Postscript: On responsibility

The impossibility of continuing with the ultra-Orthodox situation as is, and the dangers of the anti-democratic dogma now dominating at least parts of what used to be a moderate religious school system, have been known about for years.

Price-tag attack in Latrun 370 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Price-tag attack in Latrun 370
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Someone has to be responsible for producing the warped minds of those who defaced the beauty and raped the silence of the Trappist Monastery in Latrun earlier this week, leaving insults so basic, uncouth and ignorant on its aesthetic exterior that a caveman would blush.
Someone must be responsible for producing the sub-teen fanatics who are suspected of torching the car of an Arab family driving in the West Bank a few weeks back; or those who kicked an Arab youth almost to death in the center of Jerusalem at around the same time, and then told the media they were proud of what they did.
Someone must be responsible for creating the young generation, supposed idealists, who spit and fight the Israeli army when it is sent on its unhappy mission to uphold the law in territories whose legal status hangs between heaven and earth and where anarchy reigns in the meantime.
Who could have educated their children that hatred is a value; that to slash the tires of military jeeps and trucks of the very same army that defends the settlements is okay? Who is responsible for this generation of youngsters in Israeli society who hate the law, the courts, those who think differently, with so much passion, that they have lost sight of their own future, other than to spread more hatred in their stead? And who is responsible for perpetuating a state of never-never-land in the territories, leaving people in limbo, both Israelis and Palestinians, and creating more fanatics, both Israelis and Palestinians?
How can people build a life when sent to live on a hilltop with a nod and a wink, and promises of a great future, this against the policies of the government and the law of the land? And how can people be expected to live forever with the promise of their own independent country, yet see nothing change for the better in more than four decades, and much happen to make it seem that an independent Palestine in the territories will just never actually happen?
And on Wednesday, late in the afternoon, I wondered who was responsible for the education of the 80 or so modern-Orthodox teens on a school tour that took them along Jerusalem’s majestic promenade, shouting “death to the Arabs” in unison, with the four teachers walking along with them saying absolutely nothing. It was only when their guide ordered them to be quiet because they “risked having stones thrown at them” from the nearby Arab neighborhoods if they carried on, that they stopped.
Nothing, however, was said about the racist comments themselves, as if shouting “Death to the Arabs” was okay somewhere where rocks can’t be hurled at you.
David Ben-Gurion was responsible for underestimating the eventual size and impact of the ultra-Orthodox military exemption issue, and for wrongfully creating two separate state school systems: the national-religious schools with their own syllabus, values and worldview; and the secular schools where, for the most part, religious studies were related to in the same way some of us were forced to learn Latin for matric.
Any visionary is allowed to make mistakes, especially when his overall contribution to the fledgling state far outweighed any errors in judgment. But who is responsible for what has happened in both these regards since then?
The impossibility of continuing with the ultra-Orthodox situation as is, and the dangers of the anti-democratic dogma now dominating at least parts of what used to be a moderate religious school system, have been known about for years.
Who is responsible for years of inaction, for the botched inheritance we are handing down to the next generation, where national insurance payments to large, economically unproductive families may become more explosive for the stability of the country than a nuclear Iran?
And how long have we all complained about the stilted democratic system we have? About the disproportionate power our coalition system gives marginal parties and avowed political enemies to sit at the same cabinet table, usually with more intent to undermine each other than work together? Anything serious done to change this over the years? Has any leader since the founding of the state modified the system, despite knowing full well that this is no way to run a country?
We elect the same politicians over and over again, albeit usually finding them on new lists joined out of political expediency, not ideology, as per Ehud Barak, the perennial defense minister, for example. For decades now leader after leader has promised change to the electoral system, but nothing has been done. If anything, the system is more fractured, the inequalities greater, the bigotry louder and the self-interest more blatant than ever.
Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon were leaders who made a difference. Both were cut short in different, but equally cruel, ways. They, like Menachem Begin and Ben-Gurion, were stronger than the system and could enforce their will. They took responsibility for their actions and paid for the consequences, in Rabin’s case, with his life.
Since then the country has been run by default, by jugglers. It has been “wink-and-nod” government, not leadership. The roads and railways are better, but the fundamental problems have not been dealt with.
If anything, not grappling with them has only made them worse. Doing nothing breeds erosion, spreads confusion, creates loopholes, fosters growing disregard for the law and leads to unnecessary brawls with our closest allies.
There is responsibility for claiming leadership and doing nothing to change what the entire society knows are fundamental ills. There is even more responsibility on the shoulders of an experienced politician, in the third year of his second term, at the head of a solid coalition and with all the political cards in his pocket, when he does nothing but tread backward.
The ultimately responsibility for all this, however, lies with us, the electorate. For years now we have let our leaders get away with words, words, words, and a better road system. This prime minister has the support, skills, experience and time to make a real difference.
But will he take the responsibility to do so?
Hirsh Goodman is an author and journalist. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in the history category.