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Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's the Ecomomy Stupid or What I Learned in Law School About the Israeli Revolution

Something occurred to me early this morning as I was about to set out on my Sunday long run. As I was reflecting on the protests in Israel and trying to keep my mind off the 17 miles ahead of me, I thought about the first line from Yonathan commenting about people asking where the Israeli left has been. I've been asking myself that question for some time and thought I had perhaps discovered part of the answer when I was in Israel this spring. I concluded from what I saw that because the standard of living was pretty high and terrorism was almost non-existent, that Israelis figured why take any risks on the Palestinian front.

Yet, it was the most affluent people I had met with that were the ones who saw the urgency of the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians. But this fact didn't really register with me until this morning. So when I was addressing a group of people last Tuesday night who wanted to know why Israelis didn't see the urgency of a two-state solution, I gave my standard answer. The problem was that I had also just told the group about the waves of protests sweeping Israel and that young couples couldn't afford to rent a decent home. At least I know they were paying attention, because they suggested that my answer didn't explain why the protesters weren't forming movements demanding a two state solution. I acknowledged the point, but offered a former law professor's explanation of the "Golden Rule." He who has the gold makes the rules. But this still didn't explain why 150,000 Israelis who were in the streets had not been engaged in pushing the peace process forward.

And then this morning it hit me. The same law professor also explained Hobbesian political theory. As long as the government can occupy people with the struggle to earn a living (known in the American Declaration of Independence as the "pursuit of happiness"), then the government will have a free hand to exert its control.

Apparently it's been the case in Israel. With the younger generation of Israelis struggling to pay for housing, healthcare, and an education, their efforts were directed at trying to earn a living and the Palestinian conflict took a back seat. There are certainly other reasons (the Second Intifada, the myth of there being no Palestinian partner, and certainly the recent calm). But it should come as no surprise that when Israelis hit the streets to call for reform it was for social justice.

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