The living standard for most Israelis is fairly high and the country withstood the global financial meltdown for the most part. In the 1990s the population increased by over 1 million due to immigration from the former Soviet Union that brought highly skilled (some might say overspilled) immigrants to the country. Many are underemployed and people struggle as prices are high and taxes are an issue as well. It’s a change to be in a country that encourages immigration rather than discourages it and right now the largest influx is from France. We had breakfast today in a small cafe run by a French couple who have been in Tel Aviv for 4 years.
Everything is taxed including food, household goods, etc. and as an outsider you might not even notice since the tax is already figured in to the price. Health care and education are free though many people supplement this to give their kids additional education and pay insurance to have more specialists available to them if they are ill. Some things such as cars, computers, and other imports are astronomically taxed and travel outside the country is taxed as well. People complain about the 18% Value Added Tax (basically sales tax on everything) even though they do get benefits not available to us. Of course, Americans want to have everything but don’t want to pay for it, and there are lots of Americans here so maybe it’s an attitude as well.
In spite of this people are well dressed, there are lots of cars, not much homelessness. Tel Aviv University has a student population of 30,000 and Israel just opened its 5th medical school (in Tzfat). In one of the galleries today there were red dots, the cafes are full, and people have shopping bags. It’s just when you chat with people that they talk about how burdened they feel financially. Ariel Sharon was buried today on his farm in the Negev. Already stories are leaking out in the press about how Sharon was planning to return to the “Road Map” of negotiations after the Gaza withdrawal, unfortunately 8 years ago just before his stroke that ended in his death a few days ago. Perhaps in death Sharon can be a force for moving the peace process forward.