Follow the (lack of) money
Hebrew media review

Follow the (lack of) money

If your husband is a world leader and you need to shake down friends for jewelry, if you have to beg the government to pay to save your kids' lives, you might be in Israel

A man begs for money near a window display in the center of Jerusalem. October 22, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man begs for money near a window display in the center of Jerusalem. October 22, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A report released Wednesday on the State of Israel found it has one of the highest costs of living in the developed world, something that comes as little surprise to anyone who has ever tried to make a go of it here. If one squints, one can almost see that struggle reflected through the main stories in Thursday morning’s newspapers, which I present here, via a series of Jeff Foxworthy-esque quips.

If you are the prime minister’s wife, and you have to beg friends to buy you a $2,500 piece of jewelry, you might be in Israel.

If you are a company doing illegal things and you still have the gall to get government money, you might be in Israel.

If you have to beg for bureaucrats to fund a drug literally saving your kids’ lives, you might be in Israel.

If your parliamentary Knesset filibuster includes tips on buying eggs, you might be in Israel.

That filibuster ended late Wednesday, but the vote it was trying to delay, on the police recommendations bill, did not take place until well after the newspapers were sent to the print press, turning what should have been the biggest story of the day into a mere curiosity.

Yedioth is the only paper to play up the filibuster and looming passage of the police recommendations bill, apparently sending out two editions, one in which the bill was expected to pass and one in which it already had.

Even in the more updated version, the paper notes that it’s not as if there were so many unknowns, reporting that “it was the longest filibuster of the 20th Knesset, but it’s end was known in advance.”

The paper also plays up a Hadashot news report that Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan told police he gave Sara Netanyahu expensive jewelry, after she made a stink about it over his protestations about possible illegality.

The most prominent headline in the paper’s busy front page is a seventh-hand quote from Sara, telling Milchan’s aide Hadas Klein “You’re humiliating me,” over their reluctance to buy her the jewelry. (Seventh-hand because the quote journeys from Sara to Klein to Milchan to the police to the source leaking info to Hadashot news to Yedioth). According to the paper, the reported comments “sharpen questions about how good friends the Netanyahus were with Milchan,” despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempting to show how buddy-buddy they were recently by publishing family photos of them all hanging out together.

Israel Hayom buries the story of the police bill deep inside its pages, reporting only that the vote was expected and noting that the plenum was mostly empty for much of the 43-plus hours of pointless talking, except when MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) got up to speak.

“For two hours he spiced up his speech with humor and brought smiles to the faces of whoever was present. The Knesset speaker even announced he would come in and preside over the session during Cabel’s speech, to hear his words,” the paper reports, without mentioning Cabel’s eggcellent advice, delivered from the august rostrum, for buying eggs (buy the little ones, they are tastier).

Likewise Haaretz doesn’t have much to say about the police bill or the filibuster, though it devotes its lead editorial not to defending the police against the government attempt to cuff them, but rather to urging the five-oh to quit neglecting Arab communities.

“The police cannot wash their hands of this problem, claiming that a ‘cultural change’ is required in Arab society, as if this were a society of criminals by nature. The police must show their full range of capabilities in relating to Arab society and prove to it that this community is as important to police as Jewish society is,” the editorial reads.

The fact that lawlessness is not solely an Arab problem comes through in a front page story by the paper, reporting that local councils in the West Bank pay bundles to settlement construction company Amana, run by settler leader Ze’ev Hever, despite it building homes in illegal outposts, and other below-board activities.

“Amana has helped build illegal outposts, sometimes on private Palestinian land; it has been implicated in cases that involved signing forged documents and making false declarations to obtain mortgages; and refuses to compensate residents who purchased houses from the company that were later evacuated because they were built illegally,” the paper reports. “Despite its alleged involvement in illegal activity, Amana is getting millions of shekels a year in taxpayers’ money. When settler groups seeking to build try to approach Amana’s competitors for financial or ideological reasons, the regional councils find ways to funnel the money solely to Hever’s company.”

Israel Hayom’s lead story reports where money might not be going, specifically to a drug that may no longer be included in the so-called basket of subsidized medicine decided on by the Health Ministry every year. The tabloid features a mother of two kids suffering from a rare degenerative muscle disease called Duchenne, who according to the paper need a drug called Eteplirsen to survive. The paper reports the drug is the most expensive ever to be subsidized, with a price tag of 3.7 million somethings a year per patient (the paper doesn’t say whether it is shekels or dollars) though US reports list the price as $300,000. But with only some 15 patients in Israel who can be helped with it, the ministry is considering dropping it after only a year, to mother Ayelet Levy’s horror.

“I am really begging the member of the drug subsidy panel to look in my childrens’ eyes and approve funding the drug. The fate of my two kids and their lives depends on the subsidy. If the drug is left out, the immediate upshot of the decision will be a decision on the fate of my two kids, and we cannot let that happen in Israel under any circumstance,” Levy is quoted saying.

Yedioth’s op-ed page features a cartoon meant to poke fun of the yearly fight over which drugs do and don’t make the cut, representing the panel as the judges on a reality TV talent show and a drug as an amateur performer.

But there’s nothing funny about fights over how to disburse money, writes columnist Yossi Dahan on the same page, who looks at the Taub Center report from Wednesday on the state of Israel and sees a decision by the Education Ministry to invest more in brighter and more promising kids as inherently problematic.

“The skewed ethical and economic logic of the Education Ministry, and other government offices, adds to inequality not just on the basis of class, but also on the basis of nationality and community,” he writes. “This inequality creates a pyramid in the educational system with the national religious kids at the top and Arab pupils at the bottom.”

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