Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Pharaonic Welfare State

I have a vague recollection of the 2003 political storm that brewed when Bibi Netanyahu (as finance minister) did away with a good part of the government child support payments to larger families. For a few years until that time, child allowances paid by Bitauch Leumi (the National Insurance Institute) geometrically increased from the fifth child onward, awarding large families considerable income for letting nature take its course. When the government had enough of that, there were cries of "population control" etc. But let's face it - reducing child allowances to $60 per month isn't exactly China's one-child policy or Sanjay Gandhi's forced vasectomy campaign (at least the guys got transistor radios for their trouble).

Last Pesach my kids received an illustrated hagadah, which, shall we say, started off with a haskomo from someone in Bnei Brak. After ascertaining that it didn't show little Jewish slaves wearing shtetl-caps and streimels I gave it my blessing. Until one day I came across this illustration:

The preceding frames show a Jewish mother hiding her newborn all-male sextuplets from Pharaoh's decree. The following frames show the soldiers throwing the kids to the Nile crocodiles (SPOILER: some miracle happens and they are saved).

Consider all of the contemporary elements in this cartoon: Six babies in a haimishe family (there were a few other siblings on the scene as well); a soldier from an "elite unit" which in Hebrew evokes Bnei Akiva kids dreaming of Sayeret Matkal instead of the Mir; a "law" - being a reference to laws passed by parliament rather than being sourced from the Shulchan Aruch; the soldier's paranoia that the innocent family is trying to deceive the state; and lastly, the "difficult financial situation" which seems to set the victims aside from the rest of society and serves as the basis for their persecution.

Aha - the copyright date on the hagadah is התשס"ד, or right after Bibi shut the shekel spigot in 2003. 

Sigh. I might be angry when the company car benefit is taxed at higher rates. And maybe I will call the finance minister some bad names. But changing the plot of the Exodus story just to make a political point is going a little too far.  I shouldn't be so surprised to see those "Zionists Out" signs along the road in RBS Bais.

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