For the past several weeks Israelis have protested the deterioration of their social safety net when it comes to issues like housing, health care, and education. Many have done so by camping out in tents in Israel's major cities. Israelis in the United States have now brought those protests to our nation's capital. Those protesting in Israel are fighting for many of the same things we are fighting for here, particularly in light of the spending cuts just passed as part of the debt ceiling compromise. Last week, one of the lead protestors in Israel asked:
Who would have thought that in 2011 we would have to fight for basic rights like proper medical services? How would you call a country where part of the population has premium health services, while the others are abandoned? What would you think about a country where the place where a person lives determines his life expectancy?
Unfortunately, the first answer that came to my mind: The United States of America
The protestors in Washington proved innovative. When they learned they could not pitch their tents, they instead carried the tents through Washington. They also identified that the same problems Israelis are protesting are ones that we face here:
“On the way here we dragged an entire bus into a discussion on the protests,” adds Ariel Shalem from New York.
“They saw the sign in English, and then we got into a vibrant debate with the entire bus, with people from Colorado, Ohio, African-Americans. They started raising questions about social problems that they have here in the United States that are also unfair. If your father does not have credit here, you cannot get credit, and there is no way of getting out of this,” he said.
Israel's people continue to turn out in the streets to demand that the government listen to them and act on their concerns. Where are we? When 10,000 protests in Tel Aviv it would be as though 160,000 turned out here in New York. When over 100,000 turnout nationwide in Israel it would be as though 4 million or more turned out here in the United States.
No matter what one thinks of the recent debt ceiling deal that cuts spending there are some things we can agree on. We should not cut spending on health care — we need to make sure that all Americans have quality health insurance. We should not cut spending on programs such as unemployment insurance or food stamps — we should be increasing them. We should not cut spending on education — we should invest in it even more. We should not cut spending on our social safety net — we should spend more so that it continues to serve, and improves upon, its function in these difficult times. If we are so concerned about the costs, then instead of keeping the Bush tax cuts, we should demand that the wealthy pay their fair share.
As a Jew, this fight is about Tikkun Olam — to repair the world — to make it a better place. It is about social justice. It is about remembering we are part of a community and we have a responsibility to our fellow community members. This idea that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers is at the core of Jewish identity. It is engrained into my DNA, just as it is engrained into our collective DNA. We are a community, and we are only as strong as the weakest amongst us.
Israel's tents have now come to our nation's capital. Their fight is the same one we face here. Every day, Republicans try to dismantle our social safety net more and more, and it's not even nearly as comprehensive as those of our European allies or Israel or Japan. The answer is not to dismantle it. The answer is to improve it.