Don't Blame Yair Lapid or Mrs. Cohen

In talking about 'Mrs. Cohen from Hadera,' the new finance minister might be talking about the upper middle class, not the middle class. Still, they're the ones who carry the economy on their backs.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Yair Lapid isn't a member of the middle class. He has never felt financial anxiety or had a hard time making a living. More than that, it’s likely that most of his life has been cushioned by material pleasures out of reach of most Israelis – an apartment in a tony neighborhood, a luxury car, vacations with all the trimmings. It’s likely this background keeps him from identifying with the poor and less fortunate, though so far – just a few days since he took over as finance minister – he hasn't said or done a thing to confirm that.

His Facebook posting about “Mrs. Cohen from Hadera” is the embodiment of cheap populism disguised as social sensitivity. Other politicians, who like Lapid never spent a day on the endless, amorphous boulevard that's the middle class, have written about it.

“A minister disconnected from the public,” said Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, who until recently chaired the Knesset Finance Committee and was a member of the coalition, which could have improved the lives of the unemployed, the elderly and minimum-wage earners, about whom Gafni expressed concern in his angry and socially-conscious response. “He came to work for Mrs. Berkowitz from Ramat Aviv,” remarked MK Issawi Freij of Meretz, adding a racist component that slipped under the radar, apparently because it was directed at the Ashkenazim.

Whom was Lapid talking about in his "disconnected" Facebook posting, which was devoured like a juicy steak on the holiday table by the bloodthirsty public? It spoke about the upper-middle class – 25 percent of Israeli households, according to Bank of Israel data for 2011 – who, even if they earn less than Lapid’s exaggerated estimate, still carry the economy on their backs. They're the ones who keep Israel going with their taxes and fund the benefits and unemployment payments to the financially weak – the people of the bottom four deciles who don't pay direct taxes because their salaries are so low.

He was talking about the young generation of workers and educated people who dedicate their lives to their jobs only to discover that their “nice” salaries go to kindergarten, the mortgage and food because of the intolerably high cost of living. This is the generation that earns its living by hard work and ability without asking for favors. These people abstain from pleasures and try to manage by being frugal and planning, only to be left without financial security. These are the workers whose tax payments are needed to fulfill the socially-just vision of helping the weak who need food and housing.

Lapid never tried to defend the tycoons who for years have closely cooperated with the government to increase their fortunes. He never tried to protect their managers’ guild, which sucks the stock market dry, or the bullies at the monopolies who sit at the controls and do as they please. It's them, not Lapid or Mrs. Cohen from Hadera, who are the real enemies of the middle class.

Israel’s job market – minus parts of the public sector and the top thousandth – is the problem. The salary paid there doesn't match the cost of living. This is a severe socioeconomic distortion that's several times more painful in the lower deciles. It's a sickness that must be treated so every working person, including those with low salaries, can support themselves respectably.

But anyone who doesn’t understand that Lapid’s Mrs. Cohen (who discovered over the holiday that she was actually a millionaire) is the basis for social justice is the one who is “disconnected.” Maybe he just doesn’t feel like taking a deeper look at the statistics and understanding the complexity of the situation, under which to help the weakest the less weak must be strengthened at the expense of the strong. Or maybe he just feels like shouting and finding fault with others.

Yair Lapid at the changing of the guard at the Finance Ministry: His first speech as finance minister. Feb. 21, 2013.Credit: Oren Nahshon

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