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Shower Gel – An Israeli Summer

November 24, 2016 23:02

Over the past week the social protest movement in Israel (“The Israeli Summer”) has strengthened – on Saturday night there were apparently over 300 000 people on the streets around Israel. At one stage the special cabinet committee that is supposed to deal with the issues is now so popular that it has around 16 ministers on the team (hardly a lean mean team!) The pensioners have joined the protests – and as we know two elections ago they did phenomenally well as a sectarian party winning several seats in the Knesset.

I briefly observed the demo in Jerusalem – a very good natured Saturday social gathering with some live bands and speeches. I think one of the major achievements was that the demo took place by the Gilad Shalit protest tent – I wholeheartedly agree with the banners that said “Gilad Shalit also deserves better housing” – I would add speedily in our days!

I sense that despite the good nature of that crowd there is real determination in the air that may well cause long term political change. There were a couple of witty slogans, that seem to me to be unreasonable political attacks that don't address the issues – funny as they were to hear.

In the two speeches I heard there was a lack of substance as to the details of what is needed. Most people can agree to wanting a fairer better society with improved education. But it isn't always clear what this means in practice. One speaker quoted last week's haftorah in the run up to Tisha B'Av – “Zion will be redeemed through justice.” Again if it was good enough for Isaiah I dare say that it is good enough for us today.

The one comment that really made an impression on me was along the lines that since the Israeli economy is doing (relatively) so well how come it is so difficult to make ends meet for so many people? I am not sure this is the main issue of the campaign but I think that it is a real issue and a message that surely resounds with many good citizens around Israel.

I cynically observed that most of the cafes near the demo were heaving with people on their way to or from the demo – very civilised but perhaps missing the point? Unfortunately, a certain politician took up my thoughts marginalising the significance of the demos & observing that the airport is full of Israeli tourists – in short what crisis?

I confess I am troubled by the consumerism in our society. I am not really of the generation who saved pennies to make pounds but there are times to practice common sense financially – if you haven't got it don't spend it. In a recent tour of duty in the army reserves (always a great socio-economic cross section of society - Rabbis, lawyers, engineers, truck drivers etc.) more than 90% of the guys had smartphones and used them constantly and there are many other examples of large discretionary spending – yet the complaints that the middle class can't afford to live?

One of my friends pointed out in response to my last post (http://www.thejc.com/blogs/israel-inside-out/an-israeli-summer) that shower gel is sold for as little as around 12p a bottle in Tesco – we didn't go into a detailed size and brand analysis, but by comparison I have a 700ml bottle of supermarket special shower gel in the bathroom – priced at 12.99NIS – 2 quid and then some – a huge difference. We can discuss market size and economy of scales but the difference seems marked and as the cottage cheese rebellion showed can be repeated in different products. This is clearly one of the issues – many things cost a lot more than they should – perhaps due to excess regulation, taxation, undue concentration of big business in a small number of conglomerates, vendor greediness and passive consumers.

I met up with one of my Sabra friends today and looked at the situation through different eyes.

Actually, the middle class have a right to go to cafes and buy smartphones and shower gel. They also have a right to a holiday in the summer and if it is cheaper to go on a package trip to Greece than to stay in the country then they will go to Greece. The middle class also have a right to be able to afford a home close enough to work to be able to work to continue to be middle class. This isn't a demo about the poor – although that would also be worthwhile (and it is sad that their issues are not being addressed.)

In the eyes of many, this is a demo about people getting up in the morning, working, building a flourishing economy and seeing more disposable income and better savings.

In order to achieve these aims then many topics are potentially on the agenda – fairer taxation, lower indirect taxation, increase in home starts, improved transport infrastructure, price control, increased competition, improved education and health care, responsive government for the people, the role of the state in our lives, social priorities, special interest groups, the national agenda – to name but a few.

Perhaps (or even probably) there is political manipulation behind the scenes, and perhaps some of the demonstrators have a wider and far more radical objective. I can't even claim that the issues mentioned here are the issues that the demo leaders will advance when they get to talk to the government. I simply do not know. However, it is clear to me that these issues are how many people interpret the demos and the fact that they are apparently gaining in popularity. Perhaps the middle class could spend less and save more – but they feel that they deserve more for their hard work.

In the strive for perfection we sometimes lose sight of everything that is right in Israel and there are many many things. Many dreamed, battled and died in the attempt to visit the Promised Land. Each of us here wakes up to that reality every day and to the reality of a nation state involved in a passionate debate about our future.

I leave it to the reader to judge the legitimacy or otherwise of these claims and I take no stance here on these issues, but unreservedly I am glad that society is motivated to discuss our future – I hope that this happens in parallel to the needs of our more traditional existentialist debate. I hope that in the spirit of Tisha B'Av the debate breeds a more integrated society and not a more fragmented Israel.

Jonathan is a Mancunian and now a Jerusalemite. He writes frequently on the beautiful life in Israel and on Israeli tourism on the popular In Israel Blog on http://www.israelinsideout.com - The latest In Israel blog is at http://www.israelinsideout.com/In-Israel-Blog/in-israel-blog-an-insiders...

November 24, 2016 23:02

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