I love London in the springtime and I love London in the fall, but on a recent trip there I loved nothing at all.
The great West End plays didn’t do it for me; David Hockney’s glorious immersive exhibition brought me to tears; calorific cream teas held none of the usual delight. I found myself checking Ynet like an addict; the momentary loss of reception on the Tube brought vaguely panicked feelings of distress. Am I losing it, I started to wonder; is this how depression kicks in?
And then I came home. It may sound strange, but as the shoreline of Tel Aviv twinkled below, my antsy unease dissolved into the Jewish and democratic air of the Holy Land. Being away, I realized, had been like leaving a sick parent to struggle alone; it wasn’t a good thing to do. Everyone has to be here now, to participate against the portents of tyranny.
It’s a funny thing, life. In the olden days – three months ago – before this Government of Shame started blackening our world, it was always conflictingly bittersweet for me to be in the green and glorious land of Shakespeare, the Queen (I’m not as excited about Charles, but that’s beside the point), and tangy cheddar cheese. My British husband’s friends had lovely homes in the neighborhoods of their childhoods; they drove swanky cars and had endless skiing holidays with their successful kids.
Our kids were growing up running to shelters, and coping with intifadas and all manner of drama; I was often envious of the gentler pace abroad. But we never ever considered for even a nano-second leaving the country we had come to as young, idealistic Zionists; despite the endless challenges, we always felt so privileged to be part of the biggest miracle of the millennium. Unlike Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s “land gchrandmizer’s” generation, we didn’t drain swamps, but we’ve battled our share of pesky mosquitoes in the middle of the night, we served in the army, we paid our taxes, we contributed to the continued flourishing of this fabulous experiment in the desert.
And now – boom!
In a jaw-droppingly short time, this so-called government has put a wrench in relations with the US and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, the Palestinians (despite Smotrich’s assertion that they don’t exist). The government is collapsing our economy, terrifyingly making it impossible for thinking people to serve in the military, and bringing us to the brink of dictatorship and civil war. Families are split down the middle; old friendships are breaking up. When a liar leads the country, everything becomes fake news; the people can’t believe a word they hear.
History is unfolding here at a rapid rate; by the time this goes to print, our Supreme Leader might be in another European capital or hopefully out of politics and relaxing in Caesarea or abroad. As I write, he and his lady wife are in London, where they grabbed 60 rooms at the Savoy; I guess our taxes are paying for that, as well as the non-kosher food our hypocritcal haredi-placating prime minister is said to have wolfed down. “Queen-Consort” Sara may have had her hair done there, sadly; despite doubling her beauty budget, she apparently still needs to trawl European cities to up her panache.
King Bibi might be running away from demonstrations here, but they are dogging him wherever in the world he is still welcome. I attended the demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament the week before the Netanyahu Royalty touched down at Heathrow; it was interesting to me. Well over a thousand Israelis and Londoners turned up; I’m unsure if that’s an impressive statistic, considering some 150,000 Jews call London home.
Friends were reluctant to fan antisemitism, to give anti-Israel voices a chance to shout. A few anti-occupation protesters piggybacked on to the cause; it was edgy for pro-Israel mainstream Jews to attend. I get it, but oh! How exhausting to always be a stranger in a strange land, to worry about how you are perceived, to struggle with dual identities.
That’s the sweetness of living here, in this contested, congested, conflicted land. We don’t have to worry about sticking out as Jews or rocking the national boat. Not that we are exactly floating gently along here. Psychologists have noted that this ongoing split-down-the-middle crisis is causing mental health issues among pro and anti-reformers, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, men and women alike.
Insomnia is hitting even sound sleepers; blood pressure is skyrocketing each time one of our leaders leers that they are listening to us – yes they are, and they are our brothers and sisters and we are all fellow citizens – as they gallop ahead with legislation to turn us into serfs. Possibly the only unaffected citizens are some haredim, snuggled in their study chambers.
Yair Netanyahu, though, he knows what’s going on. Our eternal leader’s son is watching the demonstrations against his father’s bid for dictatorship, and to enable ex-criminals to be ministers, and to legalize raking in large sums of lovely cash to pay for their legal woes. Netanyahu the heir watches, and whips off tweets that should have him incarcerated for incitement; in this government’s tenure, they’d likely set him up for being minister of justice, or security.
Netanyahu Junior has called the protesters – me, my kids, my family and friends (and even my young grandchildren who also have been to demonstrations) – terrorists and the equivalent of Nazi Brown Shirts. And even in these days of insanity, fake news and endless tra-la-las – even in this apocalyptic era – Yair Netanyahu has gone a step too far.
We will just have to hope and pray that in the end, sanity prevails and we can all enjoy the end of our chag.■
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl. Peledpam@gmail.com