The Israeli Government's Inability to Say 'Sorry'

Is the opposition to the word 'sorry' rational or is this a phenomenon of regression, childish in essence? An apology isn't necessarily a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it can project confidence, responsibility and maturity.

Why is it so hard to say sorry? What is it about this combination of syllables that makes their pronunciation as difficult as crunching gravel? Why is the government placing itself in danger of international isolation, the deterioration of security and economic damage amounting to billions, just so this two-syllable word won't pass its lips? Why is the prime minister investing hundreds of hours on deliberations and the appointment of one envoy after another and endless wordings and zigzags over the matter of an apology to the Turks - without achieving any results and with disastrous implications?

Is the opposition to the word "sorry" rational or is this a phenomenon of regression, childish in essence? An apology isn't necessarily a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it can project confidence, responsibility and maturity. I still remember my four-year-old daughter absolutely refusing to say the word, standing up heroically to a continuous onslaught of pressure, and in the end compromising and saying "orry."

A state is not a four-year-old, even if it sometimes insists on acting like one. And now, the month of Elul - the month of asking forgiveness, at the end of the wondrous summer when Israel got carried away by a social protest which transformed its language beyond recognition - calls for a discussion about forgiveness and apology not only in the Turkish and international context, but also in domestic, economic and social contexts.

One of the amazing, almost bizarre, things about the responses to the social protest is the expression of empathy from nearly every quarter. The prime minister and the ministers of finance and housing began this trend, at a press conference in July, in which they spoke of themselves as being understanding of the housing protest. Some of them even presented themselves as the first protesters, until it seemed that the residents of the tents on Rothschild Boulevard were members of Likud's youth movement sent out from the party's adjacent headquarters. Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini continued in this line, followed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and the former head of the Israeli Manufacturers Association, Dov Lautman. Added to this was the tycoons' weird letter to the prime minister, expressing solidarity with the protesters and pleading with the government to solve their problems. Recently, a resident of the luxury Akirov Towers, the defense minister, attempted to turn social revolution and the welfare state into the banners of his new Atzmaut party.

How can it be that all those directly responsible for social injustice are expressing solidarity with the protest against it? What is the meaning of the unbearable lightness of the expression of empathy, in contrast to the unbearable difficulty of making an apology?

It seems that these concepts are closely related, but in practice the expression of empathy and the request for forgiveness are nearly contradictory processes. Apology means taking responsibility, while empathy is a flight from responsibility and places it on others; apology is the beginning of making a correction, while empathy is the beginning of spin - an attempt to cleanse one's conscience while refraining from self-criticism, a process that blurs the difference between those who cause injustice and the victims of injustice. Empathy is sly weaponry - nothing is more dangerous - whose goal is to wipe out protest.

It is amazing to see that after eight weeks of protest, there is not even one person in Likud, or the entire political system or the private market, who will come out and say, simply and directly: "We were wrong, we sinned, exploited, abandoned, shook off responsibility, and now we will correct these wrongs and ensure a decent life to those who were exploited." In our pirate state, there are many confessions, but each one admits only to the sins of others.

Many people noted the symbolism of Kikar Hamedina as the focal point around which the tremendous protest gathered: it changed our language and just may change our lives. But there is symbolism not only in this place but also in timing - the beginning of Elul, the month of apologies. Right now, before the Trajtenberg report is issued, before one shekel is transferred from one account to another, it is time to call on the prime minister and his cabinet, on those who run the economy and all those expressing empathy, to declare their serious intentions by pronouncing one simple word: sorry.