Galilee Diary #464, November 4, 2009 Marc Rosenstein
was walking] with a barrel ahead of one with a beam, and the barrel is broken by
the beam, the one with the beam is responsible; and if the one with the barrel
stopped [suddenly] then the one with the beam is free of responsibility; but if
he said to the one with the beam "Stop!" then the one with the beam is
responsible. -Mishnah Baba Kamma 3:5
The other day I had
occasion to take a cab across town in Tel Aviv. The driver, who appeared to be
in his fifties, tossed that morning's tabloid paper to me as I sat down,
apparently so that our conversation could be text-based. The headline had to do
with the current basketball scandal: the manager of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team
committed suicide after sinking into huge debts generated by black-market
investments he had been making on behalf of officials, players, and even
referees. And the inside pages were still processing the grisly murder of an
entire family a few days earlier, apparently related to a protection racket. The
commentary wasn't long in coming...
"So, is there any place left that is clean? Even
sports? Everything here is corrupt - the police, business, the government. It's
disgusting. Why is it that we are so much more corrupt than any other country?"
I objected that I don't really think Israel is worse than other
countries - after all, there's corruption in government - and sports -
everywhere in the world.
But he wasn't buying it. "No, there's no
comparison - this whole country is smaller than New York city; the amount of
corruption is disproportionate. What's wrong with us? I came back here after 20
years in America and you know the thing I notice most? It was twenty years of
quiet on the road; no one there honks! And here - it's barbaric." On the last
point I couldn't help agreeing.
In a weird coincidence, a few days later
I took a cab in Jerusalem, and got almost the identical lecture, except that
this cabbie had spent seven years in France. "Animals, animals!" was his comment
on the chorus of horns that began a second before the light changed to green,
and he went on to point out all the instances of rude driving we encountered as
we made our way through downtown.
Obviously two cab drivers don't make a
statistic, but it was interesting to hear, from working-class, native-born
Israelis, the same cultural criticism that one often hears from North American
visitors and immigrants. Regarding corruption, Israel generally comes out in an
in-between position in international indices - better than many third-world
countries, but not really a light unto the nations. With respect to rudeness and
aggressiveness and impatience, I've never seen a statistic, but intuitively it
is hard to argue with the cabbies' claims. I've often wondered if this behavior
is third world, or Mediterranean, or influenced by the tensions and
uncertainties with which we live, or somehow a product of the cultural melting
pot, or maybe due to the climate... I've never heard a convincing explanation.
But twice in the past week having been forced onto the shoulder by an oncoming
car passing on a two lane highway, I'm sure there is a problem, even if I can't
explain it. Maybe it's some kind of Zionist test: a way of making sure that only
people who are really committed to living here will be willing to do