Summer of ’88 — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

I didn’t understand why the woman with the wispy hair looked so worried or why she kept glancing behind her, in the direction of the corridor of her apartment on Carlebach Street. I stood on her threshold, holding out a Labor party pamphlet and launching into my spiel about why Israel needed change that only a Labor government could bring. With the right leadership we could achieve peace with our neighbors and form a more just society, I promised. Suddenly a rhinoceros bellowed from the hallway. A man with a huge belly distending a threadbare undershirt charged in and then halted, readying to pounce, his mouth frothing. He stared first at me and then at the woman.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
“Labor party,” she whispered in his direction, as if against her will. He lunged at me shouting “They’re paying you to come here! Paying you!” The woman slapped the door shut just before he tackled me. As I ran down the stairs I heard him beating on the door and his wife trying to calm him. When I got out to the street, he was shouting at me from the balcony and holding a flower pot over his head, ready to cast it at me like a cyclops repelling lost Greek sailors. From another window his wife called out, “Please go away!”

In the summer of 1988 I had been married three years, had two small children, and a mortgage on a housing-project apartment. Israel was in crisis—what else was new? And I was sinking into the obligations and routine of family life. Even though I’d just returned from a long month of reserve duty battling Palestinian teenagers in the villages around Jenin, I felt I was betraying my country.

Read moreSummer of ’88 — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Cold Feet–Why Israeli Voters Shouldn’t Get Their Fantasy Government

Haim Watzman The talk in the locker room at the Jerusalem Pool has been surprisingly conciliatory since the election last week. Dani, who voted Meretz (after seriously considering Hadash) and Siman, who voted Likud, agree that the next coalition should consist of the Likud, Kadima, and Labor, under Bibi Netanyahu’s leadership. When I pointed out … Read moreCold Feet–Why Israeli Voters Shouldn’t Get Their Fantasy Government

Understanding Lieberman’s Voters

Haim Watzman

Why do I really dislike Avigdor Lieberman? Because he’s forcing me to write about politics. When Gershom and I started this blog, I thought he’d take the political beat and leave me free to write about my country’s diverse and exciting culture and literature. But who can concentrate on books when the wolves are howling at the door?

A couple days before the election I had a long conversation with a young Palestinian-Israeli woman I often see at my favorite South Jerusalem café, The Coffee Mill. Like me, she was in despair over the likely results of the impending election, although unlike me, she wasn’t planning to vote.

I told her something that I’m afraid may shock some of SoJo’s readers, those who seem to measure us by the extent to which we conform to left-wing clichés. I told her that the Israelis who voted for Lieberman and his party aren’t evil people.

Read moreUnderstanding Lieberman’s Voters

Drawing the Line

Haim Watzman The sad story about the election Israel will hold tomorrow is that, no matter what the precise results, the balance of power will be held by a group of legislators contemptuous of the principles of democracy. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party seems almost certain to become the country’s third largest parliamentary faction and, … Read moreDrawing the Line

Go Green!

Haim Watzman Two months ago, I announced that I’d decided to vote for the Green Movement. I urged the Greens to form a joint slate with MK Michael Melchior’s Meimad slate—and they did. And since then, silence. Where the hell have I been? Skeptical journalist that I am, I’ve been doubting my decision. I’ve been … Read moreGo Green!

The Knesset Loses a Philosopher

Haim Watzman It’s a ritual that Israel observes before every election. One or more highly-qualified exemplars of what an Israeli parliamentarian lose out in their party primaries or decide, in disgust or exasperation, not to run again. This year’s latest victim is Isaac Ben-Israel, MK for the Kadima Party. In an interview with Ari Shavit … Read moreThe Knesset Loses a Philosopher

Standing Up for Man’s Right to Cheat

Haim Watzman

<em>       Anastasia in a thoughtful moment</em>
Anastasia in a thoughtful moment

I wasn’t planning to post today but I couldn’t let South Jerusalem’s readers head into the holiday season without alerting them to Anastasia Michaeli, the superwoman who is headed for the Knesset on the Yisrael Beiteinu list led by Avidgor (“the only thing to my right is the wall”) Lieberman.

When it comes to role models for Israel’s young women, you can’t beat Michaeli. A Russian immigrant who has pulled herself up by the straps of her high heels, she’s a tv star, former beauty queen, and a mother of seven. She’ll be the first Knesset member to bring a baby to full term in term and (so the papers say) the first convert to Judaism to serve in that august body.

Michaeli will be the Knesset flagbearer of third-wave feminism. First-wave feminists demanded equal rights and opportunities; second wave feminists stressed female distinctness and pride. Third-wave feminists have taken the bold step of proclaiming that men can do whatever they like; they can trust their women to remain pure. Here’s Michaeli on how every woman should treat her husband:

Read moreStanding Up for Man’s Right to Cheat

Why I’m Going Green

Haim Watzman For years I have preached against small parties. Whenever my friends get excited by the latest new and fashionable political movement or the latest political star whose ego-trip involves founding and leading his own party, I’ve warned that a vote cast for a small party is both wasted and wanting. Wasted because, in … Read moreWhy I’m Going Green

An Arab Prime Minister for Israel?

Haim Watzman

In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S., there have been a spate of op-eds and blog posts on whether an Arab could ever become prime minister of Israel. Some present it as a challenge to Zionism, at least as conventionally conceived, while others try to explain why such a thing could not, should not ever be. The latest installment is Daniel Gordis’s piece in The Jerusalem Post.

Gordis is correct in saying that an Arab majority in Israel would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and that an Arab majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, would reflect that loss of majority status. Zionism requires a Jewish majority–and not just a bare majority but a large one–for the state to be Jewish. This is the reasoning that means the two-state solution is the only way of preserving Israel as a Jewish state.

But while the election of an Arab to head Israel’s government, while improbable, is certainly not impossible,

Read moreAn Arab Prime Minister for Israel?

Oh, For the Days of the Party Boss and the Back-Room Deal!

Haim Watzman


There was a membership meeting at shul Saturday night to discuss plans to finish our building’s unfinished basement. A well-meaning, socially-concerned member (true, those labels apply to pretty much everyone in Kehilat Yedidya ) suggested that democratic procedures required that we poll the entire community, asking each and every member whether they favor or oppose the proposal.

If you’ve ever been involved in synagogue governance, or served on a PTA board, or tried to run any other organization, no matter how mundane, you’ll know why I started turning red. You work together with other concerned members and, through a process of study and deliberation, weigh various options, compromise between opposing views, and put together the best plan you can. Then you bring it before the membership and everyone becomes a partisan and wants to go back to square one. If the meeting isn’t well-managed, all your work is for naught.

How anti-democratic of me! I’ve been accused of precisely such dictatorial tendencies on several occasions during my life. But my socially-concerned, democratically-committed fellow-Yedidyan was wrong. In properly-functioning democracies, not everyone gets to decide everything. And an overdose of public involvement can in fact subvert true democratic process. It’s just such a surfeit of democratic politics that has turned Israel into a nearly non-functioning democracy in recent years, and led to a situation where Israelis will be presented in February with a choice of notably mediocre candidates for its legislature.

Read moreOh, For the Days of the Party Boss and the Back-Room Deal!

Left Behind: Why a New Party Won’t Save Social Democracy in Israel

Haim Watzman Ha’aretz has been going ga-ga over the impending new left-wing party that will incorporate Meretz, a few old Labor hands, and some literary figures who have long acted as the collective conscience of the Israeli left. The newspaper also devoted several pages of its Friday opinion supplement to the age-old question of whither … Read moreLeft Behind: Why a New Party Won’t Save Social Democracy in Israel