Galilee Diary: Sound the Horn
If ...[one was walking] with a barrel ahead of one with a beam, and the barrel is broken by the beam, the one with the beam is responsible; and if the one with the barrel stopped [suddenly] then the one with the beam is free of responsibility; but if he said to the one with the beam "Stop!" then the one with the beam is responsible.
-Mishnah Baba Kamma 3:5
The other day I had occasion to take a cab across town in Tel Aviv. The driver, who appeared to be in his fifties, tossed that morning's tabloid paper to me as I sat down, apparently so that our conversation could be text-based. The headline had to do with the current basketball scandal: the manager of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team committed suicide after sinking into huge debts generated by black-market investments he had been making on behalf of officials, players, and even referees. And the inside pages were still processing the grisly murder of an entire family a few days earlier, apparently related to a protection racket. The commentary wasn't long in coming...
"So, is there any place left that is clean? Even sports? Everything here is corrupt - the police, business, the government. It's disgusting. Why is it that we are so much more corrupt than any other country?"
I objected that I don't really think Israel is worse than other countries - after all, there's corruption in government - and sports - everywhere in the world.
But he wasn't buying it. "No, there's no comparison - this whole country is smaller than New York city; the amount of corruption is disproportionate. What's wrong with us? I came back here after 20 years in America and you know the thing I notice most? It was twenty years of quiet on the road; no one there honks! And here - it's barbaric." On the last point I couldn't help agreeing.
In a weird coincidence, a few days later I took a cab in Jerusalem, and got almost the identical lecture, except that this cabbie had spent seven years in France. "Animals, animals!" was his comment on the chorus of horns that began a second before the light changed to green, and he went on to point out all the instances of rude driving we encountered as we made our way through downtown.
Obviously two cab drivers don't make a statistic, but it was interesting to hear, from working-class, native-born Israelis, the same cultural criticism that one often hears from North American visitors and immigrants. Regarding corruption, Israel generally comes out in an in-between position in international indices - better than many third-world countries, but not really a light unto the nations. With respect to rudeness and aggressiveness and impatience, I've never seen a statistic, but intuitively it is hard to argue with the cabbies' claims. I've often wondered if this behavior is third world, or Mediterranean, or influenced by the tensions and uncertainties with which we live, or somehow a product of the cultural melting pot, or maybe due to the climate... I've never heard a convincing explanation. But twice in the past week having been forced onto the shoulder by an oncoming car passing on a two lane highway, I'm sure there is a problem, even if I can't explain it. Maybe it's some kind of Zionist test: a way of making sure that only people who are really committed to living here will be willing to do so.