Israel Politics 3/2021
Israelis are going to the polls, as I write this, for the fourth time in two years. I’ve been sharing items from Israeli and Jewish sources to friends and one of these resulted in what I think is an interesting exchange. It starts with an article from The Jerusalem Post.
Sad but true article. However, I do not see it as only the current situation in Israel. Leaders like Netanyahu do not care about ideology or even party. We should all see how this was true of Trump, who certainly is no conservative. Personal loyalty is all.
Many, many years ago I read books by Israeli honorist Ephraim Kishon. He was politically pretty much mainstream and nothing I read by him suggested a party or political ideology. Several of his essays were about the inept bureaucracy Israelis faced in the early days of the state. I saw (at least twice) a musical comedy film Kazablan (1973) which seems no longer to be available, but which was a lot of fun. The only song I remember was called “Proteksia,” which was evidently the Hebrew word for what would otherwise be called in that region Baksheesh. Being a Chicagoan, I understand all too well. Joan, you and Irv were in Israel back then. Do you remember this film? What about “I Love You, Rosa?” (I fell in love with Michal Bat-Adam.) And, of course, the grandfather of Israeli satires “Sallah Shabbati” (1964 starring Topol. What I am saying with this digression is that there is nothing new about Isreaeli politics in all this, except it seems to have gotten worse.
I also remember being in Israel during an election campaign season (1981?) when Begin used a derogatory term “Chakchakim,” which is basically like calling European Jews kikes.
WE wish that elections were about ideas, but that has neverr been my observation or experience.
I am Joan’s sister and my husband is an Israeli. Joan shared your message with me and I do not agree with you.
Baksheesh means a bribe. Protektskia is “Protection” , knowing someone who can help you in some way. Money is rarely involved.
A KIKE is a term used as a curse for all Jews in America as well as in Europe NOT only Ashkenazi Jews. Chakchakim was used to denote all Sephardic Jews and yes it was used in a derogatory sense, as you well know.
“WUSWUSIM” was the mocking term used for Ashkenazi Jews who spoke Yiddish in Israel. Because they ask “WUS?” all the time.
Israel has never had such a corrupt Government before. Yes there was often corruption, but not on a scale that is found today. Netanyahu’s wife must approve every Gov. official her husband wishes to bring in and she is bribed openly with necklaces and diamond bracelets to gain her approval. This is an openly known fact. Never before has Israel had such a disgraceful government.
My husband reads a number of Israeli newspapers every day and his brother, who lives in Chadera keeps him informed as well.
Sorry to write you directly but I felt the need to do so.
Thanks for your response. Let me explain myself. I come from Chicago and grew up in a family that was very much connected and very much “knew people.” I was witness to all kinds of Proteksia. That included court cases dismissed and a patronage job for me (which I turned down to my parents’ consternation). I was adopted by my mother’s second husband and every court official who signed the document later went to prison, including the judge, after he was Governor. I know about these things. The family stories, including those about my grandfather’s years dealing cards and keeping books for Al Capone, are amusing, but nothing I ever wanted to be a part of. I do have a bias here.
Although Chicago is notorious for bribery, political corruption takes other forms. In fact, Baksheesh was the wrong term to use, because it is usually merely a tip to encourage faster or better service and is a trivial form of corruption. I do not regard what Israelis call proteksia as trivial. It is corruption and I believe that long-term practice opened the door for what you see now, which is now not unlike Chicago in the bad old days.
One of our friends made aliyah after the 6-day war and created Shaar Hagai Kennels, which domesticated the Canaanite breed of dogs. My friend moved to Shaar Hagai when it had no infrastructure (no water, no power, no sewage). Her work was honored with a postage stamp. Nonetheless she was forced off the land she developed to make room for condos by the government after being there for 42 years and being a world-class expert on dogs. She fought it for years and lost. I am positive someone knew someone, even if no one was paid off.
Being a rabbi, I’ll quote Torah.
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. (Deuteronomy 16:19)
As to the word chakchakim, Begin thought he could use it because Mizrachi Jews (not all Sephardic Jews and most of the Mizrachi are not Sephardic in reality) even though actually a majority of the population, were persecuted and oppressed in Israel from the time they arrived in the early days of the State. Herut (I think the party was. Still called that then) felt okay using such a nasty term at political rallies even though it was likely the Mizrachi vote that gave Begin his 1977 victory. The history of the treatment of non-Ashkenazi Jews in Israel is utterly shameful. I see what is done to Israeli Arabs (let alone the stateless Palestinians under Occupation) as part of a pattern that includes Jews in Israel.
You do not know me, but I am a lifelong human rights activist, which I believe is, at least in part, due to learning about the Shoah from my rabbi (ordained in Breslau Germany in 1938) and my friends who were children of survivors, including survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the camps. That is what “never again” means to me. That, by the way, was in Skokie, where I grew up.
I love israel, warts and all, but I will not grant any society leniency on these matters. By the way, I also read Israeli newspapers every day (I am a paid Haaretz subscriber), as well as publications from Israeli rights groups.
I have no idea what Israeli politics you and your husband identify with, but I hope that this upcoming election will finally oust Netanyahu and not bring in anyone to his political right. Where it comes to elective offices I prefer moderates to ideologues of any stripe. I fear that over half a century of Occupation has deeply corrupted our Jewish state. I saw this all the way back in the late 1960s. I know of no historical example of occupation benefitting the occupied. The self-justification of occupation is inevitably based on belief in the occupier’s innate superiority.
My own sense of identity with Israeli politics is Meretz and has been since many of my high school friends were members of Habonim (the American Shomer Hatzair, if you do not know it). I ran in three Zionist Congress elections on their American list. Among my favorite Israeli pols I think of Shulamit Aloni and Naomi Hazan as most like me. I say that so you understand that I am not someone who hates Israel, but who still holds to the ideals on which it was founded.
Sorry to go on so long, but, just as you felt compelled to respond, so have I. I hope you will take this long and very personal response in the spirit of dialogue. I am very aware my views are not the most popular and I find I learn from reading and hearing other opinions so as to refine my own.
PS Giving the text above a second reading to correct typos and imposed spell-check problems caused by Hebrew words, I want to post this on my blog. Do I have your permission to include or quote from your post!
Feel free to use my words. My husband was the first born child of his kibbutz founded by emigrees from Nazi, Germany. They had no Rabbi and he grew up not attending synagogues. They put bread and matzoh on the same plate on the table. “Eat as you wish.”
I spent a year there when I was 18. I was in an ulpan studying Hebrew and learning about Israel. We studied half a day and worked half a day. Great fun for a teenager from NYC.
My parents also left Nazi, Germany in September 1938. I fit right in with the kibbutznikim. I spoke more German than Hebrew. I was totally not interested in politics at that time. Kibbutz Dahlia next door was Shomer ha Tzair. His kibbutz was not so specific. To each his own was their philosophy. Some cared, others didn’t.
My husband’s father died in Germany while serving in the British army with the Jewish Brigade. He overworked himself to death trying to help the survivors of Bergen Belson.
He died in 1946. My husband was 5 years old.
Everyone has their story.
I had family at DEgania Alef. A cousin who was a Harvard law school grad left to make aliyah in the mid-1950s and married a daughter of Miriam and Joseph Baratz named Yoya. Visiting there several times (I wish I could have spent a year in Israel at some point in my life but never got the chance) and talking with Yoya was talking with Israeli history. Their son is a judge who lives and serves in Haifa.
Alas, the story of your father-in-law is all too real. Most Jews are unaware of what was endured after liberation.
Thanks for your permission.