Friday, May 14, 2004

Different mentalities (I used the dirty “M” word! Don’t tell my sociology professor!)
Political correctness hasn’t really caught on in Israel, except among serious, intense, academic lefties (yawn). As a result, interracial tension and bickering between Jews from different origins is often openly expressed. Is this worse than a situation whereby people may harbor racist notions, but feel compelled to keep them to themselves?

I prefer to know where I stand. If, for example, someone thinks I am a dry, frigid bitch with no sense of humor, based on the fact that I am an English born Ashkenazi from Polish descent, I’d rather he said it to my face. Then I can retort that he can knife me now and get it over with, him being a violent Moroccan. And now that the air has been cleared we can go and have a coffee with Bish, who being of Turkish ancestry is expected to not only understand all about coffee, but also to have an affinity for... erm... never mind, not suitable to mention in nice society.

Don’t ask me where all these prejudices come from, but in Israel every single community of Jews from every corner of the globe has a few of these crosses to bear (excuse the highly inappropriate imagery).

This is just a way of letting off steam. The badmouthing, although loud, is usually quite affectionate. You can regularly hear married couples, whom you know to be quite happy together, having a go at each other’s inherent faults based on traits their great grandparents ostensibly brought with them from Georgia, Yemen, Iran, Azerbaijan, Germany, and so on. Try telling them that this is not a healthy basis for their relationship. You probably won’t be invited again.

So if you are in Israel, and you are mixing socially with a loud, diverse, colorful, happy-go-lucky group, and you hear things that sound very unpleasant to your ear, don’t be offended - take it as a complement. No one there is trying to be something they’re not. They’re not pretending to be very posh and European and impress you. They’re just being themselves - loud, diverse, colorful, happy-go-lucky and completely unbearable. Welcome to Israel!

Or should I say, to the Mediterranean. Did you ever see My Big Fat Greek Wedding? I never laughed so much.

My dad always used to be amazed that the verbal violence rampant in Israel didn’t lead to physical violence more often. He would watch in wonder as drivers would get out of their cars, have a screaming match about who had right of way, and instead of coming to blows, each would just climb back into his respective car and drive off, feeling much better.

I recently watched in disbelief as two respectable, distinguished looking elderly gentlemen, went through such a loud, unruly performance in a quiet cul de sac in north Tel Aviv. The name-calling was highly amusing. Youngest could easily have thought up more sophisticated insults. They both seemed so agitated, I was afraid one of them would have a heart attack. But a minute later, they were gone.

I used to spoil drivers fun by refusing to play. ‘Oh, you’re quite right. I’m so sorry. I’ll be sure to be more careful next time’. I would say, humbly, and I could clearly see the disappointment in their faces as they slunk back to their cars, muttering in frustration.

The people you’ll hear saying the worst things about Arabs, may also be the ones who will be inviting Arabs to their weddings, britot (circumcision celebrations), funerals, and vice versa. Ask them about it and you’ll find that they are neighbors, business partners, co-workers, friends, and that they completely fail to see the irony. This is day-to-day coexistence.

It’s not like those who make a concerted attempt to “co-exist” by creating artificial contact and dialogue, while making an effort to ignore differences in mentality (that word again). This is real.

Jonathan once wrote about the open and indiscriminate cooperation between Jewish and Arab criminals in Israel and between Israeli and Palestinian criminals. It is quite natural.

Is it worth anything? Does it lead to peace in any way? I’ve no idea. But there it is. Things are not always what they seem to an outsider.