In 1985 my family moved to Israel for two years, playing our part in reclaiming a heretofore unclaimed portion of our Biblical patrimony. So, with 35 other young families, we co-founded the new community of Neve Aliza in Ginot Shomron (“Samaria Gardens”) in the heart of Samaria, the northern half of what is falsely misnomered as the “West Bank.” Neve Aliza since has grown by 600%, with Ginot Shomron likewise now comprising part of greater metropolitan Karnei Shomron. Karnei Shomron now has a population of some 8,000 people, approximately the population of Malibu or Sedona, Arizona. Israel-haters call it a “West Bank settlement.”
In those years, Israel was governed primarily under socialist economic principles. Always a democracy, Israel’s governing institutions nevertheless were founded by deeply non-religious and even anti-religious secular socialists who had fled Tsarist Russia in the late 1800s. For half a century, until the Menachem Begin earthquake election of 1977, Israel was governed by coalitions led by the leftist Labor Party. They had built the socialist kibbutzim (agricultural socialist collectives) that the liberal media idealized. These were the darlings of the leftist-liberal media during Israel’s nascent years, names like Ben-Gurion, Rabin, Dayan, Golda Meir. Leftist socialists all.
Today, and for the past several decades, Israel’s kibbutz movement and socialism is all but dead. That is why socialist Bernie Sanders has led the way incorporating anti-Israel policies into the Democrat party. Today’s Israelis despise and reject socialism (outside their academia, mainstream media, and entertainment industry — sound familiar?). The leftist Labor Party is in shambles. Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-conservative Likud coalition reigns.
(Meanwhile, to this day America gets as much or more monetary and military strategic value from its investments in Israel’s defense as it spends. Typically, most American military defense allocations towards Israel must be spent on American-made parts and materiel. American weapons then are battle-tested against Soviet arms, and Israel thereupon shares lessons learned in battle with the American defense establishment and their contractors. Modifications then are made, often with upgrades devised by the Israelis themselves, and that assures American military superiority over Soviet/Russian weapons. That is why, although Israel historically has been opposed by the Deep State within the U.S. State Department (with brief breathers under three great pro-Israel Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and George Shultz under President Reagan, and now Mike Pompeo), Israel always has enjoyed enormous support within the U.S. Defense Department.)
- Economic and Television Socialism
When we arrived in Israel in 1985 the first forty years of ingrained state socialism, dating to the country’s founding in 1948, still was proving hard to extirpate. Menachem Begin’s election in 1977 had brought Israel’s first non-leftist government into power, but he was thwarted throughout by the Deep State bureaucracy that had formed over decades. Deep State moles with lifetime government-tenured jobs were embedded, working night-and day to sabotage his democratically elected government. Like the “anonymous” op-ed columnist in the New York Times, they slow-walked and subverted superiors’ orders.
I had graduated from Columbia University in 1976 with a degree in political science. Thus, I had read virtually everything that Karl Marx ever wrote. Although my professors loved the guy, those readings had cemented me as virulently anti-Marx. I mostly kept my mouth shut in class, parroted back on final exams what I was supposed to write, and got good grades. I also learned, to my surprise, that Karl Marx actually was not a Jew and in fact had been viciously anti-Semitic. He despised the Jewish religion. His parents had been born as Jews but converted to Christianity when his father, a lawyer, could not get work because of anti-Semitism in Germany. So Karl developed a hatred for all religion, seeing it as an artificial construct by which societies discriminate, and he particularly despised the religion that his father abandoned to make a living. Columbia left me well-studied in Marxist theory.
The Israel into which I moved for two years still was predominantly socialist. This would not change until Israel’s greatest economic hero, Benjamin Netanyahu, would become Finance Minister and implement the great capitalist revolution that finally transmogrified and zoomed Israel into an American-style capitalist economy. But that was still years away. The credo was: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” So if you earned a great deal but did not really need all you earned, they would tax you enough to leave you with what you need, and they would distribute the rest to others. My friend, Bobby B., told me back then: “No matter what your income, assume you will come home with $7,000 a year. They have it figured out that $7,000 is what each family here needs.”
I soon learned how far the Socialist Government wisdom extended.
To encourage Israelis not to be materialistic, the Labor Socialist government “Big Brother” did not penalize what they believed youneeded… but they double-taxed what they felt you greedily wanted. I still remember these examples from back in 1985: For a washing machine — no penalty. The government agrees you need a washing machine. But for a dryer, a 100% surtax — go hang your clothes with wood pegs on a line. For a refrigerator — no penalty. But for a freezer, a 100% surtax. For a television — no penalty. But for a VCR (remember those?), a 100% surtax: you do not need to watch videos. For corn flakes — no penalty. But for Rice Krispies — a 100% surtax. There was a tax for having a radio in your car; the Labor Socialist left saw no need for you to listen to radio while driving.
I had been forced to study socialism on an undergraduate level at Columbia’s Ivory Towers. Now I was getting my graduate degree in real life.
I started to see how people live in actuality under socialism. They cheat. Under socialism, everyone cheats like crazy— Arabs, Jews, Christians. Everyone. Can you even can call it “cheating” when everyone does it? The car salesman would offer to reposition the radio so that it fits in the glove compartment. That way, if a cop stops you for a traffic infraction he won’t notice you have a radio, so you can avoid the car-radio tax. People would beg families and friends visiting from abroad to please bring a box or two of Rice Krispies and, pretty please to sneak a VCR in their luggage. (Dryers and freezers were too heavy to pack.)
One of the laws barred anyone from having a bank account in American dollars. (The inflated Israeli currency at the time was spiraling out of control.) So people would gather American dollars, collecting them as though each was a 1955 Lincoln double-die-obverse penny, and they would hide them under floor tiles. It was crazy. The ban set off such acraze to own dollars that there developed a wild black market for dollars. Israel’s three daily newspapers each would publish every day on their front pages that morning’s going rate for buying dollars from shady dealers on the street. (“Psst! Chabibi (Pal) — Vant ah Vashingtohn?”) It even got to the point that the wife of the Prime Minister of Israel used her time in D.C. in the mid-1970s, when her husband had been Israel’s Ambassador to America, to open an American bank account and to hoard dollars. The Israeli media broke the story, and the Prime Minister had to resign. It got so nutty that an Israeli Finance Minister proposed that Israel use the American dollar as that country’s legal tender instead of the shekel.
In those pre-cable-TV days, the Socialist Government also controlled television. Here in America, we had maybe seven television stations. In Israel, there was only the one Government-approved station. They televised what they felt was good for you to watch while digesting your government-subsidized corn flakes, bread, and milk. Castor oil for the soul. To encourage closer Jewish-Arab coexistence, they set aside an hour or two each early evening for Arabic-only programming. Jews did not watch because, among other things, we did not understand the language. So there was no TV those hours, and the VCRs were being double-taxed to keep you glued to your television. Consequently, virtually every Jew in Israel would install a specially designed antenna that was capable of drawing in the TV signal from neighboring Lebanon, our mortal warring enemy but ally in American TV reruns. In those days, Maronite Christians dominated in Southern Lebanon. (They since have been uprooted and destroyed by the Arab Muslims of Hezbollah, just as Arab Muslims have uprooted and destroyed most remaining Christian communities throughout the Middle East.) They had a TV station owned and operated by Pat Robertson’s Christian network. Although that station broadcast Christian programming several hours daily, each night they showed reruns of certain American TV shows. For the Jews of Israel, we thus had a choice each night between American reruns from Pat Robertson in Lebanon or Government-approved wholesome movies alternating with Government-approved wholesome talk shows featuring screaming-and-hollering leftist socialist professors approved by the Socialist Labor government’s television politburo. The last straw: one night, after an unusually stressful workday, all they telecast was a two-hour science documentary on “Frogs, Snakes, and Turtles.” With my visiting friend Dan, I alighted the roof, learned how to affix an antenna, and in no time we were watching, thanks to Christian broadcasting from South Lebanon, reruns of Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team. Pat Robertson added years to my rocky first marriage. My rooftop television antenna bypassed the Leftist Kibbutz Socialists. I love it when a plan comes together.
- Health Socialism
We all likewise were on socialized state medicine. We were the laboratory for Obamacare. You had their doctor. Their health plan. You could choose from among a small number of political-party-affiliated health plans. But, really, it all was the same. Two images stand out these three decades later:
Whenever any of our family had to go to the doctor for any reason, we always saw this same elderly couple among patients in the waiting room. I once asked the doctor about them. He explained: “Oh, they are perfectly healthy. They just like to come by every day. Since it costs them nothing, and the Government pays for their doctor’s visit, why not?”
My other memory — far more serious. There was an outbreak in our community of Hepatitis A. Recall that we 35 young families were building a new community. There were pools of dirty water and sludge at certain construction junctures. Some laborers occasionally relieved themselves of body excrement in those two areas, and there eventually was a Hepatitis A outbreak. It spread in the community. The indicated vaccine to protect against Hepatitis A was gamma globulin. Everyone sought the vaccine. The doctors explained, however, that the Government saved money under socialized universal healthcare by restricting who may receive a gamma globulin vaccine. Under the guidelines of Labor Leftist socialized medicine, the gamma globulin vaccine could not be administered until the percentage of local residents who contracted Hepatitis A reached a certain percentage of the population. As soon as the required number of outbreaks was reached, he could administer the vaccines. He assured us — small comfort — that we soon would hit the outbreak threshold, raising us to “Epidemic” status, and then everyone could be vaccinated. Socialized medicine, universal healthcare — when the Government cares for you.
So we endured this grim daily nightmare, waiting each day to learn who next would be infected. Only 18 more to go. Only 13 more. Only 9. Only 7.
My friend and neighbor, Dan, flew his entire family to America to visit with his parents —and to get everyone a gamma globulin injection. Others who could afford to do so hired private doctors, paying in black-market American dollars, for the vaccine. And those who, like most of us, could not afford private care in an economy where the cost of government health care led to such high taxes that we had no spare cash, just waited. Only 4 more to go.
Someone very dear to me was one of the last three to get infected before the magic “epidemic” number was hit. That person got hit with it hard. It was not life-imperiling, but it was debilitating for several months. That person had been earning a very good salary, was a star employee at that company. For the next several months that person no longer could work. Under the impact of Hepatitis A, that person could not make the long commute, work the long hours. After consuming vacation days and sick days, that star performer was terminated. That person’s income ended. The family was financially devastated.
- Learning Not to Work
I am an enormously hard worker. I may not accomplish anything, but I devote 18 hours daily to it. Even now, I am full-time rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue congregation, adjunct professor of law to 175 students every year, a practicing attorney and legal consultant, ongoing personal and career mentor to dozens of my former law students, Senior Rabbinic Fellow and West Coast Regional Vice President of Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest rabbinic public policy organization in America, am a pretty heavily booked public speaker, deeply active within the Rabbinical Alliance of America and the Rabbinical Council of America, and I contribute written op-ed commentary on a regular basis to two respected publications. I find the time by: (i) not sleeping and (ii) no longer watching or even following NFL football, a forty-year passion I promised to drop last year if Roger Goodell did not fix the sport’s national anthem disgrace. (He did not, so I did: promise made, promise kept.)
I always have been this way — except for one year: mid-1984 through mid-1985. The magic of socialism.
In Israel I immediately was hired to teach at a special high school serving American-born teen exchange students. I was forced, against my will, to join the leftist socialist Histadrut union. I refused. They told me: “Then you cannot teach here.” I said: “So I will teach somewhere else.” They accurately retorted: “If you do not join the Histadrut union, you will not be able to teach anywhere in the Israeli public education system.” So I joined the Histadrut union.
I was hired to teach two subjects. Within four months, management felt that I had emerged so uniquely among the faculty that they promoted me to “Assistant Director” of the entire program. Wow! Yay!
But I got no pay raise. I asked why no increment; my workload had doubled. They explained: “You don’t need more. But your ability allows you to do more.” Just as Marx the Anti-Semite had written: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Adding insult to injury, I got a letter in the mail after the school year ended: You’re fired!
So I was back in the office: “You never increased my pay. You doubled my workload and responsibilities. You told me I am a superstar here. Why did you fire me?”
Response: “Calm down. Take a seat, Dov. Would you like a cup of tea? How about a cookie? These are very good — my wife just baked them. You’re not really fired. Don’t you know how it works here? Under union rules, if we rehire you, even once, then you have lifetime tenure, and we never can change your status. The union won that demand. So now we simply fire everyone annually. And then we allow everyone to reapply for a ‘new job.’ We then hire for a year. Then we fire again. Then you re-apply, and we hire you again. So you’re not really fired. I can even hire you for your new job right now while you have your cookie. I can even give you the Assistant Principal job again.”
That ended that. To heck with the Histadrut union. I burned my union card just as my Columbia classmates had burned their draft cards.
Soon I was working energetically at three new teaching jobs, all college level. I noticed that each employer was withholding income taxes at different rates. I learned that, for my second employer, since I already had one income, the second income had to be taxed prohibitively because the socialist Government determined that I don’t really need that much extra money. And the third employer taxed at an even more prohibitive rate for the same reason. I did some math and saw that my third job’s net income no longer was worthwhile. Then, upon calculating costs of commuting and childcare costs attendant to my second job, I saw that the second job’s net after taxes also was useless. So I quit that one, too. A friend soon told me: “Well, if you look at it that way, it doesn’t pay to work at your first job either because, if you have no income, the socialist social net will pay you almost as much as you net from that.” It was true.
I voluntarily went onto unemployment. Started collecting whatever they had — what Obama would call “entitlements.” It really did not pay to work. The system would not let me advance anyway, so the heck with it. As required, I paid occasional visits to the government employment office where their life-tenured second-rate employment “experts” quickly determined that I have no skills, am unemployable. They would check off a box and offer me a cookie. One day my next-door neighbor, Seymour, asked me whether I ever had read anything by “Anne Rand.” I said, “Nope, never heard of her.” He was flabbergasted: “You graduated Columbia University with a degree in political science, and you never heard of Anne Rand?” So he lent me his copy of Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand’s We the Living.
I could not put it down. OMG! — this was exactly what I had been living, what socialism is. I researched her; she had changed her name from Alisa Rosenbaum, a “member of the tribe.” I skipped Fountainhead and jumped right into Atlas. By the end of page ten million, after that six-million-page radio broadcast, I knew the answer: I am John Freaking Galt!
And that was how two years of living under socialism made me a capitalist.
Rabbi Dov Fischer is a contributing editor of The American Spectator.
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Author: Dov Fischer