Last week TV Channel 8 broadcast a three-episode series under the title of The Silver Platter, focusing on Israel’s main socioeconomic maladies, which some believe could lead to Israel’s collapse as a modern, vibrant, enlightened, corruption- free state.
The series was produced by documentary film maker and actor Doron Tsabari, whose main purpose in producing it was to get the people back to the streets, to demonstrate for change, and thus bring about change.
The term “the silver platter” is attributed to Chaim Weizmann, who in December 1947 stated that “the state will not be given to the Jewish People on a silver platter.” Soon after that poet Nathan Alterman referred to the silver platter in a poem that foresaw the great sacrifices in lives that the Jewish community would have to make in the pursuit of statehood. Thus, those killed in the course of the War of Independence – one percent of the Jewish population of the country at the time – are the “silver platter.”
In what way the current dangers to Israel’s society and economy are connected to the silver platter in its original meaning is not completely clear, unless the idea is that Israel’s collapse is being delivered by its current leaders on a silver platter. But with all due respect, I think that Tsabari’s choice of title is a distasteful misnomer.
This is not to say that I object to the subject of the series. On the contrary, I think the cause Tsabari raises is a worthy one, as long as it ensures that “the people” who are to rise in protest includes all sections of Israeli society, both in terms of ethnicity and political affiliation, and that Israel’s socioeconomic maladies are placed above the question of the future of territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and how to confront the danger of a nuclear Iran. Only if this happens is there any chance of winning the battle.
Of course, it is difficult to see neo-liberals joining a protest that calls for rectifying problems, most of which were created by the Israeli version of neo-liberalism. However, it should be noted that most of Israel’s right-wingers are not neo-liberals. On the contrary, most of them would qualify as social democrats if they weren’t chauvinistic hawks who hate the Labor Party for historic reasons.
The issues raised in the series include (in random order) the concentration of wealth in a small number of hands which control economic corporations and media bodies; the problematic relations of capital and government (crony capitalism); the existence of monopolies and duopolies in many spheres that are not properly regulated; problematic handling of natural resources by the state; growing institutional and personal corruption; disproportionate rises in the prices of food and housing; Israel’s having turned from one of the most egalitarian societies into one of the least egalitarian in the Western world; and a system that works in favor of the wealthy and against the poor.
Each of the episodes in the series is presented by a renown public figure: Guy Rolnik, the former editor of TheMarker; Yaron Zelekha, a former accountant general in the Finance Ministry who turned whistleblower, and currently head of the accountancy department at the Ono Academic College; and Danny Gottwein, professor of economic history at Haifa University. The first two may be defined as social liberals, and the third as a socialist.
All three speak in the series as preachers who, when they are not lecturing to a silent and obedient audience, appear as interviewees in past interviews they gave the media, or are themselves “interviewing” persons who hold different positions to their own, without really giving them a fair chance to express themselves.
The basic concept might be a valid one, but I found two of the presenters to be problematic – not because I disagreed with most of what they said, but because they were occasionally clumsy with their facts.
One of Rolnik’s crass factual slips was the claim that TV Channel 2 did not report the social protest movement of 2011 fairly because the channel is owned by many of the targets of the protest. This is simply untrue.
One of Gottwein’s many inaccurate or false accusations was that against former MK and minister Haim Ramon, whom he accuses of destroying the Histadrut and the system of mutual guarantees. Ramon may be accused of many things, including an inappropriate kiss that regretfully cost him his career, but when he became secretary general of the Histadrut in 1994, his greatest achievement was to save the workers’ organization, that was rotten to the core from total disintegration.
He was also responsible for passing the National Health Insurance Law in the same year, which introduced real competition among the health funds and ensured that health insurance is now universal in Israel, and not conditioned on membership in a trade union – something that everyone (except for American Republicans who for some inexplicable reason equate national health insurance with Communism and/ or National Socialism) believes to be a commendable achievement.
Though Israeli society today is a mess, the past wasn’t as rosy as some would have us believe. I say that even though I am a social democrat, in that I believe that in the absence of proper regulation, and measured state involvement and direction to ensure egalitarianism, a free market that isn’t really free and that favors tycoons can turn into a nightmare, as to some extent it already has.
Of the three presenters only one commands my full respect and admiration: Yaron Zelekha. He is a serious, honest, courageous man, who wasn’t wary of risking his career in order to blow the whistle on the corruption, mismanagement and injustices he came across when he served as accountant general. In 2007 he resigned his post. In fact, several attempts were made to fire him, but then state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss came to Zelekha’s defense as a “whistleblower,” even though he later admonished him for breach of the civil service code in his conduct outside the Finance Ministry while he was still in office. Zelekha is also the only one of the three with practical personal experience – and a track record of action, not only words.
The fact that Gottwein pointed at the settlements in Judea and Samaria as part of the malady – especially in terms of the disproportionate allocations of resources for the settlements and their inhabitants – certainly will not help turn the struggle into one which enjoys widespread support.
The settlement issue is a political issue, and ought to be left out of the attempt to address the socioeconomic maladies. Even if all the money that currently goes into the settlements were diverted to the Negev and the Galilee, to Jews and Arabs alike, it would not solve the problems enumerated above.
In short, I think Tsabari took a good cause and set about trying to advance it within the Israeli public in the wrong way. Taking three “lefties” to spit out facts and figures is simply not good enough.
I wonder whether if someone like rightwing economist and anti-discrimination activist Shlomo Ma’oz (who failed to get onto the Likud Party list for the 2013 elections) had been brought into the project, the result would be more effective. But some say Ma’oz believes neo-liberalism is the only way for Mizrahim to break what he claims to be the Ashkenazi power monopoly, so perhaps that is not such a good idea after all.
The writer is a political scientist and retired Knesset employee.