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The Jewish Report Editorial

No debating Israel’s vibrancy

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Hearing Israelis discussing applying for foreign passports as a security blanket in case they want to leave the Jewish state was a shock for me while visiting Israel in December.

I have to say upfront, this sentiment wasn’t widespread, and it was definitely among the more left leaning folk who feel threatened in a now predominantly right-wing-led country. And perhaps it was the shock of finding themselves with the most far-right-wing government in the history of Israel. Perhaps time will soften the blow, and the new national leadership will prove to be good for the country. Suffice to say, coming from a diaspora country, this talk of passports is a familiar refrain, but it’s not something I imagined I would hear in Israel.

Having said that, being in Israel was phenomenal. The country is buzzing with development and vibrancy. The economy is soaring, which didn’t help with the rand-shekel exchange rate and what us South Africans can buy with our money.

Come Chanukah, everyone is celebrating, whether they are observant, religious, or totally secular. There’s such a joy in Judaism being the fabric of the society, no matter your political affiliations or religious choices. Seeing people lighting giant chanukkiot in the streets, in homes and offices was awesome, as was the massive variety of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) that were sold everywhere. I was astonished at how the latter disappeared as soon as Chanukah ended. In fact, an hour after Chanukah was over, you couldn’t find a doughnut anywhere.

Life, as Israelis know it, goes on almost as usual, in spite of many being concerned or excited about this new and very different government. Israelis talk about politics a lot. Perhaps they know I’m a willing ear as politics fascinates me, but I don’t think so. I think it is just the Israeli way.

And everyone has a different view about the impact this new government will have. Some are extraordinarily concerned. They believe it will destroy Israel’s democracy and harm the education of their children. Others are celebrating, believing that this leadership will keep all enemies at bay. This dichotomy, I guess, is what democracy is all about.

I have no doubt that Israelis won’t sit back and allow any leadership to ride roughshod over their rights and democracy.

However, the issue of the government having control over the judiciary is something I find extremely disconcerting. For any democracy, an independent judiciary is sacrosanct. The bottom line is, if the government or members of the government do wrong, who will ensure that justice is done if not the judiciary?

Now if the judiciary cannot – unless it is a unanimous decision between all judges – do this, then there’s no way to keep a government in check.

Let’s consider that this was the case in South Africa. While it’s tough enough to get local politicians to the law courts, it would then be made impossible, and they would be allowed to run riot. Who is to say this won’t happen in Israel? It also allows the government to change laws at will without recourse. No government, no matter how much integrity and moral backbone it has, should have that power. Not here, and not in Israel.

I have to say, though, that no matter what you or I may think of Benjamin Netanyahu, he’s a mastermind in having managed to keep creating a situation in which he’s the only one to lead the country.

He has already served for 15 years, and just started a new run in December. He was the first Israeli prime minister to be born in Israel after its independence, and somehow he remains on a winning streak. It’s true that under his leadership, the Israeli economy has thrived. The high-tech industry is booming, and Israel’s innovation is astounding.

I had the privilege of spending an evening listening to pitches from seven high-tech start-ups who were competing for financial assistance. Their products were either already in production or were in the final testing stages. One entrepreneur was a wine farmer who was battling to find enough labourers to work on his farm. So, with help, he created a type of robot that carefully but quickly travels along the grape-growing lanes picking and sorting grapes. Can you imagine the implications of just this invention?

Then there was an underwater drone; an invention that softens metal to make it more malleable; and others.

To be honest, while I was blown away by these inventions, this wasn’t unusual fare for the angel investors who were there. That’s Israel under Bibi.

Unemployment is a mere 5%, something you don’t find in many countries.

Though Israel is booming, Israelis work hard and long hours and sometimes hold down more than one job. It’s rare to find a couple in which one party doesn’t work and can have the luxury of being a “home executive”.

Under this new government, the issue of peace and peace talks isn’t even on the table. In fact, it’s not anywhere near the dining room. It’s nowhere. And in terms of external threats, the government is most concerned about Iran.

I do understand that to move forward to a government that will speak about peace, you need someone on the other side who can be trusted, wants peace, and is willing to negotiate in good faith. Where’s that person? Right now, it’s impossible to negotiate with people whose sole desire is to remove you from the Middle East.

While I understand that, I believe all Israelis wish for peace and a time when their children no longer have to put their lives on the line to defend their country.

And for us down here on the southern tip of Africa, I wish peace was on the table because it might make the anti-Israel battle easier for our community to deal with.

Having said all that, life is still good in Israel, and those bars and restaurants in downtown Tel Aviv are still abuzz at 03:00 because Israelis – from the left and right, observant and secular – know how to make the most out of life.

Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost


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