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Wave of discontent in Israel

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« on: July 17, 2007, 01:44:27 am »

Wave of discontent in Israel 
By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem 

Israel's foreign minister has called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign in the wake of a report critical of his handling of last year's war in Lebanon. All this comes at a time when there are clear signs that Israelis, usually such a patriotic people, have begun to feel more equivocal about their country.

Sales of the Israeli flag are down this year 

Ara Kaduri can satisfy all your flag needs. He is, he says, Israel's leading manufacturer of flags and symbols.

In a country which has thrived on profound patriotism, you might think that Mr Kaduri has chosen his business wisely.

But right now Mr Kaduri is feeling let down by his compatriots. Flag sales are down 20-25% this year, he says.

He attributes that in part to the fact that some settlers in the West Bank, in occupied territory, have wanted to express their anger with the current Israeli Government.

The bigger reason, though, is because of the second Lebanon war, last summer. People are not putting out flags because, quite simply, they hate the government.

But this is where I become confused.

"Dislike of politicians is one thing," I say. "But the flag is the symbol of the state, not of the government."

At this point, Mr Kaduri allows his frustration to spill over.

"I know these things," he tells me. "Before I started making flags, I spent 28 years in the army. I know what the flag is. I was wounded three times for this flag."


And at root, the vast majority of Israelis do agree on what that flag stands for - a symbol to them of the continuing need for a homeland, for a place of refuge for Jews.

  On reflection, the official thought that the collapse in faith in the government did have something to do with it
As one Israeli mother pointed out to me, just look at the list of festivals and public holidays that run up to Yom Ha'atmzaut - Independence Day.

Her young children are exposed, in quick succession, to the idea of the Jewish ordeal - in the biblical story behind the festival of Purim, then Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Day, then Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day for those who have died in battles for Israel.

Or as this mother described the sequence of holidays: "They tried to kill us, they did kill us, they're still killing us."

And that came across, in subtler form, at an Independence Day barbecue I was invited to.

I was with a group of Israelis, all of whom are immigrant, most of whom would be seen as centre-left.

Before the meat was grilled, we all sat around the television in the Jerusalem apartment.

Ritual celebration

What we were watching was the traditional Independence Day ceremony from the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism.

Independence Day celebrates the founding of Israel in 1948
The ceremony is a mix of military parade, political speechifying, and the opening ceremony at an Olympic games.

In the run-up to it, children are drilled late into the night for days before, so that their massed choreography passes off smoothly.

Military flag-bearers perform marching moves, in order that - from the air - they look like a tank, or a fighter plane, or the Star of David.

From the group I was with, there was some guffawing and snorting at the spectacle.

But this was no Eurovision Song Contest.

They were watching not to sneer but because everyone else in the country would be watching, because they all wanted to take part in the rituals marking Israel's birthday.

When the Hatikva, Israel's national anthem, was sung at the end of the show, they all joined in.

The only dissonance was over whether it was necessary to sit or stand.

The American-born rabbi in the group, who remained seated, argued with the American-born lawyer, who stood.

"You wouldn't have stood for The Star-Spangled Banner," said the rabbi. "You're right," said the lawyer. "But I'm an American by birth, an Israeli by choice."

Loss of faith

This group of friends had also noticed that this year there were fewer flags on display. As had one senior government official I was chatting to.

In fact, it was only as we were talking, that he realised that this year he had not bought a flag to stick on his car.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Maybe it's because I thought I was being ripped off by the street vendors," he said. "But there again, why didn't I think that last year?"

On reflection, the official thought that the collapse in faith in the government did have something to do with it. The failures in the war last summer, the ever-fresh stench of scandals. All this must have seeped somehow into a dulling of flag-purchasing patriotism.

And that, in turn, prompts Ara Kaduri, the flag manufacturer, to display another national trait: that of the shoulder-shrugging phlegmatic.

"What will it take, I ask him, for people to start buying flags again?"

"Ah," he says. "Maybe they'll change the government - or maybe they'll just change their minds."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 3 May, 2007 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
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