Aug 18, 2011

Laugh So You Don’t Cry


The Rothschild Blvd. protesters did not “discover the wheel”, but their cry touched a raw nerve with many Israelis regarding a problem which has lasted for many decades.

The story is told that in the 1950’s, Ben Gurion visited Pres. Harry Truman in the White House. Ben Gurion was curious about how much the average American worker earned and Truman told him, “$100 per week.” Ben Gurion said, “We figure by the month, so let’s say $400 per month; and how much does it cost him to live?” Truman answered , “$300 per month.” Ben Gurion asked, “What does he do with the extra $100?” Truman said, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask.”

Then Truman asked Ben Gurion, “How much does the average Israeli worker earn?” Ben Gurion answered, “IL 400 per month.” Truman asked, “And how much does it cost him to live?” Ben Gurion said “IL 500 per month.” “Where does he get the other IL 100?” Ben Gurion, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask!”

So we see that the discrepancy between the earnings of Israeli workers and their cost of living has been around since the early days of the State. It did not disappear over time, as shown by the Hebrew skit of the “Gashash” troupe:

“Will anyone who can finish the month on his salary, please stand up.” (Not even one person in the audience rises.)

“Not a one stands up,

“Not even one stands up,

“And nonetheless from here and there, from hand to mouth, from mouth to mouth;

“And from under the table, the People of Israel lives,

“Lives and exists.”

Thus the Rothschild Blvd. protestors are not complaining about anything new. Many, many Israeli workers with full time jobs have take home pay of NIS 5,000, NIS 4,000 or even less per month, while the cost of living is higher than many European countries and even the U.S.

Since the time of my aliya in 1968, I have been wondering how the veteran Israelis manage, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

But let’s be serious. Most Israeli workers are underpaid and have been since Israel’s socialist period. There is no point in waxing nostalgic for a return to those socialist years, as some of the protest leaders, with more heart than brains, yearn to do. Only because Israel has such a strong economy now, and is not a Socialist basket case like Greece or Portugal, is there a chance for their protest to achieve something.

However, there is a real problem, and leaving it in the hands of a small coterie of highly paid officials in the Treasury, will not solve it in the future, as it hasn’t solved it in the past. They think that saying “NO!” to all strikers is the only worthy policy and continue to say, “NO” until they move on to even higher paying jobs in banking, insurance or business in the private sector.

Maybe now there’s a small chance something will change.

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