Fear Lives Here

Most Israelis today, even if they are not in poverty, without denying the huge and constantly increasing number of poor, fear for their livelihoods.

Two weeks ago I wrote a column here about the shocking discrepancy between the pitiful salaries the Super-Sol supermarket chain pays workers who stock shelves, most of them women, and the huge profits the company, meaning the company's owners, earn from those employees. I received ideological support in many sympathetic reactions from family and friends, especially expressions of strong identification with the employees. What does this identification really mean? Truth be told, most of the women I associate with don't stock supermarket shelves.

The answer is that the owners' message to their employees - that they are just tools, a means to accomplish an end, that they are replaceable and faceless - is a message most of us women receive today, no matter where we work and almost regardless of our salaries.

In addition, men and women who are considered high wage earners, at three or four times minimum wage, who are thought of as middle class and bourgeois, find themselves financially insecure. Most of us don't have job tenure, and there is no certainty that quality work, loyalty to the workplace, experience and seniority will generate a commitment from the owners to provide proper employment conditions.

In a certain respect, the opposite is true. Seniority is an indication that a woman is up in years and not attractive. Loyalty means you're taken for granted, and good work is not a sufficient reason to pay you more. It's more important today for the boss to pay less and become "more efficient." Most Israelis today, even if they are not in poverty, without denying the huge and constantly increasing number of poor, fear for their livelihoods. There is no certainty that we will be able to make a living from our work in a reasonable manner. There are two separate factors: First, that we have work, and second, that we can sufficiently support ourselves from it.

We can no longer use expressions that were common in Hebrew such as "all work honors those who perform it" and "to earn a respectable living." In an era when we are at the mercy of the bosses, we receive no respect from them and no work can honor us. Each day we are shown that declarations such as "hard work and education are the key to escaping the cycle of poverty" are nothing more than false propaganda. Most poor women in Israel are employed, and even people with a solid education are not assured a job or livelihood.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said: "Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul." She also said: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women." Over many years, we have witnessed privatization, the dismantling of unions and the Histadrut labor federation, the transformation of employees into outsourced workers, the exploitation of foreign men and women laborers, the embrace of neoliberal standards and the habits of the wealthy. We find ourselves in a situation in which the doctrine of divide and conquer works; it works very well indeed.

Our politicians and "leaders" exploit our economic insecurity for their own needs.

Israel is stronger than ever militarily. No existential security dangers really hover over the country. Still, they continually frighten us over Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinians. They deflect onto external enemies our justifiable existential fear from the knowledge that it is not certain we will earn a livelihood.

And it works. We're afraid. Afraid to protest. Afraid to organize, unionize and rebel. We're afraid to stand up for our right to live, work and exist in dignity. And as long as we remain afraid like this, the existential danger hovering over each Israeli woman and the State of Israel itself grows ever larger.