Creating people's geographies
Roni Ben Efrat illuminates inequality in today’s Israel in the current edition of Challenge Magazine (Issue 109). The following is an excerpt in which boldface emphasis is editorial:
Zionists claim that Israel arose in order to provide the Jewish people with a national home. But decade by decade, it has become ever clearer that Israel is not a state of, by and for the Jewish people. It is rather a state of, by and for a sprinkling of families, 19 in all, whose income amounts to $70 billion—88% of the national budget.
This budget is a stumbling block to the poor. All levels of education have been devastated. On the books there is universal health care, but many can’t afford to buy medicines. Israel’s socio-economic inequality, as measured by the UN Development Program’s Gini Index (0.0 = perfect equality), has worsened steadily from 0.222 in 1982 to 0.392 in 2005, making it the most unequal of Western democracies with one exception: the United States (Gini = 0.408).
Poverty is no longer confined to the jobless. The government has lowered the unemployment rate, indeed, to 7.6%, but there is a trade-off: working people make up 37% of the nation’s poor. The country’s much vaunted economic growth is way off kilter. It is high in high-tech, which supports very few, but scarce in traditional industries and services, where most people work.
This steady impoverishment of the population has not just “happened.” It has happened because of laws and decisions that sold the country’s assets to the 19 families at bargain-basement prices, all in the name of the free market. As Weinroth said to Weitz: “Power is no longer a separate entity. Money is power. Money rules all, it flows through every hidden vein of the society.”
But that’s not all. For Marx also taught us that capital has no sense of obligation. When the state gets a bit too small for it, it seeks foreign outlets. The 19 families used the state to get rich, buying up its privatized firms, and now they go cosmopolitan. Between 2001 and 2006, foreign investment in Israel grew by a factor of six, but Israeli investments abroad increased by a factor of eight. The Adva Center—whose reports are the source for all figures here unless stated otherwise—cites Nohi Dankner, whose family is among the favored 19: “I believe very much in Israel, and I believe greatly in the Israeli economy. Notwithstanding, it is clear that our development must be overseas.” Who is the “our” in “our development”? Not the unemployed, the poor, the people on the dole. What does the “our” care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or the rockets of Hamas? The “our” are invested elsewhere.
For 60 years, the 19 families stayed beneath the camouflage of Zionism, but now it’s launch time. True, in 1993 they tried to bind the Oslo Accords to a narrative about peace called the “New Middle East.” Ten years ago, in an article called “The Hidden Economic Logic of Oslo” (Challenges 51-52) we explained the Oslo initiative this way: Israel understood that unless it normalized relations with the Arab world, it would not fit into the global economy. But the 19 families no longer need a thriving Israel. Reality faced the Oslo process with difficulties. It isn’t their task to solve them. Their task is to make profits, fast and big.
… The leadership that sold itself to the 19 families—always the same leadership, whether it goes by the name of Likud or Labor or Kadima—is as deceitful as it is cruel. With one hand it impoverishes its citizens, with the other it squeezes the Palestinians.
Last June Israel celebrated 40 years of conquest. For two-thirds of its lifetime, it has occupied 3.5 million Palestinians. (Gaza must still be included: Israel hems it in by land, sea and air.) Its leaders hesitate to travel abroad, fearing arrest for war crimes. There have been innumerable opportunities to reach a fair peace with the Palestinian people, but there is neither the wisdom nor the largeness of spirit to make the needed concessions. Israel prides itself ad nauseam on the “Zionist vision,” but the moment it glimpses a chance for peace, that vision gives way to spins and gimmicks aimed at maintaining the general fraud.
The day is not far off, therefore, when the Palestinians will say, “Why, after all, should we part from you? In any case there’s not enough left to build a viable state. Forget about that, just give us our civil rights.” Then the conflict will enter a new phase. The citizens of Israel will be forced to decide: apartheid or democracy. If the Jewish population opts for apartheid, the leadership will continue to defraud, exploit and impoverish at the service of the millionaires—until catastrophe comes. The only other option would be democracy—a single democracy west of the Jordan, including reconciliation with the Palestinians. That would exorcize Mammon, along with his Zionist camouflage.