Protesters in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If only the government would reduce taxes and make life easier for the middle class! If only the country weren’t run by a few malevolent tycoons! If only...
The list runs long, of course, but the average citizen’s moans and sighs have become shouts and hollers. There appear to be some people in this country who don’t fully understand what it means to run out of money by month’s end, to lack the means to buy food and fill up the gas tank – a reality with which hundreds of thousands of middle-class citizens here must cope on a constant basis.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his understanding of the hardship and high cost of living in Israel, but his words seem empty. If he truly understood how tough it is for people to make ends meet, he shouldn’t have waited for the public to explode in fury. Rather, he should have convened his ministers far more quickly than he has and remained hell-bent on finding a solution to civil society’s problems.
The hardship of living exists in many other countries as well, but it takes a fair amount of courage and resolution to actually move here and contend with seemingly unnecessarily high taxes and inflated prices for just about, well, everything. Life has gotten way too tough for way too many, and there seems to be nowhere for the average citizen to turn for some relief.
In 2009, on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem shortly after election day, I commented to a senior government adviser that one of the many things from which this country suffers is a disconnect between the public and the leadership. Why not create a way for the prime minister to give a weekly or biweekly address to the nation? Yes, the weekly Sunday cabinet meeting is a measured and calculated “interaction” with the public through the media, but the prime minister still speaks to the ministers around the table – not directly to the camera.
The public has a right to know, in a more straightforward manner, what our leaders are doing with our hard-earned tax money, and we would certainly like to know, not only during the election period, what our leaders believe they can achieve for the good of the people. Former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous radio addresses, known as “fireside chats,” were a hit with the American public, and presidents since then have made it a point to address the nation directly.
“The prime minister would never go for it,” was the reply.
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TWO AND a half years later, I wonder if today’s tent and stroller protests could have been avoided had the prime minister taken the time to connect to the people. The fact that the prime minister owns two expensive homes, one in Jerusalem and another in Caesarea, and that he smokes quality cigars does not help his disconnected-from the average- person image.
And yet, some would argue, why should that matter? The problems of this country existed before his premiership and will likely continue after. These protests, which, for the most part, cross religious, secular, Left and Right divides, have nothing to do with any specific government or the personal wealth of any specific leader, but rather, the years of neglect caused by successive governments that worried too much about the shaky existence of their coalitions at the expense of shaping the future of this small state. Leader after leader neglected to face the nation on a regular basis to hear and be heard.
Without a doubt, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will remain an issue, and our security is an important priority – but as some protesters have already expressed, who cares about missiles when we can’t afford food and rent? I still believe our leaders can and should communicate regularly with the public.
Either way, I have little doubt that the next election period will bear few similarities to recent ones. Instead of relying on slogans relating to security or the peace process, candidates will have to appeal to the masses and garner votes by focusing on social issues and promising “real social change” – but I say beware the infamous “Read my lips: No more taxes” refrain.
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