Last update - 02:52 19/08/2004
An immoral state
By Michael Melchior
The group of children that gathered around us seemed highly amused. Some of the children held out syringes they had collected in a nearby yard, and demonstrated how to inject drugs "like adults." Others cursed the state and everything to do with it. It is hard to blame them: It is not pleasant seeing a closed community center.
Near the gravel road the sewage flowed freely, and the neighbor from the nearby house told us about the complex "ATM" network for selling drugs, which is open for business there from the afternoon to the next morning.
Presumably, the million Israelis that went abroad this summer will not encounter such a scene. It is hiding across the road, two kilometers from Ben-Gurion Airport. During take off and landing it is hard to detect the squalid hovels, the dirt and drugs of the town of Lod, but to its residents it is a painful, depressing everyday reality.
In recent years there have been serious attempts to change the situation and improve the town's image. But just when it seemed that the town was on the right course and had a chance, some of the authorities stopped their activity and now the collapse and destruction loom closer than ever.
Israel, which defines itself as "a Jewish Democratic state," has become one of the most immoral states in the Western world. In one field Israel could win a gold medal, although not in Athens. It is in the income gaps between society's top tier and the lower tiers. These gaps compromise human dignity, and cast grave doubt on our right to be called a Jewish democratic society.
It is not a decree of fate. Only a few years ago Israel was at the top of the education pyramid. The Israeli health system also won a worldwide reputation, even though the economic situation was worse than it is today.
We live in a society in which a million and a quarter people - 40 percent of them working people - are below the poverty line. This is a society that abandons 366,000 of its children-at-risk and throws them into the street; a society that treats its foreign workers like animals; a society that despises its elderly and sends them to rummage through the garbage. It is a society, according to information given the Knesset Committee for Children's Rights, where in the absence of standards, a social worker has to devote an average of two minutes to a family in distress. It is a society among the leaders in the world trafficking in women. Such a society is neither Jewish nor democratic.
The magic solution that the Israeli government has found for this situation is bulimic privatization, taken from the economic school of the finance minister. In recent years Israeli society has been privatizing itself to death. The damages of this dangerous trend are obvious in every direction. Thus, for example, Jewish communities abroad were enlisted to subsidize summer camps for needy children. The days go by, a year passes, and in time fashions change. The amount of money communities gave this year dwindled significantly - the number of children at camps was reduced this summer by two-thirds.
By means of the privatization, the government of Israel is washing its hands of its minimal social responsibilities. In the best tradition of the shtetl of the Jewish community in exile, the government leaves education, health and welfare to the mercies of the rich philanthropists.
True, charity has always been the main concern of the Jewish community. But this is not what the State of Israel was meant to be. The Jewish state is supposed to and ought to take care of all its citizens, not only the rich ones, so that they can give their children a good education, and provide all the citizens with health and social services that would preserve their welfare and dignity. Instead of a rule of justice, a rule of charity is being established, based on alms collection and mutual back scratching.
In the beggar state there is no place for single mothers, elderly or handicapped people. The philanthropists prefer to give their money to grandiose marble buildings, or ambulances with their names inscribed on them.
In the beggar state the Knesset enacts a "feeding law," which ensures that a small percentage of the school children (who of course are immediately branded with wretched poverty) can have one warm meal a day. A considerable part of this law - hard to believe, but a majority of the Knesset members decided this - will be financed by philanthropists. And what will happen when they prefer to direct their contributions toward other causes?
Beyond the immediate risk of the collapse of the education, health and welfare services, those who need them - the majority of the population - are losing their voice. Where there is privatization, there is no responsible minister, and consequently the children at risk no longer have a mouth at the cabinet table.
Those in the upper class can wait two more years for the tax benefits which the magician Benjamin Netanyahu promised them. Instead of reducing the taxes, the government would have done better to direct those NIS 2.5 billion to the health services, the single mothers and the children at risk. Had it done so, perhaps the old couple who "thanked" Netanyahu before committing suicide due to their economic distress could have thanked him in person. Had it done so, the government could have boasted that it was heading a Jewish, democratic state.
The writer is a Knesset member for Labor-Meimad.