The Question: What was the biggest news story in your country last year [in 2007], and why?
The continued shelling of Israeli towns and rural communities near Gaza by Hamas could have been a natural choice for the most significant event in Israel in 2007. No less important and with far-reaching ramifications for the future of this country was the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which recently stated that Iran had halted its military nuclear program in 2003. These events have generated the lion's share of local and international media. Almost like in a Pavlovian experience, Israel is always identified with and seen through the magnifying glass of foreign and security affairs.
But I’ve decided to select the impact which globalization is having on our society as the most important, the most formative event of 2007.
Globalization’s influence on Israel is rarely mentioned in the international media but is of great interest to the Israeli public – far more than Iran or the troubles with the Palestinians. The trends of globalization -the taking over of state assets by Israel's "Robber Barons", the widening gap between rich and poor and the widespread corruption at all levels of society - are affecting our daily life for the worse.
The results are that Israeli society has changed beyond recognition. Israel was once a role model, one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated social democracies, proud of its modern welfare system and trying to maintain as equal and just a society as possible.
The kibbutz—a rural community guided by the principle that each receives according to his needs and give back to society according to his abilities—was the jewel in Israel’s crown. Today, the idea of the kibbutz is dying.
Israel now worships the golden calf of the free market: privatization and sink-or-swim competition, what British Prime Minster Edward Heath once called the “ugly face of capitalism.” The country’s economy is under the influence of a handful of families who, like robber barons, rob public assets, utilities and national resources, all with the help of corrupt officials and ministers.
To understand how the country’s wealth is concentrated in few hands, one has to read the Israeli business daily The Marker. The paper estimated the accumulated wealth of the 500 richest people in the country to be around 300 billion shekels (US $75 billion). By contrast, Israel’s GDP is 567 billion shekels (US$130 billion). Israel is now on the Top Ten list of nations with the widest socio-economic gap. Pensions have been reduced. Social security benefits have been cut. In 2005-7, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country. But it also pushed more people back beneath the poverty line than any other western nation in the last decade.
Israel’s Social Security Institute defines the poverty line as an income of 1,744 shekels (US$400) per month per individual, or 4,361 shekels (US$1100) per family of four. One and half million people, or 20 percent of the population, live under the poverty line. That means that thirty-four percent of Israeli children live in poverty.
Fewer and fewer financial resources are allocated to public education, health, transportation and infrastructure. More and more go to the wealthy through tax cuts and other benefits aimed to protect capital gains.
Israel is still a vital democracy, but it is a democracy in decay. The champions of social justice and rational distribution of national wealth – the fighters of corruption – struggle to swim upstream. Israel in 2007 has further lost its old ideals and its soul.
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