New Israel

The Israeli election represented change with the upsurge of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit
Heyehudi and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid getting over 25% of the seats in the Knesset. I
suggest that the shift is a foretaste of a more radical shift not only in Israeli political
life but in Israeli society than simply a political shift in the country’s fiscal and social
priorities and the promised changes Lapid made about education.

Howard Glick (an American who settled in a northern Israeli Yishuv called Eschar with
a very mixed community of Israelis and migrants, a very wide variety of professionals,
religious and non-religious) reported on his Blog (Deganit Glick) the following voting
results from his Yishuv:

Labor Party –
Jewish Home – 23.7%
Yesh Atid
Likud-Beitenu – 12.9%
Meretz – 4.7%
Am Shalem – 3.3%
Hatnuah – 2.8%
Hadash – 1.1%
Eretz Hadasha – 1.1%
Otzma LeYisrael – 1.1%
Shas – 0.8%
Ale Yarok – 0.8%
Koah LeHashpi’a –
Dor – 0.3%
United Torah Judaism – 0.3%

What is remarkable is that, with such a right-left split in the community, their
commitment to mutual respect and pluralism holds up. I think this is an adumbration
of the most important revolution Israel is undergoing, from not listening and constant
confrontation to hearing the other, listening and civility without eliminating differences.

My own view is that the votes in this northern Yishuv reflected more the emerging Israel
which is reinventing itself as concerned with respect, honesty, transparency, and not with
religious or ideological divisions since Bennett included secularists and Lapid included
the religious in their respective Lists.

Israeli Elections Prediction – Actual

Likud Beiteinu (Netanyahu) 32 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 14 18-19
Labour (Shelley Yachimovitch) 17 17
Shas (The Trio) 11 13
Habayit Heyehudi (Naftali Bennet) 14 12
Hatenu’ah (Tzipi Livni) 8 6-7
Meretz (Zahava Gal-On) 6 6-7
United Torah Judaism (The Duo) ? 6
I had not expected that Kadima would be totally wiped out and expected them to get 2 seats.

Right: Likud Beiteinu + Habayit Heyehudi (excluding Shas) 46
Left & Centre: Yesh Atid + Labour + Hatenu’ah (excluding Meretz) 39

Not bad for a total amateur and record as a lousy prophet. I, but along with virtually everyone else, had not predicted as many seats for Yesh Hatid. I was reasonably close on all the rest because I had not predicted the Haredi vote. If I had, I would have been too low. These preliminary results based on exit polls will shift somewhat as votes cast for parties that did not make it into the Knesset are redistributed.

And for now I will stick by my prediction of a Centre-Right + Centre-Left broad coalition without the Haredi parties led by Bibi since he has already hinted that this is his preference and he has already reached out to Lapid.

Likud Beiteinu (Netanyahu) 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 19
Labour (Shelley Yachimovitch) 17
Hatenu’ah (Tzipi Livni) 7

Total 74

This contrasts with Channel 2’s predictions of a narrow right coalition with 61 seats that includes Shas and UTJ. I think it is incorrect because Bibi hates being in a straight jacket.

Israeli Election Prediction

Last night I undertook a poll of my own. The sample consisted of four Israelis. Nevertheless, however small the sample, I believe there are insights to be gained and I am going out on a limb to make some predictions if only to once again prove how lousy a prophet I am.

1. Israeli (A), who is normally right of centre, is voting Meretz led by Zahava Galon because A was unhappy with the marriage of Bibi and Lieberman’s party to form Likud Beiteinu, because Bibi had turfed out his moderate right wingers like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor and had given the wild men such as Moshe Feiglin more prominence (he was runner up to Bibi in the Likud party and received 23% of the vote for leadership perhaps because of the low vote turnout among party members an unnoticed prophetic sign about the weakening loyalty of Likud supporters) and because A was most concerned about the growing and very significant financial disparities. Asked why not vote Labour; was A not voting for Labour because Labour was ignoring the peace with the Palestine issue. After all, Labour has made a big thing of the economic divide and could theoretically possibly form a government which Meretz could not. No, was the answer. A thought the peace issue was a non-issue A did not like Shelley Yachimovitch personally but wanted to vote for a party that represented the economic issues and who would NOT form a coalition with Haredi in it. A had passed the tolerance level with the Tal Law allowing Haredi to defer indefinitely national service, especially since the Supreme Court of Israel had declared it illegal, but Bibi still had not resolved the issue. The return of the ex-criminal Aryeh Deri to prominence in Shas as a joint leader with Yishai and Atias was also a turn off (at least for her as an anti-Shas voter). A thought Avigdor Lieberman was a racist and Bennett was too far to the right.

2. B was normally moderately left of centre and the most important issue was an anti-Haredi vote – this person, like A, is Orthodox but is fed up with the corruption on the religious side as well as with a form of blackmail politics. The Palestinian Peace issue was a matter of indifference since there was no prospect of peace with the Palestinians no matter who formed a government. B was voting Meretz as the strongest way to make that preference known.

3. C is a liberal and more left of centre than B and voting for Meretz which sometimes attracted C’s vote in the past, but not the very recent past. [The three did not at all influence one another’s vote.] This was a way of expressing support for the greater justice economic platform but also the pro-peace platform, which Labour had ignored, even though this person also believed there was no prospect of peace with the Palestinians unless Obama put enormous pressures on both sides, which was unlikely given both Obama’s character, his huge agenda and the make-up of Congress. C wanted to vote for a party that would get into the Knesset but NOT be part of a government at this time, thus sending a message, remaining relevant but not compromising C’s integrity.

4. D was part of a growing number of Israelis who stay away from the ballot box on election day and deliberately do not vote because D believed that voting for any party would not make a difference and casting one’s ballot for a party that would not win would not be a strong enough expression of disgust and indifference with the whole political process of repugnant ads, repeated robo-calls and superficial reasons associates gave for voting for one party or another. This was a version of Dow Marmur’s disillusioned voter who says “A Plague on all your houses” but was so cynical and disgruntled with the democratic process altogether that even casting a protest vote was not enough of an expression of cynicism and disillusion. Nevertheless, in spite of this attitude, D acknowledged and A had stressed, that there was far more interest in this election than the last one. (B, in fact, thought that this election was pivotal.)

My general predictions.
1. Meretz will do better than it has for a long time if only because it will have garnered three voters from very different camps, two who have not voted for Meretz before and two of those voters in spite of Meretz opposing Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza. Zahava Gal-On has established her mettle as a leader by breaking the Israeli pattern of driving competitors out who went on to form new parties; Gal-On co-opted Ilan Gilon, her main competitor for leadership who got 37% of the votes, to stay on board.
2. Though not because of my survey, except insofar as Naftali Bennet of Habayit Heyehudi brought about very strong negative feelings in those I surveyed, Bennet will I believe do even better than the polls predict because people feel very strongly about him both negatively and positively and because he is both religious but anti-Haredi because of Haredi non-military service. Bennet’s strong pro-IDF is very important to his garnering votes, particularly in the currently perceived Israel insecurity while, paradoxically feeling a strong sense that Israelis are strong enough to be self-reliant. In spite of Yisrael Beitenu’s pushing the Equal National Services for All bill, the anti-Haredi vote is largely going to Bennet because Yisrael Beitenu had not retained its virginity but had merged its fortunes with Likud which had not got its act together to pass an anti-Haredi bill.
3. Bibi was not being bothered this time by the anti-vanity and anti-egotistic voter, but he was also not garnering their repellence. Likud was still losing votes and would fall below the previous strength of the two parties he now led, but would, as widely predicted, have the largest bloc in the new Knesset and would lead the new government. The union of Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu lost Likud votes, but those votes did not only go to Bennet. Further, the most important damage to Bibi was not his speech supporting a two state solution based on land transfers but retention of a Greater Jerusalem – a non-starter in the peace process, though he clearly lost supporters to Bennet over the issue. The most important damage he suffered was when he lost the aura of the master-coalition builder when he could not forge a government to pass the anti-Haredi bill and pass a budget so the government could serve its full four year mandate.
4. Bibi’s popularity surge when he had Gilad Shalit released from captivity in Gaza after over five years was undercut when Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, joined Labour. Another reason for the loss of votes was that Bibi was not successful in making security, particularly with respect to Iran, a more prominent issue, but not prominent enough to give Bibi a mandate to launch a pre-emptive attack on Ian’s nuclear facilities or even make that a decisive election issue. In fact, given Morsi’s leadership in Egypt and his anti-semitic views, given Erdogan’s leadership of Turkey, given the politics of the opposition in Syria, the sense that Israel was surrounded only by enemies and could not depend on anyone else to defend Israel, had grown. The surprise to me, given these perceptions, was why Israeli security was not more prominent and why domestic security was more prominent. Israel, with one-quarter of Canada’s population, has a murder and crime rate that is one half of Canada’s. Domestic politics on the security front as well as the economic front loomed larger than had been the pattern in the past. After all, Labour had been given a real boost when Moshe Mizrachi, the very popular head of the International Crime Investigation Commission, joined the party.
5. The electoral process itself turns voters off, particularly the media blitz and the belief that the party leaders are vain glorious, an epithet usually previously attached mostly to Bibi, but NOT this time, but to Bennet, but also Tzipi Livni of Hatenu’ah, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima and Yair Lapid of Yesh Hatid, if only because leaders on the left of centre and the peace process side were not able to put aside their huge egos to form a united left that could possibly lead a government. In fact, Livni formed Hatenu’ah because she lost the leadership of Kadima to Mofaz and took away seven of its Knesset members. Yet Labour and Yesh Hatid did manage to sign an agreement to merge their total votes so that the party with the most votes would, if entitled by extra unused surplus votes entitling an additional seat, be awarded that seat.
6. Shelley Yachimovitch has not had enough time or enough elections under her belt to re-establish Labour as the prominent brand, though she did save the brand from extinction, but will have to develop Bibi’s skills in co-opting other leaders and parties in the centre and on the left to once again re-establish Labour as the party of government, for the most important skill in Israeli politics is how you deal with, use and co-opt other people’s big egos.
7. The Palestinians gaining member non-voting status in the UN was a non-issue except insofar as it made Israelis more cynical about the UN. The peace process is dead for the next four years and will be even deader if Palestinians resort to violence in protest against creeping annexation and the futility of the peace process, but without taking responsibility for their own part in the doldrums in which the peace process finds itself, a main reason the peace process is in the doldrums. In fact efforts at the usual confidence building turn Jewish Israeli voters off more than inspiring them to do something. Further, even many Israeli voters on the moderate left do not believe the building more settlements in Metropolitan Jerusalem has had any negative effect on the peace process even if it has not helped that process. I suspect that the Economics Party formed by the American-born Goldstein brothers on a platform of economic partnerships with the Palestinians as a key step towards peace will make little traction.
8. Not only was the Palestinian peace issue not even on a back burner, so was the situation of the Israeli Arabs.
9. Feminism has not been an issue, not, I believe, because of the reason Dow Marmur suggested that Israel is in the macho Middle East, but because none of those I surveyed (half women) thought it was relevant to this election except insofar as A reacted so negatively to the ultra-Orthodox parties.
10. In my survey, the voters were less concerned with the outcome of the election itself than the effect it would have on the political jockeying afterwards to form a government and, primarily, whether the government formed would be an anti-Haredi coalition or a right wing coalition which included Shas and UTJ. I am very curious, but have no idea, how Rabbi Haim Amsalm, who supported a liberal conversion law and supported greater Haredi integration and was consequently forced out of Shas, will do with his new Am Shalem party and whether or not he will even get a seat or, for that matter, the other splinter Haredi groups Under Shmuel Auerbach (Netzah) or the followers of the Breslov rabbi in Kalanu Chaverim, but I suspect the latter two parties will get nowhere but will give impetus to splitting the Haredi vote.

Helped by Stephen Miller’s polls but without the help of Nathan Silver, and thus necessarily flawed, I suspect the results will be, indeed, a Likud Beiteinu victory but with only 32 seats and not the 35-37 predicted or the combined total of 47 (Likud 27 and Yisrael Biteinu 15) previously held. In reality, this should be considered a defeat. Labour will at least double its representatives and get 17 or 18 seats and be the second largest party and saved from what only two years ago predicted to be its death. The third party will be Habayit Heyehudi with 14 seats though polls predicted Bennet had faltered on the last lap and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Hatid may give Bennet’s party a run for its money for third place. In effect the combined right will have no more seats in this Knesset than in the last, but the shift to the right will be stronger. Meretz will double its seats to 6. Kadima will be virtually wiped out retaining only a couple of seats. The Haredi parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism or UTJ), in spite of splits on their side, will still hold 15-17 seats. Just think, if Hatenu’ah gets 8 seats or so, the centre-left, if effectively combined and led, could have been the largest party with about 40 seats.

So the prospects are:
1. An anti-Haredi coalition of the right-centre-moderate left with the following parties:
Likud Beiteinu (somewhat humbled – not necessarily a good thing) 32
Labour 17
Yesh Hatid 14
Hatenu’ah 8

Total 71

2. A right wing coalition as follows:
Likud Beiteinu 32
Habayit Heyehudi 14
Yesh Hatid 14
Hatenu’ah 8

Total 68

If the remnants of Kadima are added, the anti-Haredi coalition would be even stronger.
Alternatively, Bibi could try to form a coalition with Shas and UTJ and leave out one of the above to retain leverage over his real political rivals. But if he reads the tea leaves and the times correctly, he may form an anti-Haredi coalition and finally pass the needed reforms on conversion, rabbinical monopolies, corruption in the housing ministry. I suspect a turnout rate will run against the downward trend and generally help the anti-Haredi parties and counter somewhat the propensity for the Haredi voting in high numbers.

Amour (2012)

Amour, Not A Love Story


Howard Adelman

In the beginning of the 1960s, my friends and I all fell in love with the French film and winner of the Grand Prix, Hiroshima Mon Amour (HMA), directed by Alain Resnais who made what I remember as the first Holocaust film I had seen, Night and Fog. HMA was sui generis in its dazzling visual style and depiction of sexual passion, a film like nothing I had experienced before. What took place represented more the free associations of the interior of one’s mind than the linear narrative of films I had experienced up until that time which also portrayed deep and truly unequalled passion. But HMA was unlike the almost entirely direct linearity of Amour that I saw last evening, with the exception that Amour is told as a flashback.

Like Michael Haneke’s current Palme d’Or masterpiece, Amour, HMA is about a very intimate conversation that takes place between a couple in love, only in Amour the couple have been in love for half a century. HMA is also about memory and forgetfulness, only HMA is more of a discussion about the relationship over a day or so as the couple are separating after a brief affair. Amour takes you into the experience of loss of memories and faculties as Emmanuelle Riva, who plays the eighty something year old Anne in Amour, has a debilitating stroke and then another as we watch her deteriorate from a dignified and very classy beautiful older French woman into a helpless and totally dependent suffering vegetable cared for over some final months by her devoted husband Georges played by Jean-Louis Trintignant. I was totally embarrassed to learn when I got home from the film that the stunning and magnificent actress whom I had just watched, was the same actress fifty years later whom I had so devotedly loved in my imagination as the epitome of beauty in the sixties when I was a twenty-four year old youth.

Amour has one of the most powerful dream sequences I have every seen in a movie. Georges, the husband in this almost exclusively two actor movie, has a terrifying nightmare in which he experiences a new intrusion into his life, for death is the unwanted burglar who damages his front door at the beginning of the film and adumbrates the destruction that is about to ravage the beautiful bourgeois cultured life he and his wife, Anne, had constructed over a lifetime. He greets the threat with equanimity and some obliviousness while Anne is not only irritated by the threat but feels discomfited and very vulnerable, a sign of the emerging divisions that their two lives will now take even as they are locked together even more intimately than ever before.

However, with the exception of one humorous tale Georges tells Anne about an embarrassing funeral he attended at which the Beatle’s song Yesterday was played, there is no escaping the despair and anxiety. The nightmare is not a re-experience of a stressful event in the past that can be relieved by psychotherapeutic or psychoanalytic therapy. In the nightmare, the elevator shaft is barricaded and boarded up, and the hallway is filling with a rising tide of water. Anne and Georges are besieged. The fear is metaphysical and ontological. The sense of extreme discomfort and perilous danger and torment is only relieved when Georges awakes screaming from his demonic nightmare, much to the amazement and puzzlement of his wife Anne lying beside him. But the film is a realist nightmare, a story told with unremitting and uncompromising honesty with a total absence of weepy nostalgia. When Anne asks for the old family photo albums, she flicks through the old photos and state simply but sadly, “C’est beau – la vie.”

Unlike HMA, Amour — in its traditional but almost surrealistically realistic transfixing and tender story-telling in all its meticulous, expressive and subtle detail — almost certainly cinematically references HMA, at the very least in its obvious contrasts. More significantly, and even more than HMA, Amour aroused fear of the process of dying, despair at the ravages of the seeming helplessness of all of us as we anxiously await this end and despair of society’s apparent unwillingness to let us depart with dignity in the face of a wasting illness. Even sealed hermetically in their apartment, Georges and Anne can only preserve a wisp of elegance in the fight against the inevitability of death but the not-inevitable but socially dictated horror of the process of dying. The view of the unforgettable performances of the two stars is unflinching but restrained as we watch from the perspective of a camera kept exceptionally still in contrast to the prevailing hyper-kinetic motion of contemporary movies. The cold, clinical and chilly distancing of the director makes the details of the life of Georges and Anne even more tender without any pandering sentimentality.

Both films are about failed relationships, though on the surface Amour appears to be about the opposite. In the backdrop of Amour we are briefly over several episodes in the film introduced to the failed relationship of Georges and Anne’s daughter, Eva, who is married to Geoff, a very famous British concert pianist and serial philanderer, only in contrast to HMA, the daughter is resigned to sticking it out even though her mother can barely tolerate Geoff’s British manners and his offsetting sense of humour which Anne can only take in small doses. Georges too sticks it out as the almost ideal long love of his life deteriorates and we in the audience voyeuristically watch as even this relationship disintegrates as Georges becomes her devoted care giver as Anne sinks into progressive dementia and her hand physically withers into a gnarled limb. It is difficult to know whether watching the deteriorating relationship between Anne and Georges or the deterioration of the physical capacities of Anne is more painful and harrowing to observe.

In Amour we do not have the documentary backdrop of the portrayal of the effects of the bomb on the Japanese people for Amour takes place virtually entirely within the increasingly claustrophobic confines of the elegant and very high-ceilinged but tired-looking Parisian apartment of Georges and Anne as if to tell us that a half century love affair between two people is an exceptional thing apart. Further, unlike the constant tension between the woman and her Japanese architect lover and their distinctive points of view, cultural experiences and styles in HMA, the only tensions between Anne and Georges take place over their different experiences of Anne’s stroke and the after effects after Georges is first startled by Anne’s beautiful but serene face haunted by a vacant stare as if she was wearing a death mask. Anne subsequently cannot understand why Georges is so upset at her behaviour and why he complains about her failure to respond until she herself comes to understand that she has had a stroke when she unsuccessfully tries to pour herself a cup of tea. While HMA was about the paradoxes of love and the divisions and tensions in the powerful attraction of two people who share so little in common but love, Amour is about two older pianists who have shared a lifelong love of music and deep appreciation of one another, but even that record of deep intimacy disintegrates under the ravages of human mortality just as , paradoxically, their lives intertwine even more intimately. We may live together for fifty years but inevitably we die alone. And without music! There is no soundtrack to either enhance or detract from the visual effect except when we hear a piano performance at the beginning, another piano performance by Anne’s former pupil at their home, and a CD of Anne performing which Gorges turns off. But Georges cannot turn off this excruciating process of dying. Instead of a music soundtrack through the film, we only hear desolate silences and sounds, a tap turned off mysteriously when Anne was otherwise in a coma, Anne’s desolate muffled grunts and her cries ‘I am in pain’ as she is bathed by a nurse.

Thus, both films are about impossible, romantic and poignant love stories that we rarely see, but Amour is much more of a horror film for it shows that even when the impossible becomes real, ravages of time and mortality and death will deal even that love affair a mortal blow. As a leader in the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND) in the early sixties, I was well acquainted with the enormous and widespread destruction nuclear weapons could and did make on human civilization and the personal lives of people, but I could still watch HMA. Now I am seventy-five years old. My brother-in-law just died and I watched the effects of pancreatic cancer on his body and spirit and the fact that his only wish to die with dignity could not be granted. Georges in Amour, with all his devotion to Anne, could also not grant her the same wish. Amour, by contrast with HMA, was just too painful and harrowing for me. I had to leave this brilliant masterpiece 30 minutes before it ended.