Two Countries

Yair Lapid, a popular Israeli journalist, recently published his weekly column under the title “Two Countries." Reading the piece, I felt that it captured – accurately and with great love – the current spirit of Israel – which is, at times, very confusing. I thought it was worthwhile translating and hope that you will find it as engaging as I did.

Noga Shavit
Minneapolis Community Shlicha

There are two countries

In one, on every national holiday, people stand in line for food. Their desperation is evident in the empty bags they carry. In the other, even the poor have cell phones and cable TV.

In one country, the army does horrible things. During its last operation, close to 300 children were killed and thousands of innocent civilians were wounded or lost their homes. In the other country, the army is the only one in the world that alerts the enemy before attacking so they have time to escape; officers are being court marshaled for harming the innocent; and self investigations are being pursued in an unprecedented manner.

In one country domestic violence is increasing dramatically. A man sits by the sea with his wife and daughter and a gang of young drunks beats him to death, just like that, for no particular reason. The other country is the only one in the western world where a kid can play outside after dark; a girl can walk home by herself at 2:00 am; 35.9% of the people volunteer for humanitarian organizations; and if an elderly lady trips and falls down on the street, somebody will always come to her rescue.

In one country corruption is a malignant cancer. Prime Ministers are brought down, senior ministers go to jail after being convicted with bribe felonies, “black economy” rolls over billions of dollars and the “grey market” businesses are  advertised all over the paper. The other country took it too far to the other extreme. Every minister is an immediate suspect; every civil servant keeps a personal lawyer; the legal system is the one calling the shots and the government is terrified of it. Nobody is able to promote anything, a new road, a new plant, a necessary reform. Legal counselors have taken over and they want you to sign your initials here and here.

One country is united around the fate of one kidnapped soldier and he is everybody’s child.
In the other, meanness prevails, talkbacks are poisonous and it has the most aggressive press in the western world.

One country is liberal, cheerful, cherishes freedom of expression and has a passionate and vivid democracy. It respects gay rights, cares about minorities, and embraces kids of refugees. It went so far with safeguarding its civil rights that some members of its parliament explicitly declared that they represent the enemy. The other is becoming more orthodox, conservative and dark every year. On buses, women are not allowed to sit next to men; 48% of the preschoolers study in institutions that offer only religious studies (Jewish or Muslim), while computers are not allowed. It has law that resemble the middle ages, like regulating what one may eat, when one might drive and on what days one is allowed to go to the cinema.

One country invites alien workers to come.
The other deports them.

One country received 5 Nobel prizes in the last 7 years; ranks 3rd in number of university degrees per capita, 1st in scientific publications, and is among the top 10 countries with the highest life expectancy (which attests to the quality of its health system). It is one of the 8 countries in the world capable of launching satellites to space and is able to produce 182 kilograms of dates from every palm tree (compare to 17 kilograms in any other country).


In the other state, education is crashing. 4th grade math achievements are among the lowest in the
world – much below Iran or Cyprus. The gaps between students are wider than most countries in the world – ranks 49 out of the 53 counties that participated in the international test. Kids in this country can graduate without ever hearing of Shakespeare and the French Revolution, Mozart or Dostoyevsky. And the funny language they speak is not really Hebrew.

In one country cultural life is dynamic and vivid and the literary scene is fascinating.
In the other, all people watch is realty TV shows.

One country is heartily committed to peace. It is willing to return territories, some of which it perceives as sacred (and has done so in the past); welcomes external interference and acknowledges the fact that there is no known way to maintain its control over other people. It has already reached the brink of a civil war for the sake of peace, but it faced its citizens – with broken heart – and told them it was determined to pay the price. The other is doing everything in its power to jeopardize the chances to attain peace. It establishes settlements in places where there is a clear majority of hostile citizens; constantly back off its international commitments; controls other people and causes hatred to be passed on from generation to generation. It takes terrible risk of, one day, losing its national identity and becoming a state of all its citizens and is impotent in dealing with a small –actually marginal – group that is successful in dictating violent policy, contradictory to both law and common sense.

In one country young men volunteer, more than ever before, to serve as combat soldiers, youth movements have never been so popular, teenagers lead the campaigns to free Gilad Shalit, to support children of alien workers and to secure students’ rights. In the other country, teens drink vodka, wander around with knifes and turn night clubs into battlefields.

One country was founded as a response to the Holocaust.
The other lets Holocaust survivors die poor, forgotten from the heart.

In one country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is an immigrant from Moldova who came with nothing; the IDF Chief of Staff is a “moshavnik”, and the Prime Minister has 3 deputies: one whose father was killed during an armed robbery, the second who is a “kibbutznik” and the third who grew up with nine siblings in a one bedroom apartment in an abandoned Arab house in Jerusalem. In the other, social-economic mobility is among the lowest in the western world. If your granddad was unemployed and spent most of his days in idleness, it is most likely that your father was the same and that you will be no different.

One country thrives on love, on good people who are willing to give without asking for anything in return; on dedicated volunteers; on young men and women who do national service before the army, on philanthropists; on reservists, who leave everything – their wife, children, business – to do their “miluim” duty. The other is composed of people who can’t stop complaining that the country “hasn’t done anything for them," of tax evaders, of those who “choose” not to enlist to the army, of self-haters, of those who throw stones at policemen, of those who call IDF soldiers “Nazis."

These are the two countries.

In which one would you like to live?







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