Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When Do I (re)Earn the Right to Criticize?

Israelis love to criticize. It seems to be the national past time. In California people discuss Sunday’s Football game, their last or upcoming vacation, their jobs or the weather. In Israel people discuss politics, argue - and criticize. I know I am making generalizations, but like any generalization, there’s some truth to it…

It feels good to criticize..
Criticism is not necessarily a bad thing. A young nation like Israel still has a lot of work to do. There is no shortage of areas that need improvements, or problems to solve. And the local politics is still in turmoil with dozens of parties bickering among themselves in order to win a piece of a small electorate.

Once you get used to it, criticism can be fun. It sharpens the mind and refines you abilities to spot even the tiniest cracks in otherwise a perfect story. You don’t learn it at school. You learn it through observing your parents, your friends, and neighbor. You pick it up through listening to the Israeli parliament (Knesset) members, or simply by watching TV. It grows with and on you.

In California criticism is socially unacceptable. “Constructive feedback” is sometimes accepted, provided it is wrapped with a sufficient number of compliments. As an Israeli in California I struggled with holding back my “feedback”, i.e. criticism. It seemed natural and productive to “tell it like it is”. When a co-worker made a mistake, I was quick to point it out. I learned that being direct, let alone criticizing someone, is considered a form of violence. “You are too abrasive” I was told. Throughout the years, I learned to refine the art of “constructive feedback”. Or at least so I thought…

Imagine my relief when I got back to Israel. Criticism is like “riding a bicycle”: it is easy to pick it up even after many years. And by god, there are plenty of worthy targets for criticism around. But wait, not so fast. Israelis love to criticize, but they don’t appreciate being criticized by “outsiders”. A foreign leader, a TV news reporter, a newspaper editor are considered “anti-Semite” for any criticism of Israel, its government or its people.

I was born and raised in Israel. But spending 20yrs abroad made me a bit of an “outsider”, at least initially. After all, I have been enjoying myself in California while everyone here struggled to build the country and confront its enemies. I have experienced it in get-togethers with Israeli “veterans” who always lived in Israel or returned from a stay abroad many years ago. I am making generalizations again, but I could sense some discomfort amongst Israeli “veterans” when they heard criticism from a “new comer”. In short, my “right to criticize” has expired, and needed to be renewed.

I am sure there is a “waiting period” after which my license to criticize will be valid again. The Israeli Social Security office has a waiting period of 6 months for returning Israeli citizens before they are entitled to the same benefits as residents. But I haven’t seen clear guidelines about the waiting period for criticism… is it 6 months? A Year? Three years? I really don’t know.

It has been a year since I returned to Israel. It is time to test the validity of my right to criticize. And if you have some “constructive feedback” for me, don’t be shy… Just don’t forget to wrap it with compliments…


  1. loved it and can sympathize. I've been back for 2 years and still don't feel I've (re) earned my right. The only place I feel I can criticize freely is with the support group that returned to Israel around the same time we did. I'm confident it will return
    Anat Kedem

  2. This is so true! I have lived in California for 16 years, and don't have the returning-citizen experience, but it is a lot like the coming-to-visit shock: First visit to Israel, happy to let my tongue loose, I realized that,living in the US, I had lost my right to criticize. Oh, that was hard, like a slap in the face. But I learned my lesson. I just do not discuss Israeli matters when I am in Israel.

  3. During the 20 years we lived in CA (happened to be with you, my dearest husband) I learned that while criticizing in the US is not accepted, they have a quick and short way to steam out their thoughts: they often (way too often, to my opinion) use the "F" word, in a "non-constructive feedback" way of expression. On the other hand, the Israeli Criticism often (way too often...) turns to be a Cynicism, which is not constructive either. But if I had to choose between the two, I’d still vote for the “C” word!