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
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 nation’s 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 party’s list. In the polling booth, voters don’t 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, it’s 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 won’t 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.
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!
… 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.
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!