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Where has the land of hope gone?

Professior Yeshayahu Leibovitz once told me how he had encountered the writer Shai Agnon, who asked him: Why has the strength of the Torah grown weak? Leibovitz answered in the same spirit: Its power has grown weak because Torah study has become a trade, and there are too many rabbis.

And indeed, the greedy and avaricious who have turned the Torah into a trade get the title rabbis. In the Diaspora, the handful of rabbis, did not damage Jewish identity, whereas today in Israel swarms of rabbis practice as spiritual guides humming in our ears from circumcision to the grave. Many of them are immune to criticism, even if they are thieves, rapists, racist instigators, or attackers of IDF soldiers, as they relentlessly conspire to undermine democratic institutions. As secular law—which is becoming weaker day by day—tries to restrain them, these rabbis receive the support of Hassidic followers, politicians or corrupt government leaders smelling of fascism, who are ready to sell the good of the country for personal gain.

Against the defiled trinity of corrupt government, devouring wealth and a violent messianic religion, the people stand helpless, paralyzed and confused. The rulers claim that they gained power by democratic means, as they are the majority in the Knesset. But democracy is not only the rule of the majority. The meaning of democracy is the zealous protection of the rights of the other and the different. The meaning of democracy is to ensure the safe existence of the weak. And when the government revokes nursing insurance for the elderly, and throws hundreds of thousands of people into a state of poverty and need at the end of their lives, and votes against comparing disability pension to minimum wage—this government is not democratic, but a group of people deaf to human emotion.


The meaning of democracy is the protection of the right to criticize and of the judicial systems, but what we witness are malicious and dangerous attacks on the Supreme Court, such as the fascistic utterance of an Israeli MK that a D9 shovel should be used against the highest judicial authority. The meaning of democracy is freedom of expression and freedom of thought. The meaning of democracy is the right to demonstrate without fear of encountering police brutality against demonstrators because of religion, gender or skin color.


POOR Israel Beggars on the street in Jerusalem (Photo Gil Yohanan)


In a climate of false propaganda and the slick tongues of that defiled trinity, Israel is slipping into the dark Third World, away from the enlightened democratic world. The immediate victims are the weaker populations, such as Arab citizens, most of whom aspire to lead a quiet life in a proper regime. We still remember the malicious smear campaign against them, led by the prime minister about two weeks ago, when Haifa was in flames. All the statements made by the Arab citizens—that this country is theirs as much as it belongs to the Jewish citizens, and that the general pain is their pain too—were to no avail. Due to the toxic incitement of a regime in search of enemies, Arab citizens are always a target for ostracism and discrimination, both overt and covert.


The unholy covenant, between a weak regime and those who pretend to be holy spiritual shepherds, gains the enthusiastic support of wealthy tycoons. The fat are getting fatter, and the thin sink deeper into a mire of debt and poverty. One purchases an apartment for tens of millions, and the other, at best, gives up half of his salary as rent for a crumbling ruin, or is brutally evicted from his home in favor of real-estate barons.


Due to the aggravating social polarization, disadvantaged populations sink further into the cycle of poverty, which becomes bigger and deeper, and seems to have no way out. These populations collapse under the burden of debt because they have no means of paying for electricity and water (basic human rights), while the public authorities use draconian collection mechanisms. It is tragic that most children born to poor families are doomed for the rest of their lives to slog in the housing shortage, malnutrition and a short life span. The price of the unnecessary submarines could have redeemed tens of thousands from poverty.


In a reality of occupation, violent settlement on land that we do not own, and initiation of Grab Laws, the image of the violent conqueror becomes an object of admiration in Israeli culture. Women in the public sector, as well as the army and work place, not only suffer pay discrimination but unbearable sexual harassment. Every day we witness new horrifying incidents of rape and abuse. One of every three women in Israel is a victim of sexual violence. It is terrifying these days to be a girl or an innocent woman in an office, a pub, a public playground, an army unit, or even in a general’s headquarters or a rabbi’s chamber.


israeli-mr-universe-title Photo: Kobi Ifrach


It is just as dangerous to be black in Israel. In quite a few cases the very same person who is supposed to protect you—whether it is a policeman or a security guard in a night-club—is the one who will crush you. Most contemptible are the Mohalim (circumcisers), who treat Ethiopian newborns as guinea pigs, and do not deter from endangering their health. Brutal bullies see the dark skinned person as an easy and convenient target for abuse, just as the Jews were in anti-Semitic countries.

I am 90 years old now. When I came to Israel I was 23. I saw around me bright and shining eyes, filled with dreams. There was hope for equality and justice. In the Hydrological Service, where I worked, the simple driver of the division got the same salary as the manager, because he was a father of many children. How did the dreams vanish from our horizon? How was the Land of Hope cut from under our feet? How were human rights trampled on in so many areas? And how are citizens abandoned in a regime where the might is right? Culture or humanity is fighting for its life, human rights organizations are being attacked, as well as media critical of the government. The academia has also become a target, after some crazy idea to form illegitimate ethical rules for the institution of higher education. Even literary works have to pass through the toxic strainer of narrow-minded inspectors.


One must be a superhero to stand up and rage against those who trample upon a humane motherland. Not everyone can be a brave hero protecting human rights. I adopt the Dalai Lama’s saying: the central cause in this life is to help others, and if you cannot help – at least do not hurt them. Quite a few artists and intellectuals comply with the regime’s wink. And unfortunately, quite a few writers and poets are willing to settle for lentil stew, selling their talent and penmanship to those who destroy the image of culture.

Nevertheless, I have seen in my time evil empires, that believed they would last a thousand years, crumble into dust under the firm foot of men aspiring to be human. This terrible nightmare we are in today is bound to pass.

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Sammy Michael is the President of the Human Rights Society, marking the International Human Rights Awareness Week.

By Ynet News



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