"You need to watch your weight,” my doctor warned me a few months ago in yet
another reminder of middle age. Over the years, I have, indeed, watched it:
Sometimes it goes up; sometimes it comes down. After a concerted effort, it
currently seems to be fine – and this is good news. I’m one of those people who
noshes when nervous but can barely eat when really scared. If I can contemplate
my navel without struggling to see it or being disgusted, life in Israel is not
as frightening as you might think from the headlines.
Peace in the Middle
East seems further away than ever, but that does not mean we need to lose our
peace of mind.
I didn’t even lose sleep – or grab a midnight snack –
after reading an article in Yediot Aharonot
’s health supplement last week
entitled “You, me and the Iranian threat.” Having read about the
different psychological methods of coping with fear, I realize that my own
method is not so much denial as worrying only about those things I can
Now I am worrying that perhaps I’m not normal. The Yediot
after all, was catering to an audience that is obviously more scared than I am.
Or maybe their journalists are more troubled.
At a meeting of Jerusalem
senior journalists with the prime minister in his office on the eve of his
trip to Washington in September, I couldn’t help but notice that Binyamin
Netanyahu was both clearly suffering from back pain and making a concerted
effort to pick at the fruit on the table, rather than the pastries. He is
obviously trying to watch his weight. I don’t think this is what’s traditionally
meant by being able to “feel tension” in a room, but it’s probably as good a
gauge as the bathroom scales I use.
The prime minister, defense minister,
chief of staff and others of similar standing are paid a lot more than me to
worry while I’m sleeping. I’m happy to discuss “The Situation” – I don’t think
stifling public debate on matters of war and peace will help either – but I
don’t see the point in spreading panic. Middle-aged spread is compensated for by
experience, and my experience has always been that when it comes to truly
critical security and diplomatic issues, those in the know don’t
Without the full picture, it’s hard to throw even my diminished
weight behind any set policy. My gut feeling is that Israel’s best course of
action in the changing world is to aim to build new strategic relations. And
this is what the prime minister seems to be trying to do.
Israel is not
the only country affected by the Iranian threat, after all. Perhaps the most
positive aspect of the turmoil, as far as Israel is concerned, is the ability to
show that it’s not about us. Israel’s relations with the Palestinians are a
distraction, not the cause of the problems in the Middle East. And although they
might not want to admit it in public in places like Jordan, for example, others
know this too. If I were prime minister, I would be working on creating new and
improved ties with the Gulf states, for instance.
Similarly, I look to
Syria with something close to trepidation, but not enough to make me grab a
cream cake and certainly not enough to make me miss a meal.
has good reason to be losing weight and sleep. His regime could be over by the
time you read this piece, and certainly not much later. Is this good for Israel?
Not if he decides to try to save his power by throwing blame (and worse) on us.
In the long term, the inevitable replacement of the minority Alawite ruling
class with one which reflects a Sunni majority might not all be bad. It would,
after all, change the balance of power regarding Shi’ite Iran, which would be
weakened as a result.
And then there’s Egypt. The medically dictated
weight loss of former defense minister and (briefly) Labor Party leader Binyamin
Ben-Eliezer has received a great deal of press coverage. I’m not sure I’d follow
his lead on much else, however. A few years ago, when he was explaining to the
editorial board his grandiose plans as national infrastructure minister for
shipping water from Turkey to Israel, he dismissed my question of what happens
if relations between the two countries deteriorate as typical journalistic
doomsaying. Hence, last week when I heard his dire warnings that a confrontation
between Israel and Egypt is an imminent possibility – and that the only way to
avert this is to immediately re-enter negotiations with the Palestinians – I
wondered whether he shouldn’t change his diet.
Of course a conflict with
Egypt is a real possibility. It’s one that Israel needs to be prepared for, but
I’d be careful not to make it a self-fulfilling prophesy by (a) creating an
atmosphere of escalation and (b) putting the emphasis on Israel and the
The situation in Egypt does not look good – particularly in
view of last week’s violent Second Revolution in Tahrir Square and the likely
results of this week’s elections. But rather than give up and starving
myself to death, I think it’s worth waiting to see what can be
The average Egyptian is also concerned about the
Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Egypt needs peace and stability as much as Israel
does. It also needs US economic support and a way to save its all-important but
floundering tourism industry. Changes might be on the way, but they won’t all
take place overnight.
How far would I go for peace? Well, not “the full
Monty,” even if I have come to terms with my body. I was not among the 50 or so
Israeli women who were willing to drop all last week in a revealing show of
support for 20-year-old Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy.
came under fire in Egypt for posting nude photos of herself to protest “the lack
of freedom of expression” in her country.
It grants Israel’s situation a
different perspective. While I am concerned by the current flurry of
controversial legislation, I also think the reaction is out of
The world is not coming to an end; Israel is not coming to an
end; and neither is freedom.
Let’s calm down, everybody, and have
something to eat and drink. In moderation.The writer is editor of The
International Jerusalem Post.