Thursday, March 22, 2007

Going to the dogs

An Israeli taxi driver's lament.

March 22, 2007 2:00 PM

Seth Freedman

Staggering along the road, I managed to utilise the last of my strength and flag down a passing taxi. Collapsing into the seat, I was immediately told: "Shut up - the news is starting". Happy to oblige, I fell silent and watched the driver's face contort in ever-deepening rage.

Switching off the stereo, he turned to me and spat: "They're all thieves, the lot of them." Assuming he was referring to the collective mass of Jerusalem cabbies, notorious for skinning tourists and immigrants like they were buffalo carcasses, I concurred, and waited for him to go on.

But no. Instead, his ire was aimed at the cabinet, parliament and state machine in general. Following the recent scandals engulfing the hierarchy, from the rape charges against the president to the S+M ambassador, and beyond, the public have been quick to condemn the ruling elite for their alleged misdemeanours. On top of that, yet another public strike yesterday - in protest at misuse of government funds and non-payment of salaries - brought home to roost once more the true extent of the corruption endemic in the system.

I was treated to an early-morning lecture from Ami the driver who, over the course of our 10-minute drive, proved once more that taxi drivers round here are - for better or worse - bang on the zeitgeist when given the opportunity to speak.

I told him that my mother shared his concern at the current state of affairs, even though she was all the way back in London. "She's a wise woman", said Ami. "I wish we could turn the clock back 50 years - there was a different spirit in this country back then. Today's society doesn't even compare".

"Look at us these days", he urged. "We've got no one decent to vote for any more. Instead we have MKs [Members of the Knesset] committing every crime under the sun. You name it, we've got it - rape, theft, harassment, bribery, and so the list goes on".

I interjected to ask if he though the level of corruption was worse here than in any other country.

"Of course there's sleaze outside Israel", said Ami. "But we hold the number one spot on the charts." With a rueful smile, he told me that the best on offer now is "to vote for the one who's committed the fewest crimes. There's no black and white any more, only different shades of black."

I suggested that maybe it's because we're all too worried about the security situation, and thus let other issues slide when really they ought to be of equal importance to the public.

"Yeah", said Ami, "maybe. But it's not as if we can even fight a war properly these days, is it?" - reflecting the general opinion that we had got a seriously rude awakening in last summer's war with Hizbullah.

Pulling up outside City Hall, where I was headed, he stopped the meter and continued his speech.

"What we need is a new generation. My one's finished, it's impotent. We need your generation to say 'we've had enough', and go back to socialist values". I nodded in agreement, though the chances of that happening are slim to none, in my opinion.

As I opened the door to get out, he grabbed my arm. "Look at the Ethiopians", he said. Here we go, I thought, the de rigeur cabbie racism ... But instead he directed his hostility to the Israelis who've "corrupted the poor Ethiopians".

"When they came here, they were all such good kids", he maintained. "But we've given them the wrong values - now they run around in miniskirts, getting drunk and imitating the worst of Israeli youth".

And with that, he flicked his dying cigarette into the street, and sped off to find the next punter upon whom to unload his woes.

Seth Freedman is a freelance writer and journalist based in Jerusalem. He grew up in London and worked as a stockbroker in the City for six years, before moving to Israel. He writes for

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