For Israelis, It's All About the Money

Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy

In the end ‏(in the beginning too, actually‏) everything here is about money. Nothing shakes Israelis out of their indifference but money. Hardly anything interests them but their wealth ‏(or poverty‏).

Friday night’s TV news broadcasts resembled wartime broadcasts. Yair Lapid appeared on all three channels at the same time. Interviewers tear into him like they’ve never torn into anyone.

The protest is awakening, the country is in a tumult. The finance minister says hit the Israelis in their pockets; nothing hurts them more. It will cost each of us a few hundred shekels a month or year, maybe a few thousand. Yes, that’s a heavy price for many, nothing to scoff at. But the fact that money is our only catalyst for public action is troubling.

Listen to the Israeli discourse − it focuses on money. Every bit of small talk comes down to it. If you’ve just returned from abroad you’ll be asked how much it cost you. If your son goes to university, how much is he paying? If you’ve eaten at a restaurant, how much did it set you back? Even if you buy a book, it will probably be because of the price.

Nothing makes an Israeli happier than a good deal ‏(honest or not‏). It’s all money. Behind it there are other problems, immeasurably greater. But they’re hidden by the smoke screen and the money.

The new finance minister fell into these Israelis’ hands like ripe fruit. He’s exactly what they need to continue the injustice and the blindness. When it comes to him, suddenly the media is caustic and penetrating. A Facebook storm targets him alone, as do the demonstrations.

Other societies also rise to action during times of economic distress, but at least some of them deal with other matters too, even though fewer sins are buried in their backyards. Take South Africa, for example. It’s groaning under economic problems and gaps infinitely greater than Israel’s, yet the stormy public debate there addresses other problems too such as education, crime, violence and AIDS. Who talks about education in Israel? Or about the generations of ignorance and illiteracy growing before our eyes, endangering the state’s future much more than any bomb?

Thousands of African migrants are imprisoned for years at Saharonim without a trial − does that bother anyone? The Knesset pases anti-democratic legislation with hardly any public debate. Our exports are becoming increasingly weapons-based, the Arab League offers peace, and settlements keep being built on robbed private land. The government builds roads that will prevent the partition of Jerusalem and bombs anything it doesn’t like. Ze’ev ‏(Zambish‏) Hever, head of an organization promoting settlements in the West Bank, is running a state-sponsored real-estate mafia. But these issues raise nothing but a yawn.

Even the debate about money, which finally brought Israelis back to life, is biased and distorted. Everyone is up in arms over the modest sums going to the ultra-Orthodox and the large labor unions, but nobody says a word about the big money flowing to the settlements and the defense budget.

They talk about universal military service but don’t mention the labor force of 20 percent of the population, the Arabs, who crave to be part of the state’s growth and productivity but are excluded. The government imports tens of thousands of foreign laborers but shuts the gates to Palestinians across the fence − a more available labor force whose employment would be more just and could serve the peace process.

Where’s the money? Even that debate is false. The big money will come with peace and integration with the region. This Sparta will not last, even if Lapid becomes man of the year in terms of equality and social justice.

Israel will really thrive only if all its citizens take part in its economy and all its neighbors trade with it. It will prosper only if its army and the threats it is compelled to generate return to reasonable proportions. The army needs these threats to justify its monstrous size and insane race for new equipment − five times too big for Israel.

Lapid’s budget proposal is indeed outrageous. His bad old tendency to flee confrontation and his lack of courage certainly should be condemned. But at the end of the day, what are we talking about?

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