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Jan 2011 Journal

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Letter from Israel

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I read those perennial complaints that things are getting worse, the country (no matter which) is going to the dogs and ‘Fings ain’t wot they used to be.’ The trouble is that change happens, it is inevitable, we are all changing all the time and have been since time immemorial. Archaeologists have discovered clay tablets from ancient Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ and other old codgers have been moaning about the decline of standards ever since I first saw the light of day in Hampstead’s New End Hospital in October 1942 (which makes me a bit of an old codger myself).

I also don’t know whether to laugh or cry when presumably well-meaning Jews point an accusing finger at Israel from wherever they happen to live in order to rant and rave about the way everything there was once fine and dandy and now it is unspeakably awful, with a rabidly right-wing government, Orthodox Jews controlling every facet of life and – oh horror! – capitalism rearing its ugly head. The sad fact is that even in Israel there is change - some of it for the better, some for the worse - and money made the world go round long before Israel was founded on socialist principles, which have since become somewhat diluted.

I suppose it is futile to point out that every Jew who criticises Israel from afar has it in his or her power to try to influence the course of events by going to live there. Israel is a democracy and the Law of Return, one of the first laws passed by the Knesset, gives any Jew who chooses to live in Israel full civil rights. About one million Jews from the former Soviet Union have taken advantage of that privilege and immigrated to Israel. Their views have had a definite impact on the composition of the Knesset and the government. Many Orthodox and right-wing Jews from the US, albeit in smaller numbers, have made the same choice, further strengthening the forces on the right of the political stratum.

Any Jew who opts not to live in Israel, and thereby not to influence the course of events here, is making a perfectly legitimate choice, although I personally take issue with that choice. I have chosen to implement my Zionist ideology, despite having benefited from the excellent education system that existed in England when I was of school and university age and which, I gather, is no longer the case. I also understand that the British health system is far from perfect and, as I can see for myself on my occasional forays to England, the decline of the British media, with their reality-show nonentity-celebrity culture, is tantamount to a national tragedy (Israel’s media are not much better, but that’s a different story).

While no one expects each and every English person to be fully in accord with the course their government takes, for some unaccountable reason this is not assumed to be the case for Israelis. It seems to escape notice that those of us who do not agree with our government are fully entitled to voice our criticism and take action of various kinds to try and change the situation. However, we do not simply leave the country because we aren’t happy with the political scene, though somehow that seems to be what is expected.

So, to all the old codgers out there who complain about change, all I can say is that it’s still not too late to start accepting the facts of life.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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