Like a beggar showing off his amputated limbs
Barack Obama's visit was a success. The Israeli propensity to extort sympathy the way an extractor produces carrot juice was in fine form.
It was yet another grotesque, if not macabre, scene: Barack Obama taking in a Qassam rocket exhibit in Sderot, holding a piece of rusting scrap metal in his hand after visiting with Osher Twito, the young boy whose leg had been amputated after he was hit by shrapnel from a Qassam. The distinguished guest had barely recovered from his obligatory visit to Yad Vashem, and now he was being exposed to more horrors. The visit, though, was a success. The Israeli propensity to extort sympathy the way an extractor produces carrot juice was in fine form.
The routine was split this time between meetings with the country's political leaders and visits to disaster sites, like Yad Vashem, Sderot and, for dessert, the Western Wall, also known as the "Wailing" Wall. If only there had been just a bit more time, Obama's hosts would not have missed an opportunity to include our national suicide memorial on the itinerary, Masada, just as they did when President George W. Bush was in town, or the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, to which many other guests have been guided. And there's of course the mandatory flyover to show him Israel's "narrow waist," the Achilles' heel of a small, weak country, that same country whose arsenal of weapons includes practically every firearm known to man.
Hosting and crying, crying and hosting - Israel does not hesitate to declare itself a disaster area before every visiting dignitary. A country in which "it is fun to live in," as promised by our current prime minister, is depicted to our guests as a stockpile of tragedies and catastrophes; a fragile, threatened entity where the real fun takes place when its citizens wallow in its disasters. Only in Israel is it incumbent upon a guest passing through to see every wrong done to its people lest the visit not be considered legitimate.
Instead of showing our guests places and sites that we can be proud of, like the non-stop city life of Tel Aviv, the Philharmonic, the universities, the theaters, and agriculture and industry, we guide them on a tour of tears. We show them a Qassam exhibition in lieu of an art museum. Oh, how we revel in wallowing in our own suffering, at times real while at other times imagined or exaggerated; how we just love to force it on our guests. A regional superpower is telling its visitors: Look at how unfortunate we are. From the Iranian threat to the rockets on Sderot, our lives are a series of sad poems.
We didn't always whine this way. There were years when our situation was worse than it is today, but when we actually showed pride in our country and its achievements. In the summer of 1955, David Ben-Gurion accompanied the Burmese prime minister, U Nu, to visit Degania Aleph. Upon returning to his country, an amazed Nu immediately ordered the creation of Burmese kibbutzim. Pinchas Sapir showed his guests the industrial factories; Levi Eshkol would often boast to visitors of the National Water Carrier.
In the 1960s, we took Eleanor Roosevelt to see the boarding schools of the Youth Aliyah. In 1979, we showed Anwar Sadat the Technion and the Elscint factory, the pride of Israeli higher education and industry. Belgium's King Baudouin was escorted to Kfar Hahoresh, where he planted a tree, dedicated to the glorious State of Israel. In 2000, which is not that long ago, we took then president of China Jiang Zemin to Ne'ot Hakikar and Ein Gedi, where we showed him desert irrigation and agriculture, upon his request.
Since then, with the exception of Angela Merkel's visit to Sde Boker - which was also devoted primarily to genuflecting over the grave of Ben-Gurion - we have stopped being proud of our country, and we have ceased to recite its accomplishments to foreign guests. The message is clear: "Look at how wretched we are, how weak and vulnerable and miserable we are. Would you be so kind as to come to our aid?"
Like a beggar who shows off his amputated limbs in broad daylight, Israel portrays its disasters for all to see, without shame and with quite a bit of cynicism, in the hope that someone will throw a coin or a bone in its direction. Except that Israel is not a beggar and its amputated limbs do not arouse more pity than those of a good number of other countries in much more difficult predicaments. The difference is that those other countries have not turned their sighs and grunts into a national anthem.
Ironically, Israel has many achievements to boast of, yet we hide them from public view lest the world take less pity on us. The well-oiled whine machine is in full swing. The face of despair that we impose on our guests is for the time being greeted with expressions of adoration. As with all episodes of self-pity, however, a period of sober realization always follows. The day will come when our guests will tire of all our wailing, much like people get fed up with panhandlers on the street. Sderot is now relatively quiet and we have already squeezed the fruits of its suffering to the last drop. Even the memory of the Holocaust will one day run dry. So perhaps we should act preemptively and change direction? Maybe it's time we return to the days when we were proud of our accomplishments and not our suffering.
Take the next Obama to Tel Aviv: Show him its vivid night life, and arrange for him to meet with writers, scientists and intellectuals. Show him the Iscar plant and take him to a performance by the Batsheva dance troupe. This will be far more impressive than any piece of rusting Qassam. Take him to a concert, a show, an exhibit, an Israeli movie. Most of all, let's refrain from voices of angst - both ours and his. Enough with sobbing in this country, already.