Talk about your tired Socialism:

Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister and former socialist labor leader Amir Peretz criticizing a wealthy citizen for being charitable because it's the job of the state, and only the state, to help individuals who need it? Sheesh!

Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday blasted business tycoon Arkady Gaydamak for financing a free weekend in Eilat for 800 residents of the rocket-battered western Negev town of Sderot.

"The state of Israel does not allow rich men and philanthropists to gain control from the distress of citizens," said Peretz. "This phenomenon cannot continue. We will prepare an organized and established plan to alleviate these residents so they will not need to knock on the doors of philanthropists."

One thing I've noticed in my frequent contacts with Israel and Israelis (being married to an Israeli) is that the Israeli state managed to severely damage the philanthropic impulse that once dominated Jewish life. A combination of statism taught in public schools, combined with the prevalent (and understandable) idea that one is owed something by the state after years and years of military service, has led many Israelis to conclude, completely contrary to Jewish tradition, that charity and volunteerism is for suckers. You can see how the attitude of folks like Peretz doesn't exactly help.

Milton Friedman on Israel and Jewish Support for Socialism:

David Bernstein's post on the excesses of Israeli socialist ideology remind me of Milton Friedman's 1972 essay, "Capitalism and the Jews: Confronting a Paradox," (I haven't been able to find an online link, but it's available in Kurt R. Leube ed., The Essence of Friedman at 43-57 (1987)). Friedman addressed the interesting question of why Jews tend to be hostile to capitalism and sympathetic to socialism despite the fact that, historically, Jews have been most successful and most tolerated in those societies where free markets and civil society were relatively unfettered, and suffered most from anti-semitism in highly socialized and statist economies (worst of all under Soviet socialism and, of course, Hitler's National Socialism).

He argues that Jewish support for socialism was partly a reaction to the fact that in 19th and 20th century Europe, the right-wing parties tended to be nationalistic and anti-semitic, so that Jews were naturally drawn to their political opponents (at the time mostly socialists and statist liberals). More interestingly, Friedman suggests that Jewish socialism was in part a reaction to the stereotype of the Jew as a greedy capitalist, an attempt to "prove" the stereotype wrong. He specifically references Israeli attitudes as the most extreme manifestation of this mentality. And in fact early socialist Zionist ideology emphasized the need to reject the stereotypes associated with Diaspora Jews; socialist Zionists called for what they called "Negation of the Diaspora." They especially decried the association of Diaspora Jews with trading and capitalist commercial enterprise, but also (to a lesser extent), private philanthropy and civil society organizations of the kind foolishly denounced by Israel's socialist Defense Minister Amir Peretz, quoted in David's post.

Despite Peretz's idiotic comments, my impression is that "Negation of the Diaspora" and its associated anti-capitalism is a less powerful force in Israeli political culture today than it was early in the state's history. Hopefully, attitudes like Peretz's are on the way out.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Milton Friedman and Israel:
  2. Milton Friedman on Israel and Jewish Support for Socialism:
  3. Talk about your tired Socialism:
More on Milton Friedman and Israel:

Building on Ilya's last post, I remember reading a funny story about a visit by Milton Friedman to Israel in the 1970s, which may or may not be aprochryphal. To understand the story, you need the following background information: First, Israel traditionally has had a five and a half day workweek. Second, in the 1970s many Israelis worked for state-owned enterprises, which, due to a combination of stifling labor union rules imposed by the hegemonic Histadrut labor federation and typical bureaucratic ineptitude and slothfulness, didn't pay very well, but required very little effort from employees (like the old Soviet joke: we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us).

According to the story (to the best of my recollection), Friedman, in Israel, is talking to a large group of business, labor, and political leaders. One of the business leaders gets up and asks, "Professor Friedman, what do you think of the idea of following the lead of the United States, and having our employees work five days a week?" Friedman responds, "I think that's much too drastic a step and will upset labor-management relations! Instead, why don't you start by getting your employees to work one day a week, and then, over time, ratchet it up to two, then three; eventually, over many years, maybe you can get them to work five days a week!"