‘The State Is Responsible for the Well-Being of Its Citizens’

Gershom Gorenberg

This afternoon the leaders of the tent-city protest movement held a press conference to reiterate their demands. If you know Hebrew, you can watch it in the video here. If you don’t, a slightly abridged translation follows.

In the margins of these demands, I’d make several notes. First, just as Stav Shaffir says of the demands of the striking doctors, this list doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t include immediate repeal of the tax cuts for the rich that Bibi Netanyahu instituted in 2003 and extended last year, and that leave the state without the cash it needs to meet basic social responsibilities. It doesn’t include a regulatory offensive against the cartels, an end to any further sell-off of public assets, or an immediate end to settlement funding. Nu, it’s still a good start.

What’s particularly good is the basic principle stated by Shaffir:

The state must be responsible for the well-being of the citizens. This is not the job of non-profits and voluntary organizations.

The free-marketeers have assiduously attacked this idea for years, but it is basic to Israel’s founding principles and seems to have risen out of collective memory, still alive and powerful.

Also worthy of note is the demand for free education from birth. Implied in that is not only that the steady evasion of state responsibility for schools must end, but also the idea that pre-school is more than a place to warehouse children.

The foursome who spoke here reportedly drove Histadrut leader Ofer Eini nuts today when they insisted that they would only meet the prime minister openly, with the video cameras present. If we weren’t talking about Eini, I’d say maybe they’re naive, that people can’t really negotiate that way. But Eini, who helped bring the present government to power, is mainly concerned with protecting his failed union federation from the people it’s supposed to protect. Eini wants to be part of the talks, and to hold them behind closed doors, where he’ll cut a deal that will be worth little. Then he’ll come out and announce that the “achievements” are all due to his experience.

Here’s what the protest leaders said:

Daphni Leef:

Ahalan. The many protest rallies that took place last night throughout the country, in which over 150,000 people took part, expressed more than ever before our justified cry for social justice. It seems that this cry has not made any impression on the prime minister, who wants to dig into his existing positions.

The prime minister apparently has a very hard time hearing the pain and the demands of all of us, the people he pretends to represent… A different language is being created here, and a different kind of behavior. We are taking action, going out into the streets and demanding a change in the system, while he sets up another committee and tries to evade the basic responsibility that he and his government have toward us.

Mr. Netanyahu, you have to understand that for our part, negotiations between us can take place in one way: Transparently, with us, before all of us, the entire public, and not with a group of ministers but with you.

Stav Shaffir:

Last night at the rally we declared our demands, what we define as social justice. These demands are actually dreams more than demands – but all these are dreams that can be made real and turn this country into a country of social [responsibility], in which it will be good for all of us to live.

Housing: A home is not just real estate. The state must intervene, immediately, in the housing market to defend the citizens. We demand decent housing for all via construction of state-owned housing… The state must regulate rent and rental conditions.

Education: A school isn’t a business. We demand a free, egalitarian school system throughout the country – for the religious and the secular, for Jews and Arabs, for everyone. We demand free public education from age zero and assistance for those who need it to pursue higher education.

Health care: We identify with the struggle of the doctors, deeply identify with their struggle, and join in all of their justified demands. We’d demand even more. They deserve more. We deserve more. It’s our health.

Social welfare: The state must be responsible for the well-being of the citizens. This is not the job of non-profits and voluntary organizations. In particular, the state must provide for social workers, police, firefighters, teachers and all others who dedicate their lives to protecting, caring for and defending the entire public.

Fair wages: Contract labor, temporary employment and personal contracts are only some of the evils that have become endemic and deprive many citizens of their most basic rights. The state must make sure that pay is commensurate with the cost of living, and must increase enforcement of labor law.

Those are our demands. We expect them to be accepted as quickly as possible. This is the country that we want to live in.

Regev Contes:

In his press conference this morning, the prime minister repeated the word “responsibility” again and again and again. But his answer to the demands of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who demonstrated last night is not responsible, and doesn’t herald any change.

The prime minister is trying to terrify the public by saying that social justice will cause economic collapse. The prime minister has to open his eyes and understand that most of the public is already in the middle of economic collapse. The system itself is what’s collapsing. It’s what’s bringing the masses into the streets of Israel, here and now…

The people demands deep change, and the prime minister answers with an improvised, manipulative proposal without principles or goals… Worse yet, the prime minister refuses to take personal personal responsibility for the situation, but instead wants to appoint a ministerial committee… The prime minister of Israel still doesn’t know what responsibility is.

Yigal Rambam:

To make the discussion truly responsible and pragmatic, we demand that the prime minster meet us for talks based on the principles of social justice  that we presented yesterday at the rally and here from this table and whose purpose is building a just, responsible and egalitarian society.

Within the next week the Vandal Bill – also known as the Accelerated Planning Bill – will be put to a vote [Vandal is a wordplay on the Hebrew acronym for National Planning Committees Bill, another name for the legislation]. For us to meet for a real dialogue, the prime minister must agree to two basic conditions. First, he must immediately withdraw the NPC Bill and remove it entirely from the Knesset agenda.

Second, the talks must take place in totally transparency, in front of the cameras, to ensure proper representation and for the first time to creatק a real public debate.

We hereby announce that if you choose to bring the NPC Bill up for a vote on Wednesday, the entire public will go into the streets and you will face the full force of civil protest, of which you’ve only had a taste in the last week.

Bibi, pull yourself together.


2 thoughts on “‘The State Is Responsible for the Well-Being of Its Citizens’”

  1. Gershom, thank you for posting this. As you said in an earlier posting, there’s been very little coverage in the American press about this, since it doesn’t involve Israelis and Palestinians killing each other. (Aside from the fact that the only thing that occupies us now politically is whether the US is going to default on its debt on Tuesday!).

  2. Those in the West who are the most rabid believers in The Nation , their nation, inevitably are the most rabid opponents of The State. The contradiction and irony has a special resonance in Israel.

    In their minds we must serve The Nation but The State should not serve us. Go figure.

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