Friday, July 13, 2007

Tel Aviv

We arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday morning on a flight on what is probably Israel's only domestic air route -- the four hour drive to Eilat is long enough to justify a flight -- especially to Tel Aviv's secondary Sde Dov Airport, closer to town than the international Ben Gurion airport.

Yesterday evening, we went out for dinner with the family of a relative of one of Vivian's friends. With three generations at the dinner table, and a route to the restaurant through one of the seedier parts of Tel Aviv, I gained additional insights.

Our friends reflect the "secular mainstream" of Israel -- bright, creative, not ideological fanatics, and totally frustrated with this nation's political reality. Our hostess is a pharmaceutical researcher -- she is working on genetic vaccines for Alzheimer's. Her lab came up with a vaccine that worked on rats, but in the first human tests with 500 volunteers, about 15 per cent had brain tissue swelling problems. So, back to the drawing board -- but this is research that could, if successful, save the quality of life for millions of people.

She made these remarks as her quiet husband drove the car through winding streets near the Tel Aviv bus station. At one traffic light, we saw a semi-nude, grossly overweight man, sitting on a bus bench, slumped, in a daze. "Probably on drugs, or drunk," she said. The reality is this neighbourhood has the characteristics of a Canadian or U.S. Skid Row -- and is populated with recent immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, on temporary work permits, or of course, people with serious problems.

At dinner, our host's son (who works at a business making aluminum door and entrance way products) says things are going well -- lots of construction under-way; and you can see that in the cranes dotting the Tel Aviv skyline. But the politics are another thing. It seems that Israeli domestic politics is now largely controlled by extremely religious parties and Russian tycoons who may have a less than honorable background. One tycoon is busy "buying" votes to be Jerusalem's mayor. No problem that he cannot speak Hebrew -- he sets up parties, events, giveaways to the poor, anything that he can do to obtain some positive publicity. The religious parties, meanwhile do what "the Rabbi says" -- the Knesset members don't have minds of their own. This is the stuff of political deadlock and corruption. "There's no one we can look up to, no Rabin," the son said. Yitzak Rabin helped put together the peace process that led to the Palestinian Authority before his assassination by a Jewish religious zealot.)

But despite these gloomy indicators, you can't be too sad for Israel. He and his wife have two vibrant toddlers, and there is enough freedom in Tel Aviv that those who don't wish to observe Sabbath restrictions can find a good local restaurant (and those who wish to be observant can avoid the place entirely). This is not a starving, suffering country. Perhaps because things are 'comfortable' the middle ground politically is not doing well; people have other things to do than fight political values. The problem, of course, is this leaves the nation weak in leadership when the next crisis arises (and it will -- the enemies are mobilizing and are determined to achieve their objective; this nation's destruction).

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