On Rosh Hashana
weekend I was invited to a swimming pool at one of Israel’s
resorts. There was a water slide there for kids. The children kept on climbing up the slide and going down, and I was surprised to see that a high percentage of them were overweight.
Where did all these children come from, wearing XL clothes even before their bar mitzvah? I assume the reason for this is a combination of nutrition based on junk food and sweets coupled with long hours of lying in front of various electronic screens, ranging from television and computers to tablets and Smartphones.
They looked like American children.
A little more than 11 years ago, when Arafat and Barak buried the peace process in Camp David, we, the reporters who covered the conference, settled in a town called Frederick in the state of Maryland. We did not elicit much information about what was going on beyond the fences of the nearby Camp David, yet we were granted a rare opportunity to familiarize ourselves with small town America.
There were several all-you-can-eat restaurants there. It was amazing to see the quantities of food piled up on the trays each diner carried to his table; the sight of the children was even more amazing. At a very young age they had potbellies, heavy thighs and thick arms. They looked like cumbersome, fattened geese. Their body was 40 years older than their chronological age.
Today, obesity is considered to be the gravest threat to the health of Americans. According to one report, one-third of the adult population and one-sixth of boys aged 2-19 are afflicted by the phenomenon. The lower one’s education level, the higher one’s weight.
The American epidemic is spreading quickly around here too. I found varying figures on the Internet, but all of them were worrying. According to an official poll undertaken in 2004, 7.4% of boys in Israel are obese. There is no doubt we only went up since then, big time. One of the results of this is a decline in IDF enlistment rates.
Israelis look up to the United States. It constitutes the symbol of success, a model for imitation, the right thing. Indeed, there are quite a few characteristics of American democracy that are worthy of emulation and quite a few chapters in history we should be grateful for. Yet not all is well or right in America.
More and more Americans understand it now, and the time has come for Israelis to realize it too. American society is facing a deep crisis. The economic nadir and political paralysis are merely the tip of the iceberg. Those who choose to blindly imitate the Americans today are leading their society towards disaster.
We imported not only junk food from America: We also imported the adulation for money, the immense gap in income and lifestyle between a very thin layer of wealthy – some of them wealthy at the expense of the public – and the middle class, the declining investment in education, society and infrastructure, the damages of privatization at any price, the lobbyists’ and PR experts’ takeover of national decision-making, and the asininity of television.
A few weeks ago, Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum published their book, That Used to Be Us. As opposed to the impression created by the title of the book, it isn’t about nostalgia. The book is a harsh indictment that details all the fateful mistakes made by American political and economic leaders in the past decade. Anyone who admires America’s virtues and realizes the extent to which the world’s future depends on the success of the US will read this book with anxiety.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
spotted the book on my seat during the flight to New York he picked it up for a moment, and then put it down with contempt. He was infuriated by the criticism Friedman leveled at him in the New York Times. I offered to lend him the book, but he refused. It’s a pity, because the most American prime minister in the State of Israel’s history could have learned a few things from it.
He could have learned that not only should the distorted taxation method he imported from America as finance minister be changed, but also the spirit. The American spirit doesn’t work. It doesn’t even work in America. The role of a real leadership is to lead us towards a new spirit, which will borrow something from the old Israeli spirit that established the state, but speak a new language – the language of the 21st Century.
This is the spirit that rose from the tent cities over the summer. This is the spirit that promoted the resignation of the Tnuva diary company chairwoman the other day. This is the spirit that was lost on the way to Jerusalem.