Israel's man on fire is symbol of economic injustice

Self-immolation protest puts pressure on Netanyahu to act

A 57-year-old Israeli man was in a critical condition yesterday after setting fire to himself during a demonstration by more than 8,000 people marking the anniversary of last summer's widespread protests in support of social and economic justice.

Moshe Silman, a former small businessman who has since fallen on dire financial circumstances, was said to have second- and third-degree burns on more than 90 per cent of his body after dousing his clothes with petrol and starting to immolate himself.

Mr Silman, who in a 265-word note he had written earlier blamed the Israeli government for having "robbed me" was shown in harrowing television footage on fire at the rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night while demonstrators tried to put the flames out amid audible shouts of "medic" and "bring water quickly."

As politicians joined in expressing shock at the incident, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, described it as a "great and personal tragedy" and asked the welfare and housing ministers to investigate Mr Silman's complaints of serial rejection by state agencies and the courts.

In his note, which was later read out by protesters, Mr Silman said: "The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing. Two committees from the Ministry of Housing have rejected me, despite the fact that I have undergone a stroke and was granted 100 per cent work disability…

"I blame the State of Israel. I blame Bibi Netanyahu and [the country's Minister of Finance] Yuval Steinitz, both scum, for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich."

Mr Silman, who lives in Haifa and was a participant in earlier demonstrations, levelled some of his most stringent complaints at the state National Insurance Institute and declared: "I have no money for medicine or rent… I won't be homeless and that is why I am protesting against all the wrongs the state imposes on people like me."

One eyewitness told the online news service Ynet: "We saw him leaving a house entrance holding a burning object in one hand and a can with flammable liquid on the other. He started pouring the stuff over himself and immediately set himself on fire, everyone poured water over him."

Idi Lev, of Rabbis for Human Rights, which had sought to help Mr Silman, told Ynet that the state had pushed him "over the edge", foreclosing his home, seizing his late mother's apartment and denying him rent support because he had once owned a flat.

The lease of the friend's apartment where had been living for free expires in a week "and he did not want to live on the street again. Wherever we turned, no one was willing to help."

The otherwise peaceful Tel Aviv rally was the biggest of several in Israel on Saturday, the anniversary of the start of last summer's social demonstrations when young people pitched a protest tent in the city's Rothschild Boulevard in support of a demand for more affordable housing.

Mr Netanyahu subsequently set up a committee under a prominent economics professor, Manuel Trajtenberg, and said the government would adopt many of its recommendations on more affordable housing, better employment opportunities, free nursery education, and easing of import of tariffs to reduce consumer prices.

But organisers of this summer's protests, among some others, have argued that the government has not gone nearly far enough to improve welfare services and ease economic inequality.

The Labour leader of the opposition, Sheli Yachimovich, said that the "brutal toughening of criteria for public housing and the lack of a public safety net have brought many like Moshe to a dead end and desperation."

But she added that while "we are all praying for him… suicide is a dreadful, extreme act. "He should not serve as an example, or a symbol of social justice protest," she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones