David Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave

Thousands of Israelis are camping out on the nation’s streets, protesting over the country’s acute shortage of affordable housing. Reading through a useful story from JTA, I was struck by this comment:

“What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It’s one of the few issues that cuts across all political spectrums,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist.

He noted that in Israel it’s unusual for socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues.

Netanyahu “is definitely nervous,” Lehman-Wilzig said, “and he should be nervous.”

Here, in three sentences, is the explanation for the collapse of Israel’s Labor Party. Founded by David Ben-Gurion as Mapai, an acronym for “Israel Worker’s Party,” it built the social democratic foundations of the country’s welfare state. But it now lacks any coherent philosophy. A few years ago, Ehud Barak followed his election as party head by buying a multimillion dollar condo in Tel Aviv.

Why do tends of thousands of working-class Mizrahi and Russian Jews vote Likud or Shas? Because Labor gives them nothing to vote for. Now, when thousands march for affordable housing, what passes for the Israeli “left” has nothing to say. Ben-Gurion and the rest Israel’s founders would be appalled.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.