The social protest that erupted in the summer of 2011 was a big bang. It replaced Israel’s diplomatic-security agenda with a socioeconomic agenda. It put the middle class and its problems at the center of public life. It let loose in the city streets a dragon of civic discontent that demanded radical change and didn’t accept Israel’s domestic situation as it was.
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From the very first moment, it was clear that this dragon of protest would have to attack one of Israel’s three privileged population groups: the tycoons, the settlers or the ultra-Orthodox. Consequently, for the past two years, these three power groups have been waging a fierce competition that has been largely hidden from view.
The Haredim tried to direct the dragon’s flames at the tycoons – see MKs Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism). The settlers tried to distance the dragon’s flames from themselves – see Industry Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi). And the tycoons tried to save themselves by causing the dragon to attack the people they hated most, the Haredim – see Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid).
In the 2013 election and the subsequent process of forming a government, the tycoons won big: They set up a government in their own image. They succeeded in transforming a wave of popular protest with a social democratic hue into a rightist, bourgeois government the likes of which has never been seen before in Israel.
Two things that happened this week underscore what has occurred here: the unveiling of Lapid’s neoliberal budget and his anti-Haredi speech. But a third development is actually the most symbolic of all: The Perry Committee, whose task is to equalize the burden of military service, went to work. Its chairman, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry, is a man of great merit and great charm. But the social protest was at bottom aimed precisely at the concentration of wealth that Perry embodies.
When someone who formerly served as chairman of both a bank and a cellular telephone company becomes the man responsible for increasing economic equality in Israeli society, the picture is crystal clear: Israel’s top one percent has succeeded in gaining control of the protest dragon and diverting its fire from the wealthy town of Herzliya Pituach to the Haredi one of Bnei Brak. It has turned the new Israeli government into a government that uses persecution of the Haredim to protect the interests of the tycoons, from whose ranks it comes and which it seeks to advance.
So far, so good. A significant portion of Israel’s wealth is impressive wealth. Israeli capitalism is at bottom a creative capitalism without which we have no future here. And the attacks on the rich are often malicious and exaggerated. Thus perhaps the time really has come for Israel to have a government of young, energetic Republicans who will impose order and break the unions and flay the poor with whips. Perhaps the time has come for the well-fed to dig into the empty pockets of the hungry and clean them out of the few crumbs they have left.
But the tycoons who have just taken power must take into account the fact that power entails responsibility. Those who incessantly asked “Where’s the money?” will now be asked where the money is. Those who incite today against the weak will cause incitement against the strong to resume tomorrow.
The tycoons who were complaining a moment ago about how they were being persecuted by Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich and deputy publisher of Haaretz Guy Rolnik ought to know that now, they have become the persecutors. And the world goes round. The wheel turns. Thus when Israel’s next social uprising ignites – a Haredi, Mizrahi, socialist, populist one – the tycoons will have only themselves to blame. Their decision to replace 2011’s spirit of brotherhood with class and communal warfare is dangerous. Their decision to forge a pact with the settlers against the Haredim is a grave mistake.
Sooner or later, these destructive decisions will cause Israel’s oppressed minorities to turn on their oppressors. And when the new, violent, dragon of protest runs wild in the streets, no one will be able to tame it. And no one will be able to prevent it from aiming its fire at those who made such cynical use of its predecessor.