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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

History in the Making

These days most of us are going about their lives as usual: work, school, family... And yet the events of the past few months, and especially of this week, are probably nothing short of history in the making.

The American government bails out the two largest mortgage companies. Three out of the five leading banks in Wall Street are no longer with us. The largest insurance company is asking the government to throw it a lifeline. And the world stockmarkets are in a freefall.

We are all immediately affected by this "financial tsunami", through our mortgages, our savings, our pension funds and the value of our home. Yet these are merely the immediate effects and there is a much bigger picture to consider here. In the words of Alan Greenspan, this is a "once-in-a-century" crisis.

The banking system, unlike other parts of the economy, is built on trust and that trust has been eroded to a dangerous degree. The US government made a courageous decision by not saving Lehman Brothers at the last minute, preferring to send out a message that this mess needs to sort itself out with market forces. But this is a huge gamble, one that places the entire market-based economy approach to the test, the results of which may alter our lives in ways unimaginable (some say unthinkable) at this point in time.

By definition, it is not easy to discern clearly when history is being made. History is a hindsight business. But I'm paying close attention, as years from now I might find myself telling my grandchildren what life was like during the turnpoint year of 2008.

Monday, September 15, 2008


The primaries for the new leader of the ruling political party, Kadima, are taking place this week. One of the candidates, Shaul Mofaz (currently the Transport Minister) called a press conference yesterday and predicted he will win. So far - no news; typical candidate behaviour.

The interesting, and mildly disturbing, piece of news is that Mofaz confidently predicted to one and all that he will win with exactly 43.7% of the vote. Not 40% or 45%, mind you, but exactly 43.7%.

My first reaction was that I probably misheard (or rather misread, as I get my news from the Web). How can anyone possibly predict an election outcome with such precision? Surely even the most secular political candidate in Israel is aware of the saying of Rabbi Yochanan in the Talmud: since the destruction of the Temple, prophecy was taken from the Prophets and given to fools and children. Who in his right mind, i.e. not a fool or a child, would want to make such a prediction?

But then I remembered it is Mofaz we are talking about, and everything became clear. Mofaz, who has a lengthy military career behind him, was head of the IDF Officer School (Bahad 1) when I was there all those years ago. And even though as a cadet I did not bump into him that often, the impression that stuck in my mind from those few occasions I did hear him speak was that of a bumbling fool. I still remember all the jokes officers used to make about him behind his back. No wonder then that he, of all people, should be blessed with the gift of prophecy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do we Deserve Gaydamak? - A Year Later

On the eve of the current new Jewish year, I asked whether we Israelis deserved Gaydamak, the Russian-born billionaire with the questionable background that decided to run for mayor of Jerusalem. I added that if indeed we did deserve him, then we had some serious repenting to do.

A year on, it seems our repenting is starting to work and there are signs this particularly odious phenomenon may be starting its exit from the Israeli public arena. May this be the beginning of a wonderful fade out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Return of the Lion

Aryeh Deri, former minister, MK and leader of the ultra-orthodox party Shas, announced today he has decided to run for mayor of Jerusalem. Small problem: he was convicted and sent to prison 9 years ago, and the offences carried moral turpitude which prevent him from running for public office until next year. So he's asking, nicely, to let him run anyway and if that won't work, he will likely go to the President to ask for pardon.

Reminder: Deri was found guilty of corruption, breach of trust and taking bribes. He waged a campaign against the legal system for years, procrastinating at every possible junction while blaming the "ashkenazi elites" for political and racial persecution. He has never admitted guilt.

The Israeli public has a very short memory and an astonishing tolerance for chutzpah. Whilst this criminal has paid his debt to society, his asking for leniency on the ban to run for public office is unacceptable. It is inevitable (almost a law of nature) for Deri to come back to politics eventually, but he should not be allowed back by using the same old mixture of an attitude of self-entitlement coupled with shady dealings behind the scenes. Some humility and integrity are in order.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hamei Yoav, Israel

For our wedding anniversary yesterday, my wife and I spent a day and a night at Hamei Yoav, a natural baths and spa complex in southern Israel. We've never been and as it's a relatively short drive away nowadays, with route 6, why not?

Here's why not. The place is in dire need of a facelift. A new coat of paint will be a nice start. My masseuse told me the place is run by the adjacent two kibbutzim, which explains the poor management of the facility. It's a shame to see such a beautiful place deteriorate through neglect. It can become a real gem with proper attention.

On the bright side, what can be wrong with a day spent lounging in various smelly pools, enjoying a massage and eating in an Indian restaurant in suprisingly well-developed and clean-looking Ashdod? But next time I'll probably choose another spa.