Social Protesters Represent Real Zionism

In his book "Altneuland," Herzl describes the Land of Israel of the future as a social welfare society, a third way that would position itself between capitalism and socialism.

Theodor Herzl was not a socialist but he understood well that a revolutionary enterprise like Zionism could not succeed if it was to be solely based on the capitalist market model.

In his book "Altneuland," he therefore describes the Land of Israel of the future as a social welfare society, a third way that would position itself between capitalism and socialism.

It would be a society in which natural resources - land, water, mineral wealth - are to be held by the public at large, where industry for the most part is organized through cooperatives, as is agriculture. Retail trade, however, would be in private hands. The society would provide its citizens with education and health and welfare. To staff social welfare institutions, everyone, both men and women, would be required to do two years of national service.

Herzl called this middle approach "mutualism," and it was based on the European social and economic experience. The future Jewish society would take the principles of liberty and competition from capitalism, and the principles of equality and justice from socialism.

These ideas are correct today, just as they were correct, and revolutionary, when they were written in 1902. The Zionist movement followed this path, as did the Jewish community in the pre-state period and in Israel's infancy, reflecting a deep awareness of the need to establish social solidarity as a necessary condition for the success of the Zionist enterprise.

It is no coincidence that Israel was the subject of admiration and emulation by so many people and movements in the West, because it managed, under difficult circumstances, to combine democracy and liberty with a strong foundation of social solidarity.

It would have been hard to call the young Israel a model society, and there is no point in engaging in excessive idealizing about it, but the ability to maintain social cohesion and a relatively large degree of equality were among its most impressive achievements.

This combination gave the Labor movement an edge over the Revisionist movement, which grew focused solely on national and diplomatic goals. The welfare state that was established here made it possible to absorb millions of immigrants from countries in distress in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, an amazing undertaking that, despite all its flaws, is without historical parallel in its scope. And this occurred not in some wealthy Scandinavian country or Switzerland, but in a poor society of limited means that was subject to diplomatic and economic siege. We underestimate this accomplishment too readily.

A lot has changed in the world and the historic failure of Labor was that it didn't manage to cope with these changes in a systematic manner. It was replaced by a simplistic model of privatization that espoused the neo-capitalist economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Israel's Likud governments led these steps, but one cannot deny that Labor also lost faith in the justice of its own approach.

The currently unfolding social protests are a product of distortions that this unrestrained market economy created. This was accompanied, due to political and coalition considerations, by a comprehensive system of government housing subsidies, public sector employment and extravagant tax benefits for Jewish settlements in the territories and for the ultra-Orthodox.

These two sectors are carried by the taxes, military service and economic accomplishments of those same young men and women who are demonstrating now.

It's clear why so few of them are settlers or ultra-Orthodox, since they are the ones who fed at the trough of the state without any connection to their economic contribution.

It's hard to know where these protests are leading, but it's clear that three revolutionary things have occurred here. First of all, these demonstrators are neither ultra-Orthodox, fanatic rightists, nor left-wingers for whom the situation in Sheikh Jarrah or Bil'in are their top priority. The current demonstrators are from the mainstream.

Secondly, it turns out the people and their involvement in the political process, rather than just rulings by the courts, are the foundation of democracy.

Finally, it seems the neo-capitalist model, which clearly caused the economic crises the West is currently experiencing, is contrary to the requirements and values of the Zionist enterprise.

It is therefore wonderful to see the Israeli flag flying at these demonstrations after it seemed to have become the property of the right-wing settlement movement. The current demonstrations are not only a reflection of social protest. They are Zionist in the deeper sense of a just and humanistic Zionism.