To snitch or not to snitch?
Why is the criminal offense of tax evasion so widely accepted? Should we spill the beans on our neighbors who are working under the table?
An accountant [illustrative photo] Photo: Ivan Alvarado / Reuters
To snitch or not to snitch – that is the question.
Should we spill the
beans on our neighbors who are working under the table? Or continue to enjoy the
fact that we all love to beat the system? The Israel Tax Authority’s new ad
campaign, which calls on the public to call the “justice hotline” and report tax
evaders in our community, has provoked a great deal of criticism among
Yet along with the criticism, some people are timidly hoping
that this campaign succeeds.
For the past week, radio broadcasters,
“talk-back” bloggers, Facebook users and journalists have been wrestling with
this dilemma; they criticize the government, are angry at tax-evading tycoons,
and are mostly just uncomfortable and confused.
Why is the criminal
offense of tax evasion so widely accepted? Why hasn’t the “share the tax burden”
ad campaign received as much public support as the popular campaign to coerce
draft evaders to join their brethren in protecting the State of Israel? In an
effort to explain this inconsistent behavior, we can consider Jewish-American
sociologist Robert Merton’s idea of “social ambivalence.”
postulates that people say one thing, yet do the complete opposite – not because
they are mentally compromised, but because society promotes two conflicting
Sometimes we feel closer to one idea, whereas at other times we
feel closer to the complete opposite. The Tax Authority’s ad campaign is
highlighting this social ambivalence in that it is asking us to choose between
two values that are both central to Israeli society.
On one hand, we are
being told that we shouldn’t accept being suckers, that the time has come for
everyone to pay taxes. Yet, on the other hand, Israeli solidarity calls on us to
love everyone, and to deceive the authorities.
Israelis’ deep fear that
they might be the one getting “screwed” is intimately connected with Israeli
identity, and is the opposite of the image of the weak Diaspora Jew. The Jews
were the gentiles’ suckers for 2,000 years. It’s the combination of chutzpah,
national sovereignty and the sabra’s strong muscles fighting against authority
The “never again” attitude we have (in reference to the
Shoah) is the source of our resolute refusal to ever be suckers again. In this
way, we are showing everyone that they will never succeed in slapping us on the
second cheek; that we refuse to pay again and again and again for those who are
getting a free ride on our account.
These values are lingering just
beneath the surface for many Israelis’ – people who are so grateful that finally
the government is doing something about the numerous tax evaders who are working
under the table, and whom the tax payers are carrying on their
Just give us the number to call, many Israelis are saying, and
we’ll demolish the black market, gray economy, and VAT exemptions. And, if
possible, we would also get rid of the corrupt senior officials.
already! We are tired of being suckers.
Everyone needs to pay
But then as you pick up the phone and dial the Tax Authority’s
hotline number, the conflicting value takes hold of you: We are all brothers, we
don’t leave wounded soldiers in the field, and, after all, we love our neighbors
as we love ourselves.
ISRAELI SOCIETY is based on loyalty, family values,
as well as the unity of warriors banded together against the TV tax. And, of
course, also against paying taxes as required by law! Should we snitch? Why, are
we traitors? Are we hypocritical? Or cheaters? Of course not.
loyal and we show basic fairness to our friends and brothers.
reason, every time we take a taxi we agree not to use the meter, and for home
repairs we consent to pay cash. It’s true that we are benefiting from the
collusion against the tax authorities when we save a few percentage points here
and there. But mainly we are feeling innocent in our true loyalty to our
And indeed, the concept of social ambivalence formulated by
Merton gives us insight into this public debate, and explains the confusion that
grips us as we watch the Tax Authority hotline video clips.
Of course we
are tired of being suckers. And therefore we agree that everyone needs to share
the tax burden. But these same Zionist values cause us to simultaneously oppose
the Tax Authority, and to embrace the chummy relationship we have with all
workers who want us to pay in cash.
The Tax Authority’s ad campaign
cannot free itself from the confusing and conflicting values that make up
The writer is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. Translated by Hannah Hochner.