|Graffiti Ljubljana, Slovénie|
|Shelly Marhevka, IDF intelligence commander|
To say that Israelis are ‘confident’ is like saying Rihanna (who played Tel Aviv last year, along with Madonna and Lady Gaga, thus making the ‘boycott’ look somewhat silly: as I leave this time, Tel Aviv is gearing up for the Rolling Stones) is attractive. And this has grown over the years I’ve been coming here. Perhaps the Arab Spring and its subsequent messy afterbirth have made them feel that the pressure is off them while the Muslim world continues to tear itself apart. Or maybe they were just made this way; the early Zionist poet Jabotinsky did warn us, ‘From the pit of decay and dust/ Through blood and sweat/ A generation will arise to us/ Proud, generous and fierce.’ About right, but he forgot ‘fit’.
I’m sitting on the Hilton Beach, knee deep in my gay brothers, when I catch a beautiful blonde woman looking at me. My hopes are dashed when she says, ‘Excuse me, you’re English. Do you have a Nurofen on you?’ I offer her prescription codeine. ‘Bingo!’ she laughs.
|Army Krav Maga|
‘About time! I’ve got a son doing his army duty now; my other son and my daughter will follow him when they’re old enough. So I’ve got three children who may have to fight and die for a country their mother wasn’t even born in, while the Orthodox have children like there’s no tomorrow and don’t have to give up any of them? Like I say, about time.’ She points down the beach to our right. ‘See that — that’s the religious beach here in Tel Aviv — right next to the official gay beach. Don’t tell me this in an accident. There’s so much resentment in this country towards the religious. Hopefully the new law will bring us closer together. We couldn’t be further apart.’
In the Eretz Museum, at an exhibition of wildlife photography, I get talking to Call-Me-Boris. ‘Not my real name, but a good English name, no?’ he twinkles. Call-Me-Boris came here as a child from the disintegrating Soviet Union — he’s not even sure he’s Jewish, but that nice Mr Gorbachev’s glasnost policy brought him here: ‘My father said that it was the first time any people in the Soviet Union pretended to be a Jew to get better treatment from the government! So we don’t ask him too many questions.’
When I first came here, you couldn’t get a bacon sandwich to save your life; now Tel Aviv has more hams than Equity, thanks to the ambiguous Jewish immigration from the Eastern bloc.
What does he think of the former Soviet Union’s relationship with Israel? ‘Is there one? The Russians don’t need Arab oil any more and they’re more interested in, as you might say in England, ‘Keeping a tin lid on it’ in their own country with all the separatists, rather than interfering in this region. They have their own Islamist problem now, so maybe less inclination to come after Israel.’
On the last morning, two Israeli soldiers walk into Benedict’s — ‘All About Breakfast!’ — ahead of us; a tiny, exquisite Chinese girl, a tall and beautiful black man, they seem to exemplify the magnificent melting pot that is this tiny nation. Holding hands, huge rifles over their backs, they peruse the menu. I get tearful; also, I figure, I’ve saved literally thousands of pounds this trip by staying at a housetrip.com flat rather than an eye-wateringly pricey Tel Aviv hotel. When K and I get the bill, I ask ‘May I please pay for the soldiers?’ Our waitress smiles: ‘The soldiers are gone. But Israel thanks you.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 21 June 2014