Moshe Silman
Set himself on fire
Photo: Moti Kimhi

Bibi, it's a national tragedy

Op-ed: Man who set himself on fire during protest highlights collapse of Israel's welfare system

Moshe Silman’s despaired letter was not drafted in the format of a government memorandum. It was not written using financial language. It does not look like a state comptroller report. Yet this letter is an orderly, detailed and accurate indictment that touches on all the failures of our collapsing welfare state. Every minister and every government official must read this letter; read and internalize it.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Sunday his regret over a “great personal tragedy.” Yet you got it wrong, Mr. Netanyahu. Silman’s story is not just a personal tragedy. Moshe Silman was a despaired man living within an economic reality that you and your government created. This is therefore a national tragedy as well.


Silman’s story features the chronicles of ongoing Israeli erosion. Hence, as opposed to what you want us to think, Mr. Netanyahu, Moshe Silman’s economic woes are not meaningless. His suicide bid reflects our situation as a society. Mr. Prime Minister, instead of looking into the man and his act, it’s important that you look into what happened to the country you’re leading that brings people to such despair and weakness.


A person who suffered a stroke and then became unemployed received an allowance that is not sufficient to ensure minimal subsistence. He turned to welfare authorities time and again, to no avail. He turned to the courts, to no avail. Eventually, he turned to death as an outlet.


What kind of public system did Silman encounter? When Netanyahu was finance minister, in 2004-2005, he adopted reforms that saw the worst erosion of disability allowances since they were introduced in the State of Israel. The governments of the past years also cut down housing aid budgets. While Israel’s population grew, aid budgets were decreased by more than NIS 3 billion.


And here is the most cynical example: When Silman was taken to the hospital’s burn ward there was no bed for him. The department was at full vacancy, as is the case with many other Israeli hospital wards. Silman had to be hospitalized in another ward.


Middle class crisis

So this is not just a personal tragedy, Mr. Netanyahu, because you drove a bulldozer over our welfare state. This is what happens when indifferent governments are preoccupied with stabilizing numbers and forget that their role is first and foremost to stabilize people. Under such state of affairs, who knows how many more human Molotov cocktails are walking among us and have not yet set themselves on fire?


What’s also frightening about this story is that the economic distress is already felt by the middle class. That is, by most Israelis. Calcalist reported a month ago a sharp rise in the financial instability of Israelis. Some 63% of our middle class would not be able to withstand a one-time expense of NIS 8,000 (roughly $2,000.) This means that all of us are one incident away from Moshe Silman’s situation.


A stroke that makes one unemployed, a child’s disease not covered by national insurance, one business failure – as result of such case one would find himself facing financial collapse, without a safety net, defenseless against Netanyahu’s cruel economy. The average Israeli must walk around with a disturbing thought: This can happen to me too; I could become unemployed and disabled, and nothing would get me out of this mess.


Night was quick to descend Saturday night on a despaired man called Moshe Silman, and on all of us. And I’m thinking to myself: If a disabled man is about to be thrown out of his home and the State does not come to his rescue, who here is insane? And if a person has no money for medicine and housing, who is being irrational here?


Hence, in the coming days I will be listening to the voices that call upon me, and upon all of us, from Tel HaShomer hospital. You should be ashamed, the voice tells me. You should be ashamed that in your country a broken man could not find a solution in the welfare system. And cry out, the voice tells me. Because you too can find yourself in this situation. Don’t turn a deaf ear. And don’t ignore this.



פרסום ראשון: 07.16.12, 11:03
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