Israel's Morning Shave Syndrome

Like an aging man, Israel avoids looking too hard in the mirror, lest it see the 2 million Palestinians in its midst.

Yossi Klein
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Everyone, even those who dream of a country with a Temple and a Sanhedrin, say they want a Jewish, democratic country. We already have Jewish, but democratic? Barely.

"Barely?" my friend G. (yes, I have many friends) challenged. "What’s the problem? Is someone keeping you from writing what you want? Is someone putting you in jail without trial?"

"True," I admitted. "I live in a democracy. But a country that has 10 million inhabitants, of whom two million don’t enjoy democratic rights, is not a democracy in my eyes."

"Ten million? Two million? Where do you get these numbers from?" asked my friend G.

I told him the country has 6 million Jews, 1.5 million Muslim Arabs and about half a million Christians. They all live in a Jewish, democratic state. The two million Palestinians in the territories have rights among us like those blacks had in their homeland of South Africa.

“Among us?” asked G.

Wikipedia clearly states that 8 million people live in Israel. I asked my friend G. where the extra two million live: in Wikipedia or in reality? I asked him if he even knew the borders of our country, and then I asked him his age.

G. burst out that I knew his age, having been in the same grade as him in school.

I wanted to show him that despite his advanced age, even he has no idea about the country he lives in. Not recognizing reality is a common and well-known phenomenon among people of a certain age, I explained — just think about our morning shave.

G. looked at me suspiciously and questioned whether there is a connection between shaving and democracy.

I explained that of course there is: We never deny reality more than after we shave. There, in front of the mirror, we choose the most flattering angle, squint, narrow our eyebrows, tighten our lips. Then we are able to leave the house feeling we are okay, maybe not the most handsome in the world, but certainly fine. That’s how we go around without having to see ourselves as others do — the bald spot from the back, the drooping chin from front, the big nose from the side, the two million Palestinians among us.

My friend G. protested that the state, to the best of his knowledge, doesn’t get up in the morning and look in the mirror. But he admitted that we have a very positive opinion of ourselves: a villa in the jungle, a high-tech power and exporter.

I told my friend G. that for years we have tried to find the correct balance between Judaism and democracy but that time is passing, and we are neither. I told him we are like parents who argue over what to name their child and without noticing that the child is already 47 years old. Since 1967, we have been a country of 10 million, I told my friend G., but we’re not comfortable with the extra 2 million, so we ignore them like we ignore the shiny bald spot and the droopy chin.

We are 66 years old, I said, and we can already detect early signs of senility and increased forgetfulness. Even now, we stand in front of the mirror and ask if there is anyone more Jewish or democratic than us in the world. If the mirror could speak, it would say, "Perhaps Jewish, but certainly not democratic."

My friend G. asked what could be done to get back to being democratic the way we should be. I told him it's too late, that too many people have been born into our democracy and know nothing else. I said they already have boys who fought in its name and grandchildren who are learning that this is how it looks. When I tell people this isn’t democracy, they don’t understand what I want from them. We can express ourselves, have influence and go where we want, they say. If that isn’t democracy, what is?

Well, said my friend G., there’s democracy and then there’s democracy. He quoted MK Moshe Feiglin, who said democracy needs to adapt itself to Israel and not Israel to democracy. He said democracy is flexible and that everyone will wear democracy in his own way. I told G. that I hadn’t heard such garbage in a long time.

My friend G. knows me well and warned that if I said the word “apartheid” at this point, he would get up and leave.

I love my friend G., so I calmed him with soothing words and told him there’s no comparison and that humanistic apartheid is better than brutal transfer anyway. Apartheid? Give me a break. After all, in South Africa, there were 4 million whites and 38 million blacks. Here, there are 6 million Jews denying the rights of just 2 million Arabs. That's a totally different story.

An illustrative photograph of men shaving.Credit: Bloomberg