Letter from Israel: Blackmailing the Sick

Dostoyevsky wrote, “That a country should be judged by its prisons”, and that unfortunately still holds today. But nowadays one should also add, “And its health service”.

Today, May 12th 2005, Israel celebrates its 57th Independence Day. Independence should mean freedom, but the truth is the Zionist state has brought no freedom to its citizens, and of course misery, degradation and death to the Palestinians who were “relocated”, which I believe would be the current euphemism for being chucked out of their homes and land.

When the Zionist state came into existence in 1948, it started off with rights that so many other countries had had to fight for. There were the trade unions, albeit under the strict control of the Labour Federation “The Histadrut”. This meant that the workers were in fact controlled by a hierarchy of bourgeois autocrats, and not by the workers on the shop floor. The Histadrut also had its own health care system to which all workers of the Histadrut belong, called the Sick Fund. This health system, that predates the NHS by about fifteen years, offered complete coverage for a payment that was deducted from the workers wages whether they liked it or not.

But like everything in Israel even in health, politics was involved. So to counter the “Leftist” health system there was the Macabi Sick Fund. Not having been a member of this fund I cannot offer much information about it, other than it was a lot smaller, did not have its own hospitals as the Histadrut fund did, and was favoured by the Sephardic Jews (Jews not of European decent) who did not work in the Histadrut sector. This system continued till around the middle of the 1980’s.

In 1978 the Labour Party of which the Histadrut was an integral part was defeated at the polls after havening been in power since the inception of the state in 1948. The right wing Likud party, under the leadership of the former terrorist Menachem Begin, started to destroy everything of the former administration.

It is true that the Labour Party in its many years in power, under many different names, had become corrupt, but not everything was bad. But the hatred that existed between the two factions was such that logic could not prevail. And so the Likud set about on its scorched earth policy of removing every vestige of what they regarded as “socialism”, their first target being the Kibbutz system.

The Kibbutz, meaning gathering or collective in Hebrew, never involved more than 3% of Israel’s population, but the propaganda surrounding them made many people outside Israel think that nearly everybody was a Kibbutznik as the members of the Kibbutz were called. However, the contribution of the Kibbutz to Israeli society was far and above there small size. They supplied the most elite officers to the army, at the highest around 20%, produced some of the countries best industries, from plastics to armaments. Even the programme I’m using to write this, WORD, was copied from a Kibbutz programme called Q-Text.

The truth however, was that the governing Labour Party had been subsidising the movement for years. The picture of the Kibbutz as a model of self-supporting socialism was, I’m sad to say, a sham. Money collected in taxes from ordinary hard working people was used to give the Kibbutz members an average lifestyle that was way above the average for the rest of the country. So the new Likud government cut off their money, and now hat little of the movement that survives exists on a purely capitalist basis, catering for very high-class weddings and expensive visitors to guesthouses.

The final nail in the coffin however, was reserved for the Sick Fund, which had also been subsidised by the Labour party. The original plan was to bring all the sick funds – there were now four – under one umbrella to form a sort of Israeli NHS, instead of the members of the various funds paying their contributions directly to the fund of which they were a member.

Thus, a health tax was now imposed, deducted from one’s earnings. This was then distributed to the various sick funds. Now a crisis developed and the former Histadrut fund that had never charged anything beyond the monthly subscriptions (whereas the other funds had charged for various services) faced a cash crisis. So a scheme called “Complete Insurance” was introduced. Added to that, if you needed to go to see a specialist or have an X-ray or a CT scan you had to pay. Getting an MRI scan meant going to the district doctor and pleading with him, as he would cry, “We have no money”! Jews, whose national sport is hypochondria, joined this two-tier form of health care. But not all can join, so you have a situation where many people give up on food so as to pay the extra insurance.

Decent health care should not be a privilege. It is a basic human right, as are free education, decent housing and a full stomach. All these rights that once were free in Israel (except for education that has never been free) no longer exist here. The government says it has no money! But it does have money to build a wall whose real purpose is to steal more Arab land.

Recently Israel received the latest version of the Apache helicopter. This war machine can destroy a tank that is over the horizon. The commentator on the TV questioned whether Israel really needs such an advanced and very expensive weapon. Considering that all Israel has been using its helicopters for in the last few years is to assassinate Palestinian leaders in their cars, one would have to agree. But boys will be boys, and they must have the latest shiny new toy.

As I said, today is Independence Day, and the flags are out, draped from the buildings and on the cars, but some of the cars this year are sporting an extra flag, the Stars and Stripes. You see, Israel and Israelis love America, as we have so much in common now. They too have no free health care. 45 million Americans have no health cover whatsoever. Education in the US costs an arm and a leg. The US has the biggest gap between rich and poor in the so-called civilised world, and guess who is second in this infamous league? Yes we are.

As usual, I write from a personal point of view, as I could afford the extra health insurance payment very easily, but for as long as I can remember I have been a socialist. So I refuse to pay this disgusting form of blackmail. But now I need a specialist that can only be granted if one has made the extra payment. The doctor said if you had Complete Insurance, you would just pay 100 Shekels ($20) and there would be no problem. So you see dear readers even if one has the “Extra Insurance” you still have to pay.

The greatest scourge on the history of this planet has, and is, capitalism. It has caused all the wars, it is the reason why every five seconds a child dies of hunger somewhere on this planet. When one man has more money than most nations, and like all the super rich he acquired it by stealing, how can people still argue that socialism is not the answer? One must stand up for what one holds true to one’s heart. So no matter whatever may happen to me I will not be blackmailed for the sake of my health into abandoning my principles!