David Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave

Thousands of Israelis are camping out on the nation’s streets, protesting over the country’s acute shortage of affordable housing.  Reading through a useful story from JTA, I was struck by this comment:

“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,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist.

He noted that in Israel it’s unusual for socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues.

Netanyahu “is definitely nervous,” Lehman-Wilzig said, “and he should be nervous.”

Here, in three sentences, is the explanation for the collapse of Israel’s Labor Party.  Founded by David Ben-Gurion as Mapai, an acronym for “Israel Worker’s Party,” it built the social democratic foundations of the country’s welfare state.  But it now lacks any coherent philosophy.  A few years ago, Ehud Barak followed his election as party head by buying a multimillion dollar condo in Tel Aviv.

Why do tends of thousands of working-class Mizrahi and Russian Jews vote Likud or Shas?  Because Labor gives them nothing to vote for.  Now, when thousands march for affordable housing, what passes for the Israeli “left” has nothing to say.  Ben-Gurion and the rest Israel’s founders would be appalled.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

4 thoughts on “David Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave”

  1. Israel has been devoting an ever-increasing percentage of its GDP to (1) settlers and (2) subsidies to orthodox Jews (many orthodox men don’t work or have make-work jobs in state-subsidized religious schools). The people who actually contribute to the economy – the young, educated scientists and engineers in the Tel Aviv to Haifa corridor – get almost nothing from the State and they’re getting tired of it. So, yes, in fact this is a highly political issue.

  2. To Bloix (and others who might not understand):
    There is a huge difference in Israel between the ULTRA-Orthodox and the “Orthodox”. You meant “ultra-Orthodox” (Haredim), most of whom don’t work etc. The “Orthodox” (many of them, bit not most, part of the settler movement), are fully integrated into Israeli society. They all work, go to college, and above all, serve in the Army in higher percentages than the secular! Indeed, the Army is getting a bit worried about the “over-representation” of the Orthodox among the Officer Corps.
    Bottom line: do not confuse the (Zionist) Orthodox with the (anti, or non-Zionist) ultra-Orthodox.

  3. Sam:

    Could you please clarify how many of the Haredim are anti-Zionist, non-Zionist, and Zionist? It is OK if you do not have exact percentages of the categories. If you have good approximations, that would be helpful.

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