Friday, December 08, 2006

The Real Seats of Power

I know I often complain in this space of the ungodly hours that I am forced to awake, but for once yesterday morning was actually early. We were instructed to be outside and ready to go at 7:15 in the morning. The reason we were having a day dedicated to Israeli politics, which involved visits to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) and Supreme Court. So we all arrived punctually and exhausted in front of the Kiriyat gates in order that we might have enough time to wait fifteen minutes for the bus. Once it had finally arrived we quickly bored and drove to the Knesset.

On arrival at the Knesset we were subject to standing around in the cold for the security checks which were probably over paranoid, I mean since when was a camera on a phone used to blow anything up, finally we passed the security checks and walked acrossed the large open courtyward to Israel's most famous mental hospital. Once inside the Knesset we were taken on a tour, our first port of call was to go into the actual Knesset room where we were shown what was what, from our seats in the VIP gallery. The Knesset room is ultra-modern with eachmember having their own computer screen and a small LCD screen in front of each desk had the name of the member who sits there. As the Knesset is not in session on Thursday the room was deserted, aside from a single cleaner, and in fact the entire building was rather empty.

Having gone to the Knesset room (I really shoud find out the proper name for it) we were taken to the state room just outside. These were decorated with beautiful huge tapestries by Marc Chagall, who also designed a large mosaic on the wall and several on the floor. After this impressive artistic treat we were taken downstairs to see where the offices were and the entrance for Member of the Knesset. Beside the entrace which showed how many members were in the building, there was a grand total of one.

Upon leaving the Knesset we took a brisk walk through the rose garden and found ourselves in front of our next port of call, the Supreme Court of Israel. Although I am not a connoisseur when it comes to architecure even I was able to appreciate the interesting architecture of the building, although that could be because our guide spent the first ten minutes talking about it. Having been shown around the building we were taken into one of the courts (there are five) which was in session. We all sat at the back looking interested without a clue about what was going on. We were then taken into another, this time empty court, where we were told that a case was being brought to the treasury about compensation to do with the Lebanese war. We were then given a talk which lasted for about an hour on the workings of the Israeli judicial system. Personally I was fascinated as the topic was very interesting and our guide was excellent, but I think many found it went on for a bit too long, which was understandable.

After lunch at the Kiriyat I went with my roomate Joel to Mea Shearim, the ultra-orthodox area of Jerusalem. I had been there once on a tour and had been meaning to come back ever since I had arrived. Mea Shearim is without any doubt a ghetto, everything is run down, the streets stink, and everyone is dressed in religious dress that hasn't been washed sinced their bar mitzavah. Walking down some of the side streets you can just feel the poverty and the obsession with Jewish learning and the refusal to contribute anything to society. O.K. maybe I am being over critical Mea Shearim certainly has some plus points I always feel it has a wonderful sense of community and care for its members, it also has some dirt cheap shops and the best beakery in all of Jerusalem, where we spent a considerable amount of time.

The subject of Mea Shearim gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about the Ultra-Orthodox or Charedi community in Israel. If there is one minority group that holds more influence than anyone in Israel it is them. Their claim to this influence is logical, Israel is a Jewish state therefore everything must be as Jewish as possible and as they are the most Jewish group in the state everything should match up to their standards. A recent example of their influence is when oweing to a back log because of the recent strike El AL the main Israeli airline was forced to fly a few hours into Shabbat, something it usually never does. The Charedi community were up in arms about this decsion and threatened to never fly El Al again. That is 300,000 people that would never fly El Al again, which would cripple El Al and send them bankrupt. The situation is still unfolding and a resoloution has yet to be reached but this is just one example of how much influence this community has.

Other times they have reacted included the recent gay pride marches where the Charedi community was rioting for a number of weeks in the area of Mea Shearim, this included doing such positive and helpul things as blowing up dust bins. Another issue is that they refuse to go to the army and as they spend most of their time studying they contribute virtually nothing to the Israeli economy, whilst taking all the economic benefits they can. The worst part is that there exists a small but vocal minority, that actively advocate against the state of Israel beliving it should not exist until the coming of the Messiah. Thus what you have is a small group that does nothing for society and bums off the state which they do not believe should exist.

When I got back late afternoon of the Kiriyat I heard talk of an arts festival that was going on for three weekends in Jerusalem. As part of the festival called Hamshushalaim which is an amalgamtion of the words Hamshush which I am told means 'something' and Yerushalyaim or Jerusalem. Therefore everyone at the Machon decided to make use of all the offers and openings to do something slightly more cultural. In an uncharacteristically cultural move I joined a group going to a half price concert of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra who were playing a collection of works by Stravinsky including his stirring Rites of Spring.

Following this we walked down the road to the Museum for Islamic Art which like many other Museums was opened till two. Here we looked at the exhibits, played chess (as there was a chess grandmaster playing multiple games and we took advantage of a free board) and watched belly dancing, which I have to admit was rather captivating. The Museum was in fact very interesting and I was particularly pleased to note a number of Ultra-Orthodox Jews paying close attention to all the exhibits so its not all bad news I guess. And who knows maybe they enjoyed the belly dancing as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guest the charedi were studying islamic culture so that they would have some material for small talk whilst at the Tehran holocaust conference. Strange bed fellows indeed!

12:15 PM  

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