Everyday Lamentations

All these positive changes don?t impress anyone. That?s because interested parties continue to distort the real picture. To win higher ratings, they paint everything black.

The year 2007 ended with excellent results: rapid growth, a drop in unemployment, an increase in the standard of living, and the start of a process of reducing gaps between rich and poor. Still, a visitor who relied exclusively on the media's fulminations would get the impression the country is in a deep economic and social crisis, that society is on the brink of an abyss and that life in Israel has never been harder. Not a day or hour goes by without more reports about poverty and distress, about an empty refrigerator and a million hungry people.

This week, for example, Maariv's lead headline talked about "the starvation of Gush Katif evacuees," no less. But the real story is completely different. The government invested a fortune in the evacuation: NIS 10 billion. The amount of compensation originally planned was doubled after pressure from the settlers. They also received unemployment and "adaptation" payments, as well as professional training and living allowances.

The 500 families in Nitzan who were the subject of the Maariv article received temporary trailers for free, until they could build themselves spacious villas in a beautiful location on the only land reserves left in Ashkelon. This land, which was previously designated for high-rise construction to house 5,000 families, was appropriated for their benefit.

But they paint a distorted picture in which the state supposedly tossed them to the dogs without a care for them or their future. Because no matter how many billions the state spends, it will always be too little. And there's a political aspect of course: The more traumatic the picture of the evacuation from the Gaza Strip, the harder it will be to pull off an evacuation of tens of thousands of West Bank settlers, and the end justifies the means.

The immigrants from Ethiopia are also oppressed. They demonstrate and shout that they haven't received anything from the state. But the real picture is different here as well. No one notes that an average family of Ethiopian immigrants receives assistance from the state that totals hundreds of thousands of shekels more than all the other immigrant groups received. Nor does anyone mention the government decision to invest another billion shekels in this community over the coming five years.

No other country would transfer such sums, at the taxpayer's expense, to those who enter its gates. But instead of being grateful, they too are oppressed.

The data published by interested parties regarding the vast number of people going hungry are not credible, either. Once, even a wretchedly poor person would feel a twinge of shame in having to go to a soup kitchen or receiving a crate of food from a charity organization.

Today, shame has disappeared. And when there's no shame, the number of "needy" will only rise, regardless of a person's actual financial situation. Why not take a free food package, if there's no shame? And thus the number of organizations distributing food has grown to the point that there are now hundreds of them. And this is happening in tandem with a significant improvement in the overall economic situation. Israeli absurdity at its worst.

2007 wasn't only a good year economically, it was also a good year on the social front. The economy's rapid growth, for the fourth straight year, prompted a sharp drop in unemployment. In the past four years, 400,000 people have joined the workforce. This is a social achievement of the highest sort: More people are living off work and less are relying on the state's bounty.

The improvement in the employment rate did not only affect the top percentiles. It reached every level of the public and every type of industry. The rate of participation in the workforce grew, as did wages, including the minimum wage. Per capita output rose by 3.5 percent and per capita consumption rose even more, by 5.3 percent - it was one big shopping celebration.

For the first time in years, the gap between rich and poor has shrunk. Relative poverty declined somewhat, as did absolute poverty. The ability to purchase a basic "food basket" rose. The increase in income from taxes allowed the government to invest more in education (NIS 5 billion over five years) and in welfare: an increase in allowances, the implementation of a negative income tax system and a mandatory pension.

But all these positive changes don't impress anyone. That's because interested parties continue to distort the real picture. To win higher ratings, they paint everything black. Granted, we haven't achieved social justice yet, the social gaps are too big and more must be invested in the weaker sectors. But these misleading portrayals of the situation should stop, too.