There is a peculiar duality in the ways Israelis view America.On the one hand, there is often over-idealization: In America everything glitters. In America everything works. In America everything is good and big and neat and clean and cutting-edge. If only we could just be more like America. America is the goal. America is the ideal. America is romanticized.On the other hand, there is often a patronizing condescension, a tendency to look down the nose at America at what many here view as its naiveté, its quaint form of patriotism, its follow-the-rules, inside-the-box mentality.One often hears as well a certain we-are-better-than-that smugness when discussing the social ills that plague the United States, a sense that none of that exists here to anywhere near the same degree: sub-par medical care for the poor, off-the-charts drug abuse, homelessness, violent crime.
Following the heart-rending attack in Las Vegas, a bit of that smugness could be heard between the lines of some of the public discussion on the airwaves, the sense that a horror like that – an incomprehensible act of mass murder without any apparent motive – could not happen here. And that if anyone would ever try to commit such a crime, he would be stopped much more swiftly.It is not that we don’t have violence here. Of course we do. But the violence here is not at the level it is in the US. Indeed, we find solace in that, telling ourselves that while we have to face terrorism, at least our cities are fairly free of the type of violent crime that plagues America, and that here we can send our kids to play in the streets at all hours of the day and night.Also, we have a tendency to compartmentalize the terrorism we do face. We don’t accept it. We don’t justify it, but we put it in a different category than a madman opening fire on masses of people.And, indeed, that type of action is – thank God – almost unheard of here. But we should keep things in proportion.To start, Israel is a country of 8.7 million people, the United States a country of some 325 million. The chances of some unhinged individual going berserk is a lot greater in a society that much bigger. With so many people in such an open and free society, with such easy access to guns, one might even say it is a wonder this type of thing doesn’t happen more often.Secondly, the US is not a country where security is foremost on everyone’s mind like it is here.We are extremely security-conscious. Our reality demands that. We check bags at malls, have security guards on buses, we look over our shoulders when shopping in a supermarket for vegetables.Americans, because of the country’s vastness and freedom, live in a completely different reality.One of the most difficult things for some here to grasp about the Las Vegas attack was why it took more than an hour for someone to knock down the hotel room door of the shooter. Why did it take so long to locate the room? Why didn’t a security guard in the hotel take immediate action? Why didn’t someone else on the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s 32nd floor do something to stop it? But those questions are the product of our unique reality, where the ethos that has been pounded into so many as a result of army duty is lachtor lemaga, roughly translated as physically confronting the enemy.That ethos has trickled down to such a degree where people “neutralize” a stabbing terrorist with a selfie stick, or where a man in a pizza store stops a terrorist by slamming a wooden pizza platter into his face, or where a passerby stops a terrorist ramming people with his “tractor” by running toward him and firing his personal or army-issued weapons, rather than running away.But none of that is natural reflex. Rather, it is an instinct honed and developed in a country that has known so much terrorism for so long.Such is not the case in America. The ethos is different, the real-time reactions of everyday people are different, the mentality is different – all because the reality is so different. And we here would do well to keep that in mind before passing judgment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues condolences following Las Vegas attack (Tovah Lazaroff)