The Process of Privatization and the Labor Party's Demise
By Dani Gutwein | 11/11/2010
Post-Zionism is the meta-ideology of the process of privatization in Israel. It attacked the Zionist idea and the way in which it manifested because of Zionism's proximity to the basic assumptions of the socialist perspective. As the Left became increasingly addicted to privatization, it photo: Eyal Izhar
ceased being an economic-social alternative associated with the Right, and began hurtling with increasing velocity towards oblivion. But the demise of the social left is an existential threat to the entire State of Israel
Contrary to popular opinion, the Israel Left lost its hegemony over the last four decades because it abandoned socialism, and, ceasing to be an economic-social alternative to the Right, prostrated itself before its former opponent. The Left began fading even faster as short-term interests of the middle class, which it represents, cast aside ideas of social equality, economic regulation and distributive justice. And yet, privatization of the welfare state adversely affected a growing segment of the middle class, which became the "worn-out class" that distanced itself from the Left; at the same time, processes of privatization enhanced the contrast between the Left and the lower classes, which became more closely associated with the Right. Therefore, as privatization expanded socio-economic inequality with the Left supporting it, the Left's political and social power was diminished, while the hegemony of the Right was augmented. The class aspects of the right-wing revolution that occurred on the Left and led to its own decline will be discussed below.
The architects of the right-wing revolution on the Left justified it, among other things, with arguments of political expediency. The main cause of the failure of the Left, in their view, was the animosity harbored by a growing portion of the Israeli public and Israeli society towards socialist rule, its values and symbols, and towards the welfare state and its workings, as an expression of government corruption, economic inefficiency, social oversight, and cultural oppression. The Israeli case was, according to their position, part of a global trend of alienation from the welfare state leading to the removal of social-democratic parties from Western governments, and to the collapse of communism and the Soviet Bloc. The conclusion, they claimed, was that in order to regain hegemony in Israeli society, the Left would have to dissociate itself from the values and institutions of the welfare state, and to adopt the culture of the privatization regime. The logic that guided the right-wing trend in the Left was, therefore, that it had to become rightist in order to succeed in the political arena. This oxymoron may sound like an irritating right-wing election slogan, but the Left adopted it as a world-view and a policy, and the more that it insisted upon it, the more it atrophied and lost its influence.
Calcification of values
The Left's agenda migrated in the 1960s between the perspective of those who held fast to the old values, and the perspective of those who called openly to abandon them. The recognition that without bold innovation the Left would lose the government was the legacy of many Labor Party members during the period, but the proposed changes were insufficient for dealing with the changes occurring in reality. This led to the calcification of values that had become platitudinous, feeding double-speak and hypocrisy. On the other hand, forces that called for replacing the ideas of social equality and economic regulation with the free market, unlimited competition, and self-actualization, gained greater currency. This struggle between competing voices was one of the factors that laid the groundwork for the right-wing revolution that took place in the Labor Party, manifested in the establishment of the Rafi Party in the 1960s and Ratz and Dash in the 1970s. The policy of the first Rabin government in the 1970s – partially in response to the Black Panther demonstrations and the oversights of the Yom Kippur War – was an attempt to bring the Left's social agenda up-to-date by broadening and deepening the welfare system, arousing a strong response on the part of the right-wing elements on the Left. The Dash party, the expression par excellence of the rightist revolution on the left, reflected the opposition of the economically stable portion of the Labor party to the Left's welfare policy and paved the way for the upheaval of 1977 that brought the Right to power in Israel.
Under cover of the shock caused by this upheaval, the rightist circles in the left succeeded in imposing the policy of privatization and its values on the movement. With the restoration of the Left to power, as part of the National Unity Government or in governments that it headed, it indeed acted to institute privatization policies: the Left supported the economic stabilization program of 1985, which laid the foundation for the privatization economy in Israel; Rabin's second government, which was the diametric opposite of his first government in terms of its social trends, promoted privatization policy and led to the dismantling of the Histadrut and the privatization of the health system and labor market; the Barak government accelerated the privatization trend, and also received a theoretical stamp of approval through its token of social concern, Shlomo Ben-Ami, who himself promoted the privatization of the prison system; education ministers from the Meretz Party consistently pushed towards privatization of the education system; and Hadash also blended into the privatization army by becoming a party associated with the Arab sector under the guise of slogans about equality. And yet, the right-wing upheaval did not restore hegemony to the Left; to the contrary, the more the Left adopted privatization policy and effectively ceased to be an alternative for the Right, the deeper it sank.
In addition to considerations of political expediency, the Left also posed an ethical/political argument for privatization: the achieving of peace should take priority over the struggle for social justice, and the latter should be postponed until the occupation ended. However, it was precisely in its support of privatization that the Left helped to create the conditions for perpetuating the occupation. The copious benefits offered to residents of the "land of the settlements" served as a replacement for the now-reduced welfare services west of the Green Line, and encouraged the victims of privatization to migrate to the territories, most of them members of the lower classes. The Right promised them a continuation of the settlements, and deepened their opposition to the Left. The significance of dismantling the settlements given the conditions of privatization that had been created, would adversely affect the social welfare of these classes.
Until the 1970s, Israel was a divided welfare state. It provided efficient services to the social center, mainly Ashkenazic, and in so doing ensured its connection to the government and to labor (the Histadrut) and establishing the social center as a middle class. In contrast, in the case of the mostly Mizrahi periphery, the state provided partial and inferior services, making it into a lower class that was alienated from the establishment. Over the years, various elements on the Left heard the demand to bring an end to the divided nature of the welfare state and to expand its services, but these demands were the topic of a public struggle only following the "Wadi Salib events" in the late 1950s, a struggle that reached its peak in the activity of the "Black Panthers" at the beginning of the 1970s. The middle classes responded to the demands of the lower classes in two contradictory manners that exposed the duality inherent in the Israeli Left: on the one hand, some voices called for a response to the demands for equality, a trend that manifested in the comprehensive welfare policy of the first Rabin government; on the other hand, among a significant portion of the middle class, which had used the welfare state's services as scaffolding for climbing the economic and social ladder, animosity began brewing as it increasingly acted on behalf of immigrants of the 1950s and 60s, particularly the Mizrahi population. In order to preserve its relative advantage, the middle class embarked on a struggle against the expansion of this policy, and adopted an approach of cuts and privatization.
The upheaval of 1977 strengthened the right-wing faction on the Left. The internal wearing down, no less than the external wear, weakened the ability of socialist elements on the Left to stave off the manifestations of the Right's privatization policy. During the 1980s, support for privatization by the left-affiliated middle classes grew deeper, but they saw it not as another means of returning to government, which seemed far from grasp due to the intensified hegemony of the Right, but rather as a strategy intended to secure their interests despite their loss of governmental power. The dismantling of the welfare state was to later reduce the state's power (i.e., that of the Right and the sector-based coalitions that it formed) over the market and social services and its control over them, and transfer their control to market forces and professional institutions in which the middle classes maintained their power.
As part of the right-wing upheaval, the Left underwent a process of "ideological privatization." After abandoning socialism, it sought a replacement that would further separate it from the Right. Since the Right defined itself through Jewish-nationalist sentiment, the Left based its self-definition on the critique, if not negation, of the collective expressions of this sentiment. This choice on the part of the Left helped the Right appropriate the collective-national foundations of Israeli-Jewish identity and obscure its responsibility for the erosive ramifications of the privatization regime; the Left's alienation from these foundations led to its being identified with the state of disintegration that has befallen Israeli society since the privatization of the welfare state, and to its social and cultural disconnect from the lower classes.
As the Left retreated further from socialism and separated itself from Israel's collective-national foundations, it increasingly directed its efforts and invested its strength towards the protection of individual rights. This trend began with the struggle against state services and public institutions, but in keeping with the logic of privatization, devolved into the delegitimizing of policy reform and the public regulation of the economy and society as expressions of the violation of individual rights. As the Left increasingly lost control of its hegemony, it shifted focus to altering the discourse as an alternative to changing reality, a preference that suited the large representation of its constituents among the middle classes in the milieu where knowledge and symbols are created. The struggle for the rights of Israel's Arab citizens, through which the Left separated itself from the Right, was also privatized; rather than a policy struggle advocating “two nations for two peoples,” it took the shape of a discussion about changing the character of Israel from a state of the Jewish nation to a state for all of its citizens, focusing on citizen as opposed to nation, and individual as opposed to society. Ideological privatization also shaped the Left's view of peace, which became a central topic on its agenda. It thus transpired that while the struggle for peace began with negation of the occupation and a demand for its end, developing quickly into an undermining of essential foundations of the State as an occupier, on the other hand, presentation of the objective to which a peace arrangement would lead as “a new Middle East,” combined the vision of peace with privatization.
Therefore, as the Left's addiction to privatization worsened and it ceased to be an opposition force working against the economic-social method at its base, it turned into an opposition party again Israeli society. This process was prominent in the trickle of post-Zionist ideas from the margins of the Left into its center.
Hostility to real society
Post-Zionism is the meta-ideology of the privatization process in Israel. It attacked the Zionist idea and its realization due to its proximity to basic assumptions of the socialist perspective, such as economic regulation and distributive justice, the foundations of the welfare state. Moreover, the post-Zionist attack was aimed at undermining the legitimacy of Israeli collective identity and pressuring Israelis into rejecting Israeli society, both its past and its present, as a condition for preserving their ethical integrity. In other words, the individual establishes his ethical standing by rejecting society. And yet, with the deepening of the privatization regime, ideas trickled down from the post-Zionist charge sheet to the center of the discourse of the middle classes and the Left, and fed the position that acceleration of privatization is the path for overcoming the inherently oppressive dimension of Zionism and its actualization in the Israeli welfare state.
When the Left converted its social critique into negation of social belonging, the alienation between it and broad swaths of the public grew even strong. With this process, its influence on reality was attenuated, and its hostility to actual society increased.
Social and economic processes were the cause of the Left's degeneration, and yet, in herein lies its chances of bouncing back. The ideological adaptation of socialist ideas to Israeli society and their institution in a universal welfare state that will spread a closely woven net of social security mechanisms are a condition for the renewal of the Left's struggle for hegemony in Israeli society.
The middle classes that brought on the privatization revolution became its victims. Privatization of the welfare state's services is what created the worn-down class whose interests are becoming increasingly similar to those of the lower classes, and are creating a social basis for the establishment of a social-democratic force in Israel. And yet, precisely for this reason, the continued deterioration of the Left became a vital interest of the foundations of society striving for a deepening of the privatization that is undermining the basis for the subsistence of increasing numbers of Israelis. Historical experience teaches that the failure of social democracy in a similar socio-economic situation to Israel's current situation, rerouted its parallels in the run-down Israeli middle class to totalitarian and proto-fascist solutions. A similar danger lies in wait for Israeli democracy, which has become more fragile as the privatization revolution has taken deeper root and eroded the social safety nets. The vacuum left behind by the right-wing faction in the Left, through its suicidal privatization, and given the lack of an alternative to the economic right, therefore gradually becomes an existential threat to Israeli society. A socialist overthrow on the Left and the establishment of Israeli social democracy are, therefore, a condition not only for the revival of the welfare state, but also for ensuring Israel's democratic character.