Remembering Marty Penn

My friend Marty Penn,  known to the initiated as Rabtat,  has died. I find it difficult to write about him. We spent much of our time together indulging in activities which were not becoming  of the Rabbi Penn that he became in later years. As shepherd to a Montreal Jewish congregation, his immature, child-of-the-Sixties years were not the parts of his résumé that he would have highlighted, I’m pretty sure. To flaunt them now, would be to disrespect the person that he became, and I have no intention of doing that. Though he was one thing to me, he was something else to many other people. And I have no doubt that they loved him as a rabbi as much as I loved him as one of the few people who could outdo me in substance-fueled juvenile stupidity.

The other reason I find it difficult to write about him is guilt. I saw him only once since he fell ill 18 years ago. It was easy to rationalize: We were living on different continents (he in Canada and I in South Africa and then Israel) and I was relatively newly married with young children. Between work and family it was difficult for me to get away. But I should have visited him, I should have been there for him, and my guilt is enormous. Until this past week, I had still hoped to  make it up to him somehow, but that is now not going to happen. Continue reading

Election special: More of the same, but a little better

Israeli elections are all about arithmetic. The country’s proportional representation system ensures that there will always be a plethora of parties and that the government will invariably be a carefully-calculated coalition. Yesterday’s election followed the established pattern. It is likely to take several weeks and the usual mind-boggling political acrobatics before the next government is formed.

It is too early to make any firm predictions about the likely coalition, other than to say that Bibi Netanyahu remains the best bet for premier and that the numbers seem to rule out an undiluted right-wing government. Though the former is as welcome as cancer, the latter is a relief for anyone who believes in sanity and accommodation with the Palestinians. Not that either is guaranteed, mind you, but the odds are better than they were two days ago. Continue reading

Israel’s post-occupation politics

It is no exaggeration to describe next week’s election in Israel as historic. Not because of the anticipated outcome – according to all the polls, we’re likely to get more of the same and probably worse – but because of what it represents.

Even before a vote has been cast, it is clear that the 2013 poll will be Israel’s first post-occupation election. The first election since 1967 in which the fate of the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six Day War will not be a major issue – either for the politicians or for the bulk of the electorate. For many Israelis on the right and in the center of the political spectrum, the fate of the territories has already been decided – if only by default. It is no longer a key issue.

Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home,) the Cinderalla of the 2013 campaign, is the quintessential post-occupation party and Bennett himself is the modern, post-occupation Israeli – smart, cosmopolitan and amoral. For him, the occupation is history; he’s moved on. Modern Israeli politics is all about getting the status quo to work better, rather than turning it on its head. Continue reading