Behave yourselves! posters tell Israelis Courtesy: In the wake of the Rabin assassination and increased crime, the Education Ministry calls for change -- please.

November 29, 1998|By Ann LoLordo and Jessica Lazar | Ann LoLordo and Jessica Lazar,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- When the Israeli government decided to tell its citizens to mind their manners, it did so in typical Israeli style -- abruptly and sharply.

"Enough Pushing! Enough Shouting! Enough Cursing!" read the black, white and red advertisements appearing on buses across the country.

The ads, sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education, seem to confirm the stereotypes of the rude, brash and impatient Israeli. Israelis themselves acknowledge that civility is not a part of the culture.

This is a country where members of parliament routinely shout down their colleagues and pay little mind to political correctness. It's a country whose natives refer to themselves as Sabras, the cactus fruit plentiful here -- prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside.

Nonetheless, there is a segment of society that wants to put "respect" on the national agenda. In this the country's 50th year, some Israelis feel they can look beyond the question of survival to the kind of country they want Israel to be.

"In a survey we commissioned a year ago, we asked Israelis if most Israelis show respect to others," said Alouph Hareven, a civil rights activist. "About 70 percent thought more than half of Israelis don't show respect for the other. Every human being has a deep need to be respected -- not to be humiliated."

The ad campaign is not just about respect and good manners. Education Minister Yitzhak Levy believes the daily practice of verbal warfare leads to more serious forms of violence. The 1,200 posters carry the slogan: "The End to Violence Starts With You!"

They appeared on buses Nov. 4, the third anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The months before the murder were marked by vitriolic attacks against Rabin for his peace agreement with the Palestinians.

"The assassination aside, we also feel for over a year now there has been a rising rash of violence in the schools," said Benny Shukrun, a spokesman for the Education Ministry.

Compared with the United States, Israel has almost no violent crime. But this year, police reported an alarming increase in murders, rapes and car thefts. And another recent statistic put the number of abused women at 200,000.

Shukrun said the bus posters are part of a campaign to steer the national discourse away from rudeness and toward a civilized communal code.

"There's a lot of work to be done in this area, and it will take years. The key is behavioral change," added Hareven, the civil rights activist who is involved in designing educational programs to promote civility and respect among the populace.

'Evolving society'

"The main roots are that we are an evolving society, we are not a society that has evolved in a deeply shared common ethos or shared values," Hareven said. "Because of this, many people feel opposed to other people who are different from themselves culturally or religiously.

"I would add one more thing: the fact that for more for 30 years we have ruled by force over a neighboring society in which the main experience for them was humiliation. To be in such a relationship for more than 30 years, something of this percolates to one's own side as well."

Civilized classrooms and community centers seem far from the buses that carry travel-weary Israelis through Jerusalem's congested streets.

At a crowded stop in downtown Jerusalem during rush hour recently, the "End to Violence" banner may have been the most common of the many bus advertisements. Even more common, however, were the riders pushing, elbowing and yelling.

As the bus groaned to a stop, a tight crowd of commuters surged forward. One man jabbed an older woman in the ribs as he crammed past her onto the first step.

"Hey! Watch where you're going! Is that how you treat an old lady?" the woman cried. "What chutzpah!"

But the man had disappeared into the bus without a backward glance.

In a grocery in West Jerusalem, a teen-ager with bangs in her eyes and a tiny velvet backpack stepped in front of a pregnant woman with a stroller whose purchases were being rung up by a cashier.

"How much is this?" the girl demanded loudly, waving a bag of chips a few inches from the cashier's face.

Shlomo Abadi continued ringing up the pregnant woman's groceries without answering. The girl cried out: "Hey, didn't you hear me? I asked you how much this is. Are you deaf or something?"

Abadi has learned to ignore the rudeness of his countrymen.

"We have Russians, Ethiopians, Moroccans, you name it," he said with a wave of his hand. "And believe me, every group has its fair share of insufferable types. As far as I can tell, it's only getting worse."

'It's scary'

Abadi doubts that the Education Ministry's poster campaign will make a dent in the brusqueness.

"It's not just about clever slogans," he said. "I can't read the papers anymore. This one's beating that one, this one's murdering that one. It's scary."

When Relli Gutter and Rachel Agmon climbed aboard the No. 31 bus, neither noticed the politeness advertisement covering the length of the vehicle. And neither agreed with its premise.

"It's news to me people talk about Israelis as being exceptionally rude," said Gutter, a 59-year-old grandmother. "I have two very polite boys."

Added Agmon, a 53-year-old mother of three: "It's not rudeness. It's openness. It's frankness. It doesn't have to reach the extreme of rudeness."

But Agmon acknowledged that Israelis may cut in line or storm a bus because they don't want to be taken advantage Israel23a

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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