Not "Cool" Anymore - Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid is one of the most prominent Israeli journalists. He hosts a weekend news show and writes columns for several newspapers, including the one I'm translating here. I felt very strongly about this particular column, and decided to share it with the Sift.
When commenting, please do two things - Remember that he is writing to Israelis, and read the whole thing, please, don't just read a couple of paragraphs, TL;DR, and skip to the usual comments.


We've stopped being "cool."
By Yair Lapid

We've had problems here since ever, but up until a few years ago, we were one of the "coolest" countries on Earth. When you met an American and told him you're from Israel, they would immediately say "Wow". It wasn't always clear what they said it about, but it was some kind of "wow" - about the high-tech, the most beautiful girls in the world, the Entebbe operation, the Six Day War, the Kibbutzim, "Exodus", the Mossad, the oranges, or the fact that the weak little Jews suddenly went to the beach and got a tan.

And sometime in the last decade, it was over. "I'm from Israel" you say to John Smith who is sucking on his beer, and he raises a foggy look, "you've got a lot of problems down there, man," he says, "it must be tough."

And John is still OK, he has a nephew serving in Iraq and he hates the "fucking Towel Heads" (the American equivalent to "Arabushim"). Maggie from London just takes her cocktail and walks away with a rather too upright blond neck, so you won't miss her loathing, Julio from Madrid has a Kefiah tied around his neck because he identifies with the screwed people of the world, and Jorgen from Munich - from Munich! God! - says he's a pacifist - which is code for not being willing to take blame for the Holocaust, he wasn't born then yet, and we shouldn't think it justifies everything.

There's something insulting about that. Like being the Prom Queen who got fat, or the moment when you meet - after 20 years - the captain of the basketball team, the one you cheered for until your throat was sore, and find out he's a complete idiot.

Because we're not "cool" anymore. Everything that used to be funny is now problematic. The villager walking into the Opera house in Vienna wearing biblical sandals was replaced by a bunch of teenagers destroying a hotel in Napa. And the guy who got to New York with 10 dollars and became a Millionaire, is now a suspect in a real-estate fraud case and is wanted in 6 countries. Instead of bringing drip-irrigation to Africa, we're selling weapons to the worst governments on Earth. The best army in the world gets photographed the worst on CNN.

And in response we're grumpy and complaining, calling them "Anti-semites", which of course makes things worse, since there's nothing less "cool" than a whiner, but we're stuck with the insult in our throat, and what can we do? Shut up? Leave the stage to the bad-guys?

Only it's not clear what we want from them, because even to ourselves we're not "cool" anymore. Instead of drying swamps we're dehydrating on the bench, collecting social security, the Bible is a settlement on Mt. Hebron, and the guy who calls you "my brother" is about to draw a knife and stab you in the parking lot.

We're the first to admit - in the headlines - that we're intolerable, but when someone else says it, we're always shocked. Because there's no Israeli who doesn't cringe when we kill (by accident, damnit, by accident!) kids in Gaza, but when they write about it in "Newsweek" we're offended to the bottom of our soul. Because we were hoping they wouldn't see us, that it's internal information, that in a world of a thousand TV stations and a million websites, no one will notice.

So it's true that we've had radical left-wing groups working against us around the world for years - backed by Islamic money and supported by self-hating Jews - but it's hard to say we didn't give them material to work with. Because the first rule of "cool" is that no one will love you if you won't love yourself.

We are no longer "cool." We were, and have ceased to be. We are a country - another country - stuck in the wrong side of the Globe, being broadcast between riots in Malaysia to the earthquake in Indonesia, too sweaty, not very graceful, one whose relatives are a bit ashamed of her but will still love her despite her drawbacks, and whose mistakes go unforgiven by everyone so she has to forgive herself, who has some good things - even great - but she still screws up quite a bit. Who has gained too much weight, and no one falls for her at the traffic light anymore, who has to pick being pretty or right, because the two don't fit together.

So should we give up? Forget it, realize that no one will look at us adoringly from the side, wishing they could be like us, or at least our friend? Of course not.

Whoever loved us before will happily come back to cuddle in our arms. Look at the United States in the first few months of Obama: in 5 minutes they went from being a hated empire, to a sexy country everybody wants to get in bed with. The biggest advantage of a flexible world, is that the public mind can change in an instant. Even China is "cool" all of a sudden. For a thousand years she's been the "Yellow Giant" and all of a sudden we're the ones yellow with envy.

It can happen to us as well, but with all due respect to the Explanation Office (raise your hand if you knew we had a re-formed Explanation office, and we even have a Minister of Explanation? What's wrong with you, of course we do, his name is Yuli Edelstein, haven't you noticed how popular we are ever since he was appointed?), if we want to be the guy who gets invited to all the right parties - it was to be for the right reasons.

You can't keep talking about the Holocaust if you don't look after the Holocaust survivors starving at your doorstep; You can't be mad at Jew-hatred if Arab-hatred is running your life; You can't expect to be taken seriously if three outlaw 17-year-olds can run your life from a trailer in the Territories; You can't keep asking for credit for being "the only democracy in the middle east," if your democracy is dysfunctional.

Because it's time we admitted the world isn't automatically against us. Even the Swedes - the same Swedes who made us so mad - gave us Nobel Prizes recently, and organized - of their own volition, but who here remembers the good things - the most important Holocaust memorial committee ever held in Europe.

Many will say that being "cool" isn't worth it. That it's not worth giving up the territories for, or preventing the IDF's freedom of operation, or interrupting Liberman (our foreign minister) from sticking a finger in their eye every time he meets them. It might not be. Israel wasn't formed so they would say the Jews are nice - but so that the Jews could tell them all to stick it.

But just admit you miss the time when every time we walked into a room, all the prettiest girls wanted to dance with us.

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