Under attack for the radical “Judicial Reform” program, PM Netanyahu has once again resorted to what he knows best: throwing a derogatory nickname at the Opposition. For many years it was “Leftist”. More recently, when Meretz failed to pass the minimal vote threshold (3.25%) and Labor was almost obliterated too, there wasn’t much left of the Left. So Bibi changed the nomenclature: the huge number of protesters against “Judicial Reform” were now painted as “Anarchists”.
This didn’t hold much water, given that virtually the entire retired security establishment has come out against the program – added to leading economists, jurists, professors, and even the highest-level government functionaries (Bank of Israel Governor; Attorney General; etc.). Hardly a list of “anarchists.” What to do?
Turn the public’s attention in the other direction. The prime minister’s supporters were now classified at “secondary-grade citizens” (ezrakhim sug bet) – and the Establishment, ostensibly with the Supreme Court in the lead, were at fault for this sad state of affairs.
The absurdity of such a “provocation” is too dangerous (even if ludicrous) to let pass without response. To begin with, these ostensibly downtrodden citizens’ preferred party has been the Likud for the past 46 years – in power for more than three-quarters for that long period. If after all that time Bibi’s party couldn’t lift its downtrodden supporters out of their ostensibly “second-class” status, then perhaps they (party and “downtrodden” together) should look in the mirror for their purportedly “sad state of affairs.”
Second, their supposed “savior” (PM Netanyahu) is now the longest serving PM in Israel’s history, and among other things does deserve some credit for the vibrancy of Israel’s macro-economy. However, by the same token, his laissez-faire economic policies have not improved the lot of his lower-class supporters; quite the opposite, economic inequality in Israel has risen during his tenure! If anything, Bibi’s hyper-capitalism has “trodden the down” even deeper!
Third, and perhaps most grating of all, Bibi’s private life – champagne guzzling, expensive cigar chomping, villa-living, high off-the-hog international travelling – is hardly a model of circumspection for his supposedly second-class supporters.
However, there’s another way to look at the ezrakhim sug bet picture. Just as Netanyahu has tried to switch the public’s focus to “Second Israel,” it is worth switching back to what is generally considered to be “First Israel” – based on hard numbers.
When we look at all the taxes paid by citizens (income, Social Security, health) according to religious category – and subtract from that all the government stipends that each such religiosity group receives – we end up with the following net numbers: secular Jews pay 33 billion shekels; traditional Jews pay 2.5 billion shekels; religious Jews pay 3 billion shekels; the Arab sector receives (again net) 800 million shekels; and the Haredi sector receives 4.7 billion shekels! Looking at the picture just from the standpoint of income tax paid per capita, Israel’s Jewish, non-haredi sector pays nine times as much as the haredi sector – again, that’s per person.
To be sure, religiosity does not perfectly map political support (although it does for the Haredim, Arabs, and to a large extent the national-religious). However, we do know that the Likud’s support comes mainly from the not-so-Orthodox but still religiously traditional sector, and to a limited extent also from religious Jews. Secular Jews tend to overwhelmingly vote for the Center and especially for the Left. Given this state of taxation and political state of affairs, who’s the real second-class citizen: those who receive disproportionate amounts of government largesse, or those paying taxes through the nose?
Israeli politics today is riven by a text but also by a subtext. The “text” is Judicial Reform: pro or con? The “subtext” lies in the makeup of this government coalition: the most traditional, religious, and ultra-religious in Israel’s history – a conglomeration of like-minded sectors milking the secular sector for all it’s worth (the anti-draft law being pushed by the haredim only reinforces secular Israel’s anger at being the country’s financial “freirim”/suckers).
Thus, what PM Netanyahu has really done is open a Pandora’s Box of frustration and fury that transcends Judicial Reform. The issue is multi-dimensional, entailing no less than Israel’s entire future – not only political-democratic but also (perhaps primarily?) civic-economic.