Ha'aretz, Israel
June 1 2008


The upgrade state

By Gideon Levy

Tags: Israel, Ehud Olmert

Ehud Olmert isn't alone. He did what everybody does. The prime
minister tried to "upgrade" his life; we all try to do this. There is
no dream like the Israeli dream of trading up. It has become our very
raison d'etre. The problem starts when we lose all proportion. Olmert
upgrades his flights, his luxury suites, his watches and his cigars,
but the Israeli desire to upgrade is far more wide-ranging, and
all-inclusive.

Its begins, of course, with how we view ourselves. We're a normal
nation? Just like all the other nations of the world? Get real. "We
are a unique people, no less." In truth, we are a society that is far
from normal, with our fragile democracy that in many ways veers toward
the theocratic. We are levantine in many ways, and no less
militaristic. We are an uneasy combination of Western liberalism and
totalitarianism, between socialism and cruel capitalism, nationalism
and, at times, even racism. Yet, we are a people that declares itself
"a light unto the nations."

This effort to upgrade our image and to obtain the admiration of the
entire world - woe be he who tries to undermine that ambition - drives
us out of our minds. "The only democracy in the Middle East" - another
semi-ridiculous upgrade - in whose backyard one can find a cruel
military occupation that's been operating for 41 years, and which also
shows some dangerous, disturbing signs on its domestic front. "The
only democracy in the Middle East," which expels guest intellectuals
because of their opinions, and students because of their religious
beliefs; which burns holy books and tries to prevent the selling of
leavened bread on Passover; which has no public transportation on the
Sabbath, just like the worst theocracies. This is the country we seek
to upgrade to the level of a liberal, Western democracy. This is very
reminiscent of how the state upgraded the scope of the territory under
its control, an upgrade that has turned into the mother of all
disasters.

We strive to upgrade Tel Aviv, a riveting yet local city, to New York;
we pompously boast that Israeli wine is "the next global phenomenon,"
after an anonymous boutique winery wins a medal or receives an adoring
review in the press; winning a basketball tournament "puts us on the
map"; winning the Eurovision song contest or an Olympic medal is
immediately called "a national achievement," and the president calls
our agriculture, science and military "the best in the world." These
are all empty upgrades, just like those souped-up jeeps that roll down
our streets.

We even have a tendency to play up our national disasters while
minimizing those of other nations. It is forbidden to say one word
about our sacrosanct Holocaust. Since no other event can compare to
it, one may not, heaven forbid, mention the Holocaust in the same
breath as other disasters - not the Armenian genocide, nor the
butchery in Congo, nor Rwanda and Darfur, and certainly not the
Nakba. The suffering of the residents of Sderot is also inflated and
upgraded to disproportionate dimensions. Just a few kilometers away
lives a nation in the most cruel, incalculable conditions, but that
disaster we minimize.

All Ehud Olmert asked for was to fly first class when his ticket was
for business class, to sleep in the presidential suite when he paid
for a regular room. Relative to our daily upgrades, this is marginal,
but we still love to talk about it, to combat it with unequaled
determination and righteous indignation. To hell with the other
upgrades, which are far more ridiculous, and far more dangerous.