The media are abuzz for weeks now with the "protest movement" kicked off by Vicky Knafo, a single mother from Mitzpe Ramon (in the middle of the Negev) who walked to Jerusalem to protest the drastic cuts the government has made in welfare payments. (For some reason, there is no simple way to say "single mother" in Hebrew, so the term that has become current is "single parent mother," which strikes me as a rather bizarre formulation). Perhaps the media circus is driven by the fact that the finance minister who is pushing and justifying the welfare cuts is Benjamin Netanyahu, who despite his free-market approach was always beloved by the lower socio-economic classes; now he seems to be getting his comeuppance, as the unfortunate individuals marching behind Vicky Knafo, pushing their handicapped children's wheelchairs and waving their pathetic welfare checks, are no longer chanting his name in adoration
The op-ed pages are full of words, attacking Netanyahu for betraying the welfare state foundation of Israel and defending him for trying to stanch the hemorrhage of resources caused by the out-of-control growth of entitlement programs. And then there are all the commentaries commenting on the way the media are relating to the phenomenon; in other words, commentaries on the commentaries. Deja-vu. A year ago, the same politicians and journalists and left-wing activists were busy visiting the protest tent of the handicapped, who were there to press upon the government their demands for livable living allowances. These are only the most pathetic of a long list of groups who feel, justifiably, it seems, that they are worse off than everyone else: parents of large families, college students, college teachers, Arabs, Druze, reservists, settlers, kibbutzniks, moshavniks, development town residents, new immigrants, teachers, foreign workers, farmers, border-dwellers, Negev-dwellers, the elderly (since no one can agree upon who is worst off, the treasury decided to give the tax cuts to the wealthy the one group who are not on the list at least not openly).
It is perhaps important to note that since every group is nursing its own particular grievances, each other group is the competition. Therefore, we rarely find ourselves marching for each other or in solidarity with another unless we are running for office. Just as we can't bring ourselves to wait in line at the bank, or to let someone move into our lane ahead of us on the highway, so we are not about to help anyone else get benefits from the government at our expense.
In 1898 Nahman Syrkin, one of the founders of socialist Zionism, wrote: " it is inconceivable that people will agree to the creation of an autonomous state based on social inequality, for this would amount to entering into a social contract of servitude It is the aim of conscious social action to transmute the status quo along rational hues and to elevate it morally. A republic born out of an act of will, which would have no rational plan for society and would merely tread the old path of free competition and class distinctions - this would be social and psychological folly."
Right. What happened to the vision of a Jewish state that would be a light of social justice to the nations? Eclipsed by the eternal "situation?" Buried under materialism? Deadened by disillusionment with socialist failures? Could it be that in nurturing our national identity as victims or heirs of the victims of the Holocaust, we have created a whole culture of discourse based on victimhood, on the assumption that suffering grants moral superiority, thus canceling responsibility?
I do not believe that these marches of the miserable with the attendant wringing of ministerial hands and media circus will save us. We will only be saved when we take responsibility, and drop everything to go out and march for somebody else.