Friday, December 1, 2006

Is Israeli society terminally ill or just insane?

Last update - 10:06 01/12/2006

A magnate, a magician and a sex maniac

By Tom Segev

Some future historian who writes the chronicle of our time may discover a connection between the cease-fire with the Palestinians and the philanthropic activities of Arcadi Gaydamak. The tent city that Gaydamak the multimillionaire built for the residents of the North, and the buses he sent to Sderot to rescue people from the Qassam rockets, have made the government look even more helpless than it is. Who knows? Maybe it was this sad-sack image that nudged it into political action.

If such a connection is ever found, Gaydamak deserves a place in the history books. At the moment, he already deserves a footnote, along with two other people who have managed to rouse the Israeli public from its cynical slumber and unearth strong feelings of admiration, hatred and fear.

Gaydamak, Uri Geller and Benny Sela would not want to be stuck in an elevator together, and one can totally understand why. But it may not be an accident that these three are household names in Israel these days. Each one represents a different reality. Gaydamak is like someone who has stumbled out of a giant safe; Geller is the stuff of fantasy and illusion; and Sela comes from the world of crime. Each of them represents an alternative.

Gaydamak comes across as a blithering egomaniac. Some people in politics see him as a threat, but he has shown how one man can accomplish what a whole government can't. He is a sign that things can be different, and therefore represents hope. Geller knows how to bend forks and spoons, proving once again that we needn't settle for a miserable, seemingly hopeless reality. There are other realms. Sela exposed the shameful ineptitude of the police and the Prisons Service, but his escape has squeezed the best out of us. Here we are, on a mass hunting expedition, like in movies about small-town America, seeking to protect our women from a corrupt and drunken sheriff. We have love in our hearts and love conquers all.

These three men have captured the attention of a tired, desperate, confused society. Struggling to recover from the trauma of a needless and failed war in Lebanon, Israelis have lost faith in their elected leaders and the mechanisms of government. A mood like this could breed rebellion and civil war, tyranny and strife. These three offer another way out.

In a country where everything has happened before, this is deja vu. Gadaymak is Shmuel Flatto-Sharon II. Geller drove the country crazy back in the early 1970s, when Israel teetered back and forth between its glorious victory in the Six-Day War and its inability to win the War of Attrition. As the newspapers published more and more pictures of soldiers killed on the border with Egypt, masses of Israelis tried to communicate with the dead. The parapsychology society organized seances, and tickets were hard to come by. Many people became newly religious, and the messianic beliefs of Gush Emunim boosted settlement in the territories. A surge in mysticism nourished the Shas movement. Sela had the country shaking in fear, along with murderers, other rapists and terrorists. Israel sank into hysteria - and recovered.

But we have also known lengthy periods of relative sanity. So it is possible that Gaydamak, Geller and Sela do not symbolize a sick society with an incurable disease, but only a society that has gone temporarily mad.

In the meantime, Gaydamak should hire Geller to find Sela.

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