I was in Israel last week, on an unusual trip for me – almost entirely un-related to work.
So for once, I was able to get a sense of the country from a different perspective, the viewpoint of the man or woman in the street.
One night I ate at a kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv (decried by one friend as “just for tourists” – well, I didn’t care, I was a tourist), and among the crowd was a non-Jewish friend, a serious traveller, about whose opinion I was particularly curious.
Would she, I wondered, buy into the usual tired old clichés about Israel, the narrative as peddled abroad, or would she wake up and smell the coffee?
To my great surprise and relief, her comments were mainly favourable.
The weather helped, of course: glorious blue skies kissed the clouds away and the predicted rain simply never happened, making the return to the freezing fog of the UK all the more depressing. The weak pound, however, has made the British tourist a relative pauper in Israel.
Whereas last summer my friend might have been more inclined to commit serious retail therapy, an exchange rate of 4.7 shekels to the pound currently gives every Brit a taste of what it was once like to be an Israeli tourist in the UK, watching every agora and ensuring that even cheap street snacks have to be considered carefully.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are easily as expensive for the average Brit as high-class areas of London, Paris or New York, which made prices thoroughly eye-watering.
Kind-hearted Israeli shopkeepers, watching Brits calculate how much an item would cost in sterling, assured me the fall-out from Brexit would not last forever. I do hope they’re right.
So what did my friend like? Some odd things which I hadn’t really taken any notice of, but which attracted her attention.
She liked the bottle recycling hampers in he streets, approving strongly of the impetus for cleaner living, and the new regulation, which we have now had time to get used to in the UK, of not alllowing automatic plastic bags in shops.
She liked the idea of the light railway in Jerusalem and the projected one in Tel Aviv, and was interested in the Haifa Carmelit. She liked the clean sandy beaches and the seemingly endless plethora of food stations, ranging from hole-in-the-wall cafés offering street food to upmarket fine dining and everything you can think of in between.
Israeli technology appealed, too, on show at the airport in swift swipes through security and even permission to take bottles of water through from landslide to airside, making the queues at UK airports feel old-fashioned and invasive by comparison. It’s also heartening to see that a UK electronic passport will get you through Ben-Gurion passport control in half the time.
She liked the “can-do” Israeli attitude, the near-universal use of English and wi-fi almost everywhere, and the new network of intersecting highways.
She didn’t like the increasing reliance on the car and the burgeoning pollution of Tel Aviv, or, for that matter, the frankly random and unreliable service of the much-touted homegrown satnav, Waze, which had spent days of her visit sulking.
But on the whole, this was a fine term report. I don’t mind admitting I breathed a small, Zionist, sigh of relief.