It is true that it is exasperating when among the crowds in Sheinkin Street, the most "in" part of Tel Aviv, on a spring Friday with usually pleasant weather, before the city gets sticky and unbearable - you rub shoulders with someone who happens to be walking in your direction and you think to yourself: Is this guy interested in politics?
Actually, if you ask yourself the same question, how can you answer honestly? Only one of those freaks who keeps up-to-date with every twist and turn of current politics can give an unambiguous positive reply. People like this generally find themselves friends of the same ilk, so that they hold deep and tense conversations with each other on the last ruling of the Supreme Court or on what is the chance that Ehud Barak will make peace with the Syrians. These fanatics, who hang on to every scrap of information and follow every development, find it hard to believe that the people they meet in the street don't know the name of the minister of justice or whether the police is in order in investigating the Netanyahu family. I talked to two such people.

Not Interested

Michal, 27, is the director of a successful company in the entertainment business, dealing with local and imported products, sales and marketing. On her own ground, she is completely at home, enjoying good connections with all the main personalities in the branch, naturally invited to all important events and accustomed as the result of her grasp of the economic side of the work to initiate projects and to close business deals. But she doesn't know who the minister of the interior is.
Michal claims that most average Tel Avivians will be unable to answer detailed questions on the peace process; she doesn't know the difference between Areas A, B, and C, and neither does she think that she should know all this. She supports the peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian state, but she sees no way in which she can promote such ideas, apart from voting in elections. The truth is that, though in her own field of work she has unusual knowledge, politics doesn't interest her.
Ran, 27, directs a large industrial enterprise that belongs to his family. He has learned his job from hands-on experience and from studying business administration. He makes giant business deals; his enterprise is registered on the stock exchange and he employs about a hundred people. In the elections he voted for an ecological group. He doesn't really know what is going on in the peace process and why it should be of particular interest to him. "Negotiations are going on with the Palestinians, conducted by the politicians. I hope the negotiations succeed, and this may benefit me also as a businessman, but I live here in Tel Aviv and don't feel the peace process on a daily basis and in any case - what on earth can I do about it?"
When I sat with Ran, two friends from Tel Aviv came to see him: Chen and Rami. They too are uninvolved in what is going on in the negotiations with the Palestinians and they also hope there will be peace. Rami was a soldier in the infantry when, in the early 1990s, the Intifada was at its peak. He had to contend with an extremely hostile population and, nowadays, he feels cheated: Why did they send him there if, in any case, the territories would be returned? But he repeats that he supports a Palestinian state and sees no other alternative. When I asked Chen and Rami if they had ever participated in a political event, they asked whether that included the rally in memory of Yitzhak Rabin last year. Otherwise, they have never been in a demonstration or a political activity on behalf of the peace process, though they support it. Chen says that "perhaps it was just laziness; I wanted to go several times, but it never worked out."

Manipulating the News

I had coffee with Michal in her apartment and tried to find how much she knew about Israeli politics. It was embarrassing, but she glossed over it and explained that she knows the gist of things and that is enough. She never watches the news on television and listens to very little radio - mainly to classical music. She has a degree in communications and has a problem with the way journalists manipulate the news. "I know the media people tend to present only part of what happened, or to project things in a certain way and I don't believe in their reports at all. You often see a sensational report one day and the next day it turns out to be nonsense. Since I studied the subject, I know how the media manipulates information and how competition between journalists makes them exaggerate and present things in black and white."
Michal asks whether one contributes to society only through following current affairs, or whether she contributes no less than the political activists through providing the public with culture and entertainment. "I know a lot of people who understand nothing of politics and are disinterested in the difficulties of negotiations with the Palestinians - but they create music, dance, theater; they create Israeli culture, and this is a most important contribution." I ask her what about those who are involved neither in politics nor in culture, and she has her individualistic reply: "Whatever they do, as long as they do it well, they are contributing to society, be it computer experts, business people, those developing technology, anyone helping the economy."

The Individual Comes First

She thinks that every individual has the right to develop his/her personal self, and this is the only way to contribute to the collective benefit, to the surrounding society. Sheinkin is a street for individualists, everyone according to his/her taste, wearing whatever clothes they choose, and we should let people do their own thing, including not taking an interest in politics. Israel is moving from a collectivist society in which the individual is for the society, to an individualistic society in which the individual is firstly for himself/herself.
It doesn't disturb Ran that he is not involved in the peace process and has no idea how he can contribute to it. Neither does he feel the need to do so, though, unlike Michal, he has no ideological arguments. He simply isn't interested. Rami and Chen, on the other hand, feel pangs of conscience, can't quite justify themselves and would like to be more involved. For his part, Ran works neither for the peace process and doesn't consider political activism to be a social ideal. "Everybody should do what interests him. Anyone interested in politics should get involved; as for myself, I don't need it."
Are we speaking here of a phenomenon of individualism or of egotism? Is it detrimental to a society that they are being themselves and as such making their contribution? The fact that in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel people are doing their own personal thing and they do not choose political involvement, didn't prevent the peace process from getting under way. Perhaps those people living ordinary, simple lives without making revolutions or changing reality are the ones who preserve sanity in Israeli society.