Israeli leaders speak on tragedy of self-immolating protester

By Jennifer Lipman, July 16, 2012
Tent City

Tent City

Benjamin Netanyahu has described the case of a man who set himself alight at a social justice protest in Tel Aviv as a "great personal tragedy".

In an incident that resembled the self-immolation of a Tunisian man last year – seen by many as the catalyst for the Arab Spring – Moshe Silman set himself ablaze to highlight inequalities in Israel.

Mr Silman, who survived but was left with severe burns and remains in intensive care, accused the Israeli authorities of leaving him "with nothing".

Moments before he set himself alight the 58-year-old army veteran said he blamed the Prime Minister, the state, and Israel's Finance Minister, "for the humiliation that the weakened citizens of Israel endure on a daily basis" and for taking "from the poor to give to the rich".

In a letter he read out to the crowd he spoke of having suffered a stroke and being unable to carry on working but still being denied housing benefits

Israeli politicians offered message of solidarity, with President Shimon Peres stating that he was praying for Mr Silman's recovery "along with all the people of Israel". Mr Netanyahu said he had asked the Welfare Minister and the Housing Minister to look into the man's circumstances.

Shelly Yachimovich, the Labour Party leader, said that while Israel should pray for his recovery, "alongside the sorrow and turmoil we must remember that suicide is an extreme and awful act".

She added: "It cannot be used as an example or inspiration for youth or adults, and it certainly must not be seen as a symbol of the social protest."

Last summer Tel Aviv was the site of large-scale social protests, with "tent city" demonstrators setting up camp for several months. This summer looks set to follow a similar pattern, with rallies and mass demonstrations being staged to pressure the government into advancing social reform.

Saturday evening's rally, at which Mr Silman set himself alight, attracted 8,000 protesters to mark a year since the Tent City protests.

Last updated: 10:42am, July 16 2012