Anthony Grant

A Barak I could love

I know what he did last summer: while I was struggling to launch an Israel travel guide on zero budget for a miserly American company so woefully mismanaged that its onetime parent, The New York Times Co., wisely let it go, Barak Levi Segal was doing something far more admirable: protesting social inequity on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.

More power to him, because he’s absolutely right. How dare other Israelis attack this young man’s views? How dare some speak of “gay perversity in Tel Aviv” in a public forum? Does it matter if the social activist in question is gay or not?

Don’t like the “sight” of gays marching in Tel Aviv? Enjoy this ancient Athenian ass.

I think what matters is that he is (I know, I already said it) absolutely right. Tel Aviv like New York City is outrageously expensive. My rent in New York is outrageous. The price of a box of goddam Corn Flakes at the SuperBaba on Dizengoff and Jabotinsky is outrageous. Capn’ Crunch is even more expensive than that and what’s worse, you can’t even find Crunch Berries in this country! But to follow the warped and pernicious logic of some  folks who have ganged up on Barak over there, the solution would be to skip the Capn’ Crunch altogether and just reach for some dirt instead. Probably more fiber in it anyway.

But you know, as so many  American politicians like to say (I don’t speak Hebrew, but I have to think that Israeli politicians don’t lead into every sentence in Hebrew with a dumb “You know..”), the real outrage here is not overpriced breakfast cereal, though that’s part of it, but the fact that a smart, young, well-spoken guy like Barak Levi Segal can’t make ends meet while lazy selfish bank brats pull down ridiculous monthly salaries — for example, the avaricious Galia Maor who was making upwards of $63,800 A MONTH while CEO of Bank Leumi.

Bank Leumi, like most other Israeli banks, sticks its customers with so many nugatory yet relentless fees and sundry bureaucratic inconveniences that it’s no wonder the stereotypes of the wicked greedy Jewish banker persist to this today. Israeli bank statements are some of the most diabolical looking documents I’ve ever seen — and I’ve read Martha Stewart Living. What’s more, there is nothing at all to being a banker, no particular skill set required save the ability to crunch a few numbers. One or two webinars and a Powerpoint, and a monkey could do that kind of work. Probably better.

And yet the banksters in Tel Aviv and Wall Street get away with what is thievery by any other name,  and Barak quite rightly points out that it is getting worse by the day. I admire his courage, which is an inspiration and on par with Madonna’s.

If he wants I’ll put him in touch with my colleague Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone magazine; Matt’s the sharp and fearless reporter who rightly characterized Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” I’ve loved Matt since the days we were slogging around the halls of The Moscow Times together…

Jews should know better than to blame the victim. The answer to the high cost of living in Tel Aviv is not to leave Tel Aviv. Raising children is expensive, so how about not having any? Condoms are much cheaper. Now, is that logic friendly or civilized or compassionate? None of the above.

What is logical and civilized is to lay some of the blame of the high cost of living in Tel Aviv on the French. I know, unsmiling Parisians can buy their charmless but beach-close apartments on Ben Yehuda St., artificially drive the prices up for blocks around and then not even breeze into town until August. So change the law.

The truly scary thing about what Barak’s talking about is that it’s not just Tel Aviv. It’s happening in Athens, in Madrid and even in New York, where approximately 0% of my young, talented, well-spoken friends who saw their jobs disappear in a puff of cost-cutting (joke) smoke during the Great Recession have gotten them back.

All are struggling, most have indeed left Manhattan (though only one has crossed the River Styx to New Jersey — hey Matt!:-), none could afford to raise a family if they wanted to, and every day brings a new round of corporate bullying with full Democratic/autocratic government complicity.

Before the Recession, which has truly only deepened under the navel-gazing, arrogant, Robespierre-esque Obama Administration, I worked at a ridiculous company that nevertheless carries some cachet for those with a pornographic obsession with what’s in fat cats’ wallets, and by this I mean Forbes. One day 40 of us were fired. Then they fired my boss. Business as usual.

New York’s a tough town, that’s the anti-newsflash of the century. But when the vultures of corporate greed barrel down unchecked on the young and creative types who unlike the breeder (you all asked for it) and Ikea types are the ones who put the “great” in the great cities of the world, we have a Problem.

There’s nothing wrong with having to hustle for a living, but corporations are demanding ever more work from their employees and contractors, while paying less and less., no longer part of the NYTimes Co., was such a company, Forbes another, and it’s all demonstrable and the list goes on and on… “How am I going to feed my kid?” I remember our graphic designer asking through tears that black day on Fifth Avenue. It would have been pointless for him to grovel at the feet of the “Human Resources” director: she was fired next.

So Cornflakes are cheaper in Ramat Gan — the roundtrip taxi ride, not so much.

About the car: I can say as a professional travel writer that to get around this little country you do need a car. It would be nice if Tel Aviv had a metro – hell, even ATHENS has one, and if the Greeks can manage to build one…The people who would vilify Barak Levi Segal for having a car and then complaining about how expensive it is to have a car are out of touch, probably of the same ilk as the odious people who think it’s kosher to thunder into their cellphones on the sherut. But the medium is not always the message, and a sherut is a shared space.

A nation is a shared space. Israel is a share space. I’m well aware of the security expenses, the Iranian threat which isn’t going away anytime soon. In the meantime, a young man is sleeping in a tent on university grounds while the wealthy continue with their moral lockdown and breathless grasping at what they perceive to be luxury, and get wealthier and fatter of the backs of the unjustly disenfranchised.

In Washington D.C. and New York and Tel Aviv too, it’s time for the rich, who history has shown usually “earn” their money though deceptive and often corrupt practices, to share the burden — corporate profits need to be regulated and redistributed according to demonstrated need, and all bank fees from the past 20 years should be reversed and repaid, with interest.

And let the purity and righteousness of Barak’s grievances open the door to some of the change he so rightly calls for. The dirty little secret of revolutions is that you really don’t need them to be just a little bit more fair and decent to your fellow (ahem) comrades.