Vituperative graffiti has once again been sprayed on walls in northern Tel Aviv - "Death to Gazans," "A good Arab is a dead Arab," "The Oslo criminals must be brought to trial," "Kahane was right." One of the shocked residents remarked: "This doesn't suit the people who live here. We aren't political people."
In my lectures around the country, I often encounter this phrase, "not political," but the true dimensions of this illness became clear to me at the start of the semester. In a new class I am teaching, I asked everyone to speak a bit about herself or himself. Out of 20 students, 15 said they were not political or simply did not mention politics.
In trying to find out why that is, several reasons became apparent. First, it is difficult to understand politics. "You at least need an academic education in order to understand what is happening," one of them said. That is true, and not without reason. Those in the political system have an interest in making it complicated, so that it should be inaccessible, so that it should be far from the public; that way, they can do what they please.
The second reason is the lack of faith in politicians. Both because of personal corruption and a lack of political integrity. The third reason is the pace of life - so many duties, so much existential economic insecurity, leaving no free time, certainly not emotional leisure, to concentrate on what is happening. The fourth reason is that the main media outlets do not give the public real access to information.
But above all, the reason is the loss of hope. The loss of hope in the wake of the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: We are talking about young men and women who were 8 or 9 years old at the time of the murder, and even so he was their last hope for peace. The loss of hope in the wake of the social protest movement of the past summer: People in their early 20s who are already collapsing under the burden, as well as the despair, because the great hope that they had following the protest dissipated and vanished. A lack of political hope - war and peace - and also economic hope.
The word "political" became a dirty word in Israel already a long time ago; it is a synonym for biased, partial and with vested interests. This condemnation led to the mainstream distancing itself from political activity and political expression. It made possible only the kind of politics that does not declare itself as such, the fraudulent politics of those with a lot of power.
The regulations of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Second Authority for Radio and Television forbid political campaigns while the prime minister can do what he wants with the broadcasting authority and the shareholders can do what they want with the commercial channels. That's the politics that's happening.
There is another reason for the reticence about being political. From the day the State of Israel was founded there was a price to be paid for "being political": If you had a red membership card [to the Histadrut labor federation] you benefited, if you did not, you lost. Even today, anyone who is not a politician but dares to be political, to take a stand, will pay a heavy price. Even the academic world in Israel today punishes people for taking a political stand. Therefore it is not surprising that artists, journalists, senior business people and those in the academic world avoid taking a political stand; they know how harsh the sanctions will be if they do. And if the strong distance themselves from politics, what will the meek do?
There is no such thing as "not political." Everything is political. Economics, culture, the media, fashion consumerism - they are all political. The statement "I am not political" is in itself political. It is a politics that accepts the existing order and reinforces it. It is the politics of not taking responsibility.
A society in which so many members declare that they are not political is a weak and ill society. If Israeli society wants to save itself, each and every one must take responsibility and be political.