Israel and the deflated American dream

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Israelis, like many others around the world, have for decades cultivated a deep respect and admiration for America that bordered on the over-romanticization.

A protester gestures near the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr as people rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American George Floyd, in Manhattan, New York, U.S. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A protester gestures near the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr as people rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American George Floyd, in Manhattan, New York, U.S.

(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israelis, like many others around the world, have for decades cultivated a deep respect and admiration for America that bordered on the over-romanticization.

Everything in America worked, everything in America was big, everything in America sparkled, everything in American was efficient.
For years, whenever anything would go wrong in Israel – from chronic strikes in the 70s, to hyper-inflation in the 80s, to an overcharged bureaucracy in 90s – the chorus that would be heard among the groaning class was that this would never happen in a normal country, in a medina metukenet. And the mother of all normal countries, the paradigm of a working efficient democracy, was the United States of America.

Political dysfunction plaguing the Israel body politic? Let’s change the system of government so it is more like that in America. Tension between the three branches of government? Let’s draft a constitution, just like in America. Systemic economic problems? Lets move to American-style capitalism.

To say nothing about American culture. Let’s bring it here – all of it. The music, the movies, the television shows, the sports, the politeness, the consumerism. If America works – and it seems to work so well – why don’t we just copy everything and transplant it here.

For years the visa and green card to America was treasured by Israelis. And if they could not go to America – to visit, study, or live – there was this tendency to want to make Israel into a little America.

Likewise, new immigrants from the US frustrated with the bureaucracy or day-to-day problems of life here would often say out loud or think to themselves that whatever was bothering them at that particular moment – a rude clerk, a noisy neighbor, an unruly bus line – would never happen in America.

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America was idealized.

Which does not mean that Israelis did not realize that there were cracks in that ideal, and that no society is perfect, and that – along with all the good – there is violence, racism, hardheartedness and cynicism in the United States. But all the good, all that shine, served as more than enough in the minds of Israelis to counterbalance all of those problems.

In line with emotional attachments so many individual Israelis developed for America, Israel the state also developed a financial and diplomatic dependence on our greatest ally.

It is America that provides us with massive military aid so that we can defend ourselves, it is America that provides us with massive support in the international community. We need America, we rely on America, we value America.

And now the ideal that is America is being tarnished. The coronavirus, the scenes playing out on the streets of America’s great cities, the tone coming out of Washington is not the stuff of which Israeli dreams of America are made. Not by a long shot. One of the main topics of conversations around innumerable Shabbat tables in this country over the weekend was what is going on in America? Will it survive?

Obviously America will survive. It is a strong country with an abundance of resources, both human and material. It is made up of fundamentally good people who want to do good in their lives and in the world. It is a powerful country that has survived much worse: including being as divided in the past as it is now. Just think back to 1968 when both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, the Chicago Democratic convention ended in chaos, and there were bloody riots in America’s streets. America survived that trying time, and will survive this period as well.

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Still, the difficulties the US is facing right now is leading some voices here to say that Israelis need to reevaluate their personal relationship with the country. Not that Israel as a state needs to reevaluate its state-to-state relationship with the US – the US is Israel’s greatest friend and ally to which the Jewish state will always owe a tremendous debt of gratitude – but that individual Israelis need to adjust the way they look at the country.

“It is possible to look at America with appreciation, marvel at the tremendous achievements and progress that country has brought to the world, but it is worth giving up already the admiration for everything that is happening there,” television journalist Menachem Horowitz wrote on the N12 website.

“Even in Israel’s most divisive and dangerous periods, there was no looting of shops, chaos and blind violence from those who have given up on their society. Give me the sweaty Israeli reality – I will always prefer it to the American dream.”

A similar sentiment was expressed Friday by Ari Shavit in Makor Rishon.

“The United States today is at a crossroads. The riots are a warning alarm and a wake up call,” he wrote.

“But Israel also needs to wake up. For too many years we admired and worshiped America. The Right adopted the religion of the free market and the Left the culture of protest and hypocrisy. Therefore, as the American model collapses before our eyes, we need to wise up. We need to separate ourselves from the harmful tendency to belittle ourselves before America and imitate it. It is time we return to our core values, the Israelis.”

The isolation, the separation, the life-changes forced on everyone as a result of the coronavirus has compelled many to look inward and re-evaluate priorities. Maybe what was considered so important before the pandemic – travel, entertainment, shopping, run-away consumerism – is not all that important after all.

Likewise, the protests, riots, police actions and the way the US federal government is dealing with these problems has compelled many here to take a more realistic look at the US and realize that as much as there is to complain about in Israel, not everything is always better in America.

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