I write from Tel Aviv, Israel, the secular and business heart of the country, as opposed to Jerusalem, the political and religious capital of Israel.
I am warry of writing, lest I am accused of treason, embarking on an act of agitation, or aiding and abetting the enemies of Israel.
That said, I am reminded of the words of Irish statesman, Edmund Burke – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I’ll leave it to others to decide if I am a good man or not. And while there is not evil per se in Israel, there is much that is not “kosher” and the world, public opinion should know about.
I came to Israel in late 1968 at the age of 19. I am proud to be an Israeli but I don’t adhere to the notion of “my country right or wrong”.
My aim in writing is not to provide substance to Israel’s enemies or the BDS movement, which in my opinion will never really succeed in their endeavors, thank goodness – more on the BDS later.
Had I wanted to undermine Israel, I could simply contact Richard Silverstein’s blog, Tikun Olam. I won't go into what I think of Silverstein, that could be libelous, suffice to say, he does not always tell the whole story, articles are often spun to support his anti-Israel often anti-semitic stance. And there are blatant untruths. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikun_Olam_(blog).
The publishing of sensitive, secret material, the publication of which is banned in Israel, certainly does aid Israel’s enemies. And, the person or person supplying Silverstein with the material is a lawbreaker, however, noble the feel the act of betrayal is. I assume that UK media still adhere to a government D-notice not to publish/broadcast sensitive material that could undermine UK security. Silverstein appears to think it’s OK to undermine Israel's security.
OK, so let's get to the “meat and potatoes”.
Israel is unquestionable a wonderfully unique country. (OK, so I am biased.) Where else can you (snow) ski (in winter) on the Hermon and just a few hours away (water) ski in the Red Sea (Eliat)?
And of course, Israel is home to and supports the three monotheistic religions. Israel is steeped in history, both more recent as well as stretching back many thousands of years. For those who believe in the bible, whether old or new testament, it’s a country filled, at almost every turn, with the past. (I am beginning to feel that religion is “fake news” and that the bible, both old and new, is something akin to (fairy) tales. Karl Marx used the phrase that “religion is the opium of the people”. That said, I stand in awe of those, regardless of religion, whose faith and belief are steadfast. )
Look at what Israel has achieved in the past 72 years since its establishment in 1948. From a population of about 872,000 inhabitants, 716,000 Jews, 156,000 non-Jews to today when the country boasts, as of April 2020, a population of 9,190,000, comprising, 6,806,000 Jews, and 2,384,000 non-Jews. (The latter figures relate to citizens of Israel.)
No review of Israel is complete without a glimpse at the technology sector. In 2019, Israel was ranked the world's fifth most innovative country by the Bloomberg Innovation Index. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_in_Israel
Some 30 years ago, while working for a now-defunct Tel Aviv-based English-language financial newsletter, I was privileged to attend a reception for 50 or so overseas business and technology executives who were on a fact-finding tour of Israel. The guest of honor and the keynote speaker was the late Shimon Peres.
Borrowing a line from Martin Luther King, Peres laid out his dream for the Region. In his achievable dream which, required a leap of faith and goodwill from all, the Region could and should rival the European block, and the US. (China at this time was not the powerhouse it now is, although Peres spoke of the rise of the Chinese dragon.)
Shimon Peres saw an economic union stretching from North Africa; Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, south to Sudan, north to Turkey, and Greece. Israel along with its neighbors, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. He included the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and spoke of Iran as a crucial member of the group, which no one country dominated.
His vision harnessed the financial power of the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, the work forces of the union member countries, and the engineering and developing technologies of the region. Peres foresaw a “Dead-Med” canal, a canal linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea. And the Red-Med canal, a canal linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Neither came to fruition.
He spoke of rail links stretching from Saudi Arabia through Jordan to the ports of Ashdod and Haifa, thereby allowing both countries fast access to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. And rail links from Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.
All this was possible he felt with partners who were able to crystal-gaze and see a different future. Alas, his vision is still only a dream. How different the region could and should have been. If only!
It is an open secret that there on-going interactions between Israel and the various Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and several other Muslim countries. Much of this is out of sight “under-the_table” although there is a growing list of actions in the open, for example, the July 2019 visit of former Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz to Abu Dhabi - https://www.timesofisrael.com/foreign-minister-visits-abu-dhabi-discusses-iran-with-uae-official/. Or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s October 2018 visit to Oman - https://www.foxnews.com/world/israels-netanyahu-pays-surprise-visit-to-oman.
Netanyahu's visit to Oman had other repercussions as this link relates - https://www.timesofisrael.com/breaking-protocol-sara-netanyahu-insisted-on-traveling-to-oman-with-pm-report/. More on Sara Netanyahu, the power behind the throne, later.
As I mentioned above, in the early 1990s I worked for a Tel Aviv-based English-language financial newsletter. Two stories that we came across but were unable to publish due to censorship. The stories highlight that dispute all the rhetoric and posing, Israel is held in esteem by its neighbors.
In the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia reportedly ungraded several flights fighter aircraft. The story goes that the Saudi Ministry of Defense at the time while happy with the aircraft performance, insisted that the Pentagon include with the aircraft Israeli tried and tested avionics. When challenged as to why, the Saudi official, its claimed, responded that Israel is the only country that is constantly at war, its pilots are recognized as the best. Therefore it stands to reason that the Saudi government wants the best avionics available. I have no idea what the outcome was.
Around the same time, it was reported that the Syrian government had purchased from a European company, I believe based in Switzerland or France, a drip irrigation system. The system, developed in Israel by a kibbutz was, in addition to being used in Israel, was being widely used in the southern United States, where water was not in abundance. The Syrian government was while aware that the irrigation system was Israeli development and made.
There are many reasons why the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, and various other countries are both “under-the-table” and sometimes in public, are softening their stance. While commentators have produced reams of newsprint and hours of dissection on the reasons why this shift, the basics appear to be simple: 1. The realization that Israel is not going anywhere. 2. That Israel is not solely to blame for the stalemate in the region. While Israel could and should have done more, the Palestine leadership is viewed as out of touch with real-world reality. 3. That terrorist organizations, for example, Al-Qaida, Islamic State, the Taliban, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas, and many others are not solely targeting US, European or Israeli targets. Therefore mutual security is paramount. 4. And of course, there is Iran. Everyone’s bogeyman.
A word about the BDS.
While the BDS and people like Roger Waters have had some success in persuading artists, academics, and various others not support Israel or visit the country, in my view, ultimately the BDS movement will (thank goodness) fail to meet its overall goals. Perhaps I should not say this, maybe it's helping the BDS movement, but the movement does not understand the structure of Israeli society, it's trying, it would seem, to use the playbook from the South African boycott days, depriving the minority white population artist, cultural events.
The Jewish population of Israel, - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel - comprises approximately 72.25% of the total citizenship of the country. The balance is made up of Muslims and Christians, and others, a small percentage of which claim no religion. Although this latter group does include some Russian families, who may participate in cultural events, the majority of this minority group has little interest in visiting artists.
Of the Jewish population, in broad terms, 43% identify as secular, 22% as traditional, 13% as traditional-religious, 11% as religious, and 10% as ultra-Orthodox. Why are these figures important?
The ultra-orthodox do not attend culture events outside of their community, where there is a separation between the male and female audience. Nor will ultra-orthodox men attend an event where there is a female singer/dancer.
What is referred to above as “religious” can be terminated “national religious” which as a block has become more right-wing in recent years, more nationalistic. Many of this community will not attend mixed cultural events.
As can be seen, the bottom line is that Waters & Co. strive to deprive under 50% of the Jewish population of Israel visits by artists. And while that may be significant nevertheless, in today’s world (pre-corona) its at best meaningless. Foreign artists can be viewed via internet streaming and various other methods. Israelis, who in general love to travel, can (again pre-corona) can buy a wide range of flights, hotels, and concert ticket packages to European destinations. The same for many sporting events; for soccer aficionados, what can compare to being in the Camp Nou, at Wembley, Old Trafford, and countless other amazing stadiums.
The small minority of artists who choose not to come to Israel lose out, and I don’t mean financially. They miss the opportunity of seeing the real Israel – warts and all – visiting the Israel Arab and Palestine areas and making up their minds.
True, there are some successes within the academic world where left-leaning educators have adhered to the BDS line. Again, they are the losers. Rather than putting feet on the ground, they choose to believe what they are told. Israel is far from perfect, is there one country in the world that is? But see the country, taste the country, feel the country before arriving at an arbitrary decision.
And of course, business for the most part wants no part of the BDS. The bottom line is what counts. Mercenary, maybe, but the fact remains that much of the world runs on Israeli technology, innovations; just think Waze and Mobileye. So while the Iranian Supreme Leader demands the banning of all Israeli technology, many across the globe appreciate innovation appetite that Israel has, and yes much of that innovation does come down from the military.
Lastly, Israel (pre-corona) is alive, overflowing with home-grown culture; theater, movies, dance, concerts, and sporting events.
It strikes me that if the BDS movement generally cares for the plight of the Palestine people they would invest time and effort in finding common areas to bring the parties together. (In truth there is much cooperation between (West Bank) Palestine and Israel, not only in the area of security. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821541213/still-locked-in-conflict-israelis-and-palestinians-need-each-other-to-fight-covi)
Is there fault on both sides, of course. Are both sides equally to blame, that depends on your point of view. Often Israel is the aggressor, but who would not defend their home when being attacked from Gaza by Hamas. Both Arafat and Abbas have been made offers, both for various reasons choose to reject the offers. Maybe they still have the picture of Anwar Sadat in their minds, a brave man who paid for his vision with his life. Maybe the Palestinians will have to wait for new, younger, visionary leaders. The current, longstanding impasse can’t continue. (And the Trump, deal-of-the century plan, is not the answer.) “The majority of Israel's Jews oppose West Bank annexation, survey says” - https://www.ynetnews.com/article/HyV1LHeqI. Just as the moving of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv achieved nothing other than to further alienate Israel’s relations, both above and below the table, with various countries.
Trump of course has his agenda which Prime Minster Natanhyua is, for now, it seems, more than happy to support. But as the saying goes, watch this space.
The power behind the throne.
If the adage is to be believed, "Behind every successful man, stands a powerful woman", then Sara Netanhyua personifies that belief tenfold. She is described by many as a cross between Eva Peron (Evita), Maria Antoine, and Elena Ceausescu.
Sara Netanhyua is perceived in the Israeli media as a devious, scheming woman. She has been branded a bully, a tyrant, a holder of grudges against those she feels have treated her contemptuously or undercut her, and her family. The stories about her are legendary here in Israel.
Take for example her reported temper tantrum surrounding the prime minister trip to Oman: “Breaking protocol, Sara Netanyahu insisted on traveling to Oman with PM – report”. https://www.timesofisrael.com/breaking-protocol-sara-netanyahu-insisted-on-traveling-to-oman-with-pm-report/
When reading the article note the following two paragraphs “Sara pushed and pushed and Bibi just couldn’t handle it,” one official involved in the situation told Channel 13, using the prime minister’s nickname.
And, “The day before the trip, an “embarrassed” Mossad official was sent to explain to the Omanis that Sara would be accompanying her husband as she has a “special temperament” and the prime minister was in a “sensitive position,” the report said.
It has long been rumored in Israel that, at Sara Netanyahu's insistence, that a special agreement be drawn up between the prime minister and his third wife. While I have never seen a copy of the said agreement, various extracts have been read to me, in Hebrew, over the years.
See “Netanyahu’s women and the making of Psychobibi” - https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-women/
Is the said agreement in place due to the prime minister supposedly roving hands and roving eyes? Given the antics of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in this filed does it even matter today? I recall reading that David Lloyd George and Ramsey McDonald were also known for the “affairs”.
Part of the agreement covers the matter of overseas trips by the prime minister and the insistence that Sara Netanyahu will always accompany him, at of course the Israeli taxpayers' expense.
And it's well known that both here and overseas, Sara Netanyahu sits in on meetings – “Honduras to open Jerusalem trade office; Sara Netanyahu takes credit” - https://www.timesofisrael.com/honduras-to-open-jerusalem-trade-office-sara-netanyahu-takes-credit/
“Sara Netanyahu is a diplomatic asset, PM gushes” - https://www.timesofisrael.com/sara-netanyahu-is-a-diplomatic-asset-for-israel-pm-gushes/
The headline of this story is not important, just took a lot at the photo: “Settler leader on trip to DC ‘losing sleep’ over ‘horrible’ Trump deal” - https://www.timesofisrael.com/settler-leaders-on-trip-to-dc-losing-sleep-over-horrible-trump-deal/
These media stories and many others make it clear that Sara Netanyahu plays an active role in Israeli politics. Some even go as far as suggesting that she approves cabinet portfolios. Given her reported dislike, some say hatred, of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, the stories may be true.
So here we have this unelected woman, who by all accounts dominates the prime mister and is privy to an abundance of state secrets, and one would assume, does not have security clearance. It’s often wondered if she also tells the ministry of defense/army how and when to act?
The above however pales into insignificancy when placed alongside her many court battles and various scandals, which must surely humiliate the prime minister. It sure as hell embarrasses us, the citizens of Israel. There are just so many examples that it would prove pointless to list them all, instead, I have included half-a-dozen media links.
Make up your own minds regarding this, to many, obnoxious woman.
And what of Benjamin Netanyahu?
President Ronald Reagan was budded the “great communicator”. While Benjamin Netanyahu has both in Hebrew and English exceptional communicator skills, it's not for nothing that he has been budded the “great manipulator”.