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High Tech vs. low wages: Balance needed in Israel

There is no limit to the technological creativity — the apps, the environmental devices, the medical advances, the energy savers — coming out of Israel today. It’s not just brains. It’s not just creativity. It’s not just the mass immigration of scientists from the former Soviet Union. It’s also — and decisively — a conscious, capitalist, anti-socialist economic policy ferociously devised by Benjamin Netanyahu when he was finance minister under Ariel Sharon, 2003-2005.

Netanyahu went about his self- appointed task of crippling or dismantling the socialist infrastructure that had long girded the entire Zionist enterprise in Palestine. His mottos were:

Tear down these socialist dampeners of economic growth. Get rid of government handouts. Unleash the creative power of Israeli brains. Let new companies form. Make Israel attractive to venture capital.

Netanyahu succeeded — only too well. The “it’s coming to me” mentality of Israeli socialism was dramatically replaced, in a dramatically short time, by a new mentality: “Let’s conquer the technological world.” Israel became “start up nation.” The number of inventions, in absolute terms, coming out of Israel beat out almost every other country on the globe.

This is the good news.

And for the past few years, it was only the good news that was seen. But people on the ground knew

that poverty had grown in Israel just as dramatically as the high-tech growth. For whatever reason, the poverty was easy to ignore. But no longer. In the past two months, Israel has veritably burst asunder with social protests, massive demonstrations over low wages, the high cost of food and housing. The underside of the wonderful economic boom is “out there” for all too see.

If socialism defeated creativity and sent the Israeli economy into the pits, the dismantling of socialism sent the Israeli economy into schizophrenia. On the one hand — the wonders. On the other hand — not just the poverty, but far wider swaths of Israeli society, left out of the dramatic growth. Clearly, some middle ground between turgid social- ism and unrestrained capitalism is needed. Israel cannot live on high- tech inventions and innovations alone.

The naked eye can spot the problem. Travel to Herzliya or Caesarea. Gorgeous neighborhoods abound, full of seven-figure homes. Magnificent date palms and lovely lanes form a peaceful and luxurious reality. Now travel to Samuel the Prophet Street in Jerusalem, and walk a few blocks in the direction of the center of the city. Large families are crammed into tiny, old, crumbling apartments. No green is to be seen. Cats run wild. They pick scraps strewn about, giving a sharp edge to the poverty.

Israel needs balance: more attention to the common man, alongside the capitalist strategy.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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