Ehud Olmert isn't alone. He did what everybody does. The prime minister tried to "upgrade" his life; we all try to do this. There is no dream like the Israeli dream of trading up. It has become our very raison d'etre. The problem starts when we lose all proportion. Olmert upgrades his flights, his luxury suites, his watches and his cigars, but the Israeli desire to upgrade is far more wide-ranging, and all-inclusive.
Its begins, of course, with how we view ourselves. We're a normal nation? Just like all the other nations of the world? Get real. "We are a unique people, no less." In truth, we are a society that is far from normal, with our fragile democracy that in many ways veers toward the theocratic. We are levantine in many ways, and no less militaristic. We are an uneasy combination of Western liberalism and totalitarianism, between socialism and cruel capitalism, nationalism and, at times, even racism. Yet, we are a people that declares itself "a light unto the nations."
This effort to upgrade our image and to obtain the admiration of the entire world - woe be he who tries to undermine that ambition - drives us out of our minds. "The only democracy in the Middle East" - another semi-ridiculous upgrade - in whose backyard one can find a cruel military occupation that's been operating for 41 years, and which also shows some dangerous, disturbing signs on its domestic front. "The only democracy in the Middle East," which expels guest intellectuals because of their opinions, and students because of their religious beliefs; which burns holy books and tries to prevent the selling of leavened bread on Passover; which has no public transportation on the Sabbath, just like the worst theocracies. This is the country we seek to upgrade to the level of a liberal, Western democracy. This is very reminiscent of how the state upgraded the scope of the territory under its control, an upgrade that has turned into the mother of all disasters.
We strive to upgrade Tel Aviv, a riveting yet local city, to New York; we pompously boast that Israeli wine is "the next global phenomenon," after an anonymous boutique winery wins a medal or receives an adoring review in the press; winning a basketball tournament "puts us on the map"; winning the Eurovision song contest or an Olympic medal is immediately called "a national achievement," and the president calls our agriculture, science and military "the best in the world." These are all empty upgrades, just like those souped-up jeeps that roll down our streets.
We even have a tendency to play up our national disasters while minimizing those of other nations. It is forbidden to say one word about our sacrosanct Holocaust. Since no other event can compare to it, one may not, heaven forbid, mention the Holocaust in the same breath as other disasters - not the Armenian genocide, nor the butchery in Congo, nor Rwanda and Darfur, and certainly not the Nakba. The suffering of the residents of Sderot is also inflated and upgraded to disproportionate dimensions. Just a few kilometers away lives a nation in the most cruel, incalculable conditions, but that disaster we minimize.
All Ehud Olmert asked for was to fly first class when his ticket was for business class, to sleep in the presidential suite when he paid for a regular room. Relative to our daily upgrades, this is marginal, but we still love to talk about it, to combat it with unequaled determination and righteous indignation. To hell with the other upgrades, which are far more ridiculous, and far more dangerous.
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