Israeli single mothers fight back

Occasionally, when the violence and terrorism let up for awhile, you can get a sense of what Israel would be like if it could exist like any other democratic country.

The current relative quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian front shouldn’t lull anyone into believing that peace is at hand. But it has allowed Israelis to pay a little more attention to the social and economic issues that tend to be shoved aside in times of higher tension.

The cause now grabbing media attention is that of single mothers whose government benefits are about to be slashed. A single mother, Vicki Knafo, walked from the small Negev town of Mitzpeh Ramon to Jerusalem (about 135 kilometers in the hot desert sun) to call attention to the difficulties faced by her and others. And others have joined her from other parts of the country in camping out in front of the Finance Ministry.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (the former prime minister) is sticking to his Thatcherite principles and refusing to back down, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared that the government “won’t cave in” to the mothers. Essentially they are telling the mothers to go to work– but jobs are scarce now in Israel, especially in remote parts of the country.

This is part of a growing social inequality in Israel, affecting both Jews and Arabs. And sometimes it takes a lull in the violence to realize how serious it is. If peace ever comes, it could make for a more class-based politics— in other words, it could make Israel more like a normal democracy.