Magazine article New Internationalist

Israel

Magazine article New Internationalist

Israel

Article excerpt

Israel's Founding Fathers (and a few Mothers) sought to find a safe haven from European antisemitism. The international community, which had good reasons to feel guilty towards Jews, granted them what was never given to anyone else: an authorization to reclaim an ancestral homeland after 2,000 years and recreate in the 20th century a polity that had been destroyed by the Roman Empire's legions.

The Arabs, who had come to inhabit that same land during the Jews' long absence, objected very strongly - and the resulting bloody conflict has already lasted more than a century. The tiny militias formed by the early Zionist pioneers developed into a mighty army with fleets of tanks and fighter planes and a nuclear deterrent, complete with a submarine-based second strike capacity. Though democratic forms are observed, a militarist streak runs deep through Israeli society, with exgenerals often holding key positions in politics and business.

Having sought 'to be their own masters', Jewish refugees from Europe ended up causing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to be displaced when Israel was created in 1948. Since 1967, Israel has been keeping millions of rebellious Palestinians under its military rule, neither annexing and enfranchising them nor setting them free to create their own state. Within Israel, the fate of the Occupied Territories has become the essential yardstick by which one is considered to be 'rightwing' or 'leftwing'.

Not that Israel lacks for more conventional social problems and conflicts. Little remains now of the Israeli welfare state built up by Ben Gurion's Labor Zionists in the 1950s, which, though flawed, did provide adequate medical care and a social safety net. Social services were gutted when Begin's Likud displaced Labor at the helm in 1977, and free-market ideologies have dominated economic policies ever since - including when Labor briefly returned to power. The public sector was massively privatized and, as in post-Soviet Russia, a handful of tycoons and oligarchs managed to amass enormous fortunes.

Decline of the Socialist Zionist ethic is symbolized by the deep crisis of the kibbutzim, once Israel's pride - many of which have themselves been privatized, shedding collective ownership and mutual support. …

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