Think back 20 years. On January 1st, 1988 Israel was a frightened nation, torn between anxiety and fury. Three weeks earlier, on December 8th, the first Intifada broke out. It would last for another four years and fundamentally change our lives.
Think back 10 years. On January 1st, 1998 Israel was a beaten, terror-stricken country, licking its wounds. It ended the year with a heavy sigh, the year of the Helicopter Disaster, the murder of the seven students by a Jordanian soldier, the double suicide bombing that killed 15 people in a Jerusalem market, and the Flotilla 13 disaster that claimed the lives of 12 of our best soldiers. Even the Dow Jones sank to the point where trading was halted in New York. Thousands of Israelis lost their savings. The unemployment rate grew by 15 percent.
Now look at the figures you see in the newspapers these days. If we only look at them, we had many reasons to get drunk in last night’s New Year’s party. Not in order to forget anything, but rather, to celebrate. The number of people killed in terror attacks has declined steeply, economic growth is above 5 percent for the fourth year in a row, the stock exchange was up by 32 percent, thereby completing an overall 270 percent rise in the past five years, unemployment is down, and even our government is stable.
So why are we so depressed? What’s happening to us?
Overwhelmed by informationThe first reason is that we are overwhelmed by the media. In 1988 we only had one television channel. In 1998, Channel 2 was only in existence for five years. Ten years later, the offensive is on: We start the morning with Hamas on the Internet, the newspaper near the door with the Iranian threat, and on to dozens of regional radio stations screaming about the rising crime, while free newspapers filled with government corruption fly in our direction as we wait at a red light. By evening time, 110 television stations incessantly discuss the Olmert affairs. Another little Internet visit before going to bed to see what’s going on with the Holocaust survivors, six hours of sleep, and it all starts again.
Israelis are overwhelmed by information. All senses come under attack, all the time, and particularly with bad news. Censorship died on the Internet; responsibility and fairness dissipated because of the competition; criticism, along with its little sister, malice, has already crossed all the red lines.
It is becoming clear that no journalist or commentator can go on air and announce to the nation that “in fact, the situation is not bad.” In fact, he would have to find another job fairly quickly. Slowly we are becoming convinced that it’s bad out here, even if the facts show otherwise.
The second reason for being depressed is that we’re doing well. I know it sounds absurd, but most of us – not all of us, of course – are more preoccupied with the state of the nation because we are not as preoccupied with our own situation. We have something to eat, and where to live, and we can even start talking about another vacation to Turkey. This enables us to be very angry at the police because our car was stolen. I’m the first one who thinks that’s a problem, but until we get the replacement car from the insurance company, we have no problem using the bus. After all, it won’t blow up.
Every people has its own characteristics. The Italians are happy, the Brits are cold, the Germans are calculated, and we like to complain. This is our national sport and a completely integral part of our public discourse. We live in one of the world’s best countries – economically, morally, socially, and democratically – yet we keep on complaining about it.
I have no idea why we’re like this, but I just introduced a new genre: The time has come to complain about the complaining.