American conservatives could learn from Israel

telavivReligious fundamentalists in the US have a favorite foreign country. They revere Israel, campaign there, and use it as a prop for fundraising. Their reverence for Israel might prove useful if they took the time to actually look at the place. Unfortunately the far right’s affection for Israel resembles certain other things they love, like market economics and the Bible, in that they know very little about it and refuse to learn more.

That’s a shame, because there are powerful lessons we could learn from Israel’s remarkable economic success and its growing internal political dysfunction. A reality-based look at Israel might bring some much-needed sobriety to the Republican Party.

The state of Israel was built on Socialism and was perhaps the earliest, most committed Marxist experiments outside of Russia. Early relations with the US were understandably tense and complex. The country’s first major ally was the Soviet Union and relations with the Soviets were strong until Stalin’s death.

The post-Stalinist Soviet government made allies of Arab-nationalists and for the next twenty years Israel had no firm international support. Relations with the US only started to warm significantly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War placed Israel solidly, though still awkwardly, in the global anti-Communist bloc.

Much like Western Europe, Israel since the ‘90’s has worked to dismantle the infrastructure of state socialism. That effort has led to a slow, but concerted privatization campaign and the liberalization of its laws on capital ownership and private enterprise. It has not, however, had a meaningful impact on the dense network of social support that the state has constructed.

Israel has a highly successful system of universal healthcare. Just like the US under “Obamacare,” they have a personal mandate requiring everyone to obtain insurance. Unlike the US, basic coverage is paid for through a tax surcharge collected through the authority that maintains the social safety net. Israel’s system costs of fraction of what we pay in the US, while delivering health care ranked among the best in the world.

Tax rates in Israel are very high, even in comparison to Western Europe. Those who earn more than the equivalent of about $200,000US annually pay the top marginal tax rate of 50%, in additional to social security and health insurance tax surcharges. When all of these charges are included, the top marginal rate is well over 60%. Israelis also pay a VAT of 18% on purchases. Capital gains rates can reach 50% for some transactions and corporate tax rates are 25%.

The social welfare system provides the poor with payments for food, transportation, housing and cash which are relatively generous compared to the US. About a quarter if Israeli households use the welfare system, about the same as in the US.

Abortion is legal in Israel, though a review committee must approve the procedure in each case. The review committee has historically approved 98% of requests. This year the government has further extended abortion rights by deciding to significantly expand state funding of abortions. That’s right, American fundamentalists whose religious freedom is supposedly destroyed because Obamacare provides contraception coverage are somehow untroubled that their aid money is indirectly underwriting Israeli abortions.

Though Israel’s abortion laws are among the most lenient in the world, Israel has very low abortion rates compared to the US and Europe.

Gay marriage in Israel is a practical reality through a sort of common-law marriage provision. The Israeli state does not provide any government-sanctioned marriage. Marriage law is a purely religious matter regulated by each religious community, but a civil union law grants same-sex couples equivalent rights.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal for more than twenty years. There have been no bans on gays serving in the military officially since the sixties. Women have always been permitted to serve in combat roles since before Israel was formally a state and women are subject to compulsory military service.

Taxes are high. Everyone gets health insurance. Gays are treated equally and abortion is safe, legal and rare. If Ted Cruz’s vision of the world makes any sense, this place should look a lot like North Korea (or even worse, France). In reality Israel has developed into a powerhouse of economic dynamism.

Israel hosts 60 companies on the NASDAQ exchange, more than any other foreign country except China. Technology you use for cell phones, virus protection, cutting edge health care and navigation all have roots there. Israel hosts major development centers for nearly every influential player in information technology. As recently as 2008, Israel attracted as much venture capital as Britain. Israel leads the world in per capita venture investment, entrepreneurship, and research & development spending.

A strong public education system, a tight social safety net, excellent public infrastructure, an aggressive effort to recruit immigrants, strong ties to the West, significant state support for research and development, and a solid base of property protections have contributed to Israel’s successful embrace of the modern knowledge economy. This progress has come in the face of daunting internal and external obstacles. Though Americans tend to be aware of Israel’s external challenges, the internal ones may be the most dangerous to this emerging super-economy.

Like the US, conservative politics in Israel is increasingly influenced by religious extremists. A rapidly growing community of ultra “Orthodox” Jews, Israel’s answer to the Amish, are challenging Israel’s liberal political establishment.

They are fundamentalist, poor, and thanks to a specialized curriculum, badly under-educated, leaving them largely incapable of functioning in a modern economy. They are driving a hardline foreign policy that keeps the country locked in constant military tension, yet they are exempt from national service.

The Orthodox community is a small but consolidated voting bloc that has been very successful in carving out concessions at the expense of the rest of the country. They are pushing Israel toward international confrontation while undermining the political liberalization and economic progress that has powered the country toward greater integration with the wider world.

Sound familiar?

American conservatives could learn from Israel’s success. Economic liberty, combined with a strong infrastructure, immigration, and a solid safety net are a fine formula for economic growth. We also have a lot to learn from Israel’s worst political problem. The religious extremists who are terrified by the modern world will destroy the personal freedom and prosperity that comes with a dynamic economy. There’s a lot to love in the Israeli experience if we have the stomach to view it honestly.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Health Care, Religious Right
93 comments on “American conservatives could learn from Israel
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  45. lomamonster says:

    Sabres are rattling right now in Washington against the President’s efforts to defuse another war in the Middle East. Quite frankly, I am terrified that calmer heads are not going to prevail and what advances we have made in negotiations with Iran are going to be scuttled out of pure spite from the right wing. Even some Democrats are on board on this one realizing that there is a promised veto should the President’s deal be interfered with by Congress.

    I am beginning to detest career politicians with a rage that transcends description. We do not want to go to war simply so they can keep their damn seats in Congress. They have ceased to represent us and we will suffer permanent debilitation from their ill thought actions – even to the point of losing our lives over them.

    I’m not ready to die for those idiots…

    • DanMan says:

      what advances? Rouhani tweeted in English that Kerry got rolled. Morsi confirmed Obama’s allegiance to the sunni MB and the Egyptians have had to correct that mistake on their own. Obama left Libya in such a vacuum that France had to go over and save Mali from the armed rebels Obama’s leading from behind emboldened there. Iraq is falling back into al-Qaeda’s hands. Iran sure appears to be advancing on several fronts. It also appears you have absolved Obama of any consequences related to his decisions or lack of. Who on the right is responsible for any of this if Obama isn’t? What do you perceive the right is advocating?

      • Texan5142 says:

        So tell us Dan the Richard, what should be done? Perpetual war in Iraq? Perpetual war in Libya? More dead American men and women fighting a war with no clear end? How would we pay for it? We are still paying for the screw up called the Iraq war. Are you willing to pay more in taxes to fund the wars? Do you have sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, that you are willing to sacrifice for the cause? Please tell us Dan the Richard, what is the answer?

        We eagerly await your solution to the problem.

      • DanMan says:

        resorting to insults to ask an opinion is a good way to get it back child, do you agree with lomamonster that Obama is winning in the middle east but for repub obstructionism?

      • lomamonster says:

        ” It also appears you have absolved Obama of any consequences related to his decisions or lack of. Who on the right is responsible for any of this if Obama isn’t? What do you perceive the right is advocating?”
        President Obama has not received any absolution from yours truly. He is simply responsible for a new, ongoing discourse with the leaders of Iran which may yield a peaceful resolution in the Middle East specifically if right wingers in Congress do not scuttle the negotiations through their obsessive desire to deny the President any success in leadership or credibility. For that stance, the right is advocating war, and I resent your implication that I have said anything else.

        If I put words in your mouth, you will surely know it.

  46. kabuzz61 says:

    1> If you do not have a Christian faith, you have no understanding of why Israel is supported by those that do.
    2> How come Syria has not returned any of the ‘Palestinian’ land back?
    3> Been covered, but the biggest portion of their taxes is used for military spending.

    Again, another hit that turned out to be a foul ball for Chris. Echo Chamber enter in 3,2,1…

  47. […] and Israel American conservatives could learn from IsraelReligious fundamentalists in the US have a favorite foreign country. They revere Israel, campaign […]

  48. Israel, at 6.2% of GDP, spends half again as much as we do on defense per capita. In fact, this rate of defense spending is higher than any other western democracy. The reasons for this level of defense spending should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, but it does explain to some extent Israel’s high taxes.

    Communism was a big hit with Western Jews from the git go. My maternal grandfather was, for instance, a member of the U.S. Communist party briefly during the early ’30’s. It’s no accident that Israel attempted to build a communist utopia. It’s also no accident that Israel has abandoned much of that nonsense; Israelis are nothing if not practical. The Kibbutz is nothing more than a quaint anachronism in modern Israel.

    It’s also no accident that Israel maintains a democracy dominated by the state rather than the individual. Picture life in America during WWII, and the intrusions of government on to individual freedom at that time, and you will have some inkling of what life is like in Israel *all the time*. Israel faces continuous existential threats from its neighbors; freedoms we take for granted are simply not possible in Israel. That’s not something we want to emulate by anything other than dire necessity.

    • John Galt says:

      It is worth pointing out that Israel actually spends 4.9% of its GDP on defense, not far off the 4.7% spent by the United States. The United States tops that up to the tune of 1.3% of Israel’s GDP (or $3.1 billion).

    • goplifer says:

      Your comparison to WW2 America makes intuitive sense, but it isn’t born out on the ground at all. Like JG points out, Israel’s defense spending is remarkably small compared to ours, when you sondier the level of readiness they maintain. Their military readiness hinges far more on the personal involvement of every Israeli adult than on mounds of cash.

      As a result, that military infrastructure is an enormous burden on productivity (virtually every adult takes time from their career for military service and remains in the reserves for most of their lives) which makes the country’s economic growth even more remarkable.

      And if you think back to the US in WW2, how many dynamic tech startups emerged from that atmosphere? How much startup activity, venture capital, foreign investment? The answer is somewhere around 0.

      Israel is a truly unique case that demonstrates some of the successes and failures of neo-liberal economics. Israel went from a sleepy agricultural state to a tech powerhouse by (partially) ending the old 20th century socialist model, privatizing major industries and reducing the overall footprint of the government in the market. What they did not do was dismantle the welfare state or significantly reduce taxes.

      They have an intensively communitarian culture that is also radically productive economically. That’s not supposed to be possible. Israel is worth a closer look.

    • John Galt says:

      Israel’s GDP is about $250 billion from its 8 million people. The GDP of greater Houston is $475 billion from its 6+ million people. That’s a pretty shocking wealth difference from what we consider to be an advanced Western democracy, but if you go to Israel it’s not hard to see. Parts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv look like modern first world cities. These parts have signs in Hebrew (and English). Parts, especially of Jerusalem, look like the outskirts of Rio. These parts have signs in Arabic.

      A few tech companies does not overcome the impoverished Arab population, the large numbers of itinerant Orthodox Jews (sorry, “highly religious scholars”) who largely do nothing but reproduce, and the burden of the military/security apparatus (which is largely necessary).

  49. DanMan says:

    oh my goodness where to start? how about here…”They are driving a hardline foreign policy that keep the country locked in constant military tension” eh, Israel’s enemies don’t really forward a compromise from their stated desire to drive all Jews into the sea.

    Pretty much like Obummer telling the GOP senators to get bent early on by saying “I won” and shoving through Obamacare with no negotiations. Like Hairy Reid not allowing any debate on budgets for five years.

    • John Galt says:

      The actions of the hard right in Israel, which keep the Palestinian territories in a perpetual purgatory impoverishes those people, enrages Muslims elsewhere, and is counter to what should be the principles of a democracy. Far from keeping Israel safe in the long run, it is the primary barrier to a permanent accommodation between Israel and the rest of its neighbors (bar the incorrigible Iranians, perhaps).

      • DanMan says:

        I recall in college a lot of middle easterners would change from being Palestinian to Jordanian depending on the news of the day. I think the whole pali deal is a muslim MacGuffin. The perceived struggle is more important than any resolution. Pretty much like amnesty is here.

      • flypusher says:

        Israel has much to answer for here, but it can be hard at times to dredge up sympathy for the Palestinians because of their so many bad choices. They have legit grievances, but often choose morally indefensible means of expressing them. They so badly needed a Ghandi or MLK, but followed Arafat instead.

      • DanMan says:

        yep, when the fake photos and staged demonstrations from AP and Reuters got exposed that showed the world what was going on. And Arafat socking all that money away in Europe. I’m not past believing there is some victimization but c’mon, believing in jihad for the sake jihad is kind of a dead end. It seems they had to know they were being used.

    • desperado says:

      S’matter, Danny Boy? Sparkle close up shop and leave all you ODS sufferers homeless?

      • DanMan says:

        Hey Craig, how’s life in the OCAW union? Your grandmother still beating you in arm wrestling?

        Sparkle spends her political time and energy on twitter now I guess. I guess like you she got tired of the opposition.

  50. DFC says:

    Bravo. Every word of this deserves the widest hearing. You’ve offered a prescription for the Right that they need to survive. The problem is that for millions of Conservatives and their leaders, it’s a principal prerogative of Conservatism that they NOT learn. It’s a foundational tenet that they don’t need to learn at all, that they’re good enough, wise enough and sufficiently knowledgeable already to see learning as a threat. If they learn they change. Change isn’t welcome. It’s evolution. It’s a moral failing. Learning for these people is a betrayal of Conservatism. People who demonstrate the ability–a Huntsman, a Portman, et al.–aren’t real Conservatives. If they change in response to evidence they’re turning their backs on the entire point of being Conservative.

    • Conversely, it’s a foundational tenet of the left is that one need not pay any attention to the lessons of the past whatsoever, or to human nature in general. Instead, a few brilliantly gifted progressive minds can simply craft a progressive utopia from whole cloth, ordering things the way a chosen few think they ought to be, rather than as things actually are. And even though the grand 20th century social experiments to that effect did not work out so well, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down the left’s efforts to transform America. Indeed, even with the debacle of Obamacare as a fresh case in point, the utopian ambitions of the left seem undimmed. In fact, it makes one question exactly who it is that is incapable of learning.

      The conservative looks at an imperfect society and starts from the notion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In fact, for many conservatives, even if something’s already a little broke, or even mostly broke, perhaps it’s best to just leave it be. The progressive, on the other hand, can’t tolerate anything less than platonic perfection, and thus proceeds to fix an imperfect society until it is hopelessly broke (both figuratively and fiscally). Perhaps to path to happiness lies somewhere in between.

      • DanMan says:

        Who’s this guy?? Excellent post Tracy.

      • Anse says:

        The problem with conservatives is that your standard of tolerance for imperfection is so high that it would leave a majority of citizens burdened and in the lurch if left unchecked. It’s ironic that politicians can routinely refer to half the population as moochers and “takers” and “parasites” without ever stopping to wonder if the system they’re trying to preserve–unregulated capitalism and the dismantling of the welfare state, a process that we’ve been going through for 30 years–is not at least partly to blame. Meanwhile, conservatives have an atrocious level of ignorance about history. How can you “pay attention to the lessons of the past” if your grasp of the past is so wholly and spectacularly clueless?

      • JakS says:

        You have been diagnosed with a terminal case of arrogance.

      • DanMan says:

        Anse tilting at strawmills or something…hey Anse, your perceptions of what conservatives are are pretty much MSNBC talking points. You have anything not scripted?

      • DFC says:

        Tracy, I’d say that your version of conservatism is simply the right to look around at your plantation, find it perfect, and leave it be.

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