Another Tack: Red flags in Tel Aviv (II) –Mapai memories

So sweet is the enticement of deluxe revolution, requiring no risk or real effort, just lots of self-applied ego massages, outdoor happenings, free entertainment and nonstop media hype.

We can all feel like heroes by just coming out to hear mediocre renditions by opportunistic crooners who infuse us in high decibels with affectations of purpose and camaraderie.

Altruism isn’t part of the equation. Entitlement antics mandate no self-sacrifice. Quite the contrary.

It’s not “what I can do for my country” but “what my country can do for me.”
 While the world precariously teeters on a recessionary precipice, we indulge in anti-capitalist conniptions, incongruously powered by the profit motive.

The summer heat and humidity have finally steamed the leftovers of our collective gray matter and sent this nation into a hissy fit. Our irrationality is fueled by devil-may-care irritability. We’re seemingly ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater, to the delight of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, et al. Boiled brains, mass neuroses, greed and trendy tantrums make us perfect patsies for political exploitation.

Regardless of the blatant Marxism now preached by cynical protest-mongers, most individuals who fume with righteous indignation don’t realize they’re mouthing out-and-out communist slogans. The last thing they want is to vanquish capitalism, their mantras notwithstanding. If anything, seeking personal gain, they crave to reap the benefits of more capitalism. Pretentious petulance dims memories of what this country was like under the socialist domination of its first decades.

During our socialist phase – under the pre-state and early-state hegemony of Mapai (yesteryear’s acronym for the Israel Labor Party) – we voluntarily were the USSR’s ideological quasi-outpost, albeit a democratic-cum-erratic one. Young Israel was tied to mother Russia by sentimental bonds, yet was quite unwilling to endure communist hardships.

When labor unions doubled as Israel’s biggest employers, then-ruling socialists forced returning Israelis, for instance, to muck up fridges purchased abroad because only used goods were allowed in without sky-high tariffs. Why import fridges? Because in the heyday of state control (for which many of our headliners and self-acclaimed experts now longingly pine), you had to await your turn for anything locally produced. If you couldn’t pull the right strings or avail yourself of useful connections, it often took years.

The wait for a telephone was more excruciating. It was a privilege for which you shelled out plenty while the well-placed apparatchik pretended to do you a favor you didn’t deserve.

In those halcyon days of “social justice,” if you dared bring in a reel-to-reel audio-recorder, you could count on begrudging customs officers to unwind your tape and measure it. The homeland could only abide so many meters of tape and no more.

Unspectacular wages were in the 80% income-tax bracket, and electrical appliances were taxed like diamonds. Ready-to-wear apparel was drab yet extraordinarily pricey. Movie tickets were subject to a “pleasure fee” (no kidding). Washing machines were luxuries. Trips abroad meant exorbitant travel levies.

And, last but not least, housing – shoddy and cramped – was famously unaffordable, while the draconian mortgages could never be paid off.

The standards of living in mythical Mapailand were nothing to wax nostalgic about. Neither was there equality. Some were always more equal, notably The Party’s functionaries.

Foreign currency controls led to the blossoming of the black market. Life’s hypocrisies were straightforward and predictable. Everyone knew there was a righteous façade and a thriving subterranean reality. Mapainiks sanctimoniously preached to hard-working commoners and berated them for breaching class solidarity.

A kid who flaunted a new plaything was denounced as a bourgani (bourgeois). No youngster quite knew what bourganimeant, but it was a pejorative.

Self-satisfied socialists addressed each other as haver (comrade) – which was Bill Clinton’s parting epithet for Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin indeed came from sterling socialist stock (his mother, Rosa Cohen, was a solid rock of the Histadrut establishment). While Israelis groaned under stringent arbitrary restrictions, he kept an illicit bank account in America (even if in the wife’s name).

The transgression wasn’t so awful in itself. It shouldn’t have been made an offense to begin with.
Rabin, however, did nothing to de-criminalize it for Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli, while allowing himself exemption from rules imposed ruthlessly on others.

The exposure of Rabin’s lapse contributed to Labor’s 1977 rout. Thereafter, Israel began steadily gravitating toward the other extreme. Begin’s government took hesitant first steps. In time, our universities churned out enough free-marketers of the Friedman-Thatcher-Reagan mold to speed along the reaction against Marx, Lenin, Borochov, A.D. Gordon, etc.

New-breed socialist converts to no-holds-barred capitalism, mind you, weren’t averse to still adhering to old-Left ultra-dovish maxims and advocating in their infinite wisdom that Israel forthwith divest itself of all its existentially vital strategic assets. Apparently a miniature vulnerable nine-mile-wide state – wedged into what fellow ultra-dove Abba Eban dubbed “the Auschwitz lines” – is good for business. What’s good for business is perforce good for Israel.

And so, a new vogue was born – frenzied privatization – ironically subscribed to most avidly by the sorts who nevertheless keep pompously attesting to their socialist credentials and fanning the current flames of protest.

If once bosses couldn’t fire the worst incompetents on their payroll, today the most diligent wage-earners feel unsafe. Inscrutable “reorganization” can make valuable employees redundant overnight.

Our proven penchant for extremes gives rise to genuine grievances. The predatory nature of our extreme Left, still lurking latently – though potently – in the offing, is to expediently seize on discontent and magnify it to lure suckers and impress them with slogans about the “demise of the old system,” and “the people defying the elites.”

But few dupes recognize in these the populist hallmarks of pitting undefined “ordinary folk” against the undefined “privileged classes.” Consider the lyrics of “The Internationale” and see how closely they resemble the Rothschild Boulevard slogans:

Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers

…Servile masses arise, arise

We’ll change henceforth the old conditions

…So comrades, come rally And the last fight let us face.
The Hebrew version of the socialist/communist anthem – more relevant in our case – is way more inflammatory. Poet Avraham Shlonski’s flamboyant (if inexact) translation envisions “flames of vengeance licking the heart.” It promises that “we will destroy the old world to its foundations…. Our world we shall construct anew…. This will be the last battle in a world war.” No less.

Fashionable poseurs in love with the fad probably won’t bother comparing their catch-all catchphrases to “The Internationale,” certainly not to the parody thereof in Animal Farm.

Nevertheless, protesters who unwittingly mouth similar mantras should pay heed to how the Orwellian saga evolved.

The pigs, “generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals,” took on the task of mobilizing the chumps. Yet in no time, swinish intellects morphed from tools of enlightenment to implements of oppression. No sooner were the revolutionist pigs tempted with material advantage, than they ditched their professed doctrines and deceived the gullible saps.

A word to the wise (or the not-so-wise bandwagon-climber).

The second of two parts.

15 thoughts on “Another Tack: Red flags in Tel Aviv (II) –Mapai memories

  1. Those chanting for social justice just received a painful slap to the face by others more focused and determined than some Israelis who wondered from reality

  2. When teachers, social workers and even private sector workers cannot make enough money to support their families, there is a problem. Especially when a very small percentage of people are now millionaires. The differential in incomes is looking like the despotic South American regimes. All people are asking for is a better distribution of the wealth. There are a few families in Israel that own pretty much everything and can set prices without competition. Israel has adopted the worst of capitalism and forgotten the best of socialism.

    • We can talk ourselves into a blue funk by convincing ourselves that we resemble a despotic South American regime. But this is a severe mental aberration because this is just not the case.
      Tycoons are a tiny minority everywhere. There is no country where multi-billionaires account for more than the thinnest upper-crust. Egalitarian societies do not exist and historically existed nowhere – not even in socialist states or, indeed, in Animal Farm.
      We in Israel have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire western world (see the 50% unemployment among the under-35 group in Spain, for instance – to say nothing of Eurozone countries far worse off).
      The fact that too many folks in our country can’t make do with what they earn is partly the outcome of an entitlement mentality (Magi’a li – it’s owed me).
      People waste and spend, and live on overdrafts, don’t bother balancing their private budgets and then they complain. Someone else owes them a living, i.e. their fellow taxpayers!
      The fact is that there is no such thing as a “government” that just gives and gives and keeps on giving without limit or accounting for what it spends. There are only taxpayers to foot the bills. Whatever is handed out to those who can help themselves is financed by others – by hard-working taxpayers.
      Finally, look at the lines of Israelis travelling abroad on vacation. This is hardly a downtrodden South American population and certainly not all these jet-setters are tycoons (though plenty of the Israelis jetting overseas are among the entitlement protesters or among their trendy cheerleaders).

    • I’d like to see what “support their families” really means. Does this include a big screen TV, two cars, lots of clothes, trips to the sand and surf to enjoy the sun, three bedrooms, liviing room and dining room plus a laundry, meat at every meal, cell phones, etc.? Are these the signs of support that these “families” are missing? The ME, ME, ME generation of today thinks they deserve to be supported in the fashion that they are accustomed to. Be thankful for freedom, including freedom from being taxed to where you don’t have enough to live on anyway!

    • If the Tzippi’s of Israel are so miserable with their lot ,they should come to the promised land where a die hard Marxist has been elected President and is destroying what was once the best economy in the world.
      You can wait in line all day with a few thousand others hoping to get a job or sign up for food stamps or try and rent one of millions of foreclosed homes.
      The sad reality is that the spoiled, soft and creamy cottage cheese Israeli’s are too busy complaining with their plight that they ignore the clear and present dangers of their neighbors who intend to turn Israel into one large oven filled with ashes of dead Jews.
      Wake Up !

    • “The best of socialism?”

      I see some limited validity in that comment. The legendary Kibbutz was a shining example of successful socialism, and many love to cite that as proof that socialism can indeed work. What everybody forgets is, that socialist as it may have been, the Kibbutz worked for a profit. That was its purpose and its mission. No one could just walk up to the front gate of a Kibbutz and say “Hi, I want to be a member.” There was a rigorous interview and vetting process, and at least in my days, it even included submitting a sample of your handwriting to a graphologist, for a personality assessment.

      I don’t remember who said it, but, “if you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 40, you have no brain.”

  3. A good report and a nice historical perspective. It ought to be pointed out that Israel got its socialism from immigration, just like it got its capitalism. Whatever the liabilities of socialism in the early days, it was a huge contributor to labor. Somebody had to do a lot of work in Israel in order to build Israel. Labor is a natural place for socialist foment. But Israel also needed capital. It needed outside investors and not just donors. There have always been Jewish businesses and Jewish money in Israel since it was last destroyed. But it wasn’t enough to support a new and growing state. In order to attract capital, it needed laws that respected and promoted private property in agricultural and industry and socialist authority had to step aside, else Israel could not grow. It got its capitalism, but it also got taxation.

    Socialism at its roots rejects the welfare state. Socialism says that the welfare state is a pacifier of the working class and these protestors aren’t even working class, they are mostly middle class and well pacified too already. They are suffering from what most people seem to be suffering from these days, lack of intellectual integrity and the absence of and indifference towards a clear sense of purpose.

  4. If you can’t afford a car, take the bus. If you can’t afford a new outfit, wear last year’s. If you can’t afford steak or chicken, eat beans. Face it- some people are richer than others, some can afford more than others. That’s life. Take on another job for a few h ours a week to make extra money. Live without cable TV for a year until you are more solvent. Don’t buy a new CD every week. Refrain from going to the theater if the tickets cost more than you have. Don’t Borrow and drown yourself in debt.So many of us have gone through the scrimping and saving, and giving up things that we love, but cannot afford. I think the trouble with all these demonstrating people is that they won’t give up anything, but they make demands, and cannot understand why they are NOT entitled to everything they feel is essential. Socialism sounds wonderful on paper, but it really never has worked out; Study the history of the Kibbutz for an easy to understand example. Face the fact that there are too many ‘socialist’-minded, who are certain they are entitled to a free ride. They won’t compete, they won’t try to excel, they will do the bare minimum and expect the government to coddle them forever. We all have the right to equal opportunity, but not the right to demand free this, that, and the other because we are too lazy to work a little harder, save a little more and learn to do without,

  5. Back in the early sixties, I had to wait “only” two and a half years for a telephone line (a “party-line” that I shared with an unknown neighbor) because I was a civil servant and I had “protection”. Now it takes less than 48 hours to get a new phone line. Progress?
    Political changes may have an ideological component, but I believe there is a kind of rotation. Something will happen that will get voters tired, disappointed, and disgruntled enough to make the political tide turn. Labor reigned and fell down, Likud rose up, and so on.
    Tax payers remain the same, they don’t change, they pay.
    I am wary of all those “springs”, they seem to be pettering out.
    So now, what?
    Thank you Sarah, the second installment of your tack was worth waiting for.

  6. This is exactly what Rudyard Kipling had in mind, in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” all those years ago. It’s almost prophetic.

    “…we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins…”

    It would be in extreme poor taste to quote the entire poem here, but it’s worth a read. Sarah is exactly right.

    Entire text at:
    http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_copybook.htm

  7. But the Kibbutz system didn’t work in the long run. Now they are paying salaries according to the work done, the children are home with their parents and altogether there are many revisions that make Kibbutz life more democratic.

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