Not Detached and Not Alienated

Zvi Zrahiya wrote in TheMarker about the millions I'll get when I retire from the Knesset. I scrabbled and dug but couldn't find them, so in umbrage, I rebutted in a column in Haaretz. Then Guy Rolnik intervened in the argument with a column of his own, titled: Yossi Sarid: pensioner or millionaire.

I hereby state that if Zrahiya and Rolnik go on this way, I will have no choice but to bow my head and accept the verdict, and start treating myself like a millionaire. But where the devil is the money?

I have already explained that after 32 years of work at the Knesset, I am suddenly about to start getting a monthly pension. I also explained that the wealth reserved for me is based on an expected life-span of 80 years. If so, I have 14 years left, times 12 months a year, times my monthly gross pension stipend and there you have the millions that landed on me out of the blue, much like old age did.

I admit that Rolnik's familiarity with pensions in general, and that of Knesset members in particular, is greater than my own, and that he feels the pensions Knesset members receive is excessive. Maybe he's right, maybe not. I feel that after 32 years, during which I eschewed other income, my pension is not excessive. I also allow myself to surmise that if instead of devoting myself to politics, I had developed a career as a university professor, or communications personality (not only on Channel 2), my pension would be higher.

Rolnik wrote: "As a veteran Knesset member, Sarid could have retired 21 years ago, at age 45, and received his pension for life." But I did not. I am only retiring  now, as though I had unnecessarily "volunteered" to serve another 21 years yet Rolnik niggles at me with questions of what might have happened if.

I worked. I persevered. I retired and I am being rewarded for my labors under the law, yet TheMarker insists on bundling me with the wealthy men of Zion and the millionaires of Jerusalem. Well, what do I care, really. My wife always teased me about my inability to make money and here we go, I can finally show her the articles by Zrahiya and rolbik as testimony to my financial prowess.

Yes, hundreds of thousands of Israelis live terrible lives. They are poor. They hurt. In all my positions throughout my career I did my best to relieve their plight. When I served as education minister, for instance, I used a single gauge to measure the need for aid based solely on the depth of need. I have often admitted, verbally and in writing, that I see myself as a socialist, though socialism has become a dirty word these days. If Rolnik in his nit-picking wanted to increase my unease and ease by relegating me to the uppermost decile of society, he got what he wanted.

I was cut to the core by his words, "Maybe the long time that has passed, two and a half years, have erased Sarid's memory of the pension reform passed by the Knesset in which he sat. What was that reform? The government came along and with one sweep of its razor, slashed a quarter to a third of everybody's pension rights by raising the retirement age and raising provisions."

I didn't need a reminder. I remember, and how. I remember that as a socialist I opposed Netanyahu's "reform", I voted against it, and like in many other cases, I remained in the minority. And I remember that TheMarker at the time supported the reform which wronged so very many people with retirement insurance. And now I find the hideous collar of the former finance minister encumbering my neck and I find I am expected to bear the sins of several senior writers at "Israel's economics and business newspaper".

This time, I refuse to volunteer.

Mainly, I was saddened by Rolnik's accusations regarding my "detachment from the Israeli economic reality" - tired old charges that are time and again flung into the faces of Israel's ministers parliamentarians, ostensibly clustering in some ivory tower.

I am not, and cannot serve, as some sort of defender of the elected representatives in general. I myself served as prosecutor on many an occasion. But this whole chestnut about detachment from the miseries and sorrows of the people is a fairy tale.

Give it a rest. I know the harshness and piggishness of daily reality all too well, first-hand. For decades I have been the direct address for thousands upon thousands of the oppressed who found no other willing ear or extended hand. They came, they wrote, they called and were not turned away.

For years on end I lived in some of the toughest places in Israel, surrounded by woes on all sides. Today too, I live in a development town whose troubles have become legend and whose children are my pupils. I am not detached and not alienated. I am connected, I am enlightened, I am involved. I dwell within the people and I shall there dwell. I have not devoted my life to "dabbling in the political or security issue of the day", as Rolnik insultingly puts it. I am wounded.

Rolnik made another mistake, to accuse me of living at another standard than "standard of living of his voters". These were not my voters, nor did I ever fool myself into thinking they were. They generally voted for Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Olmert, who inflicted disasters upon them. Yet I remained faithful to them and because I had not pinned any hopes upon them, I was not disappointed. I am only sorry that I shall not have any more opportunities to fulfill a duty and repeat the same mistake again.

What TheMarker knows from tables, I know from the cares and sorrows.

The Book of Proverbs suggests two contradictory recommendations. Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself, it says. And it also says, Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. The Book has nothing to say about answering an educated, clever and erudite man like Guy Rolnik. At least, I have tried.