The global meltdown and its consequences for Israel

Freedman is worried about Israel, and so am I. And I’m also worried about America — about the effect of the combination of an economic crunch with the highly polarized state of our society, as exemplified by the (so far) verbal extremism of some partisans of our presidential candidates. The anti-Semitism that has been reported is just a symptom that some of the rules, written and unwritten, that have kept our politics relatively civilized in recent years may be breaking down.

By Shalom Freedman

We have entered a period of financial and possibly political turbulence which presents great dangers for Israel and the Jewish people. The global financial bust has its center in the United States, and there there has been a collapse of the investment and credit system the like of which has not been seen before. But the decline in financial markets is global and has hit also the Islamic and Arab worlds. Their sovereign funds are heavily invested in the stock markets of the world. Along with this there has been a steep decline in the price of energy meaning the revenues of Iran and Russia are going to precipitously decline. This is potentially disastrous for  regimes which are likely dependent on the export of this one product for their political life.

Political instability often follows major economic crises. The dangers for Israel are manifold. On the one hand the one tool often used by non-democratic regimes is the shifting of focus from the internal to the external. As the Iranians already are committed to exporting their revolution, and as a catastrophic Messianic scenario guides the thought of their President Ahmadinejad, there is a great possibility they would turn to the distraction of violence. Their surrogates, certainly Hezbollah and also Hamas can open a war with Israel at any second. And their close ally Syria might be there in the bargain.

Another danger for Israel relates to the stability of the two regimes it has some kind of working relationship with, Jordan and especially Egypt. Here it should be noted that the world wide economic decline will hit the poorest societies the hardest.

The danger of war for Israel comes at an especially unfortunate time. Because of the economic crisis the US will be even more eager than it is now to pull its troops out of Iraq. It will be extremely reluctant to intervene anywhere.

Russia, which suffers from demographic and health problems of disastrous proportions, after its heady boon and great wealth spurt with the energy price spike, also faces a period of economic turbulence. However, it refuses to yield on its global and especially Middle East ambitions, has been supplying weaponry to Syria and would presumbably back it in any future confrontation.

Israel does not now have a strong and competent leader in place. Such a leader can only come with new elections which the Kadima party and Labor along with the always buyable Shas will probably prevent.  Tzipi Livni has no credentials or experience which suggest that she would wisely confront war or any other major crisis.

In the United States there has been — at the margins — an increase in anti-Semitism related to the financial collapse. It is doubtful that anti-Semitism will become an accepted political position in the United States. Should that happen that would mean the end of the American system as we have known it. But what is likely to come now is an American administration much more internally focused, much more concerned with trying to deal with the economic, health, and infrastructure problems which are so vast in America. There will be a shift away from military spending, and a weaker America globally.

No one can know for certain what will happen, and all that has written here may prove to be an illusion. But all the signs say that we are entering a period of very great danger for Israel and the Jewish people, and in the longer term for Democracy and human freedom, globally.

Shalom Freedman is a writer living in Jerusalem. He has published eight books on Jewish and philosophical subjects, and is the author of countless articles, book reviews, etc.

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