Netanyahu's anti-Churchillian Policy Weakens Israeli Society

The PM thinks the besieged state of Israel can survive only if it is an economic powerhouse.

The million-dollar question is, what does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really believe in? In the Greater Land of Israel? Not anymore. In peace? Not yet. In the settlements? Definitely not. In dividing the land? Not really.

Rather, Netanyahu believes in building up Israel's strength. He thinks the besieged state of Israel can survive only if it is an economic powerhouse. And he's convinced that the way to make Israel an economic powerhouse is to privatize.

Netanyahu may talk like Churchill, but his dream is the Reagan-Thatcher dream. He believes that just as Ronald Reagan rehabilitated America via the market, and Margaret Thatcher revived Britain via the market, he will strengthen Israel via the market. Privatization, competition and the removal of bureaucratic barriers are what will make Israel flourish and cause it to leap forward. The free market is what will save the Jewish state, by giving it the ability to defend itself.

In one sense, Netanyahu's analysis of Israel is correct: Rapid growth is the breath of life. Israel cannot permit itself to doze off the way Greece, Portugal or Italy has. To meet the challenges it faces, it must be an economic Atlas.

But, in another sense, his analysis is fundamentally flawed. For Israel must be an egalitarian state - not only for moral reasons, but also for strategic ones. Abandoning the young people who bear Israel's burdens and the middle classes is not merely unjust, it is stupid. To survive, the Israeli economic powerhouse must also be society of fraternity, solidarity and values.

Netanyahu's mistake is a historic one. In a state of semi-war, an unqualified attachment to unbridled capitalism, to the unrestrained tyranny of market forces, is impossible. It's no accident that the European welfare state was born following World War II. It's no accident that America's G.I. Bill, which guaranteed free higher education to demobilized soldiers, was enacted in 1946. In the face of Hitler and Stalin, even Tories like Churchill and Republicans like Eisenhower understood that it was necessary to set limits on the market. They understood that a society that drafts its sons and demands that they risk their lives must be a partnership society. For without a minimal level of solidarity, without basic social justice, it won't win - and therefore, it won't survive.

Reagan and Thatcher thought otherwise, but their revolutions were the products of peacetime. Only 30 to 40 years after that great war did the United States and Britain turn their backs on society and dedicate themselves to the market.

In Israel, however, the war hasn't ended; we are merely between wars. Israel still drafts its sons and daughters, and sometimes even demands that they lay down their lives. Therefore, it cannot follow the route laid down by Reagan and Thatcher. In this place, at this historical moment, social democracy isn't a caprice of the leftists and Stalinists, but a supreme strategic necessity. Israel needs a strong, cohesive and fair society no less than it needs a robust economy.

But Netanyahu refuses to understand this self-evident truth. His Reagan-Thatcherism has ripped Israeli society to shreds, creating a flourishing economy at the cost of social rot.

Netanyahu's Reagan-Thatcherism was thus anti-Churchillian. For instead of creating an economic and social powerhouse capable of meeting the challenges that surround it, he created a robber state that serves the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox and the tycoons. Instead of creating a Jewish, democratic and moral state here, he created a state that shuts out its productive, creative majority. In the name of the market and market forces, Netanyahu atrophied state systems and weakened Israel to a dangerous degree.

This moment is therefore a decisive one. The crisis is also an opportunity, but this opportunity is the last one.

Netanyahu need not obey the dictates of the protest leaders sitting on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. But he must finally listen to the outcry that rises from the boulevard. For despite the political games being played by Kadima and Hadash, this outcry is genuine. And it requires Netanyahu to understand what Churchill understood. It requires an Israeli New Deal.