Fear and Loathing in Neot Tzahala

The fact that no one shot at the group home in Tel Aviv doesn’t erase the widespread prejudice in Israel against the weak and the different.’

Ostensibly, we can breathe a sigh of relief: The gunfire directed at a recently-opened group home for people with developmental disabilities in Tel Aviv’s Neot Tzahala neighborhood never happened. About a week after the incident was reported, the police gave an update and are now saying that two holes in a window of the building were made not by pellets shot from an air gun, but rather by drilling during renovation work in the room. Happy end. And a wonderful excuse to ignore the horrific treatment the home has received from some of its neighbors and to avoid a serious public discussion of the attitude toward people with disabilities in Israel in general.

The fact that no one shot at the home cannot erase all the harassment directed at the home and its residents, such as pouring glue in the door lock and spilling oil at the entrance to make people slip and fall. Moreover, welfare officials say the neighborhood residents’ committee fiercely opposed the home, which is operated by Akim Israel, the National Association for the Habilitation of the Intellectually Disabled. People with disabilities have received a violent reception elsewhere, too. The Moshav Even Sapir branch of House of Wheels, which provides services for children and adults with impaired mobility, for example, was once torched.

Akim and similar organizations do God’s work providing treatment and rehabilitation for people with a broad range of physical, mental and intellectual disabilities. Unfortunately, they also face a plethora of prejudice, baseless phobias, hostility and hatred of anyone who is “different.” Arabs, Mizrahim, women, immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia, African asylum seekers, gays and others also face hostility and discrimination. The use of offensive language is also quite common, such as Channel 1 television soccer commentator Danny Neuman, during a live broadcast, calling a young fan who ran onto the field “retarded.”

A recent survey produced this chilling result: Around 20 percent of Israelis said they oppose the creation of housing for people with disabilities in their neighborhood. Do mentally or physically disabled people pose such a danger to society that they must be kept away, so that we shouldn’t risk an encounter with them? Or is the great fear that a nice neighborhood’s real estate value will plunge when such people move in?

In the Middle Ages, lepers were incarcerated and the mentally ill were said to be witches, justifying abuse that sometimes included burning at the stake. Nazi Germany conscientiously set about murdering people with disabilities even before it got busy murdering Jews. We’re not there, but the harassment of the Akim group home should be a warning sign. It was good to see President Shimon Peres, Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen and other public figures come out in support of the disabled. The prime minister, however, was curiously silent.

Or maybe it’s not so curious. Benjamin Netanyahu’s socioeconomic outlook is based upon rampant capitalism and competition in which the strong always wins, and even receives government benefits such as tax breaks and scandalous shareholder “haircuts,” while the poor are penalized for their poverty. They indirectly finance the strong and have nothing to fall back on but a long-tattered safety net. With the collapse of the welfare state and social solidarity, especially in this era of the tycoon troika of Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, we are doomed to live not in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proverbial “villa in the jungle,” but rather in a pitiless, Darwinian jungle in which the strong get stronger and the weak are trampled. In such an atmosphere, it’s no wonder that the disabled face harassment.

The National Insurance Institute allocates billions of shekels to the state and the Defense Ministry instead of fulfilling its real purpose – providing appropriate support for the disabled and the weak. It was recently reported that about half of those eligible for welfare do not receive it.

In “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Nietzsche wrote about the Übermensch, the “over man” or Superman. It sometimes seems that Nietzsche’s Übermensch was much kinder than those who view themselves as the Israeli overmen, who might have even tried to drive out Nietzsche himself, were he to have found himself in the Neot Tzahala group home after his breakdown.

Moti Milrod