OPINION: Bibi, don’t bottle out of making Israel a country I’d want to live in

OPINION: Bibi, don’t bottle out of making Israel a country I’d want to live in

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Jenni Frazer
Jenni Frazer
Jewish News columnist Jenni Frazer.
Jewish News columnist Jenni Frazer.

By Jenni Frazer

I feel, as perhaps do many readers, in something of a Jewish overload. Never was the saying [with apologies to the title of this publication] “Jews are news” more true than now.

If it’s not curious broadsheets wondering whether Jews are about to take to their heels en masse, it’s “Oh My Aching Jewish Heart” confessional articles by wide-eyed Americans askance at how we do things in Li’l Old Yurp.

Enough, already.

Let’s all step back a bit and try – if the loonies out there will permit – to return to a quiet life. Except of course, we can’t.

The anti-Semitism genie is well and truly out of the bottle and every time a Jew so much as coughs in this country now, it becomes the focus of forensic attention. Let’s divert some of that attention to the man who claims to represent all Jews around the world.

Yes, your friend and mine, Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s prime minister has made much political hay in the last weeks by using – some would say cynically – the tragedies in Paris and Copenhagen to issue a rallying cry for diaspora Jews to come to Israel. Make aliyah, he suggested, and all your problems will be over.

And it is to some extent true that living in Israel can be a joyous experience, with a Jewish calendar ringing the seasons, rather than remaining the eternal outsiders, nose pressed to the windows of Christmas and Easter. But living in Israel is not for everyone and it is not necessarily the answer to specific diaspora problems.

Where there might not be anti-Semitism, there is frequent terrorism; there is, though we might not like to address it, some fairly loathsome racism; and some serious social problems. This week the Yesh Atid Party leader, Yair Lapid – who in the interests of fairness I must identify as one of Israel’s richest men – held a campaign meeting, one of scores that all the politicians are holding around the country ahead of next month’s elections. Journalist Tal Schneider was there, and reported: “People got up one by one and talked about their economic problems.

No one was interested in war, or terror, or [the row about Netanyahu’s proposed speech] to Congress. One woman said, my husband and I have both got good jobs – and we can’t get to the end of the month.” I wonder if that’s the kind of thing people find it comfortable to say at rallies addressed by an increasing mulish and defiant prime minister. Last week the state comptroller issued a shocking 40-page report about Bibi and Sara Netanyahu’s spending habits.

According to Forbes magazine, Bibi is Israel’s sixth richest politician. He and Sara have a penthouse in Jerusalem and a villa in Caesaria. In 2011, according to the state comptroller, their cleaning expenditure was “excessive” and their food spending “inconsistent with the basic principles of proportionality, reason, effectiveness and thrift.”

Despite having an in-house cook, food and hospitality spending Chez Bibi ran to $122,500 in 2011, double the previous year’s expenditure, while catering cost $23,000. Sara Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been castigated for a bizarre piece of obsessive housekeeping in which she apparently collected bottle top deposits and pocketed the proceeds. The couple’s lawyer was obliged to defend this practice by advancing the argument that the person who collected the bottle tops was entitled to the revenue – as though Sara Netanyahu were an abject asylum seeker living behind Tel Aviv bus station.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So, yes, Bibi, I hear your siren call to make aliyah. And yes, I would love to join you as your neighbour in Caesaria.

I hate the weather here, and I know that you will provide me with a top job – perhaps, like your erstwhile head honcho Naftali Bennett, I could become one of your political advisers. (No, I have no qualifications for that job but then nor did Bennett, now leader of the Jewish Home Party, when he slid into place from industry.)

I’m ticking things off, now. Great apartment – sea view a must – great job, preferably where I don’t have to speak Hebrew and can pretend I still live in my Anglo bubble.

Or you and we could get real and understand that aliya is a difficult process and not something from which to make cheap political capital.

And that most people who make the leap are more likely to find themselves in the position of the anguished voters at that Lapid campaign meeting, the squeezed Israeli middle class who can’t make ends meet, while Mrs Netanyahu amuses herself collecting bottle tops.

Fix those things, Bibi, and perhaps the diaspora and Israel can have a realistic conversation.

Until then: please shut up.

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