Israel’s Leaders Are to Blame for the Emigration to Berlin

The politicians must stop telling lies about housing and supermarket prices if we don’t want the country to turn into a poor, ignorant plantation economy.

Nadav Eyal
German flag flies in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, May 23, 2012.
German flag flies in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, May 23, 2012.Credit: Reuters
Nadav Eyal

The controversy over Israelis who move to Berlin seeking a lower cost of living has re-erupted, courtesy of the lower supermarket prices there. Israel’s cost of living and the system's cheating of the middle class endanger the country’s existence. New ideas and new people have no way to improve policy or change our basic way of life.

I know many talented young Israelis with degrees from the best universities in the world. Israel has nothing to offer many of them unless, of course, they enter the lucrative high-tech industry.

There’s a sense that Israel is inaccessible — closed off and closing itself off. It has gone from being one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to a place run by oligarchs — an oligarchy in which only the children of the rich buy apartments without being saddled for life by a ridiculously large mortgage.

It’s an oligarchy in which only the children of people with connections have real opportunities. And we’ve convinced ourselves that we have to vote again and again for the same unoriginal people, our versions of Hosni Mubarak, who led Egypt for decades. These people run our lives even though they don’t know about supermarket prices or the wait at the community health clinic. We live in a global, digital world, but Israel is an analog outpost.

Over the past week, the country has been abuzz over a Facebook page by Israelis living in Berlin; they provide information about what Israelis need to do to “make aliyah” to Germany. All this talk about Berlin and emigration from Israel is designed to reveal the distress of the country’s middle class. We must accept well-intentioned criticism. Critics of those who detail the ease of life abroad ignore something vital: the Israeli consensus has been violated.

The breach of the consensus, on which the nouveaux riches are riding in their black all-terrain vehicles, is indeed a serious one. Israelis were willing to endure a very tough life on behalf of an exemplary society — or at least one that aspired to be. But they’re not willing to endure a very hard life simply so that another politician gets to live in the luxurious Prime Minister’s Residence. When solidarity is breached, the result is emigrants in Berlin marveling over the cheap German equivalent of a popular Israeli pudding.

I’m no fan of boasting about low prices. It bothers me. I’ve chosen to live in Israel, which means I’d like to see the best people stay here rather than emigrate. But our leaders must understand they can no longer tell bald lies about housing and supermarket prices. There can no longer be shady deals between regulators and tycoons at the expense of the retiree buying cottage cheese at the supermarket. After all, fraud, exploitation and plunder will turn Israel into a poor, ignorant plantation economy.

Our leaders don’t understand that their empty slogans no longer work; that for Israel to remain the choice of Israelis, it needs to provide a return. But our leaders have no idea what that compensation should be.

And they better not lecture me about our pioneer ancestors. I know all about my family history. My pioneer ancestors came here to establish a better society than Europe’s, not a worse one. They didn’t come here so that their grandchildren’s grandchildren would serve as recruits for extremists. They didn’t come here to arrange cushy jobs for associates of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz or subsidize the wealth of businessman Lev Leviev’s descendants.

This is what our leaders should be saying: “No, I don’t like this emigration celebration, but I understand it, the danger it reflects, and the challenge it presents to Israel — to improve.” But they live in their own world, a very comfortable world at that.

The writer is foreign news editor at Channel 10.

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