The Israeli Slave Mentality

Israelis pay so much in military service and taxes and get so little that they're used to surviving on crumbs. And now the election campaign has stalled the faltering machinery

Campaign flyers litter the ground at the Likud primaries, Tel Aviv, February 5, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Consider Yisrael Katz. As I wrote this, he was battling Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein as votes were counted in the Likud primary. The party rank and file admire Katz; to them, he’s a rousing success. Katz has been transportation minister in the past three governments – an exceptionally long tenure that lets us attribute to him absolute ministerial responsibility for transportation. Well, Israeli transportation is an ongoing disaster.

Israelis are stuck in endless traffic jams, and public transportation is embarrassing by any standard; the bus infrastructure is antiquated, and the train system is collapsing – it’s missing cars and engines, and the stations have turned into battlegrounds they’re so crowded. In January security staffing was cut. Meanwhile, the fast train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was launched before it was finished; it’s a safety hazard and service is repeatedly halted.

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Katz is therefore responsible for a national strategic failure. In Japan he would have committed hara-kiri; in any well-run Western democracy he would have resigned long ago, and in a slightly less well-run country he would have been fired. At the very least he would have become a joke, someone the public would detest. In Israel he’s a superstar.

But Katz is just a symbol, or a symptom. Israelis don’t make a connection between their lives – life itself – and national politics. From their perspective, these are two different spheres, each with no influence on the other.

The typical Israeli doesn’t demand accountability from his elected officials; he doesn’t see them as being in his service. He relates to them like pop stars or reality-show contestants. In Britain they call an early election and hold it in three weeks; here we have to endure four months of prattling, primaries, polls, party mergers and coalition building. Anything that isn’t connected to the elections is shoved aside.

The typical Israeli has lost his ability to raise his head and acknowledge his situation. He pays so much in compulsory military service and taxes and gets so little that he’s used to surviving on crumbs. It’s the mentality of a subject, almost of a slave. He’s neglected and scorned; they piss on him from the diving board and he thinks it’s confetti.

The same person is prime minister, defense minster, foreign minister and health minister. The security cabinet has become meaningless. The head of the National Security Council acts like the errand boy of settler rabbis. The civil service commissioner is an activist in the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party.

The government exists only on paper; in reality it’s a nonfunctioning transitional government. The coalition has dissolved into its components, which are busy with infighting, dividing into two and mutating. The Knesset has been dissolved – it doesn’t meet, nor do its committees. The country is frozen. Only it isn’t really frozen, it’s disintegrating.

The health system is collapsing. Its top officials call on the people not to come to the hospitals because there are no beds and there’s no one to treat them. The employment bureaus have been on strike for a month and there’s no way to pay unemployment benefits to the jobless. Neither the police nor the prison service has a commander, only substitutes; substitutes are comfortable for the regime because they seek to ingratiate themselves.

Presiding over both these huge and critical organizations is Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, another Likud-primary star. He’s also responsible for the fire service, whose serious situation was exposed by Omri Assenheim on the investigative news program “Uvda.” His reports would have rocked any normal country because they touched on questions of safety, security, quality of life and sometimes life and death. Just like the situation with transportation, health, the police, the prisons and employment. Let’s not even talk about the housing disaster.

But hey, who cares? Habayit Hayehudi had an election and Meretz is having a primary. Welcome to the only degenerating democracy in the Middle East.