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May 16, 1986 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-16

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Friday, May 16, 1986


A Good Country
In A Bad Neighborhood


The Yom Kippur War changed everything in Israel, shattering
old myths and creating new realities. OVer the past decade the
country has become, paradoxically, both more hawkish and
more dovish.

Special to The Jewish News

Editor's Note: Ze'ev Chafets' new book,
"Heroes and Hustlers, Hard Hats and
Holy Men," has been hailed as a first-class
portrait of today's Israel, a country in
transition, and the "New York Times" re-
viewer described Chafets as a 1980's Toc-
queville. Herewith, an excerpt:

The Yom Kippur War was many things
to many people, but most of all it was the
moment when Israel began to grow up and
to realize that it was a real country with
the flaws and weaknesses of real countries
This realization has been a shattering
one for many Israelis, particularly opinion
makers on the left and right. Day by day
they fill the papers and the airwaves with
the most alarming assessments of the na-
tional character and future. Once upon a
time, their lament goes, Israel was a
beautiful place, a shining city on a hill, full
of ideals and self-sacrifice. Today, it has
degenerated into a selfish and immoral
society on the brink of catastrophe or col-
lapse. Rabbis decry its "Hellenism" and
lack of Jewish values; secularists warn of
messianism and theocracy. Hawks deplore
the lack of pioneer spirit and the defeatism
of the doves; doves warn of the dangers of

militarism. Polls are published showing
that a large number of young people have
little commitment to democracy, and these
polls are used to prove that Israel is on the
brink of becoming a dictatorship. Com-
mentators point to Israelis living abroad,
or foreign Jews who decline to come, as
evidence that Israel is an unattractive and
repulsive place. Professors criticize the
erosion of the work ethic, and sound
alarms about the imminent disintegration
of the national economy. The only debate
seems to be which of these disasters will
overtake Israel first. It is treated as ax-
iomatic by many critics that Israel is in
decline, that it has changed for the worse
over the past decade and a half.
What is most striking about this view
is the discrepancy between what it
assumes and what has actually happened
in Israel over the past twenty years or so.
The country I came to in 1967 was in many
ways an admirable place, and certainly one
with a command of admirable rhetoric, but
it was hardly the Eden many Israelis recall
it as having been. And if it has changed
a great deal from its early period, many of
those changes seem to me to be for the
good, at least in terms of the Western
secular, liberal values I brought with me

from Pontiac, Michigan.
To begin with the obvious, Israel has
gone from an essentially one-party state,
in which elections were simply a process
of ratification, to a genuine multiparty
system in which politics is a vehicle for
change. Democracy in Israel got its first
serious test in 1977, when Labor handed
over the government to the Likud; and
again in 1984, when the Likud returned
control to Labor. Both parties now know
that there is an electoral price for in-
competence, and just as important, the
public has shown that it will not hesitate
to impose it.
Over the past decade, power in Israel
has been passed from a small, centralized
elite to what can fairly be called, in that
grand old sixties phrase, "the people."
Naturally there are members of the old
elite, including journalists and intellec-
tuals, who feel that the people aren't quite
ready to get along without their leader-
ship; but the. fact is that they are now
unable to impose this leadership on others
— an index of how far Israel has come
since the days of Mapai's Great Israeli-
Making Machine.
With the decline of the elite, Israel has
become not only more democratic but also

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