By Stephen Lendman
“Government officials there and in virtually all Western societies don’t give a damn. Serving the rich and corporate interests alone matter. Social injustice is a small price to pay, they believe…”
Social justice in Israel is just a figure of speech. It’s entirely lacking. Neoliberal harshness is policy. Israel replicates the worst Western society policies. Little about it gets reported. Last summer, unaffordable housing prices and other social injustice issues sparked weeks of nationwide protests. Long-denied Israelis reacted. They’re back. Promises made were broken. Israelis want longstanding grievances resolved. Netanyahu turns a blind eye. July 14 marked the anniversary of summer 2011 rallies, demonstrations, and marches.
Thousands rallied in Tel Aviv. No one imagined what Moshe Silman planned. He self-immolated in protest. Haaretz said:
“As thousands marched down” Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, “Silman poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire.” He was rushed to a hospital for treatment. He left a letter saying:
“The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless.”
“Two Housing and Construction Ministry committees rejected me, even though I had a stroke.”
His monthly 2,300 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) allowance left him no money for rent or medications. It’s $582.
“I can’t even live month to month. I won’t be homeless, and so I am protesting.”
He blamed “the state of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, for the humiliation that the weakened citizens go through every day, taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
His comments can easily be verified, he added.
They’re true. Israel enriches privileged elites at the expense of most others. Unemployment, poverty, hunger, and homelessness are major problems like in America and other Western societies.
Yonatan Sahar was beside him when he set himself ablaze. “I saw him holding something burning,” he said. Suddenly he poured gasoline on himself and created a human torch. “I didn’t know what to do,” he added.
Silman was first taken to Ichilov Hospital. He’s currently in Sheba Medical Center’s intensive care unit. Officials say he’s in serious condition. He has grade two and three burns over 94% of his body. He’s expected to be hospitalized for months. If he survives, recovery will be long and painful.
The Mayo Clinic calls first degree burns least serious. They only affect the skin’s outer layer.
Second degree ones occur when first layers burn through. Blisters develop. Skin gets intensively red and splotchy. Severe pain and swelling result.
Third degree burns are most serious. They involve “all layers of the skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and even bone may be affected.” Skin grafting or synthetic skin may be required. Recovery is painful and protracted.
Despair causes desperate reactions. Silman’s not unique. Most Israelis experience injustice. Perhaps his action will inspire greater efforts from others. It’s high time for greater public rage and not just in Israel.
Government officials there and in virtually all Western societies don’t give a damn. Serving the rich and corporate interests alone matter. Social injustice is a small price to pay, they believe.
Austerity is policy. So what if millions go hungry, can’t pay rent, afford medical care, or cover the cost of higher education.
Agendas this harsh produce crises. They head societies for dead ends. They enrage people justifiably. Silman elevated his wrath to a higher level.
In a recent talk, economist Michael Hudson called neoliberism the “weaponization of economic theory. (It) kidnap(s) the original liberal ethic….(It) sought to defend against special privilege and unearned income.”
It “misrepresents and even inverts the classical liberal idea of free markets.” How can they be free when powerful interests have total control solely for their own self-enrichment?
Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are two sides of the same coin. They represent “power and autocracy combined with deregulation and dismantling of democratic law.”
Their goal is oppressing people with “oligarchic power.” It’s also about denying them basic rights. Their ideal societies aren’t fit to live in.
Like America and across Europe, Israel is a classic example. It wages financial war against labor, social justice, and democratic values.
Silman’s self-immolation reflects its harshness. Haaretz said Israelis “must demand change.” Sustaining protests, rallies, and other tactics is essential for any hope for change.
Challenging government disdain for basic rights can’t stop until social injustice ends. Haaretz believes public anger “is here to stay.”
Netanyahu heads Israel’s worst ever government. He exceeds Ariel Sharon’s extremism and previous hardline leaders. He’s an embarrassment to democratic governance and social justice.
He spurns individual rights. He endorses neoliberal rapaciousness. He doesn’t give a damn about ordinary Israelis. He never did and doesn’t now.
His agenda reflects power politics, repression, belligerence, and serving corporate and rich elite interests.
Disingenuously he called Silman’s self-immolation “a great and personal tragedy.” Good governance would have prevented it.
On October 8, 2002, Silman’s trouble began. National Insurance Institute (NIS) bailiffs seized one of his company’s four trucks (Mika Transports).
He owed 15,000 NIS. He paid a third of his debt. Towing charges of 1,200 NIS were added. A NIS strike prevented him for reclaiming his truck. In 2005, it led to his business collapsing, he said.
Six years later he sued for eight million NIS in damages. His case was never heard in court. He felt betrayed and denied.
He’s an Israeli native. His father survived the holocaust. After his business collapsed, he couldn’t afford his apartment rent. He began working as a taxi driver. He couldn’t make ends meet.
His financial situation deteriorated. His bank account was seized. His savings and insurance benefits were either seized or exhausted. Except for an old Volkswagen, he lost everything.
His mother served as guarantor for his debts. She exhausted her savings. To save her apartment, she transferred it to her daughters.
Court authorities rejected his plea to be exempt from a toll on his damage claims suit. In March, he urged friends to organize NIS protests. He called it the “Anti-Social National Insurance Institute.”
Two years ago, his mother died. Her apartment was seized. Her daughters petitioned in court to reclaim it. After Silman’s appeal was rejected and his mother’s death, his health declined. He suffered a stroke.
He moved to Haifa. He lived on a monthly 2,300 NIS ($585) disability pension. NIS categorized him 50% disabled. His sisters had to help. His appeals for public housing were repeatedly rejected.
Last December, his pension period ended. After months of struggle, he regained it in May. Poor health led to his driving permit revocation.
When social protests began last summer, he participated actively in Tel Aviv. Though living in Haifa, he did again on Saturday. With not enough income for rent, he feared homelessness.
In April, he posted a Facebook comment, saying in part:
After being admitted to Rambam Medical Center, he “was afraid to go home. I live alone….They insist on releasing me….without medical treatment. They also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long.”
He was desperate. Weeks later he self-immolated. He and others like him symbolize Israeli injustice. It reflects growing harshness throughout Western societies.
When government officials spurn basic rights, people react. Self-immolation is extreme. It signifies what’s too hard to bear.
Perhaps it’ll inspire others to rally against what they’ll no longer tolerate. It’s their only chance for justice. There’s no other way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening. http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour
ADDENDUM: An opinion piece published 7.17.12 on Haaretz (Israel)
Never mind Silman, give us BMWs
Silman is a symbol of the gaps, the anger and the bureaucracy, all of which must be addressed immediately.
By Nehemia Shtrasler
Although Moshe Silman called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz “scoundrels” in the letter he wrote before setting himself on fire Saturday night, Netanyahu wished him a full recovery and even called Silman’s situation a “great personal tragedy.”
But this is not just a personal tragedy. It is also a public tragedy and a harsh protest against the government’s cruelty to its citizens. It was no coincidence that Silman chose to immolate himself at the social protest rally on Saturday night. He felt he was an integral part of the protest and was expressing his feelings in his letter, feelings that are shared by many other participants in the demonstrations.
Silman wrote in his suicide letter (let us hope that he recovers from his horrific burns): “The State of Israel stole from me, robbed me, left me with nothing. It does not even give help with rent. The court obstructed me. I blame the State of Israel.”
Silman was a working man. Until 10 years ago he managed four delivery trucks. But as was the case with many people during the second intifada, work dropped off sharply, and he began to rack up debts. In 2002 Silman owed NIS 15,000 to the National Insurance Institute, which therefore seized one of his trucks. From there on in, things began to snowball; the debts ballooned, the business shut down, and Silman lost his apartment in Jaffa. And if that was not enough, he also had a stroke; he was recognized as disabled and entitled to benefits, but they were too low to be of very much help. Silman’s distress was so great that on Saturday night he chose the most agonizing form of suicide.
This is a person who tried to make a living, but could not. A person who did reserve duty until age 46. He is neither parasite nor gambler nor criminal. This is exactly the kind of person that the National Insurance Institute should be taking care of with the utmost sensitivity, and providing him a safety net. That is precisely why the National Insurance Institute has NIS 60 billion. Why demand from a person such as Silman a paltry NIS 15,000 and seize the source of his livelihood, when the amount owed does not come to even one millionth of the institute’s budget?
The attitude toward people like Silman must be the polar opposite of the one he experienced. They should be allowed to repay their debts in installments, or their debts should be forgiven. They should be provided assistance in managing their businesses or in seeking an alternative business. That is what the National Insurance Institute, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Housing and Construction Ministry are there for.
The bureaucracy, somewhere up there, must not be allowed to be cruel to the weak and to destroy them. It has the opposite task: to raise up, to assist, to raise the poor out of the dust, to lift up the needy from the dunghill.
Silman’s horrific act, which came from utter despair, happened precisely at a moment when government ministers are busy with a much more pressing issue: should the new car they receive be a BMW 528i, which sells for NIS 398,000 or should it be a Citroen C5, with a market cost of “merely” NIS 205,000.
Any way you look at it, it’s nauseating. The purchase of a prestigious BMW for ministers shows what the government really thinks of itself − that they are above the common people and therefore they deserve to drive the car that the top thousandth percentile of Israelis drive. To purchase such an ostentatious car when we are all facing budget cuts is insane. To buy a German car when Holocaust survivors are still living among us is the height of insensitivity. To receive a 48 percent discount is very close to bribery, because no other group receives a similar discount.
The treasury’s initial response was arrogant and infuriating. It stated that all was well, that the tender was issued in a “two-phase” process and that “it was formulated while maintaining the principles of equality, free competition and economic efficiency.” But as public criticism grew and became harsher, Steinitz realized that his ministry had gone too far. He announced that he would study the tender in order to annul it. He’d better.
This huge gap − between Silman’s distress and the ministers’ BMWs − illustrates well the gap in our society that has grown in recent years between the rich and the poor, between those who are close to people with influence and those who are cut off from such people, between those who make millions and those who earn nearly nothing.
And that is the basis for the outbreak of the social protests. Netanyahu tried to keep Silman’s tragedy on the personal level, but the truth is different. Silman is a symbol of the gaps, the anger and the bureaucracy, all of which must be addressed immediately.
See also: Haaretz
Moshe Silman vs. the State of Israel
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