According to ‘Comment is Free’ contributor (and co-founder of the far left Israeli publication +972) Ami Kaufman, “most middle-class Israelis [don’t] know how bad it really is [in Israel].”
But he does.
Not only does Kaufman know how wretched life is in his country, but he is so tuned in to the political climate that he can mystically interpret the broader meaning of the seemingly isolated personal tragedies of his fellow countrymen with empirical certainty.
According to Kaufman’s CiF essay (Moshe Silman’s self-immolation is a national, not just a personal tragedy, July 18th), the Israeli man who set himself on fire during the Tel Aviv demonstration on Saturday, to protest the fact that he was rejected for government housing assistance, was more than simply a victim of poverty and depression who tragically tried to take his own life.
Kaufman sees Silman as a political symbol demonstrating the righteousness of the Israeli social protest movement and further evidence of the state’s moribund democracy.
Though he concedes that fewer people have been turning out for the protests, which have been termed J14 (named after the day the protest began, July 14, 2011), and that the “leadership of the movement has splintered into numerous factions”, Kaufman is nonetheless hopeful about movement’s future.
“…all this [dissension with the movement] changed on Saturday night. Moshe Silman, 57, a son of Holocaust survivors, took a bus from the northern city of Haifa to the protest in Tel Aviv, a bottle of petrol in his hand.
Just before setting himself alight, Silman handed out a letter telling his story of how a small debt of around US$1,000 to the National Insurance Institute spiralled out of control…[leading to] bankruptcy, mental despair, and eventually severe deterioration in health. He suffered a stroke, could not work, and when he asked for minimum assistance in rent, he was turned down.”
“Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, used an interesting choice of words, calling Silman’s self-immolation a “personal tragedy”, as if it had nothing to do with the social structure of the state and did not reflect a much larger disease in Israeli society.” [emphasis added]
What is the disease?
“The truth is, Silman is just one victim in a country that long ago lost any of its social-democratic values, and now some of its humanity. As Israel’s occupation of Palestine looks increasingly like apartheid, as basic democratic norms are being discarded one by one.” [emphasis added]
What democratic norms have been irrevocably been lost?
Kaufman doesn’t list even one, likely because no amount of polemical sophistry could possibly challenge Israel’s status as a progressive democracy which protects the rights of religious and sexual minorities – a nation with an independent judiciary, a free and feisty press and a legislature which includes even parties which oppose the Jewish state’s existence.
However, Kaufman helpfully does provide a clue as to his fundamental argument.
“Israeli governments over the past three decades have drastically cut back on social rights and services for its citizens inside the green line, as well. Housing, education, employment, welfare – all have been drained of their resources.
Recent data shows that Israel spends only 16% of its GDP on public services, compared to an average of 22% in the OECD.”
While it would be easy to fisk his specific social critique – by pointing out, for instance, that mortality rates in Israel are lower than in the US and most EU countries, and life expectancy is the 5th highest of any OECD country – such a refutation would legitimize his supreme cynicism in exploiting a man’s tragic descent into despair to advance a political agenda.
Israel, like every country, of course has its social problems, but the agenda of the far left is necessarily undermined by their increasingly hysterical warnings that the lack of popularity for their policy prescriptions somehow indicates an erosion of fundamental liberties – the Jewish state’s descent into political darkness.
As Alexander Yakobeson, of the Hebrew University, observed in his powerful essay, ‘Against all odds: the story of Israeli democracy‘:
“[Though] democratic values and norms [in Israel] can never be taken for granted… the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, not eternal panic-mongering.”
The fact that Kaufman’s belief in his nation’s lack of humanity and eroding democracy was dutifully granted license by Guardian editors shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone marginally familiar with the institution’s unyielding fealty to every conceivable malign anti-Zionist calumny.