politics

Israel’s Strange Love Affair with Donald Trump

trump

Many months ago, I was asked if I could write a piece for an American-Jewish newspaper and I tossed together this article. Sadly, for whatever reason it was never published. But I thought I’d hand it over to Jaffe World instead. Enjoy my take on the odd relationship between Donald Trump and the Israeli people.

***

November 8th, 2016. An infamous date for many an American: The day Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States of America. But for me, there was a completely different connotation.

Two days earlier I hopped on a plane, the first of four epic rides, to ultimately arrive in Israel on this auspicious date. I was coming to reunite with my children, and to start my life over again from scratch.

November 8th

I was really glad to arrive on November 8th. America seemed to be anywhere between a silly little mess to a downright disaster. I loved having an excuse to not vote, since the election seemed all about choosing the lesser of two evils. And after all, shouldn’t we always learn to live for something, rather than focus our time and attention fighting against something we dislike?

So I dodged a bullet. This bizarre election would be foreign to me. I would be up in the sky while Armageddon happened below. And I was more than happy to not watch it all unfold.

Quiet Trump Support

The political climate in the States was odd. My last stomping ground in America was Kansas, a state that has consistently voted for Republican candidates for the last sixty years. Yet even in this bastion of Republican fervor, those who supported Trump tended to do so quietly, or even with a hint of embarrassment.

So, there I was. Leaving on a jet plane, from a country about to descend into an endless stream of political inanity, where seemingly no one took pride in their soon-to-be Head of State.

The feeling in America was disheartening; however, the feeling in Israel was downright shocking. My first night in Jerusalem was a rough one. I managed to score a key for my new apartment, but I did not have too many necessities. I lay down on a mattress on the floor, cold and confused, completely detached from the outside world.

4AM in Jerusalem

I woke up at 4AM, without a thing in the world to do. I took a stroll through Jerusalem’s empty streets and was pleasantly surprised to find some sports bars that had been open all night. I left Israel eleven years earlier, and a thriving Jerusalem nightlife was not among my expectations.

However, I didn’t find soccer games and cheering fans at the bars. No, I discovered that several establishments throughout the city decided to remain open all night for election coverage. An election that frustrated and bored the population of America seemed riveting to scores of Israeli citizens.

Trump Trump Trump!

But that was just the beginning. I meandered into Mike’s Place, a famous bar in the city center, and one of the most American places you’ll find in Jerusalem. As I descended the stairs I was greeted by an excited chant of “Trump Trump Trump.” And it was then that I first discovered Israel’s odd obsession with one of the most complex and polarizing figures of my lifetime. Whereas the vast majority of those living in the States either loathed Trump or tolerated him with a mixture of shame and embarrassment, Israelis absolutely adored him.

Trump and Israel Policy

Israel’s strange love affair with Donald Trump can later be attributed to some of his policies. To be sure, Trump’s controversial decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was quite welcome to a great deal of the population. But no one could have anticipated such a move. And Republicans do have a greater track record when it comes to supporting Israel’s autonomy in its struggles against terrorism and outside aggression. But I never saw such intense support for previous Republicans in office. No, the Israeli obsession with Trump—possibly the only country in the world that feels this way—is particularly unique.

The Israeli Government

Years ago I read with excitement and dread a book called Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, by Gregory Levey. I was excited because not only was the title hysterical, but I was utterly fascinated by the whole idea of a North American seeing the functioning of the Israeli government from up close. However, I also feared the book. I had lived in Israel for eight years and saw more than a few reasons to be frustrated with my homeland. I really didn’t need any more excuses to justify not moving back here.

Israel’s Personality

What I saw was Israel’s government as a giant exaggeration of the personality of the country at large.

People say what’s on their mind, and they say it however they choose. Israelis plow through the world, focusing on completing whatever task is at hand, while completely disregarding any feelings they may trample on along the way.

And from a distance, a tiny nation watched as one man entered the system wildly different from all other politicians in America. He didn’t talk the way they did. Trump didn’t pretend to be anything other then himself, with all his brashness and lack of attention to his words’ collateral damage. He just does and does every single day. Pleasantries and feelings are thrown to the side.

In a world where Donald Trump angers the masses, why is he so beloved in my backyard?

Why?

Because Trump truly is an Israeli.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, 0 comments

Five Crappy Things about Israel that Need to Change… Yesterday

Crap

OK, I’m a cynic. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about everything. Nor does it mean my country gets a free pass on me pointing out its garbage.

A lot of people here treat Israel as if it’s a utopia, void of any major issues. People brag left and right about Israel’s accomplishments and constantly regard simple moments of humans acting like humans as “only in Israel” moments.

They’ve been ignoring Israel’s problems for so long, sometimes I think people have learned to meditate themselves into a place where they can rest and relax treating all of the problems as if they’re distant memories of Israel’s past.

But they’re not. Israel has real issues. And no excuse for not working tirelessly to fix all of them. Or at least improve upon them.

This post is about five of those problems. They should be far better by now. We can do better. Much better.

1) Housing Crap

If you want to live in a city in Israel, it’s going to cost you. Big time.

So why do we do it?

Well, in some of the more remote areas, getting around without a vehicle is borderline impossible. But getting around with a vehicle is expensive, stressful, and extremely time consuming.

The city is where most of the stores are, all necessities, and any semblance of a social life. And outlying areas are by no means designed for single people in any way.

But city rent is high with low value for your dollar. The “system” places renters at the mercy of the owners. And you have minutes to grab a desired home before someone else snatches it up.

And whereas rent is outrageous, purchasing is downright impossible for most people. The prices are mind-blowingly high, and the percentage needed for a down payment makes me throw up in my mouth.

In the end, there really are only a few choices: 1. Leave the major cities, with all the hardships that comes along. 2. Rent in a city, and deal with almost inevitable poverty. 3. Or come to the country rich.

2) Customer Service Crap

We’ve gotten to the point where if a waiter smiles at us, we are ecstatic, we brag to everyone we know that things are really turning around here, and put a post on Facebook exclaiming that we experienced an “only in Israel” moment.

Fact is, the norm is to be barked at by customer service representatives, ignored by clerks, and generally made to feel like we’re unwanted in any store or restaurant we enter.

We Americans are confused, knowing full well that any establishment could make considerably more profit just by being a whole lot nicer. However, I genuinely feel this is just not of interest to the average Joe on the street here. If we were to explain that being pleasant and helpful would generate 20% more revenue, they would say, “No thanks. Keep your money. I enjoy being unpleasant and no amount of money is worth changing that!”

But we’re all at fault here. We tolerate it. We’ve done a poor job letting the country know we’re not coming back if you treat us like garbage. And, sadly, they’ve done a pretty decent job preventing us from letting the world know how we feel.

3) Smoking Crap

Israelis smoke. They smoke constantly and in every nook and cranny they could find.

Often I’m standing somewhere minding my own business, and someone will just wander up next to me and light up a cigarette.

At moments like that I wish I could just secrete some nasty odor that wafts in their direction. “My goodness, that’s vile,” they might exclaim. And I could turn toward them and say, with all of my masterful sarcasm, “I’m sorry. Does this smell irritate you? Is it bothersome? I simply had no idea that when doing something disgusting next to a perfect stranger, the possibility exists I might be causing them a disturbance.”

In all seriousness, how is this still a thing? Israel brags left and right about being ranked the 10th healthiest in the world. And we are all aware of the financial struggles that are rampant here. Yet, our society is riddled with this lung-piercing, overpriced nonsense that harms the population, and fills the air with stink and the streets with litter.

I often ask people to stop smoking in areas they’re not allowed. Sometimes right next to a sign! Nothing is enforced, and no one seems to care.

The time has come to rein in this nonsense.

4) Political Crap

I’ve been watching Israel’s political scene for a while now. It seems like every time I vote there is something different about the system. We didn’t get it right the last time around, let’s have another go.

The only thing that ever seems to stay the same: Paper ballots.

I feel like I’m voting for class president.

Anyhow, when the recent elections ended, I felt something in the society I don’t believe I’ve felt before: Mass apathy and exhaustion with the way things are and will seemingly always be.

Ultimately, that’s what these elections represented. The guy who’s been around forever against the guy who has nothing to offer but not being the other guy. There are 20,000 parties, but ultimately only really two viewpoints: Left and right. There are thousands of ignored issues and unheard voices. And there is inherent pandering to anyone who holds any amount of political power.

All you need is a few seats in the government, and boom, you get everything you want just so the top dog can build a coalition and stay in power.

And everything just stays the same. We become complacent. We had a burst of hope dashed by the reality that things are very unlikely to get better anytime soon.

I don’t know what system would be better. Maybe term limits would help. Perhaps better checks and balances for the Prime Minister. More representation for smaller parties. An overhaul of the current system. Who knows? But once again, we can do better.

5) Religious Crap

And each time around, it seems there is no greater beneficiary to the faults in our political process than the ultra-religious, who seek to impose their will on the entire society.

No doubt about it, Israel is a fantastic place to be a religious Jew. The freedom to practice is unmatched. Kosher restaurants abound. There are many aspects of a religious lifestyle that you could keep by accident here!

But religion is supposed to elevate people, not create anger and resentment. Judaism and its leaders are supposed to be something that unifies us, not something that brings hatred and divisiveness.

There are many ways to be a great Jew. An endless search for control and power is not one of them. Separation of Church and State is a tried and true system of many a well-functioning democracy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if it wormed its way over here. At least to some extent.

***

Israel has a lot going for it. And it’s nowhere near the worst place to live. But there’s a lot of crap. Loads of crap. And the first step in fixing a problem, is admitting it’s there.

Let’s own up to our crap, put it all out on the table, and start making our homeland the place it could and should be.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, religion, 0 comments

The Insecurity of Security

Security

Over the last decade I have been overwhelmed by security overhauls, both physical and now virtual. One thing has become apparent time and time again. In most of these situations, there has been a ton of work only to make everyone feel highly inconvenienced. Yet I have no evidence that anything is actually more secure or that anyone even feels even somewhat more secure.

There have been others, but I want to explore four security overhauls I’ve experienced in my life:

1) The Folly of TSA

We’ll start with the most obvious. I was living in Israel when terrorists tragically attacked my city of origin. I can honestly say I felt very detached from the events, since at the time I was in the Israeli Army, and we certainly had our own fair share of security concerns.

However, I surely felt the magic of security overhaul the first time I went to the States post-9/11. I remember noticing that nothing felt even remotely more secure to me. It just felt like the convenience levels had dropped several notches, and the security personnel were a lot more comfortable being rude and obnoxious to all of us.

I can’t imagine a moment when I’ve felt grateful that someone forced me to remove my shoes, or randomly selected me for an extra pat down. I’ve never been too keen on traveling. This certainly hasn’t helped the matter.

But seriously folks, does anyone who passes through an American airport feel more secure than they did in 2000? Granted I’m much happier that smoking on flights is no longer a thing. But there’s sill a lot of room for improvement.

2) Happy Fun Baltimore

My next major security overhaul came while I was teaching at a school in Baltimore. There was a terrorist attack in a Jewish institution in Toulouse, France, and we did what anybody would do under the circumstances. Across an ocean in an entirely unrelated facility, we decides now was the time to become concerned with security.

Screw all the students who lived in danger up to that point!

We just needed the right excuse to uproot everything we were doing, in order to make those who felt completely safe now feel uncomfortable. And we needed to provide no measurable feeling of security for anyone who really thought much about the endeavors. What do I mean? You have hundreds of innocent children, without a care in the world, now ducking behind desks and learning terms like “active shooter”… because it isn’t daunting enough to be a child.

And  then you have adult and child alike who can so easily pick apart every policy that’s been set. You have everything from the hardly secure gyms and bathrooms, to those who point out that a terrorist might just not be stopped by locked doors… when there are entire walls made out of glass! I’ll never quite understand the mentality that says psychotic murderers would always be so impolite as to gently knock.

So what do we get at the end of the day? Endless meetings, countless changed policies, and worlds of inconvenience.

3) Kansas too?

I left silly ole Baltimore for the good life of Kansas. I remember the first impression when I saw the building I would be working in. There was a sign prohibiting guns, and an unarmed security guard in front of the building. I thought this was crazy. It’s fine to feel safe and to not believe security is relevant to your location. However, what in the world is the point of an unarmed security guard!? Is he there to open the door and give a pleasant greeting to the visiting terrorist?

Sadly, all humor aside, I was living there only a matter of months before a psychopath drove in from Missouri and shot up the building. And before you knew it, I was back again in countless mindless meetings, watching from up close as convenience started decreasing alongside unchanged feelings of insecurity. And reality did not change. First of all, an organization that does not recognize the folly in an unarmed security guard until after a shooting is unlikely to wizen up and recognize its inherent need for protection.

Second, again, random door closing and inane, mindless drills don’t make for a safer community. They do, however, annoy just about everyone.

4) The Mighty GDPR

And finally, the reason I keep thinking about all of  this lately: The dreaded GDPR. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a new European law with steep, steep penalties, designed to protect people’s data. For most of us, it just means we have been receiving copious amounts of emails requesting us to push buttons agreeing to things.

And for some of us, who work for companies that handle huge amounts of customer data, it has meant a giant overhaul of our workflow.

Whether security is physical or virtual, the same rule applies: The more “secure” we are, the more inconvenienced we are. In the most extreme (and ridiculous) examples, the school with no doors or windows is the most secure environment, and disconnecting from the internet is the best way to keep all data as safe as possible. But we die of lack of oxygen and starvation, if the lack of Netflix doesn’t kill us first.

My Security Predictions

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows the hackers are becoming more sophisticated by the second. And they’re more than happy to go old school and rummage through your trashcan to find out your identity. My guess is, if history proves anything, one year after this law disrupts industry on top of industry, this is what we’ll have to show for it: Employees and customers will have grown disenchanted with the new systems so much, there will be greater job turnover and worse customer retention than in previous years. Countless companies will be fined due to violations. Most likely the violations will not be due to malice, but due to careless errors or lack of a large enough staff. The major companies that could afford large staffs and giant legal teams to deal with the issues will be safe. However, smaller industries will get irreparably damaged by the penalties.

And finally, there will be zero decrease in data breeches. No one will walk around feeling any safer than they did the day before. And we’ll have yet another instance of a security overhaul that disrupts without actual protection or feelings of security.

Those who commit the acts, from terrorism to school shootings to giant data breeches, are well aware that while we continue to suffer, they dance home with smiles on their faces and money in their pockets each and every day.

And finally…

Please understand, I don’t mean to pick on any particular city or institution. I think it’s pretty much a universal issue. People usually don’t think about security until it’s too late. And when they do think of security, it’s often in the most asinine and inconvenient ways. The bad guys win by hurting us… and then we kick ourselves when we’re down by making life more annoying. And we still don’t feel any safer!

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, politics, travel, 0 comments

The Futility of Voting

voting

I Didn’t Vote

I didn’t vote in the last US elections.

Yeah, I know. I’m an enemy of democracy. I am a threat to the American dream.

But if you hear me out for a second, maybe I have a point or two.

So why didn’t I vote?

The simple answer is: I wasn’t available. My flights to Israel began on November 6th, 2016, and I arrived on the 8th. Ironically, I probably knew more about what was happening in the election because of this. In a jet lagged stupor I wandered around Jerusalem at 4AM, and I was quite surprised to walk past numerous sports bars offering all night election coverage.

So… I didn’t vote because I couldn’t. I’m good to go, right?

Except my sometimes unfortunate urge to be more honest than I should be is preventing me from ignoring the simple fact: I wasn’t planning on voting anyway.

No One To Vote For

The simple reason, which I’ll address in depth, is I have been disillusioned with the office since as far back as I can remember, and far more so with these particular candidates. But I’ll get back to that.

First, I want to address those who have responded angrily to me, and accused me of non-democratic behavior. I think they are a tad confused about how freedom works. Why is my right to not vote any less important than your right to vote? Once people are forced to vote, either through laws or overbearing social pressure, than our totalitarian attitude isn’t all that much greater than a society that doesn’t allow citizens to vote at all.

Now, my main reason for not voting was that neither candidate did anything for me.

Maybe it’s a trite point, but I’m still floored at the notion that in a country of 360 million people, many of whom are absolutely fantastic, brilliant, hard-working, and moral beings, we can’t seem to put anyone fitting that description on the ballot.

I’m not one of those people who hates all politicians or wealthy folk or people in power. Quite the contrary. I’m sitting back, avidly watching, hoping to become inspired by everyone I see. And falling short. Every. Single. Time.

I want a president who vigorously pursues peace around the world, not one who is just looking for fame and glory. I want a sincerely good person striving to make the world better than the one they found.

But what do I get? False promises, painfully biased and dishonest attention grabs, more and more violence, and people who disgust me rather than inspire me.

Barack Obama and the Armenian Genocide

For a moment, I’d like to speak about our previous president. Full disclosure, I did not vote for Barack Obama, nor was I a fan of his politics, for the most part. However, I got caught up in the hope and magic alongside of everyone else. You’d have to be insane not to recognize the significance of what his presidency represented.

In addition, he seemed to inspire hope. We hoped things could get better. We hoped international relationships would get closer, and the world would finally get smaller for all of us.

And in a small inaction, my hopes were repeatedly demolished.

Many are unfamiliar with the Armenian Genocide. If so, get familiar. It’s your responsibility as an educated person and a believer in the innate value of all human beings. In short, the Armenian Genocide was  the Turkish government’s massacre of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923.

For an assortment of political reasons, many countries are reluctant to publicly acknowledge the event, or at least the severity of the actions by referring to them as a “genocide”.

Barack Obama criticized others for their stance, and promised to use the word “genocide”. To not hold back on his moral duty to do what’s right even if it is unpopular or politically complex.

But he did hold back. He shirked his duty and broke his promise, and yet again reminded the American people that all the talk in the world will not stop politicians from being politicians.

A President I Want

Why can’t we get legitimately amazing people into the office? Arguably it’s inherent in the position itself. It lends itself to seeking honor and fortune, and the greatest people among the society shy away from such trivial things.

I want a president who I can look up to. Who I admire. Who I think of as a great and inspiring figure, not a liar, or an adulterer, or a nincompoop reality show star. And I cannot place my vote for anything less. I will not waste my time showing up to the polls to “choose the lesser of two evils” or because of thoughtless social pressure.

I will only vote for someone worthy of that choice.

The Electoral College

Finally, I want to address the futility of voting in general. Since we were children we are taught the importance of voting. We need to make our voices and opinions heard!

But the reality is so very different.

The United States election is still run by the highly inefficient and antiquated electoral college. Everyone complains about it; but nothing ever changes.

Voting Gone Nowhere

I’ve lived in New York, Maryland, and Kansas, three states that with almost no exception always vote democrat, democrat, and republican respectively. If I vote the other way in any of these states, my vote (and time) are literally wasted. And you can try and explain that the voice is still heard, but does anyone honestly believe that?

Millions of people across the country cast a vote that gets tossed in the trashcan. Are we really supposed to believe that tons more people wouldn’t come out to vote if their voice actually mattered?

Every year I watch as some states’ polls are still not closed when the election is already complete. Are we really supposed to believe that tons more people wouldn’t come out to vote if their choice was still relevant?

We’ve pushed ourselves into such a corner, where politicians pander to swing states and ignore the rest of the country. And it’s just some type of peculiar game where everyone is trying to beat the system laid out for them.

So…

So I’m being told to choose a candidate I don’t want in an election where my vote is worthless.

Please, please, convince me otherwise.

Why should I bother voting?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, politics, 0 comments