Saturday, December 28, 2002
The Israeli Archie Bunker

Save for the scandal-o-rama in the Likud primaries, the biggest story in the upcoming elections is the incredible rise of the Shinui party which looks like it will more than double its Knesset representation. Shinui (which means "change") advertises itself as the party of the secular middle class. It stands in opposition to the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment which whom Shinui argues (with more than a little justification) have helped corrupt Israeli politics and fostered a culture of people who neither work nor do military service and increasingly demand more government handouts.

Shinui wasn't always like this. The party has been around for about 25 years. For most of those years it existed mainly as an advocate of free-market economics in a country with an ingrained socialist heritage. Over the years, Shinui ran en-bloc with other parties, most recently Meretz, and would routinely get one or two of its members elected to the Knesset. Shinui split from Meretz in the late '90s to stand on its own. As the 1999 elections loomed the party faced the prospect of not getting anyone elected to the Knesset.

Enter Yosef "Tommy" Lapid.

Lapid, a veteran journalist, newspaper editor, and television personality joined forces with the party and became its chairman. With him came the new message opposing the ultra-Orthodox, which helped give the party an unexpected 6 seats in the Knesset.According to the polls, in the upcoming elections Shinui can expect to get 12-15 seats, making it the third biggest party in the Knesset.

Shinui has benefited from a backlash by many secular middle-class Israelis who have to shoulder most of the burden of this country, both with regards to military and reserve duty and exceptionally high income tax. The party also has a reputation for squeaky-clean political dealings and for sticking to its principles instead of going in for the political horse-trading (some would say blackmail) routinely practiced by the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ.

Now, I should fit the description of the classic Shinui voter, what with my center-right political and economic views. I say "should" because I have one teensy-weensy problem with the party, one which will probably keep me from giving them my vote.

That one problem is Tommy.

There was an article in last week's Ha'aretz magazine profiling Lapid which I didn't get a chance to link to. He's an interesting guy, a Holocaust survivor who managed to escape the clutches of the Nazis in his native Hungary by sheer resourcefulness and toughness. He emigrated to Israel with literally nothing, but has built himself over the years into a bestselling author and a major media figure.

This is all very impressive and I respect him for it. However, Lapid also has an unpleasant streak about a mile wide. His attacks on the ultra-Orthodox establishment oftentimes cross into attacks on the ultra-Orthodox and their religious practices. He also seems to have problems with Mizrahim, Jews who came from Middle Eastern countries. The Haaretz article theorized that he is essentially a European bourgeoise who has a revulsion for everything Eastern in general and Arabic in specific. In fact, Tommy's repeated statements over the years have earned him the nickname of "The Israeli Archie Bunker."

While I am secular, I am still sympathetic to Judaism. In fact, I'd probably define myself as "religio-friendly". I am put off voting for Shinui by the nasty tone and style of its chairman, even though I support a lot of what the party stands for.

I have a relative who is a longtime Shinui activist, a member of the party's Central Committee and has the number 79 spot on the party's Knesset slate. The other night we were at a family gathering and he was proselytizing for the party. I argued that it was a damn shame that the party won't be getting my vote because the chairman is an unpleasant demagouge. He argued that Lapid is a political gimmick which has paid off in spades. He said that for every feinschmecker (hair-splitter) like myself, there are 10 others voting Shinui.

And he's right. However, I still have to live with myself the next day and I don't feel like becoming a stereotypical north Tel Aviv ashkenazi yuppie who has an instinctive revulsion every time he sees a synagogue. I'll be happy if Shinui gets a lot of seats in the Knesset. I'll be doubly happy when they do it without me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002
They'll Like Us When We Win

While we're all sitting around in our sealed rooms with the gas masks on let us take time to review what this whole tango with Saddam is all about. This little primer, courtesy of Victor Davis Hanson, does the trick fairly nicely.

The piece put me in the mind of a recent episode of "The West Wing," of all things. Nornally, the characters on the show act like good little liberal Democrats. The foreign policy issues appear to be handled in basic Clintonian style. Every now and then, however, Aaron Sorkin, the show's creator and chief writer hits the nail on the head, as he did on this episode.

In it, Toby, the President's Communication Secretary (wonderfully played by Richard Schiff) has drafted a speech that the President will give at the UN. The speech contains a passage attacking Islamic radicals in no uncertain terms. A Democratic congresswoman comes in to criticize the speech, citing all the usual fuzzy-headed pablum about the need to respect Islam and refrain from being moralistic. This, she argues, is why the Arab world hates us. Instead, she suggests we should try and be "nice" to them.

The conversation elevates into a shouting match, at the crescendo of which Schiff gives the following speech:
"'Be nice? Well, how about when we, instead of blowing Iraq back to the seventh century for harbouring terrorists and trying to develop nuclear weapons, we just imposed economic sanctions and were reviled by the Arab world for not giving them a global charge card and a free trade treaty? And how about when we pushed Israel to give up land for peace? And how about when we sent American soldiers to protect Saudi Arabia, and the Arab world told us we were desecrating their holy land? We'll ignore the fact that we were invited.

How about two weeks ago in the State of the Union when the President praised the Islamic people as 'faithful and hardworking' only be denounced in the Arab press as knowing nothing about Islam?

But none of that is the point. I don't remember having to explain to Italians that our problem wasn't with them, but with Mussolini! Why does the U.S. have to take every Arab ountry out for an ice cream cone? They'll like us when we win!"
I was actually bummed that I didn't tape the episode so I could watch the speech again and again.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002
O Little Town of Bethlehem

It's Christmas Eve again and in Bethlehem they'll be holding midnight mass without the participation of the ra'is. Like last year, the IDF has decided not to let Arafat -- who still harbors delusions of being a Saladin-style conquering leader of the Muslim world -- come to worship in the Church of the Nativity. A year ago, Sharon decided that since Arafat is a terrorist, there was no reason to give him any PR victories by letting him go to Bethlehem. The world screamed in outrage and Arafat won on PR points anyway.

Well, it's a year later and Arafat is still a terrorist. Once again, Sharon has deprived him of his Xmas outing. This time, however, the press coverage is a whole lot more subdued.

Hopefully this time next year, Arafat's attendance or non-attendance of church services will be a moot point entirely.

So, Merry Christmas to all my non-Jewish friends out there. To my Jewish friends, enjoy the Chinese food and the movie and let's all hope that the peace and quiet we're looking for gets here soon.

Good to Go

So, I spent the morning getting the gas mask kits refreshed. The press has been stirring up panic in the last couple of days and thousands of people are rushing to the Home Front Command gas mask distribution stations. Now, if Uncle Saddam actually gets the chance to fire off a couple of scuds this way, the chances of getting hit by them are fairly low. In the event that said scuds contain chemical nastiness then the gas masks will probably be of limited use.

However, in the event of a chemical attack I don't want to be the dumbass who keels over dead because his atropine was out of date. Plus, I have some time on my unemployed hands and the distribution station is literally across the street so off I went.

There were already more than a hundred people waiting when I got there. This was mid-morning. I can just imagine what happens later in the day when people get off work. It took nearly two hours to be called and five minutes for the soldier gal to replace the atropine syringes in the kits.

So, with that taken care of I just need to get the secure room in order.

When I moved back here nearly 10 years ago, people were still talking about their experiences during the Gulf War (what will probably soon be called the First Gulf War). I heard their tales of sitting around for weeks in the sealed rooms with the gas masks and I felt that I'd missed out on a defining moment in Israeli history. It was as though the Gulf War threw everybody together while I was watching it on CNN thousands of miles away.

Now it looks like I may have the chance to join in on the festivities. You know what, I think I would rather pass.

Monday, December 23, 2002
Pot to Kettle: "You're Black!"

Moussa Alperon, the official representative of gangland Israel in the Likud Central committee, claims that Sharon robbed him of the party's Givat Shmuel branch.

He rails against the Likud and the PM's "mafiosi ways". This would be so funny if these people weren't about to win the elections big time.

Storm Clouds

And just because things aren't problematic enough at the moment, we are slowly gearing up for the Big Show. The country will apparently be going "on alert" in the next couple of weeks, which means that we're slowly getting ready for the possibility of sitting in our sealed rooms for a couple of weeks. They're talking about mass smallpox immunizations and even defering the elections until the situation clears up.

As you know, I'm a big proponent of this war and say "bring it on". However, given the recent turn of events in my personal life I only wonder how this is going to affect my job hunting. On the bright side, I now have a lot more free time to get the gas masks renewed and clear out the sealed room.

It was bound to happen eventually...

Sadly, I have now joined the ranks of the high-tech unemployed in Israel. After having survived three rounds of downsizing (oops, I mean rightsizing) in the last year and a half I failed to survive the fourth.

This puts me in a not-so-exclusive club of tens of thousands, possibly more, of bright young people formerly employed in the local computer business now out on our asses.

What can I say? Joe Strummer is dead and I'm not feeling all that hot myself...