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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

culture clash: civilians vs. military

The McChrystal ousting was definitely a drama worth watching. It featured a daring journalist who broke mainstream journalistic conventions by exposing more than some thought he should have, a driven general who botched his career, and a beleaguered president who saved his image.

I haven’t heard a lot about McChrystal before this drama began to unfold, but coincidentally, I did read in the last few months several books about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among these books was Jon Krakauer’s account of Pat Tillman’s accidental death by “friendly fire” and apparent cover-up by none other than McChrystal, Where men win glory; David Finkel’s account of one army battalion fight during the surge in Iraq, The good soldiers, and Rick Atkinson’s In the company of men, about the second invasion of Iraq. These books and others I’ve read on the topic made me feel I could form some kind of opinion, if not the most accurate one, when the s**t hit the fan with surprising velocity.

My first reaction was total dread. How would Obama cope with the crisis? How would the crazies use Team America derisive comments to paint him as a weakling? What would be the fallout? Is my first gut reaction that the general had to go was a result of a grudge I held against him because of the Pat Tillman’s cover-up? I wasn’t sure what to think. Then everything was quickly resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

So as usual I turned to my favorite bloggers and columnists to read about the affair, including, of course, the culprit article in the Rolling Stone, and came to my own little conclusion: civilian and military cultures are like oil and water, they just don’t mix too well.

You see, civilian and military personnel come from completely different cultures. While the civilian environment can thrive on debate, and on top down and bottom up collaboration, the U.S. military is strictly hierarchical and unapologetically authoritarian. Add to this mix some government bureaucracy and you got a very strange and unappetizing concoction.

More than once I heard thru the grapevine about frustrated civilians who had to respond to military bosses that meddled in their business; what civilian experts thought when generals and colonels stepped into their territory and made demands, aware on unaware that their and expectations were ridiculously unattainable. But the civilians kept their mouths shut and followed the orders like the good soldiers that they were not. And everyone kept on working and pretending that the system worked well and that things got done according to the plan, until things started falling apart and the general came storming in demanding some straight answers which no one was able to give.

This resentment flows in two directions and is unavoidable: military vs. civilians, civilians vs. military. When a general demands the impossible from his subordinate civilians they consider him as a clueless dweeb no matter how many stars and stripes decorate his uniform. The same goes when civilians demand the impossible from the military.

What we need to realize is that when McChrystal was interacting with the civilian leadership he was the expert, the ‘doer’ on the battle ground, the general who was running an impossible war, and the civilians were wasting his time with their demands and political considerations. All he heard was background noise and interference in his mission. And he did not like it. The unfortunate thing for him was that at his level of leadership, his discontent and indiscretion were violating the constitution which he swore to defend.

No wonder the general and his team regarded their civilian bosses as a bunch of morons. They were not kvetching, as David Brooks pontificated in his NYT column. They were speaking their mind.

related articles:

The Nation: David Brooks, king of kvetching

Skepticblog: I didn't know the mic was on

Saturday, June 19, 2010

God revisited

I must confess, in one area I failed as a mother, yet, this failure in a very strange way feels a lot like success.

How could that be, you are asking?

It started with a Korean movie, chosen by... yes, you guessed it. That girl of mine. My Son is a depressing story about a 39 yr-old convict who gets a day out of prison after 15 years to go see his son whom he hasn't seen since the boy was 3. In any case, there is one scene at the beginning of the movie in which the convict sits in the prison's chapel talking to the chaplain, and the chaplain, trying to sooth the convict's frustration about the short time he got to see his son, says that one day is not as short as it seems, and that even God was able to create the world, the light and human beings in one day. As soon as he says it, the convict rises from the bench and shoots back, "it took him 6 days, and he took a day off because he was tired. I told you I read the bible three times cover to cover. What's wrong with you?"

I don't know what made me stop and turn to my daughter and say, "yeah, that's why we have Shabbat."

To my total surprise I found out that she didn't know that. She also didn't know much about the story of the creation, like what happened each day or that man was created before woman (in the second version, only). Her ignorance was a real surprise to me. We've been living in the same house for almost 14 yrs and I had just found out that my daughter knew close to nothing about the bible, and most of what she knew was attributed to the movie Year one with Jack Black. Oh, please, hide me somewhere.

This is the part where I see my failure. I raised a child who has very little knowledge of early Judaic literature, mythology, customs, laws, world view, and history. She doesn't know the intricacies of the Canaanites kingdoms, the betrayals, the incest, the curses, the mass murders, the miracles, the crazed prophets, the wars, the disasters, victories, intrigue and fatal mistakes of all those mentioned in the Book. There is so much she doesn't know and will have to learn about to be a well-rounded person, and more importantly, a person who can fully relate to me, since part of my language, imagery, and culture comes from that Book, which I studied cover to cover, inside and out, during my school years and later as an adult. But learning the (Jewish) bible and the various interpretations that accompany it, is not the only thing she still has to learn. There is so much more out there for her learn, and learning the (Jewish) bible is definitely not the most important thing, in my opinion.

And this is where success enters the picture.

Many people become quasi religious/observant when they have kids. Suddenly they start visiting the synagogue or church, feel compelled to celebrate their kids' bar mitzvah when they're Jewish, or baptize them when they are not, and then, horror of all horrors, send them to Sunday school, where they learn to read biblical Hebrew and make holiday decorations.

When my daughter was born I decided that I was not going to expose her to the quintessential abuser, God of the Jews. I was going to spare her this trauma and not tell her anything about Him until she was old enough to understand the true meaning of religion. And so she grew up oblivious to what generations of children had to endure from very early age. Even I, growing up in a secular kibbutz where people ate lobster and hunted wild boar, developed the fear of God in my early childhood. Although my parents were not religious and the first time I visited a synagogue I was in eighth grade, just hearing the stories and seeing the pictures was enough to scare the beJesus out of me. I mean, a small child does not have the tools to process the removal of Adam and Eve from Eden, or the murder of Abel, or the fate Lot's wife. God's omnipotence and omnipresence is absolutely terrifying and no child is immune to God's voyeurism. Every grown up is so powerful already, so you can imagine how God can come across when you are five years old.

So I shielded my daughter from God. And I am happy to say that I succeed. Now she has no fear of being punished by God, or sent to hell or just having apprehension that she is being observed by an invisible male entity, when she really wishes not to be observed, like when she is taking a shower, for example. (In general, I think that only after a female's first visit to a male gynecologist should she be introduced to the concept of God. Anytime before that would be very damaging.)

Then, before I knew it, I was vindicated.

On Sunday I went to a Thai Buddhist temple where I mentioned to the head monk how I wanted to spare my daughter the fear of God, so I never taught her about Him. The head monk did not flinch at my brazen disregard for the One. He smiled and said that the important thing is knowing good and bad, not learning about god. Then, he asked me to wait, exited the temple and went to the monks' living quarters. He came back a few minutes later with a small book entitled No Religion by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and gave it to me. To summarize the premise of this little book, here is what it says: "When there is truly no religion we will live in genuine love, harmony, and peace."

Too bad monks are not allowed to be hugged by women.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The joy of raising a teenager

When Eliya was a baby, I used to put my face very close to her face when she was asleep and check if she was breathing. Now, that she is almost fourteen, I have to pretend that I'm totally jaded about this thing that is my kid and learn to be totally ignored, unless, of course, she needs money, a ride somewhere, or food, preferably outside the home. (And a little bit of love - she asks to add to the list). However, last weekend while I was doing whatever I do on weekends, I suddenly realized that it was almost two o'clock in the afternoon and her bedroom door was still closed, and not a beep was coming from behind it. I got tensed. So what if she is almost fourteen; I still have to make sure she is alive, which is how I see my main role in her life- keeping the child alive! I went to check if she was breathing. Well, you guessed it. She was curled under her blanket in total teen oblivion, sleeping off a night drenched in Korean dramas and music videos.

She is definitely not my baby anymore.

This morning she graduated from eighth grade. It's a big deal in America, I found out recently. There are speeches and flowers, and the kids dress in their best and receive diplomas and kudos from the teachers. Some people even cry. Nothing like my experience back in the kibbutz. Not that I would expect her life to be similar to mine in any way. That would be harsh.

First thing in the morning I was told that I needed to dress up for the occasion. No black cargo pants, Ima, she said. Oh, well, I thought, in the past my Ima was the one who insisted that I dress up; now it is my daughter who acts as my fashion police. I put on a pair of dressy black pants and she approved. Welcome to my world!

She wore a new dress she got especially for her graduation and new sandals. Her toenails were painted puke green. She looked perfect. Exactly the way I would want my daughter to look on her eighth grade graduation day. She was going to give a speech after being elected by her classmates even though "she is not even one of the popular girls," she told me after texting me: "I had the best speech, I think I got the highest vote!!!!!" This is from a girl who wouldn't bother to text me a whole sentence if the house caught on fire.

She practiced giving her speech a few times at home. I coached her a little, telling her she needed to make sure she didn't swallow the sentences into one long word. I admired her determination to give a speech in front of so many people. She said she was not nervous, until two nights before graduation when she realized it was actually going to happen.

I got her Rescue Remedy. Some people may think it is witchcraft, but my position is that the earlier you get her on the alternative stuff, there is a better chance she will not turn to prescription drugs later on for every little headache. But I didn't tell her any of that. I just got the black currant flavored ones and gave them to her and told her they would help to keep her cool.

She aced her speech. People laughed at all the right places. She paused when they laughed, showing great sense for timing. She looked up, smiled, and continued speaking as if every day she does this kind of thing. And with a straight face she said she might be a senator one day. I am not kidding you.

People came afterward and told me she was great. Someone said she gave the best speech at the graduation. It felt good to hear good things about my daughter. People say in these occasions stuff like, "you should be proud of her." For a moment I wanted to go to her and say, "I am so proud of you," but I never really understood what it meant. What does it mean to be proud of someone else? And in any case, pride is supposed to be a bad thing, so how can I be proud of my daughter and come across as doing something good? It just never made sense. I can be happy for her for making a good impression on other people, or pulling something like this off without breaking a sweat (although someone later discovered the rescue remedy and claimed that I drugged my daughter... and that was why she did so well), but how can I be proud of her?

I guess what I am trying to say is that I am really proud of myself for raising a really cool kid who makes me look good with so little effort on my part.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crae: A short story

There was nothing fun to write about this week. More fallout from the Gaza Flotilla, the BP oil spill still destroying everything in its wake, primaries that reveal things I prefer not to know about America and especially American women, immigration stuff, the pope and child molestations (I might write something about it although I feel I have no right, because I'm Jewish), and if I missed something, you can fill in the blanks.

I guess the World Cup can cheer some of you. My daughter is rooting for Korea. What else did you expect.

Anyway, I couldn't come up with anything I wanted to comment on so I decided to help you kill a few minutes with some short fiction I wrote a while ago. The World Cup was not available that day so I came up with this. Here it is.


(inspired by life experience)

I always thought about cowboys when I talked to Crae, or more actually when he talked to me because he did most of the talking. I only had to incorporate short interjections into his long monologues to make them sound a little like a conversation. But Crae didn't look anything like a cowboy, in spite of the eternal bolo tie, the long-horm belt buckle and the leather boots. In reality he looked more like an abandoned baby chick: thin blond hair, skinny legs and kind of wobbly. Luckily for him, his name obliterated the baby chick image. His full name was Crae Z. Fox. He was partly Cherokee Indian partly lots of other things less exotic. Some of my friends wanted to meet him because of his name, but I never introduced him to anyone. I was afraid they would commit me into the nearest asylum once they found out what kind of characters I allowed into my life.

I met Crae in a poetry reading that took place in a trendy book store South of Market. I was not incredibly interested in that reading but Larry, my ex, claimed it was a great place to be seen and insisted I should join him. The moment we entered he ran into what he introduced to me as "a very bright and promising young writer," who was also very tall and pretty and assertive. He said she was a guest lecturer in the English department at his university, and a minute later disappeared with her into blissful oblivion. I got stuck behind Crae feeling ugly, short, and stupid.

I wanted to go home and wonder why on earth Larry wanted me there, but I didn’t know the city well enough and I didn’t want to get lost in the dark. Especially with my accent. So I tapped on Crae's shoulder meaning to ask him for directions. Crae turned, and before I had a chance to open my mouth, asked, "What do you think about fornication?"

"Fornication?" I stumbled.

"That's what Adam and Eve did in Paradise," he said.

I offered a noncommittal, "ah-ha" hoping it won’t give away my nationality and went to take a closer look at Larry and his writer, who stood near the improvised bar and rubbed a lot more than the acceptable elbows. Crae followed me and asked if I came alone.

That was the beginning of our friendship.

A few months later, Crae confessed that he became instantly bewitched when he heard me saying “fornication?” He said that after he heard that word coming out of my mouth he wanted to woo me to a dark alley and fornicate with me.

I did not tell him that day that I should have looked up the word in my dictionary after I first heard it. Because shortly after I met him, I gave my students a grammar quiz and with a deadly expression on my face told them: "Don't even think about fornication. I don't need to look up to see you do it."

I noticed the awkward silence and wondered if my threat sounded too hollow. My students probably knew I could not see them cheating behind my back, like the heavenly couple who tried to cheat God in Paradise. Besides, I also never believed my grammar school teacher when she said that she could see us cheat behind her back.

Later on, I looked up the word in my dictionary. The next day I told my students that they could teach me a few things, too. We ended up having a silent pact in which my students volunteered to forget that I had said that word in class and I became their unofficial sex consultant. They didn’t know, of course, that compared to Crae I knew nothing about sex.

Crae was the only person I told about the kibbutz and my military experience without being asked. I mentioned it to him the first and only time I came to see him in his apartment in downtown San Francisco. I wanted him to read a short story I had translated from Hebrew. I didn’t dare showing it to Larry, the professor, and I thought that Crae would be a good candidate because of his love for poetry.

Crae was not surprised to hear my voice on his phone. It was expected, he said. The night he asked me about fornication he shoved into my hand a wrinkled business card that promised "protection of damsels, aid of widows and orphans, and the succoring of the needy," and whispered: "don't hesitate to call."

"My prayers were answered," he said when he heard my voice, and added, "hallelujah."

When I told him that I needed help with something he invited me to his "temporary office," which was a nicotine-infested windowless cell that smelled like a big wet ashtray. It was located at the end of a stuffy corridor on the top floor of a flea-bag residence hotel on Jones Street. There were no chairs in the “office” and the floor was covered with heaps of dirty clothes, books by Henry Miller, old newspapers, empty Chinese food containers and a variety of plates full of cigarette butts. After I refused to make myself comfortable on the stained bed sheets, Crae explained that he was renting that room during periods he needed to hide from his furious girlfriend, a.k.a. the magnificent Asian nymphomaniac. Then, tenderly, he asked if someone I knew was dying.

I apologized that no one was dying, and asked if he could read a story I translated from Hebrew into English and give me some feedback. Once he heard that I could "write" he asked me to listen to something he composed for his girlfriend. He lit a cigarette and read me a seven-page poem on masturbation and flying cows, while puffing perfect smoke rings into the air. When he finished reading, he showed me his rifle. I nearly passed out. I never knew anyone out of Israel who owned a rifle. I didn't even know it was legal to own one. I was not afraid that he would shoot me, but I started to get worried when he stood up in the middle of the room, brandished the rifle in the air, and, with his eyes closed, started singing a Roy Orbison love song. I asked him not to direct the rifle in my face and he stopped and said that he still needed to buy bullets. That was when I decided to tell him that I was once a soldier in the Israeli army. I was hoping to shake him out of his trance and make him realize that I was not impressed by his weapon.

To my relief it worked.

He became very excited. Actually, aroused would be a more accurate description. He wanted to know which guns I could shoot and dismantle, and if I could do it blindfolded and under heavy bombardment in the middle of the night. I said "yes" to everything he asked only because I wanted him to lock the rifle back in the closet, not because I wanted to impress him.

A few months later I learned that I was spared the honor of fornication because I could dismantle guns while blindfolded. Until then, Crae said, he considered me as good material for his indulgences. I never believed him. To this day I am sure that he knew from the beginning that all he could get out of me was a very Platonic relationship and a sympathetic ear. That was why he kept coming back to recount his encounters in local bars and complain about his girlfriend’s sexual appetite.

Unfortunately, since he was a mortician by trade, I was more interested in his experience with death.

One day I told him that what I felt toward death was similar to what I used to feel toward sex. I was enchanted, but at the same time I absolutely dreaded it. As expected, Crae was caught by the imagery and said that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that he planned to be shot at the age of forty by a jealous husband. Then he agreed to listen to my first encounter with death.

It happened when I still lived on the kibbutz. One night I saw two men carry a stretcher to an ambulance. The man on the stretcher was wearing brown striped pajamas under the sheet that covered him. His left arm was hanging down and his fingers caressed the wet grass. The paramedics climbed into the ambulance and took off with an engine's whisper.

The next day I heard this exchange at the communal dining hall: "Did you hear about Gutman's father? He died last night from a heart attack."

"I heard he was already dead when they arrived at the hospital," was the reply.

A wave of anticipation clutched my heart. I wondered how seeing death for the first time would affect me. But nothing too dramatic has happened. For a long time I remained the same person. Finally I decided that I hadn’t changed as a result of facing death because the man I saw was not completely dead when his arm dropped from the stretcher and his fingers touched the grass.

Crae was not impressed.

So I told him about the funerals I attended as the army token during my military service. "The guys were responsible for the gun salute, and we had to put the wreaths on the fresh graves and watch the mothers cry."

Again he was not impressed.

I didn’t give up and asked him to take me to the mortuary. "I want to learn about death from an expert," I stroke his ego, “from someone who is not afraid to die.” He looked at me for a few seconds, and agreed to let me in, but forgot to set a date, which was very frustrating. He could not understand how much I wanted to see what death looked like because he had never seen my insides.

Several months after Larry and I separated, Crae showed up in the middle of the night. He came to tell me that his girlfriend tried to kill him when they came out of a movie theater and that the police came to rescue him from her blasting rage. Or maybe he was the one who was trying to kill her and the police came to rescue the nymph, it makes no difference which version it was that time. He ended up breaking a knuckle, so he said, when he hit the windshield of her car with his fist. It was the fourth time she had tried to kill him, or vice versa, and I had to hear every detail of the story, including a description of the blow job he received in the men's restroom during the movie. It was not even a porno flick. I think he said it was a sleeper by Robert Redford.

"She breaks my heart," He mumbled to himself and wrapped his hand with the ice pack I handed him.

I didn’t know what kind of wound she was carving in his heart, but his pain was very visible. I could tell he was exhausted. He was slurring his words and I was unable to comprehend his line of thoughts. I also learned that he was drunk because when he entered he said that he was "inebriated."

I had to look it up in my dictionary. For a moment I was afraid he had caught a deadly virus during their latest bout of self destruction. “She tried to seduce the cops. She took off her lacy underwear and waved it in their face and it took me almost an hour to convince them that she was crazy and that the whole thing was just a big turn on for her,” he groaned, trying to focus his blood-shot eyes on his damaged hand.

When daylight broke he fell asleep on the carpet. His precious Zippo lighter with the little figures of Vishnu and Shiva slipped from his pocket and landed under the couch. I picked it up and put it on the coffee table. I covered him with a sleeping bag.

"You hurt me, stop, go away," he begged her in his sleep.

I watched the torment slowly leave his face. When he slept he looked so innocent: his straight blond hair covering his forehead, his good hand tucked between his knees, his green tattoo announcing his faith in God. I put a clean sheet on the couch, just in case he woke up later and wanted a softer spot to sleep in. I wanted him to be comfortable and safe. He was my closest friend and my best English teacher and I was committed to taking care of him, even at the price of developing a voyeuristic ear. I was flattered that he chose me as his confidant. At least with me he did not feel compelled to perform since he knew I was not good material for fornication. All I ever wanted was a little love and attention.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas and me

Helen Thomas wants to send me back to Auschwitz. That's what I heard when I saw her saying on youtube, "Go back home, to Germany and Poland," with an unapologetic smile. Luckily she didn't say, "Too bad Hitler didn't finish the job." That would really sting.

It's so depressing. My Jewish paranoia is resurfacing. Can't help it. It's in my DNA. In my mind's eye I already see the gas chambers and the SS officers in their immaculate uniform. I try to tell myself that I now live in America, I am an American citizen, I'm safe, I have nothing to worry about, but the feelings persist and the images don't go away.

All I can think about is that by pure luck I was not born in the forties in Europe. I could have been born there, easily, and end up like all those distant relatives who perished in the Holocaust. After all, my grandparents came from Eastern Europe. Now Ms. Thomas wants Jews to go back "Home." That is what she called it, on the White House lawn, during Jewish Heritage month, no less.

That's more than just depressing.

When I think "Germany and Poland" in the same breath, I think Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt. They are as familiar to me as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat, and Ashkelon. I grew up knowing the names of these places, as if people I know live there. (or more likely, died there.)

I don't have any bad feelings about Germany or Poland. I don't keep a grudge. I don't dwell on the Holocaust. I just don't want to live there or be forced to go back there with all my Israeli family and friends. I don't think we will be a good fit. No matter how you look at it, it will not work. She should have known.

Yet, I wonder, what made her think that the Germans and the Poles and the Lithuanians and Romanians and Hungarians and the French and the list goes on and on would accept all these aggressive, violent, Palestinian hating Israeli Jews, some of which are not even European? There are Ethiopian Jews in Israel as well. Would she send them back to Ethiopia? And what about the Moroccan and Iranian and Syrian Jews? Where would they go? And where would I go?

I wouldn't know where to go. I know my grandparents came to Palestine sometimes in the 1920s from Eastern Europe, but that's about it. They never spoke Polish or Yiddish or whatever language they spoke over there. They never mentioned the relatives they had left behind or showed me any pictures. They were just my grandparents.

The only place I've ever heard about was Vishniva. My grandfather came from there. Last year I googled Vishniva and found it in Lithuania. Unfortunately, all the Jews of Vishniva were killed one night in August 1942, according to the book my grandfather left behind. A book that I now own. In the end of this book there is a long list of names of all those who were slaughtered on that fateful night, and a good chunk of those names have the same last name as my grandfather. That's not too encouraging. I mean, what kind of "home" is that?

Now I understand why last Saturday night, instead of going out and doing something fun, I decided to stay home and watch a documentary about... genocide. It is called Worse Than War. It was produced by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the same guy who wrote Hitler's Willing Executioners.

I think Helen Thomas should take a look at it. She might change her mind about sending those damn Israeli Jews back to Europe after watching it.

related articles:

TNR: Helen Thomas and the rights to abhorrent speech

TPM: Just pack it in

Politics Daily: Was Hearst right to force Helen Thomas to retire

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Part two translation

The Gaza Flotilla: A chronicle of an expected failure
Written by Yoram Baron (my brother), translated by me.

Israel has lost its ability to maneuver - like a man with a borderline personality who becomes psychotic every time something unusual happens - she is controlled by her own violent response to radical organizations, who in fact determine her destiny and the future of the entire Middle East.

The Israeli leadership was unable to come to the only possible decision it had to make about the Gaza "peace" flotilla. It simply did what it always does: It decided to mobilize the IDF in order to stop the flotilla without considering any compromise. The instant this decision has been made, it was only a matter of time -- plus the sophistication and determination of the activists -- before people started to get killed or injured on the ship.

Because of its one-dimensional view of the world - Israel has lost its ability to maneuver, and can now be manipulated by any organization or group that is ready to pay the price: whether it is Islamic terror organizations, right-wing Jewish extremists, or international organizations. Anyone prepared to pay the price (in lives) can now stop the peace process, damage Israel's image, and drag the leadership of the "Israeli democratic military" to open fire and lose the last remnants of Israel's quickly disappearing legitimacy.

It can be the kidnapping of a soldier, the launching of a few rockets, a terrorist attack on a sensitive area, a provocation by Jewish right-wing extremists (which will go unpunished), violent demonstrations of Israeli-Arabs near a fence or a freeway, and more...

Any incident defined as a "serious incident" with many injured victims, will cause a violent response which will deteriorate into another cycle of violence and stop any attempt at reconciliation.

Today, there is not one leader in Israel who can decide to withhold a violent response or choose restraint. Everyone in the Israeli leadership thinks exactly the same. Try to imagine any of them giving in to the other side - Ehud (Barack, minister of defense, former prime minister), Bibi (Netanyahu, prime minister), Bogie (former chief-of-staff, gov't minister), Fuad (gov't minister, was minister of defense), Avigdor (minister of foreign affairs), Benny (Begin, son of former prime minister Menachem Begin). They can't allow themselves to be embarrassed by conceding to the other side. They embody the fighting Israeli, ready to attack and pay any price... Will they let a ship pass through a blockade because some people might get injured? Only cowards worry about such things....

When the command group moves in one direction, people start thinking the same, and the way the group thinks becomes more powerful than individual thinking. So even if there is someone who thinks differently, who sees other alternatives, his chances at making himself heard are very small. There was one person who thought differently (cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser), but once his opinion was made pubic, he immediately denied it in order not to lose his place in the group.

Unfortunately, this dynamic exists not only at the top of the leadership pyramid; it is a part of a process that is taking place in Israel today. The issue is not a shift to the right (which is a different demographic issue), but a shift to a one-way thinking and a herd mentality.

On the one hand, the news media provide quick and short one-liners and flood the public with shallow stimulants. Newspaper editors and television news producers need to keep their ratings high, and that means being "acceptable," popular, and staying within the consensus. On the other hand, the high standard of living and the life of comfort dis-incentivize the public from analyzing ideological issues and in depth thinking. These tendencies lead to a limited thinking and keeps everyone in line with the herd.

This shift is not typical to Israel alone; it is a global phenomenon. However, the effect of this behavioral shift on countries who function under normal conditions is barely noticeable. But in Israel - a country who has to manage itself in a very complicated conflict - the effect of this shift is very dramatic. The consensus is simplistic and clear: We are in danger, we live under the threat of Hamas, Muslims, Iran, Palestinians, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, everyone.... And they are all Arabs, the product of a macho, violent, aggressive culture, therefore we have to be strong, and in every situation we have to use deterrence, and prove our strength, prevent them from becoming stronger and fight them on all fronts. And anyone who supports them or sides with them is our enemy. This is the guiding rule, and from this everything else emerges: the language, the ideas, the positions, the values.

In these circumstances, an Israeli politician needs immense amount of courage, self confidence and an ability to lead in order to agree to concessions, to a positive gesture toward the enemy or to exercise restraint in the face of provocation. There are no such leaders today, and if there is one such person in the cabinet or the government, this person has no influence or voice.

As a result, we are doomed to continue in this way of thinking, to continue our utter dependence on the impulsive reactions of our leaders, and to continue the cycle of errors that will only worsen our situation. Like a man with a borderline personality who refuses to go to therapy in order to modify his behavior, our sick country will continue to react with aggression to every vain provocation no matter how deranged and insignificant the culprit.

Related Reading:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

on being israeli - clarification

As you see, not everyone is going to be able to read part two of being Israeli. It was written in Hebrew by my brother. I called him this morning and asked him to write an analysis of the latest crisis. It is now posted on my blog.

This past week was a tough week for me. I spent most of my free time combing op-ed columns, blogs, and online dailies in Hebrew and English as well as youtube and comedy central. I read obsessively about the Israeli fiasco. It was gut wrenching. I didn't feel like writing. I needed to find clarity.

I am not a supporter of the right wing government of Israel. I have never voted even for the labor party; they were not lefty enough for my taste. I have strong opinions about the occupation and the radicalization of Israeli politics. But at the same time, part of me is Israeli and I can't deny it, no matter what.

I like the way my brother thinks and expresses his ideas. So here it is for those of you who can read Hebrew.

I will do my best to translate his words as soon as I can.

on being an Israeli - part two

כרוניקה של כישלון ידוע מראש

ישראל איבדה את יכולת התימרון - כמו אדם בעל אישיות גבולית שכל אירוע מערער אותו וגורם לתגובות פסיכוטיות, כך נשלטת ישראל למעשה בידי תגובותיה האלימות לכל פעולה של ארגונים קיצוניים המכתיבים את גורלה ולמעשה את עתיד המזרח התיכון...

למקבלי ההחלטות בישראל לא הייתה יכולת לקבל את ההחלטה היחידה האפשרית באירוע משט ה"שלום" לעזה. הם פשוט עשו מה שתמיד הם עושים, החליטו להפעיל את צה"ל כדי לעצור את המשט ללא פשרות. ברגע שנתקבלה החלטה זו, הרוגים ופצועים היו רק שאלה של זמן ומידת הנחישות או התיחכום של המשייטים - תלוי בהשקפה.

ישראל בראייתה החד מימדית את העולם סביבה איבדה למעשה את כושר התימרון, היא צפויה בתגובותיה, נתונה למעשה למניפולציות של כל ארגון או גוף שמוכן לשלם מחיר. מארגוני טרור איסלאמי, פעילי ימין קיצוני יהודיים, או ארגונים בינלאומיים. כל מי שמוכן לשלם מחיר, יכול היום לסכל מהלכים, לעצור תהליך שלום, לפגוע בתדמית ישראל, ולגרור את מנהיגות "הדמוקרטיה הצבאית הישראלית" לפתוח באש ולאבד את שאריות הלגיטימציה שהולכת ונעלמת לה.

זה יכול להיות חטיפת חייל, שליחת כמה טילים, פיגוע במקום רגיש , פרובוקציה קשה של אנשי ימין (שלא תקבל מענה) הפגנות אלימות של ערבים ישראלים ליד גדר או כביש, ועוד... כל ארוע כזה שיוגדר קשה ועם נפגעים, יגרור למעשה תגובות אלימות שידרדרו את המצב למעגל אלים נוסף ויעצרו כל תהליך פיוס.

אין היום בישראל מנהיג שמסוגל לקבל החלטות של דחיית תגובה אלימה או איפוק, במעגל ההנהגה בישראל יושבים כיום אנשים החושבים למעשה אותו דבר- נסו לדמיין אותם מתאפקים ומוותרים קצת לצד השני.- את אהוד, ביבי, בוגי, בני, פואד, אביגדור, הם הרי לא יכולים להרשות לעצמם לחזור הביתה אחרי שספגו את ההפשלה שבוויתור . הם המגלמים את הישראלי המסתער קדימה בכל מחיר, ולא רואה ממטר את המהססים, הם ייתנו לספינה לעבור כי יש סכנת נפגעים, זה עושים רק פחדנים....

וכך כאשר הדינמיקה בחדרי הפיקוד פועלת בכיוון אחד, נוצרת חשיבה אחידה, ואין כוח חזק יותר הפועל על נפשו ורוחו של אדם מרוח הקבוצה. כך שגם אם מישהו בחדרים אלה חושב אחרת, רואה אפשרויות נוספות, הסיכוי שלו להשמיע את דבריו בקול קלוש ביותר. היה אחד כזה , מזכיר הממשלה האוזר, אבל הוא מייד הכחיש כדי לא לאבד את הקבוצה.

לרוע המזל דינמיקה זו פועלת לא רק בראש הפרמידה השילטונית, היא קצהו של תהליך עומק בחברה הישראלית שמתרחש כבר מספר שנים. עיקרו אינו המעבר ימינה (זו סוגייה דמוגרפית נפרדת), אלא המעבר לחשיבה אחידה ולהתנהגות של עדר. עיקר התופעה היא תוצאה של השינויים בתקשורת ובמבנה האידאולוגי של החברה.

התקשורת המהירה והמתוקצרת, זו שמציפה את הציבור בגירויים גופניים ברמת מוח החתול, ומנגד נוחות ורווחה שמרחיקה את הציבור מכל מניע לחשיבת עומק או חלילה ניתוח אידיאולוגי, מגמות אלה מובילות לאחידות מחשבתית, לפופוליזסם ולהתיישרות גורפת עם הקו הכללי של העדר.

גם עורך העיתון וגם ערוצי החדשות המשודרים, כולם רוצים להישאר על הגלגל. הדרך היחידה היא הרייטניג שמשמעותו להיות "מקובל", פופולרי, בקונצנזוס, בקיצור פופוליזם.

התהליך אינו ישראלי, הוא עולמי, אבל השפעתו על מדינות הנמצאות במצב נורמאלי אינה מורגשת, ואילו מדינה כמו ישראל הנמצאת בעימות מסובך וזקוקה להתנהגות רגישה ומורכבת,ההשפעה היא דרמטית. הקוו המקובל הולך ומתגבש סביב קוצנזוס פשטני וברור, ומהו אותו קוו כללי? אנחנו בסכנה, מאיימים עלינו מוסלמים, חמאס, איראן, פלשתינים, לבנון ,עזה, סוריה, כולם.... והם כולם ערבים תוצרי תרבות כוחנית גברית אלימה, לכן עלינו להיות חזקים, ובכל מצב של עימות גלוי עלינו להראות להם הרתעה, להמחיש את כוחנו, למנוע מהם להתחזק לפעול כנגדם בכל החזיתות. וכל מי שתומך בהם או רק מצדד בטענות שלהם הוא האוייב שלנו. זה הקו השולט, מכאן הכל נגזר, השפה , המושגים, העמדות, והערכים.

במצב זה לפוליטקאי ישראלי נדרשת מידה עצומה של אומץ, ביטחון עצמי, ויכולת מנהיגות כדי להוביל לוויתור, מחווה או איפוק מול פרובוקציות. אין כאלה מנהיגים כיום, ואם יש אחד כזה בהרכב האנושי של הפורום , הקבינט או הממשלה אין למנהיג כזה יכולת ביטוי והשפעה.

אי לכך , אנו נדונים להמשך שליטת הקונצפציה, להמשך תלותנו המוחלטת בתגובות אימפולסביות של מנהיגינו, ולמעגל של טעויות שרק ידרדר את מצבנו. כמו אדם עם אישיות גבולית שנמנע מללכת לטיפול התנהגותי, כדי לשנות את דפוסי התגובה שלו כך המדינה החולה שלנו תמשיך להגיב בתוקפנות לכל גירוי סתמי של אחרון המטורפים במזרח התיכון.

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