The hot Summer months of July and August 2011 have witnessed an unusual phenomenon in Israel – large street demonstrations and the springing up of “tent cities” protests. The demonstrators were not the urban poor in this case – the protestors were middle class folk, post-IDF students and young married couples. For the most part they had adequate housing, were equipped with cell phones and brought along spare tents. Long-haired young people with acoustic guitars and nargilahs (tobacco water pipes) strummed folk songs at 2 am in public parks amidst clusters of silver painted pup tents, while Israeli rock and pop stars serenaded the protestors with live mini-concerts and pep talks.
These demonstrations caught many by surprise, in that Israel’s overall financial situation is considered rather good, and its credit ratings and economic stability are the envy of many a European country.
Yet the fiscal pressure on most Israelis is heavy. The cost of consumer goods is very high (often due to monopolistic price gouging and cartel price fixing). The cost of housing (both rental and mortgage) has literally gone through the roof, making it prohibitively expensive to rent or buy. Most Israelis find it hard to finish the month without a bank overdraft. For many decades and for the most part, Israelis have accepted rising prices with a battle-weary stoicism – until this Summer. What has changed consumer passivity so radically?
A storm in a teacup of cottage cheese
The straw that broke the camel’s back in this case was made of cottage cheese. A consumer protest in June focused on the exorbitant rise of the price of an Israeli breakfast staple – small tubs of cottage cheese. Strident consumer rights advocates filled TV screens calling on patriotic citizens to refrain from purchasing this product until national food conglomerates lowered prices. Prices did eventually go down, and the media was quick to declare a rousing consumer victory. Within a few weeks, however, cottage cheese prices rose again (albeit more slowly).
Cartels and catalyzers
Economists and sociologists have long pointed out a disturbing trend in Israeli society. Approximately sixteen mega-wealthy oligarchic Israeli family consortiums own between 25% and 45% of Israeli industry, including the majority of the newspapers and television stations. Whereas in the majority of Western countries such influence and control over the media is exercised with a greater degree of subtlety, here in Israel the boxing gloves are off.
PM Ariel Sharon was treated with kid gloves until after the withdrawal from Gaza (Summer 2005). PM Olmert was the media’s darling until after the Lebanon war (Summer 2006). But since the election of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the major TV stations have actively campaigned against him while advocating a left-of-center political agenda, threatening that unless Israel withdraws from Judea and Samaria she will be sanctioned and destroyed.
Israel’s largest newspapers actively and daily pummel the democratically elected Prime Minister, accusing him of all manners of corruption, character weakness, treason and falsehood. Sarcasm, mocking, false allegations and treasonous accusations have become the mainstay of much of Israeli political reportage. Verbum sapientiae sufficens, for those who have the courage to draw parallels with levels of political debate in other countries …
Socialist roots and populist shoots
The modern restoration of the Jewish people to their biblical Promised Land was initiated by many East European Jews whose eschatological vision was built on socialist promises of a world revolution, the zeal to right economic wrongs, and the hope of an egalitarian state not controlled by political or religious anti-Semites. The initial pioneers of the kibbutz movement strongly advocated a socialist state, and the political foundations of the modern state of Israel were built on the underpinnings of the socialist trade union movement (in Hebrew, the Histadrut). The first thirty years of Israeli majority government were resoundingly led by the Labor Party, and Israel’s leading Labor politicians regularly made the rounds of the Socialist International meetings in Europe.
The near collapse of the Jewish state in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 and Labor’s sluggish protectionist economy led Menahem Begin’s right of center political coalition to seize the helm in 1977. As a result, a greater measure of democratic give-and-take functioned in the political and economic spheres.
Yet although their political influence rapidly faded in the polls, the socialist leaders of the Labor party continued to present themselves as the champions of the underprivileged and the poor in Israel. Some industrialist magnates (having hitched their political and economic futures to the socialist wagon, similar to the Italian model of Gianni Agnelli and FIAT) continued to throw their weight behind Labor, pushing for a strong social welfare state based on Greek, French and Eastern European models.
“They grumbled in their tents “ (Psalm 106:25)
Over the past two months, Israeli media has been whipping up and manipulating popular economic dissatisfaction, shaping and channeling discontent into brazen and ill-concealed attempts to bring down the democratically elected government of Israel. Their main goal seems to be to bring to power political parties which will acquiesce in withdrawing from large portions of the land promised to the Jewish people, and thereby (they hope) reduce international pressure on the State of Israel.
It is both grievous and shocking to watch how TV and newspapers began to call a small group of demonstrators “a huge popular movement” when only handfuls showed up. Blazing front page headlines and sensational editorials followed, calling this movement a “slave uprising.” Wildly inaccurate figures flew in all directions, affirming that there were 100,000 (or perhaps 300,000) demonstrators at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
The same media have mocked Orthodox Jews and settlers as ‘beyond the pale’ in this movement, describing them as enemies of the protestors and of peace. Television’s ‘talking heads’ have moved from reporting news to attacking politicians on prime time, while presenting their own opinions and editorial slants as expert ‘news analysis.’ Normal journalistic balance and professional conduct have for the most part been jettisoned.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows
Over the past weeks the media have bent over backwards in insisting that the demonstrations are only apolitical expressions of popular frustration, and that there are no Rasputin-like powers behind the scenes pulling the strings. Nevertheless, the leaders of Kadima and Labor are egging the protests on, while leftist political activists are at the helm of the protest leadership. A recent op-ed by Zalman Shoval (former Israeli Ambassador to the US – www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=233900) points out that clearly left-wing local and foreign groups have been organizing and bankrolling the protest events. In a recent news article, one famous pop star is approvingly quoted as saying that the social protests are and always have been deeply political in nature.
What is morally ironic (though political astute) is that the magnates and cartels who deeply influence the direction of Israel’s economy have taken it upon themselves to direct popular frustration through media propaganda and the activation of leftist leaders. Their goals include the setting up a government which will better serve their own economic interests – while simultaneously bowing the knee to world pressure regarding the upcoming Palestinian strategies at the United Nations. These underhanded methods are not good for Israel’s territorial integrity, but they are good for business – or at least for the magnates’ own short-term business interests.
“I will make you live in tents again” (Hosea 12:9)
The prophet Hosea addressed wealthy though ungodly men in his day, who were more concerned about profit than prophet, who cared more about wealth gained unjustly (12.1, 7-9) than about a relationship with God anchored in justice and covenant faithfulness (12: 3-4, 6). He declared that unless the Jewish people – rich and poor alike – in both Northern and Southern kingdoms returned to God with heartfelt repentance, they would all go into nomadic exile, dwelling again in tents as in the days of Moses and the Sinai wanderings.
Rapacious greed is a dishonor to any nation, and the Hebrew prophets lambasted ungodly materialism when it raised its head among some of Israel’s leaders of days gone by. The economic pressure and financial anguish that many Israelis feel today is all too real. Yet the spiritual priority that Hosea, Amos and Isaiah home in on is the necessity for repentance and getting right with God as the key to an economic and political transformation.
Though some in Israel have chosen to temporarily move out of their apartments and into pup tents in the park, what is ultimately needed in Israel is not a change of government or even cheaper housing (though the latter would be nice)! What is needed is a radical turning to God, to His heart, to His just ways and His guidelines for godly living.
“O YHVH, who will dwell in Your tent?” (Psalm 15:1)
David the shepherd-king once wrote a poem which became part of Israel’s spiritual heritage. His question was slightly different than that asked by many in Israel today. He was not calling “every man in Israel to his own tents” (as in 2 Chronicles 10:16) but rather, he was asking if there is anyone in Israel – rich or poor, young or old, blind or lame – who would actually want to live in God’s tents. Is there a remnant in Israel who desires more than anything else to live in the favor and under the protective glory of the God of Israel?
- Would you be willing to make King David’s prayer your own prayer as well? And would you also make this your prayer for the entire nation of Israel?
Here are David’s words:
O YHVH, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and does what is righteous, who speaks truth from his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor,
nor does he cast a slur against his friend;
He despises a vile person, but honors those who fear YHVH.
He keeps his promise even when it causes him damage, and does not change his word.
He does not lend out his money at interest, nor does he accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15)
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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