Monday, June 22, 2020

How COVID-19 helped Netanyahu beat Benny Gantz for Israeli prime ministership

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz | Source: US Department of State via Wikimedia

In March 2020, when COVID-19 was causing the near collapse of health systems across the world, Israel had just voted third time in the parliamentary election for the third time in less than a year. This was so because no political party was able to muster the majority in Knesset (Israeli parliament) after earlier elections in April 2019 and Sept 2019. Benjamin Netanyahu has been acting Prime minister since the time when he went for the dissolution of Knesset December 2018 with a hope of securing an extended majority for his right wing coalition. However he failed to secure even the simple majority in three elections on April 19, Sept 19, and March 20. Then came the COVID-19 and he sensed an opportunity to make a comeback from the brink of political disaster to reclaim the prime ministership of Israel.

The COVID-19 pandemic tested the Israeli citizens just like the other countries and  Benjamin Netanyahu kept on telling that unless it is effectively controlled, there will be devastation not seen since the Middle Ages. He also stressed that even the First world countries such as the US and UK are at the brink of losing control. Many Israelis expressed admiration towards Netanyahu’s quick response to the pandemic which helped to contain the pandemic in earlier stages. They flattened their curve by shutting down public places such as parks, schools, educational institutions, and the hotspot areas. He followed two stage strategies — first, to locate and isolate the infected population and then to engage the healthy population in economic activities during the conditions of a semi-lockdown. These steps were taken to save the economy. His plan also carried a huge amount of tests in the hope that it could be established that some people were developing antibodies to resist the virus and could safely be “freed” from isolation. Although the steps being acknowledged, they still raised a lot of questions against Netanyahu. He was supposed to be facing charges for breach of trust and bribery in the month of March. The court shutdown ordered by Israeli Law minister delayed Netanyahu’s charges by two months. Israel also used the cell phone of citizens to monitor their movement to track the spread of pandemic for which he was criticised for breaching the citizen’s privacy. Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute said that Israelis trust the Shin Bet to protect them and not to abuse that trust, and the cellphone monitoring may have serious long-term effects on that trust. Netanyahu, however, defended himself with usual combativeness by stating that the courts were under a temporary shutdown and he has received permission from the General Attorney for cellphone usage data which was valid for 14 days. He also said “If the Shin Bet is to

infringe on our basic privacy, they could have done it many years ago”.

After managing to convince the citizens that he had handled the COVID-19 situation effectively, he quickly approached the rival Benny Gantz with a proposal to form an “emergency unity government”. As part of the deal he offered to share the power with Gantz’s Blue and White party for three years during which Netanyahu was to be prime minister and Benny Gants Dy prime minister for the first 18 months and the role reversal afterwards. He kept on harping the disastrous consequences of the virus and mentioned “It could affect 60-80% of the population” and said “nobody knows” how devastating the virus would ultimately prove. 


It was not easy for Benny Gantz to accept the proposal to align with Netanyahu as his whole campaign was on the issue of never supporting Netanyahu. However Netanyahu, who is acknowledged by friends and foes alike as a shrewd politician willing to go to any extent in safeguarding his own interest, finally won the war of attrition. Benny Gantz accepted the deal offered by Netanyahu and agreed to let him continue to be the prime minister for the first 18 months of the alliance period. The COVID-19 calamity has effectively turned into an opportunity for Netanyahu to hold on to the power and continue to be the prime minister of Israel.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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