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The Villa in the Jungle

ofdesign.net

Three months ago Ehud Barak—former Israeli Prime Minister, Defense Minister, IDF Chief of Staff, commander of the storied Sayeret Matkal, and still the most decorated IDF soldier—visited our town as part of the ‘Sacramento Speakers Series.” Like other expatriate Israelis, and many Jews in our community, I was eager to hear Barak’s talk, and learn of his views regarding the current Israel government and political situation, the Palestinian issue, Middle East, Iran, war and peace. To be frank, I was largely disappointed, as he hardly touched on these topics, at least not in his initial long talk. The second part of the evening however—the interview session, where he was asked question by a local TV personality—was much more interesting and he was forced to touch upon these topics, and was also more revealing as to who Ehud Barak the person is.

The reason I’m coming back to his talk so late is because one thing, one phrase of his, had remained planted in my head—and kept bothering me—more than anything else he’d said that evening. He’d kept comparing Israel to “The Villa in the Jungle,” at least a couple of times (this being his favorite moniker). There was also an element of smugness in him, of look how clever I am, saying that. And I came to believe that this saying is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with Israel’s attitude and politics today, with the army’s parlance and ‘school-of-thought’ adopted by political leaders. I thought it’s well worth analyzing. So here goes:

The first thing to disturb me in this saying was the stench of plain racism that came from it. We built, he actually said, a beautiful (white, I assume) villa in the jungle (dark, I assume). Inside, he said, we’re doing very well, but once we venture outside, we’re surrounded by the (black, I assume) barbarians at the gate. What can we do, he really remarked, but we are not living in Canada. This was, still is, so reminiscent of South Africa, and how the white minority, the Anglo and Dutch outsiders had ruled over the native, black majority there for so many years. And how they thought of, and behaved toward, the people surrounding them. Indeed, Israel is accused by many of being in the process of creating an Apartheid state.

It’s also, for second, not exactly true. In the north of Israel we have Lebanon. For many years, it was regarded, especially Beirut, as the ‘Paris’ of the Middle East.’ Southern Lebanon, where Hazboollah now is completely in charge, was the bastion of the Christians, historically an educated, culturally sound society and place (I know, I’ve been there). If not for the Palestinian issue—which Israel continuously refuses to solve, and to acknowledge as being the central issue, the core of the conflict—things there would’ve been much, much better.

True, it was Ehud Barak, in his short stint as Prime Minister, who pulled the IDF out of Lebanon. It’s also true that he tried to strike a deal with Arafat—unreciprocated unfortunately—in order to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There are some ongoing efforts to promote coexistence with the Israeli Arabs, and with Palestinians. And not that there were never any other serious peace negotiations and attempts on Israel’s part. Yitzhak Rabin paid with his life for one such an attempt. Still, in the current political climate in Israel, these are too few and far between, and the majority of Israelis continue to move right-of-center, and are opposed to any compromise with the Palestinians.

And then we have Syria and Jordan to the East. Yes, things in Syria are horrendous currently, but that country carries a lot of historical, cultural significant in the Middle East and the world. And so does Jordan. And we also have Egypt in the south, with its own immense historical, cultural treasures. It’s not as if we Jews, by coming to the land of our forefathers, are the only cultured, educated, enlightened people around.

It’s also brings to mind the larger question of how we see ourselves—Israel that is, and its people—living in the region. Are we there to erect and solidify our walls (that indeed Israel keeps building), to separate ourselves in our fortified “Villa,” fighting and dreading the day we’ll be overrun by the wild people of the “Jungle.” Or do we, finally, want to be an integral part of that rough neighborhood. To belong, at least, if not necessarily to assimilate. To live in peace with our surrounding neighbors, and not in a constant war.

Finally, this saying—which depicts, describes Israel as the “Villa in the Jungle”—represents a lot of the problems afflicting today’s Israel and its people. It’s the reason why, despite all its advances—in agriculture, hi-tech, culture, democracy, and yes, military might—it’s still so isolated, especially culturally. Not that surprising then that Natalie Portman, Paul McCartney, the singer Lorde, and the Argentinian Soccer team, all refused to come to Israel lately. In a way, Israel brings it upon itself, isolating itself—culturally and politically especially—with this attitude; which the saying—the “Villa in the Jungle”—is such a reflection of.

* 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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