THE BLOG

You Are Fed Old Wives' Tales

Our generation does not understand that if current Israeli government policies continue, we will have neither a pension nor public services. Where is the money? Look for it in Netanyahu's tax breaks for big corporations.

The place in history books of the men and women who founded the State of Israel is secure; the conditions in which many of them live today is far more precarious. Given the living conditions of many elderly people in Israel, Israel's "greatest generation" should go out on strike: take themselves out of the text books and songs of heroism and refuse to allow hypocritical politicians to capitalize on their exploits, while ignoring their deteriorating living standards. Only when they are treated as equal citizens in today's society, should they return to their rightful place in our history books.

One out of every ten people in Israel today is over 65. In 20 years this number will double. We can be proud that life expectancy here is one of the highest in the world, but what quality of life and dignity do we offer our elderly in a society that increasingly measures people by their economic utility.

Recent government data indicate that one quarter of Israel's elderly live below the poverty line, and fully one third need welfare services. The average pension is 5,000 shekels ($1,295), a month but two-thirds of retirees live on far less: tiny allowances between 1,100 ($285) and 2,000 shekels ($518) that do not provide for even minimum needs like rent, heating, transportation, urgent medical care, and medications that are increasingly more expensive. Only half of them can afford needed dental care. In a country that over the last three decades has dismantled basic public services, it is no surprise that our elderly are shunted to the side. As the economic gaps grow, fewer Israelis can afford quality education, first-rate health care and a reasonable standard of living. All the rest are busy surviving. Not everyone is successful.

For a long time we assumed that our economic woes were the private problems of our own family, and not part of a larger story. Our generation, busy in the here and now, betting on the opening hour for the next war, must understand what lies in ambush in the future. Today's young adults increasingly rely on their parents' support, but may not be able to help their parents in their old age. Today's young adults will not have a pension that allows them to grow old in dignity or a safety net to protect them. If the country continues to follow the current leadership down this destructive path, when we reach our grandparents' age, public systems that provide services to the general public will be old wives' tales, a lost memory.

Claims of efficiency cannot justify the elderly woman who cuts her medication in half each morning so that she will have some for tomorrow.

Arguments for free markets cannot justify the elderly man who cannot go to the doctor, because there is no bench to sit on while he waits at the bus stop.

We can still fix it. We can become a more compassionate society.

But compassion is not enough. The trail blazing research of Prof. Richard Wilkinson and Prof. Kate Pickett on inequality and its influence on society at large, reveals a connection between social gaps and mental and physical malaise, both among those at the top and those at the bottom. Unequal societies suffer higher rates of crime, mutual suspicion, violence and disease. Contrary to expectations, it is not only the weak who suffer these phenomena. All members of a society afflicted with inequality will suffer -- rich and poor. In other words: we are not disconnected from each other, and what happens to one segment of the population affects everybody.

Many studies emphasize today the connection between social ties, good health, and longevity. We need meaning and connection in our lives. We should be investing in social capital by supporting community centers and opportunities for study and cultural enrichment.

We can still fix it. We must have the will to readjust our priorities and the way we allocate public resources.

We need systems that provide high quality basic services - medical and dental care, transportation and communications -- and effective counseling services to access them.

Investment in such services is an investment in our mutual responsibility as a society. In a society that values solidarity, I watch over you and you watch over me. You will catch me when I fall, and I will in my turn catch you. This is the meaning of solidarity, one of the most beautiful discoveries of human society and once the pride of Israeli society.

There is no money? The giant corporations will laugh at this, since only this month Prime Minister Netanyahu has forgiven them taxes to the tune of 27 billion shekels ($6.75 billion). With just a small portion of that amount, we could change the lives of hundreds of thousands of elderly people in Israel.

We can still fix it.