I am a big admirer of El Al, the national airline of Israel. As I wrote last January, the security measures El Al uses are superb. If all airlines followed suit, then aviation would instantly become a much safer mode of transport.
I’ve always quite enjoyed the extra security questioning that is part of the El Al experience. Living in Britain where hatred of Israel runs wild, it is always reassuring to be given that instant reminder that Israelis are stronger and wiser than their enemies will ever be.
I also quite enjoy the moments of fun that can arise during the process. Last February I made a quick trip to Israel, mostly to meet some friends I made through this blog. The El Al security lady was surprised to learn of a British gentile who runs a pro-Israel blog. “And what is the name of this blog,” she asked. “OyVaGoy,” I replied, and watched as she tried to keep a straight face.
She then explained there was a problem with my electric toothbrush and that it would need to stay behind in Heathrow. “You can collect it when you return,” she said, “we just need your mobile number for the form.” I explained that I didn’t know my mobile number, and asked if my landline would do instead. It wouldn’t, as it turned out.
Her: “No, we need your mobile number. What is it?”
Me: “I’ve no idea, I never phone myself.”
This was an honest answer, but she thought I was being cheeky. She gave me a stern look, as if to remind me that we could do this the easy way, or the hard way. I gulped nervously and smoothed everything over quickly.
I was reminded of this story as I was reading Yehuda Avner’s magnificent, magnificent book The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. I will review the book properly when I have the time to do justice to it. For now I will just say that if you appreciate insider’s guides to politics, and non-fiction stories told with a grace worthy of the finest novelist, then you will already love this book. That would have been enough, as they say. Add in that it is about Israeli politics, and you understand why it is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read.
So, I was going to tell you why the book reminded me of the El Al questioning. Well, the real hero of Avner’s book is Menachem Begin. I have read several books about and by Mr Begin, as he is a long-term hero of mine. Yet Avner’s book taught me so many new things about this man who has for so long inspired me. Avner really brings him to life on the page. Among the new facts I learned about Mr Begin were that he enjoyed word-play, which made me smile, as I enjoy a bit of it myself – oy va goy!
Anyway, one of Avner’s stories in the book concerns the day that, while he was visiting Mr Begin at his house, the Prime Minister suddenly ordered him to get President Jimmy Carter on the phone. Neither Avner nor Mr Begin had the direct number for the White House to hand, as they were not at the office. So Avner phoned the general White House switchboard, explained the purpose of his call and asked to be put through to the President.
Naturally, the White House operator was sceptical as to whether the caller really was who he said he was. She told Avner: “Please give me the Prime Minister’s number and we’ll get back to you.”
So Avner called out: “Mr Begin, what’s your number?”
“I’ve no idea,” replied Mr Begin, “I never phone myself.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself!