Someone to rely on...

"Institutions that are supposed to serve the public have exploited the monopolies they hold in their respective areas to give bad service in exchange for exorbitant fees."
These words could have come straight from one of Israel''s newspaper''s this week, but in reality they were written in 1975 by an IDF colonel named Yaakov Hasdai for a lecture he was giving to cadets at the army''s officer school, where he taught. It might seem strange that an army colonel speaking to a group of young officer candidates would voice exactly the same concerns of the young protesters on Rothschild Boulevard today, almost 40 years later.
But it''s not. Hasdai was a member of the Agranat Commission which investigated why the IDF had been taken by surprise and come so disastrously close to defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. His statement about failing public institutions was part of his answer to the question about the IDF''s failure.
As it so often is in Israel, it was a taxi driver who helped me understand this. On the way from Jaffa, the driver and I watched as a car blatantly drove through a red light. The taxi driver pulled up next to the car, which had three young men in it, rolled down the window and asked, "You didn''t pay attention to the red light?"
The three young, army-age men in the car were at first stunned, but it didn''t take long for their bravado to catch up. They pulled up along side us and delivered their response: "What do you care?" It was inconceivable to them that someone who is not the police, who is not paid to enforce the law, would care.
Neither the driver nor I was surprised by this. But he, being a 50-year old sabra, was able to tell me that once it was not like this. I asked him when that was, when it all changed. He told me: It all changed after the Yom Kippur War. But it wasn''t the war that led to the change. Rather, the change led to the war. Israeli society by that point had undergone a profound shift, from the principles and values of the country''s founders, to the cynicism of its "espresso generation" which, in its extremes manifestations, began to ponder whether the Jewish state or its people should exist at all.
This is what Hasdai was talking about. Rule of law in a society springs from a belief that each of us is part of something greater than ourselves. We don''t do something illegal, even though it might benefit us, because we believe in the greater purpose of the law.
When that belief in a greater good is absent, what could possibly motivate a modestly paid public servant to do his or her often tedious job with a sense of pride, or even enthusiasm? What would motivate the best, most creative minds in the country to serve the public as political leaders or military commanders, rather than going off to make their millions?
Today, a part of our society is complaining about our broken public institutions and griping about "exorbitant fees," but most of them are protesting only because these problems make their lives more difficult. Maybe the protesters will manage get their material demands met, like the reduction in the price of cottage cheese that we''ve seen, and that will probably enough for them.
But without looking to the deeper causes, first by acknowledging that our cultural foundation has cracks in it, the public institutions will not be fixed, the prices will rise, and war will come again.
It''s no coincidence that as the Rothschild protesters drummed and drank and shouted for better living, a million civilians spent part of their week huddled in bomb shelters in the south. And yet, there were no protests on their behalf. There is a connection between this one absent demand in the country''s center and the scary reality in the south. As Hasdai said:
"The belief that there is someone to rely on means that people believe that they have powerful means of defending themselves and wise leaders. The believe that there is something to fight for means that civilians and soldiers alike consider their society a partnership in which each and every one of them occupies an honorable place and that they believe in the human and cultural value of their nation''s existence."
Today, with a thriving economy it''s not cheaper goods that we really need. What we need is someone to rely on. But this in turns requires a rediscovery of the values and principles that we fight for. That will begin not with the politicians, but with us.