What on earth does Pondicherry have to do with Israeli politics?

Julian Resnick writes from Israel

“Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, and robes the mountain in azure hue”

Thomas Campbell was a Scottish poet who lived and wrote in the late-18th until the mid-19th century. He travelled a lot and wrote about many of the big issues of the day — the French Revolution, slavery and the partition of Poland.

Yes, I am writing about my home. My home today is Israel, and has been such for the past soon-to-be 47 years since I left Apartheid South Africa to live my dream. 

My dream? To make at least a small contribution to — in my mind — the greatest project of the Jewish People since the Talmud — The State of Israel.

So why quote Thomas Cambell? I write this in South India, in the city of Pondicherry in the State of Tamil Nadu. It feels a lot like the South of France here. Pondicherry was once the heart of French India, and the physical memories are just beautiful. The names of the streets — we are staying on Rue de Saffren; the names of the accomodation — we are staying in Les Hibiscus; the architecture in the French Quarter; the Lycee; the convents; the Cathedral — shades of Marseilles, Lyon…

I am far away from home as the drama in Israel unfolds. No Thomas, you are wrong! Nothing about the view of Israel looks particularly enchanting from here. Ben Gvir continues to look like a thug. Smotrich continues to look like a very talented racist. Avi Maoz continues to look like a homophobic misogynist. Netanyahu continues to look like the arch political manipulator ready to sell us all down the river to keep himself ensconced in the Prime Minister’s residence which, they say, is far more comfortable than Ma’asiyahu Jail where most VIP prisoners spend their jail time. (I have no personal experience of either of these two Israeli accomodation options, so going only on hearsay). 

“Oy vey!! Julian, how can you write things like this?” I hear you say (assuming these words get to you), “You are writing about our beloved Israel! And Ben Gvir, Smotrich and Maoz all wear kippot, are all God-fearing religious Jews, like those of us who go to shul regularly in Claremont, Sea Point and Gardens.” 

Yes they do, but I would argue that when they open their mouths and give vent to their hate-filled version of Judaism (not my version of Judaism, by the way; mine focuses on all human beings being created in the image of God; mine focuses on the command to be a light unto the Nations; mine is reflected in the language of the Declaration of Independence), they remind me of the trials of some of the heads of organised crime in Israel, who often appear in court, charged with violent crime, with sanctimonious expressions and a big kippah on their head. 

Why am I so upset by the election results you may ask. Let me give you just a few reasons — not all, but a few which really rattle me (as an ex-South African). 

1. Private businesses (hotels for example) will probably be able to refuse entry to people they do not wish to host! For example, gay couples or Arabs. In July I am guiding two couples from NYC. My driver Mahomoud — you realise from his name he is a Muslim Arab — and I will be staying close to their expensive hotel in a B&B on a religious kibbutz. What happens if they decide to not allow Mahomoud to stay in one of their cottages? This would be within their rights now, according to the plans of Justice Minister Levin. Remind you of anything?

2. I am just a little nervous writing all of this. For the first time in my almost 47 years living here — two in the army and 45 working (including schlichut in San Francisco, London and New York) — I am aware that there are those with political power, who would silence dissent. Whose plans include silencing those whose opinions differ greatly from the mainstream. More than anything else, what I have loved about my almost 47 years over here in Israel is that I have unlearned one of my earliest identity-building lessons that I was taught in my small town (Somerset West) Jewish community. I was taught to hide parts of who I was. In Israel I have never hidden any part of who I am. And it feels so good. 

3. I ask myself, ‘is this what a slippery slope looks like?’ You know, ‘When they came to take the gay people, I was not gay so I said nothing.’ You know the rest. (BTW if you think I am exaggerating, just read what Avi Maoz is writing — not has written, but is writing. And remember, one man is responsible for him being in the Government, running a sub-ministry with an Orwellian name, The Ministry of Education unit responsible for ‘External Programs and Promoting Partnerships’. Seriously? Doublespeak (in his book 1984, George Orwell coined the term Doublethink — using ambiguous or euphemistic language to disguise what one is actually saying. 

One last thing. May I respectfully suggest to you that you read what has been written recently, in Israel, by three polemicists from the centre of the political map. Read Yossi Klein HaLevy, Rabbi Daniel Gordis and  Matti Friedman. 

If you care about the future of the State of Israel, now is the time to stand up and say something which needs to be heard by Bibi Netanyahu, especially as he thinks that you are all in his pocket: “Not in my Name”.

Bullocks all spruced up for the Tamil Nadu festival of Pongal

• Published in the February 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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