In my line of business, I constantly portray Israeli culture as seen by others,
in order to improve international collaboration. But this time, I wish to
address our internal interests, for we should strive to be better people and
better citizens, first and foremost for our own sake and not because of what
someone else might think.
Here are some examples of unacceptable behavior
that we all suffer from.
In my hometown, drivers regularly cut through
oncoming traffic to catch a vacant space on the opposite lane. They know it’s
illegal, so they usually avoid the full reverse maneuver, and drive straight up
to the curb, leaving the rear of their vehicles protruding into the
It’s not only illegal, but disruptive and
Although red-and-white markings on curb stones indicate “No
Stopping,” people stop whenever and wherever they please, so driving here is
like traversing an obstacle course. The typical excuse is: “It’s only for a
second,” which is like smoking only one cigarette near a “No Smoking”
Another example is the crazed Friday pickup time at school. Twenty
meters away from a vacant parking lot, parents violate multiple laws, and
endanger children and drivers – all for the sake of not leaving the comfort of
their car for two minutes.
Observing their parents’ behavior, children
learn that this behavior is acceptable. This is how the next generation of
obnoxious drivers is nurtured.
In Israel, it is not recommended to be a
sucker (frier). If day after day you wait at an intersection while cars cut in
before you, before long you will consider doing the same.
Trying to keep
calm and not taking it to heart takes its toll and at a certain point, you
We have a problem with many aspects of human interaction. We
constantly encounter disrespectful, dishonorable and rude behavior, instead of
enjoying patience, politeness and courtesy.
Many organizations do not
focus on customer service, but on minimizing inputs and maximizing profit,
whatever the cost. No wonder we feel that nobody cares. Nobody
Calling businesses and government agencies is becoming more and
more frustrating. You try to follow instructions and press all the right
numbers, but end up at a dead end, or if you’re lucky, an impatient employee.
When someone tells you they will call back, you know this is not likely to
An 80-year-old relative of mine went to see her family doctor
this week. She and another elderly woman in a wheelchair were both kept waiting
for four hours! This inferior organizational culture attests to a flaw in our
basic culture and values.
Israelis violate the law and act in an
uncivilized manner due to a combination of factors.
personal gain, so the natural tendency is “every man for himself.” The idea in
democracy is self-imposed constraints, regulating our behavior and making our
lives safer and better. The problem in Israel is twofold – we don’t comprehend
this concept and we fail to build the appropriate mechanisms to keep ourselves
in line and in check.
Take Israeli police for example. We are constantly
being told, no – brainwashed, through manipulative PR, that the crime rate is
dropping and personal safety is getting better.
But we live here, so we
know that crime is on the rise and the subjective personal safety atmosphere is
at an all-time low.
The police do not have sufficient manpower, means or
motivation to supply us with real personal safety.
They are rarely seen
on the streets and hardly deal with basic law enforcement and public order. They
are failing to save us from ourselves.
Israel is a relatively comfortable
place to commit crimes. Even if you do get caught, paying your debt to society
is peanuts compared to the damage inflicted. Israeli prisons are a comfortable
place to recuperate and return full force to criminal activity.
justify common violations, we use many excuses, such as pressure, the economy
and bad infrastructure, but at the end of the day, it is our own well-being that
we are damaging.
A day doesn’t go by without headlines on sexual
harassment, money laundering, fraud, bribery, attacks on senior citizens,
hit-and-run accidents or armed bank robbery. I don’t care how we compare to OECD
or other “Western” countries.
We rate horribly low for our own, Israeli
and Jewish, standards.
We must ask ourselves: Are all these deplorable
examples the work of “rotten apples” in our midst? Or, have we developed a
culture where, too frequently, people take and do whatever they want for
personal gain, at the expense of their fellow citizens, and even if legal and
moral “sacrifices” must be made? We are losing hold of a fundamental and
critical value – human dignity.
We overly engage in national
We keep telling ourselves, and the world, how
successful, smart, strong and moral we are.
Most of it is true. Our very
existence here is practically miraculous and our accomplishments in 65 years
should make us proud. I honestly believe that the positive outweighs the
negative, but the negative should still be addressed. We must admit our flaws,
learn from our mistakes, and talk about who we have become and who we want to
I attended a meeting at the Knesset last week and it was a depressing
experience of uncivilized discourse.
The committee chairman constantly
interrupted speakers, harassing, insulting and making fun of them.
After all the trouble I went through to attend, I wasn’t
granted the right to speak, for the chairman wasted too much time on stories,
jokes and insults.
Some may say: “Why complain about something you can’t
change? This is the way we are.” Others may claim that I am “airing dirty
Some may even say that things aren’t actually that
If you live in Israel, judge for yourself.
As far as exposing
our disadvantages – honest and open internal criticism should be one of our
But my main claim is that we can change course!
True, culture is practically “genetic,” and it is extremely difficult to break
the cycle, but it can be done. This is not merely letting off steam, grunting
It is a call for awakening from our state of denial and
Change can happen only if we set bold, long-term goals,
and courses of action for achieving them which are tangible and
We must address this at all levels and walks of life, from the
Knesset to the IDF, and from the media to the education system. We need to open
it for debate, uncomfortable as it may be, and redefine what kind of country we
want to live in, and what kind of people we want to be.
The writer is a
former pilot in the IAF, founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd. and
international project manager at CockpitRM