Protests demand stronger response from leaders

When the history books are written, they will record 2011 as the year of massive global popular protests. The restive mood that spread from Cairo to London has touched down in Israel.

For the third week in a row, protesters by the hundreds of thousands have flooded into the streets of Tel Aviv, angry over the high cost of living and a government that seems not to care. Tent cities have sprung up to dramatize the sense of social inequality. In Holon (a Tel Aviv suburb), residents blocked roads and burned furniture in the streets.

The anger is palpable, the grievances run deep.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by forming a committee of government ministers that promises to address those grievances.

This sounds like a well-meaning but insufficient response from a slow-moving bureaucracy. The Israeli people may not have the patience to wait a month for a committee report.

While global media obsess on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis do not live with that mind-set. They live their lives, struggle to feed their families and educate their children, just like everyone else.

The macroeconomics at play do not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean. The budget battles in Washington, Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. credit-worthiness, declining stock markets, the sovereign debt crisis in the Euro zone: All are interrelated problems that point to a shaky global economy.

Economists differ as to the causes. Topping the list would be the struggle for societies to maintain a thriving middle class in an era of increasing scarcity. Like the United States, Israel, too, is engaged in a great debate about the role and size of government, as well as the boundaries of the social contract.

As for the cure, no one has the answer. There may be a bigger role for government to play, but in a capitalistic country like Israel, the government can only do so much before the Jewish state returns to the socialist welfare state that it was in its early years.

For many Israelis tiptoeing along the poverty line, a welfare state probably looks pretty good right now.

The debate goes on, but meanwhile, people suffer from privation, a declining standard of living and fear for the future. Life isn’t fair, and it appears to be growing ever less fair.

For Israel we hope sound, workable solutions will be found before Israelis take their frustrations any further. London may be burning, but we would be horrified to see that kind of mayhem in Israel.