Opinion

Israel's Economy of Swine

Israelis pay more and more out of their pockets for health, a bigger chunk than in any Western country; but capitalism is running rampant here, led by the arrogant Netanyahu government

Yitzhak Laor
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Emergency room at Soroka: Private practice prevails.
Emergency room at Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva: Private practice prevails.
Yitzhak Laor

The images of the psychopaths brutally beating security guards in the Ichilov Hospital emergency room were just too much, and Channel 2 repeatedly broadcast them over the past two weeks. Brutality photographs well and creates a desire for law and order. Indeed, at the end of the week there was a Channel 2 report on the violence experienced by doctors and nurses, a healthy security guard from the Rambam Medical Center emergency room and television screens in a police control room overseeing emergency rooms from afar. The camera lingered on the tattoos on the security guard’s body and by the end of the broadcast we understood: the solution is policing and szhlubs.

Although there was a sentence there about the difficult situations in the emergency rooms, the report looked staged. From my acquaintance with doctors and nurses, I don’t believe that these dedicated people didn’t say a word about the suffering of patients, about doctors falling off their feet from doing double shifts, about waiting times, the shortage of nurses (primarily due to low salaries), the 98 percent occupancy rate in the country’s hospitals (an unusual occupancy rate in the West) – all these were just some of what the Channel 2 report didn’t bother to mention. It was a propaganda piece for the neoliberal faith, which always concludes with policemen.

Israelis are indeed insufferable. It’s enough to sit in a Tel Aviv café or ride the train to despise them and the way they dominate public space, but the situation in emergency rooms is always on the verge of an explosion, and not because Israelis are more violent there than they are when queuing up for the bus. Take that horrific incident that was repeatedly broadcast. The emergency room is the physical place of encounter between the helpless subject and the medical system. Surgery and clinic appointments are only available by phone and lines are avoided by those with means and those with supplementary insurance.

Channel 2 is not alone, although it is the most effective servant of the neoliberal faith. Haaretz, TheMarker, and research institutes and shapers of public opinion all participate in the ritual, whose holiest prayer is “the good of the economy.” Like any religion, its priests and spokesman have “theories” and “experts,” and theological departments in the universities – the economics and business management departments – and it has its clergy, those who know how to quote the high priests of the treasury’s Budgets Division, whether we’re talking about disability allowances or the families of sick children, whether the issue is the budget for education or for health.

Behind all this hides the truth: For decades the sums that citizens must pay for healthcare from their own pockets have been growing. Out of pocket expenses come to 40 percent of health outlays. Except for the United States there is no such rate in the West. And the process isn’t ending; on the contrary. Capitalism is running rampant here, led by the arrogant Netanyahu government, while the propagandists of the faith – right and “left” – make us crazy by portraying the Histadrut as the source of the troubles. For decades the Israeli worker has been at the mercy of market forces, with less and less protection, and the spokesmen for market forces get defensive at his expense for “the good of the economy.”

But the economy – the same economy that’s part of the “for the good of the economy” tune – does not belong to everyone. The economy is for those who get along very well without “expanding the budget framework” (another tune in the neoliberal liturgy). And now when even the Labor Party won’t ask who the economy belongs to, having crowned one of the Budgets Division’s high priests as its leader, even fewer political officials will ask the heretical question, “Who is the good of the economy good for?” It is not good for those whose lives are bitter because the welfare state is shrinking from year to year, leaving them outside “the good of the economy,” and they’re helpless against it. Health, education and unions are expensive for the economy. Policing is a lot cheaper.