A country losing its soul

One of the enduring memories of my long-dead father was of him reading the Los Angeles Times newspaper every morning. (We actually couldn’t afford the newspaper, but thanks to a special deal with the Disabled Veterans of America, we got it for free.) He was a troubled man, nearly crippled by horrible injuries suffered in World War II and further diminished by lifelong addictions to smoke and drink. Still, having only a high-school education, he was a very smart man.

From the time I was little, he would have me read selected articles in the paper to help me develop a perspective on America and the world. I remember his being enthralled by the detailed dispatches coming out of the Middle East during the Six-Day War in 1967. Beset on all sides, Israel, in less than a week, quadrupled in area, seized the holy city of Jerusalem, and demonstrated its military superiority to the entire world. (For history buffs, I highly recommend the book “Six Days of War: 1967 And the Making of the Modern Middle East.”)

In the first few hours of the war, Israel completely wiped out the entire Egyptian Air Force, destroying nearly 500 planes, most of them on the ground. It was undeniably clear: Israel was a badass, a tiny country surrounded by haters but blessed with a populace that had a collective laser focus on surviving. They couldn’t say things like “You can’t win ‘em all.” They had to win ‘em all or there would be no Israel.

I remember a joke that was going around then. A young Israeli man asked a woman if she would like to go on a date and have dinner that night. The woman said, “We can’t go on a date! There’s a war on.”

The man said, “Well, how about tomorrow night?”

At the time, I was years away from being drafted, but still troubled by America’s involvement in the quagmire in Southeast Asia. I was at the age where everything was black or white, right or wrong. Israel showed me that there was such a thing as a just war. Six years later, after being caught off-guard in what would be known as the Yom Kippur War, Israel devised and implemented a brilliant strategy akin to a chess master trading queens and basically starved the Egyptian Army into submission.

Israel was to be admired, to be respected, to be prayed for. That Israel, I fear, is in danger of blinking out of existence.

In recent years, the United States and then Brazil both veered off course with a substantial portion (but never a majority) of their respective populations being lured by the false sense of security being offered by slick-talking autocrats. The fever has broken in the Americas, but for some ungodly reason, Israel has chosen to barrel full-speed down a one-way, dead-end street.

Using the always-messy Parliamentary system of government, Israel elected (again with a decided minority) their own Trumpian nightmare, Benjamin Netanyahu. But because his party, Likud, didn’t have enough seats in the Knesset to form a majority, he had to sell his grimy speck of a soul to members of parties that are even more crackpot right-wing than his own. He probably felt that he had to because he is facing criminal charges that, if he were convicted, would likely result in his spending the rest of his pathetic life in prison.

Netanyahu wants to destroy the entire judicial system of Israel just so that the criminal case(s) against him cannot proceed. In order for that to happen, he has made deals with people who are now part of his government and want to:

• Make it a crime to be gay;

• Make it illegal for men and women to swim at the same time at public swimming areas;

• See to it that anything passed by the 61-59 coalition majority in the Knesset becomes law and cannot be appealed to whatever is left of the judiciary.

For the crazy ideas to become law, they must first eviscerate the judiciary so that their crackpot “laws” can’t be challenged. The Netanyahu government is planning on doing that very thing, perhaps as early as April. This has sparked massive protests throughout the country (more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv recently), with many fearing for their beloved country’s very existence.

Before I wrote this, I contacted a couple friends who happen to be Jewish. Both are members of the Diaspora and lifelong supporters of Israel. One of them I know through sports and I have no idea about his politics. When I asked him about what’s going on in Israel, he just shook his head and said, “It’s insane.”

The other, whom I have known for decades and with whom I used to be quite friendly before he went Full Frontal Trump during The Madness, tossed me the throwaway line of “You’re not Jewish; you wouldn’t understand.”

Isaac Herzog is the president of Israel, a mostly ceremonial position. Just last week, he said ominously, “During the reigns of the House of David and the Hasmoneans, Jewish states were established in the land of Israel, and twice they collapsed before reaching their 80th anniversary.”

Israel is coming up on its 80th birthday in just a few years.

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