Board of Governors’ meeting of the Jewish Agency. Opinion piece Nov. ’19.

It’s always great to be in Israel.

I like to visit a small hole in the wall business in Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem – the Kippah Man.

Let’s call the owner ‘Yosi’ – being Israel, everyone knows his real name is Avraham of course – but………

When I have time and want to feel I am really back in Israel, like a ritual, I ask ‘Yosi’ for a kippah that matches my hair colour.

He is always enthusiastic and eager to help and has a collection of thousands of kippot.

Now I do not know if ‘Yosi’ is a good salesman or simply colour blind. You have no idea how many kippot he pulls out of diverse colours from bright red and yellowish to black – not a single one even close.

But somehow he manages to convince me to always buy at least one.

This time was no different.

I’d taken a short break from the Board of Governors’ (BOG) meeting of the Jewish Agency (the Sochnut) and nipped out during a pause in deliberations.

I returned to one of my proudest moments.

The Zionist Federation, together with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, is hosting a distinguished group of Australian leaders led by ex-Prime Minister John Howard, on a mission to Israel.

The BOG – Board of Governors meeting consists of a couple of hundred people representing the leadership of the Jewish world.

The numbers are largely in proportion to the demographics of Jewish populations around the world and hence the Americans are numerically dominant.

They did not know what hit them.

There was this relatively modestly proportioned 80 year old man, making his way to the microphone. He followed a short while after the previous major speaker, the towering Benny Gantz. Gantz had given a good speech, but which he had read off a teleprompter – the impression for me was more that he did so not because of the language, but rather to stay on message.

Well, John Howard did not need a written speech to stay on message.

Howard began to speak. I do not know how long he spoke for because it seemed to pass so quickly – that’s how good he was. Howard spoke clearly, pointedly and powerfully – and without a single note.

He spoke about the region, the dangers and Israel’s resilience.

Howard spoke about Australia’s understanding and empathy for Israel’s position and about the strong and valued role Australian Jewry played and continues to play in the fabric of Australian life.

Howard outlined why it is important to support Israel and to stand by her.

When he ended, he got a long standing ovation from the entire room.

I cannot remember hearing a better speech from Howard, ever.

He left the podium much larger than he appeared on arrival.

Howard also showed those assembled, and even more so dare I say it coming from a non-Jew, that regardless of who holds the position of Israeli Prime Minister, support for Israel is non-negotiable.

John Howard made all of the Australians present realise once again, just how lucky we are and why the environment we live in contributes in a significant way to our ability to punch way above our weight in the Jewish world.

This is exemplified by Australian Jewry’s representation at the Jewish Agency, which as I wrote previously, is the largest gathering of Jewish leadership in the Jewish world – the full Australian contingent is with John Howard, in this photo:

credit: Zionist Federation of Australia.

Almost alarmingly, the country continues to run with only an interim government.

School holidays both in Israel and overseas are over, Succoth has ended belled by the end of summertime and the days becoming much shorter and yet the hotels in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at least, are packed, rooms are hard to come by and accommodation costs remain at peak season levels.

Tourists are coming to Israel in droves, Israelis are taking more and more internal vacations, particularly over Friday and Shabbat.

One the one hand, there is a sense that too many things are on the back-burner awaiting a resolution of the current impasse. But on the other life goes on as normal.

Once again, everyone agrees that the inability to form a government has very little to do with policies. Gantz’s statement that “We all agree on eighty percent of the issues” is if anything, a conservative assessment.

Gantz still has about 2 weeks to try and form a government and then a sort of free for all period follows, until we arrive at a possible third election.

Various potential ways forward are being postulated and any one idea seems as likely or unlikely as the next to eventuate.

Israelis now regard President Trump as a somewhat less reliable ally, but more importantly, a creator of potential security issues for Israel. His actions in Syria and vis a vis Turkey, with the unintended or better said perhaps, unconsidered consequences of increasing Russia’s and Iran’s influence, are a source of deepening concern.  And with more and more talk of a direct threat from Iran, mounting.

Rocket hit on CCTV. credit: Ynet news

At the same time rockets are coming over once again from Gaza, and in some numbers. A house in Sderot was hit, but thank G-d, there were no casualties.

Politically however, the ramifications are very interesting. For some years, Netanyahu’s biggest and ongoing critic on Gaza policy, and with the constant refrain that Netanyahu was very weak in his response to rocket attacks, has been Naphtali Bennett.

So would you know it, after the recent rocket barrage Bennett went on Army Radio supporting Netanyahu’s very restrained response and said “There is no point in carrying out a stronger response against Gaza.”

Has Bennett suddenly had an epiphany?

Yes, but it was not about Gaza.

Firstly his interview with Army Radio was the day after another outlet had announced that Netanyahu was considering bringing him back into the Cabinet were he to be able to form a government.

And secondly, despite undermining Netanyahu at every turn for years and accusing him of being too “left”, Bennett realised the possible future should Netanyahu fail to form a government, and came rallying behind him.

In that same Army Radio interview Bennett said that he believed that if a third election were to take place “the Right will crash in historical proportion and we will find ourselves with a full-fledged left-wing government.” Therefore, Bennett continued “I am ready to resolve Netanyahu’s commitment to form a government.”

Well perhaps. But too little, too late???

It did however, reaffirm the trouble Gantz will have to loosen or prize off, any of the 55 Knesset seats which have to date remained aligned with Netanyahu.

There is still time for some surprises during Gantz’s period in order to form government but if not, it will really become interesting in the no man’s land time frame of the 21 days that follow, before a third election becomes unavoidable.

And of course in the background is the ongoing timing question over Mandelblit’s announcement on potential indictments.

Looking for some direction made me think of how similar the whole story is to the navigational app Waze.  One either loves or hates Waze.

Some people will follow it no matter where it says to go, and others will find as I did, that Waze is nice as a general guide but always fails to understand the one way streets around Jerusalem’s Greek Colony area.

This costs real money when a taxi driver insists on keeping the meter running, as we once again pass the same one way street that he assures me we will negotiate from the correct side on a third attempt. Or as he then continues without embarrassment, “if not, we will just go down the one way street, the opposite way”.

I wonder if he realised the metaphor for the current political impasse he was demonstrating in real life……..

……

Ron Weiser is an Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, ZCNSW

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