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Friday, January 5, 2007

What's wrong with Israelis

What's wrong with Israelis
By Bradley Burston

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. -George Bernard Shaw
What if it's true? What if Israelis deserve no better than Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Katsav, Dan Halutz?
If we are stuck with them, and they have nothing to offer us in the way of governance or personal example, perhaps they can offer us something else. At the very least, maybe they have something to teach us. About ourselves. What's wrong with us.
Take the question of leadership. We know what we want in a leader, the kind of person we'd be fools not to follow. We want someone wiser than we are on issues of life and death, someone better able to see around corners and beyond horizons. We want someone of sounder judgment, superior imagination, someone whose ability exceeds his ambition, someone who cares about the country more than he cares about his chair. Someone who cares about us.
Now look who we've got.
At this point, the top echelon of government, and much of the top leadership of the military, is a collection of one-man fan clubs. Leaders whose followers long ago knew better than to continue to follow them.
Here's where it gets even more depressing.
What if the reason that we tend to get the leaders we most deserve is that we tend to vote for the leaders we most resemble?
The cabinet, the Knesset, the president, the chief rabbinate - they are their constituents in caricature. Us, in a fun house mirror.
If this is the case, it should be a fairly simple matter to divine what's wrong with Israelis. The male ones, at any rate.
First, we apply the Universal Law of Israeli Male Dynamics, which states, referring to behavior in the Gan, or Israeli pre-school:
They never left the Gan.
They can do whatever they want. They can say whatever comes to mind. There are no painful consequences, no significant punishments. They can decide that the sandbox is theirs, and woe to the kid who was there first.
They believe, and they may be right, that they will not be thrown out of the Gan, no matter what they do.
Anything goes.
Witness what is sometimes called the Rabin Principle, that we can battle terrorism as if there were no peace process, and pursue the peace process as if there were no fight against terror.
It doesn't work. In fact, any kid in Gan could probably figure out that it cannot work. But we are so clever, we tell ourselves, that we can make it work.
We won't let the fact that it never works deter us.
Witness Thursday night. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is launching one of the most potentially useful and significant summits, on his way to meeting key mediator Hosni Mubarak, the Israel Defense Forces was raiding Ramallah in an operation - carried live on Al Jazeera - that cost four Palestinian deaths. As well as any chance that the summit could help free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
"Things developed in a way that could not have been predicted in advance," Olmert said, in an expression of magic thinking fully worthy of a response to an angry pre-school teacher. "If innocent people were hurt, this was not our intention."
Even in the absence of dramatic events, variations of the Gan axiom abound. A random selection, from the pre-school that meets every Sunday in the Cabinet Room:
THE SNEAK [Namecard: Ehud O.]
Teacher Evaluation: Good habits of personal hygiene. Plays well with others, until teacher's back is turned. His demeanor is correct, with an undertone of sleaze. Despite what teacher would hope, the sleaze on the exterior belies greater sleaze on the inside.
He will stealthily take whatever he can. He will put it where it cannot be easily found. When it is found, he will have an explanation at the ready. There is more where that came from, but no one can figure out where it is.
THE BULLY [Namecard: Avigdor L.]
Teacher Evaluation: Just as Ehud O. fools people into wondering whether he could possibly be as sleazy as he appears, Avigdor L. is often so verbally abusive that one might mistake it for nothing but idle, if intimidating, bluster. But underestimate him at your peril. He might just be the kind of bully that if you call his bluff, goes ahead and does just what he threatened - and woe the block that he decides to knock off.
THE LOUDMOUTH [Namecard: Amir P.]
Teacher Evaluation: Alternately enchanting and obnoxious, Amir P. talks a good game - often at the top of his lungs. But his undeniable people skills, along with his propensity for high-volume self-promotion, can land him in situations for which he is unprepared and unsuited.
And so it goes. Around the cabinet table sit all the traits to which we have fallen chronic victim:
The Minister of Arrogance and Insecurity.
The Minister of Ambition that Exceeds Ability.
The Deputy Minister for Reckless Glibness.
The Special Advisor for Inattention to Details.
The Minister of Disdain for Accountability.
The Minister of Profligate Tolerance for Corruption.
Finally, no overview of what's wrong with Israelis would be complete without a word on being provincial to the point of pathology.
It is one of the wonders of selective innocence. Left wing, right wing, professor or dropout, provincialism knows no barriers. It is everywhere in this tiny ghetto of a Jewish state.
Once, relatively few Israelis traveled abroad, foreign influences like television were limited, and down-on-the-farm narrowness was eminently understandable. No more. There's something about the provincialism of Israelis that has become a cultural staple, second nature. Effortless.
There's something oddly charming about it, when it's not causing someone pain.
You see it in its sub-cultural forms, in the hermetic self-satisfaction and immunity to criticism as exemplified in such groups as settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, the ultra-left.
You see it on a national level, in the conviction that a world that condemns Israel at every opportunity, and at times unjustly, actually frees it to act any way it damn pleases.
You might say there's something even childlike about it. A certain lack of perspective, that may, in fact, explain everything else.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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