The Government's Message for Israelis: You're on Your Own

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Fake currency at a protest against Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 3, 2020.
Fake currency at a protest against Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 3, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

You’re standing there looking at your car after an accident and see a wreck, a total loss. You call the insurance company. Have you ever tried getting money from an insurance company? Surely you recall the endless phone calls and forms, the exhausting runaround. You’re not doing us a favor, you tell them, it’s our money, so why are you giving us such a hard time?

Today you stand there gazing at your business and see devastation. A total loss. You call the National Insurance Institute and wish you were talking to your insurance company instead. Okay, they put you through lots of aggravation. But in the end you got your money. You won’t get it from the NII, or from the tax authority or from the government.

Yes, you were fine, you fulfilled all your obligations. You paid taxes and did reserve duty. And when you forgot something, the government was quick to remind you – with a phone call, a letter, a fine, a knock on the door. Whose door can you knock on now?

You made payments to the NII your whole life. You thought the money was yours, right? Wrong. It belongs to the government. National Insurance is not a savings plan or an insurance company. It’s another tax, like income tax. A solidarity tax in a place where there is no solidarity. You pay the NII your whole life not just for your own troubles but for others’ troubles.

Israelis line up outside the National Insurance Office in Petah Tikva, June 7, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Through the NII, you, together with generations of taxpayers, have lent the state more than 200 billion shekels, nearly $60 billion. This is the kind of loan that Tony Soprano would have liked, a loan that’s not to be repaid. Your great-grandchildren won’t see any of this money, either. When you near the end of your life, they’ll toss you just enough to feed your cats. Ask not what you have done for the country. You did it. Ask what the country will do for you.

Your demands are modest. You present the government with all the forms filled out, spend hours on the phone, prove that you were fired and have nothing to eat. You’re asked to wait patiently, they’ll get right back to you. Two months later you go to the NII, pick it up and shake it by the legs and – zilch. Not even a cent falls out.

The money is gone. The tiny drop of the 200 billion shekels that would have saved you has gone into the government’s petty cash box. But there’s nothing petty about it. It swallows up your money and transfers it to places you wouldn’t want it to go. Don’t complain, that’s on you too. You saw it and kept quiet. You saw it and kept quiet when this money was being invested in the territories, when it went to the Haredim and for officers’ pensions. And now you’re watching your money being used to feed a bunch of superfluous ministers.

An anti-government protester with the Black Flag movement at Hemed Junction, July 4, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

What about the gatekeepers, you ask? They fell asleep on duty, or collaborated in this, or were bribed and resigned or rebuked and replaced. You ask the government – when will it give back to you what you gave it when you had something to give? The government just gives you a blank look and sends you to your Knesset members, to your elected representatives, to ask – who needs them? And how did they, acting in your name, fail to approve grants for the self-employed and instead to approve intrusive surveillance measures?

And then you see their faces and realize that the system is screwed up, that these losers won’t be good for anything, that only you can protect yourself from a scared and overstuffed government that despises you and still has the gall to make demands of you. You hear it and you say: Excuse me, but just who do you think you are to make demands of me? You’ve failed at everything you’ve touched – the economy, health, credibility and you have no idea what it means to set a personal example.

You realize that there is no one to talk to, that what was taken from you by force can only be reclaimed by force, that if you don’t block roads and get yourself handcuffed, there won’t be any television reports about you. And if you don’t make it on TV, no one will pay any attention to you, because hey, this isn’t Europe here, it’s just the good old Middle East.

You’re stuck in the old Middle East and can only see Europe on television. The coronavirus has ripped off the masks and stripped all illusions. The 60-and-older crowd has learned that 60 is not the new 40, it’s a rotten risk group to be in, one that catches and spreads the disease, and you’ve learned that you’re not a European in exile like you thought but a citizen of a Middle East country, shut in like a shoebox in a store, and that the European passport you also hold won’t get you in anywhere now. You, who won the Eurovision and the Euroleague, are crammed in now with the “Israelis” you kept your distance from when you were abroad, and now you’re surrounded by them while you get away to Afula, “the Israeli Tuscany,” and Hadera, “the Paris of the Mediterranean.”