After a lengthy broadcast of all of the preparations for the big event, various medical personnel and security personnel were shown preparing the area for the big event. The podium was polished and the microphone was carefully cleaned. At 8 p.m. exactly, the Prime Minister showed up, gave a short speech (as did Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein) and then Netanyahu sat down for his vaccination. Interestingly, his personal doctor administered the vaccine rather than the nurse who mixed it (which is apparently a breach of the hospital's rules). In fact, three different medical personnel were seen on live tv handling the vaccine - two of whom weren't wearing gloves - before passing it to the gloveless doctor - seen in the photo. Not sure if they will also broadcast Netanyahu's return to the hospital in 21 days for his second dose but perhaps they will pay a bit more attention to hospital protocol for the second dose.
Admittedly, this is all a digression. The good news, as reported by the Israeli government and in various news outlets, is that Israel has begun vaccinating its citizens actively as of yesterday. Medical stations, equipped with appropriate freezers, have been set up across the country and estimates are that Israel will be able to administer 60,000 vaccinations per day. Israel has apparently purchased 8 million doses from Pfizer and several million more from Moderna. At this rate, close to 2 million Israelis may be able to receive their first dose by the end of January. If things continue at this pace and there are no snafus, it is quite conceivable that Israel will have vaccinated the majority of its residents by mid 2021. I suppose it remains to be seen whether the vaccine actually works and whether that will effectively end the problem, at least in this country.
In the meantime, some commentators have characterized the atmosphere in Israel, in some sectors as "end of course" or "end of semester." The idea is that often at the end of a school year (or some other type of course, perhaps an army training course) once all the hard work has been done - people become very lackadaisical about doing anything more (like, in this case, wearing masks, refraining from having parties etc.,). But this is quite dangerous. The vaccine is only being rolled out now and it will take months until it is administered fully.
At the same time, the current infection rate in Israel is very high with more than 2,000 new infections being reported daily. The government has been debating various responses to the growing spread including shutting down the airport completely, shutting down all commerce other than "essential services" and sealing "red zones." Yesterday, two flights arrived in Israel from Great Britain. The passengers were all sent to government-arranged quarantine hotel accommodations. At least 25 passengers refused and were sent back to Great Britain. The concern apparently related to the latest mutation of Covid-19 which has been spreading in Great Britain.
Several weeks ago, Israel had designated the UAE a "green" country and decided to allow travel without quarantine back and forth between Israel and UAE. Cynics among us might say that this was partially intended to bolster the nascent peace deal between the UAE and Israel. In any event, this resulted in thousands of Israelis flocking to Dubai - to attend parties, weddings and other gatherings all without wearing masks or taking other precautions. Some groups of Israelis flew whole wedding parties to Dubai where they could hold "normal" weddings without any restrictions. Others, like Israeli singer Eyal Golan, flew to Dubai just for some fun and partying. Golan actually came back and was diagnosed as having Covid-19, though he is apparently doing fine now. Still others, according to media reports, have been travelling to UAE for another well known purpose - sex tourism. I suppose Covid-19 might be the least of the problems for some of these travellers.
In any event, Israel has now determined that there are no "green countries" and that all travellers will now be required to quarantine on return to Israel, even those coming from the UAE, despite any political ramifications, real or imagined. It will apparently take effect three days from now - so I suppose there is still time for a quick whirlwind UAE simcha or some other type of equally rapturous event. I think we will stay home, thanks.
In other news, and maybe I sound like a broken record here, if you have read my past columns, the current Israeli government is on the brink of collapse. A vote on a non-confidence motion is expected either tonight or tomorrow. If the government falls, there is talk of a March 23, 2021 election date, though that remains to be finalized. Under Israeli law, the 2020 budget must be passed by December 23, 2020, a date that was already moved back with previous legislation. Since there is still no budget in place, either for 2020 or 2021, the government is set to collapse even without a non-confidence motion.
There has been significant negotiation between Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White party to reach a compromise, delay the date once again and keep this government alive with some urgent political CPR. Over the weekend, there were reports that a deal was reached to resolve the crisis. However, the concessions made by Gantz to Netanyahu to avoid an election were apparently too much to stomach for some of Gantz's Blue and White party members and it does not look like Gantz will be able to get the full support of his party to keep the coalition together.
On the other side of the aisle, a long serving, high ranking Likud member, Gideon Saar, recently announced that he was leaving the Likud party and setting up his own party called "New Hope." Does this sound familiar? It is a very recurrent theme in Israeli politics. In any case, Saar has been able to take a bunch of Likud members with him and is running at 15-20 potential seats in the Knesset according to some polls. Saar describes himself as a right wing politician, fully committed to most, if not all of Netanyahu's policies, other than, perhaps, those dealing with the rule of law, on which Saar states that he is committed fully to the fight against corruption and the rule of law. Saar has stated that he is not prepared to join a government led by Netanyahu following the next election. I think I remember Gantz saying very similar things....
In any event, polls suggest that Netanyahu may now have a difficult time forming a government after the next election, but I wouldn't rule him out. The Covid-19 vaccine is being rolled out, the economy may start to improve - and Netanyahu will figure out what kind of campaign is likely to work best against his latest foe. Netanyahu is a seasoned politician who knows how to tackle difficult challenges. His nickname is "the magician" so we will see if he can pull yet another election win out of his hatful of tricks.
Netanyahu has refused to agree to pass state budgets for 2020 or 2021 because the coalition deal that he signed with Gantz stated that if the government were to fall for any reason, Gantz would become interim Prime Minister. The one exception was if the government were to fall because of a budget disagreement, in which case Netanyahu would continue to be the Prime Minister until the next government was formed. So once Netanyahu decided that this government wasn't working to his satisfaction the only choice he had for bringing down the government was one related to the budget - so that he will remain on as the interim Prime Minister throughout the next election campaign.
Netanyahu's criminal proceedings are scheduled to continue now in early February, having been delayed several times. He is facing charges of breach of trust, corruption and bribery. If convicted, he could face a lengthy prison term. Given the past pattern, it is likely that Netanyahu will seek a further adjournment, perhaps until after the pending election, though it is not clear that it will be granted by the court this time. He is still hoping for the "big win" in the election that would get him a coalition government with a retroactive immunity bill to end all of his legal troubles. That does not look like a probable outcome at this juncture, even if Netanyahu wins the election and is able to piece together another government.
Bakeries try to come up with all sorts of eye-catching designs. Many of the donuts are jelly filled but I saw a really wide variety of options - pistachio-crème, chocolate mousse, lemon, strawberry and even tehina (sesame paste) filled calorie bombs. Fortunately, I don't really have a weakness for donuts. We picked up a few for the first night of Chanuka but they looked better than they tasted.
On the other hand - I do have a weakness for homemade potato latkes, especially the way both of my grandmothers and my mom used to make them. Just good old fashioned ingredients, potato, onion, eggs, salt, pepper and maybe a bit of baking powder and flour (too hard to find matzah meal in Israel when it is not Passover time). I tried to learn a bit from all three teachers. I also made some homemade applesauce to accompany the latkes with our Friday night dinner. And one night we ate a dairy meal and had a few with sour cream. The latkes probably did more damage than the donuts - but it has not turned out to be a lasting problem, thankfully.
It was nice to be here for the full Chanuka holiday this year, even though there were few of the normal festivities due to the pandemic. But the weather has been fairly moderate, low 20s C (high 60sF) with some rain here and there. One of the nice things about being in Israel, for someone who is Jewish, is the almost complete absence of Christmas this time of year. I don't say that in a way that is intended to offend anyone - but December is always the time that I felt the least Canadian and most like an outsider.
From early November (if not sooner), in Canada, the radio stations play non-stop Christmas music, malls and stores are filled with it everywhere - and everything revolves around Christmas until it ends. Many other Canadian immigrant and minority groups have just accepted all of this as the trappings of being "Canadian" and assimilated into the Christmas culture. Many Jewish Canadians, however, have not and have remained among the few groups of Canadians who do not celebrate Christmas. Sure, many Jewish Canadians go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve or go to a movie - or even a "Matzah Ball" - or other social event. Others have left the country by Christmas for a vacation in Florida or some other warm destination, maybe even Israel. And most who have remained enjoy the day off. But for the most part, many Jewish Canadians are simply reminded at this one time of year - of what differentiates them from other Canadians.
Here in Israel, there are certainly people who celebrate Christmas. You can see Christmas lights and trees in Jaffa, Haifa, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other places - and there are Christian Israelis who celebrate the holiday fully. But since it is a majoritarian Jewish country, everything is open on Christmas, there are no decorations in the malls and there is no Christmas music on the radio or in the schools.
I have nothing against people celebrating the holiday - whether here, in Canada or anywhere else. Quite the opposite - I wish everyone all the best in celebrating all of the holidays that they might observe, whether that is Christmas, Diwali, Eid Al Fitr or other holidays. In fact, I have been honoured to attend a few Christmas dinners with some of my best friends in Canada as well as celebrations of other holidays.
Chanuka, as you might know, is a "minor" holiday on the Jewish calendar. Businesses are open and there are no real restrictions on day to day activity. It is not nearly as important a holiday as our fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot nor is it as significant as Pesach (Passover). At the same time, it is widely observed, which in Israel means lighting the Chanukiah and eating a bunch of donuts - and maybe some latkes.
In any event, Chanuka has ended and I think it is fair to say that the main thing people in Israel are now thinking about is when they will be able to get vaccinated - and when things will return to normal. Whether inspired by Chanuka, Christmas or Diwali, all of which have a significant theme of light, I think are all hoping to see some bright light at the end of this long period of darkness.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2021!