Tuesday. 23/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Tal Moskovich

High stakes

Israel is today holding its fourth parliamentary elections in two years. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely hoping that the focus will have shifted away from the government’s failure to handle the early stages of the pandemic and on to its world-beating vaccination campaign that began at the start of the year. In Tel Aviv, like elsewhere in the country, business is almost back to normal. Restaurants and gyms have reopened and this weekend marks the return of the city’s nightclubs, which have been abandoned since last March.

However, recent opinion polls suggest that Israelis will face more political gridlock after today, with the prospect of a fifth round of elections later this year. Voters remain deeply divided – not only between the dozens of left- and right-wing parties but also between pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions. Should Netanyahu succeed in forming a new coalition government with ultra-orthodox and ultra-right-wing parties, he might pass a law stopping his own trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Despite the allegations, supporters are determined not to accept any prime minister other than the incumbent.

Opponents fear that Israel’s democracy is under threat – yet they’ve been exhausted by recurring failures to build a viable counter-movement. Yesh Atid, a centrist party led by Yair Lapid, is the leading choice among anti-Netanyahu voters this time around but Lapid’s chances of becoming prime minister are so unclear that he refuses to say whether he even wants the job. Any anti-Netanyahu government would face the major challenge of bringing together various smaller parties whose only common interest is a desire to boot Netanyahu from office. Meanwhile, crucial policy topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear deal, have rarely been debated throughout the campaign. Even if by some miracle today’s elections lead to a stable government, the Netanyahu divide will linger long after, preventing any progress on the most critical issues facing the country.

Tal Moskovich is a freelance journalist and documentary director based in Tel Aviv.

Image: Alamy

Society / Tokyo

Playing it safe

Tokyo emerged from its state of emergency yesterday, two and a half months and two extensions after it went into semi-hibernation in early January. However, it looks as though any celebrations will have to wait. Restaurants are being asked to close at 21.00 until the end of the month, the government is still encouraging companies to let employees work from home and annual cherry-blossom festivities are being restricted to viewing-only events without the traditional eating and drinking. The Olympic Torch relay, which starts on Thursday, will be a muted affair with no crowds and a request that spectators clap rather than cheer. Japan’s vaccination programme is progressing at a slow pace and there is concern that the virus might surge again as the new school and business year starts in April. More people are out and about but many say that they won’t be letting their guard down. The mood, in a word, is cautious.

Image: Shutterstock

Justice / Canada & China

Trial and tribulation

Canadian citizen Michael Spavor appeared in a Chinese court on Friday charged with espionage, and a similar trial began yesterday against his compatriot Michael Kovrig. Both men were arrested over two years ago, shortly after Canada apprehended senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou (pictured), who is sought for extradition by the US. The latest trials come as Meng’s own extradition case is ramping up. “Across the board you can see very direct pressure being put on Canada over what is actually an extradition hearing,” Isabel Hilton, founder and editor of China Dialogue, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

Whereas Meng is on house arrest and entitled to an army of lawyers, Hilton says that Kovrig and Spavor have been held in prison with minimal access to independent legal counsel (they have court-appointed lawyers). Their trials are also largely taking place in secret. A politically negotiated release still seems likely but, when it comes to justice, “the contrast between the two processes couldn’t be starker,” says Hilton.

Listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24 for more on this and the European Union’s decision yesterday to sanction China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

Image: Alamy

Tourism / France

Piste of burden

France’s biggest ski school has been accused of embezzling public funds via its efforts to support unemployed instructors through the pandemic. Although resorts remained closed all winter, ESF (École du Ski Français) managed to keep certain limited activities running, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. However, Yannick Vallençant, head of the independent ski-instructors’ union SIM-CFDT, has accused ESF of forcing the instructors leading these outings to work for free so that it can still pocket government grants in full. These actions, he claims, constitute embezzlement of up to €400m. The ESF denies the charges and has called them “slanderous”. Whether the school is guilty or not, it’s worth asking why companies might feel the need to cook the books at all. With ski resorts and the villages that depend on them facing another year of diminished revenue (ESF itself will have lost an estimated €270m this season), governments must ensure that enough is being done to support not only individuals but the companies that employ them.

Image: Getty Images

Cinema / USA

Back on screen

The reopening of cinemas in Los Angeles has brought a much-needed boost to the heart of the global film industry. LA is the US’s largest movie-going market and the box-office numbers for this past weekend prove it. The city’s cinemas brought in more than €1m, the best figures in the country and a 41 per cent increase on New York’s reopening weekend earlier this month. Disney’s latest release, Raya and the Last Dragon, topped the box office over the weekend but Angelenos also flocked to see some of the Oscars’ Best Picture nominees, including The Father and Minari. Although restrictions on indoor numbers remain in place, movie-goers in many cinemas reportedly erupted with applause on simply being able to return. It’s yet another sign that, when most movie theatres eventually open again, people will be inclined to give their television sets a break and enjoy the big screen once more.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 236: Lyre’s

Mark Livings is the CEO and co-founder of Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits, a brand launched in Australia in 2019. The company’s range of drinks are created to taste as good as a wide range of classic spirits and aperitifs, from gin and rum to Campari and vermouth. The brand has seen incredible growth since launching, while winning a host of awards around the world.

Monocle Films / Italy

The Monocle Book of Italy

Allow us to introduce you to our new publication, The Monocle Book of Italy. Our latest title celebrates the much-loved Mediterranean nation through fantastic photography, witty illustrations and plenty of insightful writing. Join us for a colourful tour. Order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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