Flip Side: Parlor politics

Far away from mortar factories and missile fire, two groups convene to confront the challenge. One meets in an old Arab house - on a quiet street belying its proximity to the bustle of restaurant-lined Emek Refaim - with a spanking new kitchen imported from Italy, a bay window from Belgium and a bunk-beds for the boys bought at Ikea in Netanya. The other gathers at a rooftop apartment - in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City - with floor-to-ceiling book shelves, lined with leather-bound volumes covered in gold Hebrew letters, a large glass Judaica cabinet filled with silver ritual objects and framed photos of several sets of grandchildren, some living in America, others scattered in Judea and Samaria. At each home, the family dining table has been pushed up against a wall and earmarked for refreshments. On each table, there is the same electric samovar, the same coffee-and-tea paraphernalia, and the same assortment of burekas and pastries. In each living room, a dozen or so chairs have been carefully positioned to maximize space and provide the proceedings with an aura of austerity - one which such hosts unconsciously believe adds weight to whatever content is generated. They cannot read the minds of their guests - or, more accurately, participants - who are disappointed with the slim food pickings and uncomfortable seats. But no matter. No one would dare comment on such insignificant issues. Not when seriously lofty ones are on the agenda, that is. Not when the state of the nation is at stake, of course. AT EACH venue, someone suggests that the discussion begin without further ado. Enough time has been wasted, everyone present agrees, waiting for latecomers. But punctuality, or a Mideast lack thereof, is not up for dissection under the metaphorical microscope of either cluster of concerned citizens. Nor is the fact that all present have arrived here directly from work, and need to rise early in the morning. Including the invited speaker, in each case the founder of a new "forum" - the code word for "movement," which everyone understands to mean "budding political party." If it gains enough momentum, that is. In the form of - what else? - members, money and media attention. What is at the crux of both sessions, organized coincidentally at the same hour in west Jerusalem and in east, is the escalation in the South, the beneath-the-surface situation in the North, the threat of a potentially nuclear Iran and the fate of their own real estate, so to speak, with one set of ideologues worried about biblical - and the other about property - values. Though no one in the latter category actually spells this out. Well, not with anyone other than their brokers, that is. But in any case, they have been more preoccupied with the effect of the falling dollar on their personal security than they have with that of falling Kassams on the safety of the residents of Sderot. Except for insisting that it is part of a cycle of violence perpetuated, if not downright perpetrated, by the government - yet another thing this group has in common with its diametrically opposed counterpart on the other side of town. And on the other side of the political spectrum. Indeed, if there is one "bone of consensus" among these otherwise mutually hostile players it is that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert & Co. have to go. And the sooner, the better. Which is why, at each locale, the somber festivities kick off with the same introductory remarks on the part of the wannabe Knesset-seat occupier (a.k.a. guest of honor): "The time has come to take action." The same ardent applause from the audience erupts to the same adjectives invoked to describe the condition of the country. "Grave," for example. And "grim." The same earnest nodding of heads accompanies the same choice of words used to qualify the type of measures required to wrest the nation from its dire straits: "Desperate," for instance. And "drastic." BEFORE EACH circle of seemingly like-minded cohorts calls it a night, lists are prepared and tasks assigned, among them the writing of slogans for posters and bumper stickers. And placards to hold up at demonstrations each group has decided will be crucial next week. Olmert has declared he will not resign, no matter what the Winograd report reveals, which, by itself, is enough to get their collective blood boiling and creative juices flowing. Even if the rumors about his emerging less culpable than was originally assumed are true, he is guilty - as far as they are concerned - of reckless endangerment at the very least. Winograd, then - all of our anonymous protagonists agree - is more like an arbitrary benchmark for staged bedlam than a document whose contents will determine how they view the Second Lebanon War debacle. Furthermore, if there's one thing worth combating - they all announce - it's the "apathy" that has "infected" Israeli society and made it ill. The remedy: a return to the activism of the "good old days." Predictably, one or another member of each group comes up with what he considers a clever catchphrase using a play on the word "Kadima." That it means "forward," "onward" or "ahead" provides endless possibilities for platitudes. "Heading to the abyss" elicits groans in the first house. "Onward to obliteration" receives similar snorts of disdain in the second. "No wonder the Left is in such abysmal shape," several in the first salon whisper, loudly enough for the others to hear. "No wonder the Right keeps losing," cries in different corners of the second salon erupt. FAR AWAY from mortar factories and missile fire, two groups disperse. Each individual among them is anxious to get home and eat a proper meal. Each privately praises himself for having taken time out of his busy schedule to perform the penultimate civic duty - ousting the incompetent leadership. Each sighs with sadness at the tallness of the order, given the imbeciles in his own camp. [email protected]