It’s not easy to raise polite children in Israel. The atmosphere in the classroom, on the road, in the political arena – is brash, loud and impatient. So I take great pride in the fact that my Israeli children often remember to say “please” and “thank you.” For example, just the other day my son told me, “Please get the hell out of my room” and “Thanks a lot for acting like such an idiot in front of my friends.”
My daughter recently joined the ranks of the IDF and I was sure this new framework of discipline would only enhance her manners. Little did I know that “please” and “thank you” are on the IDF’s liquidation list. This list is top-secret, of course, but I learned that these niceties were targeted for killing when my daughter told me about the following incident at the shooting range:
(Daughter fires rifle, successfully hitting the target, a picture of Emily Post)
Commander: “Nice shooting soldier.”
Daughter: “Thank you commander.”
Commander shouts: “You don’t say ‘thank you’ in the army!”
Daughter: “I’m sorry commander.”
Commander shouts louder: “You don’t say ‘sorry’ in the army!”
I was shocked to hear this story, so I called the IDF Spokeman’s Office and had an enlightening conversation with the soldier who answered the phone.
Concerned parent: "Is this the IDF Spokesman’s Office?"
Soldier: "Yeah, whaddya want?"
Concerned parent: "I just wanted to check whether it is true that it is forbidden to say 'thank you' and 'excuse me' in the army."
Soldier: "Are you retarded?"
Concerned parent: "I beg your pardon?"
Soldier: "Listen, you like polite talk? Then go and tell Assad: 'Sir, excuse me, but could you please stop helping Hezbollah' and then ask Hamas, 'If it is not too much trouble, please be nice.' But we’re an army and how would it look if we went around saying 'please' and 'thank you' all the time. To maintain our deterrent strength and avoid looking liking pansies, the IDF is vigilant about not permitting etiquette to infiltrate our ranks."
Before abruptly hanging up on me, the soldier also explained that retired IDF generals begin to speak a bit more politely when they enter politics (except during Knesset debates). However, then they adopt a different strategy to deter the enemy: they become enormously obese so that no one would think of trying to push them around.
I must say, I find the IDF’s anti-gentility policy a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, there are still other state institutions that seek to impart the values that all parents hope to instill in their children. For example, Haaretz focused this week on Education Minister Limor Livnat as a role model for honoring one’s parents. Citing the Fourth Commandment (from the Bible or the Likud charter, I forget which), she approved a windfall budget allocation for the college her mother directs.
And her mom did not forget to say “thank you.”