The story isn't those who leave, but those who can't

Avi Temkin

If frustrated Israeli young professionals take the escape route, nothing will change for the really desperate.

In the uproar following Minister of Finance Yair Lapid's condemnation of young people who emigrate to Berlin, something has been forgotten, which is a pity. For twenty years, many of Israel's wealthy, and we are talking about very wealthy people indeed, have threatened to leave Israel every time someone proposes imposing higher taxes on their income and wealth. Sometimes the threat is to leave themselves, sometimes it's to transfer their business overseas.

I don't recall there being a minister of finance, prime minister, or former general like Uzi Dayan, who thought that there was anything inappropriate about these threats. It was part of the "modern economy", part of the rules of the globalization game: it's not a good idea to annoy the top 0.1%, because if you do they'll get up and leave. All the same, there were those who exercised the option, to a greater or lesser extent, and lo and behold, the Israeli economy continues to function.

The impression is that the outcry against the Israeli colony in Berlin basically represents shock at the fact that some of the lower orders are exploiting that same globalization in order to escape local game rules that seem unjust, or that do not hold out for them the prospect of the standard of living they expect. In general, they are educated employees at the start of their professional careers.

It should be remembered that many of those who today have become people aware of their socio-economic position were born to a generation of parents who considered themselves privileged, with steady jobs, pension rights and other social conditions, and a social system that assured them of a rising standard of living. Young people emigrating from Israel are trying to restore to themselves what their parents had. There is no sense in believing that any of these young people who decide to leave Israel should think of trying alternatives in Israel when no such alternatives exist.

In fact, emigration is a kind of private protest, accompanied by fulfillment of the threat to leave, just as with the top 0.1%. These young people are doing this without lobbyists, publicists, and pet members of Knesset. Some of the anger of those who leave is a refusal to play the role assigned to them; they are taking a step that most of the aristocracy of wealth and power see as meant for themselves alone.

But here we must ask whether an act such as emigration as a response to everyday pressures should really perturb the minister of finance and others in power. The alternative to emigration is to try to change things in Israel itself. This would be by means of organized labor, social protests, support for socially minded legislation, battles over the tax system, and other things like this that present a risk to power. Does Yair Lapid not see the usefulness of releasing pressure through the voluntary exile of a few thousand people? For otherwise, they would join the wave of subversive opposition to his doctrines and policies.

The economy's cannon fodder

Pointing out the alternative to emigration (improving the quality of life in Israel) is important, because it directs attention to the real casualties of the socio-economic situation in Israel: those who really cannot leave, the weakest in the labor market, those let down by the education system, victims of privatization, those paying the price of liberalization, the populations of the poverty stricken neighborhoods in the big cities. For all these people, emigration is not an option, and they will continue to be the cannon fodder of the Israeli economy, contract workers almost without rights, whose children in most cases will become contract workers like them in their turn. The country's economic and social mechanisms will ensure that.

The failure of those able to leave Israel to seek better lives to make common cause with those left behind has been the really sad story of Israeli society for decades. For the relevant moral aspect of the matter is their relinquishment of the protest and the struggle for something more just.

Those really entitled to express concern at the wave of departures are those left behind, the weakest in society left to fend for themselves in the teeth of Israel's so-called economic policy.

What could make those planning to leave stay is the knowledge that things can be changed at home. But in order to try to change things here we need those for whom Berlin does not await.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 9, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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