Off to a flying start

January 4, 2019 by Michael Kuttner
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With the starter’s gun still reverberating and 2019 just dawning the election steeplechase has already attracted a crowded field ranging from old grey mares to young untrained fillies and would be stallions…writes Michael Kuttner.

Michael Kuttner

If this was the Melbourne Cup the bookies would be having a field day trying to sort out the likely winners from the broken down nags destined for the knackers’ yard. As it is, the pollsters are revelling in the fine art of trying to divine the electorate’s intentions. With months to go until 9 April and parties dividing like amoebas, new parties being born and opportunistic politicians bouncing between them the task of predicting an eventual overall winner is an almost impossible task.

Every Israeli election sees a multitude of new political parties popping up but this time around there seem to be a record number of them. Representing every interest group and ranging from left to right, voters are going to be faced with a multiplicity of choices on election day. While some commentators lament this overabundance of candidates others view it as democracy in its purest form. The problem is that the minimum threshold is still too low and enables too many small parties to gain Knesset representation. On the other hand, as we have no upper House to scrutinize and amend legislation the necessity to form coalitions means that compromises must be made which after all is the object of a second chamber.

In the overall scheme of things having a wide-ranging choice is better than some countries where it’s always a two horse race or other places where democracy in its real sense is a work of fiction.

It has been remarked many times and is as true as ever that the Jewish People are more often than not, ungovernable. Moses found this out during his lifetime and it has been true in all generations. The corollary is that any leader must have nerves of steel, an iron will to impose unpopular decisions and a strong team to support him or her. On the other hand, willingness to compromise is also necessary and this is where things get complicated. Finding a sensible balance amongst a disparate group of politicians is the ultimate challenge and is usually the cause for further “broigus” politics.

Another impediment to smooth governance is the inflated egos of many of the players concerned all of whom believe that they alone are fit to govern. In this respect, our present day aspiring leaders are in direct contrast to Moses who had to be cajoled and persuaded to take on the leadership role and whose lack of ego and empathy for the common people set him apart from most others. He would have no chance of succeeding in Israeli politics these days. Of course, his great advantage was that he recognized a higher authority and thus the machinations of the opposition never in the long run succeeded in derailing his leadership.

January 2019 has hardly started and we already can see that it’s business as usual on the international front.

From 1 January shechita is being banned in parts of Belgium and soon to take effect in the whole country. The writing is now on the wall for a sustainable Jewish life in that country because in due course there is bound to be a demand that imports of kosher meat products be also curtailed. Jews living in other countries where this situation already exists should take note because once religious practices are banned other measures soon follow such as a ban on circumcision. We have seen it all before in recent history.

Violent demonstrations against the French Government because of economic and social conditions have become regular features of daily life. It is amazing but not surprising that with his ratings at an all-time record low the French President and his Government still feel an overwhelming urge to meddle in our affairs. One would have thought that he had enough problems to deal with without having to resort to condemning Israel for providing homes for Jews in places which have historically and legally always been part of our homeland. Diverting attention from local domestic disasters by interfering in the domestic policies of the Jewish State seems to be an irresistible urge on the part of many European leaders.

Immigration (aliyah) statistics issued for 2018 shows an increase with olim from Russia leading the surge. Interestingly the figures for Ukraine, UK & France show a drop. One has to, therefore, question what the Jews in those countries are waiting for. In the case of Ukraine where Judeophobia is an ingrained fact of life, economic conditions are dire and the political landscape is bleak one would think that things couldn’t get worse. This year promises to prove that theory wrong. In the United Kingdom except for those Jews with their heads in the sand, most others are fearfully anticipating a Corbyn victory which will see a party riddled with extreme left-wing anti-Israel bias, led by someone whose good friends are sympathetic to known terror-supporting groups, take the reins of Government. A recent survey suggested that up to 40% of British Jews would consider emigrating if this occurs. Well, what are they waiting for? As far as France is concerned the slippery slope is well underway and Jewish life in many parts of the country is becoming untenable. Again, we need to question why aliyah rates from France decreased last year.

Far too many times in our history we have left hostile and dangerous places too late. Do we ever learn?

Talking about dangerous places the US State Dept. has launched the New Year by issuing yet another travel warning for Americans. It states: “American citizens are warned that violence can occur in Jerusalem and the West Bank without warning.”  Although acts of violence can occur anywhere at any time, as a regular commuter to Jerusalem and a resident of Judea I can guarantee that I am safer here than walking the streets of most American cities. Mass shootings at schools, universities, places of entertainment and rampant gun violence generally are almost a daily feature of the US landscape these days. The contrast with reality here is mind-boggling yet somehow and for reasons not hard to discern the State Department feels compelled to issue these nonsensical, false and irrelevant “warnings.” It’s about time that our own authorities issued travel warnings for Israelis travelling to the USA.

Some news verges on the “believe it or not” category. I came across an item which at first glance seemed improbable but yet proved to be one of those occurrences which demonstrate that good things can sometimes happen to bad people. Would you ever believe that a German neo-Nazi indoctrinated with hatred for Jews could one day see the error of his ways and convert to join the Jewish People? This video interview with Israeli media brings you the amazing story of one young man’s journey from Jew hater to a “ger tzadik” – a righteous convert. Life is full of positive events and as 2019 commences we should realize that the unexpected can often surprise us in a welcoming way.

NB: For some reason known only to youtube you may be asked to verify your age in order to access this video.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.

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