Slouching Toward Sodom — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

   painting by James TissotAnd the Lord appeared to me by the sycamores of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as I sat at the door to my tent in the heat of the day, and I raised my eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by me. And when I saw them, I ran out to meet them from the tent door and bowed down to the earth to be frisked, for they were surrounded by mean-looking buzz-cut security men with little thingies in their ears.

And I said, “My Lord Bibi, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, even though I didn’t vote for you and never will. Let now a little water be fetched from the kiosk over there and wash your feet because those black Oxfords are really the wrong thing to be wearing on the Mediterranean coast on such a sweltering day.”

Lord Bibi consulted with his companions, the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting and Mr. Daddy Landbucks.

“We can stand,” Lord Bibi said. “We don’t have much time as we have other engagements to the east. We just came by to offer our sympathies and to say that we’ve been trying for years to lower housing prices but have been frustrated by the monstrous bureaucracy deeded to us by our Bolshevik predecessors.”

“But it’s not every day that I have such distinguished guests in my modest tent,” I protested. “Sit, and I will fetch a morsel of bread and then you may go on.”

“Oh, all right,” Lord Bibi sighed.

And I hastened over to the next tent and knocked on the flap.

“Go inhale the gut fumes of a flatulent capitalist cow!” came a voice from within.

“Baki,” I said, “we have important guests.”

“Tell them to go f— their bankers’ mothers.”

I was getting a little giddy from the fragrant, sweet-smelling smoke rising from the tent.

“It smells like you’ve rolled maybe three measures of fine stuff,” I said. “But snap out of it. These guys might be able to find us a place to live.”

Then I hastened over to the kiosk and procured some schwarma in pita and brought it as an offering to the men under the sycamore tree, and I stood by them, and they did eat.

And they said unto me, “Where is this Baki person?” And I said, “Behold, he is still in his tent.”

And Lord Bibi said, “I will certainly return unto both of you when the season cometh round, and lo, you and Baki will be ensconced in fine, expansive, and low-cost apartments instead of these igloo contraptions.”

Now Baki and I had been in our tents for a few weeks now and even when we’d shared a dump in Nahalat Binyamin we’d long since forgotten what it was like to have air conditioning and functioning toilets, and furthermore Baki’s brain had long since ceased to be after the manner of sane human beings. So a wild laugh emerged from his tent and he stuck his grimy, matted beard and red nose out of his tent and said:

“Just make sure it’s well-stocked with vodka and blonde Ukrainian seventeen-year olds.”

And I said unto Baki: “You are embarrassing me.”

And Baki said: “Don’t believe anything these plutocrats tell you. They French-kiss the nether parts of residents of the Akirov Towers.”

And Lord Bibi said, “Wherefore does this Baki sneer at us? Is anything too hard for a prime minister with a large coalition majority?”

And I said unto Lord Bibi, “It really is a bitch that I can’t afford to rent an apartment anywhere within reasonable commuting distance of any job I’m likely to get, especially with the price of cottage cheese what it is. I sort of managed last year but my landlord raised my rent by a third this year. It hardly seemed fair for him to make record profits when he hadn’t even had the place painted or the plumbing fixed since 1981. I couldn’t afford it, so I borrowed this tent. What can you do to help me?”

“Line up the dirty bastard landlords up against a wall and shoot them,” Baki suggested, as he and his flies came over to sit with us under the sycamore tree.

“Now, now,” the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting chided him. “Landlords are just rational human beings responding to market stimuli. Murder or, even worse, price controls will just exacerbate the problem.”

“The problem is not that people are getting rich off their property investments,” Lord Bibi agreed. “The problem is supply. It’s elementary economics. If there are more homes on the market, prices will go down.”

“Markets are theft!” Baki screamed.

“Calm down, Baki,” I said. “These men wish to help us. Let us harken unto what they have to say. So how will we get more apartments on the market?”

Daddy Landbucks sorely wept.

“It’s very easy,” Lord Bibi said. “Behold, Israel has huge resources of land that are not available for construction. Poor Daddy Landbucks here is desperate to help you out by getting his hands on that land so that he can build high-rise apartment buildings along with the other neighborhood facilities that every modern society requires, such as strip malls, gas stations, and establishments that peddle high-fat junk food.”

Baki spat on Daddy Landbucks.

“Excuse my friend,” I apologized. “He’s an anarchist.”

Baki put on the smile of a cadaver watching a good but untalented friend perform a stand-up routine.

“I’ll be nice!” he declared as he wriggled himself over to Lord Bibi and started feeling him up.

“Hark,” Lord Bibi said. “I am not accustomed to having unwashed hands in my pants pockets.”

“Just ignore him,” I suggested. “Baki is a gatherer. He considers the lily of the field. He does not labor nor does he purchase food. Rather, he lives off nature’s bounty, fruit that falls from trees and the leavings of picnickers.”

“What’s that have to do with my underwear?” Lord Bibi asked uncomfortably.

“He must have smelled a sandwich somewhere,” I said. “Did Sarah make you something for the trip?”

“Okay, okay,” Lord Bibi said as he gently removed one of Baki’s fingers from his ear—a finger Baki licked with great gusto. “I was talking about our land resources. More than 90 percent of the country’s land is owned by the Israel Lands Administration and anyone who wants to build on it has to go through agonizing bureaucratic procedures that take forever. So we don’t have enough housing and that’s why you can’t afford to pay rent.”

Daddy Landbucks wrung out his handkerchief.

“It’s that simple?”

“It’s that simple,” Lord Bibi said, patting me on the back. “Which is why I ask your support for my land reform law, which will enable Daddy Landbucks here to build pretty much whatever he wants wherever he wants. As we like to say, the money always knows where to go and if we just let it we’ll see new housing going up everywhere from the Lachish salient to the Galilean Hills to Hayarkon Park.”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “After all, it still takes a long time to build a high-rise. How do I know that if you remove all legal impediments to constructing new housing that buildings will go up fast enough to help me?”

“We have a laboratory!” Lord Bibi crowed. “Just look at Judea and Samaria. It’s a place where laws don’t apply to Jews and look how fast they build houses there! Why, if we do here what we do there you could be in your new apartment tomorrow!”

Baki’s face brightened. “You mean that with this new law I could build whatever I want wherever I want? It sounds lusciously anarchistic to me.”

“Only if you have lots of money,” said the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting. “Which you don’t.”

“And we are not anarchists. We are advocates of private property. What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine and everything else is Daddy Landbuck’s. This is the central value of a democratic, free-market society.”

“I have a question,” I said timidly.

“Ask away,” said Lord Bibi.

“All this land that Daddy Landbucks wants to build on,” I said. “Aren’t those our little country’s precious land reserves? Aren’t these our all-too-limited open spaces, parks, and green rural areas?”

“But if the money wants them to be built up, then that must be the right thing to do,” said the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting.

Daddy Landbucks was applying his handkerchief to his chin now, because he had stopped crying and was now drooling.

“And if we get rid of our planning boards, won’t Daddy Landbucks be able to build endless housing developments according to his short-term profit calculations rather than an in an environmentally responsible manner? Won’t we end up with high-rises and malls without parks and sidewalks—sort of like suburban Atlanta?”

Lord Bibi was getting impatient. “Verily, I am trying to help you, but you seem more interested in causing me problems. I have a sneaking feeling that you are being paid by the opposition.”

“Do you know Pirkei Avot Chapter 5, verse 10?” I asked?

“Of course,” Lord Bibi said. “I am a great advocate of Jewish values.”

“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”

“Exactly!” said Lord Bibi. “Property means being able to do whatever you want with your money.”

“Careful, my Lord Bibi,” cautioned the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting. “We seem to have happened on a last holdout of the socialist claque that ruined this country.”

“That’s not true!” I protested. “It’s unquestionable that free markets, in general, provide the greatest choice, stability, and prosperity and are fundamental components of a free and liberal society. But a market controlled by a wealthy elite that monopolizes most of the economy’s wealth while paying far less than its share of taxes is not free. Instead of providing freedom and choice, it offers igloo tents to the young and uncapitalized.”

Lord Bibi nodded to the Lord High Treasurer and Philosopher-King-in-Waiting and Daddy Landbucks. “We have listened to you carefully. Trust us. We have plans. But we must be going.”

“Where to?” I asked.

“We’re expected in Sodom,” said Lord Bibi.

“We are going to celebrate the launch of an innovative Israeli product, the kind produced by a society based on the maxim that that what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine and everything else is Daddy Landbuck’s.”

“Yes,” I said. “I hear those are the values that prevail there.”

“Cool,” said Baki. “Can I come?”

“Come right along,” said Lord Bibi. “They’ve invented a new kind of bed. One size fits all.”

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2 thoughts on “Slouching Toward Sodom — “Necessary Stories” column from <em>The Jerusalem Report</em>”

  1. Haim, this one’s a keeper. Truly a treasure. It elucidates the OTHER thing we have to do in concert with stopping the settlement enterprise: dismantle the frigging ILA! It’s nothing more than a lumbering, obsolete, superfluous hulk. Did I say lumbering?

  2. Being an American, I can’t really speak about the problems of the Israel Land Authority. But based on the experience of America, I’m not so sure that mass sell-offs of public lands are such a good idea. I’m also not sure that sprawl development is the solution to the problem of overpriced housing in Tel Aviv. I went to Google Maps and looked at the Tel Aviv Area, and it looks like pretty much anything within reasonable commuting distance of central Tel Aviv is already built up. So I don’t see how developing rural land somewhere else will help.

    It does look like there’s land available in the Rishon LeTziyon – Ashdod – Ashkelon corridor, but one would be dealing with some fairly long commute times. (Acording to Israel railways, the run time from Ashkelon to Tel Aviv is about an hour, the trains only run hourly, and the monthly fare, including a bus pass, is about 650 shekels.)

    Is the problem of the Israel Lan Authority just that it’s poorly managed? In that case Bibi has no right to complain, as the non-left has been in power long enough to have made the necessary reforms.

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