At today’s Tel Aviv J14 social justice protest, one of the demonstrators, Moshe Silman, immolated himself to protest injustices done to him by the State. He is now in serious condition in a local hospital. With the help of Dena Shunra, I’ve put together some of the tragic circumstances that led the 52 year-old man to try to take his life to protest the brutality and inhumanity of the current Israeli government.
Silman ran a trucking-delivery service and had a number of vehicles and employees working for him. He got into arrears with the Israeli agency that provides social security and insurance benefits (Bituach L’umi). They claimed that he owed them $1,000. In order to collect, they put a lien on all of the property of his company, selling trucks for half their value ($7,000 instead of $15,000). They liquidated his entire company, whose value was far more than the $1,000 he owed. As a result, he could not meet contract obligations and his clients stopped paying and ordering, leading to the disintegration of his business.
Correspondence to him was sent by the government agency to the wrong address. He ended up totally penniless, eking out a living as a cab driver.
Finally, after getting no recourse from the social security agency, and being about to lose his borrowed flat (a friend gave him a year rent-free, which was about to run out) – he was entirely unable to find a place to live. He wrote about his predicament in this comment (Hebrew). Along the way he had a stroke and was designated 100% disabled and unable to work.
Activists tried to help him, but failed. So he decided to self-immolate at the J14 demonstration. Throughout his protest, he has insisted in every communication that he did his military service, was a good solider, and that the state was not living up to its side of the bargain.
The question is what will happen now regarding Israel’s version of Occupy Wall Street. How will the protest’s leaders react? How will the government react? If Israel was a normal country this would ignite a roiling wave of protest that might topple the government. But of course Israel isn’t. It’s a country at war with enemies without and within. It suffers from a morality and empathy deficit. But the fact that a “average” Israeli Jew has been driven to killing himself by the current economic crisis might just be what it takes to move the communal national conscience.
One of my Twitter followers aptly noted the similarity to Mohamed Bouazizi, the poor street vendor whose beatings and insults meted out by local officials caused him to set himself on fire in protest. This in turn led to the first uprising of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Will this light the same “fire” in Israel?
Here is an example of the depravity of certain elements within Israel. Prof. Amir Hetsroni, a noted far-right faculty member at Ariel College suggested(Hebrew) that the immolation might not be a bad thing because it will have gotten rid of a “social parasite:”
I don’t know if there’s any truth in the guy’s claims. The immolation itself doesn’t make much impression on me. It’s even possible to see this as ridding ourselves of a noxious parasite. I of course wish him a good health.
Pyromaniacs have ceased making any impression on me since Lag B’Omer [a Jewish holiday celebrated with bonfires].
This is Friedmanism on steroids. Or Bibism taken to its logical conclusion.
You’ll recall that Netanyahu clawed his way to the prime ministership on the backs of Israel’s poor, sick and unemployed by slashing national social welfare benefits and turning Israel into a neoliberal laboratory in which the underclass were the rats, while the oligarchal elite reaped the rewards.
The Israeli media has published a censored version of Silman’s suicide note. I feature the uncensored version here.