Tag Archives: Israeli Politicians

From hero to has-been: A cautionary tale

At last there was some encouraging news here, last week. And I am not talking about Hosni’s continued refusal to be rattled by a rabble of rowdy Arab rebels. No . . .

Yoav Galant will not, after all, be the new IDF Chief of Staff.

It turns out that Major General Galant had chapped some 28 dunams (approximately 7 acres/28,000 square metres) of public land adjoining his modest 500-meter family home (right) on Moshav Amikam (near Zichron Ya’akov) – to build roads and a parking lot – in contemptuous disregard of the law and opposition from fellow moshavniks. After all, he was Yoav Galant, quite probably the next IDF Chief of Staff. He also lied about the matter in a letter to the Israel Lands Administration and in an affidavit to the Court.

What the Major General certainly did not expect, however, was that those same neighbours would, through the Green Movement, petition against his appointment to the IDF’s top job. And they have succeeded: the appointment was revoked on Tuesday, two weeks before Galant was to take up his new post, following the Attorney General’s inability to support it. And to them – and, indeed, to us – I say “Well done!”

Most distasteful of all, Galant, far from holding his hands up, has – with all the finesse of a schoolboy, about to be appointed Head Boy, being caught behind the bike shed with a stack of porno mags and a joint – made excuse upon excuse in a forlorn, desperate attempt to stay in the running. (And the Major General is still refusing to take responsibility for his actions, protesting his treatment and fitness for the post on three different, Friday evening, TV news programmes.)

Corruption in this country is rife. From small-time real estate yazamim (entrepreneurs) all the way up to the Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert being the latest, crudest example) – taking in government ministers and the former Tax Authority head along the way (Avraham Hirchson, Shlomo Benizri and Jackie Matza are all currently doing time) – so many Israelis are lining their pockets at the expense of Joe Schmoe and the State.

But whatever happened to idealism? Most native Israelis cannot comprehend why the hell we came here; and when I inform them that I emigrated for reasons of Zionism, they look at me with a mixture of pity and disbelief. But how did Israel, once the land of kibbutz-living, come to this? Could it be (as I have previously suggested) that there are simply too many Jews here, all competing with one other, and with most unwilling to be the freier who misses out?

Major General Galant’s neighbours on Amikam were constantly told that “he deserves [the appropriated land] because he’s a military hero . . . we have no chance against him, because this is how things are done in this country.” (Haaretz)

Indeed, one cannot help but feel a modicum of reluctance to criticise a man who has given this country 34 years’ selfless and distinguished service, and some sympathy that he has fallen so agonizingly short of the very highest office.

It is to be hoped, however, that folk like the Major General will now think twice before putting personal enrichment and greed before respect for their fellow citizens, the law, and their country.

Stolen Auschwitz Sign Not “Abomination” No. 1

English courts issuing an arrest warrant for Israel’s former Foreign Minister, then defining for its Jews who shall and shall not be one of their number. Just another week for the Jews of England.

These decisions were so short-sighted – not to say absurd, discriminatory, and even dangerous – that they don’t merit my time (though Melanie Phillips is always worth a read). And then readers of melchett mike will ask why I choose to live in Israel!

True, this blog highlights often disagreeable excesses of life here. But they are also largely comical. And I certainly wouldn’t swap them for life back in Blighty, which is proving even less ‘my’ country than I had already thought.

Then, in the early hours of Friday morning, to cap off another wonderful week for European Jewry, Auschwitz’s “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign (right) was half-inched.

Without questioning the sign’s symbolic import, some of the immediate Israeli reactions to the theft struck me as more than a little exaggerated or, at the very least, over-hasty. One of Israel’s Deputy Prime Ministers (we need two just in case one feels an irresistible urge to embezzle or to rape a member of staff), Silvan Shalom, said it was “an abominable act” that “demonstrates once again hatred and violence against Jews”, while Director of Yad Vashem (Holocaust memorial), Avner Shalev, went as far as to brand it “a true declaration of war”.

Am I alone in cringing when I hear such knee-jerk pronouncements? And if they sound extreme and ill-conceived to me, what must the average non-Jew make of them? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t give a hoot what anti-Semites think about us, but why invite ridicule amongst right-thinking people who have no such propensity?

Did Shalom or Shalev even stop to consider that the sign might well have been nicked by a couple of Polish vodka louts? That would not have excused the act, of course, but it would have deeply impacted on its significance. (Indeed, early questioning of the five suspects arrested late last night suggests that they did not have racial or political motives. And I am not being wise after the event – I wrote this on Saturday.)

Still, you have to commend the efforts of the Polish police to recover the sign. They offered 5,000 zloty – equivalent to $1,700 or £1,050 – for information leading to its return. In spite of the sum not being too being too far off Poland’s GDP, there were reports of down-and-outs across southern Poland being overheard discussing whether the reward merited an afternoon off from collecting empty bottles of Żubrówka.

You’ve gotta love the Poles.

Anyway, for anyone who was more concerned about a piece of wrought iron (for which a replica already existed) than the far-reaching ramifications of last week’s Court decisions for Anglo – and, in the case of Tzipi Livni, world – Jewry, might I humbly suggest that they give their priorities a little rethink.

Curbing My (Irish) Enthusiasm

I have recently started to feel a real kinship with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. I keep finding myself in awkward situations (and not only with T.A. Woman), and am regularly asking myself “Is it them, or me?!”

Now, funerals are generally a pretty safe bet. You turn up (on time), affect suitable solemnity (modulated to the age of the deceased and circumstances of death), wish the mourners “Long life” (even though you have never really understood what it means), and spend the rest of the time looking for the appropriate moment to piss off.

Safe for other people perhaps. Not for me. Not on recent form, at any rate.

Last week, I attended the funeral of my cousin’s late husband. As co-founder of Israel’s largest law firm, many of Israel’s (supposed) great and good were present.

As I approached the entrance to the grounds, in Herzliya, I recognized Isaac Herzog, a Labor MK (member of Knesset, Israel’s parliament) and a minister in Bibi’s new coalition government. By his side was a woman who I correctly presumed to be his mother, Aura, widow of the late, former President Chaim Herzog, another co-founder of the firm.
With the big boys: Herzog (far left) with Barak, Obama

With the big boys: Isaac Herzog (far left) with Barak, Obama

Now, Chaim and my late father were pals, in the twenties and thirties, in Dublin’s small and extremely tight-knit Jewish community. On one occasion, when he learned that my folks were in Israel, Chaim had his driver bring them over to his residence for dinner. And, in 1996, the two Irishmen, then in their eighties, had an emotional reunion at a book-signing for Chaim’s new autobiography. He passed away a year later.

Even though I was born in London, the Isaacson Dublin connection has always brought me into warm contact with other Irish Jews. It is very much a club.

Quite apart from my father’s distinguished academic achievements at Wesley and Trinity Colleges (he tutored Chaim in maths), my grandfather Joe was shammes (beadle) at Adelaide Road Synagogue and a well-known communal character, while my uncle Percy was considered amongst the finest Jewish sportsmen to come out of the “Emerald Isle”. Moreover, their cousin, solicitor Michael Noyk famously defended many Sinn Féin Nationalists, and was a close friend and legal adviser to Republican leader Michael Collins (whose widow used to visit my grandparents’ home, following his murder in 1922).

So, being the friendly and enthusiastic soul that I sometimes am, I decided to introduce myself to Mrs. Herzog. And, on mentioning “Harold Isaacson”, I received an immediate and warm response until, in mid-sentence, she was dragged away by Isaac – perhaps slighted that I should be more interested in his mother – who proceeded to parade her (though really, and self-importantly, himself) around those he considered more shaveh (worth it).

Isaac Herzog has the bearing of what is known in Yiddish as a shnip (the closest English equivalent is probably my favoured “mook”). He is short and weasel-like in appearance – perhaps, as I discovered last week, in character too (he was also investigated, in 1999, in relation to allegations of party-funding violations, but chose to maintain his silence) – and his nickname, “Buji”, for me says everything.

Perhaps this post smacks of the snubbed. Indeed, the experience was not pleasant. Herzog’s rudeness, however, spoke volumes for the nature of Israel’s new generation of ‘leaders’ – arrogant, unremarkable, self-interested, unconnected to the past, and owing their positions to protexia (patronage/connections). The nature of Israel’s electoral system does not help, either, as MKs have no constituents to answer to.

If we wouldn’t have been at a funeral, and my rather more phlegmatic cousin, Danny, hadn’t been there to stop me, then – never a respecter of title or position – I would have said something to the Shnip.

As it was, I just drove home understanding why so many Israelis despair at what they consider Israel’s biggest problem (even more than the Palestinians and our lovely Arab neighbours): the dearth of principled young politicians, who have got where they have on the back of their own talent, charisma and achievements . . . not of who their father was.

Israel’s Very Own OJs

They were all born in the mid-1940s.
They all came from modest backgrounds.
They all reached the very pinnacle of their chosen careers.
They all seemingly had everything.
Not one of them has even his pride left.

They are all now in their early 60s.
They have all been accused of serious crimes.
They have all protested their innocence.
They have all alleged persecution.
They have all lost the respect of most right-thinking members of society.

One has been brought to justice. Finally.
Most people want the other two brought to account too.

One has now shown some remorse.
Another has been fighting for his state-funded luxury car and office.
And another is doing his utmost to stay in office, and to thwart his successor.

One was a sportsman and an actor. An entertainer.
Another was President. His country’s head of state.
And another is still Prime Minister. His country’s head of government.

I know which two, to my mind, are deserving of most moral opprobrium.

Using Yitzhak: The Rabin Trade

Last week witnessed a host of events and ceremonies, across the country, marking the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

An estimated 100,000 attended the main rally on Saturday evening, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the site of Rabin’s murder (at the hands of Yigal Amir on 4 November 1995). A friend asked me to accompany her. But I refused. I rarely attend such rallies. I tried explaining myself. But, other than telling her what she already knows (that I am contrary), I couldn’t.

The state memorial, on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Monday, however, reminded me exactly why – because they have been hijacked by too many opportunists and self-publicists, who milk the ‘Rabin brand’ for every drop of benefit it can provide their own agendas and careers.

The main culprit this year (you may not be surprised to hear) was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. With his undistinguished tenure drawing to a close, and embroiled in allegations of corruption, he chose the memorial to show himself as a peace-loving visionary, following in the Oslo footsteps of Rabin.

Olmert has had three years to work on realising his claimed vision – of an Israel back at its 1967 borders, with a divided Jerusalem as its capital – but only now, as a ‘lame duck’, is he espousing it, thus burdening his successor in the Kadimah party (and also perhaps as Prime Minister), Tzipi Livni, with an unreasonable weight of expectation. Whether out of spite (Olmert and Livni are not best pals these days), or in an attempt to go down in history as a visionary rather than a criminal, only he knows.

Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, Livni’s closest rival for the top job, used the special Knesset memorial session following the state one to speak out against incitement. Yes, the very same ‘Bibi’ who took part in right-wing demonstrations – in which Rabin was denounced as a traitor, and portrayed in SS uniform (though Netanyahu distanced himself from both) – just a month before the assassination.

But it is not just Israel’s right that uses Yitzhak. Leftists continually prescribe the correct path for the country based on what Rabin would have wanted. No one knows, however, how things might have turned out were he still with us. Rabin himself went through so many transformations that it is not inconceivable that he might have returned, from the Rabin of the Oslo Accords, to his former hawkish self – as Defence Minister, he was quoted as saying “We will break their [the Palestinians’] bones” – had suicide bombers struck with as much murderous ferocity during his lifetime as they did after his death.

There are also a host of musicians who enjoy the publicity that the Rabin Square rally, in particular, earns them (though once can hardly blame them for accepting such an opportunity). Even if not entirely unsavoury, however, there is very little truly ‘Rabinesque’ about these events either, and I, for one, prefer to stay away.

Left-wing commentator and former politician,Yossi Sarid, put it far more eloquently than I ever could, in this weekend’s Ha’aretz: “Poor Yitzhak Rabin, whose memory was desecrated this week: Who hasn’t ripped off one of his limbs, amputated an arm or a leg of his heritage, and scurried off to his lair to gnaw on it? Suddenly, they were all his sons, all of them are the heirs to his way.”