Failing in the Test of Progress

I differ with the views of Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, on many fronts. I never voted for him or for his party, mostly because I believe that his policies around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are harmful to Israel. As is evident from election results in recent years, and from the fact that he’s the second-longest serving prime minister in the country’s history, my opinions are obviously those of the minority of Israelis.

However, I would like to believe that on one aspect of Netanyahu’s long tenure there is broader consensus. In the past seven years Netanyahu pursued an economic policy that, while keeping Israel’s economy relatively stable in a period of global economic dire straits, has widened social and economic inequality in Israel to unprecedented and alarming levels.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Israel now holds the ignominious first place in poverty levels among OECD countries. The income gap between the top and bottom percentiles is 14x, compared with a 9x OECD average. The sharp increase in real estate in recent years led to a home ownership rate of 38% in the bottom percentile, compared with 84% in the top percentile.

There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs. But there is wide consensus that the foremost reason for the rise in living costs causing these gaps is the concentration of economic assets in the hands of a few individuals and families. Netanyahu not only did not fight this centralization; he actively sought to strengthen it. The recent natural gas framework agreement he so doggedly pushed through government and parliament (and is now defending at the Supreme Court) is only the most recent example.

Netanyahu strengthened the rich at the expense of the poor. He neglected to heed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s warning and, in doing so, stunted the progress of many Israelis. And for this, history will not forgive him.


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