Israel Is a Third-world Country in Denial

There are people who want us to be scared by the Iranian bomb rather than by the home-grown social-welfare bomb; there are people who gladly devote themselves to this act of whitewashing and denial.

It should have been a headline long ago, or at least the talk of the day Wednesday: Every fifth Israeli lives in fear of hunger, every 10th suffers from hunger. But this almost-African statistic, the kind that comes from the darkness of the third world, appeared only on the inside pages on Wednesday. Other issues were the talk of the day.

Iran, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood - other fears are implanted in us with deliberate and malicious regularity. Some are futile fears, others are exaggerated, and compared to them this fear, the fear of hunger of every fifth person among us and the serious hunger of every 10th person, interests nobody but the victims. They have empty bellies, but no voice. Most Israelis have no idea what it's all about.

After all the self-congratulations over our flourishing economy, after all the nauseating glorification of the wealthy, even after the dwindling summer protest and the radiant joining of the OECD, comes this bad news. And it didn't slap us in the face. Israel has come a long way from the days when the country - which was far more egalitarian - was in an uproar over the comments by the hungry girl from Beit She'an. It has become fat and insensitive.

There are people who want us to be scared by the Iranian bomb rather than by the home-grown social-welfare bomb; there are people who gladly devote themselves to this act of whitewashing and denial. The dream of bombing Iran's reactors is more exciting than the dream of Petah Tikva's Ron Nagar, who wants to have a bank account. There are people who want us to do precisely that: Fear nuclear weapons, which are not of our doing, and forget about the hunger, which is of our doing. This behavior is typical of undemocratic regimes, and it's typical of Israel democracy too.

The fact that there are so many poor and hungry people among us endangers Israel's future no less than Iran's nuclear weapons; the fact that this situation is swept under the rug of public discourse makes the danger even greater. Israel's next Yom Kippur is liable to erupt from the factory in Hatzor Haglilit rather than the uranium conversion plant in Iran's Isfahan. Human history is full of frightening examples of poor and hungry nations that led their rulers to commit acts of insanity. It could happen here too. Basically, it's already happening here.

The data are dry, the statistics are boring, but every trip away from the media bubble to other areas in Israel paints the picture in all its urgency. This week I visited the central bus station of Afula, not the poorest city in Israel. A third world bus station, with third world stores and third world passengers. Nothing there resembles the familiar Israel covered in the media.

And what were the people in Afula's central bus station talking about? About their poverty? Of course not - they were talking about the Arabs. One not very young resident came up to me and complained about his problem. He's on trial and the judge is an Arab, of all things. "In the Golani Brigade they taught me that the Arabs should be killed," he told me over a cup of coffee in the pathetic local kiosk. "It's a race that should be eliminated. I'm ready to be sentenced to 20 years in prison, but not by an Arab judge."

This racist discourse, which is typical and authentic, flourishes on the foundation of social hardship, which some people divert maliciously to such shady affairs. That's what poverty and hunger produce when the government and media divert attention from the genuine hardship to xenophobia, the refuge of the ruler and the ruled.

There are also people who divert attention from the real solutions to this hardship. They encourage us to accept the scandalous budgets for security and the settlements as a divine edict and not to protest, or even to ask whether these efforts should be the priorities of a society whose fringes are suffering from hunger. They encourage us to attack anyone who questions these priorities, claiming that he "doesn't understand anything" and "doesn't have the tools," this "traitor and heretic."

On the day the hunger report was published the prime minister was in Eilat. The mountains surrounding it were full of Border Police, a blimp hovered in the sky, the city was like a fortress, the hotel where he spoke was like a citadel, and Benjamin Netanyahu walked around as usual surrounded by dozens of armed and ridiculous tough guys. That also costs us money, and we don't even ask how much, why and at the expense of what.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מדינת עולם שלישי בהכחשה