In 1993, after nearly 10 years in liberal, comfortable, tolerant North America, I returned to Israel. I chose to come back because of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, because of hopes for peace, and because of the singer Arik Einstein.
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I returned for the scent of citrus blossoms in the spring, for the miracle of the ancient Hebrew language reverberating on the country’s streets and for the enchantment of the road to Jerusalem. I also returned for exuberant Tel Aviv, the friendliest city in the world.
Since then, Rabin and the hope for peace have both been murdered. Arik Einstein has died. Hebrew has become an abused hybrid of a language. The road to Jerusalem has been marred by bulldozers gashing the mountains. The fragrance of citrus blossoms has disappeared under highway ramps and asphalt.
But at least I had Tel Aviv, my sane bubble — sane even during the days of the most horrible terror attacks. That bubble, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, you are threatening to burst.
Mr. Minister, Tel Aviv is a special city. It’s different not only from other Israeli cities, but from cities around the world. Its openness, easy-going nature, tolerance and cosmopolitanism have made it popular — a magnet for freedom-loving Israelis, foreign tourists, secular immigrants and investors.
Tel Aviv is also a city of refuge — for everyone who abhors the policies of the settlers’ government, the most unenlightened and deaf government this country has known. It’s a refuge for all people who, like me, are holding their noses, closing their eyes and waiting for the current government to pass from this world — everyone whose stomach is turning because of the government’s imperious rule in the territories and its part in the erosion of universal values and morality.
Your decision, Mr. Sa’ar, to meddle in Tel Aviv’s affairs and to shut, on the Sabbath, groceries and kiosks that have been open that day for decades is politically wrong. It’s an arbitrary and undemocratic decision that you’re trying to force on the city against the will of most of its residents.
It’s nothing more than an attempt to marginalize and cripple this fun-loving haven, turning it into another Netivot or Beit Shemesh — a foolish effort, which, if it succeeds, will deprive the city of its uniqueness and send fleeing not only residents but also foreign tourists and investors.
Your government would finally be able to put down this rebellious place and pride itself on the drastically lower apartment prices in a city that had been one of the most desirable, lively, enlightened and cultured in the world. Mr. Minister, keep your hands off Tel Aviv!