February 25, 2003
I don’t want you to start pre-deleting or stifling yawns when you see this letter coming from me so often. And I do intend keeping it on a less frequent basis. However, things are hotting up over here….
First, today’s images on the Israeli news include an ambulance helping a bride arrive punctually at the location of her wedding and reception (which are usually one and the same here). How come? The country – the Middle East – is being swept with unusually heavy winter weather. The lady’s wedding was in Jerusalem, which, at 600m altitude, usually gets a few flakes each year. Today’s falls, however, have been heavy. Here in Tel Aviv, what a happy sound of hail on the roofs. Main roads are flooded, sewers overflowing. It’s a temporary set-back for the running of the city, but in the long-term, so important.
Looks like Sharon has put together his coalition: primarily the combination of his powerful Likud, plus the secular Shinui (“Change”) which was the other big winner in this year’s elections, and the politically right-wing National Religious Party. It’s a tiny majority that he now has, but this could be a chance to at least put internal problems to rest – because, for the first time in so many years, the ultra left and ultra-right/religious are out of government.
The Shas party is furious. They are the party formed out of the religious Sephardic community, so downtrodden in the early years of the State, then dominated by the Askkenazis from Central Europe. Their spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has been spitting insults at Sharon and others at being ignored. There is real potential to separate religion from politics, to force religious students to at least do national service (perhaps community service if not army) and to stop giving families extra benefits for having more than 5 children.
These coalition politics made me realise the oddity of many societies: the larger the country, seemingly the fewer political parties. China has one, India and Russia, perhaps 1 ½. America has 2; many European countries are currently in danger of being dictated to by their 3rd parties. Here in Israel, it is still the small parties that threaten the government, where, in the last Knesset, Sharon arranged for about 20% of all members to have ministerial or deputy-ministerial position – just to keep the little boys happy.
Give me a good dictator…..