The ‘freier’ is the Israeli cultural archetype of the dupe, the mug, the sucker. In Israel, a freier carries out all of his civic duties, and pays his taxes in full and on time. The freier does not take short-cuts for personal gain, and does not view the rule of law as a formality to be avoided or manipulated in one’s favour. For the sake of individual pursuit, Israelis will avoid freierdom like the plague.
This obsession is not unique to Israel. Most of us want to get ahead. In Israel however, the facts of economic life are such that the average Israeli must become functionally obsessed, certainly by British standards, with earning a living. The monthly net salary of the average Londoner, for example, is some 40% higher than that his Tel-Aviv residing counterpart and in 2019, for instance, Israelis worked 360 hours more than the average Briton. Israel, ranks 9th in the world for cost of living, and the average wage is not commensurate with that cost. This is, in other words, a cultural disposition forged by necessity. Such are the costs of living on consecrated ground.
A cultural obsession with self-serving entrepreneurship and rule-bending may be well and good in times of economic prosperity. Israel did not become the ‘start up nation’ through a collective lack of enterprise. However, the once individual pursuit of avoiding freierdom has changed into a collective one under COVID-19.
Israeli society is a deeply divided one, and its antagonist communities are constantly suspicious of one another. Together, their collective aversion to ‘freierdom’ has led to their insistence on not being singled out for stricter COVID-19 restrictions. By some perversion of human mass-psychology, these communities have rejected self-preservation from illness in favour of an equal right to be infected. This curious assertion of group rights has means that, for now, the ultra-Orthodox community continue to frequent their synagogues and yeshivas. The Arab-Israelis continue to host weddings of hundreds of people. And the secular leftist middle-class continue to protest Netanyahu’s leadership.
Though it is true that fewer Israelis will abide by the prospective lockdown restrictions, we should not allow that to absolve the government of blame. The Israeli government’s response to the pandemic has been wholly inadequate. Its shortcomings are only compounded by the triangulations of many members of government (including Prime Minister Netanyahu) who have flouted the coronavirus lockdown restrictions while admonishing citizens to obey the rules.
This double-standard is not unique to Israel’s political elite. From Cummings to Lukashenko, much of the world’s right seem to suffer from the same delusion of self-importance. The rules need not apply to them, because they are exceptional. What they fail to realise, however, is that when even the semblance of uniformity in the application of law can no longer be maintained, people will start to break the law.
Frustratingly, Netanyahu’s tactic of political divide and rule has helped him retain his premiership through many a scandal, but its residual effects have now caught up to him. The country which that very tactic has created – one that is governed by coalitions of incandescent minorities, held together by a dimming ideological imperative and a shared resentment of a non-existent elite – cannot effectively fight a pandemic.
These facts have served as an invitation to recalcitrance for the Israeli public. Amid future lockdowns, collective non-abidance to newly imposed measures will hardly be a surprising result. Netanyahu’s half-hearted appeals to the vaunted sense of Israeli solidarity have failed to contain the communal defiance of the Coronavirus strictures across Israel. It seems that as Israelis, our unifying impulse is only effective when the external enemies are our Arab neighbours, and not a microscopic pathogen.
As we witness the convulsions of a Prime Minister who tries to retain power, we, Israelis, can be sure of one thing: this is of our own doing. A great deal of us know this man is a crook, yet many continue to vote for him. It is unsurprising that all the life energy of this empty little charlatan should be spent retaining political power, and not on fighting a pandemic. It is also predictable that a man so hollowed out by greed and self-regard would impose a lockdown against the advice of his coronavirus cabinet, and with the potential of Israel lapsing back to a 20% unemployment rate. Clearly, he has done this in order to circumscribe the secular left opposition in their protests against his holding office. Netanyahu knows that protestors must eat. And given a second lockdown, many Israelis will become so desperately absorbed by the need to earn money for life’s material commodities that political dissent will become an entirely subsidiary concern.
One thing is certain: Netanyahu is not a freier. And though it will not be easy to purge Israel of the noxious aftertaste of his premiership, doing so will prove to be a meaningful step in the right direction.
Breiner, J. (2020). Netanyahu violated coronavirus regulations by meeting son while quarantined. [online] Haaretz.com. Available at: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-netanyahu-denies-violating-coronavirus-regulations-when-photographed-with-son-1.8754841 [Accessed 8 Oct. 2020].
Frot, M. (2020). Israeli PM’s aides accused of flouting quarantine rules. [online] Thejc.com. Available at: https://www.thejc.com/news/israel/israeli-pm-s-aides-accused-of-flouting-quarantine-rules-1.506877 [Accessed 8 Oct. 2020].
Holmes, O. and Kierszenbaum, Q. (2020). “Anti-democratic law”: Israel bans mass protests as Covid lockdown tightens. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/30/anti-democratic-law-israel-bans-mass-protest-lockdown-tightens-netanyahu [Accessed 8 Oct. 2020].
Magid, J. (2020). Infected health minister accused of flouting rules, endangering Israel’s leaders. [online] www.timesofisrael.com. Available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/infected-health-minister-accused-of-ignoring-rules-endangering-israels-leaders/ [Accessed 8 Oct. 2020].