When Israeli brashness goes too far

Ben Sales

Israelis don’t exactly have a reputation of being polite. But even in a country known for its rudeness, some things cross the line.

Yesterday an argument over duty-free chocolate prompted nationwide soul-searching on local manners — or lack thereof.

A video making the rounds on Israeli social media shows a woman — followed by her family members — screaming at a flight attendant on Israir Airlines for not selling her chocolate. The passengers hurl insults and swear words at the flight attendant — calling him a “piece of trash,” an “a**hole” and a “son of a whore,” and saying “I couldn’t give a f**k about you.”

One relative chases the flight attendant down the aisle. Another asks, “What, is she an Arab? Sell her chocolate!”

The family issued a half-apology, and the airline isn’t taking any further action. But the video has led Israelis to take a hard look at the country’s famously brusque attitude.

“Let’s do some soul searching and think if we talk to people in this language on a day-to-day basis,” Bat-Chen Hollander wrote Monday in Israel Hayom. “Even if you never acted this way, it’s likely that you’ve seen it with your own eyes and ignored it. A shame.”

The criticism has also come from other corners. Ynet called the passenger “the ugliest Israeli there is.” Israeli news site Walla called the exchange “an embarrassment in the air.”

But American-Israeli Seth Frantzman, who moved here in 2004, posted on Facebook that the incident is part of a “brutish” trend in Israel. “Too much of the country behaves like this on a regular basis and sees nothing wrong with it,” he wrote Sunday.

And because it is, after all, election season, center-left Zionist Union Chairwoman Tzipi Livni tried to score political points off the video.

“The film of the ugly incident in the plane is igniting a correct conversation,” she wrote on Facebook Monday. “Documenting and publishing ugly incidents in the halls of government is called transparency. That’s what I advanced as justice minister.”

But no matter what the video teaches us, one thing we call all agree on is that it’s not Chocolate Bar.

Ben Sales is JTA’s Israel correspondent.