Wanted: Wealthy People

Now of all times, when the status of Israel's rich has been undermined and the dangers await not only them, but also the country's image, it's hard to understand their failure to act.

Lovers of democracy in Israel need wealthy people; details available from the undersigned. Money isn't the only name of the game, but money is badly needed now. Just when the country is having a hard time, just when the wealthy are having a relatively hard time, we could have expected a partial mobilization by the community of wealthy businessmen.

Several Jews from abroad did so a long time ago: Irwin Moskowitz, Joseph Isaac Gutnick and Sheldon Adelson have contributed to every malignant branch of the right. Moskowitz bought houses in East Jerusalem and gave out "Zionist" prizes and donations to the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, the Hebron settlers, the Judea and Samaria Regional Council and the settlers' Arutz 7 radio station. The same is true of Gutnick, who even financed the "Netanyahu is Good for the Jews" campaign. Adelson bought a newspaper. They have seen their enterprise succeed.

The other camp remains bereft of donations; there is no counterweight to the wealthy and meddlesome right. When Uri Avnery cried out for an investor to save Haolam Hazeh, nobody came to his aid, and he was forced to sell his magazine, which didn't survive for long without him. It's not hard to imagine how Israel would look today if someone had mobilized to rescue the most important weekly in the country's history, and if it still appeared to this day. The press and democracy would be stronger.

And if a group of investors had been found to take up the challenge, as a contribution to the community, of rescuing Channel 10 and turning it into a courageous and democratic channel, the face of Israel would change. But Haolam Hazeh died and Channel 10 is dying, even though it tried to ingratiate itself with the masses and the ignorant. And there is no savior. Meanwhile, the Moskowitzes and Gutnicks, who have terribly damaged Israel, are legitimate. Israel is fighting against the handful of donations to the left-wing and human rights groups.

The other camp needs wealthy people, the kind who, for example, would create a fund to help journalists threatened by huge lawsuits that would shut them up, the kind who would support the threatened left-wing organizations that are campaigning against the ugly and dangerous wave flooding the country. They would come to the aid of the remnants of enlightened Israel in the Kulturkampf that has erupted here.

But here the wealthy are tightfisted: They will donate money, if at all, only to comfortable causes that are part of the consensus - a hospital or a museum wing. Even a relatively involved businessman like Stef Wertheimer is investing in a relatively marginal objective; while the house is on fire he wants to build trade schools for industry.

Quite a few of the wealthy are worried, and not only about their damaged status. Some really care about Israel's future, are disturbed by the missed opportunity for peace, and are losing sleep over the distortion of democracy. They aren't doing a thing. They are living in a relatively comfortable and free country; until the summer they were even worshipped. Unlike a number of countries, their personal security is assured here; Israeli democracy is good to them.

But now they see what's happening and they aren't lifting a finger. Like many Israelis, they complain bitterly in private and don't do a thing. Idan Ofer is a strong believer in an agreement with the Palestinians and understands what has to be done to attain it; we can assume that Stef's son Eitan Wertheimer is also upset by some of the things happening here.

Along with them there are plenty of high-tech millionaires and other wealthy people who are horrified at what's happening - and aren't doing a thing. Maybe they also understand that the new Israel, whose face is changing quickly, will be bad for them and their businesses; that an open and peace-loving Israel is good for their businesses. But still there has been no emergency mobilization. Just as they are at the bottom of the international philanthropy list, they are at the bottom of the civic involvement list. They are careful about their lives and money, for fear of risking controversy.

Now of all times, when their status has been undermined and the dangers await not only them, but also the country's image, it's hard to understand their failure to act. No, they can't effect major change with their money. But yes, if they opened their wallets and mouths, they could help stop the horrifying wave that threatens to flood everything. A great danger is hovering over free, Western and enlightened Israel - and for them it's business as usual.