Our March of Pennies

This week we learned that 19 families in effect hold the keys to the state economy, the golden keys. In 2007 the concentration of the economy increased even further, another good year for homegrown oligarchs. And as on birthdays, in 2008 the country will continue to congratulate them with the blessing: May you enjoy another year of the same, as though there were no Antitrust Authority, as though Israel had been sold to the political leadership's best friends.

The income of the 19 families totals NIS 298 billion, while the state's income from taxes comes to NIS 191 billion. The turnover of the 500 leading companies is NIS 770 billion compared with the NIS 665 billion of the gross domestic product. The tables have turned: It is not the people who are making a golden calf for themselves - becoming corrupt, sacrificing on the altar and bowing down to it - but their leaders who are sitting down to eat and drink and make sport on the occasion of the sale of the controlling interest, another privatization in the country of unlimited privatizations.

We would not be envious of the few people of fortune were it not for the fact that they ignore the misery of the many, which does not improve because it has so much company. But to judge by public relations - the main PR director loudly trumpets the wealthy's charitable acts - one could think that the rich people of the town set aside far more than a 10 percent tithe for the poor. But this is not the case, not at all. They perform a deed that is ostentatiously publicized and extremely modest in its dimensions, and expect to be rewarded like major benefactors.

A few days ago the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor published very interesting statistics: Last year businesses in Israel donated money, goods and services to the tune of NIS 1.1 billion - a fraction of 1 percent of their profits. The major banks, for example, donate less than 1 percent of their net profits to the community - between 0.37 percent and 0.81 percent. That's the whole story, sad and pathetic.

There is a great deal of celebrating, presidents and prime ministers and a lot of hot air, but no substance. This week writers joined up with Israel's business leaders and founded "a civil movement to save education in Israel" - these are your teachers, O Israel. And toward what will they educate? Anonymous giving? "Their contribution is negligible. The idea of social responsibility has yet to penetrate the awareness of most of the businesses, as opposed to the situation in the United States, for example," said the government ministry responsible for the statistics.

One can acquire a great name here with small change; one can sell to us at a high price and buy us cheaply; one can be considered a donor even without a donation worthy of its name.

I don't mind if social-welfare associations and aid organizations participate in the march of pennies - because they regret the situation and because there is no government. But we wouldn't want Israeli society to look like a public fountain in a European city, where tourists throw coins into the water for good luck and barefoot children fish them out. We wouldn't want to feel like starved dogs driven crazy by the smell of a good meal, panting beneath the table, waiting for bones.