Counterpoint: Proactive, reactive, inactive

Whether the issue is the treatment of Holocaust survivors or Sudanese refugees, Israel's leaders always seem to be caught by surprise

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
It is heartrending to see Holocaust survivors begging the government for a subsidy so that they might live out their remaining days with dignity. It is appalling to witness refugees from the battered region of Darfur pleading for asylum in our country to avoid being returned to Sudan and facing certain genocide. It is painful to watch the handicapped bolt their wheelchairs to trees in the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset to protest cuts in subsidies to the physically disabled, but no more than watching single-parent families sleep in tents outside the Prime Minister's Office because their national insurance allowance was reduced. It is unspeakable that the high school teachers' strike lasted so long, only to be outdone by the university professors' strike - both because of pitifully low salaries. It is heartbreaking to witness Karmit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped soldier Ehud, imploring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to provide any information as to the whereabouts of her husband, and equally excruciating to see Gilad Schalit's father desperately pressing the government to gain his son's release from Hamas's grip. WHAT DO these five episodes above have in common? They all could have been prevented. Leopold Rosen came to build Israel in the wake of the Holocaust. After paying his medical expenses, the sickly 85-year-old can barely make ends meet. Rosen is one of approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors living here, half of whom live below the poverty belt. How is it possible that our leaders discovered this disgraceful reality only when hundreds of survivors marched to the Knesset in protest over the government's disregard for their plight? The reports reaching the West about mass murder in Darfur are a sharp reminder that evil is alive and well in our world. Yet somehow, Israel responds to the cries of the few hundred Sudanese seeking refuge in our country only after the local media highlights their desperate situation. Why does the government wait until Vicki Knafo marches from Sderot to the Knesset or Haim Shirki falls out of his wheelchair in front of the Treasury building to recognize that single parents and the handicapped are but a few of the many disenfranchised who have fallen between the economic cracks? Are our leaders unaware of the well publicized gaps between the haves and have-nots in the country? Virtually every year there is a strike among our teachers and academicians. The warning signs of potential school walkouts are clear. And yet our government continually fails to stave off the crippling effect such strikes have on the education system. THE CHIEF of Military Intelligence warned the cabinet that Hizbullah had been planning a dramatic event - most likely kidnapping Israeli soldiers. The OC Southern Front cautioned against Hamas plotting kidnappings in the Gaza area. And yet, in both cases, we were caught with our proverbial pants down. As a result, Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Schalit fell into enemy hands. What is the government response to these events? 1. For Holocaust survivors who suffered the most unimaginable horror in recent history, the abysmal sum of an additional few hundred shekels a month. While some would deny the Holocaust, we deny the survivors 2. For Sudanese refugees, internment in improvised prison camps 3. For the disadvantaged, an increase in the monthly national insurance allowance that doesn't keep pace with cost-of-living increments 4. For striking teachers and professors, accords signed weeks after the 11th hour that are merely provisional until the next strike, which will no doubt catch our leaders unaware, and 5. For the Goldwasser, Regev and Schalit families, empty promises. WHEN THERE is a rash of fatal traffic accidents; when Israeli Arabs take to the streets to protest inequality; when municipal workers walk off their jobs because they haven't received their salaries for months; when Ethiopians demonstrate against prejudice in the school system; when cancer patients protest that certain lifesaving drugs are not included in our socialized health funds; and when an elder is attacked or a teenager stabbed or a woman raped - we are always caught by surprise. We respond to these recurring societal challenges with spur-of-the-moment solutions, whose shelf life can be measured in nanoseconds. Our government simply improvises, lurching from one crisis to the next. There is no game plan, just knee-jerk responses. Only in the heat of the moment, and only after events come to a head, are decisions finally reached, which are always temporary - a mere Band-Aid for problems that require intensive care. Most disturbing, if this cavalier approach to problems persists, you can bet there will be another commission of inquiry to investigate failures of the army in a next war. After all, the Winograd Commission report which exposed the army's lack of preparedness prior to and during the Second Lebanon War was a repeat of the previous Agranat and Kahan commissions that respectively lay bare similar military shortcomings in the Yom Kippur War and Operation Peace for Galilee. We can only hope that this time the government will take the steps necessary, no matter how radical, to set things right in the IDF. In an enlightened democracy, a government should lead, not follow. We elect our leaders because we expect them to guide our country responsibly - by anticipating what awaits us on the political, diplomatic, military, social and economic fronts, and having the foresight to implement a program of action that has far-reaching and long-term solutions which protects citizens from injustice, humiliation, angst, fear, suffering and attack. It is morally imperative that our leaders be proactive rather than reactive; or, as is too often the case in Israel - inactive.