Israeli society reminds one of an old joke. An elderly woman is discussing gender-roles with her liberated granddaughter. "In the old days," says the grandmother, "the man wore the trousers and his wife respected him like a king. Take me and your grandfather, for example. All the big decisions were taken by him, while I was in charge of all the small matters." The young woman is horrified and asks for explanations. "Simple," says Granny, "your grandfather had the last word on the big issues, like the global oil prices and the cold war between the Soviets and the West. I took all the small decisions, like how to manage our family budget, what furniture we should buy and how to educate our children"...
Like the grandfather, many Israelis spend much of their time debating high politics, often ignoring their daily realities. Since the 1967 war, our society has been obsessed with the great controversy over peace and security. Sometimes we also address economic questions, and more rarely, we pay some lip service to social issues and utter a few cliches about equality and democratic values. Many of us tend to believe that once the big, existential problems of war and peace are resolved, we would then find the time and energy to handle our other problems. Some even have a mystical faith that peace itself will solve all our problems, since the conflict is their only root cause.
Perhaps the time has come to listen to grandmother. While our deep involvement with political debates may indicate our commitment to our national destiny, the real quality of our lives is often determined by our "small" choices and decisions. If we continue to neglect our society, we may find that there is little for us to fight for.
The State of Israel was founded by visionary revolutionaries who were determined to change history. Like many other radicals, they were prepared to sacrifice minor details for the sake of their great goal. Whether intentionally or not, they used external problems to subdue internal conflicts. Many Israeli leaders worked to rally the public around national policies and dismissed all other questions as secondary and less urgent.
Ironically, the regimental mentality of early Zionism produced two negative results. One - many people rebelled against the repression of their individual aspirations and turned against the very cause of Jewish liberty and self-determination. Two - neglecting the social, economic and cultural welfare of many Israelis, seriously eroded our social solidarity and inner strength. Like the human body, our social fabric seems to have lost much of its immunity to external threats, due to a long period of malnutrition and harmful habits.
The deepest wound in our collective body is probably the sense of inequality. How can anyone expect a young person to happily contribute to a society that doesn't offer equal opportunities to all its members or fails to respect the heritage of all its communities? Israel's "official culture" represents only a small minority that has been in full control of its centralised system for many decades. The ruling circle holds all political, economic and cultural positions of power. The local Oligarchy retains its power with the active support of foreign elitist groups. This casts a grave shadow over the essence of Israel as a democracy and deprives its citizens of their true liberties.
Unlike medieval feudals, the modern Oligarchs cannot expect today's masses to sacrifice their lives for the glory of the fortunate few. Thus they indoctrinate the public through their powerful media, diverting our attention from our true reality to their "high politics". This methodical brainwash is cleverly coated with sugar icing of shallow entertainment and escapist leisure activities.
The cure to this malaise is simple: Look inside.
Turn off your television and open a book. Look inside and explore your own mind, develop your own talents, shape your own values, mould your own lifestyle, learn from your own elders, concentrate on your own creative work, stretch your hand to your neighbours, help the needy, resist unnecessary consumption - in short - look inside and be yourself, be free! Like Granny, look into your own home and family, build your own community, shape your own destiny - and let Grandpa babble away about kings and wars.
It may sound simple, but it's not easy. To resist the massive brainwash on your own is almost impossible. Finding partners to form alternative communities may make the task more achievable. Paradoxically or not, we may soon find that liberating ourselves from the Oligarchy's yoke is likely to empower our society and improve our capacity to deal with external problems. Less uniformity may yield more unity. More freedom and tolerance at home may also be the key to peace and harmony with our neighbours.
As we so often learn from experience, the answers to many of our questions are to be found within us. All we have to do is - look inside.
Ehud Tokatly, 24/June/2004