Israeli Leftists Are Sinking Into Oblivion – Just Like Their Favorite Cafe

Café Tamar, one of the last places whose regulars said something to each other about the state's situation – rather than only about their private situation – is taking its last breath.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Regulars sitting at Cafe Tamar, Tel Aviv, back in 2011. End of an era.
Regulars sitting at Cafe Tamar, Tel Aviv, back in 2011. End of an era.Credit: Oren Ziv
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The news that Tel Aviv’s Café Tamar was closing came at the worst possible time – on Independence Day. Just when there was nowhere to run, one of the last refuges was closed down.

On Tel Aviv’s beaches, the masses stood cheering the U.S. planes flown by automatic Israeli pilots, who in the summer bombarded helpless residential neighborhoods and killed hundreds of civilians – including the elderly, children, babies and women.

I stood in Atzmaut Park, in the abandoned Palestinian graveyard within it, watching how Israel saluted its heroes, who were so brave in fighting the weak and who never took part in a single air combat in their life. I watched how impressed Israel was by planes flying in the sky, and by pilots who sow nefarious death and devastation on the land below. Among the remnants of Palestinian graves, a bearded young man wandered in alarm, his head uncovered. He, too, had come to cheer the air heroes and, alas, the wind had blown his skullcap straight into the Muslim cemetery. He scrambled among the graves in a scene that could have come straight from a surreal movie.

The media was about to wrap its invariable, cynical binge of kitsch, death, heroism, nationalism and militarism – with a touch of Holocaust – doled out this year in especially repulsive, extended editions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech of mourning and Iran, and TV host Dan Shilon sat in a circle. The regular staple scandals, something the actress, artist and PR guy had said, had already faded. Gaza launched an errant rocket as a thundering, helpless reminder to Israel and the world of its existence and disaster, a holiday gift from a “rogue organization” to a rogue state – and the army of generals and functionaries came out of the holes and threatened it, as usual.

Tel Aviv’s streets were smeared with white foam stains from the night before, and the barbecue smoke rose from the parks – all the effects of the holiday, which had once, years ago, been different. There was nowhere to run. Then came the news: Café Tamar was shuttering.

Everything has already been said about Tamar. It happens that a café closes. It even happens that a Tel Aviv institution, which some see as home, disappears. But on Independence Day, this had a different significance. There’s no longer any point crying over Tamar; or its legendary proprietor, Sara, who is waning; or the Tel Aviv that is changing. One of the last places where people still spoke to each other, instead of texting ad nauseam, is leaving us. Ironically, it will be replaced by a new WhatsApp group, born on Friday – “Tamar’s Refugees.”

One of the last places whose patrons didn’t speak only of money is shutting its doors. One of the last places, not including the settlements, whose regulars even said something to each other about the state and society’s situation – rather than only about their private situation – is taking its last breath. One of the last independent cafés, which survived here more than the standard two-three years, is turning off the lights. Its walls tell the story, with drawings and photographs of the people who frequented it over the decades.

Its refugees wrote to each other that they were fighting for “the right of sitting” [similar to “return” in Hebrew]. They have nowhere to go. They, too, have nowhere to run. They are now looking for a new refuge. Already, there are suggestions and groups, but I doubt they’ll find any solutions. A handful of writers, lecturers, journalists, actors, bums and gossips – in short, leftists, who were left without a roof over their head. I believe it’s not only a physical roof.

One can, of course, respond dismissively, “half a transit camp” – as sometime minister Yosef Almogi once described Israel’s intellectuals. But at the close of the 67th Independence Day, the truth must be told: this may be an insignificant minority that is becoming obsolete, but the fact that this handful has nowhere else to go and nowhere else to run is far from insignificant. This minority’s sense of suffocation is increasing. I feel it myself every day. The violent remarks are becoming more frequent; the islands of hope and refuge, like Café Tamar, are sinking into oblivion. Pretty soon this (too) will not be our place.

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