Glorious Socialists

The protest's initial success is encouraging, but in light of the threats that advocates of Netanyahu's system are pulling out, public support and patience are needed.

About one thing there's no argument: The language has changed. Expressions that were pushed into the margins of awareness, or regrettably were said at small meetings of equally small groups, have been taken to the streets. They have been filled with oxygen and are being shouted aloud.

Those wise and popular cries "Who's that coming? It's the welfare state" and "The people demand social justice" have really caught on. That's even more true of the spirit that breathed life into them. Suddenly learned economic pundits are sitting in the newsrooms; most of them held senior positions in the Finance Ministry until a few days ago. They're speaking a new language.

Suddenly they're concerned about the cartels that they failed to disband, shocked by the centralization. They're explaining that the tax structure must be changed. They're opposing the lowering of corporate tax and claiming that we need an inheritance tax and a lower value added tax. They're even saying the state should have been a guarantor for the Israel Electric Corporation so it could borrow the NIS 2.5 billion it lacks to improve infrastructure, rather than taking it from the public. Oy, they're all genuine glorious socialists.

Some of them forget that only a month ago they said precisely the opposite - that we can't touch the salaries of the economy's leaders because they will flee overseas. We can't increase corporate tax (the corporations will also flee overseas), and we can't lower VAT. (Will it also flee overseas?) And we can't increase the salaries of the doctors, police, nurses, teachers and social workers because the economy will deteriorate.

Others explain that until now we experienced the holding action (from 2003, when Israel had a huge debt, to today, when Israel is flourishing). And now begins the opening-up. In other words, without expanding the budget deficit (heaven forfend), they will try to find a way to change the distribution.

And that's what the committee established by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is supposed to do. The panel itself is problematic - and not because its members aren't good; most are very good, especially the head. But in a normal country the treasury is supposed to carry out the government's policy. And if the prime minister, who is also the overall minister for the economy, announced two days ago that he understands that he has to change his policy, why not instruct the professionals at the treasury to prepare a plan, bring it to the cabinet for a vote as Netanyahu works his magic, and his threats, and passes the program?

Because Netanyahu doesn't really think there's a need for policy change. He was led to the negotiations with the protest leaders against his will, and due to pressure in Likud. The panel, he hopes, will buy him quiet for a while, and by the time it discusses, formulates, submits and recommends - and there are readings in the Knesset and it is ready to vote - September will arrive and the Palestinians will make us forget the protest.

Just to be on the safe side, he and the pundits are scattering threats. The protesters, they say, are not responsible. They aren't revealing the sources of their funding, and they've forgotten that there are Haredim and Arabs here who don't work. (Isn't it the policy of all our governments that has created this situation, by nurturing Haredi poverty and blocking the integration of the Arabs?) And in general, they've chosen a bad time. The refrain is no longer "We'll be Greece" but "It's impossible because of the American crisis."

But the clear political crisis in the United States is the rotten fruit of the policy of former President George W. Bush, who irresponsibly poured money into the military and the wars and enriched a narrow group at the expense of the middle class. If you insist, you can discover its roots during the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, all of them members of the economic right of whom Netanyahu is an enthusiastic disciple. And it's precisely this reckless policy that the protest leaders are warning about, with impressive responsibility.

The protest, which Netanyahu had hoped would evaporate by itself, is continuing and will now be conducted on two planes. On one of them - negotiations over concrete demands such as lowering indirect tax and government involvement in public construction - there is a reasonable chance they will see results if the panel doesn't dissolve itself out of existence. The second plane is a long-term project whose main objective is a change in awareness on the road to a profound change of the economic system and the relationship between state and society.

The initial success is encouraging, but in light of the threats that advocates of Netanyahu's system are pulling out as their position is being undermined, public support and patience are needed. And the most important thing is not to be afraid at all.