Tag Archives: Israel

Cycling is Tel-O-Fun in Tel Aviv

Welcome to Tel Aviv – the flagship of the Middle East in bicycle friendliness

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 3_v1_2

Tel Aviv’s compact layout, flat geography, mild climate and young population all combine to create a city that was destined to become a cycling hub. Cycling in Tel Aviv is fun, and nowadays it not just fun but also easy thanks to Tel-O-Fun, the city’s public bicycle program. The project was scheduled to be launched in 2008, but was delayed until the Israeli helmet law was amended in 2011. Once the mandatory helmet age was curbed to 18, Tel Aviv immediately launched the long-awaited Tel-O-Fun, and ignited a true cycling revolution. Bicycle rental stations popped up all around the city, and in a fortnight, the bicycle became a real alternative to the car in Tel Aviv.

Read more about Tel Aviv’s successful bike sharing program in my latest article in Bike Citizens Magazine.

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 1_2

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Best of Israel – Part II, off the beaten path

In “Best of Israel – Part I”, I got as far as Caesarea, having reviewed my favourite spots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Part II, I want to take you to the roads less travelled, and into the wild, showcasing parts of Israel that are less frequently exposed.

  1. Mount Carmel
    The Carmel ridge is rising above the coastal plain, starting at Caesaria, and stretching all the way to Haifa, where it dramatically cascades to the sea at the Bahai gardens. It is a green, lush hilly area, carved by deep valleys and full of wildlife. The Carmel is one of the centers of the Druze population in Israel  and a visit to their communities is a culinary delight. An exceptional site is the Mearot stream, a UNESCO-heritage listed property, where prehistoric Homo Sapiens made his first works of art over 250 000 years ago. And maybe ate some Neanderthals, too.
    Panoramic view from the southernmost tip of Carmel ridge
  2. Acco
    A sleepy provincial town, that accidentally is one of the places with the longest running history of human settlement anywhere on Earth. Acco has a small coastal village charm, with its little fishing harbour and seaside restaurants. But beneath (sometimes literally) this humble facade there is a historical record of epic proportions. Acco has Crusader underground tunnels that would impress Indiana Jones, fortifications that defeated Napoleon himself, the residence and burial compound of Bahá’u’lláh, an exiled prophet that founded a whole new religion, a prison where Bahá’u’lláh was held and where both Jewish and Arab rebels against the British rule were executed, a mosque that houses a hair from the Prophet’s beard. Its a wonder Acco doesn’t crumble under the weight of its own heritage.

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco's harbour

    Acco’s harbour

  3. Nimrod Castle
    All the way up North, sitting on top of a mountain, is Nimrod Castle. It commands the valley below, offering stunning views, and is situated in an area of exceptional beauty. The hiking and other outdoors opportunities here are too many to number. Whatever you choose to do, you can conclude with a meal in one of the many countryside restaurants and overnight in a local B&B.

    Flowers - best part of Nimrod's castle

    Flowers – best part of Nimrod’s castle

    Nimrod's caste massive walls

    Nimrod’s caste massive walls

    Nimrod's caste - with secret passages and all the other castle's must have's

    Nimrod’s caste – with secret passages and all the other castle’s must have’s

  4. The Samarian hills
    Most of the time I spent in Israel I lived in Ariel, in Samaria. I still have many friends living in the area, and I of course visit them when I am in the country. The gentle rolling hills, some covered in olive groves, others barren and rocky, with thorny bushes are genuine, true and pure Biblical landscape. I think it is impossible to get a feel of Israel without a first-hand experience of these hills, where so many stories of the Bible are set.

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

  5. Ramon Crater
    I have spent a significant amount of time in the Negev – Israel’s desert. And I’m lovin’ it. For me, the summum of the Negev is the Ramon Crater, a huge hole in the ground which is actually an erosion cirque. Besides the “usual” thousands of years of human history like prehistoric dwellings, ancient water storage systems and Nabatean Incense Route, Ramon Crater is jam-packed with geological sights. Pretty much everything about how the Earth was formed can be seen here, right on the surface. And since its the desert, there are few of those bore-some plants obscuring the view of the beautiful rocks. OK, I’m a geo-nerd, what’d you expect?

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style - ol' school

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style – ol’ school

  6. Timna valley
    Almost all the way down to Eilat, just 25 kilometres from the Red Sea’s coral reefs, lies a magical, mystical valley. Here at Timna lie the copper mines, where the metal for the copper treasures displayed in the Israel Museum (see Part I) was mined. This valley is as barren as it gets, and it is astonishing. Thousands of years of copper mining left here traces of pretty much all ancient religions. And the wind and water have eroded spectacular structures in the sandstone – King Solomon’s Pillars, The Mushroom, The Arches – if that doesn’t make your blood run faster, I don’t know what else will. Nearby kibbutz Elifaz offers lodging in comfortable air conditioned rooms or on a campsite in huge communal tents or in your own tent.

    The Mushroom rock formation in Timna Park (photo by Tiia Monto)

  7. Masada
    OK, this is not exactly off-the-beaten-path, as it is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Israel. But any “best of” list of Israel has to have Masada on it. Here’s why:A mighty king builds a magnificent palace in the desert, to serve as his refuge, a last resort, his ultimate fortress. After his death, the country rises in rebellion against his masters, the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Rebels take the palace and make it their stronghold. The empire strikes back (they really do), sending its best generals and strongest legions to crush the rebellion. The rebels are defeated, their country is in ruins as they retreat to the desert fortress. The empire’s legions lay siege on the fortress but the rebels hold out. Eventually, the sheer numbers of the empire’s soldiers win and the rebels are facing an imminent defeat. On the night before the final battle, which the rebels know they will lose, they choose to die as free men rather than live as slaves. The empire’s soldiers storm the palace, only to find the dead bodies of the rebels, and just 3 survivors who tell the horrible tale of that last night.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWl1HrmWhV0This is not a Hollywood scenario. This is Masada. And this is Israel – stranger, stronger, more fantastic than any fiction can ever be.

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    Masada's Northern Palace

    Masada’s multistore Northern Palace

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Best of Israel – Part I

Whenever I come to Israel, which is about once a year, I tend to go to the same places. Some out of habit, some because of friends and family living there, some because I just like them so much. Over the years, I’ve come to refer to these places as my “stations of the cross”. This is in parallel with the  14 stations of the cross in Jerusalem, the “points of interest” on the route Jesus supposedly walked on the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to the place of his execution.

  1. The Temple Mount
    No visit to Israel is complete without it. I usually get no further than the Western Wall, as a visit to the Temple Mount itself involves an early rise, a long wait and an extensive security check. But it should go without saying that if there’s one place that can not be missed in Israel, it is this one. A tour of the Western Wall Tunnel is highly recommended.

    Everybody visits The Wall

    Best of Israel 11 Best of Israel 10

  2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    I’m not a Christian, but I doubt a visit to the holiest place in Christendom would leave anyone without a lasting impression. The place is a maze of passages, halls and tunnels, dimly lit by candles and filled with smoke, singing and rituals at any time of day. The notorious Immovable Ladder symbolizes the state of confusion religion can lead to. My favourite spot of the Church is the Ethiopian monastery on the roof – just trying to find it is a sport on its own.
    Best of Israel 7 Best of Israel 6

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Ethiopian monastery

    The Ethiopian rooftop monastery

  3. The Old City Walls Promenade
    The medieval walls of the Old City of Jerusalem can be walked almost along their entire length. The total ~4 km hike is actually quite challenging as it involves climbing up and down ladders and squeezing through narrow passages. From the height of the walls, you get a unique perspective into the Old City and its surroundings, and can get an intimate look into how this dense, congested (physically and spiritually) city lives and breathes.
    Best of Israel 9 Best of Israel 4 Best of Israel 3
  4. Israel Museum
    This huge institution in Jerusalem is worth visiting if only to see for yourself the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is full of treasures, depicting the ancient and modern history of Israel and its neighbours, presenting classic and modern art, preserving and presenting Jewish heritage and so on. Besides the Scrolls, my personal favourites are the copper and gold treasures from the Chalcolithic period and the interior of the Paramaribo synagogue.

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

  5. Tel Aviv beach
    In sharp contrast to the devotion and piousness of Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv beach line combines the best of Miami and California, with a Mediterranean flavour to it. It is one of Israel’s biggest treasures and a unique selling point, as depicted in countless commercials. For me, what makes this beach so much fun is the mix of people on it. The elderly locals come up early for their morning coffee, the tourists  bake in the sun during the day, the party people come out at night. Bikini’s and bourkini’s share the waves, the gay beach is next to the religious beach, where men and women come on different days. Best part is of course the drum jam sessions on Dolphinarium Beach, on Friday afternoons.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNk8kgdtRGE
  6. Dr. Saadya
    Every Israeli is sure he/she knows the best falafel place in the country. This one is my pick. More than “just” falafel, its a symbol of Tel Aviv and its turmoil. Its a warm city, that lives on the streets. Dr. Saadya falafel is on King George Street, one of the main drags in town, connecting the upper class Northern neighbourhoods to the Carmel Market. Whenever I am around, I always come in for a falafel, a strong coffee, and some small talk with the owner and the regular customers, as the flow of people is rushing up and down the street.

  7. Caesarea
    The Romans left a wealth of heritage across Israel, and Caesarea is the most prominent example of Roman legacy. Its sunken harbour still holds numerous treasures, as witnessed by recent discoveries of thousands of Fatimid era golden coins and late Roman bronze cargo. Imagine discovering a hoard of gold on your regular snorkelling swim! The fit visitors can hike into town along a challenging track, following the course of the aqueduct all the way from the water source in the hills. The hike is like a tour of history, stretching all the way back to the Neolithic period.

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesaria's harbour is an ancient treasure

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesarea’s harbour is an ancient treasure

    Caesaria overview

    Caesaria overview

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesaria

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesarea

To be continued…

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Tel Aviv city report

A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.

Just to give you an idea of the highlights - this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you're not on the edge of it - no, right in the middle!

Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.

Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.

Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.

If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.

Tel Aviv 3

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How's that for "casual"?

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.

You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.

But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.

Can you save money?
No.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Yes.

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):

  • “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
  • Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.

Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.

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When the New York Times tries to be positive about Israel

A blog post by Jesus (aka Tony Wolkovitzky) pointed my attention towards an article in the New York Times dedicated to the urban culture of the Israeli city of Haifa. The article is titled “In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms”, and boy, its a hilarious one. In Haifa, the NYT preaches, “30,000 Arab residents, around 10 percent of the population, include equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, and they are generally wealthier and better educated than Arabs elsewhere in Israel”.

DSC_3242

Haifa is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean sea

According to the NYT gospel, “This makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians who want not only to escape the constraints of conservative Arab communities but also to be among their own people.” Surprisingly, the place where they can “be among their own people” turns out to be… drums… Jewish neighbourhoods!

“”If you live in a Jewish neighborhood, you are a stranger, and that gives you freedom as an Arab woman,” said Fidaa Hammoud, 32. […] She and her partner live together in a Jewish neighborhood where they run a Palestinian cafe called Rai. “I couldn’t do this anywhere else,” she said.”  The emphasis is mine, as you probably guessed. From the murky description of their relationship I guess Ms. Hammoud is either unmarried or gay, and living in an Arab neighbourhood would be a nightmare for her, even in Haifa.

Essentially, what “makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians” is living alongside a significantly larger Jewish community. It is the Jewish community where they can escape to and where they enjoy the liberties and tolerance. Sadly, both the “liberal Palestinians” and the NYT fail to thank Haifa’s Jewish community even in a footnote.

But hey, what can one expect from a newspaper that produces a headline like “Israeli Woman Stabbed Amid West Bank Exchanges of Violence”, leaving it to the readers to guess, even after reading the article, that the pregnant woman was not “exchanging violence” with anyone but was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist because she was Jewish.

Back to the Haifa article, the funniest part was the subsequent criticism of the article from Ayed Fadel, the owner of Kabareet nightspot, who is quoted by the NYT as  saying “We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them, this is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for”. Mr. Fadel’s complete rant is available here, but basically he is pissed about having “been totally used as a “pink washer” with the quote above!!”

The thing is, Kabareet was among the bars and cafes that held screenings for Kooz Queer, the first Palestinian gay film festival. The only place in the Middle East such a festival is even imaginable in is Israel. Yet somehow, for Mr. Fadel, Israel still gets to be the bad guy for allowing the festival to take place. And the NYT pissed him off by not mentioning the “pinkwashing” angle of Kooz.

Let me get this straight (pun intended). A Palestinian LGBT-themed film festival is held in Haifa, Israel. One of its most important topics is the Israeli “Pinkwashing” – the supposed exploitation of the idea of Israel being LGBT-friendly to promote public perception of Israel as a cute and cuddly country. But doesn’t the festival prove exactly the opposite?

First, it shows that Israel is a gay-friendly place – just think how the public and the state would react to a similar event in any of Israel’s neighbouring countries.

Second, it demonstrates quite clearly that Israel is not trying to “pinkwash” itself. Its not like the festival was promoted by Israel as a proof of Israel’s cuddliness. Mr. Fadel probably sees this lack of attention as “being silenced by the Zionist oppressor”, but he’s not going to be satisfied either way, I guess.

Third and finally, by allowing a festival with “pinkwashing” smear theme to take place in a major Israeli city like Haifa, without as much as a grumpy face from a single Israeli official, shows that Israel respects the freedom of expression and opinion, no matter how obnoxious and detached from reality this opinion may be.

I’m not the first nor the only person to note that in the Middle East, this sort of liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene could take place only in Israel, under Israeli laws and protection. The NYT was apparently sufficiently concerned by the criticism to publish not one, but two responses by Margaret Sullivan, the NYT public editor, who “handles questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity”.

According to Ms. Sullivan, Diaa Hadid, who wrote the original story, disagrees with the claim that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where openly gay persons have freedom and safety. Ms. Hadid points out that “Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene”. Perhaps to prove her point, Ms. Hadid can, once she gets the chance, report from a gay film festival in Beirut? In fact, I’d be pleasantly surprised if Ms. Hadid has something positive to report on gay issues from any Arab capital. In the meantime, I wish her all the best exploring the diverse subcultures that peacefully coexist in Israel.

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The repulsive face of modern European antisemitism

DSC_3808

Ever seen them BDS’ing a Chinese supermarket? Me neither.

Last weekend, when visiting the local supermarket, I had an unpleasant encounter with the repulsive face of modern European antisemitism. As I was doing my regular groceries, I noticed several people in identical white jackets rummaging through the shelves. I guessed it was some kind of internal quality control and haven’t given it much thought. But as I left the store, I realized it was an external control – these people were searching the shelves for Israeli products. And they were calling on the shoppers to boycott these products. I don’t need to tell you how disgusting the similarity is between these people and other times in the European history of the 20th century.

Spot the differences…

These people of course have the right to demonstrate. I have no problem with them criticizing Israel. They are entitled to their opinion. But don’t let them tell you they are against “occupation”, don’t let them tell you they are “anti-zionist”, not antisemitic, don’t let them tell you they are concerned about the suffering of “Palestinians”. Because it is all bullshit.

They say they are against occupation – that’s bullshit.
The only occupation they are concerned with is the Israeli “occupation”. Never mind the Oslo agreements, never mind Israeli disengagement from Gaza – let us even assume Israel is in full control there. What about the other occupations? The nearby market is full of Moroccan goods – I don’t see them searching there for products from the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. When have they checked the Turkish stores for products from Northern Cyprus – occupied by Turkey? Have they ever inspected the Chinese supermarkets for products of Chinese-occupied Tibet or the Russian stores for products made in Russian-occupied Crimea? Never. Only the “occupation” by the Jewish state gets their attention.

They say they support oppressed people in the Middle East – that’s bullshit.
I haven’t heard them protest the oppression of the Kurds of Iraq or Turkey. They were silent when Yezidi’s were being massacred by the Islamic State. The suffering of Shiites in Pakistan, the Christians in Syria and Egypt, the miserable life of gays everywhere in the Middle East (outside of Israel, where gay pride parades are a regular event) are never their concern. Ruthless bombardments of civilians in Yemen by Saudi warplanes haven’t led to a single sound of protest. All their attention is gobbled up by Israel – in their mind, only the Jewish state can be an oppressor.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that's OK.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that’s OK.

They say they are concerned about the rights of the “Palestinians” – that’s bullshit.
And if you wonder why I put “Palestinians” between brackets – look up who is Zuheir Mohsen.
I have never seen them demonstrating for the rights of “Palestinians” in Lebanon, where they are officially excluded from dozens of professions – “Palestinians” can’t be a doctor or a lawyer in Lebanon. Never have these people said a word about “Palestinians” in Syria, where a fourth stateless generation is born, inheriting a refugee status, for decades crammed by the regime into miserable camps on the fringes of society. I haven’t heard them protesting the abuse of the rights of the residents of Gaza by the brutal regime of Hamas or raise their voice against the corruption of the thugs governing the “Palestinian Autonomy”. Only when Jews are perceived to abuse the rights of “Palestinians” are these people heard.

They say they are not antisemitic, “just” anti-Zionist. That’s bullshit.
Last time I checked, Zionism was the aspiration of the Jewish people for self-determination. They are not aganst the right of Swedes, Iraqis, Albanians or even “Palestinians” for self-determination. It is only the Jewish people that are denied that right – and denying Jews a right that other people have is the definition of antisemitism.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don't think so.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don’t think so.

So what is their motive?
Why do these people demonize and abuse the Jewish state? Why single out Israel for a “special treatment”? Even if Israel does violate human rights, even if Israel is an occupying power, why don’t these people protest other occupying forces, why not demonstrate against any other, much graver violators of human rights? Well, because boycotting Jewish goods is safe and fun. It is a cheap thrill, it gives them the feeling they are doing the “right thing” with little chances of getting hurt in the process. I totally understand them. Getting away unharmed from an inspection of Moroccan goods at the market will be tricky. Try rummaging through the shelves of a Russian store and you might end up with a broken nose. Attempt a boycott of a Chinese supermarket and you’ll end up facing an angry mob. Calling for a boycott of Israel, on the other hand, is free of dangers, and it gives the guilty pleasure of doing something you know is wrong. Its like picking your nose – you know you are not supposed to do it, and its not polite, but when you can get away with it – you do it.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they're caught nose-picking - deep down they know its wrong.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they’re caught nose-picking – deep down they know its wrong.

Its the same reason “anarchist” or “left-wing” so-called activists travel to Israel – to have a taste of the action. Why not? You can shout at soldiers in the morning, have a swim in the Med in the day and end up discussing how great you are over a beer in a local pub in the evening. Best thing is – there are little risks involved. Worse thing that can happen to you is a bit of tear gas, or you’ll get delayed at the airport for a few hours. But oh the stories you’ll tell. Compare it to the risk of rotting away in a Chinese prison for supporting the Tibetans or disappearing all together in a shallow grave in the desert for standing by the Sahrawi’s in Morocco, and the choice for Israel-bashing is an easy one. The modern Jew-haters, just like the old ones, are cowards, liars and racists. They just don’t always shave their heads.

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Israeli politics for dummies (2015 edition) – the morning after

Just a week ago, I’ve published a summary of the Israeli political system titled “Israeli politics for dummies (2015 edition)”. And its so good to be able to say “told you so”. The opinion polling in the run-up to the elections has failed spectacularly, again. This failure includes the exit polls, who predicted a draw between Likud and Zionist Union, with 27 seats for each – the outcome was… slightly different.

Benjamin Netaniyahu might keep his job after all.

The exit polls

Party name – results {exit polls} (last preliminary polls) [current number of seats]

Likud – 30 {27} (21) [31 – together with Yisrael Beiteinu]
Benjamin Netaniyahu, like a phoenix, has risen again from the ashes, and stands a real chance of retaining his seat as a PM. The clear winner of these elections, Likud has beaten the polls for who knows which time. In football they say “you play for 90 minutes and the Germans win”. In Israeli politics, apparently, you wait for the final results and Likud wins.

Zionist Union – 24 {27} (24) [21 – with Hatnua]
Isaac Herzog, the darling of the left, son of a President, the leader of the Zionist Union wakes up to a massive hangover. His campaign to oust Benjamin Netaniyahu seems to have been fruitless, despite support from pretty much everyone, including Barack Obama. Obama increasingly turns into King Midas, with the slight difference that everything he touches turns not into gold, but into shit. Still can’t eat it, and it smells. Perhaps Obama should stop supporting people.

The Joint Arab List – 13 {13} (13) [11-divided among 3 parties]
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, will not be heading the opposition as a unity government of Likud and Zionist Union seems unlikely, which means the Zionist Union will lead the opposition. The Arabs of Israel have shown their true colours by refusing to pretend to support the Zionist left, making the Joint Arab List the third largest party in the Knesset. Whether their elected leaders will actually start taking responsibility, instead of shouting from the sidelines, remains to be seen.

Yesh Atid – 11 {12} (12) [19]
Yair Lapid is the shlemiel of these elections. Crash and burn – no other words. Having pulled the plug out of the cabinet Yesh Atid (“There is a future”), can now change its name into “No Future”.

Jewish Home – 8 {8} (11) [12]
Naftali Bennett was the first person who Benjamin Netaniyahu has called after the exit polls. The Jewish Home has paid the price for keeping Likud in power, but Netaniyahu will reward its political frenemies.

Kulanu – 10 {10} (9) [0]
Moshe Kahlon considers himself a longstanding member of both Israel’s “national camp” and its “social camp”, so he can be appropriately described as a national-socialist. Not the best of associations, but he’s got only himself to blame here. His populist agenda has put him in the head of a major political party. Based on the exit polls, Kulanu was in the position to make or break governments. The final results though give Bibi a wide array of options to choose from, and Kulanu will have to work hard to prove its a reliable partner.

Shas – 7 {7} (7) [11]
Aryeh Deri is the other phoenix of Israeli politics. Convicted for corruption, he served major jail time, returned to head Shas, and has split with former “crown prince” Eli Yishai. The split has left Shas critically injured but alive. Yishai seems to have bet “all in” and lost (see below).

United Torah Judaism – 6 {6} (6) [7]
Yaakov Litzman‘s ultraorthodox party was left out of the previous government. This time, things might be different. But there are long-terms concerns. The huge increase in potential voters due to explosive birth rates in the ultraorthodox community has not increased the party’s political power. Is the youth secretly voting against the advice of the Rabbi’s?

Yisrael Beiteinu – 6 {5} (5) [together with Likud]
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister and the left’s favourite boogie man, has all the reasons to be pleased. And he will probably be rewarded for his support of Bibi by being offered any post he wishes (Minister of Defence, that is).

Meretz – 5 {5} (5) [6]
Zahava Gal-On is the first casualty of the results. Barely passing the electoral threshold, she admitted failure and resigned. With the Arab support waning, the party is increasingly out of touch with reality. Its most vocal supporter, the antisemitic Jew, Haaretz writer Gideon Levi has already said that “if this is what the nation wants, we need a new nation”. With this kind of attitude Meretz will not be in the next Knesset.

Yachad – 0 {0} (4) [0]
The Israeli extreme right has learned nothing from the mistakes of the past. In 1992, Tehiya has just missed on seats in the 13th Knesset, leading to the loss of the right-block’s majority and indirectly causing the disaster of the Oslo Agreements. Exactly as I thought last week, the extreme right, this time as “Yachad”, just failed to pass the electoral threshold. Again. The right-block is still victorious, but not thanks to Yachad.

The final results

When all the votes will be counted, the picture might still look different. The Bader-Offer method and the surplus-votes agreements can add or subtract a seat or two, just tipping off the balance of power. But the changes will be minor, if any. What’s next?

The coalitions

Since no party has the majority, a coalition government has to be formed. And its not as simple as the largest party providing the PM. After consulting the fraction leaders, the President assigns the task of forming a government on one of the MP’s. That person has to try and put together a coalition, that is to say, find at least 61 MP’s to have a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Here are some possible arrangements:

National Unity Government – Likud-Zionist Union-Yesh Atid/Kulanu/both – 65/64/75 seats
The exit polls indicated this a likely scenario, albeit one that would require the partners to swallow a huge amount of pride and forget an even bigger amount of pre-election insults. The final result, though, is Likud’s resounding victory, and a right-wing coalition is much more likely.

Same-same but (a bit) different – Likud-Yesh Atid-Kulanu-Jewish Home-Yisrael Beiteinu – 65 seats
Presuming that the 10 seats of Kulanu are gained from the losses of Likud and Yesh Atid, the partners in the previous coalition have now together approximately the same amount of seats they had before the elections. Find the coalition agreement from the previous elections, re-print it and put the same people back on the same posts. Probably the cheapest option and apparently what the voters want. With 5 members, perhaps a bit too wobbly to be a first choice. And Yesh Atid is not exactly Bibi’s favourite after they brought down his last cabinet from the inside.

Anyone but Bibi – Zionist Union-Yesh Atid-Kulanu-Jewish Home-Israel Beiteinu – 59 seats
Based on the exit polls, there was a possibility that in an attempt to be true to its name, the Zionist Union could try and forge a union of Zionists with centrist, right secular and mildly religious parties. This betrayal of its traditional ally Meretz would not go down well with the party’s left wing, but again – its politics, so a scenario that includes a betrayal was actually more, not less, likely. The final results mean that the Zionist Union will not be forming the coalition, as there is almost no possible way in which it could get a majority.

Left-winged with a vengeance – Zionist Union-Joint Arab List-Yesh Atid-Kulanu-Meretz – 63 seats
Theoretically, a left-leaning coalition is possible. In reality, the Joint Arab List will not sit in a Zionist government, and even if it would, Kulanu would probably refuse to join to such a coalition.

All-right – Likud-Kulanu-Jewish Home-Shas-United Torah-Yisrael Beiteinu – 67 seats
This is the coalition that is most likely at the moment, as the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid are too shell-shocked to be even considered and have said too many times they won’t sit in Bibi’s government. But the right-religious-nationalist camp is splintered and shattered. And there’s no love lost between its members. Besides, a coalition of 6 parties that can be toppled by any of its members – such a house of cards is too difficult even for Bibi to build and hold together. And satisfying the substantial financial demands of the ultraorthodox parties and the national-socialist populist agenda of Kulanu (pun intended) might break the back of Israel’s economy.

So Israeli legislative elections 2015 – drama? Yes. Surprises? Plenty. Newcomers? In abundance. Real change? No. The winners are the same (Likud), the losers too (Labour and extreme right). When are the next elections?

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