Rattling the Cage: Bad news, happy Jews

Those who know Israel only through the news think people here walk are overwhelmed by the violence around them.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I'm sure some of the Israelis who told the Central Bureau of Statistics pollsters that they were happy or extremely happy - 83% of the 7,300 people surveyed - were just lying. That would leave only 17% of Israelis unhappy, and the divorce rate is higher than that. If you're unhappy, it's hard enough to admit it to someone you know, let alone to a stranger taking a poll, so I'm sure the national happiness quotient isn't as high as 83%, as the CBS reported this week. But I bet it's still high. This is only the latest poll showing Israelis to be exceedingly happy people. Every survey that compares happiness by nation shows Israelis ranking way up there. To people who don't live in Israel, this is a mystery. A lot of Israelis probably can't figure it out, either. How can people in this country be happy when Iran is going nuclear and threatening to wipe them off the map? How can they be happy when the Palestinians are firing rockets every day at civilians in Sderot? How can they be happy when nothing they try - not peace negotiations, not unilateral withdrawal, not military force - brings them security? How can they be happy when the peace process with the Palestinians gives new meaning to the word "dead," while the hope for a peace process with Syria is dying fast? How can they be happy when the IDF failed to win the war against Hizbullah? How can Israelis be happy when their political leaders seem to be a collection of crooks, incompetents, sex criminals and/or retreads? THE ANSWER is that Israelis don't take current events to heart like they may have in the past, and certainly not like foreigners assume they do. People who know Israel only through the news think the people here walk around with their heads down, tense, burdened by all the violence, hatred and threats aimed their way. Israel's spokesmen like to reinforce this image. "In nearly 60 years, we have not known a single day of peace." Yeah, yeah. The fact is that unless the rockets are falling where they live, or they have a son or husband fighting in the war, or a close friend or relative badly wounded in a terror attack, or they lost their home in Gush Katif - unless Israelis are personally, grievously hurt by current events, then current events, politics, "the situation" is something they watch on TV and read about in the tabloids. It's not their life. Their life is their family, their friends, their work, their fun, their plans. "The situation" is part of their media consumption, and usually not the largest or most urgent part. Other than the small minority of the population that is personally hurt by war or terror, Israelis, except when they or their sons or husbands are in the army facing the enemy, live in roughly the same relation to the news as people do in the West. IT WASN'T always this way. There really was a time when Israeli families argued about the situation over the Friday night dinner table. There really was a time when Israeli bus drivers turned up the radio for the hourly news because everyone wanted to know what was going on. All that's nostalgia now. There are so many more attractive things to check out in the media today, there's money to go shopping, an incredible variety of stuff to buy, vacations to take - who wants to listen to those idiot politicians, who wants to hear about the Arabs? You want to know the news? The news is bad. You want to know how the situation is? The situation is bad. Okay? Now let's move on. And that's what Israelis have done - they've moved on. They've moved on from something bad, the state of the nation, to something good, the state of their families, their homes, their cars, their gadgets, their weekends, their sex lives, their barbecues, their trips overseas, their schemes, their ambitions. A LOT OF this is the result of a generation of Israeli prosperity in the worldwide age of the consumer. But a lot of it is just the inbred Israeli personality and way of life. People in this country have a natural inclination to happiness. They live in the sunshine, they live outdoors, they're not cooped up in their houses in the rain and snow with nothing to do but drink and brood. They have close families, they have close friends, and lots of them. They're not prone to loneliness, which is almost synonymous with unhappiness. On the whole, they're not introspective, not contemplative - they don't dwell on things. They don't have much of a dark side. They're not guilt-ridden or neurotic. Instead, they're gregarious, energetic, they enjoy life's pleasures, and they're optimistic - again, about their personal lives, not about the situation. They're hearty Mediterranean go-getters. As for the terror, the wars, and even the traffic accidents, Israelis have one of the longest life expectancies of any nation in the world. SO WHY THE hell shouldn't 83% of them be happy or extremely happy? Politics isn't everything, not even here. In fact, politics is getting to mean less to Israelis all the time. They like elections, they like the personal battles, the mano a mano stuff. It's sport, it's good entertainment. But as for "the conflict," "the peace process," "the existential challenges" - Israelis have become altogether bored with all this. They're too busy pursuing happiness to pay attention anymore. Ia hope I'm not giving away any national secrets. I know this survey (and this column) is bad news for Israeli spokesmen, lobbyists and fundraisers. But think of it this way - it's good news for anyone considering aliya.