It seems de rigeur
nowadays for journalists and politicians (and particularly
Knesset members who formerly worked in the press) to make public confessions.
Even if no one believes them. So here goes: I have never knowingly “done” drugs.
The nearest I came to “grass” in my not-so-wild student days was sitting on the
lawns at The Hebrew University. I once walked out of a screening of The Rocky
Horror Picture Show because I couldn’t stand the smell, the source of which my
friend only explained to me later, over a nerdy cup of hot drinking chocolate,
if we’re into telling the whole truth.
And although I have hazy memories
of one evening in the dorms in which my friends were drinking something
indescribable and seeming to get higher and higher, I put it down to the fact
that they were new immigrants from South America, who always seemed to be in
good spirits, even though they had come to Jerusalem partly from the pull of
Zionism and partly to escape the horrors of the ruling juntas.
I, English-born immigrant that I am, needed a stiff drink after just listening
to some of their stories of stepping over bodies in the street on the way to
school; classmates and relatives who simply disappeared; and the life of
Jokes now abound about Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich
admitting that she smoked marijuana (in direct contradiction to a previous
Since she is best known for starting her
Facebook postings with “Hi, this is Shelly,” it didn’t take long for the
greeting to turn into “High, this is Shelly” in headlines and satire programs.
As for fanatic Facebook updater Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s denial of
recreational drug use, well, former friends and acquaintances (albeit with an
agenda to legalize marijuana) quickly claimed that Lapid is now puffed up with
self-importance, but he used to puff something else.
Pretty soon the
Hebrew press and social media were running daily updates on who had and who
hadn’t (and who said they did, but didn’t; and who said they didn’t but did; and
who was keeping suspiciously quiet).
It all provided light relief (the
reports, not the joints) at a time when most of the region seems more tense than
Like my South American-born friends, I know that having a
democratically elected government and freedom to poke fun at its members is not
something to be sneezed at.
Incidentally, the question of “Are you now,
or have you ever been, a member of the pro-Cannabis party?” interests me not so
much for its gossip value as for the way the politicians are prone to use the
issue to promote their young, with-it image. A sign of the generation change in
the Knesset, perhaps.
I have less of a problem with the possibility that
some ministers might have smoked something other than cigars in the past than
the feeling that I’m being lied to.
Even by politicians. Even by the ones
who don’t inhale.
Lapid was also in the news lately for his comments
bemoaning Israelis who seek the good life in Berlin, of all places. And he
received an unfair bashing for his remarks in the now-famous Charlie Rose TV
interview in New York that Jews are safer there but that he lives in Israel
“because I want to live in a country that’s a place, but also an
Maybe all is fair in love, war and politics, but anyone who
regularly read his weekly columns in Yediot Aharonot in his pre-Knesset days
would find a great deal more evidence that he is a true Zionist than that he had
shared a joint.
Nonetheless, his remarks, made in the wake of a Channel
10 series on Israeli emigrants, gave rise to another fad among columnists and
politicians: Debating “yerida” (emigration) to Germany and
This is a good point to confess that I have never, ever,
entertained dreams of making a new life for myself in Berlin, a place with a
nightmarish past. I even turned down a trip for travel writers to Germany
because I found it hard to promote tourism there.
Having since been to
Austria for a conference, however, I realize there’s a lot to be said for a
country facing up to its past. This, I gather, is more evident in Berlin than
Vienna, where the locals now like to see themselves as victims of the Nazi
regime rather than willing partners. There is, after all, value in honestly
admitting past mistakes.
HAIRCUTS HAVE been in the news a lot lately,
too. Not the sort that I have at a small salon close to my home. The type given
First it was the cuts and waivers given to Nochi Dankner
and other big names in the local financial scene – all of whom were able to
notch up debts that make average Israelis feel like they are
Israelis notoriously rely on overdraft facilities, but
it’s hard to imagine being able to get away with borrowing millions without any
guarantees of being able to pay them back – unless, of course, the bank manager
had been smoking something illegal. Or you mixed in social circles with those
who owned the banks.
The topic came up again last week when
pharmaceutical giant Teva, a company that produces drugs in the more positive
sense of the word, announced it would be firing 5,000 employees. There’s no gain
without pain, but there’s something inherently unfair about the gain going to
the shareholders and the pain being shared by the low-level workers.
size and extent of government tax breaks and haircuts are discussed behind
closed doors in conference rooms. They also come up as you have your hair washed
and cut in my largely working-class neighborhood.
I immediately thought,
indeed, of former neighbors who moved from Jerusalem to Petah Tikva because one
of them worked there for Teva. A young couple with a toddler, who could barely
afford the rent in the capital, they discovered they couldn’t easily afford a
mortgage or rent in the center of the country either. And they certainly can’t
afford for one of them to lose their job.
I was relieved to hear that,
following public outrage, the Histradrut labor union and Teva CEO Jeremy Levin,
with prompting from Lapid, had decided to freeze the mass dismissals in Israel
The price of cottage cheese has slowly crept back up and
affordable housing is still a dream to many, but the social protests of 2011
gave birth to an important phenomenon in Israel. Public scrutiny now
Companies receiving tremendous tax breaks, tycoons getting
expensive haircuts and public figures awarding themselves golden handshakes are
discovering that it can cost them their reputations.
The Teva case raised
another question: Who’s baby is it? Does Teva still count as an Israeli company
or is it a multinational corporation whose roots lie in Israel? The same
identity issues were raised a week ago with the announcement of the Nobel Prize
for Chemistry, when it turned out that two of the three laureates are Israelis
who live and work in the US. The country was quick to claim them as “ours,” and
it seems that much of the necessary research was first carried out in the
Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, but they are also part of the global village,
where people work on international projects and share knowledge around the
The scientists gravitate to Silicon Valley; the artists to New
York, London and Berlin, it seems.
There was also good news this week.
Facebook announced it is purchasing the Tel Aviv-based start-up Onavo for
reportedly more than $150 million. Like Waze, which was recently bought by
Google, Onavo is insisting on keeping its base in Israel.
If this trend
continues, we’ll have good reason to be collectively on a high.
writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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