An Irishman in the land of milk and honey

There's good news and bad news about Israelis.

October 12, 2006 00:23
4 minute read.
An Irishman in the land of milk and honey

israelis argue 88. (photo credit: )


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Having lived in Israel for six months, I've come to realize that Sabras are almost pathologically self-absorbed. When they drive - when they walk! - they simply do not recognize the existence of others. For to be concerned about one's effect on others, one must first be conscious of one's place in the environment. Israeli drivers are undeniably the worst, the loudest and most inconsiderate I have ever encountered. Does this really sum up the national character? I recently met an Israeli woman who had been to London. Britain infuriated her. She found Brits so overly polite as to make her want to flee. "They kept apologizing for everything," she complained. This is not the Israeli way. Make your point, make it fast, stop being so sensitive, be strong, get out of my way, never give your government an inch - this, it seems, is what it is to be Israeli. There is something particularly stiff-necked about it all. Is it a Jewish personality trait? Hardly. Middle-class New York Jews, for example, don't behave that way. Casual observations aside, there is something terribly important to be gleaned from my anecdotal experience with Israelis. Being a Middle Eastern Jew is tough work, and I suspect it simply demands a certain personality type. I admit: Were I, an Irishman, to suffer the constant, libelous, unbalanced criticism of Ireland - as Israelis do of their homeland - I would find it hard to take. I'm sure Israelis are fed up having to be understood in the context of terrorism and regional tyranny; but ignoring these issues in trying to understand this nation is like ignoring rain when trying to understand Ireland. IN THESE days of stifling political correctness elsewhere in the West I found it refreshing that most Israelis are not afraid to say they what or whom they dislike (usually the French). I found honesty - what is utterly eliminated in any country whose social structure is poisoned by speech codes and the self-constraining social etiquette you find in the multicultural West. Even within Israel's vibrant leftist community, far fewer than an outsider might expect are prepared to placate those who wish to push their country out of existence. Such people surprised me with their candor regrading the riots in France last year, or the freedom (and welfare) enjoyed by viciously anti-West imams in London. Many comments about France, for example, were not based on bigoted sneering and schadenfreude, but on genuine foreboding about the mistakes in immigration policy made since the 1950s. This was not the sentiment of ignorant thugs - I intend no false flattery when I say that I have never met so many bright people as I did in Israel - but of people simply molded by circumstance, both historical and contemporary. SO THIS is why I disagree with Ari Shavit, who wrote recently in Haaretz that "The unending attacks, both direct and indirect, on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative have eaten away, from the inside, at the tree trunk of Israel's existence and sucked away its life force." While Western Europe's political parties essentially offer one form of conformist social democrat type versus another, Israel has more diversity in its body politic than all of the West combined. (For instance, replacing Ehud Barak's administration with Ariel Sharon's in 2001 was a shift in ideology completely alien to the West.) This is why Israel is strong: There is a participation rate in politics and a diversity of views that offer the chance of constant renewal. Perhaps it takes someone like me, viewing things from the outside, to understand that Shavit does not seem to realize the strength of feeling in Tel Aviv about terrorism. He does not credit the secular Jew with the ability to see right from wrong and be prepared to fight - if the time comes - for Zion. And the Orthodox camp does my generation a terrible disservice in assuming that without religion one is without a moral rudder. All one needs is a free press and a free mind. Sadly for Israelis, their one natural trait - brutal honesty - is unhelpful in fighting terrorism. Their inability to communicate in a way which is advantageous (but they are not, I emphasize, dishonest) is something Israeli politicians and journalists must overcome. The media war is one that must be fought. For through a combination of arrogance, bluntness and frustration, the Israeli makes just about the worst PR representative one could possibly conjure up. While the Arab camp is adroit at telling the credulous Westerner what he or she wants to hear and plucking at their heart-strings, the Israeli simply tells them what he believes is true, usually to his detriment. Shavit's warnings aside, my experience was with an ever-independent Israel that - unlike the country Prime Minister Olmert imagines - will never get "tired of fighting," nor "tired of being courageous," nor "tired of winning," nor "tired of defeating [her] enemies." More power to you, Israel. The author is a freelance writer based in the UK.

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