Critical Currents: For want of a nail

Petty annoyances all add up. How do we save our kingdom?

naomi chazan 88 (photo credit: )
naomi chazan 88
(photo credit: )
There is an inverse relationship between demands for sweeping change in Israel and the willingness to confront the root causes of the present malaise. The country is being inundated by a flood of proposals to reform everything from specific policy orientations to strategic concepts, involving not only institutional restructuring, but also a revamping of the system of government in its entirety. These mega schemes have no chance of success unless they recognize that the absence of accountability at the top begins with inexcusable sloppiness at the bottom. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. Daily life in this country, technological and managerial innovations notwithstanding, is all too frequently incredibly (and unjustifiably) complicated. The most rudimentary tasks become convoluted, simple arrangements suddenly appear insurmountable, frustration inevitably abounds. For too many Israelis in the 21st century, shirking responsibility is still the norm. A visit to the Interior Ministry to register a birth or record a change of address (especially for those not yet conversant with the language of the Internet) is a full-day proposition. Getting an appointment for a visa renewal can take weeks (if one is lucky). Ordering a balloon of cooking gas (which costs NIS 33) may consume the better part of many working hours. It may be a musical experience, but after 40 minutes on hold, it is somewhat enervating to hear a live response capable only of taking a name and phone number, along with a studiously polite assurance that a service agent will be in touch "soon." The sense of triumph at initial contact is often replaced by mounting aggravation as one disembodied voice is replaced by another, without any explanation attached. Service providers don't show up as scheduled, refunds are not received without repeated appeals, transactions are unnecessarily prolonged. And while the "complaint culture" (tarbut hakitur) thrives, few are willing to concede that they, too, by their own inaction, are regular contributors to the phenomenon they so vigorously deplore. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. Chronic foot-dragging breeds systemic inefficiency. With several notable exceptions (mostly in the private sector), lackadaisical habits yield unacceptable results. Electricity shortages, ubiquitous traffic jams and even poor examination results are merely the tip of an extended iceberg. THE YAWNING gap between rich and poor is a much more detrimental outcome of this very same dynamic. So, too, is the woefully inadequate treatment of youthful violence, the continuous destruction of the environment, or the depletion of human resources in the form of the catapulting brain drain. The lack of combat preparedness in the Second Lebanon War, strikingly charted by the Winograd Commission, is the end product of skewed planning, faulty preparation and haphazard implementation. The consequences of thoughtless actions are everywhere apparent. For want of a horse the rider was lost. A long record of mixed accomplishments under successively weak leaders fosters a lack of confidence in central institutions. Public trust in every branch of government has diminished steadily in recent years. Belief in the capacity of the executive branch today barely reaches 20 percent. The status of the Knesset is even lower - garnering a paltry 18% support level. And for years political parties have just been able to scrape 11% backing in opinion polls. The two most trustworthy institutions in the eyes of the public - the IDF and the High Court - have recently experienced a significant drop in popularity. The reduced status of the military may be attributable to the Lebanese imbroglio. But the sliding prestige of the judiciary is very much the product of the merciless assault spearheaded by the one person charged with its protection - the minister of justice. Even the most resilient and respected structures of government can be undermined when their proven competence is shamelessly questioned and their independence assailed. For want of a rider the battle was lost. Shaky institutions and insecure leaders are a sure prescription for a crisis of governance. The inability to carefully design and implement policy encourages shortsightedness and magnifies errors of judgment. The implications of this trend are apparent not only in the growing use of stopgap measures as a substitute for consistent policy, but also in the troubling inability to determine and fulfill strategic goals. The tortuous path to the resolution of the conflict - Israel's most vital long-term interest - has been compounded by ongoing governmental incapacitation. Here, too, the linkage between authority and responsibility has yet to be cemented. So it was the kingdom was lost. Not yet and, hopefully, never. But the perpetuation of inefficiency creates a lack of efficacy that permeates the system. Overindulgence of petty annoyances, reluctance to deal with outright wrongdoing, postponement of critical decisions - all these add up to comprehensive paralysis and flagrant inequities. Taking charge of the future of the state and the well-being of its citizens depends, to no mean extent, first and foremost on rejecting the ingrained tendency to shift blame, pass the buck and duck responsibility. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. Lots of nails are missing here today. The behavior of every single citizen affects the present situation and influences future directions. If each individual would just take charge of his or her small domain, perhaps matters would be different. More effort put into dealing with the seemingly little things of everyday existence might make it possible to better confront the grand moral and practical issues of state and society and engage in truly meaningful reform.