growth we feel, the progress since the days when we all drove a Subaru, is related to two factors: the peace process and globalization. Both of them developed in parallel at the beginning of the 1990s, together with the large migration from the former Soviet Union. Israel was suddenly transformed from a remote province, unconnected with events in the world, into an up-to-date, thriving country.

On the other hand, people feel threatened by the largely American culture that is disseminated via globalization – threatened because of the absolute freedom that globalization demands for itself, threatened by the injunction to become part of the world. Globalization has absolutely no patience for minor border conflicts in the Middle East. It’s like a big river that has to make a decision: whether that little island will remain an island and the current will flow around it, or whether will it be subsumed as part of the river.

You know, I have a friend in India who’s a journalist. A Hindi nationalist party is now in power in India. Like us, they have a neighboring country, Pakistan, with whom they are locked in a territorial dispute, except that they have nuclear weapons. I asked my friend about the nationality clause in the Indian constitution, and it turns out that there isn’t one. India was founded on the ancient Indian idea of unity in diversity. My friend was very surprised that we are allowing the nation-state legislation to go forward. I asked him what would happen in similar circumstances in India, and he didn’t even want to think about it. Laws like that only weaken us.

The societies that are moving in the direction of exclusion are shrinking into religiosity, into ethnicity. They are closed to external influence, rigid and inflexible in their thought, and the end result of that inflexibility is extremism or implosion. We know the examples.

Bizarrely, precisely because we have the privilege to oppose these processes and criticize them, we sometimes forget that they are actually occurring.

Official Israel, at least, is trying to make the separation – to say: “We have our high-tech and our trade, and we also have the conflict, but there’s no connection between them – please relate only to our beautiful aspects and to the fact that we manufacture microchips here.” But it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because all the information is stuck together, and that means we have to decide where we are and what we want.

Take the SodaStream battle [a reference to the company that closed its plant in the West Bank, due to the threat of an international boycott of businesses in the territories]. Israel waged a magnificent, heroic struggle for the sake of SodaStream. I covered the demonstration outside John Lewis on Oxford Street, when BDS [the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement] was protesting the fact that the department store was selling SodaStream. Israel fought like a lion and fell like a fly.

Stores selling Ahava products [from the Dead Sea] were also shut down in Britain, and John Lewis removed SodaStream from the shelves. Of course, they [SodaStream] didn’t say it was because of the boycott; they said it failed economically. And of course it failed economically, because BDS activists stood outside the store every week and said “Don’t buy SodaStream.”

In the end, that affects the Israeli employee in the SodaStream plant directly. Israel cannot undertake the challenge of standing up against globalization. If it wants to enjoy the fruits of it, it also has to be able to pay the price, and part of the price is the ethos it chooses. The more alienated and isolated Israel is, the more it distances itself openly from the international community. And that is not a viable alternative.

Israel as oligarchy

Let’s talk a little about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the upcoming election – about a ruling party with no platform.

Part of the problem of the discourse is that we are focused – both in the media and in the public – on talking about the politics of politics, about who will hook up with whom and what he will get. And we talk a lot less about results and ideas. We don’t measure people by what they do. I don’t remember any cabinet minister in Israel being dismissed for poor performance. Look at how the prime minister says he had a bad finance minister – yet this is someone he appointed and then backed for two years.

In Israel, people who govern consider themselves to belong to an entitled social class, as with the Mubarak family [in Egypt]. I’ve been writing about this for years. Israeli politicians have no idea what their function is. As a political reporter, I saw our politicians going from place to place with a speech made of slogans connected to some ideal that has nothing to do with the needs of the people they are talking to. That’s in marked contrast to politicians in almost every other democracy, where they try to grasp and focus on their listeners’ world of needs.

This dates way back. A functionary from the Histadrut who visited a transit camp [for illegal immigrants, in the 1950s], instead of talking to the inhabitants about the flooding there in the winter, would talk to them about the “conquest of the Negev” and “making the desert bloom.” It’s more convenient to talk about a slogan. The Six-Day War marked the beginning of the discourse of slogans in Israeli politics: territories, yes or no. That really is very easy and convenient for the politicians. They simply don’t have to learn the material or show results, like an American politician in a small town in Iowa, say.

The fact that none of this is part of the discourse here is particularly harmful to the left. The left doesn’t gain power elsewhere [in the world] because it promotes withdrawal from some region. The left comes to power because it tells people: We know you are working too hard in the mines and are being taxed too heavily. The less that Israeli politics talks about needs, and the more it uses slogans, the more the left is weakened. The status quo triumphs; conservatism triumphs; the right wing triumphs.

There was a great deal of new blood in the outgoing Knesset, yet nothing changed.

At least we saw some sort of attempt in this Knesset. There’s a deeper problem here, which is that one of the first lessons a novice politician learns is that he will not succeed in changing anything. He’s told that he shouldn’t even think he will be able to make a change. Look at what’s happening with housing. Nowhere else in the world does the government control more than 90 percent of the land, yet doesn’t implement any sort of affordable housing policy. In other places, you have to negotiate with the landowners; here the land is ours.

In Britain, the Conservative government made a great deal of money because it gave guarantees to builders and got the money back plus handsome interest. Here, the reason that’s not done is prosaic, depressing and disappointing: The state is locked in a mental prison and doesn’t have a clue. The people who make the decisions or set the policy don’t understand how it works in the world today. The discourse is a matrix, completely false. There isn’t any closed welfare state here in which the protective barriers and the customs tariffs have to be removed, nor is there a capitalist entity here.

There is no class mobility.

What we have here is an oligarchy. Social class is fixed. You can make a lot of money, but if your parents don’t have money, it won’t help you. On the other hand, you can make very little money, if any at all, but if your parents have money, you’re set. This oligarchy, in addition to the moral sins it commits against the society, does not reward success. It’s ruinous for the economy.

We are high up on the inequality chart; we are cultivating inequality, creating it. When the state was established, the founders said: “We have a chance, because we have a clean slate. It can be built properly.” I think Israelis still have the chance to make use of the most precious resource in the country – namely, human capital – and also the second-most precious resource – namely, the land – to create the most properly run society in the world here.

We have the land, the right, the legislation, the ethos. This is a place that was able to establish a welfare state during a war! That believed deeply in an exemplary society. It’s a matter of a decision, and not only an electoral decision. It’s a meaningful change of consciousness among the ruling class and among the voters. I think it’s already happening.



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