'Israel Is a Dictatorship. But Other Than That, It’s Paradise.'

Arrivals / Departures: A French immigrant says Israel is special even though the authorities deported his girlfriend; an Israeli immigrant says he prefers Western Europe to his homeland, although he thinks Russians are the best people.

David Harboun.
Tomer Appelbaum

David Harboun, 56, lives in Netanya, flying to Kiev

Hello, can I ask why you’re traveling?

I am going to see my wife. She lives in Miami, but when she came to visit me in Israel, the police arrested her and wouldn’t let her enter the country.

Why?

She’s originally Russian and lived in Donetsk [Ukraine]. Because of the war, she fled to Miami. I met her there, at Chabad House, and we hit it off. Then she came here, and because she told the truth – that she wanted to live here and wasn’t a tourist – she went to jail. Everything is upside down in this country. If she had lied, they would have let her in, she would be prime minister.

So they sent her back to Miami?

They put her on the first flight back to the United States. And they put her in jail there, too. I managed to get on the same flight, and I told them: “If you put her in jail, put me in jail with her.” They told me: “No.” In that case, I told them, I would burn my Israeli passport, and then they would be forced to jail me. “Don’t do it,” they told me. I came back to Israel and hired a lawyer, who did nothing. I called the Ukrainian foreign ministry and caused a revolution there. They talked to American immigration services, and eventually they told her there: Sign a document saying you are ready to return to Ukraine in wartime.

What’s happening now?

She went back to Kiev. We were married there a week ago, and now I am waiting to give all the documents to the Interior Ministry here in Israel, but I also want her to do a conversion to Judaism. There’s a rabbi in Kiev whom I’m going to grab, one of those rabbis with a 15-meter-long beard, that’s why I’m going there now. This is my third wife, and I want it to end here. Now is the time to marry; 19 years alone is enough. A person can’t live like that. Because afterward, all kinds of weird bugs enter your head.

Will the two of you live here?

With God’s help. I travel a lot.

Why is that?

I make shade for rich people.

Excuse me?

I have a small factory in Paris called Sun Twist, which makes leather Venetian blinds for windows on yachts, in hotels, for individual residences. It’s all hand-made and also carries a lifetime warranty.

Why leather?

It’s chic, it’s classy.

Is it expensive?

In my view, no. Not expensive enough. It’s $400 per square meter for something that can last a lifetime – that’s not expensive.

Are the blinds made to order?

They can be. Here in Israel I did blinds for the yacht of a woman – I can’t tell you her name – with gold thread. There are clients here, thank God.

Is that why you immigrated to Israel?

I came to Israel in 1997 from France, and after four years I returned to France. Three years ago I came back to Israel, to help my sick mother. If not for my parents, who are alone here, I might not have come back. But Israel, other than the Interior Ministry, is a paradise. People don’t know it. I’ve been to New Zealand, to Seattle, everywhere. The air here is special. When you breathe it, the scent is special; there’s nothing like it anywhere, and even if there’s this mess here, it will pass.

Which of the messes are you talking about?

It’s a joke, the government here, it’s mafia. The economy is mafia. I have great respect for the Israeli citizenry, because it suffers from every direction. Ten rich families control everything here and there is no competition. Everything is twice as expensive as in France. A tomato leaves the kibbutz at 80 agorot and ends up being sold for 6 shekels [20¢ and $1.50, approximately]. What’s the story? There’s a French saying, “Chacun se tient la barbichette” – everyone tends to his goatee. Everyone has his own interests. It hurts me to see it, things have to change here, it’s impossible to go on like this. It’s a dictatorship. But other than that, it’s paradise. It’s a dictatorship and it’s also a paradise.

Liav Greydi.
Tomer Appelbaum

Liav Greydi, 33, lives in St. Petersburg, arriving from Belgrade

Hello, can I ask what you did in Russia?

I’ve lived in Russia for four years. I went there for business, which didn’t really work out, but I stayed.

What do you do there?

Not very much, odd jobs. I have a work permit and I live there with my partner.

So she is the reason you stayed?

Part of the reason. I was divorced last October. We’ve been apart for four years. I married at the age of 28, which I thought wasn’t so young, because all my friends were already married and had children. I was something of an idiot.

Do you have children?

I have a son here and I come to visit him every few months.

Is it hard for him?

The truth is that this is all he knows. I’ve been there since he was a year-and-a-half old, and he knows that Daddy is at work. When he’s older, in another year or two, he will be able to visit me and we will see each other more often. It wasn’t my choice to leave. It’s expensive to raise a child here. In Europe you get 200 euros a month for food and all the rest, and here you pay 1,000 euros a month just for preschool – that’s why child support is so high. If I’d stayed here, I’d be a divorced man living in poverty, maybe even on the street, certainly paying more for child support than I make as a salary. At least when I’m there, I don’t need anything for myself, and what I earn I send as child support. If I were here, I’d have to rent an apartment for $1,000 a month, plus child support. Where would I get that? In Europe, child custody is shared. In Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, parents must live near each other, and alimony is like 100 euros a month.

And in Russia?

I like Russia better than Europe. The Russians are better people. Life there is comfortable and pleasant, but there’s a problem of income. Russia is in dire straits, there’s been a serious crisis for the past two years, because the price of oil crashed by 60 percent. But it’s not suitable for my company to move, they have good work at the moment. So I’m going to Europe to work – I have European citizenship – and we’ll see what the future holds.

Where did you live in Israel?

In Tel Aviv. I’m third-generation Tel Aviv on both sides. Both my parents were born in Tel Aviv. If you’d asked me 13 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of moving.

Do your parents still live in Tel Aviv?

My parents are stuck in Israel because of my child. He and my brother’s children are at my mother’s place every weekend. She also goes to see him in the middle of the week. My father was born here in 1938, 10 years before the state was established. A year or two ago I asked him, “You’ve been through every period – when were things at their worst here?” He said, “Now, and it’s getting worse.” He’s 78. He knows whereof he speaks. He is begging my mother to leave, he doesn’t want to stay here another minute, but it’s her decision.

You sound worried.

I’m on the phone with them every day – of course I’m worried, we are very close. It’s hard for them economically. She works at two jobs from morning to night, I don’t know why. In Europe she would have retired at 59. My father also still works. Just to maintain an apartment costs 10 times more than in Europe. I don’t know how you do it. It’s a country of masochists, people don’t know how to protest. For years people fought for this country, and in the end it was ruined. It hurts me. Instant coffee and a bottle of Coke for 15 shekels [almost $4]. Why? In Europe it costs a euro. I forgot to buy deodorant for 1.30 euros, I paid 60 shekels. Totally disproportionate. Maybe in another 30 years, when Bibi dies, things will be different.

An optimist.

What can I do? It’s more pleasant here, except you have this horrendous heat.