North Africa, West Asia

On the Darom Adom Festival and politics

Thousands flock to the south of Israel to see the red anemone flowers in blossom, while the author observes the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, a serious contender to be a future Israeli Prime Minister.

Efraim Perlmutter
17 February 2014

On the Darom Adom Festival

Efraim Perlmutter. All rights reserved.

The residents of my area find themselves inundated by tens of thousands of visitors from other parts of the country. A yearly festival is taking place called "Darom Adom" which can be translated as "The Red South" or "The South is Red". This has nothing to do with the politics of the region, rather it relates to the fact that at this time of year, given enough rainfall in the winter, the area is literally covered with red anemone flowers, which the rest of the country is invited to see. The Hebrew name for these flowers is Kalaniot. Back in the days of the British mandate, the British paratroops stationed here were referred to as Kalaniot because of their red berets. Shoshana Damari, an iconic Israeli singer, sang about Kalaniot, the flowers not the paratroopers, as one of her signature songs. But most Israelis visit us simply to see the beauty of the display.

My favourite spot for viewing the flowers is a few kilometres away just down the road past the remains of a fifth century Byzantine era Synagogue, near a sculpture garden called the "White House", which is a reference to the colour of the small building on the site rather than to the more famous structure in Washington. This particular spot is off the beaten track and unlike other places, which can attract hundreds of vehicles and crowds of people; visitors mostly ignore it. When we went there a few days ago, there were just another two cars and a couple of local families enjoying a picnic lunch. My grandchildren romped through the tall wild grasses and we were all suitably impressed with the scenic beauty. Aside from the absence of hordes of visitors, I am attracted to this particular spot because it is one of the very few places where a few white Kalaniot are scattered among the red ones. This is quite a rarity in the south where red is the massively predominant color.

Local government in Israel, outside of city and town municipal boundaries is in the hands of "Moetzot Azoriot" or Regional Councils. I live in the Eshkol Regional Council, which is one of several regional councils located along the border of the Gaza Strip and collectively known as "Otef Azza", which can loosely be translated as the Gaza envelope. For all of these regional councils and for the towns located in the area, the Darom Adom festival is an important factor in their economies. For about a month, thousands of visitors buy meals, and local products. If they stay for an extended visit, they purchase lodging in the local bed-and-breakfast facilities. A good many local residents are directly involved in the project and we all hope for clear sunny weather and quiet from across the border. So far the weatherman has been cooperative and the Hamas leadership has been able to keep rockets and mortar fire down to one or two a week – hardly noticeable.

On politics

What was also hardly noticeable, by me at least, was the interview on the IDF radio station with our recently exonerated foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. For those who haven't kept up with his trials and tribulations, Lieberman has been under investigation for about a dozen years for various and sundry alleged crimes. A few months ago the whole never-ending fiasco was finally brought to a halt when, after being convicted by the press, Lieberman finally got his day in court and was acquitted of all charges. He has been the bête noire of our local liberal press and much of the international leftist intellectual community for years. Just the mention of the name Lieberman resulted in a visceral negative response from these quarters. One unfortunate consequence is that what he actually says gets very little coverage or serious analysis. All of that changed this week.

I've been watching the man for years, beginning with when he became Minister of National Infrastructure and later Minister of Transport. What impressed me about him was that unlike most government ministers, he took his job seriously enough to learn the ropes, so to speak, and he had a big positive impact on the fields covered by his ministries. In short, he was accomplishing a lot more than he was being given credit for. I suspect that when his record is reviewed much of that will change.

Lieberman suddenly became the man of the hour when US Secretary of State John Kerry came in for severe criticism from some Israeli right-wing politicians for comments he made in Munich about the negative consequences for Israel if negotiations with the Palestinians fail. The resulting diplomatic upset was brought to a quick conclusion when Lieberman, talking as Israel's Foreign Minister, publicly stated that Kerry's work in the negotiations were consistent with Israel's interests and that he – Lieberman – disagreed with the criticism levelled at the Secretary of State. This surprised those on the right, left and centre. In the interview I caught on IDF radio, Lieberman reiterated his positive opinion of Kerry and Kerry's efforts. He went on to say that a peace agreement and the two-state solution was most definitely in Israel's interests and he would even abandon his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, if that was the cost of a real peace agreement with the Palestinians.

All in all, the interview was a grand performance of Lieberman staking out a position in the very centre of the Israeli political spectrum, where most Israeli voters just happen to be. These are not particularly new positions for Lieberman, but what is new is that the press and others are suddenly paying attention. He has also become far more acceptable on the diplomatic circuit, especially at the US State Department. Lieberman has now become a serious contender to be a future Israeli Prime Minister and in my opinion his chances of achieving success should not be under-estimated. 

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