Opinion

It’s Not the Prices, It’s the Politics

A protest that is focused on the 'cost of living' is not simply apolitical. It collaborates with a cruel policy of inequality that damages social fortitude

A man carrying an Israeli flag next to a banner showing Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against the rising cost of living, Tel Aviv, December 14, 2018.
Oded Balilty/AP

Once again the “neither right nor left” protest is returning: Once it was against the price of cottage cheese, once against the natural gas robbery, once against corruption and now against the overall rise in prices. No politics, the organizers reproach those who raise anti-government signs at the demonstrations. This is a protest against the rich who profit at our expense, and we’re not leftists.

Thanks to its apolitical image, the protest that has been developing since 2011 has attracted hundreds of thousands of people who sought an outlet for their despair over the news. Sometimes such protests even chalk up a success.

Now, for example, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has decided to extend the tax exemption on home electronic devices, cell phones and products for babies. The public pressure has an effect. That’s a fact. An imaginary, harmful success, like the comparison to the “yellow vest” protest in France. Not only because of the tremendous difference between us and them regarding the history and the nature of the protest.

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The French protest against the hike in fuel prices erupted mainly in the outlying areas, where dependence on private cars is critical for earning a living. The truth is that it is neither right nor left, it’s both, and mainly very political and characterized by solidarity, and it’s protesting against the president who is cut off from the poor and the working class.

Ostensibly, that is also the claim of those protesting here against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahlon. In effect, they are protesting only against the price hikes.

But these price increases are only one aspect of the policy that is crushing the citizens and society here. It was preceded in the hierarchy by the elimination of public services (education, health, housing, welfare and more), the erosion of wages and the tax burden. That’s without even mentioning the order of priorities that puts the settlements and military control of the neighboring population first.

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Wages in Israel are relatively low and are constantly being eroded, a high percentage of workers earn the minimum wage and less, while the indirect tax is far higher than that of the OECD countries, at 39 percent of all taxes, compared to the OECD average of 33 percent. Indirect taxes are regressive, as we know. The lower the income, the larger the percentage used for consumption.

For years they have been drumming into our heads that opening the market to competition among importers would bring down prices and life would be beautiful. And then what? Suddenly we’ll manage with our eroded salary, unattainable housing, parents’ payments for education, and privatized medicine, and we will find consolation in the cell phone, the easy (and lethal) loan from the credit company and the cheaper airline ticket? That is a pathetic illusion, which exempts the government from responsibility and enables it to continue to crush the middle class, increase the gaps and throw working people into the cycle of poverty.

A protest that is focused on the “cost of living” is not simply apolitical. It collaborates with a cruel policy of inequality that damages social fortitude and in the end affects economic growth as well. This is the desired policy of the Netanyahu government, which strikes at basic civil rights and distributes perks only to those who prove their loyalty.

To combat this type of politics there is a need for a political protest that not only rises up but also demands a totally opposite policy. As long as the opposition is headed by two millionaires, one who became rich by turning public service into a private monopoly and the other by an aggressive television channel, and both are competing with the government and between themselves over who is more right-wing, the task of forging this political protest remains the responsibility of the citizens.