Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rock the Vote (Part 2)

         Sorry I left you hanging on that last post. I know you're all breathlessly wondering how the election event went, so get settled in, because it was an interesting night! To begin, the event was designed for young olim, and was to be conducted in English. Each of the 7 major parties would send one representative to basically sell their party's platform, answer our questions and essentially put a face to their contingent. The event was held in a hip Tel Aviv bar and the room was divided into tables, so as to create more intimate environments with which to connect with the candidates. Every fifteen minutes, the candidates would move on to the next table, kind of like a "speed-date your politicians" event. My table was made up of some liberals, some left-wingers, some smolanim and some progressives. What I'm saying is- everyone was a Leftist. If you've been keeping up with this blog, I am not a Leftist. But I was prepared for this eventuality, so I brought one of my favorite fellow right-wing olim, Ilan, as a partner-in-crime for the night (no crimes were actually committed, not to worry.) Ilan and I agree on almost all issues, so it was good to know that when I asked a question where every person disagreed with my point of view, someone had my back. And it was fun to make fun of the outlandish Leftist stuff people said with a fellow "crazy right-winger."
Being super focused on Likud's presentation

For purposes of easy reading, I'll give you a synopsis of each party's representative:
         What was once Labor is now some "unity party" called "the Zionist Union." Essentially, neither of the 2 biggest left-wing parties could get enough seats, so they have formed the Zionist Union party to pool all their support, in hopes of taking the prime ministership. I will reiterate, I think the name of this party is unintentionally hilarious, as I do not see how fundamentally changing the Jewish character of Israel and giving away land to Arabs piece by piece has anything to do with Zionism, but I digress. The woman chosen to speak was a Russian immigrant who seemed, quite frankly, like she had better places to be. I asked her why someone like me (ie- a crazy right-winger) would be interested in her party in any way. I have to hand it to her- she valiantly gave me reasons (unconvincing, but still) why the Zionist Union would work for me, too. Oh, and also- Bibi is the worst. This became a running theme by every single party (except Likud, obviously, and Bayit Yehudi) so for purposes of summation: everyone hates Bibi (not me, of course- just everyone else.)
             Next came Yisrael Beiteinu who had to spend most of their time defending themselves from reports of scandal and their party leader, Avigdor Lieberman. I personally don't mind his fiery brand of nationalism, but you know who does? Tel Avivians. They were not on "Team Yisrael Beiteinu" and it showed. YB also sent 2 representatives- one of whom apparently had all the answers and struggled with English, and another who spoke as beautifully as the Prince of England, but had to defer to the Israeli for all the answers. It was kind of a cumbersome presentation, but still informative. 
            Likud sent their #32 delegate to represent them. Weird choice, huh? Even in the absolute best-case scenario, this guy isn't MK-bound. So why was he the rep, you may ask? I don't know for sure, but he is Likud's only openly gay candidate. His goal is to make Likud more gay-friendly and the LGBT community more Likud-friendly. Worthy goals all, but let's face it- Likud knows their audience. A bunch of young people from Tel Aviv will obviously respond best to this specific representative, especially considering their almost visceral hatred of Bibi. It was a good move. I thought he spoke well, except at one point he said he was atheist and in the next breath said the Jewish claim to this land was biblical and Torah- based. It may make sense to more enlightened people, but to a G-d- believing, Torah-thumper like myself, I didn't how those 2 ideas worked together in his brain.
          Then came the two "centrist" parties, Yesh Atid and Kulanu. I had forgotten all about Yesh Atid, but was interested in what they had to say because I have right-wing friends who voted for them, based on their economic plans. If I can paraphrase their platform "The Left is wrong and the Right is more wrong so vote for us!" They didn't explain how they were right, but I liked that angle. Politicians in the US always come to the middle during elections, and Yesh Atid was owning that middle ground. ("And you get a car! And you get a car! Everyone gets a car!") Over in Kulanu, they sent a real dynamo. Handsome and boisterous, he was like an edition of Us Weekly; super fun to read, with no substance. One hilarious exchange was when he called out all the other parties for "not being accountable" for their mistakes. He promised that if elected, Kulanu would be accountable for all they do. I asked how he could know that for sure, if this was a brand-new party. He told me Kahlon (the party leader), had been in Knesset for a while so I asked what Kahlon had ever done wrong for which he took accountability. This very gregarious man listened, looked at me seriously, and answered an entirely different question altogether. It was humorous for sure, but I did hope for an actual answer. 
          When Bayit Yehudi came to sit down, I was pretty excited. This was the party I wanted to support, and I also wanted to be a friendly face at a table full of very unfriendly, Bayit Yehudi detractors. And then- disaster! The representative had a grasp of English about as good as my grasp of Hebrew. That is to say, he can speak English, he can understand it and he can lightly converse in it. But can he represent his party platform to a group of aggressive olim? Nope. And it was a real shame, too. What could have been a great opportunity to endear Bayit Yehudi to a group of Left-wing olim in an intimate setting was an opportunity wasted. Bummer.
          I saved the Meretz representative for last, because the whole experience was an exercise in absurdity. Meretz bills themselves as the "progressive" party, more to the left of Labor/Zionist Union. With just a quick perusal of their literature I could see, they felt the exact opposite of me on every single possible topic. It was almost humorous, if you can forget about the fact that they actually get elected to some seats in every election. The representative was a nice looking, well-dressed man who confessed to us that, in his youth, he had been a Likud member (gasp!) He followed that up with "Well, we all make mistakes and I switched to Meretz!" which got an appreciative laugh from those assembled. I quickly remarked, "So you also think switching to Meretz was a mistake?" which received an even larger laugh! Two points for the crazy right-wingers! As he continued, he used expressions like "We support a redistribution of wealth." I nearly spit out my Goldstar. In the US, that phrase is often inferred and never uttered. It's political suicide, much as some politicians agree with it in principal. I asked Mr. Meretz if he meant what he just said and he responded "yes, of course." Mind you, this man is a lawyer who probably makes more than 95% of Israelis, and I somewhat tend to doubt that he'd be willing to give away half his earnings to the poor in Ashkelon, but who knows? The whole presentation was one pro-socialism, anti-religion, progressive proposal after another and my mouth was agape the entire time. Still, it was super- interesting to actually hear about, because when on earth will I come this close to a Meretz representative again in my lifetime?
              During the evening's presentation, there was a little clique sitting across from me, an Australian couple and their newly-acquired friend from New York. (Turns out, our common past as New Yorkers was our only discernible link). They were as Left-wing as I am Right-wing, except they were disgusted that I had the nerve to be there, espousing my views. When I would try to clarify or follow up a question, they would shush me. I kid you not, actually shush me! And when they would ask a question, it was usually a 4-pronged question with multiple follow-ups. To every candidate. When a Right- wing candidate would say something they disagreed with, they would actually snicker in his face, as if this silly person had no right to that opinion. It was a lot to take, to the point where after the 3rd "shush" I said "Please stop shushing me. It may be hard to hear, but you aren't the only people here that matter." They looked shocked, then rolled their eyes at one another, and that, kids, is how fourth-graders do Israeli politics!
              This event didn't exactly open my eyes or answer any burning questions, but it did give me some more insight into the political landscape here (and drive home the fact that Tel Aviv and I will forever have a complicated relationship). It was cool to have face-time with actual candidates- I've never met candidates back in Queens or had the chance to ask them questions. Mostly, it spurred me on to stay active in the election process, keep reading and searching, and hopefully to arrive at the best possible choice for me as an Israeli. Viva Democracy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rock the Vote

                 I have been passionate about politics since I turned eighteen. That year, I missed the voting cutoff by a few months, so by the time another presidential election rolled around, I was twenty and excited to exercise my civic duty. And exercise it I did- voting, with my family, (as a tiny and insignificant bloc) in every city, state and federal election from then until when I made aliyah. And so as to not belabor the reveal- I am a registered Democrat but I vote Republican. Always. And if you know anything about New York City politics, it is basically casting a ballot for the loser, Every. Single. Time. No matter how crooked or inept or terrible the Democrat candidate is (cough, DiBlasio) the Republican is basically just a man in a suit, waiting to be defeated. Similarly, in these last two presidential elections, my votes have been utterly useless. To vote for the Republican in blue New York is like shoveling your sidewalk during a blizzard- you feel like you've done your part but ultimately, it makes no difference. I watched Obama get elected twice, sitting in blue, blue Queens, wishing I lived in Texas or Mississippi or better yet Florida, so my vote could actually mean something. But it didn't. I did, however, vote so often that Jury Duty notices basically came to my house daily.
                 Then I moved to Jerusalem, Israel. I knew that I would get to vote at some point, but little did I know, the government would fold and elections would be held this March, two years earlier than scheduled. This excited me greatly, for as a citizen of Israel, I was now allowed to actually have a say in who was to be elected! After years of sideline advocating and politicking in the US, now my opinions actually have some weight behind them- now I can be a part of the action! But whom to vote for? Not to belabor another (highly obvious) point, but I am right-wing. Not crazy right-wing, as my liberal friends would accuse me of being, just regular, Israel-loving-Jewish-State-advocating-strong-defense-strategy-Judea-and-Samaria-supporting-Temple-Mount-visiting-religious-Zionist right-wing! And if that makes me a crazy right-winger, well, I guess I am! To me, it just makes sense. It's how I was raised back in NYC and has taken on an even more intense sense of rightness for me while living here. It's a matter of security and saftey, of keeping the Jewish state Jewish, with it's roots in history and it's legitimacy unquestioned. It's not apologizing for being the home of the Jews, all Jews, and maintaining it's Jewish character. To me, I live in the Jewish state, not a state that so happens to house a lot of Jews. But that's just me. 
                 Or so I thought! When I came here, I told everyone in my ulpan that my goal was to join Knesset one day and I jokingly (but not at all as a joke) remarked that I wanted to be prime minister one day. Like the next Golda Meir, except virulently opposed to socialism. Then I discovered there was a candidate and a party who literally said "No more apologizing." Stop apologizing for Israel's defense of itself, and stop apologizing for the Jewish character of this country. Stop telling residents of Judea and Samaria that they don't deserve the government's help- are they any less Israeli than those in Tel Aviv? (If I may be so bold, they love this country more than any of us!) Stop apologizing for the IDF and the way terrorists are treated- they certainly don't apologize to us for causing terror. He was saying everything that I was thinking but hadn't heard, and I was sold.
                Then, some reality. Elections here are very different than in the States. With so many parties (as a parliamentary system, one votes for a party and the party leader who can create the largest coalition of seats then becomes the prime minister) it's a real bloodbath. Hareidi candidates argue with one another, the Left all try to distinguish their positions and the Right all try and out-Right one another. Each of them blames the other for the country's failings and no one is ever to blame. Except Bibi. Apparently, he is to blame for everything. Now, I personally like Bibi. I think he's a brilliant orator, a proud Jew and a true war hero. That said, he has taken steps that I can't approve of, like releasing terrorists and freezing housing (lest the left lead you to believe he's all 'build baby build'). Do I blame him for his frosty relationship with Obama? Nope. I believe Obama hates Israel and hates Bibi more for not capitulating more to the Palestinians. I also think that, thank G-d, Congress and the vast majority of Americans support Israel and know how right Bibi is on it's peace and secuirty. But he has been in office for quite a while. And if it were up to me, we'd have new (cough, Bennett) blood as prime minister, but now is apparently not that time.
                And so we have Bibi from Likud or Tzipi Livni/Isaac Herzog (yes, they are going to share the prime ministership, how bizarre?) from the entirely misnomered "Zionist Union." Those are the options. And whoever can make up a larger coalition will be the leader(s) of the country. And if, G-d forbid, that is Livni/Herzog, I believe we are in trouble over here. So this is where the dilemma sets in. Do I vote with my heart- for a party whose platform represents me most closely? Or do I vote for Likud, who needs right-wing votes in order to stay in leadership? My cousin certainly thinks so. He's every bit as right-wing as me, but tries to convince me constantly to support Likud. To him, Iran is the main issue here, and he knows Bibi is the only one able to deal with the threat (probably true). He sends me videos, articles and slogans daily, trying to sway my vote. Do I really believe the tides of the Israeli election turn through me? No. But I did become one of several million votes in Israel, rather than one of hundreds of millions of votes back in the US. And so, in raw numbers, my vote does matter more here! What to do?!
                To get a grasp on the situation, I signed up for an event where candidates from each major party represented their party's positions to young olim like myself. The experience was such a trip that it needs it's own blog post to truly do it justice. So stay tuned for Part 2, okay? Thanks, you're the best!

Sunday, February 8, 2015


          This past Friday night I was invited to post- Shabbat- dinner drinks at a new friend's apartment. It was a lovely evening, and at the end, a toast was raised to an attendee who was moving back to his home country after living in Israel for work for 2 years. As we wished him well on his return to his native land, the common refrain from the largely Anglo group was "You're so lucky to be going back!" and "Wish I could do the same!" I stared around at the room, absolutely gobsmacked. Not one to be shy with my thoughts, I wondered aloud; "Are you guys still American citizens? Have you renounced your citizenship? Are you native Israelis? Why don't you just go back, too?" I didn't understand why, if leaving Israel was a desired and plausible option, everyone was still here!
          The responses came from all sides, "How long have you been here?," they wondered. I responded with, "I've been here since July 1, and I finished ulpan December 15th." This response elicited knowing looks between those involved, as if to say, "Soon you'll learn." I was confused. All this time I had been hearing that the transition to Israeli life was most difficult at the beginning. It was hard to leave family and friends, difficult to find a job, a pain to navigate bureaucracy. And now, here I was hearing the exact opposite. That this was my honeymoon phase, where every day was rosy and Israel could do no wrong.
            So which is it? Walking home, I thought about each perspective. On the one hand, I was very much honeymooning. I came to Israel on a wave of intense Zionism, buttressed by a long, thought- out aliyah process and many years of living in New York behind me. I knew that this was the life I wanted, smooth sailing or not. So I made a conscious decision not to "sweat the small stuff." This stuff currently includes making a doctor's appointment, ("We will have that doctor available in 2 weeks" Hope I last that long!) a broken couch ("Someone will be by to fix your couch in 24 days (!!!)" Is this real life? Three weeks on a broken couch?!) and finding a job ("We will let you know about continuing the interview process next Thursday" Oh, cool, I'll just wait here on this broken couch, then.) And even though these frustrations would never exist back in the States, I signed up for them. I signed up for poor customer service and socialized medicine, offices closing for 5 days for no reason and a reasonable wage of 5 dollars an hour. Nothing is really freaking me out too bad just yet.
             It makes me nervous to think that all this positivity and confidence I have in my life here might have an expiration date. It frightens me to think that maybe in a year, maybe two, I'll be sitting across from some new oleh from New York City, she all bright- eyed and bushy- tailed, and I will express a desire to move "back home" to NYC. When I left New York, I had never made a more cautious and well- thought- out decision in my life. I went to informational seminars and had Skype meetings. I asked millions of questions and interviewed extensively. I was no recent high school graduate burning to start my life in Israel (not that those olim are not impressive, maybe even more so.) I was a woman with a Master's degree and years of work experience, and entire family nearby and more friends than I deserved, yearning to make Israel my forever home. I made the decision with a full heart and yet this conversation has stuck with me.
            It's hard to say what will happen. It's hard to know how I'll feel living here single for a while, or newly married, or starting a family, or in a job I hate, or dealing with a lifetime of bad customer service and endless bureaucracy. And I won't know if that's reality and what I'm feeling now is just a honeymoon phase. But I do know that this is where I want to be. And I hope, that if in a few years I feel the itch to leave, to go back to where things were comfortable and easy, I look at this blog post and remember how I felt in this phase of my life, where Israel was the only place I ever wanted to be and nothing could ever change it- my Israeli honeymoon phase.