Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Its a situation that we're all unfortunately familiar with. People pop in and out at a party held in a bar and run up the tab. Some leave money, others either leave to little or don't bother at all for reasons best known to themselves. The result is that you don't want to be the last man standing because you're going to be footing someone else's bill.

This sort of behaviour is clearly obnoxious; you order something, make sure you pay for it and don't forget to tip - if in doubt leave an extra shekel or two - it really won't kill you. Most recently we were NIS 100 short on a bill of NIS 600 which means that a lot of our friends had been none to friendly.

It is a fairly accepted truism amongst certain sectors of Israeli society, that one third of the people pay taxes, one third of the people serve in the army and do reserve duty and one third of the people do all the work. The trouble is that its the same third. This third knows that they are subsidising the other two thirds and are often regarded as "freierim" (mugs) as a result.

Of the other two thirds, some turn up and do a little bit - often the bare minimum, others choose to do nothing at all. They do this, safe in the knowledge that someone else will pick up the bill - usually in the form of higher taxes, because someone has to. But how long can this go on for before this hard working minority turns around and says "enough"?

Tensions within Israeli society have always existed but have been exacerbated over the years. In particular, a wedge has been driven between the ultra orthodox and the remainder of Jewish Israeli society. The percentage of ultra orthodox males in the work force is low and participation in the military virtually non-existent whilst at the same time, they control certain institutions of State such as the right to marry. Political horse trading has proved to further tarnish the image of the religious community and at the last 2 general elections, secular Israelis have cried out against this sector by voting for the fiercely secular Shinui party.

At a time when Israeli society needs unity more than ever before, it is increasingly being driven apart due to a difference in attitudes, primarily towards the concept of paying the way through working, that has no parallel in Jewish or any other history. At a micro scale it is clear that this behaviour is unacceptable. On the macro scale it seems that the message being sent is different.

One of the conditions for being a part of society must surely be to take an equal responsibility for the workings of that society. In order to take, common decency requires that there is an element of give too. Increasingly it appears that those who give don't take and those who take don't give - an inherently unhealthy situation. The malaise, if not treated promptly will quickly cause the patient to fast deteriorate until those clamouring for a free drink find that there is no-one left to foot the bill.


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