From the March 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
The establishment of the State of Israel aroused a variety of misguided responses. Zionists regarded it as a secure homeland in which the future of the Jewish people would be free from the problems of their tragic past; anti-semites saw Israel as a country populated by wealthy Jewish businessmen who, fed on the rich cream of American investments, would live in isolated prosperity. Rival Arab nationalists condemned the crimes of Israeli militarism, forgetting the barbarous actions undertaken by their armies. not least against fellow Arabs. So the history of Israel has been confused by much hypocrisy, with Zionist and Arab butchering each other — one in the name of Judaism, the other in the name of Islam.
One myth propagated for many years by supporters of Israeli nationalism was that when it came to running an economy there could be none more successful than a Jewish state. Despite this hope on the part of those many Jewish workers who have invested their hopes and lives in Israel that country, like all others, is a part of the world capitalist system and will not escape its inevitable crises.
A report issued in January by Israel's National Insurance Institute states that half a million Israelis — or one seventh of the population — are living below the poverty line, making the Israeli working class one of the poorest in the industrialised world. Indeed, the situation is worse than the NII report suggests, because the official poverty line in Israel is lower than in most advanced capitalist countries. An adult has to earn a gross monthly income of less than £87.50 in order to be regarded by the government as “in poverty". A married couple with nine children earning £490 a month or more is regarded as being above the poverty line.
Among the officially poor Israelis are 280,000 pensioners or welfare benefit claimants. It is interesting to speculate how many of these are Jewish workers, of European origin, who went to settle in Israel after the war in the sincere hope that at last they would be free from insecurity. Even more revealing is the fact that 220,000 of the officially poor are employed, but receiving wages which are so low that their incomes are below the poverty line. This does not say much for the effectiveness of the Israeli equivalent of the TUC. the Histadrut. which has failed to push up the price of labour power for 220,000 of its members even to the level of official subsistence.
The number of officially impoverished Israelis in 1984 is 100 percent higher than in 1979. This is related to the massive inflation caused by Israeli government policy over the last five years: in 1982 the rate of inflation was 131.5 per cent. The recently released 1983 figure was 190.7 per cent. Interestingly, the inflationary policy has been pursued in Israel by an extreme right-wing government.
The economic crisis has led to the government abandoning its old promise to retain full employment. Many immigrants to Israel are now out of work; this is ironic because a number of them emigrated from Europe in order to escape from such problems. As ever, when capitalism is in a fix sections of the working class are singled out for special hardship. In Israel the so-called Oriental Jews (who are not West European and whose skins are conspicuously darker than other Israelis) are complaining that they have had to take the worst effects of the recession. Overtime payments in most Israeli industries have either been reduced or stopped. An Israeli doctor is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying:
My father is a German Jew who lived through Germany in the 1920s. He has often told me about the inflation during the days of the Weimar Republic, when a man had to take his salary in bank notes in a suitcase in the morning and spend it by lunchtime, or it would become worthless. I fear we may be approaching that situation here. Except that suitcases are becoming too expensive!
Israeli trade unionists are trying at present to strike for better wages. Civil servants, postal and railway workers have tried striking but their employers, far from acting in the spirit of Zionist solidarity, have refused to meet their demands. The government minister in charge of making sympathetic noises in the direction of the poor, Aharon Uzan, has stated that the government intends to increase welfare payments but, with inflation increasing at record levels, he would need to increase them weekly if the standards of those below the poverty line are even to stand still.
So, Israel is just another capitalist state. The Zionists who thought they could create a land of security for all should go and talk to the destitute Jewish workers of Israel. The ignorant anti-semites who imagined that every Jew drove a big car and smoked fat cigars should look at the slums in which their fellow wage slaves live. And before the Arab nationalists gloat at the failure of Israeli nationalism, let them ponder on the fact that while Arab oil billionaires are loafing in palaces their subjects are dying of malnutrition or living on paupers' incomes. The prejudices of capitalism are once again being struck out by the hard truths of experience.