My Own Worst Enemy
From the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, throughout the Greco-Roman-Byzantine era, and on up to modern-day Iran, Hizbulla, Hamas, and others, the people of Israel have never for a moment found themselves lacking a mortal enemy. That is to say, in every time and place over the course of the last three thousand years, Jews have been attacked, disenfranchised, persecuted, and murdered simply for being themselves. With such a long history of antagonism, one might expect that the very reason we still exist as a nation can be found in our unconditional love and support of one another, the most close-knit of fraternal bonds which ensures our continued survival. Sadly, and quite perplexingly, this hypothesis could not be further from the truth. How and why we succeeded in arriving intact in the 21st century is a complex, interesting, and controversial question; however, it is not the topic of this essay.
Today, as the year 2018 draws to a close, and with it the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, I truly and firmly believe that the most ruthless, calculating, and potentially harmful enemy endangering the very existence of Israel as we know it is the Israeli people themselves. Simply put, our society is so irreparably fragmented, and its members so vehemently and narrow-mindedly committed to their own personal variants of the national ideology, that we are essentially laying the foundations for a total implosion. I posit that this is a result of some of the finest as well as some of the most detestable traits of humankind; a true example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Of course, every country around the world has differences of opinion amongst its citizens and lawmakers; the singular difference is the fragility of Israel’s existence and the ease with which we can be obliterated if our external enemies find the right opportunity.
If we step outside of ourselves for a moment and attempt to view our society from a stranger’s point of view, our internal instability and the dangers it presents become all too apparent. For a young country, Israel has experienced its fair share of scandals and societal heartbreaks; racism, corruption, organized crime, and even government-sanctioned ethnic prejudice are status quo, and that’s before calling into question the morally dubious settlement movement in the occupied territories of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). All too often our local news outlets are filled with stories of violence, fraud, breach of trust, criminal negligence, and every other manner of ill-conceived crime where somebody gets hurt. Our national service providers such as airlines and public transportation are plagued by narcissistic Israelis who insist that the customer is always right, even when he is breaking the law and endangering others. Our financial institutions are saving millions by reducing the availability of services to the public, an alarming percentage of which lives in debt and even under the poverty line; however those savings are not passed on to the customers but rather to the overpaid and legally embattled executives. Medical personnel work impossible hours in overcrowded and underfunded facilities, causing innumerable Israelis immeasurable pain and suffering during interminable waits at emergency rooms. Israel is literally bankrupting and murdering its own citizens, cynically touting the laws of God when the laws of man don’t fit their worldview.
So we must ask the question “Why?” Why are Israelis so inclined to take advantage of one another and put others at risk for their own personal benefit? Why are so many Israelis suffering from poverty, disease, and poor education when our GDP is so strong. Why does it feel like the politicians are out to harm each other and power-grab instead of creating positive impact? Why does it feel like the business executives are aiming to squeeze every last possible cent out of a fragmented and poorly-educated public, then find new and exciting ways (that haven’t yet been made illegal despite their obvious moral flaws) to avoid paying their fair share? Why does it feel like the chain stores are after the mom-and-pops, the cities are after the kibbutzim, the periphery is after the center, the religious are after the secular, and the LGBTQ are after the plain old heteros? Why does it feel like every man for himself, or in the best-case scenario, every isolated community for itself? Even in the kibbutz movement, which outwardly presents itself as a bastion of morality and ideology, back-room dealing, nepotism, and greed threaten our simple way of life.
Surely there must be an explanation, and certainly there are some theories that are obvious contenders. Israelis and Jews, on some level, suffer from a victim mentality that is very much like a form of society-wide PTSD. After suffering so much hardship and persecution, it is only natural for us to be a bit defensive; but isn’t that supposed to extend only to our external relationships, and not affect the way we treat one another? Shouldn’t we be acting as one big support group, commiserating in our shared tragedies and striving together toward ever-increasing triumphs? Sure, on the battlefield this total stranger will give his life to protect mine, but once we’re back at home he’ll try to sell me on some bogus binary options scheme that he knows will bankrupt me. Those aren’t the core Jewish values that I was brought up with. There’s an old joke amongst new immigrants that an Israeli will run you over with his car, but then pick you up and carry you on his back to the hospital. Personally, I would prefer that he didn’t run me over to begin with. I wish we could all just slow down a bit, take a deep breath, listen respectfully to what the other side has to say even if we don’t agree with it, and realize that life is all about compromise. You give a little, you get a little, you move forward without killing one another; we should be thankful for all the blessings that we have, including that of our very existence, which is by no means a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, if we continue much further along our current path, none of us will even be around for me to say “I told you so.”