By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
This is one of the catchphrases that has come into general use in different forms in the wake of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. I’m thinking of it as I read yet another respected credit rating agency (Fitch) expressing confidence in Israel’s economy.
An important reason why Binyamin Netanyahu has remained prime minister for so many years is Israel’s economic stability. Though he may not be mentioned by name in the Fitch report together with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and the Governor of the Bank of Israel Dr. Karnit Flug the Israeli public is bound to give him much of the credit. If his government will also manage to make housing more accessible to those who need it most, he’ll be praised even more.
Israel’s growing trade and cooperation with China, India, Singapore and other countries in the Far East also reflects success. Hinted trade and security links with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States may also be a factor. And, of course, Israel is still the start-up nation.
The prime minister is making good use of all this to assure us that those who voted for him made the right decision. The clumsy attempts by the opposition in the Knesset to challenge him occasionally and to imitate him increasingly seem only to reassure Israelis that they’re in good hands. Netanyahu would probably get re-elected had we had to go to the polls again today.
And when current disputes over the monopoly of the natural gas resources will be settled, Israel will be self-sufficient and even able to export to neighbours until solar and wind energy – fields in which Israel is also very active – will replace much of oil and gas.
One way of measuring the county’s prosperity is by the number of Israelis who vacation abroad. Passover is a particularly busy time. Security considerations may have kept away some tourists coming to Israel, but the number of Israelis visiting other countries seems to be increasing.
The gap between rich and poor is growing, but the poor aren’t likely to rebel because they’re probably not worse off now than they were before Netanyahu was in power. Together with the poverty among the ultra-Orthodox (due largely to their large families and the reluctance of the men to work for a living), many Arabs are among the disadvantaged. On average, however, they’re still better off in Israel than their kinsfolk in the Palestinian Authority or in other Arab countries.
I heard Israel’s tourism minister say the other day that about 1000 Jordanians come to work in Israeli hotels every day, because salaries here are better than in Jordan. (Had Israel allowed the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers it currently holds in detention centres nearby to work, it wouldn’t need to import Jordanians. But that’s a story for another time.)
Though the media have had much to say of late about the astronomic salaries (at least by Israeli standards) that top bank and others executives are getting, people here don’t seem to blame the government for it or use it as a way of demanding better conditions for themselves.
Despite the fear of terrorism at home and the criticism of Israel abroad reputable surveys show that the majority of Israelis say they’re very happy here. The economy may not be the decisive factor in determining wellbeing but it certainly plays a part.