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The man in the high castle: a look at Galant's house

Israelis received a new glimpse today into the lifestyle of the military elite.

General Yoav Galant's house in Moshav Amikam, from "Haaretz Online"

Something happened this morning that calls for breaking a tradition. It’s not a religious tradition, nor is it very old. In fact, it’s nothing but a simple design standard. Then again, design is meaningful, as we will soon discover.

I made myself a rule of elegance: to only use black and white images as illustrations from my posts. Let’s break this rule in favor of the above image, which appears in today’s Haaretz. It is an arial view of a property belonging to General Yoav Galant. General Galant, previously the commander of the IDF’s southern command, has been picked by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to be the next IDF Chief of Staff. His term is due to begin next month.

The announcement of Galant’s appointment, made last summer, was accompanied by a curious little scandal. It involved a letter, seemingly produced by a PR company, which outlined how the Ministry of Defense was to promote Galant’s image in the eyes of the public. This document was finally accepted as forged by most and in any case that is not the scandal we are gathered here to discuss.

Currently, another controversy is surrounding this man. It involves his property. Supposedly, Galant exploited connections in the Israel Land Administration in order to annex public land to his estate. It is also claimed that he illegally paved two paths leading to his house. In an interview, Galant’s wife Claudine claimed that these paths were necessary as escape routes in case of a terrorist attack on their home.

It hasn’t been determined yet whether Galant truly is to be blamed for illegal activities, but even that is not the scandal we are gathered here to discuss. That scandal would be the house itself. Even if we assume that this house and its grounds are flawlessly legal, and that the red arrows drawn by Haaretz, resembling a battle plan, are indeed meaningless. There’s still a lot to be learned from this image.

This is Israel, not California. Houses such as Galant’s are not common here, to say the least. Even Israel’s wealthiest suburban communities, such as Kfar Shmaryahu and Herzliya Pituach, both north of Tel Aviv, are mostly made up of massive villas situated on relatively small plots of land. Galant’s house, in a moshav on the Carmel highlands, is outrageous by Israeli standards. Galant is not a businessman; he is supposed to be an army man, a public servant. What is the meaning of this?

Those familiar with local real estate realities were quick to comment. Dvorit Shargal, the country’s foremost blogger on media matters, assumed that “Prince Charles would not have been opposed to living there.” She noted that Galant’s property exceeds even its legal size by 350 square meters (nearly 4,000 square feet) on top of the 35 dunams he may have received under dubious circumstances from the ILA and the 27 dunams he rightfully owns, all this while Dvorit lives in a 40 square meter (430 square feet) apartment. “Is there justice in this world?” She asks. Why sigh, Dvorit? Your apartment’s is still bigger than mine.

Another individual endowed with a critical mind, and likely just as unable as Ms. Shargal and myself to cope with Israel’s outrageous real estate costs (a prime reason for the diminishing of the country’s middle class), is artist Barak Ravitz. He wondered online today whether Galant’s chateau “is in itself the Iranian threat.”

This joke is self explanatory to consumers of Israeli media. We have become accustomed to aerial photos of domed structures: those of Iranian nuclear reactors under construction, but Ravitz may also be alluding to the house’s four domes and arched cloisters, evocative of Persian architecture. He later wrote: “I heard that this villa was originally built as training grounds for the secret operation of assassinating Ali Baba”.

Personally, I think of Galant’s house as an embodiment of the Israeli threat, rather than the Iranian. Galant was picked by Ehud Barak, until this week the leader of Israel’s “Labor Party,’ who lives a life completely disconnected from any value of any true labor movement. Barak recently traded his enormous luxury apartment in Tel-Aviv’s Akirov Towers for a similar one in another sureal-ly lavish complex.

Ben-Gurion may have gone to live in a desert cottage, but that was then and this is now. My Zionist grandfather taught me to view modesty as the greatest virtue, but that was then and this is now. In our age the country and the IDF are run by tasteless nouveaux-riches moguls, whose source of income tends to be somewhat mysterious. What values are reflected by their design choices? By their investments? Is it really only a coincidence that they are blamed for building on land that is not their own?

Galant may not be Ceaucescu and Claudine isn’t Imelda Marcos, but the sight of their house leaves no room for doubt: Our next chief of staff is a member of the new aristocracy, the top of the current feudal structure. It is indeed he who will soon be directly in charge of the fate of those at the very bottom of it: the children of Gaza.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. reader

      I’m sure your measurements of Galant’s property are in dunam, not sq. km. Otherwise, his estate really does seem fit for Prince Charles.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thank you Reader. I corrected it. In Israel a dunam equals 1000 square meters, so the total size of the Galant estate is a little over 63,000 square meters. By the way, I just now recalled that Prince Charles himself is an amateur historian of architecture, known for his particular disdain for flights of fancy, so he might not appreciate Schloss Galant after all.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Schloss Galant is excellent.

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    4. Gosh, “tasteless nouveau riche moguls”, eh? I thought we in England had the exclusive rights to de haut en bas intellectual snobbery on the part of the privileged children of old boy networks of money/class status. No doubt if he’d come from a different sort of moshav, and his parents or grandparents had been in the Palmach and were suitably “vatikim” of Avoda, it would all be very different, wouldn’t it? Noel Coward would be proud of you, dear boy.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Judy, Yoav Galant’s father served in an elite combat unit in the 1948 war. Yuval is not talking about pedigree; he is talking about values.

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    6. i like this sentence: “Galant’s wife Claudine claimed that these paths were necessary as escape routes in case of a terrorist attack on their home”. Again our invisible friend Mr Security for justify everything, even to be in a program of MTV
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKvraSa3ZDk

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    7. “Nouveau riche” does not simply refer to values. It is an expression of pure class/cultural snobbery, associated with the belief that people who acquire lots of money through their own efforts (especially if through money and share dealing rather than inheritance/cultural descent) are beneath the superior values and taste of a commentator derived from not being a nouveau riche. If this post was just about values, then the words “nouveau riche” especially when associated with “tasteless” wouldn’t figure. Of course, this writer assumes readers share his distaste for nouveau riches and his stereotyping of them as tasteless. And Galant’s father was in an elite unit in the 1948 war too! Tut, tut. A cultural class traitor of the Vatikim, noch. Sounds like Yuval Ben Ami is channelling Noel Coward, Beverley Nichols and Richmal Crompton. Can’t remember the last time I read the expression “nouveau riche” even in the Telegraph. Perhaps its last UK refuge these days is in the Guardian. Exquisitely hilarious!

      Reply to Comment
    8. [...] an aerial view of Israeli General Yoav Galant's house, picked up by Haaretz, then passed along by Yuval Ben-Ami, who [...]

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    9. Hilarious? A senior army officer arrogantly breaks the law with impunity, appropriating public property for his private use. He has a relationship with the ILA and the judiciary that amounts to cronyism, affording him their cooperation in turning a blind eye to his lawbreaking. An army officer lives a lifestyle that costs far more than he earns (from a salary paid for by Israeli taxpayers, who currently suffer from one of the highest poverty rates and income gaps in the developed world). And you find that hilarious. Interesting.

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    10. When an Israeli says “nouveau rich”, that is an aesthetic designation. No one here is “nouveau rich” as compared to “vieux rich”, only as compared to “tasteful”. There really is hardly any old money on this soil and there certainly is no one at a position to express class-snobbery towards the new money elite. From my typical Israeli 35 sqaure meters flat and refugee background I can only criticise Galant’s mixing of Al-Aqsa, Graceland and the set from “The Name of the Rose”, but that too may provide an arched window to his mind, a mind that will soon have such an influence on my life.

      Reply to Comment
    11. The inflated self-importance of many high ranking officers is often revealed by their opportunistic but failed terms of office when they, almost invariably, join the political elite.

      Reply to Comment

    12. An army officer lives a lifestyle that costs far more than he earns (from a salary paid for by Israeli taxpayers, who currently suffer from one of the highest poverty rates and income gaps in the developed world). And you find that hilarious. Interesting.

      That’s really a misreading of what I said. What I find hilarious is the use of the particular form of cultural snobbism involved in an Israeli left radical invoking condemnation of Galant by reference to him being a “tasteless nouveau riche”. It’s always been the stock in trade of the most reactionary English upper classes.

      As for Yuval Ben-Ami’s attempts to make the words “nouveau riche” mean just what he wants them to mean, I’d suggest reflecting on the invaluable political advice of Denis Healey, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging”. It’s about on a par with that fine old canard of certain angry UK black radicals with a habit of using anti-semitic tropes , “black people can’t be racist”. Maybe he’d be happier in the UK, where our generals and Chiefs of Staff are never ever nouveau riches and can always be relied on to inhabit tasteful Georgian houses, Victorian mansions or thatched cottages (f they haven’t inherited spacious ancestral piles) and only know “The Name of the Rose” from specialist horticultural catalogues.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Judy, you are the one who is doing the misreading. Yuval explained what he meant. You continue to focus on that one word, rather than addressing the content of the article, and I wonder why.

      Are you not concerned that the next chief of staff is a man who breaks the law and lives beyond his means? Do you not wonder why he suffers no consequences for breaking the law, or how he obtained the money to pay for his ostentatious home?

      Reply to Comment

    14. Judy, you are the one who is doing the misreading. Yuval explained what he meant

      For a magazine that claims to be about campaigning for democracy and free speech, I find that a surprising declaration. I disagree with both sentences. Readers can make up their own minds whether they agree with the editorial laying down of line or not. Likewise, I don’t care for demands that I prove my credentials in relation to my views of Galant or otherwise. There’s certainly not enough information in this particularly partisan post to decide whether it’s an objective representation of the facts.

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    15. Dear Judy, I find this cultural misundestanding interesting. I grew up in Israel and have never heard the term nouveau rich used outside of an aesthetic context. This French term is obviously a “faux ami” between British English and Hebrew usages (I hope “faux ami” isn’t another one). Of course we are conscious as to its origin, but it doesn’t carry any sense of high-class snobism since a high-class does not exist. as I pointed out, there is no other way to be rich here other than the nouveau way. So we would just use “rich” for those who are self made.
      .
      By the way, what’s with the Noel Coward reference? I rather appreciate Noel Coward, and I believe that his own snobism is to be taken with a grain of salt. Coward himself grew up in the middle class suburbs. Yes, he was nouveau rich, but not in the Israeli sense, since the deliberately flamboyent are exempt from such judgement.

      Reply to Comment
    16. As for an objective representation of the facts: this is a discussion of an image, so the fact is presented before you. I make no assumption as to the legality of Galant’s actions. The jury is still out on that.

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    17. Nick

      Galant is only one individual among the myriads of corrupt Israelis who have no problem breaking the law in order to advance their political, religious, and personal agendas.

      Every person who facilitated or participated in the 2005 Judenrein operations that put Hamas in power in Aza and strengthened the PLO-PA (the other hand of the Mufti’s Palestinazi movement).

      Not surprising that dissemblers like Lisa Goldman get on their self-righteous high horse and preach about ethics. The stopped-clock-correct moralist never misses a Freudian-slip opportunity to reveal her/his/its essential hypocrisy and maliciousness.

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    18. Nick, how did Israel’s withdrawal from the Jewish settlements in Gaza strengthen the PLO?

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    19. Nick

      Lisa: From spending a lot of time reading your well written, often clever, but rarely factual anti-Israel propaganda I know your mindset and the doublethink filters that prevent you from acknowledging the most obvious facts about our (Jewish) rights here in Israel to complete sovereignty over the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

      Knowing that you’ve chosen to champion a cause whose main goal is to make Israel Judenrein, perhaps allowing a few of us to live here as dhimmis, it’s not surprising that you’d ask such a foolish question. In your Balkanized mind, there’s no connection between Hamas, Hizbulla, PLO, Islamic Jihad, etc.

      One might be able to forgive your limitless ignorance were it not so easy to locate facts that disprove your dogmatic (actually irrational) beliefs about Israel. I doubt that you’ve ever read Shmuel Katz’ “Battleground”, or done an objective analysis of the historical and legal facts presented by Eli Hertz at his Myths and Facts website. And forget about the exhaustive legal analysis by Attorneys Howard Grief, Ted Belman, and David Naggar, to name only a few of the genuine experts who ought to be the focus of your attention.

      Perhaps you can enlighten those of us who watch your regular contributions to the psychological war against Israel: Why don’t you convert to Islam and go live with the people you really love? At least that way there would be a tiny bit of honesty in the things you say.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Nick

      I wonder why the author of this essay chose the title “The Man in the High Castle”. Has he read P.K. Dick’s book with this title? If he had, I doubt that he’d have chosen the title to head his mock ethical criticism of Gallant.

      A note to the intellectually lazy participants in this “discussion”: Don’t ask me to explain. If you read the book, you’ll understand. But I doubt that more than a few of you have the attention span, vocabulary, and awareness of history necessary to grasp PKD’s message.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Nick: You did not answer my question. How did Israel’s withdrawal from the settlements in Gaza strengthen the PLO?

      Reply to Comment
    22. Nick

      Isn’t it glorious to live in a time when you can silence those who stand up to your misrepresentations?

      Funny how you lovers of freedom and believers in your absolute right to do and say anything you want, spread falsehoods, distort facts, and agitate against the Jewish state – funny how you all turn into raving maniacs and Inquisition censors when confronted by simple facts.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Nick

      For Lisa, the Queen of dissemblers:

      Of all people you should have no problem connecting the dots that link the PLO (PNA), Hamas, PFLP, and all the other groups whose primary focus is destroying the Jewish State.

      Ignoring the operational links between anti-Israel (anti-Jewish) organizations suits your ideological goals.

      If your hopes and dreams are realized (a Judenrein Middle East, with Sharia law dominating and subjugating), what will come next?

      Reply to Comment
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