Administrations, Alliances and Brick Walls

NEWS OF THE WEEK: You smell as if we could form a government together! The search for coalition partners, Israel-style

I really should warn anyone who is thinking of reading this blog post that the first 2,000 words or so constitute what might customarily be termed a diatribe.

If you’re curious, read on and if you’re not in the mood to be subject to a rant, then scroll down to the pictures!  I will just add here that I made the blunder yesterday evening of tuning into all three of Israel’s TV’s news channels to learn what was being said about the most recent events to have afflicted this country.  I spent less than 60 seconds with each, and all seemed to have adopted an identical format — six people around a table, one of which in each case, being  a moderator, I imagine, although in each case it didn’t seem as if the other five wanted to be moderated at all. Six adults all taking and screaming simultaneously — it was as ghastly as it was grotesque—but par for the course

Enchained! Yarqon Park. June 2022

 

Naftali Bennett (left) and Yair Lapid (right) in the Knesset. June 20, 2022

I’m starting this blog post (#269) on what is an auspicious day which (269, by the way, is a prime number, not that that’s of any significance.  It’s Thursday June 21 and it’s the summer solstice, when one of the Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt toward the sun and on which the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, ensuring the longest period of daylight for year—in the northern hemisphere at least, but not so Down Under.  It used to be said that the English regarded the summer solstice as the longest day of the year whereas the French thought of it as the shortest night in the year, but post-Brexit, I don’t think that that’s amusing any more.  At any rate, after June 21, it’s all downhill—the days become shorter again and autumn and then winter beckon.  Unfortunately, in the sweat pot that is Tel Aviv, we won’t be feeling the effects of this amelioration for some time yet, probably some time in late October, possibly a little earlier and equally possibly early in November.

This year in Israel it’s additionally auspicious for, watching the news on TV last night and reading it in Ha’aretz, Israel’s newspaper for so-called “thinking” people, “The Israeli opposition hailed Monday’s decision to vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold a fifth general election in three and a half years, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to establish ‘a broad, strong, and stable national government…that would bring back national pride.’  Reading that, I almost choked.  I’ve managed to avoid making political comments on this blog — at least as regards Israel (Boris & Co. is another matter)— for several months now but I feel that I need to rant and rave a bit for I’ve missed it.  Anyway, I was reminded that it was just a year ago when I wrote:

“Eventually, Mr. Bennett, a politician who I don’t particularly admire and his politics even less, somehow reached the conclusion of his prepared speech.  He was followed by the “Alternate Prime Minister”, Mr. Lapid, the architect responsible for the construction of this seemingly fragile coalition, who rather than give his prepared piece on the need for national unity, which was to have lasted 15 minutes, simply said the following: “My mother is 86 years old and we don’t ask her to come to Jerusalem lightly, but we did it because I assumed that you would be able to get over yourselves and behave with statesmanship at this moment, and she would see a smooth transition of government, … When she was born, there was no State of Israel, Tel Aviv was a small town of 30,000 people, and we didn’t have a parliament. I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead, she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it is time to replace you,” and with that he left the podium.

He was followed in turn by the outgoing Prime Minister who spent 30 minutes or so lauding himself after which had the downright arrogance to say that there was nobody else in the country with sufficient experience to lead it (as if he had nothing to do with that situation).  Looking at and listening to the Likud rump, it was easy to see that anyone in the party with sufficient intelligence to have been groomed to have had that experience had either left or had been forced out of the party. And it was also easy to understand how the thuggery that had erupted in some of Israel’s cities a few weeks ago was able to happen.  Oh, and Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention a simple fact while decrying the emergence of what he continues to call “a dangerous left-wing government” even though about a third of the coalition’s members are further to the right than him, namely, that, yes, the voters in March 2021 indicated that they preferred a right-wing government — but one not led by him — and this is what they got, thanks to him and no-one else.

In the end, a vote was taken and the coalition given a vote of confidence by the narrowest of margins — 60-59 and one abstention.  This was followed by a vote for a new Speaker who then took over proceedings.  After another few minutes, the ministers were asked to leave their seats at the Cabinet table for seats on the back benches.  One of the things that amused me was seeing Mr. Levin, the now ex-Speaker, explaining to Mr. Netanyahu, the now ex-Prime Minister, that, as he was no longer Prime Minister, he, too, would have to vacate the chair he had occupied for the previous 12 years and sit elsewhere while he, Mr. Levin, shepherded him directly to that place. Poor Bibi’s body language indicated that he seems to have been totally gutted by this strange situation in which he found himself.”

On Monday night, the same set of two appeared on television, to tell us that in the interests of the state, a decision had been taken to call new elections.  The Prime Minister, Mr. Bennett, actually sounded statesmanlike; the Alternate Prime Minister (yes, that’s what he’s called), Mr. Lapid, once again said what he had to say in just over a minute.  And then they were gone, having told us in the interim that they truly love one another (purely politically and platonically, one would hope); I think “admire” might have been a more appropriate word.  In what has been described as “a jubilant video”, prepared in advance and  released on social media, the leader of the Opposition Netanyahu virulently spat out his toxic venom by stating that “It is clear to everyone that this government, the biggest failure in the history of Israel, is at the end of its road … a government dependent on supporters of terror, that neglected the personal security of citizens of Israel, and that raised the cost of living to new heights”.  I had to remind myself that this was from a man on trial for several counts of corruption, etc. — not that many people seem to care about the amorality of that whole set of circumstances.  Almost immediately, his inane, inurbane and insane supporters began referring to him as “Prime Minister Netanyahu” as if his kingship had been illegally usurped from him only for His Majesty to be replaced by a Regent and even though the election, it appears, may yet be months off.  (The date will be decided next week when the Knesset is to be dissolved, which will leave Israelis with practically the same “choice” they’ve already had four times in recent years.)

It was always going to be difficult keeping such a motley lot as this coalition all on board.  Nevertheless, it seems to have functioned reasonably well for the past year, with ministers actually doing the jobs they’re entrusted with and paid to do rather than carrying out the wishes of what has been a one-man band for the past 20 years.  The thought of the return of a reactionary government held together by right-wing extremists so that the person at the top of the pile can continue his life’s aim of disassembling Israeli democracy and turning it into a demonocracy, dismantling the police, the prosecution service and the judiciary to further his own ends beggars belief — but it could still happen — and sooner than people think.

It actually brings to mind the fact that the Israeli political system is in dire need of serious reform.  People do mention occasionally the need to reform Israeli society and electoral reform was at one time an issue that some people thought about and others talked about occasionally.  However, nothing ever happened and, more than half a century on, it is unlikely that anything will for the only people who could make it happen are Knesset members and to put it very simply, they, in their collective wisdom, are not even slightly interested in changing a system they understand and have learned how to manipulate. It seems as if the electorate, bless them, are for their part both blind and deaf to the need even though it’s screaming at them every time they read their newspapers, listen to their radios and watch their televisions and scan their mobiles for the lies of social media. (Referenda or plebiscites are not something that happen in Israel because if they did, the politicians would have to listen to vox populi.  However, I have to admit that in respect of electoral reform, Israeli politicians are not much different from their counterparts the world over, who tend to despise anything that alters what they’re familiar with.

Fifty years ago, I was too unworldly to realize this and there are very few if any examples in which a Western-style democracy has debated a reform to its electoral system as radical as changing from an at-large to a constituency-based system, for generally speaking, districting (dividing the country into voting areas/electoral districts/constituencies) decentralizes and dilutes political power while simultaneously defactionating politics; it also focusses politics more on local issues, which makes it unattractive to Israeli legislators, although in the Israeli context this would probably be to the nations benefit, as it is anyway impossible to ignore national issues.  I had come to Israel from a part of the world that elected its members of parliament in electoral districts and in this strange State of Israel to which I had emigrated, geographical constituencies simply did not exist; the country operated as a single undivided electoral district.  It didn’t make sense to me mainly because it seemed to my simple mind that the Knesset members were not obligated as individuals to serve any recognizable set of voters and I asked myself not only how this situation arose but how it has endured for so long. 

 

It still amazes me that in Israel, one walks into a polling booth and chooses a slip of paper with the letters that symbolize the party’s name and pop it into an envelope.  Article 4 of the Basic Law: The Knesset establishes that the Knesset should be elected in general, national, direct, secret and proportional elections. However, as I understand it, Knesset members are not directly elected at all.  Rather these privileged individuals are nothing more than names on a partys list.  In the polling booth, voters dont even see the names of the candidates; they do no more than simply place a piece of paper with a party symbol in a box. Consequently, it is parties rather than candidates that participate in elections here. Moreover, not only are the elected Knesset members not beholden to any specific electorate, but unlike a more sophisticated version of the list system such as that used in The Netherlands, voters cannot express any preference for individuals on the list by means altering the position of the candidates on the list selected can be altered thus potentially affecting who is elected and who is not. 

In Israel, its a “take it or leave it” situation and certainly not one that encourages the representatives to pay much attention to voters to whom they never have to answer directly as the recent leakage of defectors, this time mainly from Mr. Bennett’s party, has shown. The are no by-elections (special elections) and Knesset members leaving the parliament for one reason or another (death, retirement, imprisonment or whatever) are simply replaced by the next name on the list.  There’s also no such thing as an absentee ballot or a postal vote—if you’rer not at the address that appears on your ID card on the day of the election, you can’t vote!

I had an interest in electoral reform almost half a century ago until I came to the conclusion that at least in the case of Israel, it’s a purely academic topic.  Meanwhile, in the interim, nothing substantial has happened. The quota (the proportion of the valid votes necessary to gain representation in the parliament has changed several times and the country some years ago experimented with direct election of the Prime Minister, separately from the parliamentary election, but gave up on that after only a couple of goes.  But neither of those issues could be classified as electoral reform. They were no more than electoral tinkering.  Almost half a century on, I still think that there is dire need for Israel to change its electoral system but I’m pretty sure it wont happen in my lifetime, and the four elections between 2019 and 2021 have only confirmed the worst of the system as it currently stands. 

Of course, there’s a long time (in other words, there are a few days) before the vote to dissolve the Knesset takes place and it may never happen at all, for Netanyahu and his zealots might attempt to recreate the so-called “Dirty Trick” (or “Stinking Trick”, as it’s called in Hebrew) when the late Shimon Peres attempted to replace the then coalition, led by the right-wing Itzhak Shamir and of which Peres was a senior member, in order to form a government comprising the left-wing factions and the ultra-Orthodox parties without calling an election after the Knesset had voted no confidence in the coalition that was. It ultimately failed when the ultra-orthodox parties backed out of the deal.  So, in essence, anything could happen.

But enough of this rant even though I enjoyed writing it!  Let’s move forward.

Last walk before travel.  Lichen on a wall, East Heath Road, Hampstead, London NW3

Before I left London a couple of weeks ago, I had the flat cleaned so that on my return, I wouldn’t have too much to do.  Just prior to leaving and before putting things away, I noticed that the vacuum cleaner was giving me a wink of approval, so I smiled back at him.  (In this day and age, I have to stress that the vacuum cleaner is male and his name in “Henry”!


And then it was back to Tel Aviv — although I’ve already posted some pictures from my first trip to the sweltering exterior after coming to terms with the shock of the heat and humidity.

Back out in the park, about 400 metres from the flat, I noticed what appears below.  Although I’d seen it before, I didn’t really pay too much attention to what it was advertising.  It’s a defibrillator, which my dictionary defines as: “an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart.an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart.” It tells one what it is in four languages (in addition to Hebrew, there’s Arabic, Russian and English) but unfortunately, having learned what it is, you also have to know what to do with it if, heaven forbid, you have to — and those instructions are solely in Hebrew.  What one is supposed to do is to phone “101”, speak to the duty medical attendant, hope that s/he speaks a language in which you can converse and follow the instructions with which s/he provides you.  One can only hope that you understand what you have to do before you pass on into the the world to come!

Turning 180 degrees from the defibrillator, I caught sight of the hoopoe, known in Hebrew as doo-khi-phat, Israel’s national bird, which always provides a lovely picture though it doesn’t always stay still enough to get a decent picture.

And while the hoopoe uses it large down-turned bill to to probe the ground for large insects, their larvae and pupae (they’re also apparently enthusiastic foragers of animal droppings and dung heaps, seemingly searching there for beetles, their neighbours, the pigeons, seem to have been far better looked after by well-meaning persons, messy though it may all look …

… and just leaving a little more for the cleaner to clear up on his daily search through his patch in the park.


And inevitably, there are the dogs.  This lady was doing her calisthenics on the grass while her pooch looks like the epitome of ennui.  And not only is s/he bored I (the dog, that is) , there’s absolutely nothing that s/he can do about because before the lady started her fitness training, she had made sure to tie el doggo up.


Dogs in the park are a common sight, especially since the start of the pandemic.  Usually, there’s a single one, sometimes two, on a lead with a human attached to the other end.  However, occasionally, one sees dogwalkers in the park and on the streets with many more (my highest count was one woman with 11 leads to which 11 tykes were attached).  However, I’m not altogether dogmatic about what I photograph and in recent days, I’ve come across this gentleman several times.  He seems to specialize in miniature mutts, each one of which has a name (he seems to remember the moniker of each one and I’ve overheard him talking to each of them individually and seemingly lovingly) — but he didn’t seem altogether happy that I was taking a photograph.


 

And then there was a reminder posted on the gates of the Philippines Embassy that we are not our of the woods yet.

 

However, it just seemed that the sun was a more pressing issue than masks and Covid these days, as I noticed when this individual walked past me in the opposite direction!

 

And there was the usual plethora of people on the water, from canoeists …

… to paddlers strapped to their vehicles — just in case they fall in but don’t want to lose it.

And then there was this guy who looked as if he might have been a remnant left over from the Edinburgh Tattoo.

 

And, of course, there are the other inhabitants of the park.

What should we do with our brood?

 

Teach them to swim, of course!

I finally encountered a wall, and realized it was time to make a beeline for home!  Even walls with the right kind of light can seem attractive!

 

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Platinum, Shmatinum!

Well, here I am once again, location altered.

After the extended Platinum celebrations in London and the rest of the United Kingdom last weekend, I find myself back in der Schweiß” of Tel Aviv where the temperature is in the low 30s Celsius but where the weather forecast says “Temperature feels like 37” — no joke!  Moreover, the relative humidity is 50% although I would have guessed it to be even higher.  And —  the same weather chart told me that the humidity in Belsize Park in London is 48% and where 21 degrees actually feels like 21 degrees.   It also tells me that in Tel Aviv, “precipitation is not expected”, which is the way it’s likely to be until the end of October — at least.  Neither rain nor snow will fall.

But let me start with the events of last weekend, not exactly a shenanigans but something approaching it.  This year, 2022, marks the Platinum Jubilee of the accession of Elizabeth II as Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth.  The queen was an active participant in the jubilee events, which lasted from Thursday through Sunday — a four-day break, which was somewhat longer than what the Brits as a group—where national holidays are in somewhat short supply——usually allot themselves for what are referred to colloquially as “Bank Holidays”.  (The banks may have been closed but everything else seemed to be open.).

Elizabeth II R may well have been an active participant but she was considerably less active than she might have hoped to be, reluctantly withdrawing from the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on the Friday, where her eldest son Charles, the dependable Prince of Wales  and “King-in-waiting #1” represented her at the service.  The decision for her absence, it was reported, came after she experienced “discomfort” during the first full day of celebrations as she has been suffering from “episodic mobility problems”; after all, the monarch is 96 years old, well past the official retirement age for the other state employees.  Having watched on TV part of what she missed at the Cathedral, in my humble opinion, she may well have nodded off, such was the lack of exhilaration and animation in that particular ceremony.  Despite this, she did take part in a beacon lighting ceremony that stretched the length and breadth of the country, with the first beacon being lit outside Buckingham Palace in London by the Queen’s grandson Prince William, “King-in-waiting #2”, while Her Majesty herself touched a globe at her home in Windsor Castle, which magically and majestically was the sign for the coast-to-coast beacon-burning to begin in earnest.

Of greater significance, perhaps, was the fact that she missed attending the Epsom Derby, the premier horse race of the British flat-racing season for only the fourth time in 75 years (the queen is fond of horses—and little Welsh dogs). She also missed the Derby last year when it was held behind closed doors (not that a horse race can really be run behind closed doors) due to lockdown, but before that she had only failed to be present at the event twice, once in 1984, when she was in France for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, and once before in 1956, when as a public servant, she attended to her official duties by making a state visit to Sweden.

Of course, there were all sorts of other “questions” being asked in the ever-present and ever-nosy media.  Would Harry, the younger brother of “King-in-waiting #2” shake hands with same?  Where would Harry and his American wife, Meghan, sit in the Cathedral (second row apparently)?  Meanwhile, the “skirt-chasing atheling”, Prince Andrew, seemingly the queen’s favourite child but now scandal-ridden and effectively removed after 61 years as a public figure to life as a ‘private citizen’”, was absent from all of the festivities, having been conveniently diagnosed with Covid-19 a day before things started in earnest.

In the event, Her Majesty appeared on the balcony a couple of times on the first day, flanked by most of the Royal Family, limited to those family members that the Queen designated as undertaking official public duties on her behalf.  Notwithstanding, the less than fortunate family members were apparently still invited to take part in other activities, such as a private dinner, so they didn’t exactly go hungry.  After the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh last year, the queen’s second balcony appearance on the first jubilee day was alongside her cousin, Edward George Nicholas Paul Patrick Windsor, the Duke of Kent .  Although I didn’t notice it at the time I was watching intermittently, from the photograph that appeared in the press, it seems that perhaps one of the queen’s corgis had bitten off part of the duke’s left ear —— but one should not laugh at the misfortune of others.

The Trooping of the Colour, at which over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians come together in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark the Queen’s official birthday was very splendid and colourful to watch.  Although the official birthday doesn’t have a set date, it usually takes place on the second Saturday of June as it did this year, the parade moving from Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to Horse Guard’s Parade with members of the Royal Family on horseback or in carriages following.  (The “official birthday”was initiated by King George II in 1748, and is related to the British weather, which is cold in winter but warm-ish and sometimes dry in summer.) From the distance of an armchair to the TV screen— crowds are anathema to me—it was quite spectacular, not that I would have gone anyway).

Given my predilection for looking at things rather sardonically, as the horses and their riders rode down The Mall in their finery, I was struck by the volume of equine excrement (a.k.a. horse shit) that had been involuntarily deposited by the gee-gees as they made their way down this rather attractive London street. However, what struck me even more was the sight of thousands of pedestrians, a very short time later, marching down the very same street in the opposite direction.  Who picked up the horse shit and when did they manage to do it? The TV cameras missed that somehow!

And the sight of so many people shuffling along at such high density made me think that it must have been a pickpocket’s paradise (although what sort of person would want to pick pockets on such a joyous occasion?) but it reminded me of Roald Dahl’s short story The Hitchhiker, in which the hitchhiker, on his way to Epsom on Derby Day objects to being labelled a pickpocket by the driver who is giving him the ride.  “So you’re a pickpocket,” I said.  “I don’t like that word,” he answered. “It’s a coarse, and vulgar word. Pickpockets is coarse and vulgar people who only do easy little amateur jobs. They lift money from blind old ladies.” “What do you call yourself, then?” Me? I’m a fingersmith. I’m a professional fingersmith.

The Hitchhiker -Roald Dahl

For me, however, the highlight of the three days was not the Queen — but Queen — who, even without Freddie Mercury, are as good as ever they were!


And there were signs that people were enjoying the jubilee break just about everywhere.  It certainly took their minds off what was to follow the day following the cessation of the jubilation when the Prime Minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, survived a vote of confidence by members of his own parliamentary party, winning the vote with 211 in favour and 148 against (59% in favour, 41% against).  And they were members of the his own party,  Watch it, matey!

England’s Lane, Belsize Park, London

 

England’s Lane, Belsize Park, London

 

And there are various ways of celebrating, as demonstrated below (it’s pronounced the same way as the authentic stuff is (yuck!) in southern Britain.

 

The British summer

And then it was time to leave the British summer to pack and return to the heat and humidity of an early summer in Tel Aviv in order to try and sort some things out prior to returning to the UK.

Travel day turned out to be a nightmare. I booked a taxi and was told by the taxi company that if I wanted be at Heathrow by 12.15 (I decided to leave three hours before the flight just to be on the safe side) I needed to book a ab for 11. At 10.55, I received notification that the driver, accompanied my a map, that a cab was was on the way from St. John’s Wood and would be with me shortly. I lugged things downstairs when the taxi company called to say that the drive, having accepted the ride, had cancelled the trip (she’d obviously found something that suited him better) but not to worry because a replacement would be with me within 15 minutes. The replacement arrived 45 minutes later and an hour and a half after that I was at Heathrow. It turned out that there was a strike of train drivers that day and as a consequence, all of London was on the road, more or less bumper to bumper.  Security &c. at Terminal 2 took the best part of an hour, with hundreds if not thousands of suspect terrorists shuffling their way along narrow rope-lined queues, only to be screamed at to removes belts, shoes, &c.  I eventually got on the plane — just. However, half an hour before landing, I was informed that my case hadn’t been loaded on the plane and that I should file a claim on arrival. That took ¾ of an hour even though there were only two people ahead of me and I was told that I could expect to receive the case maybe the following day or the day after that.  In the event, it was delivered just after midday the following day but it was a total nightmare of a trip—an ordeal.

So, after a day playing the role of a zombie, it was back to the Yarqon Park, where the beer grows on trees …

… where the ducklings wait for Mama Duck to tell them in which direction they should paddle …

… where Chinese holes (the Hebrew reads “pit”!) await the unfortunate or less than careful, as they build Tel Aviv’s soon-to-be light railway (tram line) …

 

Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. June 2022

… and where tattooed ladies walk past a slower you and while trying to photograph the tattooed arm (I’ve never really understood why people tattoo) one discovers that there may be more interesting things to focus on, weariness notwithstanding!

Finally, I leave you with two pictures from the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, which is devoted to the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch.  Just 18 pictures in two rooms (The Scream wasn’t one of them) but brilliant nonetheless…

Edvard Munch, Evening on Karl Johan Street (Courtauld Gallery)

Although there was little to scream about, the exhibition did include Self-Portrait in the Clinic (1909), one of Munch’s most impressive and introspective self-portraits, painted when he was undergoing treatment for emotional stress in Copenhagen. The therapy Munch received for the following eight months included change of diet and “electrification”, and his stay in hospital seemingly stabilised his personality.  It’s a powerful work, and marked an important shift in his style, adopting a brighter palette and applying paint with loose, jagged brushstrokes that left parts of the canvas visible.

See you next time!

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