A few weeks ago I heard a report by attorney and peace activist Richard Goldwasser on the recent J Street mission to Israel. Mr. Goldwasser described a place in which, in his words, “everyone is pretty happy.” By “everyone” he meant Israelis and Palestinian residents in the West Bank, where the mission visited. He said the economy is in good shape, Palestinians are just waiting to get well enough capitalized to open new businesses, Israelis are content with the improved economic environment, and pretty much that the details still to be worked out on borders are the remaining sticking point.
It was kind of a jaw-dropping moment. It was pure gloss. And everyone in the room knew it. It seems that this cheerful front is designed to minimize the real difficulties–and the hardships caused by living in an economy on a permanent war footing, in a garrison state.
But now that the protests over economic hardship and privation within Israel are spreading, it’s hard to keep up the smiley image of a thriving and robust place where optimism reigns. Today’s New York Times reports that the popular demands for greater economic security, jobs, and affordable housing have spread within Israel. These protests are not being mounted by right-wing, ultra-Orthodox Jews who wish to seize Palestinian homes. These are just folks–many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union–who are struggling to maintain a decent standard of living, not looking to expand the state of Israel.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Can we have a decent society which takes care of the poorest among us, while spending billions on foreign wars? Can Israel meet the needs of its citizens while spending billions (mainly in U.S. military aid) on defending its expansionist settlements in the West Bank and Golan, and while relentlessly attacking Gaza?
(And PS: Here’s my question of the day: Why is it that President Obama can see this truth so clearly when it comes to Israel and its relationships with its surrounding neighbors and territories, but he can’t see it when it comes to the impact of our own endless wars on U.S. society and the U.S. economy?)