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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS. AUGUST 12, 2011 With protests, Israelis are seeking the revival of welfare state ! Miriam Alster/Flash90 Israeli students hold a Sign reading ,'Welfare state now!" as they protest Aug. 1 outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem against the high cost of living. By Leslie Susser long-defunct Israeli welfare Never has the country been JERUSALEM (JTA)The wave of protests sweeping Is- rael is about much more than the lack of affordable housing: It's a grass-roots demand for the major redistribution of the nation's wealth. In social terms, protesters are calling for a more caring government attuned to the needs of young, middle-class citizens who serve in the army, pay heavy taxes and provide the engine driving the coun- try's burgeoning economy. In economic terms, it is a call for the reversal of nearly three decades of fiscal con- servativism at the expense of social services such as education, health and welfare, as well as an appeal against eroding salaries and rising prices. I110trier W0rfll, tilt pro. testers are demanding that today's thrivin~I free-market Israel use its wealth to create conditions for a restoration of at least some elements of the, state. As an estimated 150,000 people demonstrated Sat- urday night, July 30 in 12 locations across the country, the central theme was a de- mand for "socia~justice." To some, it was reminiscent of the students' revolt in Paris in the late 1960s: an alliance of students, workers and, in the Israeli case, a large, financially strapped middle clas~,ofpeople mostly in their 20s and 30s demanding a new economic order. But there were key differ- ences: In the Israeli case, there was noviolence. Instead, there was aveiled, largely unspoken threat: that if the government fails to actand middle-class people continue to struggle to make ends rrfeet, many more of the best and brightest would leave t0r c0untri wtlara there is no defense burden and it's easier to make a living. As the protests entered their third week, the great Israeli paradox loomed large: economically stronger, yet never have so many of its young people felt so frustrated at their own personal financial status. The current situation is partly a result of a constitu- tional lacuna. In the mid-1990s, a number of basic laws were passed--~ together they are eventually meant to form the basis of a constitution for Israel. One of the laws, on the dignity and freedom of man. enshrined property rights, but a balanc- ing companion act on social rights continues to be held up. It would deal with issues like the right to housing, education, health and wel- fare. and set parameters of state responsibility for their provision. The bill again is on the a nna, pr0motad by Marat Knesset member Zahava Gal-On. But the country's current socioeconomic predicament goes much deeper than any law. It is the result of more than two decades ofav~rtually consistent small government economic policy. The turning point came in 1985. with inflation run- ning at over 450 percent per annum. It became clear that Israel could no longer afford to maintain the old-style, government-subsidized wel- fare state. The economic stability plan introduced by then-Prime Minister Shimon, Peres and then Finance Minister Yit- zhak Modai entailed stringent cuts in government spending. With its dramatic success in saving the economy, the small government approach quickly became economic orthodoxy. The economic buzzword inthe 1990s was privatiza- tion, started by the Likud. taken on board by Labor and then accelerated by Benjamin Netanyahu. When he [~irst became prime minister in 1996, Netanyahu spoke of a thin man, the private sector. tottering under the weight of a fat man, the public sector, and vowed to turn things around. Netanyahu had a strong ideo- logical commitment to free market forces, privatizing government companies and outsourcing social services. This meant the accelerated handover of services to the private sector that once were the sole preserve of govern- ment. It was accompanied by a weakening of trade unions and an ox~erall erosion of working conditions and salaries. The result? Owners and a select few mega-salaried executives became richer and the middle class relatively poorer. It also led to the rise of the Israeli tycoons, who e0ntr011 d a gat dOal 0t tho country's wealth and power. Banks, energy companies, supermarket chains and media properties all were concentrated in the hands By Ryan Torok Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles of a dozen or so billionaire families. Netanyahu's economic philosophy also entailed a re- duction of corporate taxes. Big companies paid 5 percent to 20 percent income tax, while the middle class saw the prices of everything from food to cars to apartments rise consider- ably. The system produced impressive economic growth but left wealth in the hands of the few. The trickle-down effect, middle-class Israelis said. had failed to materialize. The upshotwas that by May 2010. Israel's economy was robust enough for Israel to be admittedto the Organiza- tion for Economic Coopera- tion and Development--the exclusive club of the world's strongest economies known as the OECD. But Israel also was the OECD member With the biggest gaps between rich and poor. Some blame preferential spending on settlements in the West Bank for the lack of funds for social services in Israel. Others focus onwelfare for the growing haredi Ortho- dox population in Israel. Still others p~int to the limited taxation of the tycoons tax concessions nationwide are estimated at approximately $11 billion per year, about 11 percent of the national budget. For years, middle-class discontent simmered under the surface, always eclipsed by security concerns or peace- making moves. For embattled Israel, peace and security inevitably took top priority. Until now. With terrorism virtually nonexistent and the peace process deadlocked. young Israelis have turned thmr attati0n tamara finn= erating a mass movement against the socioeconomic system. Their anti-establishment energy took the form of street 2 brothers rocked by war's toll her artistic grandparents in Austria--her grandfather was a film director--with provid- ing inspiration for a career in Dana Reinhardt says she storytelling. was surprised when her "I used to spend most sum- young-adult novel, "The mers [in Salzburg] with my Things a Brother Knows" grandparents;andIw0uldsay (Wendy Lamb Books: $16.99), those were incredibly forma- won the 2011 Sydney Taylor tive years ....Theywere both Book Award in January, be- cause her tale isfft set during the H010au~t or in a ~htctl, and it doesn't wrestle with themes of anti-Semitism. Instead, her book is told from the point of view of Levi Katznelson, a 17-year-old Israeli American, who at- tempts to reconnect with his older brother, Boaz, a Marine who isolates himself after he returns home from fighting overseas. "It's great to see that writ- ing books about Judaism can be about what it means to be a normal kid for whom their Jewish i entit is Dart of a large, complex identity," said Reinhardt, speaking on the phone during a trip to Israel. Reinhardt ~ays she had wanted to write from the time she was young. She recalls crying for days after reading "Bridge to Terabithia" and thinking, "Wow, I would love to do that." She also credits the sum- mers she spent as a child with war. And it's Boaz's identity as an Israeli American that inspires him to join the Ma- rines, she says. "What if you were carrying about the question of this essential israeliness, with a son who has a father and grandfather [who served in the Israeli army]--and you've heard their stories about their ~me in the Israeli army and maybe y0u'v r0manticizcd it?" Reinhardt said. Barbara Bietz, a children's author and chair of the com- mittee that selected Rein- hardt's book for the award, insists that "The Things a Brother Knows" is Jewish literature. "We didn,t even question whether this was a Jewish book or not," Bietz said. "This is a Jewish family. The father is from Israel, and the son was impassioned about doing ser- vice for his country because of his father's experience in the country. "It's just a contemporary novel about a Jewish family that we can all relate to," she added. Reinhardt's other Jewish- themed novel is "A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life" (2006); she has also written "Harmless," (2007), "How to Build a House" (2008) and, her latest novel, ,'The Summer I Learned to Fly" (Wendy Lamb BoOks), which recounts the tale of a girl who spends the summer before eighth grade making her first real friend. Reinhardt says she is drawn to the coming-of-age genre as both a reader and a writer. "It's extremely rich terri- tory," Reinhardt said. "Un- derstanding things for the firat time, or ~ing thing~ for the first time, or tryin~ to figure out where you fit in the story.,' Book review publications such as Booklist and School Library Journal have em- braced Reinhardt's novels for their relatable characters, realistic dialogue and their sense of humor. Reinhardt says of her books, she struggled most with "The Things a Brother Knows,,' but not because it was written from a male perspective. . "What I found so hard was keeping Levi from sounding too self-pitying and also focus- ing so much of the narrative on .a character [Boaz], who is ultimately unknowable," she said. Reinhardt concedes that her characters' struggle with Judaism reflects her own. "I would definitely say it's something I must think about a lot in terms of identity," she said, "and ultimately interests me as a writer add especially as a writer of adolescent nov- els, of coming-of-age stories, which are all about identity and figuring out who you are. so creative and artistic and just incredible storytellers," ~aid Reinhardt, who live~ with her husband, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, and their children in San Francisco. Rais-ed in Los Angeles, Reinhardt, 40, comes from an accomplished family. Her great-great-grandfather, Max Reinhardt, was a successful filmmaker, theater director and actor. Her father, Stephen Reinhardt, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and her stepmoth er, Ramona Ripston, served as the executive director of ACLU of Southern Cali[0rnia for 38 years. After working a desk job at a publishing house, attending law school and then mak- ing documentaries for PBS, Reinhardt started writing professionally in her 30s. Reinhardt says that the idea for "The Things a Brother Knows" was born out of sto- ries she heard on NPR about soldiers returning home from protests because there is a strong sense that none of the traditional parties represents their interests, and Israel has a long history of street protests, encompassing everything from Ethiopian immigration to the campaign to release captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. For the most part. the -protests have not been fo- cused. But now the leaders of the protest movement are formulating a list of concrete demands and general prin- ciples for change. These are expected to include demands for public housing on a large scale; major tax reforms that would increase taxation of the super-rich and lower indirect taxes on the general public; a shift in budgetary priorities, transferring part of the defef~Se budget arid the increased tax money from the rich to fund social services; and demands for Israel to comply with OECD averages when it comes to the numbers of doctors, policemen and fire- men per thousand citizens. and the number of children in classrooms. Netanyahu has set up com- mittees to examine all the relevant economic issues and to negotiate with the protest- ers, who are likely to be backed by trade union boss Ofer Eini. The prime minister almost certainly will produce a new economic plan, but it may not be enough. What the people are demanding is a new social contract. The political question is whether this could have an impact on the next election, scheduled for 2013. and the agenda over which it will be fought. That depends on how pr0ggin gOeU ltP iggUOg aro around that time and whether these protesters can sustain enough momentum to trans- late their street movement into real political power. "Clearly [my Judaism] mat- ters enough that I've written two books that deal with it." Reprinled by permission of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.