Not Exactly Start-Up Nation [ssba]

Not Exactly Start-Up Nation

The Article was originally written for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Israel.

Shlomo Swirski, Academic Director, The Adva Center

Israel, established in 1948 and with a population of 8.13 million (2015), belongs to the self-defined group of developed countries. In 2010 it was accepted into the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the prestigious “rich countries’ club.” With a GDP per capita of $33,200 (based on Purchasing Power Parities [PPP]) in 2014, it ranked 22nd out of 34 OECD members (Germany, with $44,800, ranked 10th). It ranked even higher – 19th out of 187 countries (in 2013; Germany ranked 6th) — on the United Nations Human Development Index, which takes into account not only economic performance but also performance in the fields of health, education and gender equality. Read More »



“My analysis,” Rami Hod said, “is that the problem of the Israeli left is a root problem, a radical problem, one that won’t be solved in two years, or in five. If we want to rule, if we want to achieve dominance of the center-left, we must be in the day-to-day lives of the people, helping them in their community, in the municipality, in their union, and in all aspects of their lives.”

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Lia Nirgad, The end of Israel’s political deadlock [ssba]

Lia Nirgad, The end of Israel’s political deadlock

Haaretz and the New Israel Fund focused their joint New York conference on three interrelated topics: peace, democracy and social justice. Though the relation between the three is obvious, a lot still had to happen to tie them together.

Still, despite the innovative title, the conference’s structure reflected the long tradition of the American Jewish progressive camp and the Israeli Left. Only one panel was devoted to the question of socio-economics. All the others focused on peace and the occupation.

This is a profound mistake and the Israeli society has been paying a hefty price for it for. A political map where the only difference between the Right and the Left revolves around the occupation and peace promises a continuous political deadlock. For years the two camps have been yelling at each other from across the road while and the convoy of the wealthy passes by, the settlements flourish undisturbed, and the impoverished masses watch the spectacle with panicked eyes. They will always join those who speak the language of fear as long as this goes on.

For decades, I was part of this mistake. I became a political activist during the first Lebanon War. True, we included the slogan “Money for development towns and not for settlements” in our demonstrations. But this was the extent of our social analysis. Occasionally someone would suggest organizing a conference on women, Mizrahi, or the poor, but the occupation was always more urgent. And we truly believed that the occupation was the origin of all issues. We had to first stop the flow of money to the settlements, and then the money would naturally go where it was needed.

Let’s be honest: we haven’t gotten very far. Not in the eighties. Not in the nineties. And most definitely not since the turn of the millennium. Another war in Lebanon, two intifadas and a host of well-branded military operations have passed us by. There is no peace now and it’s not on the horizon. Since Ariel Sharon’s brilliant disengagement from Gaza, we don’t even engage in diplomatic negotiations. In the meantime, two generations of leftwing activists have put everything they’ve had into ending the occupation, yet most Israelis think the Left is only concerned with the welfare of the Arabs.

The 2011 social protests shattered this deadlock. In a rare moment, people realized that these definitions of left and right, focused on different configurations of the future, divert people’s gaze from what is happening here and now. Citizens from all sectors of society understood that the system ruins them all. They came up with a common cry “The people demand social justice.”
When I went to Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv with my partner Daniel Dor that summer, we felt extremely uncomfortable. On the one hand, there was an unprecedented burst of innovative civic energy. People were asking the most subversive questions about the power structures of our society. On the other hand, all these good people had made a decision not to focus on the occupation. We thought about it and realized that anyone who wants to promote change has to work within a given reality. Israeli society suffers from profound ills. Some ills are most certainly the result of the ongoing occupation. Indeed, the occupation has corrupted Israeli society. But anyone who wants to see an enlightened society in this country must first and foremost help make the reality Israelis live in less dire.

The social protest showed us the strength in numbers: the number of people taking to the streets; the budget’s numbers suddenly became our favorite reading material. The new civil power was based on a new kind of knowledge: who is financing whom, who is connected to whom, and who pays the price. We chose to turn the spotlight on the legislative system. In Fall 2011, we established the Social Guard to monitor the work of Knesset members. Hundreds of Social Guard activists regularly come to the Knesset to make sure our representatives start to truly represent the public interest and not succumb to the pressures of capital and the government. A variety of civil society groups were formed alongside the Social Guard to focus on changing the balance of power between the people and the government.

Thus, a new and more complex political map has been created. A map unwilling to accept the old rigid division between right and left. One doesn’t have to be a leftist to aspire that every child in Israel will drink clean water and have enough to eat. One doesn’t have to be on the right to believe that free market competition is better than cartels. People on the Left and the Right understand that transparency is the key to public power and that democracy requires public power. People on the Left and on the Right understand that without a democracy we cannot care for the welfare of Israelis.

We haven’t given up on resolving the conflict and ending to occupation. But beyond the critical monitoring activities of organizations such as the “B’tselem,” “Breaking the Silence” and “Machsom Watch,” resolving the conflict and ending the occupation currently isn’t a practical goal for civic activism. They are as urgent as ever, but we don’t have the tools to advance these goals, and dealing with them paralyzes any attempt to change the political map. Such a change requires time and waiting is difficult. To say, if we don’t wait the deadlock will continue.

The text was published in December 2015 in Guy Rolnik’s blog and translated by Maya Haber.

Dany Gutwein on the Transformation of the Israeli Left [ssba]

Dany Gutwein on the Transformation of the Israeli Left

We spoke today with Professor Danny Gutwein. Gutwein is one of the most prominent public intellectuals of the Israeli Left today. He teaches Jewish History at Haifa University, but spends much of his time inspiring, building and supporting a grassroots movement which offers an alternative political vision and action.

Gutwein has a large following. He participated in the television Social and Economic Policy documentary series the Silver Platter (Magash Hakesef). The series had over two million viewers (read more here). It was so popular that Channel 8 was pressured to take two of the three episodes off the web. He is regular commentator on the Israeli radio and television, where he is invited to speak about anything from Netanyahu’s gas deal to Bernie Sanders.


The Silver Platter was so popular that Israelis encountered graffiti on bridges “Have you watched the Silver Platter yet?”

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Why We Need a Rainbow Coalition [ssba]

Why We Need a Rainbow Coalition

About a month ago I finally found the time to watch the acclaimed three-part documentary series, the Silver Platter (Magash Hakesef), which everyone in Israel had been talking about. Over a million people watched the series within a month of its release and before Channel 8 was pressured to take two of the three episodes off the web. The popularity of the series was surprising—particularly in mid-October and early November, when the media was entirely focused on terrorism. I was intrigued. The series reveals the real face of Israel’s Social and Economic Policy through the perspective of three experts: Guy Rolnik, founder of The Marker and deputy publisher of Haaretz; former Finance Ministry accountant general Yaron Zelekha, who suffered the consequences of his war against corruption in 2003-7; and economic historian Danny Gutwein, an expert on privatization.

Though I was impressed with the series as a whole, it was the third episode, Dani Gutwein and the Raiders of the Welfare State, that caught me off guard. In the installment, Gutwein argues that the Likud Party dismantled Israel’s welfare state using shock therapy and supported sectarianism in order to remain in power. Hyperinflation, which rose to over 400 percent in the early 1980s, was the Likud’s tool to destroy the union (Histadrut). In 1977, 80 percent of the Israeli labor force was unionized, now, in 2015, only 25% are. The struggle against the Histadrut caused factories closed and thousands to lose their jobs. But as long as the Histadrut was strong, the Labor Party had better chances of winning elections. The price was worth it. When instability reached the desired results, the national unity government began cutting state budget and privatizing the welfare state. After 1984 the Labor Party was a willing participant in this neoliberal destruction. Read More »

Histadrut Labor Federation: Back from Adversity? [ssba]

Histadrut Labor Federation: Back from Adversity?

I am one of a number of writers who contributed to an analysis of the evolution and current status of Israel’s trade union federation, the Histadrut, published in print and online by the Jewish Labor Committee. Among other issues, it touches upon the Histadrut’s eventual inclusion of Israeli-Arab workers in its ranks, and its relations with Palestinian trade unions. What follows is a brief version drawn from that material, plus a section entitled “Left-wing Critics of the Histadrut,” which was not included in the JLC piece:

In December 1920, the Histadrut trade union federation was established to organize the economic activities of Jewish workers living in Palestine. Its key mission at the time, providing immigrants with work, was not typical for trade unions. The Histadrut became the Palestine Mandate’s largest employer and generator of economic activity.

After the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, the Histadrut remained a major employer, controlling at one point around a third of the economy and employing over three-quarters of its workers (featured above is a vintage Israeli government photo of a May Day celebration). Furthermore, the Histadrut was the largest provider of health services to Israelis through the Kupat Holim Clalit (“General Sick Fund”), a comprehensive health care network, which artificially inflated union membership.

The Histadrut’s strength began to erode in 1985, when the holding company, Koor, was sold to foreign investors. This was followed ten years later with a reform of the national health care system, precipitating a two-thirds decline in Histadrut membership over the next ten years. Yet today, despite the diminished role and size of the Histadrut, it remains a powerful force in Israeli society and the nation’s economy. Read More »