I find it most unpleasant to cover a politician’s pub crawl in Tel Aviv.
I went out for drinks with some friends the other night. At one point, one of my friends said to me, apropos of nothing, ‘You know, journalists in Israel are not respected. It’s not considered a respected profession. It’s not like the US.’
Last night, I went to cover this politician, Tommy Lapid, who was doing a pub crawl to promote himself among young people in Tel Aviv before the elections at the end of the month. Lapid is the huge event of this election, he’s talked about much more in the papers and TV shows and by Israelis than Sharon or Mitzna. He was a famous journalist, himself, and he’s become the head of this party, Shinui, which means Change. There’s all these signs all over Tel Aviv ‘dWe need a Change in government.’d His basic thing is to be against the religious Jews in Israel. Ever since Israel was founded, in 1948, there has never been a party with a majority of seats in the Knesset, the parliament. So every government’dleft wing, right wing, doesn’t matter’dhas included some of the religious parties. The deal used to be that the religious parties would let the head party’dLabor or Likud or whatever’to do whatever they want in foreign policy so long as they gave the religious some perks. Basically, the religious parties wanted to run everything religious in the country. So, every marriage in Israel has to be an Orthodox marriage. The sister of a friend of mine was married in a Reform service in Israel and her marriage was not recognized by the state, so she had to go to New York and get married by some judge in the Bronx so she could come back to Israel married (Israel does recognize any sort of foreign marriage). This is also a pain in the ass to converts, because only Orthodox converts are recognized as Jews. The religious also demand that the government recognize the Sabbath, so nothing official is open on Shabat. The religious also demand these special perks. Powerful religious leaders found Yeshivas, religious schools, that get funded by the government. But some of the schools have no students, the money just goes to the powerful Rabbi. Also, Ultra-Orthodox kids don’t have to go to the army, like all secular kids to do. Even worse’to secular minds’the Ultra-Orthodox get government grants because they’re studying the Torah and the Talmud. So, they don’t serve their country, but they get all this money that soldiers don’t get. Tommy Lapid is running to get rid of all these special perks. He’s shockingly popular. It looks like he’dll get 13 or more seats in the Knesset. That might not seem like much in a 120-seat parliament. But in these turbulent times, it’s enough to make him a major power broker. He’s hoping to form a government with the Labor and Likud parties, so there will be the first secular government ever. Labor and Likud are freaking out about him, taking all these votes away from them, so they’re putting out all this negative press on him, that he’s racist against Sephardic Jews. Labor is saying he’s really right-wing and is worse than the Likud.
So, I went to the first pub on the list of his pub crawl. The pub calls itself an Underground Bar, because there’s no sign outside, just a big metal door. It’s the only bar I’dve seen that doesn’t have a security guy outside checking everyone’s bags and making sure no suicide bomber comes in. They say they don’t need it because they’re so underground. I showed up a little early and there was no one from his party. I sat with the manager of the place. He’s a young guy, with thick glasses and a shaved head. He told me he’s an architect and he asked me if I saw the movie American Beauty. He said, that’s what I did, like Kevin Spacey. I left my wife, left my profession, now I manage this bar and I have an easy life. He said that he devotes his life to escapism. He does a lot of drugs, gets drunk every night. In general, he’s trying to just ignore all the problems and conflicts of Israel. He doesn’t read newspapers or watch TV. He says this is what most Tel Avivis are doing. He said that I’d be shocked how much drugs everyone does in Tel Aviv. He said Tel Aviv is closer to New York than to any other place in Israel. Tel Avivis are happy to give the Palestinians whatever they want just so they can be left alone and go back to their drugs and booze and escapism. He also said he’s a sharpshooter in a frontline army unit, so if there’s any kind of war, he’dll be fighting and killing and maybe dying. He says that’s the crazy thing about Israel, you have these two opposites’dArmy service and escapism’din everyone’s head. He said he likes Tommy Lapid, because he is fighting the religious who want to prevent Tel Avivis from doing whatever they want to do.
There was no one there from Lapid’s party, but the manager pointed to a corner and said that guy is Lapid’s son. He said the son is very famous, a big celebrity in Israel. He has some talk show that everyone likes. The manager said he was embarrassed to have such a big celebrity in the bar, since the place is so modest. I walked over to the son and asked him if he knew when his father was coming or if there was anyone from the party I could talk to. He said, ‘dGo away, you’re bothering me.’d I was sure I misunderstood the Hebrew, so I asked, ‘did you just say I should go away, that I’dm bothering you?’d He said, ‘dYes.’d So, I went away. I was vowing to myself that I would find some story to do about this guy that would humiliate him and destroy his career. Then I realized there is no way a story I do for some radio show in the US is going to do that, so I decided that I was bigger than that anyway.
I walked outside and there was a van from Lapid’s party with all these young people carrying balloons. I was still the only reporter there and someone from the party said Tommy would be there soon. I went back in the bar for a while and then walked outside again and it was like a media explosion. There were all these TV cameras and radio reporters and newspaper reporters surrounding Lapid. By the time he walked in to the bar, I was pushed aside by his security people and was way in the back of this gang-bang, as we call it. I was so pissed off that I got there first, had a great position right in the bar, and now I’dm too far behind to get any audio. But I pushed my way to the front and finally was next to Lapid as he was shaking hands with people at different tables. I had my microphone near his mouth, as microphones are supposed to be, and this TV cameraman grabbed my microphone and yanked it out of his shot, also yanking the cord out of my recorder. I was so pissed off. This happens whenever TV people are with radio people. I put the cord back in and did everything I could to put the microphone in the way of his shot. He looked at me and gestured with his head for me to get out of the way. I stared back at him and mouthed ‘dFuck You’d over and over. We were just standing there, surrounding Lapid, me mouthing off at him and him sneering at me for quite some time. Then he pushed this other radio reporter, a woman from Holland, and she shoved her face right in his camera and moved it to keep her face in his way and started screaming at him that we have the same job and he should have some respect. For the rest of the evening, she and I kept congratulating each other on our defiance of these asshole cameramen. I was happy that the cameraman never pushed me or her again. Though, I did try after that to keep my mic out of his and the other cameras’d shots.
I hate doing man on the street interviews in Israel. It’s the worst country I’dve ever been in for them. Usually, I find, people are so excited to be interviewed by someone with a microphone. In Jordan or Mexico or the Dominican Republic or most places in the US, the problem is the opposite, other people surround you and want to talk, too, and you’re just trying to get this one person on tape. In general, I find, only one in ten people will decline an interview. But in Israel it’s the opposite. Nine out of ten sneer at you, demand that you get out of their face, or just say nothing and walk away. It just sucked, following Lapid in to a bar and then trying to get some table of drunken friends to say what they think about him and his campaign. I got a couple, but that was after twenty or something people told me to get lost. And Lapid was annoying, too. When he was a journalist he was known for saying whatever is on his mind and speaking openly. But now he’s such a careful politician, every question gets the same answer’dI am fighting for equal rights, I have nothing against the religious. I think I can cobble together a piece out of it, but it was really lame.
Then today, I needed to get some religious people’s views of Lapid. They’re even worse than the secular Israelis. I walked for a mile or something on a street crowded with black hated Ultra-Orthodox. I stopped as many as I could and asked them to talk, and every one would wave me off and keep walking. It was so depressing. Finally, thank god, I came across an Ultra-Orthodox high school and was immediately surrounded by screaming kids who were very excited about the whole microphone thing. I guess they haven’t learned yet. I got good tape from them. Turns out they hate this Lapid guy and are committed to Shas, the Sephardic Ultra-Orthodox party. One kid, when I asked him why he supports Shas, said, ‘they tell us to vote Shas, so we vote Shas. What can we do?’ I guess the They is the rabbis.