The French have that certain “je ne sais quoi.”
Even when they protest. I
have vague childhood memories of the 1968 student demonstrations that swept
across France and much of Western Europe. Most summers my family snatched a
two-week holiday across the English Channel. There we met the French in the
middle of a month or two of their grandes vacances.
At some point in the
1970s, I had a French teacher on an exchange program in England. I’ve no idea
what the French pupils made of the teacher they received, but I think my school
probably got more than it bargained for: a passionate, left-leaning Frenchwoman
who was more interested in teaching us social philosophy than French grammar. To
this day, I can sing by heart most of the lyrics of Maxime le Forestier’s Mon
Frère album, protest songs and all.
It came out in 1973.
was otherwise engaged that year.
In fact, most years Israel has been a
little preoccupied, which is the reason why the French fight for their rights
(as if there was no threat from al-Qaida) while Israelis are still fighting for
their existence (as if social ills were no threat).
“To see the French –
and be filled with envy,” declared the headline of an opinion piece by Ma’ariv
Ofer Shelach last week. Shelach was jealous of the way the French took to the
streets to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reform which would raise their
retirement age to 62. It wouldn’t require them to work more than 35 hours a week
and, naturellement, does not stop them from taking off for all of August and
more. The French demonstrated even though they knew Sarkozy was right, Shelach
pointed out. And even though the president stood his ground. “I wish it could
happen here,” Shelach opined.
Vive la différence! I’d be satisfied if
Israel could finally officially move over to a five-day week. Or as we say in
The French, ultimately, are not protesting the lack of
free time. They are demonstrating out of fear that the change in the pension age
reflects a new way of thinking. As Uriel Lynn pointed out in an op-ed in Yisrael
Hayom, they are fighting against the right of the state to touch their work
In Israel, you’re more likely to have a rally supporting the
right to work.
Following fierce opposition and threats of a strike from
workers at Makhteshim Agan, the major producer of crop-protection chemicals,
Koor, a subsidiary of IDB, announced that the negotiations over the sale to a
Chinese company would be temporarily frozen to allow for discussions with the
PROVING THAT the global village is a strange place
indeed, Koor, which owns 44.1 percent of Makhteshim Agan, announced earlier this
month that it has been approached by China National Chemical Corporation
(ChemChina) to turn Makhteshim Agan into Chinese-run private company.
would have thought that Koor – once owned by the Histadrut trade union
federation – would find a partner in an eager-to-privatize China? Addressing the
fears of the 1,800 workers, Koor chairman Ami Erel told the Knesset Finance
Committee: “There is no danger that the Makhteshim Agan factories in Ashdod and
Beersheba will be closed. We intend to continue the operations at these
factories and protect the company and its workers.”
Most media attention
has focused on the threat to jobs involved in such a deal. A footnote has been
the concern that Israeli workers would suddenly have to abide by Chinese-style
Both are legitimate fears.
Somewhat overlooked is
the question of whether an Israeli company dealing in natural resources should
be able to sell the control over these assets to a foreign body, which can then
sell them to whoever it wants and so on.
“There is no sale of Israel’s
natural treasures involved in this deal,” Erel told the committee, according to
Post economics reporter Sharon Wrobel. But methinks he doth protest too
WHILE THE South has been concerned with chemical crop-protection
producers, the North has been occupied with offshore resources. Israel has not
struck oil, but it has discovered huge natural gas reserves. When I say
“Israel,” however, there are some who would say it is Yitzhak Tshuva, head of
the Delek Group Ltd., one of the owners of the well, who has struck
Obviously the country in its state of non-splendid isolation will
benefit from having a ready source of energy just off its northern coast. The
question is: Who reaps the financial benefits? A heated discussion is now taking
place over the percentage of the revenue that the company should pay the state.
Just as the gas could help solve the energy crisis in the near future, so could
the revenue help solve some of the pressing social problems, the argument
For, on a much smaller scale than in France, there are social
protests in Israel. Just this week the disabled and the blind gathered in
separate events seeking greater financial benefits. And there was much grumbling
over the increasing costs of housing and mortgage terms (and who really gains
from major land sale deals).
Even the students – well, some students –
took to the streets. For an hour. This was no Tea Party – more like the bitter
Turkish coffee known locally as “botz.” Its very name means “mud.”
brief demonstration by the students was a very Israeli one. It wasn’t about the
cost of university studies. It was against the so-called “yeshiva students bill”
which would give married yeshiva students with at least three children and who
are not home owners (and subject to certain other restrictions) a small monthly
grant, as indeed has been the case throughout the years. The university students
argue that those who meet the same criteria – most of whom also work and do
military reserve duty – should receive a similar stipend.
And, of course,
there is also a call for more haredim to join the workforce – which ignores the
central problem – that they cannot leave their yeshivot to work without first
being called up for army service. Here you’re getting into a completely
different discussion: Taking the average yeshiva bocher out of Bnei Brak and
plonking him down in a regular IDF base is not likely to do much to enhance
either national security or the rookie’s spiritual well-being. There should at
least be a system of alternative civilian national service.
don’t have the right to strike. Neither do policemen – which is a pity, because
not only are they overworked and underpaid, they seem to be physically under
attack at most protests.
Perhaps the only way in which the French
demonstrations and the Israeli ones are similar is that the police, for some
reason, end up as the target.
A social worker friend told me recently
that her union was on the verge of striking. “But, unfortunately,” she said,
“nobody cares. After all, we’re dealing with the poor, the elderly, the infirm
and those unable to take care of themselves. If nobody worries about them,
nobody is going to care if we stop looking after them.
“It’s not like
when the teachers go on strike and everyone sits up and takes notice because
their kids aren’t going to school.”
Ironically, some social workers earn
less than the “welfare cases” they handle, and work hours that would have the
French sharpening the guillotines of old.
On behalf of the police,
nurses, social workers and others so busy with their jobs and trying to make
ends meet that they don’t have a chance to publicly complain, I
The writer is editor of the International Jerusalem