A Privatized Zionist Patriot

A dreadful sense of isolation, mixed with a pinch of cynicism hangs over the public - which has lost faith not only in the state and its leaders, but also in those who explain and inform on their behalf.

If war breaks out - the war which everyone claims no one wants - it will be a disaster. Not only because the war was defined as superfluous even before it started, but also because the public has absolutely no faith in the information services and spokespeople who are supposed to be of assistance when zero hour arrives.

Much has already been said about the overall failure of the home front during the Second Lebanon War. However, as time passes, the long-term effects of these failures are becoming more deeply entrenched. Not only is there still a lack of shelters, there is also an utter lack of trust in the information and guidance provided to citizens during wartime. Even before the war has broken out, the public has expressed a complete lack of faith in the sources of information it requires. It longs for the warmth of the tribal bonfire, but lacks the material to spark the fire.

A dreadful sense of isolation, mixed with a pinch of cynicism hangs over the public - which has lost faith not only in the state and its leaders, but also in those who explain and inform on their behalf. How can they buy into a message of critical importance from someone who they would not buy a used car from? If Kohelet were alive today, he would update the expression "all is vanity" with the statement "all is spin." How innocent the days of the Gulf War seem, when it was possible to convince us that duct tape was the ultimate solution for a chemical warhead.

One could regard this phenomenon as a healthy expression of skepticism in a sober democracy, if these feelings were not translated into negative sentiments. Recently, Dr. Udi Lebel of Sapir College completed a comprehensive survey that examined which sources of information the public would prefer and who it would choose to believe during a future war.

The surprising answer to the question of which spokesman would be considered credible can be expressed in a paraphrase: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the frightened." The sweeping answer to this question in the survey is: "Someone with a public record of contribution to the people and the state, a Zionist patriot who is ideologically committed to the existence of the state." The picture is complex: The more the moral infrastructure deteriorates and intuitive faith in the justice of the cause is lost, the less the public is willing to reexamine these values. Instead, it seeks refuge in the form of "a strong leader," who can restore what has been lost.

This leader cannot come from the ranks of former politicians or prominent journalists. He cannot be the IDF spokesperson or a retired judge, nor even an expert in military and security affairs. All of these featured as alternatives in both the survey and in other focus groups, but they were judged to have foreign interests and thus to be insufficiently devoted to the service of pure patriotism. It is no surprise that those government representatives who have identified the patriotic mood are hurrying to exploit it in an inappropriate manner, by turning military service into the all-encompassing criterion. Military service is no longer just a criterion for receiving benefits, it is also the key criteria when it comes to selecting performers for Independence Day celebrations. This type of behavior reeks of cynicism, and exploits the great fracture that was caused by the very same government.

Another finding of Lebel's survey is anything but surprising: The desire to privatize the Israeli information services. One against, the responses manifest paradoxical aspirations. On the one hand, the public rejects the state's privatization drive, but on the other hand, it seeks to privatize all state monopolies. Thus, for example, there is virtually no support for privatizing the prisons and the well-baby clinics, whereas anywhere between 35 and 60 percent of the public supports the notion of transferring the information services from the Foreign Ministry to private companies and privatizing the IDF's Spokesperson and Home Front services. This trend increased after last year's war, when private organizations stepped into the governmental void. In this perilous situation, there is deep hostility between the institutions of government and the citizenry. It is another variation of the expression "a people that shall dwell alone," without a leader and without a person or institution that can be trusted, even during wartime.