Israelis' Obsession With Being Israeli

The most Israeli person is the one who loves surveys that tell us what we already know about ourselves.

Independence Day celebrations, which begin this evening, will feature all the hallmarks they do every year: the ceremonies, the cars festooned with Israeli flags made in China, the barbecues with meat from South America - and our infatuation with surveys about what it means to be Israeli.

As fascinated as we are by the Central Bureau of Statistics' annual figures on population growth - we now number 7.88 million, by the way, and 14 of our cities have more than 100,000 residents - we seem to be more curious about what makes us Israeli.

Israeli flags on sale at Tel Aviv’s Hacarmel Market.
Dan Keinan

One book on this topic is sociologist Gad Yair's "The Code of Israeliness," which addresses issues like "why do we improvise instead of planning?" and "why are we all brothers here?" On television, the series "Who is an Israeli" tried to answer the question by discussing Israeli symbols, heroes and beloved Hebrew songs. Opinion polls, meanwhile, ask respondents to name the song and symbol they consider most Israeli - and even the most Israeli occupant in the "Big Brother" house.

Then there are the attempts to define Israeli Hebrew; books on this subject and slang lexicons sometimes hit the best-seller list. Anyone who still doesn't believe that this is an obsession need only remember that a frequently read newspaper column, by political newcomer Yair Lapid, is called "Being Israeli."

But is the passion for opinion polls a real attempt to crack the code? Or do we have other reasons? After all, we don't need polls to know which is the best-selling car in Israel, all we have to do is look in our parking spot. We're driving a Mazda 3, watching the satire show "A Wonderful Country," supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and planning to lose weight this summer.

So if we know the answers, what's the attraction of the opinion polls? Maybe it's just a pleasant narcissistic pastime. Maybe the surveys are a quick and efficient way to make sure we're doing and thinking what everyone around us is doing and thinking.

And maybe it's a desire to bolster our faith that something out there can be called "Israeliness." If there is, that's pretty cool, because most of the time we notice our differences more than our similarities.

But maybe these opinion polls don't quite reflect us, but rather, what we would like to be. After all, in the polls, no one asks "Who would you most like to get into a fight with: your romantic partner, a stranger at a traffic light, a fan at a soccer match or an Arab?" The truth is, we often read them in the hope that they'll underscore old values, like brotherhood and "family-ness," and that old Israeli favorite, the kombina - the dodgy solution on the sly.

But whether we're kissing ourselves in the mirror or truly trying to understand who we are, we can surely add to the list that the most Israeli person is the one who loves surveys that tell us what we already know about ourselves.