What do the two pictures in the article have in common? At first glance, very little- However, under the surface a lot more. The first picture is an Israeli Milkie, from Strauss.
The Milkie, for those who do not know, is a unique Israeli item. It is a combination of chocolate pudding and whipped cream. This sweet little combo has been my preferred breakfast since the first time I moved to Israel. It’s my one self-indulgence. Well, this morning, as I opened my breakfast treat, I noticed that the price had gone up from 2.80 to 3 shekel. This is certainly not a huge increase. Though considering inflation was 1.8 percent last year, a 7% price increase is significant. Mind you, the Milkie is still a real steal. After all, compared to a box of cereal that costs between 27 and 32 shekel ($1 = 3.5 shekel). However, the fact that the price can suddenly be raised by 7% says it all.
The second picture is from Saturday night’s “Social Protest Movement Rally” at Rabin Square. This was sad to see. The movement tried to restart itself. At most, 1,000 people showed up to rally. (This is a very generous estimate).
I cannot help but restate once again what a close friend said two years ago during the height of the original protests– “They had better succeed in accomplishing something, because if they do not, it will be a long time until people try to do something again.” Unfortunately he was right. As it turned, out despite bringing out hundreds of thousand of people to the streets, the recent Israeli social protest efforts represents one of the least successful movements in history. It accomplished nothing, other than electing two of its leaders to the Knesset and providing fertile ground for the creation of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid political party.
Two years after the movement ended – with a whimper – prices have not gone down; housing has not been built; the Haredim have not been forced to go into the army (or do National service.) The single change that I can point to is that during the snow emergency in Jerusalem train service ran on Shabbat to bring stranded passengers home and/or to safety.
PhD dissertations will be written in the future trying to explain why the protest movement failed so miserably to the extent that it did. However, here are a few thoughts:
First, the protesters were never really clear about what they wanted. To adamantly demand social justice is not a program, it’s a slogan. No clear and specific demands, lead to no clear and specific outcome.
Second, the protestors where right when they talked about the problems of “Hon v’Shilton” (the connection between financial capital and the government.) The ties are indeed deeper than many thought. As a result, making any meaningful change is nearly impossible.
Third, we have a political system that is not especially responsive. We have elections every 4 or so years. However, between those elections, our representatives need not be accountable to anyone but the heads of their party. The changes currently being suggested “to improve” our system will make the government even less responsive – if that is possible.
In the initial draft of this article, I listed a number of specific proposals that could be implemented to bring down prices in the country. Have no fear, I will not waste your time suggesting them here – since each idea hurts some interest group. To me, the fact Knesset Member Braverman opposed decreasing the power of Israel’s “Standards Institute” (the idea was to depend on the US and European standards) because of “concern for the jobs of the workers” in that anachronistic bureaucratic institution that stifles competition, says it all. If we can’t even do that, how can any action ever be taken.
It is not sustainable to have Israeli prices 30 percent higher than US and EU prices, at the same time that the mean salaries remain 50% of the mean salaries in all those other countries.
How we have managed until now has always been a mystery. This cannot continue forever. Though, maybe it will simply continue, since it will be nearly impossible to get the Israeli public out to the streets again. It is also going to be very hard to get them to vote for a new party promising change (i.e. Yesh Atid). So what’s left? I fear for many, the answer will be Berlin, New Jersey, and other points abroad. Hopefully our government will wake up. Sadly, I doubt it.