This is no longer Israel. A profound, internal, existential crisis has arrived. It stems in part from the changing nature of the country, more right wing, more restrictive, far less liberal, and far less egalitarian. Many moderate Israelis fear the country is heading for ruin. Indeed, the country’s ruling class, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert (now on trial for corruption) and Ehud Barak (a former head of the Labor Party and current defense minister), live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. In Tel Aviv, where some 350,000 gathered in protest, a widespread chant, set to a popular children’s ditty, was “Bibi has three apartments, which is why we have none.”
Tent cities popped up as the demonstrators—20- to 45-year-olds, with a healthy contingent of older people—rallied against nonprogressive taxation, low wages, and the high cost of housing and consumer goods, which have made it nigh impossible for families to make ends meet. A full 20 percent of Israelis (and 15 percent of Israeli Jews) live under the poverty line, and the top decile of Israel’s population earns 31 percent of the country’s total net income. The lowest decile earns a mere 1.6 percent. Last year Israel was elected to membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of the world’s 32 most-developed countries. Among them, Israel ranks as one of the worst (alongside Mexico and the United States) in terms of wealth polarization.