Growing millions worldwide understand Israel's decades-long project to colonize Palestine, dispossess its people, steal their land, and terrorize them into submission. They also know it hasn't worked nor will it.
Too few, however, know how growing social and economic inequality affects most Israelis. Since at least the mid-1980s, state policies have disproportionately favored the rich, causing wealth disparities, unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness and gradual loss of social benefits.
A race to the bottom followed, notably since mass privatizations in the 1990s, placing profits about human needs as in America where only corporate and elitist interests matter.
As a result, recent studies show 1.77 million Israelis are poor in a population of 7.7 million (including Jews, Arabs and members of other faiths). About 850,000 children live in poverty. About 69% of them lack nutritional security. Around 75% of them miss meals, and 83% of them lack proper dental care. Some, in fact, beg for money or steal to eat.
Executive Director Eran Weintraub of the Tel-Aviv-based Latet humanitarian organization said poverty increased significantly in the last decade because of macroeconomic neoliberal policies. It shows up noticeably in housing because of sharply rising prices, making it unaffordable for many.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, average Tel-Aviv apartment prices doubled from 2007 - 2010. In Jerusalem, they increased by 60%. Rents also rose steeply, creating an intolerable burden for growing numbers of Israelis being priced out of a place to live.
No wonder they finally reacted, protesting for affordable housing for over two weeks in cities across Israel. What began as a Tel Aviv middle class protest mushroomed after being joined by the National Union of University Students and then others, turning small protests into huge ones.
On July 30, six Haaretz writers headlined, "More than 150,000 take to streets across Israel in largest housing protest yet," saying:
"Marches and rallies took place in eleven cities, (the) largest ones in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva and Haifa." Protesters chanted:
"The people demand social justice." "We want justice, not charity." "Proper housing, legitimate prices." "The power is with the citizen," and "This generation demands housing."
Thousands also held signs saying "Game over - Bibi go home." They demanded government intervene to reduce prices, introduce rent controls, and require affordable housing be built.
Some observers compare visceral anger to uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, so far with no violence.
Tent cities were erected in protest - for some, a tent city revolution. On Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd., Israel's Park Avenue, they sprung up amid crowded cafes and ficus trees. In cities across the country, they're blocking roads. Some activists practically besieged the Knesset.
In response, Netanyahu cancelled a Poland trip, and the interior minister called for the Knesset to cancel its summer recess. In response, Speaker Reuven Rivlin chaired a meeting that decided it will be taken as planned, Rivlin saying:
"The government is tasked with solving (the crisis), not the Knesset." (However, if) during the recess the Israeli government takes economic or social steps that require the Knesset's approval, I will convene it immediately."
The crisis, in fact, is serious given poll results, showing 87% of Israelis support the protests. According to Bar-Ilan University Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig:
"What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It's one of the few issues that cuts across all political spectrums." As a result, he's "definitely nervous, and he should be nervous."
"Whereas the street has been relatively quiet in the last 20 years, it's beginning to wake up and demand part of the national wealth that does not seem to be trickling down as much as it should. It's not a call to return to Israel's socialist past, but to a more collective feeling of society as a whole."
Indeed, the protests cut across Israeli society, including secular and religious groups, Jews and Arabs, men and women, youths and elderly, newly marrieds, veterans, Bedouins, and Israel's growing numbers of homeless. As a result, Netanyahu's leadership and governing coalition hang in the balance.
In fact, calls are increasing for him to resign, including from Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar, headlining an August 1 op-ed: "Netanyahu's time is up," saying:
Middle class Israelis "crumpled under the burdens of the high cost of health, housing, education, food and gasoline" for years. Moreover, their taxes are too high and wages too low.
Under Netanyahu, grievances are now boiling over for good reasons. He failed most Israelis and should go. By resigning as Israel's Finance Ministry director general, Haim Shani perhaps agrees. Reports suggest he disapproves of spending billions of dollars addressing the problem Israel doesn't have.
Like other politicians, Netanyahu made promises, but didn't deliver for everyone, leaving out Israel's middle class, workers and most needy. According to activist Yigal Rambam:
"Every section in Israel society suffers from the housing problem and there isn't a general solution here. Any real solution must deal with rental prices, the prices of buying land, public housing and housing assistance."
At the same time, Israeli doctors and social workers struck for higher wages. Moreover, in June, a boycott protested high cottage cheese prices, an Israeli staple. Now mass discontent targets unaffordable housing, bringing growing numbers to Israeli streets, demanding long avoided solutions.
Performing at rallies, prominent Israeli musicians support them, including Hemi Rodner, Dan Toren, Yehuda Poliker, Barry Sakharov, Yishai Levi, Avid Geffen, and others, names less familiar in the West.
Most Israeli municipalities also expressed support by calling a one-day August 1 strike, a symbolic statement, perhaps with others coming.
Bad policy is at issue, encouraging Israelis to move to settlements, ramping up their development while neglecting construction in Israel. The result - less supply, higher prices to unaffordable levels.
Moreover, in Tel Aviv, only 3% of construction in the last decade went for public housing, and none was built from 2006 through 2009.
Finally admitting a problem, Netanyahu said government would subsidize a 50% discount for purchase and rental units on state-controlled land. He also promised public transportation costs would be reduced, and commercial property owners would get incentives to convert their buildings into affordable residences.
However, even if he delivers as pledged (what few expect), relief will take many months to arrive. Moreover, at best, it likely will fall short, leaving the major problem unaddressed because no society can undo decades of bad policies overnight.
Moreover, for years, middle class wages eroded, lower class ones even faster. Israel's rich alone amassed wealth at the expense of working households. According to Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, about 20 Israeli families control banks, supermarkets, telecoms, real estate, newspapers, high tech companies, utilities, and other basic industries and services.
The central bank's 2009 annual report showed these families control 25% of Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-listed companies and 50% of total market share, one of the highest concentrations among developed countries.
According to the 2009 Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report, 5,900 Israelis have at least $1 million in liquid assets, and from 2005 to 2007, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country. The net worth of its 500 richest, in fact, exceeds one-third of total GDP, an extraordinary concentration level, and with it a chokehold on the economy and government policy.
Moreover, Israel has 16 billionaires. At the same time, most workers earn low wages and eroding benefits. In fact, wages have fallen from 68% of national income in 2000 to 63% in 2010, heading south as the disparity between rich and others grows.
Israeli Arabs, of course, are worse off, an issue the above cited articles addressed.
At the same time, falling wages and social benefit cuts in healthcare, education, and other areas have widened the gap between rich and most others.
Among all developed nations, Israel, America and Britain are the most unequal, a trend getting worse, not better, showing up now on Israeli streets.
In response, the Histadrut trade union federation has done little to represent workers, its leaders protecting their own privilege and status at the expense of rank and file members they don't serve.
Though calling an August 1 general strike to address grievances, supported by the Union of Local Authorities, it's subterfuge. Chairman Ofer Eini did it, in fact, to reach accommodation with Netanyahu's government, not bring it down.
A Final Comment
What's ongoing in Israel bears watching, including whether it will inspire Palestinians to rally for their rights. Activists have been calling for a third Intifada to demand peace, equal rights, social justice, independence, and an end to Israel's occupation.
They're all longstanding unresolved grievances. Perhaps it's time now to address them throughout Palestine under popular unity standing firm until they're gotten.
In fact, doing it when fed up Israelis demand change may prove opportune and effective. It's especially true if crackdowns target them but not Jews, highlighting the gross injustice no one any longer should tolerate.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.