As long as we don't have to pay for soccer
Or: how to make Israelis really, really mad, and hint: it isn't outrageous salaries to fat-cat paper-pushers
Are you angry?
Do you not believe your eyes as you read the paper? Certainly websites are brimming with steaming talkbacks - look where our taxes are going, stinking country, that sort of thing.
No, for a change - we aren't talking about the charge for watching the World Cup. We can't remember the last time anything aroused public opinion to such a fever pitch of rage - but we're talking about the Civil Service Wages Report published yesterday.
It was the culmination of the Finance Ministry's annual peek, and a partial one at that, into the personal pockets of Israel's civil servants who feed off our tax money.
The usual reaction to the Wages Report is much the same as to the State Comptroller's report: a gaping yawn, a drowsy glance at the tables and titles, you wonder whether somebody can't fix you up with something similar, and that's it. By the next day you've forgotten the whole thing.
Is the Israeli public really that apathetic to being pick-pocketed? We thought it was, until two weeks ago.
The people who owned the World Cup broadcast rights thought to maximize their profits by selling the broadcast rights to pay per view TV. But then the People of the Souq woke up and roared. NIS 500? NIS 300? NIS 100? Chutzpah! Scandal! tens of thousands of surfers furiously typed in talkbacks and forums. Boycott! they howled in hundreds of thousands of emails flying about.
It turns out that the Israeli public can voice its opinion loud and clear when it comes to soccer. Every third Israeli is convinced that it his God-given right, or rather his government-given right, to be supplied access to soccer games for free.
A question of national priorities
The outrage over football is a little off-center. Two wheeler-dealers went and bought the broadcast rights to the games, and sold them to the highest bidder.
That is how the free market works. If the government feels that World Cup games are a staple that should be subsidized, it should declare: Soccer before health.
But when it comes to healthcare services, geriatric care, welfare, hospitalization, cleanliness in the streets, the ports and the police - all the basics that the state is supposed to provide - no chain emails make the rounds. No howls or even whispers of protest are to be found, just the odd whimper.
Each week the average Israeli, when surfing or reading the paper or in his private life, bathes in the corruption, the filth, the inefficiency and the red tape endemic to Israel. Politicians give and take rotten little (or big) things. Party center powers play the politicians like marionettes and the public sector is bursting with cynical party hacks utterly devoid of administrative experience. Politicians peer at us from the pockets of the billionaires.
Yet the public sits there flabbily, not peeping, not taking its revenge on the dirty politicians at the voting booth, showing little interest in the conduct of the people who live off our tax money and are supposed to serve us.
Some more ideas to make you steam
But along come a couple of businessmen and demand NIS 309 to watch football, and the hordes start screaming like stuck ibex. Yet how much money does the average Israeli pay in his bloated cellular bill each month? Bloated, thanks to the oligopoly of the banks? How much money does the average Israeli family pay in fees to pension funds, insurance companies, banks, car importers? How much do we fork over to the monopolies, open and hidden, directly and indirectly?
Each year Israel's distended public sector swallows 50 percent of the nation's GDP. How much hidden unemployment is lurking there? How many systems that could be abolished? The public is sensitive to certain services and products that gnaw at its disposable income, but ignores the fact that by far the most goes to tax.
The Civil Service Wages Report published yesterday reveals only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't get into the inefficiency, the bureaucracy, the nepotism and the corruption that are spreading like a cancer. It doesn't discuss the billions that public institutions squander on tenders, procurement, lands and rezoning, creating multi-millionaires in the business sector, but ultimately at your expense.
It does not tell the story of a country in which there is a macher or paper-pusher for every five poor people.
This morning we all sit there clucking our tongues at the high salaries at the Israel Electric Corporation, but what about the billions that the IEC squanders on buying equipment, land and services? What about the dozens of suppliers, exporters and sweethearts growing rich off that economic monster? But none of that really matters, as long as we don't have to pay NIS 309 to watch the footie.