The Steinitz Syndrome

Recent comments by the finance minister, in which he implied that there has been no social protest in Israel, reflect a lack of trust in, and understanding of, ordinary people.

"The media tried to fan the flames of the social protest and even I began to believe that there was one," declared Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. He was trying to rearrange the reality in his head so as to rid it, once and for all, of the nightmare that befell him out of the blue during the summer of last year, to free him of the frenzy that suddenly began rocking him, so much so that he was completely confused.

The truth is that Steinitz also manages to confuse us from time to time. Sometimes when we see him in a neatly pressed suit, getting patted on the shoulder by his big patrons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, we too are enticed to believe in illusions. For example, that we have a finance minister who functions, who understands the important issues he is dealing with, who is connected with and responds to the complex economic reality in which Israel finds itself, and who can also take the leadership - other than by screaming hysterically "Iran, Greece, Spain" - on weighty matters such as the approval of a budget for 2013, which is still lying around in the storeroom of things that aren't touched until disaster strikes.

A week had not yet passed from the time of publication of the August consumer price index, which surprised us with an audacious leap of one percent; we had just read about the latest housing price rise (a few months after his godfather, Netanyahu, had announced, trancelike: "We have taken care of the price of apartments" ) in the cumulative, soaring 40 percent increase since this government took power; the bent back of Israel's citizens had not yet straightened out after absorbing the spikes in the prices of gasoline, electricity, water and food - and Steinitz was already letting loose and summing up the entire hullabaloo of summer 2011 as some annoying media gimmick. "The media has lost its respect for one simple and small word - truth," he said. "What did Stanley Fischer say to me a year ago? The index rose only by two percent. How is it that all the media are talking about unprecedented price hikes? After all, there is an index; it is scientific, they check."

Just like the declaration of his colleague in the government, Ehud Barak, who is selling his apartment in the Akirov towers for NIS 26.5 million to take into consideration the public's feelings, Steinitz's remarks reflect something worse than the arbitrariness and stupidity of which many elected officials in this country are suspected. They reflect insensitivity that borders on autism. They teach us something about the simple but cruel way in which the desensitization mechanism operates.

Apart from the fact that Steinitz's words reflect a basic lack of understanding and knowledge of the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens - who don't know when the index is published or what important tasks Fischer fulfilled in the past, but can explain to the finance minister "in a scientific manner" how their entire salary goes toward renting an apartment and paying for a kindergarten - his words also show an unwillingness to believe these people. They show that this man who sits in Jerusalem does not know, and does not want to know, a thing about the masses who are stuck on the highway of modern economic slavery, without savings, without hope, without a future other than hard work just to survive. Steinitz's remark is yet another callous expression in the series of soundbites repeated by the senior officials and business magnates to convince themselves first of all, and the rest of us afterward, to continue denying the sick, belligerent economic reality that serves the interests of the few at the expense of the majority.

"You really don't have it bad," they go on reciting. "Iran, Greece, Spain."

Auto-suggestion, especially when it is repeatedly spoken aloud, is a compulsion whose effectiveness requires insensitivity and distortion on the one hand, and obedience and lack of doubt on the other. It dismisses the possibility of another, better existence. It solves problems, for reasons of convenience and laziness, with deterministic statements such as "That's how things are. There are rich and poor in every society." It is especially effective among unintelligent people. People like Steinitz, as well as those who vote again and again for the people who harm them time after time.