I recently returned from an eighteen day trip to Israel and London. I had been to Israel once before and to London many times. In Israel, we had a guide who drove us around the country, and we stayed in relatively luxurious hotels. In London, we stayed with a friend who lives in a section of London called Islington, a once poor neighborhood that is now being “gentrified” with houses selling for a million pounds or more. In London, we got around by bus and the tube (subway). In Israel, I spoke only with our guide, Jackie; and in London with a few friends. Thus, I had a limited exposure to the political views that dominate each country.
In Israel, I didn’t feel that I was in a country under siege. The markets were packed with lots of food and customers. The same was true of the restaurants. I never had the feeling that I was in danger. Rather I felt that I was in a prosperous, safe country where construction and renovation were widespread.
Jackie, our guide, was reticent about talking politics, so it was, at first, difficult to ascertain his views. As I recall, the first indication of his politics came when we visited the sight in Tel Aviv where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish religious fanatic. Jackie’s reverence for Rabin was obvious as was, we later discovered, his contempt for Bibi Netanyahu and most other right wing politicians now in power. He talked about Netanyahu’s greed (Bibi was under investigation for accepting gifts from wealthy supporters) as well as his wife’s reputed addiction to expensive clothes and jewelry. All of Jackie’s distaste for politicians was directed at the conservative party in power, none at the more liberal Labor Party.
Although Jackie was on the left side of Israeli politics, he was quite conservative when it came to what he called “the world.” Extremely gregarious, Jackie made friends with all types of Israelis, including Muslims. Still, he had much disdain for “the world’s” intentions towards Israel. When I brought up the boycott of Israeli products made on the West Bank, he angrily noted how hypocritical this was: “Don’t these people know that thousands of Palestinians lose their jobs when Israeli manufacturers close down?” He also had total contempt for the United Nations, especially UNRA, the U.N Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees. UNRA’s job is to move the many Palestinians currently in refugee camps to other countries like Jordan where the population is 70 percent Palestinian, many of whom are living in refugee camps because Jordan refuses to resettle them. Jackie noted that UNRA has not resettled even one refugee and observed that the United States is the main source of financing for UNRA. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask him what he thought about the expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Jackie was a politically liberal Israeli and a conservative when it came to “the world” versus Israel. He even supported Donald Trump because he believed that Trump would support Israel, as opposed to Barack Obama. Still, Jackie’s views on domestic issues are obviously those of a minority of Israelis since Bibi has been elected Prime Minister four times, matching David Ben-Gurion’s record.
After a few days in London I began to feel less affection for a city I had loved since my first visit in 1965. Maybe I am getting old, but getting around on the tube was an ordeal. Most times, the train was packed full (One nice thing is that young people always offer their seats to the older riders.). Then there’s the endless walks to other trains or to the exit. The passengers often looked tired and shabby as they gazed at their cell phones or listened to music through their headphones.
Walking around the rich West End, I saw lots of large Mercedes parked outside of fancy shops. The Mercedes are usually accompanied by large, tough looking chauffeur/body guards. Reputedly, the cars and chauffeurs belong to billionaire Russians. Unfortunately, London isn’t an English city anymore. In a city like New York, such things don’t matter perhaps because all Americans are immigrants, but the English are a people, a race; and they and their culture are being eclipsed by foreigners, many of whom refuse to assimilate. Indeed, they often demand that the English live by their rules. For example, British writer Melanie Phillips cites “a poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper [that] 61 percent of British Muslims wanted to be governed by Islamic law, operating on Sharia principles…A clear majority wanted Islamic law introduced into Britain in civil cases relating to their own community…88 percent wanted to see British schools and workplaces accommodating Muslim prayer time as part of their normal working day.”
As I said, we stayed with a friend who lives in Islington, a once poor, now respectable neighborhood. The new residents are often of the intellectual class. Professors and actors set the tone. It seems that Islington residents depend solely on the far left Guardian for their news along with the almost equally left wing BBC. In Islington no one would read a right of center paper like the Daily Telegraph, or any news source owned by Rupert Murdoch, like Sky News television or The Times. This is different from America where right wingers often read or at least know what’s in the New York Times, and left wingers often read the conservative Wall Street Journal and look occasionally at Fox News. In other words, the British are much more balkanized than Americans when it comes to the news. So for example, I found my Islington friends to be unaware of Palestinian rejection of an extremely generous peace proposal devised by Bill Clinton and accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack. Obviously it wasn’t covered much in the Guardian.
Still, there is obviously a diversity of political views in Britain, for the Conservative Party has governed the country for a number of years. And while those on the left despise the late conservative Margaret Thatcher, others revere her. And in Israel, Jackie is obviously in the minority since Netanyahu has been elected prime minister four times, matching David Ben- Gurion’s record.
Politics aside, we had fun visiting friends in London and experiencing the unique nation of Israel.