|Israeli Soccer fans in Israel|
We are two-thirds of the way into November, 2022, 19 days after the most recent Israeli election. In this blog, I am covering a few topics. First some comments about Israeli politics and the ongoing coalition talks. Next some sports news with a bit of an Israeli angle. Then a comment on my most recent flight to Israel from Toronto. And finally, a few comments on a movie I watched on the plane and other Israeli programming.
Israeli Political Update
Israeli coalition talks continue and Israel still does not have a government in place. Some had expected that these talks would be very quick and that a coalition would be formed well within the 28 day mandate that has been given to Netanyahu. But as others probably expected, things aren't that simple.
As you may know from reading the news (or my other blogs), Netanyahu is trying to form a coalition government with three parties, who will join his own Likud party as part of the government. Two of the parties are ultra-religious ("Haredi") parties and the third party is a far right wing nationalist-religious party.
For all of the parties concerned here, there are no other real options. The two ultra-religious parties were left out of the previous government. This meant a reduction in budget allocations for Yeshivot and other ultra-religious institutions. They are determined to be part of this government, no matter what to make up what they lost. They also know that, for the most part, the other parties in the Knesset do not want to give in to their demands. So they must make a deal with Netanyahu.
Likewise, the far right party, the Religious Zionist party - also knows that it will not be part of any government other than one with this current configuration. Of course, the RZ party could increase its seat total in future elections. In fact, Ben-Gvir sees himself, it seems, as a future Prime Minister. But for now, they need the Likud and the ultra-religious parties to form their "dream governnment," a "completely right-wing government" as they referred to it during the election campaign.
At the same time, Netanyahu needs all three of these parties (and only these parties) to form a government. They are the only parties that will pass laws to help him end his criminal proceedings. He ran on a platform to govern with these parties. And the ultra-religious parties have been very loyal to him. So all in all, I expect that these four parties will succeed in forming a government shortly. Like any good negotiators, they may all push the matter until the very last minute, just before the deadline, or even the extended deadline. But they will eventually reach a deal. They have no other choice.
The ultra-religious parties have made a wide range of demands. First on the list is an "override law" that allows the Knesset to override any decision of the Supreme Court of Israel. This is somewhat like the "Notwithstanding Clause" in the Canadian Charter. It has served as a basis for attacks from a few different satire programs - including Eretz Nehedert ("A wonderful country") which ran a skit with impersonators of the different political leaders sitting around thinking up bills that they could pass with the power to override the Supreme Court. The skit ended with "Bibi" wondering if he could change the electoral system to give himself a 10 year mandate instead of 4....
Other ultra-religious demands have included a steep hike in the monthly stipend paid to yeshiva students, a law that permits public gender segregation of certain events, an immediate repeal of the taxes on super sweet beverages (cola etc.,) and on disposable products and a wide range of other changes. The ultra-religious Shas party has also demanded that the law be changed to remove "public breach of trust" from the criminal code and to overturn the current Israeli law that says that a convict cannot serve as a minister in the government if he or she was convicted of certain types of offences. The leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri, has been convicted twice (the second time in 2021) of financial improprieties. He wants to have the law changed so that he can serve as the country's Finance Minister. (You can't make this stuff up - but it sounds about as absurd as things get....). I suppose it is like putting some Arab or other Mideastern countries, like Syria or Iran, in charge of the UN Human Rights committees....
Overall, it sounds like Bibi and his Likud party are more or less willling to go along with most of these requests from the ultra-religious.
The Religious Zionist party is giving Bibi more difficulties so far. RZ is comprised of three parties that run under one umbrella. One group, led by Ben-Gvir, "Jewish Power" is anxious to come to a quick deal. They have met with Bibi and, apparently, agreed on a range of items, including the legalization of certain settlements that were previously classified as "illegal"by Israel. Ben-Gvir is pencilled in to be the Minister of the Interior - which includes having charge over Israel's police forces. As you may know, Ben-Gvir has been charged and convicted in the past on incitement charges (of violence against Arabs and of threatening violence against gays and leftists...). So this is not a particularly palatable posting for some of us but Bibi will agree to it.
The other two leaders of RZ - Bezalel Smotrich and Avi Moaz are apparently demanding concessions above their political weight. Smotrich would like to be given the Finance Ministry or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So far, Bibi is refusing these demands (preferring to put Deri in the Finance Ministry and his own buddy, Ron Dermer, who wasn't even elected, into the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs). Here for the first time, Netanyahu is running into protests from some of his own party members, since they feel he is giving away too many of the important roles and not rewarding his own stalwart party members. This rumbling might become louder since the Likud loyalists who are left are the ones who have stuck with Bibi through thick and thin - generally less qualified and more extreme than other former Likudniks who left Bibi when they felt supporting him was no longer viable. They would now like to reap their rewards for having remained.
I guess they will all continue to negotiate until someone blinks. Sooner or later someone will, since they all realize that they have no other choice. As expected, this is shaping up to be a very right wing government, which will overturn a wide range of legislation, weaken the power of the Israeli Supreme Court, tilt laws towards religion in the sphere of secular-religious balance, set back gender equality progress and generally make things very uncomfortable for Arabs, especially those living in the disputed territories.
We will see what deal emerges and I will write more about this in the coming weeks.
The big sport news, of course, is the opening of the World Cup of Football in Qatar. There is an Israeli angle here, even though the Israeli side did not make it into this World Cup tournament. In fact, Israel has only played in one World Cup. Perhaps that will change one day (and perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup...).
Israel does not have dipolomatic relations with Qatar. However, Qatar agreed to allow Israelis to fly to Qatar and come watch the games. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that Tus Airlines, which is 48% Israeli owned, will now run direct flights to Doha, Qatar for the World Cup. This three-hour flight will set you back $666 USD though you can only get on the flight if you can show proof of having a ticket to a World Cup game. Thousands of Israelis have apparently made plans to go or are already there. I watched a few being interviewed just before the game and they were certainly very excited about being there. None of them seemed to be concerned about any security issues.
Qatar has apparently agreed to allow cold Kosher food to be sold - but nothing warm and no meat, even though it had apparently promised to be more hospitable earlier. It has also stated that Jewish people will be prohibited from praying in groups. I would imagine that many of the soccer fans going are not too concerned about these issues, but for observant Israeli soccer fans, this trip might be somewhat uncomfortable. Hopefully, there won't be any issues. This is quite a contrast with what is going on in Dubai - where the UAE has opened up synagogues, brought in Kosher caterers and made extensive efforts to make Israelis feel at home since the signing of the Abraham Accords. Qatar is simply not there yet.
Soccer is the most watched sport here in Israel. On TV they are wishing everyone a "Happy World Cup Holiday." One of the main channels, Channel 11, is interrupting much of its regular programming to show the games and there will probably be quite a number of people calling in sick or "working from home" over the next month. Sure this is also the case in many countries around the world, even other countries that aren't actually participating in the tournament, like Israel.
As a Canadian, I am cheering for Canada to do well. Canada will face Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in the first round. The odds of Canada winning the World Cup are apparently 12,500 to 1 (though some sites are offering as much as 25,000 to 1 supposedly). The odds of Canada emerging as one of the top two teams from its group of four are apparently set at 215 to 1. So if you think that Canada is about to be the big surprise of the tournament, there is lots of money to be made. I imagine that quite a large number of Canadians will watch the Canadian side play - even if that means missing some work. But the numbers probably won't be as high as the numbers who watch Team Canada Olympic Ice Hockey games.
Meanwhile, I am not really sure if you could say Israelis are unified in cheering for a particular team - though certainly Brazil, Argentina, and France are all big fan favourites. I'm not normally a big watcher of soccer but I have always enjoyed watching the World Cup and I'm sure I will watch my share of games, even though I won't be going to Qatar. For now, I am clearly cheering for Canada. If they exit the tournament quickly, as expected, I will have to find a different horse to cheer for. Maybe another underdog team.
As you might know, El Al has "suspended" its Canadian service. So there are no longer direct flights from Toronto to Tel-Aviv, which leaves Air Canada as the only option. In general, I have been flying Air Canada over the years. Air Canada offers a far superior mileage program, better deals with other partner airlines, lounge access all over the world, and a much greater level of predictability, order, ease of boarding and baggage allowance. The in-flight service is also much better.
But with the decision by El Al to stop servicing Canada, Air Canada took the liberty of raising its prices - immediately and drastically. So whereas November is normally a "low season" to fly with very reasonable prices, it was much more expensive now and the flight was completely packed. Clearly many of the people were passengers who have normally been flying El Al - which changed the feel of the flight as well.
Hopefully some other airline or airlines will step forward and offer some competition on this route. Otherwise, it looks like direct travel between Toronto and Tel-Aviv (as well as Montreal and Tel-Aviv) is going to continue to get much more expensive.
Movies and Shows
On the flight from Toronto to Tel-Aviv, I watched the movie "One of Us" which is a documentary based on the lives of a few former Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn who were able to "escape" and are trying to rebuild their lives, some with more success than others. Certainly the movie sheds light on some really horrible situations and addresses a range of different issues, including custody fights in the ultra-orthodox community in New York courts, the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Haredi community, the limited secular education that community members receive and some other issues. It was not a particularly balanced movie though it highlighted the work of Footsteps a New York organization that assists those who have chosen to leave the ultra-religious community.
Although there were interviews with some Hassidic rabbis and some attempts to discuss these issues with community members, I felt that, overall, it was somewhat more of an attack on the community than a balanced documentary.
That being said, there are similar organizations similar to Footsteps and many similar stories in Israel. It is a genuine concern that this insular community - in the U.S., Israel, and around the world, is not providing its members with the proper tools to function and make a living and that creates ongoing, cyclical poverty. Ultra-orthodox Jews are among the poorest Israelis. Perhaps some of this is self-imposed, since many of the men would rather spend their lives studying in a Yeshiva instead of earning an income. In Israel, they don't serve in the army, they marry at a young age, have a large number of children, and generally, have few skills that are marketable in the general workforce.
So although the movie itself was one-sided, the issues it raises are very serious and are likely to be exacerbated by the Israeli government in waiting that is rapidly taking shape - since the new government will be beholden to interests that want to promote and fund this way of life.
I should also mention that after I got back to Israel, I finished watching the fourth season of Fauda, centred on an Israeli under cover unit that fights terrorist cells in the disputed territories and in other places. I thought the fourth season was probaby the best. Intense, riveting and more realistic than some of the previous seasons. I won't give anything away - but it is really quite a dramatic show.
The weather has been beautiful here - 28 C during the day and sunny though we have some days of rain forecast for later in the week. We are looking forward to seeing a number of different guests, including family members and friends, here in December and then in the spring and fall as well. I don't celebrate American Thanksgiving myself - other than to do my part by watching some of the NFL games that day - but I have attended a few Thanksgiving dinners in Israel with some American friends. Nothing planned this year (since at least one of my American observing friends will be away) - but for all those celebrating - I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!
As it turns out, there is a chance that we will finally have our whole crew together for dinner on Thursday night - so maybe I need to consider making some turkey....We could combine that with some World Cup viewing and some quality Israeli wine. I guess we have a few days to decide.