Zubin Mehta, celebrating his Jubilee year with the Israeli Philharmonic with a festive concert at the President's house on Monday night, was interviewed for Israel TV’s Channel 10. Unfortunately, the interview was more of a dirge than a scherzo.
“I hope”, he said, “that the [disapproving] expression on my face mirrors my opinion of the situation in Israel. You look at yourselves from the inside and you blame CNN and The New York Times for criticizing you. You don’t see what you look like from the outside!.”
And then the famed conductor added that the cities of Israel are full of streets named for such personalities as Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky and Arlosorov, but that no one expects to name streets after Israel’s current leaders.
The logical conclusion to be drawn from the maestro’s harsh words is that others – Spaniards, Italians and of course the British, French and Americans – don’t “look bad from the outside”, or certainly not as bad as we do. If that is the case, all that is left is to ask whether, from the inside, we really are worse than they are.
Let’s take internal cohesiveness, caring about each other – charity organizations, kindness to fellow men, volunteerism and working for the general good – are we worse than they are? Is our life expectancy, one of the world’s highest, lower than theirs? How explain, that in surveys, most respondents insists that their lives here are happy? Do we have less scholars, less scientific papers, cultural institutions, literature, theatre - is our Philharmonic Orchestra on a lower level than theirs?
And if it is so bad here, why is it that people come here from all over the world for medical treatment and in order to gain knowledge – in agriculture, hi-tech, solar energy, military matters - and that there is no other country of our size that is a satellite power besides being the 5th largest exporter of arms in the world? And all that goes on while absorbing millions of immigrants and in the midst of constantly dealing with belligerent, war-mongering neighbors?
Perhaps the problem is lack of democracy? Or, G-d forbid, bloodshed - does the number of civilians we have hit exceed those of NATO in Libya and Afghanistan? Are freedom of religion and the rule of law trampled underfoot here? And if we are “occupiers” why doesn’t Turkey, who conquered and held on to northern Cyprus, not “look bad from the outside”?
Sever Plotzker wrote, concerning our economy (17.6.11), that “…a country whose government has no deficit, where unemployment is one of the lowest in this generation…who is owed 60 billion dollars (net) by foreign debtors, whose economy grows at the rate of 5.5%, whose banks.do not receive a penny in bailout funds, a place where international investors are knocking at the door…”
Does this “look bad from the outside”?
During the largest-ever party thrown for recently inducted soldiers (20,000 participants), our newly promoted Major General (Ms.) Orna Barbibai said that in the past year 80% of those inducted asked to serve in combat units. Which country that “looks good from the outside” can boast those figures?
The obvious conclusion is that if we “look bad from the outside”, it is not because of our actions or faults, but because of a long-lived reason that has nothing at all to do with our behavior—Jew hatred. And here the rules are upside down: the better we are and the more we achieve, the more our surroundings hate us.
Theodore Lessing posited in his book “Jewish Self-Hatred” that Jews internalize this hatred and blame themselves for it, because that is just the way they are, every other nation blames the aggressors for aggression, but the Jews ask “What did we do wrong”—and immediately blame themselves.
So, I say to Mr.Mehta, our dear and loyal friend, not to take it seriously when he sees Jews beating their breasts, its just a hobby, a national pastime as it were.
And as for the great leaders of the nation who have streets named for them, they also suffered criticism during their lifetimes. The Midrash says about Moses (Sifri, Deuteronomy), the greatest leader ever, that if he went out to the people early in the morning, they said he must be having domestic problems, and if he came out later than usual, they said “he is getting his wife’s advice on how to deal with us…”
A note of candour: If you asked me, I would name a street after Binyamin Netanyahu, probably in Ramallah, because despite his accomplishments as Prime Minister, history will never forget that he intended to use part of the land of Israel in order to create a state for a foreign nation. Except that I must confess to doubting that it is for this specific intention that Zubin Mehta disqualified Netanyahu from having a street in Israel named for him.