In a blog post entitled “I have no other country” Laura Ben-David painted a picture of a military ceremony at an IDF base in the North of Israel. The Zionism was all there and the flag waving patriotism was enough to bring tears to the eyes of readers. But really it was as flawed as any piece of propaganda.
I know the base referred to in the blog post and had the misfortune to spend several weeks there. I stood on the very same parade ground as those soldiers who so captivated Laura and took part in a ceremony just like it.
I know the problems that exist there.
This base is where the army sends soldiers who can’t speak Hebrew well enough to be posted to a permanent unit. It also hosts kids with learning disorders and social problems whose behavior ensures they can’t be posted to other units. When I was there suicides were a regular occurrence as was desertion. When I was there on my three week course many of the lone soldiers who were sent there on the longer, three month Hebrew course told me how their motivation had been sapped by their time on the base and that they just wanted to get out. They had been subjected to pointless discipline, training from non combat soldiers who didn’t know what they were doing and punishments without good reason.
The issues on this base have long been of concern. Remembering that base and reading Laura’s take on it led me to feel something incredibly ugly. It made me feel like all of her feelings and all her happiness and contentment were based on a lie. Scratch the surface of that place and you find something very ugly.
But why would I write this? Why be the one to ruin the parade?
Because in the long run, pretending Israel is this specially wonderful Jewtopia, filled with Jewish warriors standing against evil for a country that can do no wrong is to guarantee heartbreak and disillusionment with the real Israel.
Just look around at websites like +972 where there are writers who believed the propaganda they were fed before making aliyah so completely that they were shocked to discover that, just like everywhere else, Israel has its fair share of racists, bigots, murderers, thieves and corrupt public officials. Their zeal for Israel turned into a never ending crusade against Israel. Raised on an unhealthy diet of stories talking only about Jewish heroism and the wonders of the country they were unprepared for the reality they encountered.
Of course in practice, few people actually turn against Israel when they encounter the reality of life here, many just leave, embittered by the experience. In order to discuss how to make Israel a better place you have to first accept that it has problems. Big problems and that many of them are caused by Israelis, not by Arabs, nor by Obama but by us. Prospective olim need to know this, they need to know it won’t be a bed of roses, they need to be prepared.
In the 21st century, Jews are sick to death of hearing nothing but superficial propaganda. They are looking for some deeper answers to the issues raised on their campuses and by their politicians regarding Israel.
I say it’s far better to tell the truth about who we are and what we’re doing here and allow people to make an informed decision regarding Israel than papering over the cracks in our society and pretending everything’s fine. It’s nowhere near as pretty but it’s honest. Perhaps fewer people will come but those who do are a lot more likely to stay, a lot less likely to become disenchanted and ultimately will provide a far better advert for the state of Israel than flag waving and empty slogans.