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The Absurd Regions


To mark the tenth anniversary to the launch of my Political Blog, Good4Jews, and the seventieth anniversary to the launch of the Jewish State, Israel, I’ve decided to take a diversion and make an exception. To that end, I’m publishing here—for the first time in English!—four short vignettes (out of twelve) that were published way back in ‘Iton77;’ the esteemed literary, cultural Israeli magazine. In the future, I may revisit this reportage, which was titled then, ‘The Absurd Regions’ (you may argue, with some justification, that the title still applies today), and publish more of its lyrical impressions, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

First Gathering

No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling

The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.
It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country

In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.
Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women

Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.
The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

* Art by Yitzhak Shmueli: Border Crossing

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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Is Israel Next?

carnegieeurope.eu

There’s a new world order currently in the making, and Israel might be the next country to join this growing club. I’m talking about the assault on liberal democracies by autocratic regimes and leaders throughout the world, most dangerously and significantly in Europe, where the clash is more acute. We have, on the one hand, the old guard: Russia and China (and of course, North Korea and some other smaller countries). The interesting things about Russia and China are three-fold. First, both countries flirted with ‘true’ democracy for a while and are now back to full-fledged autocracy. Second, both countries very much want to be part of the big world, do not hide anymore behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ or the ‘Great Wall.’ They are, if you will, modern theocracies. And third, both leaders were elected ‘supposedly’ by democratic elections (and so was Hitler), and maintain civil appearance and modus operandi.

Let me explain what I mean by modus operandi, since I regard it as the most significant trend. It’s a characteristic most defined by Putin, but also by Jinping, that I find most modernly striking and disturbing. Here goes: They dress nicely in suits and ties; they speak quietly and normally, like you and me; they go about their business very civil-like. No more Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Castro or Amin; they’re no longer dressed in uniform, army or otherwise; they give no funny salutes, or wear many medals on their chests; not even public mass executions, concentration camps or gulags. No, everything is done business-like, modern-like, stealthy. But the effect and results are. More or less, the same.

And now come the imitators. The managed-democracies, actual-autocracies wannabes. First among them, very Putin-like, Erdogan of Turkey (and in Syria Assad, of course). Second is Duda of Poland, and third, close behind, Orban of Hungary, who just won ‘reelection’ for the third time. These men are all dictators in disguise, modernly attired, with good speaking manners. Some observers see Czechia coming to the fold soon enough, with Italy playing—with Italian style and flare—not far behind. And of course, who can forget that here in America we have our own semi-despot in the form of President Trump. An admirer of the above-mentioned leaders who, should the opportunity present itself, and should the American democracy prove fragile enough, will establish autocracy here in a heartbeat.

Then we have Israel. And Netanyahu: a twin-like leader of Putin and Erdogan, still operating in an Israeli democracy of old, though with disturbing signs for the future. Let’s set aside for now all the other signs and attributes of a strong leader, long in power, good orator, who know how to play the media to his advantage, who blames everybody else for his troubles, and knows how to win elections, using every trick in the book. But in Netanyahu’s case, all these elements being true, there are some new, different elements that make his case unique, and to Jews the world over, liberal or not, very ominous.

So here, to spell it out, one possible scenario. Netanyahu, who still exists in a liberal democracy, Israeli style, is operating under the darkening cloud of police investigations (quite several of them) against him. On some charges, bribery, graft, and the like, the police already concluded the investigation with recommendations to indict. (Others, with severe possible criminal doings, are still under police investigation.) So the ball is now in the hand of Attorney General Mendelblit, a crony and appointee of Netanyahu, who is supposed to rule in the next couple of months whether to indict the Prime Minister in the court of law.

Should he decide against such indictment, all hell might break loose in the Knesset and the streets. However, Netanyahu would claim victory, would say ‘I told you so: These were all lies, manufactured by the police who are out to get me.’ It will be easier for him then to engineer the closing of all the other ongoing investigations, and should he decide to go to new elections, win them big, as all the polls are indicating. In this scenario, he’ll be able to continue his rule in the disguise of fully operating liberal democracy, but with even more power in his hands, and without the cloud of any more police investigations.

The more interesting—and in a way, troubling—scenario is what would happen should the Attorney General would decide to indict Netanyahu. Under the current Israeli law, a minister in the government must resign under such pending indictment. But there’s no word about what the Prime Minister’s obligation is in such a predicament. (A previous PM, Ehud Olmert, resigned in similar circumstances and, indeed, ended up in jail.) Now, should Netanyahu not resign, and continue business as usual, other parties in his coalition, most probably Kulanu, might leave his government. And therefore, as in the other option, early elections would be the solution.

But in this scenario—i.e., a leader of a main party running for reelection while not only under police investigation, but possibly going to court soon—if Netanyahu wins the elections again, as the polls currently are also indicating, and be able to form a government (no problems there, I predict) it would be a clear indication that the Israeli public rather have him in power, even as a criminal, because of what they perceive as his ‘strong leader’ persona. This is not a certainty, but can only be prevented I believe if a strong, united center-left party will be formed, with Labor and Yesh Atid as one body-politics.

Fat chance, I say. And in any case, should Netanyahu win, it would give him an almost unlimited power. Unlike any leader in Israel history, including Ben-Gurion. The rule of law, already under threat, will be a major casualty, with the next one to go being the Israeli liberal democracy as we knew and loved it, warts-and-all.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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