My first encounter with Freier phobia came while standing in line at the U.S. Holocaust museum in Washington DC. We were hosting a visiting Israeli who quickly became impatient with the wait. “I’m Israeli – I’ll find another way!” he announced and soon entered the museum through an exit door.
Now, the Holocaust museum is a thoughtfully designed space that lets the visitor experience the way a normal society gradually changed and descended into the hell of degradation and mass murder that was the Shoah. Visitors going through the exhibit as planned emerge silent, stunned by their sorrow at what they have witnessed. Our guest – no Freier he – went through the exhibit backwards! We met him in the lobby, smiling triumphantly at having beaten the line, apparently oblivious to what he lost.
Hello Freier phobia, Israel’s cultural pathology.
Since that time I’ve met both sides of the Freier complex – the almost paranoid belief that the other guy has an angle, and the importance of getting one over on him first. I say “almost paranoid” because when enough people suffer from the Freier complex, the other guy often actually is trying to fool you!
Israeli culture enables Freier pathology the way some families enable their alcoholic members. When Uncle Bill staggers around the living room slurring his words and laughing and Aunt Sally smiles indulgently, saying “Oh, that’s just Uncle Bill on Thanksgiving…” she is enabling his pathology. Upon hearing bitter complaints about false advertising in Israeli real estate websites, a Sabra asked curiously, “but isn’t it like that everywhere?” No, Virginia, it’s not.
Let’s return to the comparison with alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is a cultural pathology in the U.S. and elsewhere. Nevertheless, where drunk driving laws are stringently enforced, getting wasted and getting behind the wheel stops being “cool”. Freier phobia is not cool either. It is bad for you, for me, and for the society. Consumer protection Laws and their strict enforcement would go a long way toward reducing Freier pathology. Let’s take a page from other countries where real estate agents are professionals with a license to protect. False advertising, even less than full disclosure of relevant information, can cost them their livelihood. Consequently, the system is much more honorable.
I’ve heard lots of explanations for the Freier phenomenon, ranging from the State’s early Eastern European influence to the overall culture of the Levant. Regardless of those influences, the fact remains that Freier phobia is beneath us. We’re better than that.
The Freier issue is broader and deeper than mere “buyer beware.” It is a corrosive dynamic that sows distrust and alienates individuals from one another and from the institutions they rely on. The Freier complex creates a cynical society of people who feel they must be constantly vigilant.
Israelis have enough external threats that require vigilance and create tension, shouldn’t we try to create an internal culture of ease, trust and comfort with one another?