The demand for the government of Israel to invest more public resources in medicine, welfare and education, in order to strengthen the socio-economic fabric of the underprivileged, is not a novel demand. The “Yesh Atid” Party cannot copyright the idea. Actually, the prophet Ezekiel warned us 2,600 years ago about leaders who do the opposite, who grow wealthy at the expense of those they govern, rather than caring about their needs.
Woe to the shepherds of Isra’el who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the choice meat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, and you slaughter the best of the herd; but you don’t feed the sheep! You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bandage the broken, bring back the outcasts or seek the lost; on the contrary, you tyrannize them with crushing force. (Chapter 34: 2-4)
We all pray that the Israeli government ministers will take these verses into account as they are setting the public agenda for the upcoming year.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that most world leaders live in a bubble of personal wealth, dwelling in luxurious houses, surrounded by bodyguards and teams of journalists – completely isolated from the people they are commissioned to serve. It is a sad fact that the world’s wealthiest leaders usually stand at the helm of the poorest nations; third world nations, in which an unjust allocation of resources subjects most of the people to lives of abject poverty. In our region, the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, comes to mind. He is the third wealthiest leader in the world (after the king of Thailand and the Sultan of Brunei) with an estimated net worth of 18 billion dollars.
This issue is highlighted for me by the current visit to Israel of the President of the United States, Barak Obama. Mr. Obama, who is ranked by Wikipedia as the 26th wealthiest world leader, with an approximate net worth of 10 million dollars, flew to Israel in a private jet, funded by American taxpayers, will be driven from place to place in a fleet of bulletproof vehicles on roads that have been cleared of people half an hour in advance, will see only what the Israeli government chooses for him to see, and will meet only people chosen by the meticulous screening of our Foreign Ministry.
During Obama’s visit, he will spend most of his time with Benjamin Netanyahu, who in spite of his modest wages, which are about a third of Obama’s salary, can still relate to him as a financial peer. This year, Netanyahu’s net worth surpassed that of Obama’s, reaching according to Forbes’ List, an estimated 11 million Dollars (NIS 41 million).
After these meetings, Obama will proceed to Ramallah, where he is scheduled to meet the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is not even in the same net worth league as Obama and Netanyahu. He is far wealthier.
According to Mohamed Rashid, a former economic consultant to Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas’ personal net worth is approximately 100 million dollars. A well-known Arabic language blogger, Assad Abu-Khalil, claims that Abbas’ monthly salary is one million dollars per month – 30 times that of Obama, and 90 times that of Netanyahu. Furthermore, Abbas is still relatively young and is expected to remain in his position for many years to come. I would not be surprised if his wealth eventually exceeds that of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whose personal net worth was estimated at 1.3 billion dollars upon his death.
And we thought that we had a serious problem of socio-economic gaps!
The irony is that, during his meetings with Obama, Mahmoud Abbas will primarily ask for more money, and that is exactly what he will receive. The United States will pour additional hundreds of millions of dollars into the Palestinian Authority, funds which will ultimately flow, one way or another, into the personal bank accounts of Abbas. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Palestinian people will remain in misery and complete and utter poverty.
“How is this possible?”, we all ask ourselves. The answer is simple. Palestinian wretchedness is a lucrative business. Very profitable. At least for one man.