Israeli journalist predicts good, bad and ugly of nations future

Israeli journalist Hirsch Goodman delivered a three-hour San Francisco speech earlier this week — but he did it in 45 minutes.

The kinetic Jerusalem Report founder and former editor jackhammered away at the good, bad and ugly of Israel’s social and political scene in his distinctive South African accent in a Tuesday, April 4 afternoon appearance at Golden Gate University School of Law, organized by the school’s Jewish student organization.

It was one of a flurry of appearances this week sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and plethora of other Jewish groups for the Israeli author and current think-tank fellow in his Bay Area swing.

Goodman kicked off his speech with a common-sense explanation for Israel’s historically low turnout in the latest election: Nobody liked the candidates.

Kadima’s Ehud Olmert, he pointed out, recently finished 34th in the Likud primaries. Labor’s Amir Peretz “looks like Stalin, speaks like Stalin, behaves like Stalin” and “is one of the few people in Israel with a lower military rank than I have.” As for Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, “we’ve had him before and all of us know we wouldn’t buy a used car from him.”

With Israel divided into “consolidationists and expansionists,” the election was a victory for the former. The current mode of thought is to abandon Gaza and the outlying settlements and withdraw behind a completed security barrier. Nobody thinks there’s anybody to negotiate with on the Palestinian side — “not even Meretz.”

Goodman wasn’t overly ruffled by Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections. “For the past five years, they’ve all been Hamas. What does it matter to me if suicide bombers are from Al-Aksa or Fatah or this or that?”

On the Palestinian side, Goodman’s prediction was dire Fatah has broken into dozens of armed factions and there will be chaos and banditry for years to come. For this he dollops out a healthy portion of blame to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who, when given the chance to stock his inner circle with strong, new leaders, “surrounded himself with the same cadre that was around Arafat — Abu Allah, Abu This, Abu That.”

Goodman said a recent scandal revealed that while the European Union paid for 175,000 Palestinian Authority jobs, only 135,000 employees were compensated, with four “fat cats” skimming off 40,000 salaries.

Hamas won the tightly monitored election fair and square. But if it allows a future election — and that’s a big “if” — it may not fare so well. Goodman noted that the only portion of the Palestinian territories in which Hamas polled poorly had been governed by a Hamas mayor for four years. “Where Hamas governed, they lost.”

Goodman predicted a rough road for Israel as well. The social unrest of the disengagement and a subsequent evacuation of a West Bank settlement may be a taste of what’s to come. Half of Israel’s officer corps are now “religious kids who’ve gone through the yeshiva system,” and serious problems may arise if the Israeli government opts to evacuate large tracts of the West Bank, he said.

If influential West Bank rabbis oppose the will of Israel’s elected government, “we may have an issue of theocracy versus democracy.”

Goodman predicted a largely Kadima-Labor coalition in Israel’s short-run, but, adding up the Knesset seats, he didn’t see how the fervently religious parties could be excluded from the government (they’ve been on the sidelines for the past six years).

He hopes to see an economy that is more equitable to Israel’s middle- and lower-class citizens, and reformation of systems that shower government money on massive Bedouin families and allow those in religious communities to study the Torah for their entire lives and never hold paying jobs.

And while chaos on the other side of the security barrier can and will have a negative effect on a country as insular as Israel, he noted, the Israeli stoicism of the past five years has sent the Palestinians a clear message that Israel isn’t going anywhere. Goodman deeply hopes two essentially pragmatic peoples can eventually coexist.

“At the end of the day, we have to live together.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.