To be or not to Bibi

Reading Power Station, Tel Aviv

I’ve been quiet for over a couple of weeks and for all sorts of reasons.

Just before my last post, Israel had just voted itself into a situation that couldn’t really have been imagined a year ago and then, three days after the voters had created the democratic equivalent of hara-kiri, we were struck by that annual stoppage festival called Pesach or Passover when the effects of devouring unleavened bread (matzah) cannot be undone by even a copious consumption of stewed fruit and other foodstuffs designed to soften the blow.

One week of agony and another to recover from the attack.  Perhaps an operation to excise the stuff might be appropriate?


However, not all came to a standstill during Passover week, and “informal discussions” took place among politicians and political parties as to which might be able to form a stable governing coalition with which.  However, although the commentators on the TV channels, radio stations and newspapers, not to mention “social media”, expended much time and energy on speculating on what might happen, I was reminded me of an article many years ago written by Matthew Parris, a British writer for conservative outlets, who made me fully aware about the need to be skeptical about what appears in daily newspapers  when he explained that when a journalist is contracted to write 800 words or so once, twice or thrice a week but has nothing worthwhile to write, s/he must nevertheless fulfil their contractual duties. And so it had been proven time and again over the past three weeks.

Finally, last Monday, Israel’s State President, Reuven Rivlin, spent the day “consulting” with representatives of the 13 political parties elected the Knesset as to whom they would recommend that he select as the first victim in the attempt to cobble together a coalition and, as nobody had received a majority of recommendations, he had little choice but to let the current and continuing interim Prime Minister to have a go.  (This, of course, is a joke—you’re all meant to smile silently while reading this).

Politicians rushing to the President’s residence to recommend selection of Prime Minister

The irony of all this was that just as Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud representatives were entering the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to put forward his fitness to serve as Prime Minister once again, the Prime Minister himself was exiting the Jerusalem District Court which he had been obliged to attend in person for half an hour before the first witness for the prosecution began to present his evidence in this, the first of Bibi’s trials for corruption, abuse of power and all the rest.

On emerging, Mr. Netanyahu launched into a tirade in which he accused the state prosecutors of “hypocrisy” and of leading a “witch hunt” against him, averring that the police investigation and the prosecution constituted an effort by the country’s law enforcement officers to “trample democracy” in Israel and subvert the will of the electorate!  Up until then, I had thought, naïvely it seems, that in a democracy it was the job of the police to investigate and of the prosecution service to prosecute (but not to persecute, as I had originally written in a typo).  Perhaps I’ve been misled over the past seven decades? (This outburst was interesting, as in his first post-election statement a few days earlier, he had said that will of the electorate was clearly shown to have a right-wing government.  Although this was a disappointment to me personally (in severe understatement), he neglected to mention that the results of the election did, indeed, show a desire to have a right-wing government but they also showed that a significant number of so-called right-wing voters had expressed a clear preference for someone else to lead that right-wing government!).  He accused the prosecution team of acting illegally and senior Justice Ministry and police officials retaliated by saying that Netanyahu’s claims were false, they in turn accusing him of seeking to intimidate the court.  Moreover, they also stated that security precautions for protecting the lead prosecutor, who he had specifically targeted in his paroxysm, needed to be reviewed.

Netanyahu, for his part, denies any wrongdoing and claims—without any evidence—that the charges were fabricated simply in order to remove him from power.  In other words, the police and prosecution were attempting to stage a coup against the legally elected leader. (He actually said this.) “The entire process against me was marked by the heavy-handed abuse of the powers of… the prosecution,” he said, “the investigations against the prime minister of Israel [were opened] illegally… in breach of a Basic Law.” “It’s a witch hunt. They didn’t investigate a crime, they didn’t look for a crime; they hunted for a man, they hunted me.”

Strong words, indeed, all of which makes a mockery of the words proclaimed at the end of each stage of the ceremony on the eve of Independence Day, which falls this coming week, when chosen individuals light a candle and state, “לתפארת מדינת ישראל” (which translates as “To the glory of the State of Israel”). It has just struck me that should Mr. Netanyahu choose to resign and perhaps retire to the UK (mind you, it can’t be early retirement because he’ll be 72 in October), he could, without much effort, compete with the largest of the UK’s fish and chip chains, given the heavy weight of the many chips he carries on each shoulder!

Later the same day, Mr. Netanyahu delivered yet another speech, at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Memorial Day.  In this oration, he referred to the possibility of renewing the international talks about an agreement with Iran on the issue of restricting its nuclear development.  In that speech, he said that “history has taught us that agreements such as these, with extremist regimes, are worth about as much as the skin on a piece of garlic.”  This particular item was reported on the news the following morning at 6 a.m. (why I listen to five minutes of news at that ungodly hour is beyond me), and I thought that there must also be some Israeli politicians silently smiling or loudly guffawing with me and coming to the same conclusion about any agreement they might have signed in the past or might sign in the future with the same Mr. Netanyahu!  Oh how I envy the Brits at times to have a real royal family they can take pride in or grieve over or whatever, rather than the ersatz variety that we have here.

At this stage, with the premiership on my mind, I might just add that I’ve spent several days over the past week “bingeing” in front of the television, something I’ve never done before.  The object of my curiosity and enjoyment has been the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister programmes on BBC television from between 35 and over 40 years ago, a series starring the late Paul Eddington as the bumbling minister/Prime Minister, Jim Hacker, (played by the late Paul Eddington) and his senior civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a master of obfuscation and manipulation (played by the late Nigel Hawthorne).  I remember watching the programmes a long time ago and thinking that they very humorous and very clever, but this time around, older and more cynical and more disillusioned, I am enjoying the brilliance of the dialogue — written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who is incidentally, a nephew of Israel’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abba Eban, and first cousin of the neurologist and writer, Oliver Sacks).

Reaching Episode 5 of the first series of Yes Prime Minister, there was a conversation between Jim Hacker and his Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (played by the late Derek Fowlds), and which was recorded (compliments of Jonathan Lynn) in Hacker’s diary:

Annie [Hacker’s wife] thought — still thinks, for all I know — that the Prime Minister is completely in charge. It’s a fallacy. A leader can only lead by consent.
“So who is in charge, if you’re not?” asked Annie, rather perplexed.
I was perplexed by her question. There didn’t seem to be an answer. I thought for a bit. “Nobody really”, I said finally.
“Is that good?” She was even more perplexed.
“It must be”, I replied hopelessly. “Thats what democracy is all about.”
“Annie! I wasn’t in control when I was a Minister, was I?”
“No”, she said, “but I thought that was just you.”
Annie, like the press and the media, keeps harping on about control. But the point about government is that no one has control. Lots of people have the power to stop something happening — but almost nobody has the power to make anything happen. We have a system of government with the engine of a lawn-mower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce.
Of course I’d never say any of this in public. The electorate would interpret this as defeatism. It’s not, though! Its the truth! And I am going to fight it.
Actually, what I’ve been doing for much of the past 10 days (not all that successfully, I might add) is going through the photographs I’ve taken over the past 14 years and attempting to thin them out before trying to organized them properly once and for all.  There were 44,000 of them at the start and I’ve found that if it wasn’t such a difficult task in itself, there are so many memories incorporated within them that it makes the task even more onerous — but it’s a chore that has to be done. And while doing it, I’ve concluded that although I’m not a professional (had I been, I’d probably have spent most of my time at weddings and barmitzvahs and such like), I’ve taken some good (and interesting) photos, many of which I’d forgotten about entirely!  So here’s a very short selection (some of which have appeared before), replete with comments and more, undoubtedly, will follow.
I enjoy taking photographs when travelling on the London Underground.  People are generally so busy reading or looking at their phones or applying their makeup that they don’t have the time or the interest to notice an old guy on the opposite side of the aisle with a camera.  So, a few years ago, one day, I noticed what was happening opposite me.  There were two young teenagers busy with their phones — at least one of them was.  The other one, to my right, looked at his for about 10 seconds and then his eyes would look rightward before returning to his phone’s screen.  And then I looked to my left and and noticed what had attracted his attention —  and she had noticed him and she knew exactly what she was doing.
When I take photographs, there’s something about symmetry that always seems to attract me.
It might be the windows in a building, like the Boots store on Oxford Street in London that stares back at you when you look at it and which changes from hour to hour and day to day with changing light conditions.
Things don’t always present themselves as clearly as the windows over a shop on Oxford Street.  Yet, if you keep your eyes open you discover interesting things.  Lawn Road is a street in Belsize Park in Northwest London that runs from Upper Park Road to Fleet Road.  Part of the footpath along this street was laid with red bricks many years ago and walking along one day, I noticed that a single brick out of what must be several thousand, had been laid upside down, although whether accidentally or on purpose, I have no idea.  Anyway, as Lunsford Brickyard ceased production as such well over 40 years ago, this gives some very rough estimate as to when the footpath was laid.  And this is the sort fo thing that ex-geographers seem to spot.
Every now and then I take photographs of people — not portraits but photographs.
A few years ago, I shot a photograph of this individual, seated along a main street in Catania, in Sicily.  It was shot as I was passing by; I don’t think I even stopped to take it.
Exactly half an hour or so later (so the times on the photos tell me), and walking in the opposite direction back to the hotel, he noticed me, beckoned me over, and this time posed for the camera.
And it seems that even over 50 years ago, I was taking photographs that there not quite the snapshots — the one below taken on honeymoon in Connemara in 1966.
And sometimes, I find myself attracted to a specific characteristic of an individual, in this case while walking along Haverstock Hill in Belsize Park, London, a pair of eyebrows beckoned me to record them.
Finally, one of my favourites, taken while coming off Hampstead Heath one morning.  The original was shot in colour because the camera was set for colour. But I knew as soon as I looked in the viewfinder that it had to be in black and white; the colour photograph in a nothing whereas this picture asks a thousand unanswered (and unanswerable) questions.