Stef Wertheimer
Industrialist Stef Wertheimer visiting a pensioner in Nahariya. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Due to the large protest movement that has taken shape in Israel recently, the public is being regaled with dozens of hours of discussions in the media and hundreds of articles about the economic aspects of "social justice," and about the advantages and disadvantages of "socialism" as compared to "capitalism." However, what is actually at behind all the demonstrations - what is erupting from the hearts of hundreds of thousands of citizens, and what sends them out to the streets - is not economics, but rather morality and values. Social justice is not an economic concept. It is, at base, a normative one.

A just society is not one in which everyone is equal, but rather a society that operates according to a system of values and moral standards which accommodates an individual's instinctive sense of natural justice. Israel's public is prepared to endure any economic burden, so long as it is convinced that the government is acting according to principles of justice and moral values.

Much to our chagrin, however, the State of Israel has, in socioeconomic terms, turned into a society which lacks values - a society without a moral compass and, more than anything else, a society that has totally lost its sense of shame. Golda Meir once recalled in a conversation we had that her mother told her that when the Almighty wants to make a person miserable, he strips away from him any sense of shame.

Israel's public does not loathe the rich: It hates the cheap routes taken to wealth, particularly those traveled at the public's expense, which involve using manipulative ploys, and connections between capital and political power.

Nobody hates Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, or Eli Horowitz or Gil Shwed. These are people who, with their own hands, and by dint of hard work, built exemplary enterprises; they represent Israeli creativity, ingenuity and pioneering, along with Jewish brains, at their finest. Everyone is proud of them. These people are not surrounded by a phalanx of public relations consultants and lobbyists. Nor do they throw $5-million weddings, events which in themselves embody flagrant moral obtuseness and a total lack of principles. And that's not to mention the corruption of the public figures who allow themselves to take part in such pathetic, insensitive, overly lavish celebrations.

The root of the evil is the state's distorted and immoral wage and taxation system. If a forklift operator at the Ashdod port, an Electric Corporation employee, a numbers-cruncher at the Bank of Israel and a legal counsel in a small, isolated government office can earn NIS 50,000 a month (more than the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff ), while a policeman and a social worker take home NIS 7,000, and a veteran medical specialist earns NIS 25,000 - something is rotten in the State of Israel. If a bank manager, or the chief executive of a public company, earn 200 times more than an ordinary worker, something is corrupt in our society.

If a person who earns NIS 1 million a month enjoys a lower tax rate (also in terms of national insurance ) than one who earns NIS 35,000, and if the windfall-profits tax slapped on earnings of a few thousand shekels is the same rate as that placed on billions of shekels of profit - something is truly amiss in this country.

All the loopholes devised by wealthy capitalists, whose sole purpose is to avoid paying real taxes, could be dealt with via one legislative act. Yet officials in the Finance Ministry prevent enactment of such legislation because they knew that the day will come when they too will profit from the same machinations.

The State of Israel does not need committees of experts, even ones staffed by competent, serious persons. It needs a leader of the caliber of President Franklin Roosevelt, who rose up against the class from which he came and provided a New Deal to the American people. Nothing less will suffice.