The streets of Tel Aviv filled with young adults and their many supporters; tens of thousands of people came to protest. What brought them out onto the streets? Huge frustration over housing costs. The working middle class can no longer afford Israel's expensive house prices, especially in the Tel Aviv area and in Jerusalem. Other areas are also highly priced. The primary reason for this is a housing shortage. I used to say that living in Israel must be a mathematical miracle beyond our understanding; the salaries are half, and the taxes are double, while the cost of goods is higher. Despite all these difficulties affordable shelter is a basic necessity in society.
The Socialistic Response of the Left
It was not long before the leaders of the political left turned the protests into a call for socialistic remedies. These ideas included building public housing, subsidizing home buyers, increasing wages and redistributing income from the very rich. Sound familiar? Ironically, Israel's past Socialist policies are the primary reason for the problem.
The Economists Provide Solutions
Several economists have written fine articles in the Jerusalem Post with clear directions for a way forward. Here are some of their thoughts.
1. In Israel, most land is owned by the state and leased for housing that is purchased by the people. There is a great bureaucracy (read: expensive, slow, political) that hinders and delays the approval of housing projects. This process needs to be streamlined.
2. Israel cannot afford to build sprawling suburban type housing or it will lose its agricultural land and intensify commuting problems. Rather, there should be incentives to build high density housing in cities and properly zoned areas beyond the big cities. The private sector can build the housing if there is sufficient profit to make it worthwhile.
The Great Disparities of Wealth
The wider protests raise other issues for which there are no easy answers. The wealth of Israel is too concentrated in a small number of families. Conservative politicians, as well as liberals, are concerned about this. However, the socialistic solution where the government distributes, owns and controls everything destroys entrepreneurial vision and the needed leadership for businesses that expand the economy for all. Socialism has a wrong definition of justice, namely equality, which leads to the inability to reward effort, recognize gifting, and allow for income disparity. Equality is pushed so far that some do not even allow distinctions between sexes. Biblical justice is rooted in the idea of God's intended destiny for each person. Any policy or legislation that prevents the fulfillment of an individual's destiny is unjust. Equality is part of destiny with regard to opportunity and justice in the courts. Every person is of great value because they are created in the image of God.
The Rejection of the Idea of Social Justice
Some conservatives, however, mistakenly reject any idea of social justice. They argue for a society where all are able to live out a rugged individualism. Social justice is a biblically derived idea only when social justice is applied according to, and has its base in biblical principles. If Israel could discover the biblical teaching on social justice and apply it, it would be wonderful example for the whole world, but maybe we will have to wait until the Days of the Messiah.
The Bible and Social Justice
The Bible allows for people to trade, to diligently farm the land, to manufacture goods to be sold to others and more. That some will be rich and some of more modest means is an accepted result. However, the Bible provides some very clear guidelines for social justice.
First of all, biblical law prevents the great concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. The Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 stipulates that the land be redistributed every 50 years to the original families of ownership. So one may accumulate land and riches from its production, but only until the 50th year. Then new opportunity is brought to the larger society. In addition, loans are released every 7th year. Debt is one of the great means for getting rich by oppressing others in need. The Bible precludes this. There are laws requiring leaving the corners of the field and the gleanings for the poor. There is also a tithe every third year that is distributed to the poor. Just weights and measures were enjoined. In addition, families were responsible for taking care of their young and their old. Punishment for non-capital crimes emphasized making appropriate restitution plus a penalty amount. The Bible's laws of morality produced stable families that are a key to prosperity.
Applying the Bible to Modern Societies
Today, since we are no longer an agrarian society, we need to look at applying social justice principles in a very different context. Laws allowing for a new start through bankruptcy are parallel to the laws of forgiving debt in the Bible. One key for improving social justice is that those with wealth would be taxed if they put their money into shelters that only benefit them, but would be rewarded by investing in ways that expand the economy and bring financial benefit to both employees and investors. In addition, there can be taxes to provide for the truly needy - parallel to the poor tithe and leaving food in the fields.
We need to understand that expanding government agencies often swallow the very wealth that is intended for transfer to the needy; creative tax donations to charity could provide a way to channel the funds directly to those in need. Many of the poor will not overcome poverty without discipleship in skills and responsibility. The voluntary institutions that raise funds and implement programs to improve the lot of the needy are the best providers for many of the functions of a compassionate society. They can institute discipleship programs as well. This is why Yeshua following communities are a key - they can provide the discipleship that releases impoverished people from the thinking and habits that hinder their ability to prosper.
As an Israeli citizen, I hope that our country does not slip back to the stagnation of socialism, but finds dynamic solutions that are fitting for a more enterprising society. The Bible can provide guidance. Pray for Israel as we go through these struggles and pray for young Messianic Jews to take their part in society to help solve these problems. This is part of our witness.