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The plot of Hollywood movies develops like this: A jumbo jet filled with hundreds of passengers gets into trouble over the city of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Its fate depends to a great deal on the actions of the flight controller in an out-of-the-way airport. Whatever the plot, it presents the ethos that the anonymous flight controller is an individual of great professional acumen. It does not matter how small the airport or how marginal the institution that trained him - the controller will know his job. That, in any case, is the way American society sees itself.

Israel has a different national stamp. As opposed to American professionalism, Israel has fostered the ethos of the off-the-cuff solution. As opposed to blind obedience to procedures, Israel has raised the banner of creativity. Not squareness, but suiting ourselves to the circumstances.

Over the years these characteristics Israel has adopted have undergone a pathological change: Operational flexibility has become carelessness, freedom of action in fulfilling the mission has become irresponsible shoddiness.

In Israel, not only is it not obvious that the flight controller at the Rosh Pina airport will know how to deal with a sudden crisis, but rather that in the General Staff, the core of security policy, failures have been exposed that appear to be a symptom of the defective work of a culture of fudging.

The chief of staff reveals that his explicit orders to avoid firing cluster bombs were not followed; the Doron Almog committee found that the correct directives of the Division 91 commander were not implemented; another investigation shows that ostensibly detailed intelligence on the location of bunkers along the northern border in which short-range Katyusha launch-nests were concealed did not reach the field from headquarters; additional committees investigating the failures of the Lebanon war have the impression that these failures stem from carelessness regarding orders, insufficient supervision, and the non-enforcement of orders.

The escape of the rapist Benny Sela proves once again that both the police and the Prisons Authority, responsible for public safety, are infected with amateurishness: A lack of coordination between the two bodies, a blunting of the senses that prevented those involved from noticing the strange timing of the prisoner's summons to the court, the laziness of the escorting police, the indifference to the dangerous nature of the prisoner.

Prisoners get away from time to time in every country, and ostensibly there is no need to get too excited over the operational failure represented by Sela's flight. However, in the Israeli case, this is not an accident but rather a phenomenon. Every time circumstances require the rug to be lifted in areas where the state's authorities operate, there is desolation, neglect and hair-raising abandonment to be found underneath.

Sometimes it appears that there is no good left in the public administration and that the habitude with which it operates is a thin veneer covering an abyss. Wherever the spotlight is turned, shameful organizational reality appears: In the Israel Defense Forces, the police, the Shin Bet security service (the Rabin murder), the local authorities (safety of educational institutions), the health services (supervision of baby food), the authorities responsible for road safety (train crossings and roads) - and those are only examples.

The cumulative impression is one of a dismal culture of management at the base of which is the shouldering of minimal responsibility and the dependence on an external image. What is important to the workers and their supervisors is the appearance of functioning properly, while they lack serious concern about whether the functioning is in fact proper.

This is an overall socio-cultural phenomenon, and it stems from the way in which young people are educated in this country. You find it in every corner of the business sector: In the way in which salespeople identify with their work and in the effort they make; in the reliability with which business people supply their merchandise; in the way service providers keep their promises. There are islands of quality in the private sector as well as in the public sector, but the general picture is one of shoddiness and carelessness wrapped up in artifice.