Squid Game, the South Korean series that is Netflix’s most watched show to date, presents the reality of capitalism in all its dizzying cruelty. Under capitalism, life is a game with a price tag attached. When one player loses, the other wins. This simple logic, presented through innocent schoolyard games, serves to remind the viewer that the players caught up in the capitalist system are ultimately all just human beings who once had hopes and dreams.
In a recent news program on Channel 12, commentator Amit Segal praised Prime Minister Bennett’s coronavirus policy. He concluded his praise with a sentence said almost casually: “They could have saved maybe 100 [more] people, but at a very heavy economic cost.” It's hard not to be reminded of Oskar Schindler’s lament in the film Schindler’s List: “Just more Jew, I could have saved just one more Jew.”
Bennett’s logic — reducing the value of human life to a price tag — has caught on. Success is now measured not in terms of human lives saved, but in terms of financial metrics. Defending his decision not to impose another lockdown, Bennett stated at the beginning of the fourth wave of the pandemic that 200 billion shekels ($63 billion) had been wasted in previous lockdowns. “Wasted” in favor of saving lives. The actual total losses during the lockdowns amount closer to 50 billion shekels ($16 billion) according to the Bank of Israel.
In the television show, 456 players are competing, with each player’s life worth 100 million South Korean won (the equivalent of 276,000 shekels or $87,000). In the Israeli Squid Game, the life of every Israeli would be priced by Bennett at 7.7 million shekels (about $2.4 million). So far, 6,429 Israelis have died of COVID-19. Is preventing these deaths not worth it? Is the cost of saving another 100 Israelis too simply too high?
These days mark the tenth anniversary of the return of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in 2006 and held captive for over five years. In 2011, Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release.
In recent years, some have begun to question whether the release of so many prisoners was justified to save just one soldier. Gilad’s father, Noam Shalit, has been asked whether his son’s rescue was indeed worth it, and he has consistently defended the decision to rescue his son: “They would have preferred to see him return in a coffin,” he said of politicians who criticized the prisoner exchange deal.
When Israeli society holds up the sanctity of life as a fundamental value, the society is able to endure many hardships. But when that value is dismissed or ignored, members of Israeli society begin to relate to each other as combatants in a struggle for survival, just as in Squid Game. The capture and indefinite detention of an Israeli by militants leads to suffering that is simply unquantifiable, but all the same undeniably large.
In 2018, the Bnei Zion pre-army preparatory program brought a group of students to the Negev for a hike. Flash floods led to the untimely death of ten students who were swept away in the waters. Survivors, families of the victims, and others have demanded that the government establish a commission to investigate the disaster. After a long struggle, only one minister, Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi of the center-right Likud party, agreed to establish such a commission. Prime Minister Bennett, who was serving as Education Minister at the time, and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was serving as Defense Minister, both opposed the establishment of the commission.
“The head of the pre-army program said that the warnings about the flood were just the forecasters being overly cautious,” pre-army program participant Yarin Shamshi said in his recent testimony in the Be’er Sheva District Court, in a trial against the two program directors.. Shamshi said that he warned his instructors and the heads of the program several times about the dangerous weather and did not receive serious attention from any of them.
The parents of the victims claim that the field of pre-army programs operates without any of the necessary governmental oversight. The Disaster Prevention Commission, which was established only after great struggle, suddenly discovered last week that the budget for its activities had run out.
Prime Minister Bennett, who, as Education Minister, opposed setting up such a commission in the first place, has placed a moratorium on the commission due to its lack of budget. Human life. Economic value. Red light, green light.