The Interior Minister as Hero

Roni Bar-On said this week in Kiryat Shmona that every city worker in the north who leaves their town or city is a deserter and therefore will not be paid.

It happens in almost every war. A general, minister or some public official offers an opinion about the public's resilience. During the first Gulf War it was then Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, who called those residents of his city who left for fear of the missiles - deserters. In the current war, the role of the public's prosecutor is played by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who said this week in Kiryat Shmona that every city worker in the north who leaves their town or city is a deserter and therefore will not be paid.

It takes quite a bit of ignorance, insensitivity and arrogance to come out with such a statement. Ignorance, because a law that been approved by the government or Knesset - to which Bar-On belongs - says any worker in the north who did not get to work because of the security situation will get their wages. Insensitivity, because only without sensitivity can it be claimed that anyone unable or not prepared to spend three weeks in shelters under barrages of Katyushas, is a deserter. And arrogance, because Bar-On's ministry is the one that has not paid the wages of local authority employees for months and in some cases for years, even though they still kept going to work.

As of today, according to the Histadrut, three Jewish local councils in the north and 25 Arab and Druze local councils have still not received the money to pay their employees, even though they are all in the war. In Kiryat Shmona, the city employees were only paid a week after the war broke out, four months late.

Bar-On's statement is another expression of the government absolving itself of responsibility toward the citizenry, and especially toward that home front the establishment so loves to pronounce heroically resilient. Where does Bar-On propose the local authority employees leave their children while they are at their posts - in the closed summer camps and day care centers that the government did not worry about finding an alternative for?

Where are the local authority employees and their families supposed to hide from the Katyushas - in the neglected, stinking shelters the government hasn't bothered to maintain for years? And who will deal with the psychological and physical welfare of the besieged workers and their families, the social workers and psychologists whose jobs and budgets have been ruthlessly cut, or the charities, on whose shoulders the government has placed the entire burden of aiding the home front, instead of declaring an emergency and using the Home Front Command for missions like distributing food and civic help?

It is a good job the people are wiser than its leaders. It is good job many chose to run for their lives. That's why there has been a relatively low number of casualties, despite the destruction the rockets have wreaked in the north. One can only imagine the disaster that would have taken place had those hundreds of thousands of people who chose to be refugees in the center and south of the country chosen to remain in their homes or crowded into the shelters and safe rooms in the last three weeks.

In a properly run country, it would be expected of the interior minister to manage the flow of people from the north, taking responsibility for those who leave. That's what happened in England during World War II, when the children, elderly and ailing were removed from London, beyond the range of the German bombs.

Bar-On's comments smack of fascism. According to him, every citizen must be constantly enlisted and ready to die. A state can demand that of its soldiers, police and emergency services. But from city clerks whom the government hasn't even bothered to pay? Why doesn't the Interior Ministry send its officials to set up an emergency field headquarters in the north? Why doesn't Bar-On move his office to the north to oversee the management of the home front?

Instead of expressing solidarity with the distress of the northerners, many of whom have lost property and their livelihoods, let alone life and limb; instead of supporting them, Bar-On opens a witch hunt and searches for traitors. His conduct is a direct continuation of the ongoing contempt by the government toward the civilian front that it calls the rear. Not only does it not provide services to those left in the north, and leaves all the activity to the charities; not only does it refuse to take care of the refugees, lest it encourage the phenomenon, as the ministry director general ruled; and not only does it make those employees who didn't show up for work because of the security situation pay for it out of their own pocket - now it persecutes those who left.