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Ben-Gurion University
Social Protest Hijacked by Radical Academics? BGU Yossi Yonah: “Wholesale destruction” of Israel’s social policy in the past two decades

Professor Yossi Yonah, the co-chair of the Alternative Experts Committee unveiled an interim report which laments the “wholesale destruction” of Israel’s social policy in the past two decades. Such a conclusion was all but expected because the social protest movement has took a turn to the left when a group of academic volunteers persuaded the young protest leaders that the government- appointed Trajtenberg committee should not be trusted. Among those who have pushed for the Alternative committee are some radical Israeli academics.

· Professor Yossi Yonah, co-chair of the alternative committee, is a former member of the Communist party who co-founded, with Yehuda Shenhav, the Sephardic Rainbow Coalition that took up the banner for “national, ethnic and gender distributive justice and equality.” Shenhav and Yonah left in protest when the Coalition refused to condemn the Israeli occupation and the killing of 13 Arabs at the onset of the Second Intifada. Yonah has pursued his ideas while serving as a professor of education at Ben Gurion University, where he has pioneered a novel multicultural agenda for Israel. He claims that Israel is a “tyranny of [Jewish] majority” which discriminates against minorities “saliently and systematically.” To redress this discrimination, Yonah wants to decrease the Jewish character of the state by abolishing the Law of Return, granting Israeli Arabs cultural autonomy, expanding minority “narratives” and consolidating the commemoration of the Holocaust, the Memorial Day and Nakba Day into one event, among others.

· Daniel Filc, who chairs the health section, heads the Department of Government at Ben Gurion University and a is a fellow in the radical Minerva Center at Tel Aviv University. A leading neo-Marxist, Filc has been a harsh critic of Israel’s rule in the territories, while finding Hamas to be reasonable and moderate. In a book dedicated to “exposing and analyzing the forms of injustice, inequality, and inhumanity that take place in my country,” Filc endorses the Arab Peace Initiative that calls for a complete withdrawal from the territories, including East Jerusalem and return of the Palestinian refugees. Under Filc’s expansive view of justice Israeli Arabs would be granted cultural autonomy and be compensated for past discrimination through “redistribution of resources.” He wants foreign workers to receive “social citizenship” and their Israeli-born children full Israeli citizenship.

· Adi Ophir, the head of the Minerva Center, has distinguished himself by virulent attacks on Israeli leaders and society. In his philosophical discourse Ophir places the Holocaust and the Israeli occupation of Palestine within the same ontology of evil. He also holds that Palestinian violence, including that of Hamas, is a form of a legitimate revolt against a foreign occupation. As a political activist, Ophir has been involved in scores of initiatives; he co-signed the Olga Declaration of 2004 which accuses Israel of constructing an apartheid system enhanced by a brutal military occupation and calls the right of return for the Palestinians. Ophir has participated in numerous appeals to foreign governments to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians and supported imposition of sanctions. On one occasion he even envisaged a NATO bombing raid on Israel to dislodge it out of the territories.

· Oren Yiftahel, a political geographer at Ben Gurion University, was one of the first to “prove” that Israel is an apartheid state. In the early 1990s, a group of Israeli and Palestinian activists decided to use the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) strategy which proved successful in ending apartheid in South Africa, to force Israel out of the territories. Widely disseminated, Yiftahel’s work has been used to legitimize BDS against Israel.

The protest movement was directed by Shatil, one of the NGOs supported by the radical New Israel Fund. Shatil’s director, Yitzhak Galnoor, a Hebrew University professor who chairs the public administration section of the Alternative Experts, is a harsh critique of privatization. He spent the better part of the last two decades fighting privatizations by empowering the so-called Third Sector, Non-Profit Associations (NPAs) as an alternative to private enterprise. Shatil disclosed that by working largely behind the scenes, it managed to transform what was essentially a housing protest into a broad move for change: The ultimate goal is to force the State to reverse “two decades of relentless privatization and the wholesale abandonment of the welfare state.”

Given the radical background of many of the Alternative Experts, it comes as no surprise that they have an “alternative view” of economic reality. Yossi Yonah declared that a “banana republic is developing before our astonished eyes. Good economic policy is not only measured in terms of GDP per capita, low inflation or reduction in unemployment rates.” Ironically, Standard & Poor has recently upgraded Israel’s rating from A to A+, citing its prudent fiscal policies. The same agency downgraded the triples A rating of the United States because of its ballooning national debt, forcing a bipartisan acknowledgment that Medicaid, Medicare and other welfare benefits would need to be cut.

While hoisting the banner of social justice on their mast, Yonah and his colleagues are reluctant to disclose some the real reasons behind the considerable economic disparity in Israel. As leading economists have demonstrated, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs- two demographic groups characterized by high fertility rates and low participations in the labor market- have significantly skewed statistical measures of equality. No responsible person would argue against providing remedies for this virtually intractable problem, but a return to the halcyon days of socialism is not an option. The protest leaders are too young to remember when Israel- plagued by triple digit inflation, a high unemployment rate and a virtual default on its foreign debt - was a true “banana republic. ”

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