This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was just published this evening at Ynet, and republished here by the author’s consent. KGS
Economic Desintegration, Jews and Israel
In November it became known that the British government is preparing contingency measures for a collapse of the Euro. This includes being ready for the possibility that British travelers can no longer withdraw cash from banks abroad.1 This is just one small item shedding light on the major survival problems of the Euro.
Against this backdrop, many questions should also be asked about the economic and social consequences of the current major financial problems in Western societies. These are also of great importance for Israel as well for Jewish communities abroad.
The consensus forecast is that the coming years will show little if any economic growth in the Western world. Some forecasters claim that the entire coming decade will see economic stagnation. More radical voices speak about a lengthy recession or depression. To understand what economic shrinkage can mean for society, one can look at Greece, where the economy has contracted about ten percent over two years.
Such forecasts imply that for the first time since the Second World War, a generation is likely to grow up which will not be better off than its parents. Yet over decades many Westerners, and in particular Europeans, have sustained the mindset that improving your condition above that of your parents was something the government or society owed you.
Whether the Euro will be saved or not, the societies without growth will see increasing social tensions. Today we can only observe initial indications of the future, in particular when unemployment increases. Early extreme signs of this were street battles against the police in Athens or the intense riots in London and other British towns in August 2011.
There will also be greater political tensions. The various “Occupy” movements are indicators of this. There will be calls for redistribution of wealth in society and greater solidarity, more taxation of the rich and attempts to restructure the banking system. In other words, some will try to get a bigger part of the existing economic cake rather than work to make it grow. Such movements could enhance further economic shrinkage. The social tensions may also bring to the fore more extreme politicians.
All this is only indicative. It is too early to foresee in great detail what the various consequences of increased economic and social upheaval in the Western world will mean for Israel and the Jews. One signal is that the “Occupy” movements have attracted both anti-Israelis and anti-Semites. They will also jump at future opportunities to promote their messages of hate.
Traditionally, Jews have flourished in times of peace and growth. These periods enable people to use their skills well. Due to Jewish cultural traditions and lessons drawn from past persecutions, a significant number of Jewish may have a competitive advantage over others in society.
Unrest enables anti-Semites and other hate mongers to invent scapegoats responsible for societies’ ills. In such situations, Jew-haters also make more extreme statements. Recently the Secretary of the Belgian Socialist Teachers’ trade union Hugo Deckers warned Jewish schools in Antwerp of troubles he could cause them as a response to Israel’s actions against Palestinians.2 A Flemish pro-Palestinian former politician Bas Luyten, expressed his satisfaction about the beating of a thirteen year old Jewish schoolgirl by Muslim classmates.3 A few days ago, all of Luyten’s texts were removed from the website of the largest Flemish party N-VA from which he had been expelled last year.
The unrest in large parts of the Arab world will be an add-on to the economic problems of Western societies. Israel’s enemies will enhance accusations against it using the societal disintegration phenomena in Europe. Many, mainly from the European Left, may want to appease Arabs even more at the expense of Israel. All these are likely developments which Israel has to prepare for as quickly as possible.
The major consequence of the Western economic stagnation for Israeli exporters is that when clients abroad face difficulties, it becomes harder to sell them one’s products. Therefore, Israeli economic growth will also slow down. Yet another aspect is that many Israeli cultural activities and charities depend on foreign funding. They will most likely have to cut back their activities.
Another facet of all this is internal. In recent months, demonstrations have given many Israelis the illusion that a welfare state can be achieved by restructuring the economy. This is, in Israel’s present situation, entirely unrealistic. The Israeli government has so far withstood these demands competently.
In this opaque situation, there is one clear message for the Israeli government as well as for the economic and social players. They must follow developments around the world closely to see how one can mitigate the inevitable consequences.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 20 books. Several of these address European anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism.
- James Kirkup, “Prepare for Riots in Euro Collapse, Foreign Office Warns,” The Telegraph, 25 November 2011
- “ACOD topman bedreigt Joodse scholen omwille van stappen Israëlische regering,” Joods Actueel, 3 November 2011. [Dutch]
- http://brabosh.com/2011/11/25/pqpct-ev8/ [Dutch]