I predicted it, but I still can’t believe it. Netanyahu seems to have done better than expected, but only by decimating Bennett’s Jewish Home. Proportionally, as expected; result to be as expected.
I cannot tell you how horrible it feels to say: I told you so.
Living in Tel-Aviv, strange things happen to your conception of risk and danger. On the one hand, it is a remarkably safe city – violent crime is surprisingly rare, and people of any gender, age or sexual orientation can walk at any hour of the day or night undisturbed. Yet, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is incredibly dangerous.
We, here, don’t really think about terrorism, becoming blasé about the reminders of its toll, its randomness, that surround us and punctuate our daly lives. I surf by the site of the Dolphinarium nighclub bombing (1/6/2001, 25 dead); I purchase fruit, vegetables, bread and hummus daily at Carmel Market (1/11/2004, 3 dead, 30 injured); my favourite bar is opposite the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street (19/9/2002, 6 killed, 70 wounded); anything and everything is bought at Dizengoff Centre (4/3/1996, 13 killed, 130 wounded).Yet we don’t think about the dead or the danger, we don’t pause at the memorials that litter the city street. Stabbings, bus-bombings, on and on, heard in passing on the radio, passed on the bike. Life goes on, always…
Only the Memorial to the Victims of Terror in Park Yarkon in Tel-Aviv’s North gives me pause, for whereas the sites of attacks speak of atrocities past and personally avoided, the obelixes of black granite, carved with each victim’s name, are pungent with the stench of unfinished business: they are constructed with plenty of space for those not yet murdered. This future-planning is eerie: who’s name will come next? When?
It is that same sense of fatalistic hopelessness that shook me so deeply today as I passed a small, dour box erected on Rotschild Boulevard. Created by a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families, the installation’s tiny windows peered into a box of mirrors, the single grave stone multiplied out into infinity. The simple message on the stone, in English, Arabic and Hebrew: “We don’t want you here.” This wasn’t a memorial to those whose names were already carved into granite, but rather those victims of the conflict yet to come.
And that’s the oft-unrecognised kernel of truth: that suicide bombers blow themselves up, that fighter jets drop bombs, that settlers rampage, that guerrillas fire rockets, that border policemen get bored and test their aim; and at the end of every bullet’s journey, every bomb’s blast, every piece of suicide-belt shrapnel, is a life lost, a family devastated, a community lessened. Each new death breeds and spreads more pain, and that agony is all at once personal, and individual, and collective. It retrenches and divides, even as it also should unite us together, on both sides. We have been killing each other; we have been causing each other’s suffering. We have nobody but ourselves to blame.
As those remarkable families have said: “It won’t stop until we talk.” Amen.
This coming Tuesday, Israel will vote and once the votes are counted, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog will ‘win’ the election, and Bibi Netanyahu will ‘lose’. And yet Bibi will be the next Prime Minister.
It isn’t an exaggeration to state that Bibi Netanyahu is the most hated man in the country right now. Posters everywhere (except those paid for by his party) vilify him by name and in no uncertain terms. An entire movement (Victory 2015) has sprung up with the sole purpose of toppling him. Everybody, of all political stripes, has a reason: the economic destruction of the Israeli middle class; the go-nowhere war with Gaza that ended in… well, nobody knows exactly; his calculated humiliation of Israel’s largest, most faithful and strongest ally; the secret funding of the settlements; the demonisation of the Israeli left; the attacks on the country’s democracy and civil-society; his bankrolling by and proximity to, a rich, fascistic American tycoon; his obsession with Iran; the embarrassing travails of his delusional, dictatorial wife… The list goes on and on and has alienated supporters and political allies alike. He and his Likud Party (10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 21 seats) have bled support, drowning their recent allies, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) Party (latest polls: 5 seats, down from 13) with them.
You’d think this would be good news for the Labour Party, but that isn’t the case. The once-dominant party in Israel (the party that actually birthed the state, was the state, ran the state with an absolute majority all the way into the 1970s) is floundering for an identity, for a message, for a purpose. So much so that the last leader, Shelly Yachimovitch, point-blank refused to even discuss the existence of the Palestinians during the last election, much to the befuddlement of Labour’s traditional voters to the left. The party has not been electorally compelling since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago, and with this election, that has not changed. Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, their latest leader, should, by rights, be a juggernaut. The sion of a remarkable Israeli family (his relatives are a historical military, social and political who’s who), he has all the right pedigree, but instead of being compelling, he begs the question of where the Labour Party stands if he is the best they can do. His campaign posters make him seem constipated, and his campaign has been limp and strangely defensive, devoid of any message other than the obvious truism that Bougie is not Bibi. The sad truth is that virtually nobody is voting for Bougie, they are either legacy Labour voters, or rather they are voting against Bibi. This is one of the reasons the Meretz Party (10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 5 seats), ideologically to the left of Labour, is fighting for its own survival: Meretz supporters want anybody but Netanyahu, and mistakenly view a strong Herzog as a viable alternative for Prime Minister.
And let’s not waste any breath on Tzipi Livni, Herzog’s partner in the “Zionist Union”: she lived this whole argument once, in 2009, when she ‘won’ the election and spent the entire duration of the government sulking in silent opposition.
No, although a few Likud scragglers may have jumped ship to Labour, most of Bibi’s losses naturally drained to other, more kindred, parties. The more ideological stepped across the breach to Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party (10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 12 seats), the party that makes exclusionary ethnic nationalism sexy and socially acceptable. A succesful tech entrepreneur Bennett was also once a special-ops soldier, and was recently implicated in the 1996 Qana UN compound massacre that helped to bring down the post-Rabin Shimon Peres government. He openly speaks of annexation of the occupied territory and perpetual Jewish rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with ethnically-determined citizenship and rights.
Those who find Bennett to extreme or too ideological, will have found warm welcome in the arms of Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon.
Lapid first: a former boxer and TV host, he set up the Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) Party and followed his father into the Knesset where he continued his legacy of doing… absolutely nothing. While daddy (“Tommy” Lapid) ran on an anti-religious ticket, the younger Lapi ran a less openly divisive “middle class rights” campaign (in effect the same deal) and then became a damp squib once he was handed the Finance Ministry in the last government. Often believed to be a one-knesset MK he has, unfathomably, managed to guide his party to the big leagues of public support. Yesh Atid are currently predicted to become the third party with a massive 14 seats.
Ex- Likud ex-Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon, unlike Lapid, actually has some achievements to his name. Or, rather: he has one. Rather admirably, he did his job as minister and broke up Israel’s cellular oligopoly in 2009. His Kulanu (“All of Us”) party is tipped to win only 9 seats and is almost guaranteed to be in government. Perhaps then he will be able to do his job again: by breaking up the remaining oligopolies that contribute to Israel’s extreme cost of living crisis.
The other parties of note are:
– The Joint List (10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 13 seats): A new amalgamation of Israel’s Arab parties, and the Jewish-Arab Communists, it is now Israel’s only non-Zionist political party. This interesting phenomenon is a result of the new election threshold law, whereby only parties gaining 3.25% of the vote or above will be represented in the Knesset. Interesting for two reasons: 1. this entity will siphon votes from the left of Meretz, further threatening their chances of breaking through the minimum threshold; 2. this will be the first time Israel’s Arabs will be a functional and mobilised political entity, with a unified voice loud enough to actively push for the interests of Israel’s Arab minority. More on whether they will effectively grasp the opportunity in a minute…
– The religious: Shas (Sepharadi, last poll: 7 seats), United Torah (Ashkenazi, 10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 6 seats), Yahad (Shas splinter group formed by Eli Yishai, 10/3 Knesset Channel Poll: 4 seats). Religious people vote tribally. ‘Nuff said.
So, why does this break-down dictate that Bibi will almost certainly be the next Prime Minister? Simple: it’s all about the numbers. Israel’s Knesset has 120 seats. For a coalition to form a government, 61 seats are necessary and these polls dictate that there is no way that Herzog’s Labour, even at 24 seats, can form a lasting and stable coalition. His only natural partner is Meretz, with the possible inclusion of Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but that only brings him to a total of 43 seats (24+5+14). With 18 seats outstanding, he’d have to shop around. Assuming they can dangle enough out to Kahlon, that brings the grand total to 52 seats, still 9 seats shy of the magic 61.
The Joint List would be an obvious and logical inclusion, and it would be interesting to watch Lapid justify to his supporters a coalition with a non-zionist party. But that will probably never happen: even before a vote has been cast, the Joint List has ruled out joining any “Zionist parties” in government.
Announcing perpetual opposition as the Joint List’s sole raison d’etre, is a telling travesty. For years, for lack of political mobilisation, Israel’s Arab minority (1 in every 5 citizens) has been the victim of prejudicial distribution of reasources at every level. Finally, there is a chance not only to redress the balance, to draw attention to the administrative inequality that plagues the community, but also to moderate Israel’s relationship with the West Bank and Gaza, the settlements, and even promote the ever-elusive grand peace. By refusing to cooperate with the state, within the state, at the highest political levels, the Joint List is only adding fuel to the right’s assertion that the Arabs constitute an irredentist and dangerous fifth column in society.
So that returns Bougie back to 52 seats. Bennett is an anathema to Labour values and ideals, and though Lieberman could probably be bought quite cheaply, it would involve Meretz breaking a specific campaign pledge. Even then, with 6 seats still outstanding, it is doubtful that either Kahlon or Lapid would agree to team with the representatives of the hated religious communities, crucial in even building up the necessary numbers without taking into account stability or longevity.
Contrast the above with the prospects for a Likud-led coalition. Even at a measly 21 seats, the political lay of the land dictates that it will be easier for Bibi to navigate the minefields of the Israeli political party system. Sure, he could join Herzog is a coalition of national unity, bringing along Lapid and Kahlon for the ride, but why should he? It will be relatively easy for him to collect his natural ‘friends’ – those with whom he has either served with before, or have shared his present, god-forsaken government – and divide up the pie. There is no genuine argument between Likud, Lapid, Kahlon, Bennet and Lieberman, and those 61 seats (21+14+9+12+5) will provide another politically quiet three or four years; a happy family that will, once more, obsess on Iran, subjugate the Palestinians and Israeli civil society, destroy the economy, pour money into the settlements, and oversee Israel’s suicidal drift into the international abyss. Plus ça change.
So, the largest party can’t form a government, and the balance of power lies with those smaller parties with 5 or 9 or 13 seats. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again. In effect, the will of the majority will be decided by the whims, promises, or narrow interests of the smaller parties, though it could be argued that Israel’s political system naturally skews in the direction of the general ideological mood, with a large bulge in a fragmented and antagonistic centre. There is no constitution in Israel (there are a series of basic laws, a constitution of sorts), but the only way to change the political system to something more stable is through a two-thirds majority vote in the Knesset. Labour would definitely vote for a change to the electoral system, Likud possibly too, but in order to reach the 91 vote threshold, not one but rather many of those smaller parties – the very kingmakers whose MKs and supporters who have enjoyed seeing their interests disproportionately represented – would have to agree to curtail their power and effectively commit suicide in the process.
That’ll never happen of course, and neither coups or revolutions are really the Israeli way (that’s for another post). So what we’re left with is the present status-quo, and two-to-four more years of toxic leadership.
King Bibi is dead. Long live King Bibi.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Last week, my wife lost her father. It was as sudden as it was expected; as expected as bolts of lightning can ever be. And in the time since, our entire little tiny world which was just beginning to come together, has crumbled to its core.
He was a wonderful man. A grizzled New Yorker; an endangered species. Lou Reed is gone. Bob Dylan’s surely not far behind. Steel-tough yet soft and sentimental, he was always genuinely pleased to see me. He always offered an ear and a shoulder, and more than once offered too much of his time and invaluable help when others disappointed.
He was a great, quiet man, and he is greatly missed.
All that is left is the vacuum of his absence. My wife is a mess. My daughter is internalising all the sadness that surrounds her and is acting up and lashing out. Others that I have come to care deeply about are scarred and damaged. Everyone is walking wounded, doing little more than existing in the moment in the most basic, inhuman way.
Like now: my wife is lying beside me. My own brother – who came for the shiva (seven days of mourning) – is meeting his office colleagues even as he could not find the time to meet me. And my wife doses, wakes in fits and starts. I am no help to her. Not here. But not not here, either. And so I exist as this presence that does absolutely nothing. That can do nothing, even as I am hurting in my own, tiny, insignificant way.
There is only one thing worse than seeing those we love in pain: being unable to heal that pain.
In our neighbourhood:
Car parked; baby and wife disembarking. A car barrels down the road far too fast, driver staring out of side window, and barely misses them. Freaked out, I yell:
“Hey! What the hell are you doing? Watch out!”
The car comes to a complete stop and then, sloooooowly, reverses backwards towards me, the door opening. A man glares at us with cold, dead eyes. He doesn’t utter a word.
“There’s a child here,” I say, but my wife was already white and shaking and telling me in hushed tones to just stop talking, turn and walk away.
She starts yelling, screaming, shaking, crying: “What, is this what you do? When all a man tries to do is protect his child?”
I have learned to trust my wife’s instinct about this place, and so by this point I was turning the corner. Every step he follows me with those cold, dead eyes.
When we regroup a few streets away, she is a mess. He had been brandishing a hammer.
He never said a single word.
The worst bit is that this is not the first time I’ve been threatened in my own neighbourhood for simply acting like a human being. This city is full of wonderful people. It is a place full of debate and argument and creative energy and the best of humanity. It is also full of animals, far larger, far less moral, and far more dangerous than its dogs and cats.
These were posted all around our neighbourhood. Bear in mind we are both not Yemenite, and have dog. Oops.
To the renters and the new apartment owners who
in the last few years or months
joined our beloved neighbourhood, THE Kerem Hataymanim
Our fathers are the founders in 1905.
From the Original Keremites
IT’S TIME THAT YOU UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU ARE GUESTS in our neighbourhood AND NOT THE RULERS,, You were accepted in a very cordial way,,, This is how we are,,!!!, Appreciate it,, It seems as if a few of you are trying in a very ugly and conniving way to cause a split in the people of the neighbourhood,, For your benefit,, personally and it seems also politically,, KNOW THAT WE ARE AWARE OF THAT AND OUR EYES ARE OPEN to vehemently keeping the tradition, the beauty and the character of our neighbourhood,, You are trying to supposedly show a wish to improve our neighbourhood especially its cleanliness,, Just so you know you are the ones making our neighbourhood dirty with the astonishing number of dogs that you have brought with you into our small
neighbourhood,, YOUR DOG POO HAS BECOME LIKE MINES in the streets of the neighbourhood, there have never been dogs (maybe very few) in our neighbourhood,, And from this it is understood that very few of you bother to clean after your dog poo,,,,,,,
Firstly you should,,, Look at how you behave,, Personally to keep the cleanliness of your environment,, And then when you will get to a level of keeping clean we will happily hear comments in writing or in saying to improve
Be humble in your approach, This is message number 1
We will not snooze and we will not sleep!
The neighbourhood veterans! Its lovers and those who are always proud of it forever !!!!!
Being an Unpublished Author, I’m tempted to comment. But really: I think it just speaks for itself,,,
Tel-Aviv is a tiny, ultra-dense city (at least the part of it you’d want to visit is – not counting the sprawling ‘gush dan‘ suburbs). About 8km long (from Jaffa to the Yarkon River) and 2km wide (from the sea to the Ayalon Highway) it’s plagued by the twin hells of terrible traffic (about 500,000 cars commute into the city every day) and scant public transport. No wonder locals try and find ways to live a car-free existence.
Bike lanes have proliferated in the past few years (along with the lurid neon-green Tel-O-Fun rental bikes), usually divvying up the boulevards between two legs and two wheels. Cycling is fine in the winter, but in the summer, with temperatures hovering around 35C (95F) and humidity in the mid 80%s, it’s not exactly pleasant. So intrepid Tel-Avivians have searched for another, less exerting, form of transportation that maintains all the convenience of the bike without the exertion.
Enter the “corkinet”.
I have no idea why it’s called that, when all it is, in essence, is one of those kiddie-scooters with an electric motor on the back. Technically, they’re not legal, but as any true Israeli will argue (at length), they’re not illegal, and that’s what matters. You can’t import them, but you can import the parts and assemble them here. It’s a truly competitive market, with at least four bona-fide manufacturers spread throughout the city.
Although you’re not (technically) allowed to ride them on the pavements, or (technically) on the bike-lanes, or (technically) on the street, that makes it a free-for-all: basically you can do what you want and the police just turn a blind eye.
I must admit, at the beginning I was saddled with the typical Londoner snobbishness. I had to fight to hold the Lazy bastard! in whenever I huffed and puffed in the sweltering heat only to be overtaken by someone looking effortlessly cool, straddling their corkinet as if they were surfing. But when an orthopaedic medical issue (don’t worry – soon to be repaired) fucked up my mobility and meant I could not longer cycle, on my wife’s orders I grudgingly made my way to Gan Hachashmal’s Trekker ( the closest dealer) and walked out with a white board suspended between two tiny wheels.
And you know what? Perhaps I could have been a bit wrong. Just a little bit.
My corkinet is immense fun. It is also economical to run, cheap to buy, and quite simply the fastest mode of transport there is. In such a compact city, with a top speed of 25kmph and a range of about 20km on a full charge, it just makes so much sense and is proving to be pretty much the perfect method of urban transportation. And I can even convince myself I look young and cool (though I know I don’t).
People have taken to accessorising them with seats, baby-chairs (I’ve seen a dad, two kids and a baby squeezed on one) and all kinds of baskets, bags and surf-board holders. Me? I just kept mine simple: a few decals and a bag for the lock.
Now if only I could convince The Wife to let me put The Baby on the back…