We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

For not always having courage and strength to be the one who says put things back in proportion, to call out the herd of obedient cattle for what they are, I now stand before you ashamed as I hear the cherry orchard of journalism being chopped down.

Due to constraints of time, this week I will write about the frustrating old servant's role I usually play in my daily grind as a journalist. Time after time it is driven home for me that the modern and supposedly new world - which at first glance looks futuristic and sophisticated and full of iPhones and apps - is in fact populated by boring and self-righteous youngsters who are convinced of the originality of their thinking and don't notice that they are just mechanically reciting the things they are expected to say about everything that happens.

Thus, the vicious attack on a young Arab in Zion Square in Jerusalem last week will, in their view, be "a terrible thing." In the same way, the recent pogroms against migrants in south Tel Aviv was "a terrible thing." They are quite right: These really are terrible.

At the same time, there is nothing more boring, self-righteous and predictable than the phrase "It's terrible." Because that general expression is in fact supposed to mean: "We're fed up already with all those low-lifes out there who are taking over the country and pushing us out of it."

"It's terrible" also expresses a lack of interest in going into the details. In his day, the French writer Robert Antelme, a concentration camp survivor, wrote that when the camps were liberated by the Allied armies, for every horror he related he heard the response "that's terrible," which frustrated him doubly.

Along comes the veteran columnist and tries to give those self-righteous creatures a bit of a shaking and to tell them: Doesn't it occur to you that maybe some of the responsibility for these rampages also weighs on you? That maybe what is feeding the hatred for Arabs is a desire by some Jews to annoy the nice people of good conscience from Tel Aviv and to hint to them, albeit in a loathsome and primitive way: "We are here"?

But I could go on shouting this until tomorrow. In the new and up-to-date world, if you are a leftist intellectual with glasses, you have to identify unambiguously with the members of your community with the same social status - and if not, you are considered a traitor.

Please be so good as to dare, for example, to express an opinion that is different, even if ever so slightly, from the prevailing - and, of course, negative - view of the drunken driver, Shushan Barabi, who is suspected of having run over and killed three women last week. Try to suggest a small nuance. Such as: There is something ugly and animalistic and pornographic in this collective drooling over the capture of that criminal, as though he were a bloodthirsty dictator whose death the people desired. There is also something nauseatingly conformist in succumbing to the totally unqualified portrayal of the miserable capture of this person, timed and staged by the police like a Hollywood thriller.

Try telling all those who are keyed up: Please calm down and put things back into proportion. They will hate you, from largest to smallest, for having put a damper on their pleasure mid-thrill.

When the fighting and conscience-driven press was first created in the 19th century, empathy for criminals was one of its ironclad rules. The criminal, however loathsome he may have been, in many cases served the journalist as the unpleasant mirror held up to his readers in order to scold them and say: "If the society you have established has produced a person like this, it is a sign that you are to blame and you must examine yourselves anew."

One of the most impressive documents of this sort is the heart-rending story "Claude Gueux," by the French poet and novelist Victor Hugo, who based the tale on a real person whose descent into crime can be blamed fully on society.

Let a columnist in our day take this romantic view in the fresh case of Sushan Barabi and his readers will rip him to shreds. This is because with all the progress in sociology and psychology and the other sciences - and after Dostoevsky, Camus and their ilk - it is still the case that, when faced with an incident of violent crime, the natural, primitive tendency is to barricade yourself in the certainty that the evil is located in its entirety out there, while asserting: "I have nothing to do with it. I am all good."

Who is prepared to be so old-fashioned and so unpopular and so hated as to cry out to all those good souls: "You are nothing but a herd of obedient cattle"?

For not always having had the courage and the strength for this I now stand before you ashamed, as in the background I hear the blows of the axes striking down the cherry orchard of journalism.