The Triumph of Image Over Reality

The minister of labor and social affairs, from the Shas party, always talks about poverty in the third person. Isn't Benizri the person directly responsible for social welfare, allocations and poverty?

1. Ariel Sharon: In the past few days, when speaking to the nation, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has begun by reporting on the latest act of terrorism, adding words of consolation to the families and promising that he will triumph over terrorism and bring security and quiet.

Let's say, for the sake of example, that Ehud Barak was prime minister and made the same opening statement in addressing the public. The bereaved families would vent their wrath on him. From all sides, he would be assailed for having caused the breakdown of public security, for not preventing bloodshed in the shopping malls, for not stopping the firing of rockets on the Negev town of Sderot, for not liquidating the terrorist cells and for allowing Yasser Arafat to remain active. If Barak were prime minister, the public would mount mass demonstrations in the government compound, drag out the latest blunderer and throw him out of office. So why doesn't Sharon get the same treatment?

Because image is stronger than reality. Sharon's image is that of an army figure, the No. 1 expert on security, who is doing everything in his power to protect us. And if nevertheless terrorist acts are perpetrated in the city centers, he is not to blame. Someone else is to blame: maybe the army, maybe the Labor Party, maybe Shimon Peres. True, on the eve of the 2001 elections, Sharon promised that he would bring security and peace - so, can't a person make a promise anymore?

2. Shlomo Benizri: The minister of labor and social affairs, from the Shas party, always talks about poverty in the third person. They, the members of the government, are to blame. They did not allocate the resources that are needed to fight poverty, and they are now irresponsibly cobbling together a new budget that will only aggravate the situation.

Isn't Benizri the person directly responsible for social welfare, allocations and poverty? Didn't he and his party vote for all those terrible budgets? After all, he and his rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, educate their flock to remain in yeshivas all their life and not to work at all, but to endure a life of poverty and want, relying on the government to pull them through.

But what does the reality matter? What does it matter that Shas is at the very heart of the establishment and has for years held all the social welfare portfolios? It's the image that counts. And the image of Benizri and of Shas is of deprived, poor, weak members of the Sephardi community who with their meager strength are fighting the powerful, terrifying Asheknazi establishment that only wants to keep them underfoot and give them nothing.

That's why they can go on dressing in Versace suits, driving new Volvols, establish a racist party (without Ashkenazim and women) and organize work for all their relatives and supporters. The reality just washes off their backs; they will always remain disadvantaged.

3. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer: The chairman of the Labor Party is trying to forge a campaign based on social-welfare issues for the coming elections. He says that budgets must be relocated from the territories to education in the periphery, roads in the center of the country, help for single-parent families, leaving old-age allowances intact, reducing the blow to recipients of guaranteed income and generally to help the weak.

But even if all the members of the Labor Party adopt the worldview of MK Tamar Gozansky (Hadash), it won't help them. Because the image of the Labor Party is of an "Ashkenazi" group that represents the upscale northern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and that is supported by the industrialists so there is no way that it can really be considerate of the elderly and those who live on guaranteed income. Nor does it make a difference that the Likud has been in power (with short breaks) since 1977 - Labor is still the heart of the establishment and Shimon Peres is still running things. Therefore, Labor is responsible for all the ills that are afflicting us in all spheres - even if it is in the opposition.

So Sharon doesn't have to worry about increasing terrorism, Benizri can go on talking about poverty and the Labor Party will always be at the heart of the establishment, because image is stronger than reality.