Guardian

‘CiF’ contributor cynically exploits Israeli man’s suicide attempt to advance political agenda


According to ‘Comment is Free’ contributor (and co-founder of the far left Israeli publication +972) , “most middle-class Israelis [don’t] know how bad it really is [in Israel].”

But he does. 

Not only does Kaufman know how wretched life is in his country, but he is so tuned in to the political climate that he can mystically interpret the broader meaning of the seemingly isolated personal tragedies of his fellow countrymen with empirical certainty.

According to Kaufman’s CiF essay (Moshe Silman’s self-immolation is a national, not just a personal tragedy, July 18th), the Israeli man who set himself on fire during the Tel Aviv demonstration on Saturday, to protest the fact that he was rejected for government housing assistance, was more than simply a victim of poverty and depression who tragically tried to take his own life.  

Kaufman sees Silman as a political symbol demonstrating the righteousness of the Israeli social protest movement and further evidence of the state’s moribund democracy.

Though he concedes that fewer people have been turning out for the protests, which have been termed J14 (named after the day the protest began, July 14, 2011), and that the “leadership of the movement has splintered into numerous factions”, Kaufman is nonetheless hopeful about movement’s future.

“…all this [dissension with the movement] changed on Saturday night. Moshe Silman, 57, a son of Holocaust survivors, took a bus from the northern city of Haifa to the protest in Tel Aviv, a bottle of petrol in his hand.

Just before setting himself alight, Silman handed out a letter telling his story of how a small debt of around US$1,000 to the National Insurance Institute spiralled out of control…[leading to] bankruptcy, mental despair, and eventually severe deterioration in health. He suffered a stroke, could not work, and when he asked for minimum assistance in rent, he was turned down.”

Kaufman adds:

“Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, used an interesting choice of words, calling Silman’s self-immolation a “personal tragedy”, as if it had nothing to do with the social structure of the state and did not reflect a much larger disease in Israeli society.” [emphasis added]

What is the disease?

Kaufman explains:

“The truth is, Silman is just one victim in a country that long ago lost any of its social-democratic values, and now some of its humanity. As Israel’s occupation of Palestine looks increasingly like apartheid, as basic democratic norms are being discarded one by one.” [emphasis added]

What democratic norms have been irrevocably been lost?

Kaufman doesn’t list even one, likely because no amount of polemical sophistry could possibly challenge Israel’s status as a progressive democracy which protects the rights of religious and sexual minorities – a nation with an independent judiciary, a free and feisty press and a legislature which includes even parties which oppose the Jewish state’s existence.

However, Kaufman helpfully does provide a clue as to his fundamental argument.

“Israeli governments over the past three decades have drastically cut back on social rights and services for its citizens inside the green line, as well. Housing, education, employment, welfare – all have been drained of their resources.

Recent data shows that Israel spends only 16% of its GDP on public services, compared to an average of 22% in the OECD.”

While it would be easy to fisk his specific social critique – by pointing out, for instance, that mortality rates in Israel are lower than in the US and most EU countries, and life expectancy is the 5th highest of any OECD country – such a refutation would legitimize his supreme cynicism in exploiting a man’s tragic descent into despair to advance a political agenda.

Israel, like every country, of course has its social problems, but the agenda of the far left is necessarily undermined by their increasingly hysterical warnings that the lack of popularity for their policy prescriptions somehow indicates an erosion of fundamental liberties – the Jewish state’s descent into political darkness.

As Alexander Yakobeson, of the Hebrew University, observed in his powerful essay, ‘Against all odds: the story of Israeli democracy‘:

“[Though] democratic values and norms [in Israel] can never be taken for granted… the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, not eternal panic-mongering.” 

The fact that Kaufman’s belief in his nation’s lack of humanity and eroding democracy was dutifully granted license by Guardian editors shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone marginally familiar with the institution’s unyielding fealty to every conceivable malign anti-Zionist calumny.

32 replies »

  1. Kaufman is one of the saner characters at 972. He has undoubtedly been radicalized by his three years at 972 and frequently comes up with borderline articles. 972 has outed itself as a well greased chute of far Left insanity. Many are outspoken anti-zionists and see the end of the world behind every corner. Classic helper syndrome coupled with near socialist ideas. 972 is a window into Israel’s 2%. One of their own, Lisa Goldman has left Israel and is back in Toronto because of PTSD which she developed while covering Israel and Gaza etc. Another co founder is Joseph Dana who while BFF with Ali Abunima now delights the BDS scene by publishing his writings in a Gulf publication. The anti-BDS laws in Israel seemingly forced him into writing for more mainstream journo outlets but he rarely misses an opportunity to make a anti-Israel point.
    While reading 972 I am often reminded of the western Left during the cold war who proclaimed that the Soviet Union wasn’t that bad, really.

    • I know many Israelis who think that if their Government was not subsidizing the settlements built in the Palestinian territory in violation of international law, there would be money left to care for the honest Israeli citizens swho live in Israel.

      • Nat,

        I agree, but we tend to disagree about the borders of those territories and their current definition.

        We also disagree about your all too frequent laim interpretation of internation law.

        Never the less, I agree about the need for a settlement with our neighbours, The Palestinians, as most Israelis, including many Likkud members, are.

        Will you join me in praying for some sense to be inserted into both sides?
        Or are you one of those who sees only the evils of one side?

        • “We also disagree about your all too frequent laim interpretation of internation law.”

          I’ve not followed Nat’s arguments, but are there any “laim[sic]” interpretations of international law that aren’t backed up by EVERY single instrument of international law?

      • How many Israelis?

        2? 10? 50? 100?

        Most likely in the same way as many Brits who believe that if the British government were not subsidising unfettered immigration or wasn’t in the EU then there’d be more jobs – neither is so and I would guess that you are oversimplifying.

        Who are you to say that any money not spent on settlements would automatically be directed to the places it’s needed? (That is a rhetorical question. You cannot possibly know). If immigration to the UK from the Indian subcontinent and EU were stopped tomorrow the putative extra dosh would almost certainly not go where it should.

    • “While reading 972 I am often reminded of the western Left during the cold war who proclaimed that the Soviet Union wasn’t that bad, really.”

      Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne is still making that argument!

    • “…Lisa Goldman has left Israel and is back in Toronto because of PTSD which she developed while covering Israel and Gaza etc. ”

      Actually, I flew from Cairo (where I was reporting on the Egyptian uprising) to Toronto in May 2011 to help my sister take care of our mother, who was then in the final stage of cancer. After my mother died, I decided to stay in North America in order to be closer to my family and to pursue a career opportunity.

      • This small victory, and others like it, weren’t enough to keep Lisa Goldman from leaving. Late last year, after 14 years in Israel, she decided to return to her native Canada.

        “It became unbearable for me,” she said of life in Israel. “My big watershed moment was Cast Lead [in 2008], and then, over the following months and years, I felt as if I saw everything in 3-D, and it was untenable. I didn’t just know one aspect of the occupation. I knew the spoiled Palestinian brass who grew up in Tunis who were partying hard in Ramallah, and those educated in England. I knew Hamas people and kids from Oberlin who came with their Macs to hang out and help the Palestinians. I knew the journalists, the settlers. I’ve seen every aspect of it. I’ve been working as a journalist since 2005, and I just kind of got PTSD.”

        The main cause for her discontent, Goldman said, was a growing discrepancy between the reality she was seeing on the ground every day and her Israeli friends’ unwillingness to confront that reality. “I’d come home from a really horrific day, and I’d drive back to Tel Aviv, and what I’d do is go out for dinner in nice restaurants, but my fuses were popping,” she said. “It’s an incredible transition from the occupation to salubrious restaurants in Tel Aviv. To see an old woman retching up reams of white mucus because of tear gas, and then come home, quickly shower, and have dinner with friends who wouldn’t listen to my politics because I was too radical. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

        http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/88611/wake-up-call/2

        I’ve said this before to other people and I’m saying it now: if you don’t want to embarrass yourself, please stop assuming that those who don’t agree with you are idiots.

        • It’s an interview with selective quotes. Certainly It’s an accurate quote, but these were not the reasons I chose to leave Israel. NOT that it is any of your business. I strongly suggest you live your own life, stop panting at the window of others’ lives, and limit your criticism to substantive political points rather than puerile personal comments.

          • I strongly suggest you live your own life, stop panting at the window of others’ lives, and limit your criticism to substantive political points rather than puerile personal comments.

            After your meddling with the lives of Israelis for years the stink of hypocrisy is emanating from this sentence is unbearable.

                  • Joking Ms. Goldman? according to yourself you left Israel and now you are living in Canada. What kind of Israeli tax are you paying there?
                    Regarding the other points, I’m a Hungarian citizen (not paying Hungarian tax) my mother tongue is Hungarian and were I wish so I could have a Hungarian passport. It doesn’t make me a Hungarian but an ex-Hungarian – exactly as you are an ex-Israeli. Regarding your assertion about tax paying please pull the other one…

          • ” stop panting at the window of others’ lives ”
            Your constant malicious carping at Israeli behaviour shows your expertise in this area.

          • How intelligent is that posting?
            You brought your personal life up, so stop complaining.

          • Stand by the sources, stand by what I wrote, stand by my correctly negative view of the hypocrisy of yourself and your entire failed, threadbare M.O. Just wanted to add this note so anyone reading this, including yourself, will note anew that you’re a complete loser.

  2. Kaufman’s attempt to link the sad fate of Moshe Silman with some of his own prejudices didn’t convince many as the below-the-line comments show. Nevertheless, he did highlight the problem of progressive reduction in national resources devoted to social, welfare and health services over the past decade, with the greater part of “growth” in this period being diverted to privileged groups- tycoons, conglomerates, settlers and the ultraorthodox. A recent example is Finance Minister Steinitz’s decision to back enormous tax breaks to multinational companies at a time when he is considering raising indirect taxes which will adversely affect the middle and lower income groups.

    http://www.haaretz.com/business/tax-chief-backs-low-multinational-rate-1.433278

    The popular protest last year spawned the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations, many of which have been emasculated by the current government. Last year’s protests had no specific political direction and therefore general appeal. This year should see less naivety and more political resolve, especially with a general election coming in six months.

    • There are a few issues in your post, that I think need to be corrected:
      A. ‘Settlers’ are hardly a “privileged” group- the majority are Tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.
      B. I think that Israel, after 45 or so odd years of Economic stagnation, brought by unhinged left-wing Labourite policies, has regrouped toward a more sensible, free-market oriented approach, that frankly, has benefited all.(Not withstanding various welfare considerations, that still need to be maintained).
      The Protesters’ call, for instance, to continue raising the national deficit, and dismissing any attempts to reason with me, with the satirical-“It’s better to have a fiscal deficient, than a Human one”, is bringing us closer to the cusp, and I am positive, that unlike Greece, no one will rush to bailout Israel.

      • Commentary 101,

        “B. I think that Israel, after 45 or so odd years of Economic stagnation, brought by unhinged left-wing Labourite policies, has regrouped toward a more sensible, free-market oriented approach, that frankly, has benefited all.(Not withstanding various welfare considerations, that still need to be maintained).”

        Sure.
        Tell this to the hundreds of redundant villages and small communities.

        Fact of the matter is that my brother, a teacher in his late forties. is still unable to buy a one bedroom house anywhere after many years in service.

        He has to pray they’ll let him work most of the summer holiday marking exams just to balance the books.

        “Benefit for all” my back side!

        Israel needs to get out of that market Mafia mentality it is still stuck in.

        • Mr. DeWembley, I appreciate your pain; I value it, sincerely.
          Personally, as a member of the middle-class here, I too have I slipped, several times, into what Israelis ‘affectionately’ term, “overdraft”, and yes, I’ve had several loans to repay; but a person in my field(Sciences) has come to realize that the free-market is the only way to offer genuine prosperity and burgeoning to everyone.(At least the freedom to do it).
          I think, actually, that one of the reasons for this malaise is incomplete deregulation and reforms. We’ve got a large, extortionate public-sector Union, a massively corrupt and incorrigibly mismanaged Utility company, a railway monopoly going, ironically, nowhere, Ports run by incompetents, and Import quotas and tariffs that are killing any viable alternatives to overpriced goods here.
          There’s hardly any competition in the internal market, and the recent Mobile telephony restructuration proves it: Prices have dropped considerably as competition kicked in.
          Redundant villages? Small communities? Why can’t Ms. Leef, Mr. Kaufman, &c, move where they’re truly needed(Like Mr. Shmuley of the Student Union has done): gentrify localities outside of Tel-Aviv: Lod, Ramle, Acre, Beersheba, Dimona, Ashdod, and so forth.
          This could be the start of a solution.

        • Itsik
          We are all aware that in common with other countries Israel is far from perfect in taking care of the weaker people among us. That there is a genuine desire to do so cannot be denied. That the Social Welfare laws are over complicated and bureaucratic is evident. However, to attack Israel welfare as if it is alone in its clumsiness puts the attacker firmly in the class of the az-a-Jew anti-Israel loonie lefties, where Kaufman placed himself

        • You call it market mafia mentality others call it free market economy.
          Could you name any other economic model not leading its users to catastrophy? I’m open to listen to you.
          The root of the economic troubles in Israel (and in many welfare states they even can’t dream to be on the same level) is the remnants of the old Mapai/Histadrut fossils like the Electric Corporation, the Israel Railways, the ports, the Postal Services the Education Ministry and the free rein and dictature of the government burocracy like the totally corrupt Tax Authority and National Insurance.

    • Although it looks as if the pendulum in Israel as in the US swung too far to deregulation of markets and the economy in general, under Netanyahu as Finance Minister, on the whole there is no comparison between Israel today as a growing, high value economy and the general stagnation and rampant inflation of the ’70’s and ’80s. The advent of “tycoons” should have been a clear danger signal that things had gone too far, but, on the other hand, in a prior period the country had been in the hands of a few families such as the various food and chocolate dynasties, the major land owners such as the Netanya crowd, the banking families, and so on.

      I think Netanyahu was a far better Finance Minister than Prime Minister and dismantling the Histadrut economy benefited most people. In addition, the growth in the population due to the Russian immigration provided a much better economic base for the country..

      On the whole, Israel’s welfare systems are about as good, or as bad, as those of many other countries. Compare with the USA, for example. Nevertheless, there are always going to be those for whom the assistance the state can provide will not be enough, for a variety of reasons connected to their financial success – bad luck, poor financial judgement, personal tragedies, etc.

      The attempt to draw broad conclusions from the tragedy of one individual in what appears to have been a clear copycat act was unwarranted. One might as well argue that if people are not burning themselves alive all is well.

  3. And we have not even discussed the comments on Kaufman’s piece. To be honest, I don’t have the strength to face the fools.