A new political ad from Israel’s New Right party, which has been described by some jokers as a “conservative” one (others regard it in a less complimentary manner) is supposed to be a satire. It features Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked (pronounced “shack-head”) with a bottle of fragrance entitled “Fascism.” Shaked descends the stairs in slow motion, with the perfume bottle, while captions such as “Judicial reform,” “Separation of powers” and “Restraining the Supreme Court,” drift across the screen. At the end, Shaked faces the camera and says, “To me, it smells like democracy.” Then, paraphrasing Mandy Rice-Davies, who while giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward over half a century ago as part of what is referred to as “the Profumo Affair”, when Lord Astor’s defence counsel pointed out that he [Lord Astor] denied an affair or having even met her, she dismissed the denial by stating, “Well … he would, wouldn’t he?”. Just so, Ms. Shaked.
The ad was seemingly a response to those who accuse Shaked and her agenda as having fascist overtones in that she seeks to limit the power of the judiciary, in part by politicizing the appointment of judges and thereby stamping out any attempts at activism on the part of the Supreme Court. What so-called “leftists” call fascism, she calls “democracy”; I would simply call demonocracy, part of the process of further dismantling what remains of Israel’s former liberal democracy. (Shades of Turkey here, I fear). As the 18th-century Irish writer, Jonathan Swift, a man who knew something about satire, wrote, “Satire is a glass wherein man (and in this case, woman) sees every face except his own.”
It is an example of the level to which political campaigning in this 2019 Israeli election has sunk. Either the politicians regard us as little more than idiots who can’t understand anything or they have become even more cynical than they have ever been. In that case, their level of “sophistication”, as in the case of the Justice Minister, is far beyond my ability to appreciate what they’re trying to say. There’s been very little of anything to do with policy in the political ads, discussions, and debates to date and I don’t expect there to be any before election day on April 9 (a mistake, by the way, because I would have moved it forward by eight days!).
Much of what passes for campaigning is little more than mud-slinging—and that’s being nice. What we’ve had up till now (and there’s another week and a bit to go before election day) is magnified efforts on the part of the right-wing parties to deflect attention from the fact that the Prime Minister has been indicted for three alleged criminal acts. As far as I can ascertain, he has lost it (not the election but anything resembling straight thinking) and for someone who has spent most of his adult life honing the act of manipulating the media [with a permanent smirk etched on his face] and thereby orchestrating public opinion, he has made more gaffes in the past 10 days than he has in the 10 years he’s been in office.
He did this by “dropping in” to Channel 12 TV, giving his first televised interview on Israeli TV for three (!!!) years, noting that he could not reveal his reasons for authorizing the sale of German-manufactured submarines to Egypt because they comprise state secrets. His reasons were “security reasons and security reasons alone. The State of Israel has secrets that only the prime minister knows and a handful of people.” Really? So secret that he couldn’t inform the Minister of Defence or the Chief of the General Staff? He also said in the interview that he had revealed the secret reason to the Attorney-General, who responded the following day by publishing a letter denying that Netanyahu had told him anything of the sort. A lie perhaps? Just a little white one instead of of a full-blooded red one?
And then he was off to Washington to receive the blessing of his identical twin who thought it an opportune moment to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the part of the Golan Heights captured during the 6-Day War, 52 years ago. While he was in D.C. in what was to have been the photo-op of his premiership, Hamas decided to fire a rocket from the Gaza Strip over Central Israel, destroying a house and injuring its occupants. As a consequence, the Israeli media decided to devote most of their broadcasts that day to the Hamas rocket attack rather than the events at the White House. Cutting his American visit short, Mr. Netanyahu really lost his cool and told reporters as he boarded the plane back to Israel to deal (as Defence Minister) with the fallout, that he couldn’t believe that they’d only devoted a minute and a half to the meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that they would “suffer as a result”. More shades of Turkey here, I fear.
I might have continued about this ad nauseam, ad infinitum, in my usual slaphappy way but for the fact that I have been released from this task by the appearance of both a leader in this week’s edition of The Economist newspaper and an article in that paper that appeared in the Briefings section. Both of these pieces say what I would have liked to say in ways that are more eloquent and far better informed than anything I could have managed. I commend both to you and I reproduce them here (probably not quite legally for if I were just to include the link, most of you, as non-subscribers to the newspaper, probably wouldn’t get past the first few lines.
The Prime Minister relaying state secrets to selected individuals
Enough!!! Some pictures (now that I am sort of on the way back to my to morning walks).
Walking the streets of Tel Aviv these days, one is likely to encounter what has rapidly become a nuisance. Until a few months ago, one could rent a bicycle from an outfit called Tel-o-Fun, which is/was run by Tel Aviv Municipality. Then, about eight months ago, Mobike, a Chinese bicycle rental company arrived on the scene. The unlocking of the bike is done by an app and, effectively, the rental riders park or dump their bikes anywhere they feel like, without fear of them being stolen and without any need to return them to a rental station or lock them to a tree, a signpost or a railing.
Quickly joined by other such outfits, these things were rapidly followed by scooter rental companies, whose products are much more dangerous than being a mere nuisance as they endanger the lives of pedestrians and drivers and, presumably, the scooteroos themselves (although they all seem to be completely oblivious to any hazard they may present, as they are, or course, beyond danger, perhaps conceivably, even immortal). Anyway, both cyclists and scooter riders have a tendency to leave their machines wherever and whenever the desire to dismount hits them, so that it now has become commonplace to have to shift these machines as you walk along the street in order to pass by. As I’ve said before, Israel is not the Netherlands where, I am told, people are born on bikes, live most of their lives on them and pass into the next world on one, so it’s worrisome. I imagine that one day some unsuspecting automobile driver might make a right turn on to a one-way street, in the proper direction, only to drive headlong into a cyclist or scooteroo reading a text message or watching a movie coming in the opposite direction. After that tragedy happens, there might be better enforcement of the rules—if there are any rules, that is.
Every now and then, someone will look at my camera and then look again and asks me what kind it is. For some reason, many people seem to think that it’s an older camera that uses film, whereas it’s digital, mirrorless and light. For the most part, I like it, its two faults being that it uses up batteries rather quickly and its autofocus is sometimes slower than I would like. When people do stop to ask and I’m fast enough to react, I tell them what it is and does and while telling them, I point the camera and click. (Actually, most of the time it doesn’t actually click as I prefer it to be on silent so that victims (sorry: subjects) are unaware that I’ve just recorded their image.
I’ve taken the photograph below before from several different angles and always think of the disconnect between where Amiram’s pub is (opposite Tel Aviv Port, on the corner of HaTa’arucha and Ussishkin Streets) and what it purports to depict!
As I occasionally mention, I have a thing about street signs of one kind or another, especially those that are incorrectly spelled or which appear not to make too much sense — like this one …
… or this one.
Last week, after two months in which reading anything except the newspaper was well nigh impossible, I finally succeeded in reading a book from beginning to end. It was a book I purchased about 20 years ago, read the first chapter and then somehow never got to finish it. Witold Rybczynski’s One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw is a short and intriguing work (176 pages). Just before the turn of the millennium, he was asked to write an essay for the New York Times describing the most significant hand-tool of the millennium. After a mulling over several possibilities, he decided to act on a suggestion from his wife and write an essay on the screwdriver, an apparently simple tool with indeterminate origins.
Mr. Rybczynski charts an individualistic course through the history of technology. Rather than present his findings conventionally from early times to later, he starts in the present and works backwards, working through 18th-century French encyclopedias and engravings of mediaeval arms en route to classical texts. Screws, he wrote, were more difficult to make than nails and need to be accurately threaded; but even the Romans knew that screws are stronger, which is why they used them to hold bellows together, and why later they were essential to the manufacture of reliable firearms.
So Rybczynski’s search for the origin of the screwdriver, and thereby the screw, transmuted into a broader investigation of the roots of precision engineering: from the standardization of screws for the mass-production of the Model-T Ford, back to the industrial revolution, wooden olive-oil presses and finally the renowned ancient water pump, the Archimedes screw. In between, he discusses such things as the button-hole, the vogue 300 years ago for wood-working as a gentleman’s pastime, and the emergence of the Phillips (crossheaded) screwdriver. As one reviewer put it, Mr. Rybczynski wrote a delightful book that drills sideways into technological history—and is never a bore.
The day after I finished reading the book, while walking along Basel Street, I came across two workmen and their tool bag, and I thought that given the coincidence, it was worth a picture!
Finally, some bird photos from the park …
The hoopoe is Israel’s national bird. They rarely stay still long enough for you to focus and click but this one did me a favour by offering me a profile, showing off its head feathers and not moving for a split second.
Finally, on an off=duty morning last week, I decided to go along with one daughter and two granddaughters to the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon, south of Tel Aviv. The kids wanted to visit one of the permanent exhibitions—The Beatles—which they had visited once before and I tagged along. I had no idea what to expect but my usual skeptical self wasn’t expecting very much but as it turned out, my low level of expectation was totally confounded.
I kept on wondering why there was a Beatles exhibition at a children’s museum near Tel Aviv, especially as the Beatles had never visited Israel. They were supposed to have come in 1965 but their manager, Brian Epstein took a strictly commercial view with regard to a visit to Israel and demanded their usual fee, which was far too high for the local agent whose request for aid from a government committee was rejected on the grounds that too many artists were invited to Israel anyway and the group didn’t meet the high cultural and artistic standards expected of visiting artists. Moreover, they were deemed to have had a detrimental effect on youth, so the decision was made that no subsidy should be provided for a visit from the Beatles. Idiots!
It is actually an exhibition into which some people had invested a lot of thought. There was enough hands-on stuff for the kids and enough nostalgia for the adults. Where is Liverpool? (That was easy — it’s east of Dublin.) What’s a recording studio? How does it work? What instruments did the Beatles play? How are tracks separated? What is a long-playing record? (The young man whose job it was to explain things did a wonderful job answering questions from adults and kids — until I asked him how many revolutions per minute an LP turned on the turntable and it turned out that he hadn’t a clue because he came to music when it was sold on cassettes! One of the adults said that the answer was 33 rpm; I think it was 33 1/3 but what’s a third of a revolution among friends?)
And everybody got a go! I was happy. It was pure nostalgia and for an hour or so I was 17 again. Strangely, throughout the whole hour what kept on floating through my memory was the Kennedy assassination and as I asked myself why this was so, I realized that it was because I had been sitting at my parents’ dining room table on November 22, 1963 listening to Beatles music when the news broke from Dallas. Strange how memory works sometimes.
And for those of you who might like to relax a little after reading all this stuff, two performances involving Watermen.