The enemy within

Apathy has become a dominant feature of our secular society, an enemy more dangerous than the ones coming from across the Green Line.

poor in garbage 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
poor in garbage 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Our worst enemies do not live in Ramallah, nor even in Gaza. No, they can be found in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in Haifa. They live in our midst. They are motivated by greed, by avarice. They wear expensive suits, don the latest in ties. The high cost lawyer with, oh, such refined cultural taste who swindled tens of millions of dollars from Holocaust survivors without batting an eyelid, is one of them. In my book he rates high up, at the top of the list of the worst of the worst. Alas, he is not alone. The former minister, exuding good will and bonhomie, with his charming grandfatherly smile, who dared to lord over our country's finances knowing all the time that he had helped himself to millions of shekels of other peoples' money, is, in all probability, another one of them. Unlike the aforementioned lawyer, he has not yet been found guilty, but the case that the police have put against him seems to be ironclad. There are many, many others - this entire page could be filled with example after example - yet, unfortunately, these corrupt, greed-driven scions of our society are only one facet of the enemy that is eating us up in our midst. Some months ago, Israeli television filmed a scene with horrific connotations: it showed a man lying in the middle of the road at a busy intersection at the entrance of Tel Aviv; he had been knocked off his motorcycle by a passing vehicle and lay on the ground, motionless. The horrific part of the scene was that dozens of cars passed within inches of him, and no driver bothered to stop to see if the man needed help. The sidewalk was teeming with people, yet not a single one crossed over to the man in the road. They were all immersed in their own affairs, and had no time for a fellow human being in trouble. Israel has become an egocentric society. There are, of course, many wonderful exceptions, voluntary societies helping the poor, the incapacitated, the downtrodden. But generally, we don't care about the suffering of others, as long as we ourselves get by handsomely. In a recent Jerusalem Post article, Michael Freund summed up the phenomenon with the single word "me." A few weeks ago my nephew in Haifa went one better, and said we suffer from a "me and now" syndrome - every "me" in our consumer-driven society wants to have his/her goodies now, and strives to obtain them to the exclusion of all else. We have the highest rate of children under the poverty line and the widest gap between rich and poor in the entire Western world? Who cares? Our education system is floundering, on the verge of collapse? Violence in our schools and on the streets has reached endemic proportions? So what? The list is long. The all-powerful manpower companies make a mockery out of labor laws, depriving their workers of social benefits and paying less than minimal wages, and the government turns a blind eye. Foreign workers are callously mistreated and underpaid, yet there is no outcry against this dreadful phenomenon. We brought in our Ethiopian sisters and brothers to much fanfare and self-congratulation, but have done next to nothing to care for their needs and to integrate them, yet there is no public effort to do something about it. And then there is the suffering of the Palestinians, but that, of course, is something I should not be mentioning at all, because, as everybody will tell me, they have brought it upon themselves. That is ample reason for the majority of Israelis to shut out all talk of the hardship of the occupation, or of the vandalism of some of the settlers who cut down or steal olive trees, thwart the olive harvest and generally do their utmost to make the lives of their Palestinian neighbors as miserable as possible. Apathy has become a dominant feature of our secular society, an enemy more dangerous than the ones coming from across the Green Line, apathy about everything except, of course, one's own personal interests. This can hardly be said for the religious segment of our society. The religious and nationalist zeal of the Orthodox youth are the very antithesis of apathy. That zeal, however, is often heavily coated with intolerance and insensitivity for everything that does not fit into the extremist aims of much of the nationalist-religious element in our society. It has served to widen the divide between religious and secular. That chasm has become one more element that is eating us up from within, one more enemy within our walls. There are those, myself included, who argue that one of the causes of the malaise in our society has been the occupation, the lording of one people - ours - over another. Our value-system has been terribly impaired as a result. True, the Palestinians did to a large extent "ask for it"; one could argue that their ongoing violence legitimized our counter-actions. The Palestinians, of course, claim that their violence came as a response to the occupation, and that they would live in peace with us if we withdrew from their territories and agreed to a two-state solution. Many Israelis will not agree with that claim, but be that as it may, the stark fact is that the occupation has harmed us in many ways. It has corrupted our morals, undermined our values, divided our society, encouraged violence, and drained away billions of dollars that could have been used so much more constructively, in education, health and many other ways. WE MUST not let up in our struggle against our enemies from outside - whether it be Hamas in the south, Hizbullah in the north, or those in Teheran calling to wipe us off the face of the map. But at the same time we must pay more attention to the enemy within our gates. There is much to do to improve, and the first step must be to overhaul our decaying education system, and to motivate our teachers and the young generation to want to be teachers. Israel used to be a wonderful place. We could justly be proud of our values, of our achievements. Today we can only still be proud of our achievements.