I am a bit behind getting to my blog but I thought I would throw this one together to comment on a few different issues. Maybe I will put together one more just before Rosh Hashanah, which is quickly approaching.
Firstly, what could one of my blogs be without at least some comments on Israeli politics? As you might know, we have yet another election scheduled - for November 1, 2022. Former Prime Minister Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops trying to get himself back into power. I would say it is going to be very close. According to a few different recent Israeli polls, here is an approximate estimate of where things stand in terms of projected seats by party (poll predictions):
Likud: (Party of Former Prime Minister Netanyahu): 31-33 seats
Yesh Atid (Party of current Interim Prime Minister Lapid): 22-24
National Unity (Party led by Benny Gantz): 12-13
Shas (Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi (eastern) Party: 8-10
Labor (Left wing "workers" party, led by Merav Micaeli): 5
United Torah Judaism (Ultra-Orthodox Ashkanazi party): 7
Yisrael Beytenu (Led by Lieberman): 5-6
Religious Zionist Party (Ultra Nationlist - Smotrich/Ben Gvir) 10-13
Meretz (Far left, secularist party): 5
Joint List (Arab parties, largely anti-Zionist): 5-6
Ra'am (Arab party, led by Monsour Abbas): 4
So if we add all that up - by looking at who could go with who, we get something like this:
Netanyahu (Likud), together with the two ultra-Orthodox parties and the RZP is running at 56 to 63. Obviously, if these parties could put together 63 seats, they would form a far-right wing, narrow government though it would probably be relatively stable for the next 2-3 years. This would be a government of vengence in my view, which would immediately try to change the law in several areas, especially in the area of religious-secular issues in Israel, budgeting (especially for Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox groups) and extensive increased settlement building. This type of government would try to "roll back" any changes that had been made over the past two years by the current government and would do everything it could to assist Netanyahu in getting out of his legal problems.
If they fall short of 61, they will try to convince Ganz and his "National Unity" Party to join the government. Given that Gantz's party could have 10-12 seats, it is definitely a possibility that this could happen though it is unclear who would go first as Prime Minister and what Netanyahu would have to promise Gantz to get him to join the government. Nevertheless, I don't rule this out especially since Gantz has shown in the past that he is prepared to make deals with Netanyahu. One would assume that the inclusion of Gantz would moderate the government somewhat but it would still be a very right-leaning government.
On the other side of the ledger, Lapid's "bloc" is running at between 49 and 53, without Ra'am. If we add back in Ra'am - that would get them to between 53 and 57, still not enough to form a government. This group would need to make a deal with one or both of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, which seems quite unlikely. It doesn't look like there are any other potential participants.
Given these numbers, it is possible that there will be another stalemate and that this might finally force Netanyahu to consider resigning from the leadership of the Likud party. But I wouldn't bet on this. Unless something dramatically changes, it looks like Israel is heading for some type of right wing government, either with the participation of Gantz's party or without. Lapid and his potential coalition partners would all need a big change in the polling numbers to be in a position to form a government. As of right now, that seems unlikely.
I will watch the polls and see if anything interesting develops but with less than two months to go - this is where things seem to be headed.
Israeli TV and Sports
As you may know, the fourth season of Fauda is out and has been airing on Israeli TV, one episode at a time. The grand finale will be next Wednesday, September 14, 2022. After that, I understand it will be released worldwide on Netflix. So if you are a Fauda fan, this season will surely keep you riveted to the screen. "Fauda" means chaos in Arabic. This show is definitely chaotic. Violent, pressure-packed, intense and dramatic, it makes for some very compelling TV. I would say that the the fourth season has been one of the best though we are still waiting for the culminating episode.
The big news in Sports here in Israel is that the Maccabi Haifa soccer team made it into the European "Champions League." That is a very big deal for European and Israeli football (soccer) fans. Next week, Paris St Germaine will be playing a home game in Haifa - which means that soccer superstar Lionel Messi, among others, will be arriving in Israel for a game. This is really a huge sports event here and tickets are very hard to come by. I have no plans to go in person but I will probably jump on the bandwagon and watch it on TV. Expectations are not very high for Maccabi Haifa against such strong international competition. But just being there is a big accomplishment for the Haifa squad.
As a Torontonion, on the other hand, I am very excited about the Toronto Blue Jays this year, who have an excellent (though often inconsistent) baseball team. When in Israel, this means watching games from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. (or sometimes longer). About 20 games left to go in the regular season and the Blue Jays are still in a playoff spot, so I may be keeping strange hours in the coming weeks. Also quite excited about the Buffalo Bills, who play their season opener tonight and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who begin the season in about a month. All of this means keeping a semblance of Toronto hours, while here in Israel - not an easy feat.
A quick musical mention - a blast from the past - the "Counting Crows" are playing in Ra'anana at the Ra'anana ampitheatre next week. Not sure I will make it to that but it sounds like it could be fun. I might go see Tamir Grinburg instead, winner of last year's "Rising Star" competition on Israeli reality TV.
On my recent trip back to Israel, on Air Canada, I watched a few Israeli movies on the plane. Nothing too memorable, but it is worth mentioning that if you look for these movies in the entertainment system, they are available.
Worthwhile Sight Seeing Mentions
We took a few trips recently to places that we had been to in the past but seemed worth visiting again.
Last week, we went for a tour of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament building. This is also quite an interesting tour, which takes about 1.5 hours. It is free and can be arranged in English, Hebrew or several other languages. Like the tour of the Supreme Court it includes quite a bit of information on the history of the Knesset, the building itself, the Israeli political system and other interesting tidbits. We had a terrific guide and really enjoyed the tour.
I have included pictures of the Chagall Art that adorns the Main Knesset entrance and reception hall area. We spent a significant of time looking at and discussing these photos.While in the Knesset, we happen to see a number of current Knesset members wandering around. One of them was Ayelet Shaked. Several visitors were stopping her to ask for a picture. We didn't. According to current polls, Shaked and her party are unlikely to make it to the Knesset this time around but she is still actively campaigning.
|Photo #1 (on the Left)|
|Photo #2 (Middle)|
Summer in Israel also features several interesting events and festivals. On the liquid refreshment side of things, there are three that I would like to mention.
Each year, the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem holds an annual Wine festival. It is an outdoor festival at the Israeli Museum grounds, with beautiful views of Jerusalem. It is usually held in July or August, generally after Tisha B'Av. There are about 30-40 wineries in attendance. Guests pay a set admission (120 Shequels this year - or about $40 USD) and receive a wine glass that they can take home at the end of the evening. Guests can then wander around and taste wines from any of the different wineries. No additional charges for the wine, though some of the wineries run out of their better wines early in the evening. There are also food kiosks selling a wide range of items - cheese plates, pizza, baked potatoes, sushi. The festival also includes live music and there was a really fun band playing a wide range of music - from classic 70s rock to 80s and 90s pop music - to current Israeli music. On the day we attended, the band even played a medley of Jewish Hora music. Lots of fun. Our whole family attended and everyone had a really fun time. (As crazy as it sounds, everyone is now old enough to drink alcohol legally....)
Next week, there is a Coffee festival in Tel-Aviv, which promises to showcase more than 50 different coffee vendors. Not sure how much coffee I can drink in one evening - and how long I might have to stay up afterwards until all of that caffeine wears off. But I suppose, getting back to my sports comments, if there is a baseball or football game to be watched after the event, it may not be so bad.
There is also a beer festival coming up with more than 50 breweries. I'm not that much of a beer connaisseur but it might still be a fun event.
Speaking of wine, we managed to visit a few wineries over the past few months.
One was "Harei Galil" - the Galil Mountain Winery. This winery is in northern Israel, very close to the Syrian border. The winery sits atop a mountain and the visitor's centre provides a beautiful view. The visitor centre staff were very friendly. We arranged a tasting of six different wines, accompanied by a plate of cheeses, grapes, apricots, dates, olives, breads and other goodies, all strictly Kosher and all quite tasty. The wine itself was nice though not compelling enough for us to load up with purchases. Galil is one of Israel's largest wineries, producing more than 1.2 million bottles a year. They have some very nice high end wines as well as some drinkable mid-range offerings. It is a beautiful visitor's centre and well worth a stop
Nearby, we also stopped at one of my favourites, the Dalton Winery, which produces some delicious wine. We arrived a bit late so we had a choice of standing at the bar and tasting whatever they poured us for free - or sitting down and ordering a set tasting. Since we were running a bit late, we opted for the bar tasting. The staff were very friendly and helpful and poured us a variety of tastings. Here we couldn't resist buying a few bottles though the prices were not really any better than the prices in Israeli wine shops.
We also visited the Tulip Winery which is another one of our favourites. The Tulip Winery invests in and supports a community of adults with special needs, many of whom also work at the winery. For that reason alone, it is one of my favourites to visit and support. We opted for a 6-7 wine tasting package which also came with a nice selection of fruit, cheeses, breads and other goodies. Like at the other wineries, the staff were very helpful and friendly. We sat outdoors on high bar chairs. It was quite warm but they had fans set up so it was comfortable.
I will also mention that we visited the Ella Valley Winery which is much closer to the Jerusalem area - located in the Judean Hills. The tasting here was somewhat less organized. We were served some olives with our wine. Most of the wines we tasted were not particularly good. Our guide was friendly and fun - but not very experienced or knowledgeable. We weren't able to taste the higher end wines. Not sure we will be running back to this winery for a visit though I have had some Ella wines that I have quite enjoyed over the years.
Maybe I am saving the last for the best. Not far from Ella is the Tzora Winery. Tzora is more of a boutique winery, which primarily produces blended wines. But their wines are all outstanding. The visitors' centre is beautiful. We have been there a few times. On our most recent vist, we were able to taste 5 or 6 wines and were provided with a wonderful cheese, bread and olive oil platter. Everyone we were with enjoyed all of the wines. Of all the Israeli wineries we have visited, from a taste and experience point of view, this is definitely one of the best.
There are somewhere around 300 wineries now in Israel, so this is only a very small sampling. We have probably been to close to 50 of them but still a long way to go. For any guests who are planning to visit - we are happy to try and get to as many of the remaining 250 as possible, although we have visited many of the really good ones so we may have to go back for seconds to some of those places.
Random Closing Thoughts
With the approach of another Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in just a few weeks, I think I would say by way of sizing things up that the "State of the Nation is Strong." Okay, I know I have stolen that phrase, but I think it is true. Israel has all kinds of challenges, including Religious-Secular tensions, serious external threats as well as sporadic terrorist attacks, ever increasing cost of living and a variety of other types of tension. But Israeli recently ranked #9 on a World Happiness Index, which is quite an accomplishment. That put Israel higher than Canada or the United States (#16 and 18 respectively).
Sometimes, it can feel like living in a powder keg, not knowing if hostilities will break out any moment with Gaza, with the Palestinians, with Hezbollah or with some other party. And things will not really be truly peaceful here unless and until we can reach some type of resolution with the Palestinians. But Israel has come quite far since its founding more than 74 years ago and certainly seems like a more stable, prosperous, vibrant - and yes even peaceful place than it was in the first 40-50 years of its existence. Hopefully we will soon find a way to address some of these outstanding issues and ensure long term peace and stability.
If I don't get a chance to write before the holidays, I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year - Shana Tova u'Metukah.