The last week was one of melancholy - opinion

The passing of a seasoned radio presenter, the war in Ukraine, riots on Meron and a defecting MK all made last week very melancholy.

 Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police during Lag Ba'omer celebrations, in Meron, on May 19, 2022. (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police during Lag Ba'omer celebrations, in Meron, on May 19, 2022.
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Last Thursday radio presenter Dr. Yitzhak Noy died at the age of 80.

In his last years Noy – a historian – presented the program Shabbat Olamit on KAN Reshet Bet every Saturday morning, in which he included serious discussions on central events connected with the history of Israel and Jewish people, with the participation of renowned academics.

Noy was a right-wing intellectual of a breed that is rapidly disappearing. In his programs, he sought to uncover complicated realities, rather than to serve as a spokesman for this or that political position.

Every such departure adds to the sense of despondency and melancholy that many of us feel these days. Last week was especially bad.

I had planned to devote my article this week to the effect of the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine, on the international system that had evolved after the end of the Second World War, which seems to be coming apart at the seams these days.

 MK GHAIDA RINAWIE ZOABI attends a Special  Committee on Arab Society Affairs meeting, in the  Knesset in June (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK GHAIDA RINAWIE ZOABI attends a Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs meeting, in the Knesset in June (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The final conquest by Russian forces, last Thursday, of the steel plant in Mariupol, the evacuation of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians and wounded soldiers, and the surrender of hundreds (thousands?) of the remaining fighters are yet another landmark in this process, instigated by a leader whose moves have the same logic and moral base as did those of Hitler some 80 years ago.

But I shall leave that analysis for another opportunity and add the current landmark in Ukraine to the list of reasons for feelings of despondence.

LAST WEDNESDAY night was also the night of the Rashbi revelry on Mount Meron, which was to have provided a sane answer to what occurred last year, when 45 men were killed in a rampage resulting from the irresponsible mess that prevailed on the mountain for many years, and which prevented the revelry being celebrated in an orderly and respectable manner.

I admit that for me Mount Meron signifies a botanical paradise, where I have spent many days hiking and photographing the rare flora that grows there. I nevertheless view the Rashbi revelry on the other side of the mountain as an important element in Israel’s religious culture, which ought to take place in an honorable manner, befitting the occasion.

Like many others, I had hoped that the lessons had been learned from last year’s fiasco. However, the result of this effort was dismal. The way the event was planned and directed, with very strict limitation on how long each and every visitor could remain in the compound, seemed to take away all the spirit and joy from it. The atmosphere, which was reflected by the various TV broadcasts from the event, appeared gloomy and tense.

True, there was no congestion, there was but a single lighting of a bonfire (compared to 13 last year, and up to 19 in previous years), dozens of rickety, unsafe structures were torn down and cleared, and there seemed to be sufficient guards and policemen around to keep the order.

But then masses of extremist haredim arrived (it was at first reported that they were Satmars, and that they numbered 15,000 – but soon these reports evaporated), with the intention of causing havoc, physical damage and stopping all the official events – including a memorial service in memory of the 45 killed last year (ostensibly because the ceremonies were “Zionist”). As a result, the revelry was stopped instantly, and all the visitors were sent away.

Of course, one can blame the organizers, who were not haredim, and who turned the event into a technicality. But the real tragedy is that the various haredi courts and organizations are so divided and unable to coordinate events among themselves, and so irresponsible, and incompetent in catering for the physical safety of their flocks (each one separately and all of them together), that the outcome caused a melancholic atmosphere for all of us.

THURSDAY WAS also the day that Arab MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from Meretz announced to the media – before informing the chairman of her party, Nitzan Horowitz – that she was leaving the coalition because she could no longer tolerate the shift of the government to the Right, and the conduct of the police at al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, and the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during cross fire between Israeli military forces and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin on May 11.

Last week I expressed my optimism that the government would survive longer than commonly believed – and this when it had the support of 60 MKs, compared to the Jewish opposition’s 53. Now the government is down to 59, while the Jewish opposition is still 53, though it is not clear at the moment whether it might be able muster 61 for early elections.

What is so aggravating about the current situation is that Horowitz was taken by surprise. Furthermore, since Zoabi was placed on the Meretz list for the Knesset by Horowitz, without her ever having been a member or supporter of Meretz, one would have expected her to resign from the Knesset, and allow the next in line on the Meretz list to replace her.

Since I believe that Bennett’s government is superior, in all respects, to any sort of government that Benjamin Netanyahu might form after new elections are held, with the likes of MKs Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Avi Maoz, Yitzhak Pindrus, and the choir of libelous Likud hecklers, it is difficult not to enter a state of despair.

Netanyahu’s performance during a debate in the Knesset plenum last Monday at the request of 40 members of the opposition on some obscure topic is another reason for despair. As usual, Netanyahu shot a barrage of unsubstantiated accusations (not to use a stronger term) against the government and its head. As usual, he was condescending, mocking, arrogant, swaggering and insulting.

This time Netanyahu’s performance included total contempt for MK Zvi Hauser (New Hope), who acted as deputy speaker during the sitting. He turned to Hauser and in an insulting tone instructed him to do his job and keep the hecklers from the coalition quiet, just as he had allegedly done in the case of the opposition benches during the prime minister’s speech before his. Hauser started mumbling instead of sternly saying to Netanyahu: “I won’t tell you how to perform your job as leader of the opposition, and you don’t tell me how to perform my job as deputy speaker – I don’t work for you, Sir.”

This isn’t the first time that Netanyahu treated Hauser like filth. Back in February 2012, when Netanyahu was prime minister and Hauser was cabinet secretary, Netanyahu instructed him in a scolding tone, in the course of a cabinet meeting, to lock the door of the government room, to prevent anyone from entering – “put a lock on the door,” he added. Then, too, Hauser mumbled in response, while the TV cameras recorded the shameful scene.

The prospect of this cocky and rude man returning to the premiership is in itself a reason to sink into deep melancholy.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge at the end of July.