A note from Israel’s politicians

Israeli Democracy, May 2021

It appears that I haven’t posted anything for four weeks, mainly because I didn’t think there was anything worthwhile to write about on this blog and, anyway, I wasn’t I the mood. That’s the longest period of inactivity on this blog since I started writing in December 2015. And then yesterday, I had an email from a friend who has been reading this stuff for five years and usually turns up with an apt comment—or several apt comments—four or five days after I post.  He wrote: “[Neither] pics nor rants reached me lately. Are you ok?”  I am OK, more or less, except when I have the bad luck to listen to the news and I really try hard not to listen, watch or read not because I want to remain ignorant of what is happening (the opposite is true  as it happens).  I listen to five minutes of news on the radio at 6 in the morning and sometimes just the headlines at on TV around 8 p.m. and that’s it for the rest is so soul-destroying.  For some peculiar reason, probably the result of a tendency to self-harm, I glance through the pages of The Guardian and Haaretz, two newspapers that appear compete with one another with great delight in reporting the ills of the world, including criticism of the Israeli government (the latter being a competition won hands down by Haaretz, if only because most of its news deals with Israel).

However, there have been sufficient “stories”, magnified by what always sounds like a panic-stricken broadcast media determined to turn listeners and viewers into a panic-stricken public, to make me want to rant again.  The fact is that when I found myself shouting at the TV and radio at the mention of certain individuals and their untruths, I began to worry myself and I took myself off for a session with a therapist I know to talk things over.

So where to start? Well, sitting in a taxi a couple of weeks ago en route to an appointment with a physiotherapist in town, the driver’s radio (one of the things one has to get used to in Israel is that on a bus or in a taxi, as often as not a radio is relaying either a news broadcast or a chat show on which all sorts of disturbed people express their views on a variety of topics, usually egged on by the  interviewer to produce weirder and weirder views) reported the attempted suicide of one, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the co-founder and chairman of the ZAKA emergency service.  Meshi Zahav had been taken to hospital in Jerusalem in critical condition following his attempted suicide, apparently by hanging, leaving a note in which he asked that his good deeds be remembered.  He had resigned from the ZAKA organization in March of this year immediately after several allegations of sexual assault had been levelled against him and as a result he announced that he would not accept the prestigious Israel Prize for his charitable works, an award which he was to have received on Israel’s Independence Day.

It was reported that he had left a suicide note in which he wrote: “I am sorry. I have already received my punishment, and please make an effort to remember me for the good things I have done. I have always loved and I feel very much ashamed.”  I presume that Mr. Meshi Zahav is still alive as it hasn’t been reported otherwise and although one shouldn’t prejudge, the very facts that he resigned from the organization he had founded, declined a prestigious award and then tried suicide, says as much as I want to know.  Members of ZAKA, most of them strictly Orthodox Jews, assist ambulance crews, aid in the identification of terrorism victims, and other disasters and, where necessary, gather body parts for proper Jewish burial. They also provide help with the search for missing persons and participate in international rescue and recovery operations.  What was particularly galling in this episode, beyond the alleged misdeeds themselves, is that it appears that many people knew what was going on, including the police, but nothing happened.

At one stage, I was reminded of the misdeeds of one Jimmy Savile, an English television and radio personality who raised an estimated £40 million for charities and, during his lifetime, was widely praised for his personal qualities and as a fund-raiser. However, after his death, hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse were made against him, leading police to conclude that he had been a predatory sex offender and although there had been allegations during his lifetime, they were dismissed and his accusers ignored or disbelieved, Savile taking legal action against some of them.  Almost a year after his death, an ITV documentary examined claims of sexual abuse by Savile, leading to media coverage and a rapidly growing body of witness statements and sexual abuse claims. Scotland Yard investigated allegations of child sex abuse by Savile spanning over 60 years and the investigation concluded that he had sexually assaulted men, women and children aged between 5 and 75 over several decades.  Again, people knew and nothing happened, an interesting parallel to what occurred here in Israel.

Israel’s politicians seemed to have disappeared from the scene for a few days but then a fortnight ago, they returned to the to the front line again with the [apparently illegal] appointment of a Minister for Justice.  The [seemingly permanently interim] Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, was having some difficulty forming a coalition but nevertheless, having been warned by the Attorney-General and by the President of the Supreme Court, not to involve himself in judicial appointments, that is exactly what he did, by appointing one of his acolytes/sidekicks/attack dogs, Mr. Ofir Akunis, (a man I see occasionally walking in the park and prone to taking selfies while doing so) to the job after the mandate of the Acting Minister of Justice, Mr. Gantz, (the co-called “Alternate Prime Minister”) came to an end. (It should be remembered that Mr. Netanyahu is not a Prime Minister under investigation nor is he one who has been indicted for a criminal offence but one who is currently on trial in the first of three scheduled trials in which it has been determined that criminal acts have been committed.  In a normal country,  he might have taken leave of absence while under investigation and possibly would have when indicted.  But Israel, it seems, is not a normal country and there he is, three days a week on trial and eight days a week trying to form a government with a parliamentary majority so that he can legislate the termination of this current trial and prevent the others from starting.  If that isn’t, in gross and crass understatement, an embarassment to the State of Israel, I don’t know what is.  At the same time, in just an ordinary gross euphemism, it’s scandalous.  But nothing seemed to worry Bibi — until the following day — when Mr. Akunis’ appointment was withdrawn.

Minister for a half a day (left). Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. 2017

 

However, the crème de la crème of scandals and tragedies occurred last Friday on Mount Meiron in the Galilee.  Mount Meiron houses the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and in the words of a former colleague from Haifa, Professor Noga Collins-Kreiner, “is one of the most important graves in Israel…located on the slopes of Mt. Meron. The Ministry of Religions estimates that 2,000,000 visits are paid to the site every year. Shimon Bar Yochai was a rabbi who lived in an era of the Tannaim (Mishnah scholars during the Roman period), after the destruction of the Second Temple… he is traditionally attributed with the authorship of the Zohar the main work of the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.”——something that hardly appeals to me very much.

Last Friday was the holiday of Lag b’Omer, a “free day” during the Omer, the period between Passover and Pentecost (Pesach and Shavuoth) and is the day of the year on which pilgrims, mostly religious and Haredi (strictly Orthodox), congregate to celebrate a hillula, a sort of ecstatic revelry at the shrine of the esteemed Rabbi Shimon.  Watching the TV news on Thursday night (something I rarely do but I  wanted to find out what was happening in the coalition negotiations), I was treated to interviews with two participants who had arrived early for the merrymaking, both stating that they had come to celebrate and that nobody could stop them from doing so, especially as last year’s outing was severely restricted because of Corona.  As I listened, and as it had been reported that the police had said they could control a crowd of up to 10,000 but reports were coming in of an expected 100-150,000, I started to think that this was a disaster just waiting to happen.  And when I turned on the radio at 6 the following morning, the disaster had happened with 45 people dead from the crush and another 150 injured and hospitalized.

It happened but will we ever know who is responsible?  The Prime Minister turned up 12 hours after the event to declare a national day of mourning on Sunday and that flags would be lowered to half-mast, not exactly what I might have expected from a leader.  So, reluctantly, I had to conclude that he’s not really a leader because I might have thought he would announce the establishment of National Commission of Inquiry. But then, I am naïve. A National Commission of Inquiry is unlikely to come into being because it would have to be headed by a Supreme Court judge and Bibi is not very keen on that species.  And anyway, heaven has apparently decided that he can only be associated with success stories such as vaccinations and not with disasters (Mount Meron).  The Minister for Internal Security had announced publicly before the tragedy that anyone who wanted to turn up at Meron on Lag b’Omer was welcome and obviously, lots of people listened to the young minister and diligently obeyed his words of wisdom.  After the event, he stated that the responsibility—but not the guilt—was his, whatever that is supposed to mean.  The Minister for Religious Services, himself a convicted criminal, seems to have vanished entirely from the scene.  And meanwhile, 45 people are dead for no reason other than irresponsibility or negligence and perhaps even worse and it will likely be swept under the carpet, not to be mentioned again.

How far Israel has come from November 1976, when a journalist gave the police information on various matters raising suspicions of offences committed by Avraham Ofer, then the Minister of Housing, including allegations of embezzlement in favour of the party of which he was a member. On examining the charges, the police concluded that they were unsubstantiated.  Ofer expected an official statement clearing him but the then Attorney General, Aharon Barak, later to become President of the Supreme Court, decided to continue with the investigation based on a new testimony and by January the Prime Minister and Justice Minister assured Ofer that everything possible would be done to expedite the inquiry.  However, on January 3, his body was found in his car on a Tel Aviv beach with a suicide note, stating that he was innocent, but did not have the strength “to bear any more.”

Aah, those were the days!  And it’s so much easier to wonder who financed the refurbishment of the flat in 10 Downing Street!

Meanwhile, President Rivlin chose not to extend Netanyahu’s mandate to form a coalition, tasking Yair Lapid with the job.  In partnership with Naftali Bennett, Mr.Lapid will try to come to some arrangement to form a stable government, rather like trying to build a house on quicksand, but their task will be no easier than Bibi’s.  Whatever is going on in the Knesset is going on solely among the politicians; Israel’s voters have been truly and absolutely forgotten, if they were ever remembered at all as soon as the last election took place.  The only thing that a majority seems to be keen on is that we don’t need a fifth election in this series, although Netanyahu might like one, but it’s 50-50 that that’s what we’ll get—not that it would solve anything.  Meanwhile the politicians are continuing to pull the rugs from under one another and competing to see who can spit a more poisonous venom further than anyone else.  And if Bibi ever returns to the picture by one method or another, I shouldn’t think that any of his sidekicks will be feeling any job security as he has always treated his ministers as some mothers treat disposable diapers — use them to clear up the mess and then get rid of them a.s.a.p.

That said, any more relating to politics is definitely out in this post so I think I’ll let some photos speak for themselves.  I’m still going through the first round of my photo collection and have managed to reduce over 44,000 photos by almost a third, and that is hardly sufficient.  Working through them chronologically, I have now arrived at June 2020, so when I eventually get around to reviewing May 2021, within the next couple of days, I start over again before matching up images that I’ve taken many times from different angles and in different light conditions and choosing just two or three of the better ones and either junking the rest or sending them off to a “neutral resting ground” where they won’t interfere with the better pics.

It’s actually an interesting exercise because I come across all sorts of things that I hadn’t really noticed before.  For example, on my early morning walks through the local park, Tel Aviv Port and the streets in the north of the city, there were people whose paths I crossed almost on a daily basis, sometimes when an opportunity arose, photographing them.  Im am constantly amazed by things I pass daily and which never seemed to have been there before. Going through 14 years of photos, I noticed that in about half a dozen cases, there were people I had photographed often and who suddenly vanish, never to be seen again.  Id they were younger people, I might have assumed that they had moved away.  However, with the older ones, I fear they may have moved away to a more peaceful place and I find that somewhat disconcerting, to say the least.

I also noticed that I have a propensity to take pictures of certain things.  Photographing people while in a bus or a train is something I enjoy doing;  I find that looking at people when they are travelling is fascinating.  Mostly, it’s a record of boredom but sometimes there are individuals people in conversation or doing something useful like reading a book or even a newspaper.  On the London Underground in the morning, it’s not uncommon to find eyes being made up en route to work (that is, in pre-Corona days), a particularly difficult exercise to perform but one which, with much skill and adequate practice, some women appear to seem particularly adept.

I have lots of images of people with mobile phones.  In fact, what we did before the invention of these social/antisocial weapons of mass destruction, I do not know.  Then there are the street signs which appear all over the place.  I don’t mean just the names of streets but things that appear in shop windows or outside on a placard and which convey messages, sometimes overt, other times covert.  Looking at these photographs taken over the years cast into memory me a day about five or six years ago when my eldest granddaughter, Gali, who had just started to read, discovered that words are not just symbols hidden away in books but appear everywhere you go.  This amazing discovery happened suddenly on a single day and she couldn’t wait to get back into the streets to find more grocery shops, butchers, bookshops, pharmacies and whatever, because most things out there are labelled

So, without further ado, let’s have a look.

Walking around London one day, I came across this sign, so I called Fred and applied for the job but was told that my background rendered me culturally unsuitable for the job, so I just shrugged it off and went back to photographing.

… and London is full of blue plaques telling who lived or slept or visited where, such as  …

… on the other side of the street …

In Israel, one is often reminded of the dangers of living in a part of the world fraught with danger, as in this sign directing people to a public shelter.

And public morals must be maintained at all costs.

That was clear enough although there are some signs for which guesswork works overtime.  The sign says that access to cars and motorbikes is prohibited and the upper part of the graphic seemingly refers to that.  However, what on earth does the bottom graphic mean?

Whereas some signs leave one guessing, others leave their readers in no doubt as to what is intended.

This sign in Regents Park in London was there long before Coronavirus lockdowns.

I often think that this sign should appear not only on streets in Israeli cities but at the exit from the arrivals area at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

These two signs, one from Tel Aviv and the other from London complement one another say the same thing but the upper one, taken in the Israeli cultural context being a bit of a joke and the lower one, from London, definitely to be taken seriously.

And then there are the notices that relate to accessibility.

What happens if you’re bursting and don’t have a mobile phone?

And after you’ve climbed the three or four steps to read clearly what is written …

… you discover that you can’t get in anyway because the bell is disabled, too.

Some signs are fascinating.  This one informs us that south is straight ahead whereas north is to the right, which is not what I learned in geography a long time ago.

And sometimes you have to look down rather than straight ahead to upwards to see the relative signs.  However, although this is designed to lure unsuspecting tourists, somebody might be disappointed because having worked themselves into a frenzy, the six characters in Hebrew say “Without sex”!

And these photos bring me to another bugbear, namely misspellings.

And although the honourable judge might have been an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he might have been a little put out to think that Tel Aviv Municipality might have considered that he had something to do with spirits.

And one is reminded always that Israeli is a multicultural country and the sign on the side of a Tel Aviv bus reminds us not that the Hebrew transliteration is all that accurate!

And there is always the chance that the multilingual sign in the Yarqon Park might save a life——if you could figure out how to operate the machine, that is!

And who says that the British always know how to spell correctly in English?

In Hampstead Village, NW3

And I’ve always been fascinated by this reminder of Brexit in shop window in Tel Aviv.

Finally, to return to where I started — Bibi Netanyahu, for in his announcement yesterday, televised in real time, he warned Israelis that should Messrs. Lapid and Bennett succeed in forming a coalition, then Israel will be ruled by a dangerous left-wing government.  Really?

Another Jew who believed in dangerous left-wing government? Highgate Cemetery, London

And that’s it for now.  Just remember to be serious some of the time.  (To be continued,  perhaps).  Have a great weekend.

 

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