Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Holidays

  1. For a change, I've actually been trying to work this week. Following up contacts, phoning up publishers for review copies of books, sending off pitches by email. And I get the same response every time. "We're away for the Xmas Holidays...we'll be back on the 5th of January." Dear me. To actually forget that it's Christmas tomorrow is, to put it mildly, astonishing. We did put up a Christmas tree a couple of weeks ago, but it sits in a corner forlornly. Even the Small Noisy One ignores it now, although that's probably because we are terribly slack parents and still haven't sorted out his presents yet*.
  2. I usually send Christmas cards to friends and family. Last year, I was way too disorganised to do anything about it, so I took a picture of the Small Noisy One by the tree (most difficult - he was far more interested in the tree a year ago, and strove mightily to eat it whole) and bunged it in an email. This year, I was better prepared, and actually went in search of cards to purchase. I asked the mother in law where she thought I could find them. "Steimatzky's," she replied, giving me the look she usually reserves for the simple and feeble minded. Not my fault that I assumed that Israel was genuinely a Jewish State...however, it wasn't that simple. The cards were either (a) disgusting (b) Russian or (c) both disgusting and Russian. An email with an updated picture will be sent round tomorrow, methinks...
  3. It is Channukah, the Jewish festival of Light, this week. The narrative of the holiday revolves around a miracle involving a small portion of oil, used to keep the Menorah in the temple alight for 8 days whilst it was beseiged by its enemies on all sides. (Very potted summary.) By a sensible and logical extrapolation, this means that people traditionally eat lots of Sufganiot - Doughnuts - and Latkes - fried potato patties - this week. This I quite like. Most civilised cuisine (he says as he feels his arteries clog and his waistline expand irrevokably...)
  4. Rhetorical question. Sufganiot, I presume, is the plural of Sufganiah - a single Doughnut. However, I have never heard the singular in conversation, or written, or used in any context whatsoever. Does this mean that it is forbidden to eat just the one Doughnut in a sitting?
  5. There was a Chanukkah party at the Small Noisy One's Gan, his Kindergarten, on Sunday night. As you may imagine, it was fairly chaotic at times, with thirteen small children putting on a show in a tiny class whilst assorted proud parents breathed down their necks, shooting and snapping and tumbling other each other's feet...I almost had a heart attack when the lights were switched off so they could pass the first candle of Channukah around. Fortunately, there were no Michael Jackson moments...
  6. So: 'tis the season to be merry, to be with family and friends, and to wish goodwill to all men and women on earth. Whatever faith you subscribe to - or not - please have an excellent Holiday!
*It was the Small Noisy One's birthday last weekend, and he received lots of presents. Far more than he would know what to do with. So, if we don't get ourselves sorted out this morning (rather, if I don't, since the Feminist Mrs Goy actually has a job to go to every morning), one could quite justifiably recycle one of these. New wrapping paper and Bob's your Uncle! See, we're not that bad...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Under the Rader

Years ago, I worked - for the grand total of a day and 3/4, as I walked out mid-shift - in telesales, flogging protective wall coating that could probably double as a biological weapon to doddering old women, harassed parents trying to put their kids to bed, and people whom we believed to be soft in the head, but in possession of a valid debit or credit card.

Just kidding. About the biological weapon bit. Everything else is gospel truth. Anyway...

When I was recruited, I was conscious, if somewhat uncaring, of the fact that I had been recruited because I had/have what can be defined as a 'neutral' accent. 'British' base, but without any regional undertones. Clear 'Nigerian' inflections, but not so much as to allow anyone other than an expert to identify it as 'Nigerian' - not that there is any such thing as a Nigerian accent, but that's another matter altogether - or even, heaven forbid, 'African'. A couple of West Africans, clearly more confident and competent in thinking/talking on their feet, but with more pronounced regional accents, failed to make the cut after the initial 'audition'. I did.

If I had any scruples, this probably should have bothered me a little, but I needed the money and pushed my reservations to the back of my mind.

My boss was a Jewish guy from the area - this was in Edgware, North West London. We'll call him Haim.

Haim was a nice enough chap, very smooth talker, and was reputed to be the highest earner in the firm - we were paid (or rather, they were paid, since I walked before I was entitled to even a brass farthing) a minuscule salary and hefty commission.

After I lost my fifth - or fiftieth? - lead in a row, Haim suggests that I listen in on one of his calls to see how it was done.

The guy was a marvel. By the time he had finished, the dowager he was speaking too had invited him over for tea, never mind the fact that he had just sold her £400 worth of bio-terrorism. But what struck me was that he introduced himself to her as 'Jeremy'.

I had to ask him. Wouldn't you?

He shrugged. 'They're not going to buy anything from a Jew, are they?'

We Blacks, generally, are more occupied with the discrimination - real and imaginary - that we face ourselves in our daily lives, and I don't think that before this conversation I had ever contemplated anti-Semitism in anything other than the most abstract of terms. (Oh, this was long, long before I met the Feminist Mrs Goy). I was surprised, about his fears and his response, and said as much.

He grimaced. 'That's the way of the world.' And went off to make some more sales.

What made me think of this?

This morning, I recieved a call from a call centre here in Tel Aviv Central, someone trying to flog me something or the other. I was happy enough to practice my infantile Hebrew, but the person at the other end soon got fed up and indicated that he'd get an English speaker to call me back.

Sure enough, some fellow calls back a minute or two later, chap called Gilad. or Ehud. I forget. Good, masculine Hebrew name, anyway. Also broad mid-western American accent. One could almost picture the cornfields and long hot summers skinny dipping in the river in his voice.

We chat for a bit, the conversation comes to an end, and I want to make a record of it - in case I need to raise Cain about someone trying to rip me off in the future. So I ask him for his name again.

'Eric.'

'But I thought you said your name was...Ehud?'

His sigh was palpable. He explains, slowly, hesitantly, that when he tries to make sales in Hebrew, the moment he tells the potential customer his 'American' name, the sale is as good as lost.

Prejudice is an odd thing, no?

I have work to do. Have a good day.

Monday, 24 November 2008

A warning

If you ever make the mistake of writing about books, in any capacity whatsoever:

Never - and I mean NEVER - read anything about the book in question before starting work - don't read reviews, for example, or pre-publication interviews where the writer helpfully explains what the book is really about, that kind of shit. This is especially important if you're writing a book review.

I've just spent ten fucking days trying to grind out a thousand comprehensible words about some wretched book that I have to review.

Actually, the book isn't wretched - I'm the wretch. I made the mistake of reading the fulsome reviews before starting to read the book myself. And now I can't quite focus my thoughts well enough to form an independent opinion of it. And, I want to be mildly unpleasant about it, but can't pluck up the courage to do so, especialy after the lavish praised rained down upon the bloody book from up on high. And thus, I feel like a charlatan, a huckster, a fool.

And, because I can't get the wretched review out of the way, I have a week of work backed up. And I'm only being paid tuppence for the bloody thing, anyway.

I'll finish it tomorrow, even if I have to rip my eyeballs out first.

OK, rant over, I feel better.

postscript - What has this got to do with a Goy's life in Israel, I hear you ask? Well, the review is for a Jewish publication. So that must count for something. And I wanted to - I needed to - whine about it. And, the review was commissioned partly on the basis of the fact that the book would be of interest to aforementioned publication's readership because of its Jewish theme. Which it ain't. One could substitute the supposed Jewish character of the book for Buddhist, or Animist, or Pentacostalist, and it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference to the narrative. One could, perhaps, describe the book as being gratuitously Jewish. But I need to find a way of injecting this...this...elusive, even transcendent, Jewish character into the review. Or I won't get my tuppence. Oy, vey zmir...

(post postscript - by way of analogy: years ago, I watched a film called Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Odd film. Set in Savannah, Georgia. With John Cusack and a peculiar looking Kevin Spacey. I think directed by Clint Eastwood. Never read the book, oddly enough.

Anyway

Long, pointless interlude involving some mumbo-jumbo with a voodoo priestess. Lengthy. Meaningless. Could have been excised from the film without altering the storyline one iota. That's how I feel about the alleged Jewishness of this book. But then, I'm not a Jew. Maybe I'm missing something. Perhaps I should ask the Feminist Mrs Goy to have a look and tell me what she thinks.)

G'Night

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The new anti-semitism

I like Christopher Hitchens, most of the time. He's the sort of fellow that would cross the road to get into a good intellectual scrap. It certainly took balls to be so contrarian as to pick a fight with His Lord and Master Bill Clinton when he (Clinton) was at the apogee of his political career. (Not to mention Kissinger, Mother Teresa...)

(Not so sure about his mutterings about Iraq, though. At least, his contributions to that messy set of arguments are far more insightful than those of, for example, his old mucker Martin Amis.)

But I digress. An interesting essay on anti-semitism here. Worth reading.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Another Country

Jerusalem Arabs' election boycott continues

Nov. 11, 2008
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST

As in previous municipal elections, the overwhelming majority of Jerusalem's Arab voters boycotted Tuesday's vote.

Only a few thousand Arabs - mostly municipality workers and their families - cast their ballots amid tight security measures and threats by Palestinian activists.

The number of Arab voters in the city is estimated at 125,000. But since 1967, the Arab residents of Jerusalem have been boycotting the municipal elections out of fear that their participation would be interpreted as recognition of Israel's annexation of the Arab neighborhoods.

The Arabs in Jerusalem are entitled to vote and run in the municipal elections in their capacity as permanent residents of the city. However, because they aren't citizens of the state, they can't vote for the Knesset.

As has been the case on the eve of each municipal election, the Palestinian Authority issued several warnings to the Arab residents not to participate in the election. PA officials and spokesmen repeatedly warned that any Arab who presented his or her candidacy or voted would be treated as a "traitor." The PA's top religious leaders also issued a number of fatwas [Islamic decrees] banning Arabs from taking part in the municipal election.

Early Tuesday, PA supporters in the city tried to enforce a commercial strike in protest against the municipal election. But after most of them were detained by the police, the merchants reopened their businesses, especially inside the Old City and in the main commercial center near Salah Eddin Street.

Graffiti painted overnight on the walls also warned the Arabs against participating in the election. The warnings were issued by masked men belonging to various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah.

However, despite the threats and warnings, dozens of young men working for the different candidates were seen roaming the streets and neighborhoods in an attempt to recruit potential voters. Cars carrying posters of Nir Barkat and Arkadi Gaydamak could be seen in almost every neighborhood and village in the eastern part of the city.

Gaydamak appeared to have run the largest election campaign in the Arab part of the city since 1967. Over the past few months, Gaydamak succeeded in building a vast network of supporters who worked hard to introduce him to the Arab population.

Gaydamak also ran full-page advertisements in Al-Quds, the largest daily newspaper, in which he urged the Arabs to vote for him. It was the first time that a Palestinian daily had agreed to publish such advertisements.

Gaydamak supporters expressed confidence that the majority of the Arabs who defied the boycott voted for their candidate. "Many Arabs like Gaydamak," said Ahmed Hosni, who has been working as an advisor for Gaydamak's election staff for three months.

"Gaydamak is the only candidate who visited the Arabs and promised them equality and better services. He seems to understand their problems."

Asked about the PA's call for boycotting the vote, he replied: "What has the Palestinian Authority done for the Arab residents of Jerusalem? Absolutely nothing; I see no reason why we shouldn't participate in an election that doesn't have political repercussions. These elections are about the municipal services and taxes more than political issues."

Issam Abu Rmaileh, a shopkeeper, said he was didn't vote because he was afraid that PA activists would harm him.

"I heard that they were standing outside the voting centers and threatening people who wanted to come and vote," he said. "I would have liked to vote because it's in our interest, but who's going to protect me and my family afterwards? The Israeli police don't do anything for the Arabs."

Reflecting the state of apathy, many Arab residents interviewed Tuesday said they weren't even aware that it was Election Day. And those who had heard about the election said they thought Gaydamak was running for prime minister.

"Most people just don't care," said civil engineer Haitham Bakri. "These elections are for west Jerusalem, for the Jews. The Arabs are out of the game. The candidates don't care about the Arab residents."

Hatem Abdel Kader, a top Fatah operative and resident of the city, said the decision to boycott the election was a "natural response to the ongoing occupation of east Jerusalem."

He added: "Participating in the election means legitimizing Israel's illegal occupation of the city, and that's why we're opposed to the move. East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and one day we will have our own municipality and elections."

Abdel Kader criticized those Arabs who either ran in the election or cast their ballots, dubbing them a "tiny minority that is driven by greed."

Another Fatah activist claimed that Gaydamak had "bought" hundreds of young Arab men. "He exploited the fact that there are many unemployed young men who are desperate for work," he said. "These people want to earn a living and some of them are even prepared to work for the devil."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I wanna be elected!


It's municipal election day today in Israel.

As far as I can tell, people do take this stuff very seriously. In the 'city' (I use the word advisedly - its population is slightly less than that of my old neighbourhood in London) that I live, there have been lots of lively arguments about all sorts of things, from traffic to the (alleged) Charedisation of the city - apparently there are Jews who are afraid of the Men in Black too - and lots of other stuff in between.

I guess that it must have something to do with the fact that the Mayor and his Council have real money and real power, and thus can be held directly accountable for their successes or failures.

I have my little voting card tucked away somewhere, and I'll be off to perform my civic duty in a little while.

(Goys, interlopers and other non-Israelis legally in the country are allowed to vote in municipal, but not in national elections).

A bit more interesting is the race to be Mayor of Jerusalem.

Frankly - and there is no polite way of saying this - the race appears to be run between an assortment of oddballs.

There is Nir Barkat, a businessman WHO GETS THINGS DONE, and who is apparently under the delusion that he is already Mayor of Jerusalem, judging from his campaign literature;

Meir Porush, a Black Hat (Orthodox Jew), who is promising to build lots of nice Jewish houses between Jerusalem and Ma'ale Adumim, across the Green Line; this is the new manifestation of King Arik's 'facts on the ground' policy from the 80s, as a way of getting rid of the troublesome Arabs who still believe that part of Jerusalem may yet one day become theirs again;

Arkady Gaydamak, about whom the less said the better, other than that he has somehow managed to get himself perceived as the champion of the Arabs (which he ain't - he champions himself, left right and centre) because he has suggested that they have some rights too (which, in any other context, would be so basic a fact that it wouldn't even need to be mentioned. But we are talking about Jerusalem);

Dan Birron, (video: but in English) who represents the Ale Yarok (Green Leaf) party, and thus is obviously a stoner. I'm not really sure where he stands on anything, other than the fact that he decided to chuck his hat in the ring because Barkat, the front runner, was at some point alleged to be suggesting an alliance with the Religious Shas Party to run the city.

I should also point out that Barkat, has also committed to building houses for Jews from Jerusalem to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan (I exaggerate somewhat, you would surmise correctly, but you get my point).

(There is also some guy from Meretz, the left wing party, called Pepe. He has a big beard. But no one is paying any attention to him, and I can't be arsed going to find out anything else about him now, so I'm going to pretend he doesn't exist.)

Writing in Ha'aretz, Yossi Sarid (who seems to be working hard to become the Grand Old Man of Israeli politics, kinda like Tonny Benn in England but without the pipe) suggested that the choice on offer was that between a 'plague and a contamination'. Nice language, although I prefer Johnson's suggestion that 'there is no setting the point of precedence between a louse and a flea'.

Not that it matters. I don't have a vote in Jerusalem anyway, so I shall continue my unilateral policy of benign indifference to the city.

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I've just reviewed Samir El-Youssef's new novel, A Treaty of Love, for some small publication hutz l'Aretz (outside the country). It is about a love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, living in London during those heady halcyon days after Oslo (I'm being cheeky, in case you wondered.) I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. If anyone reading this has an opinion, do be so kind as to drop me a line. I'm curious.

TTFN

ps - if you're wondering, the picture is of Alice Cooper. He once had a hit called 'Elected'. Many, many years ago. He now plays golf a lot. I like Alice Cooper, and I'd vote for him if I could.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

You gotta love these guys

To all those who thought that the problems in the Old City of Jerusalem started and ended with the spot of bother between the Palestinians and the Israelis, check this out.

If I remember correctly, 6 different Christian denominations lay claim to some part the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Armenians, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian, and God alone knows who else. Just above the main entrance, there's a ladder sitting on a ledge that, reputedly, has remained untouched for over a century because no one can agree who has the 'ownership' rights to the ledge and thus the authority to move it.

The funny thing about it - if you're that way inclined - is that it is actually unlikely that Jesus was buried in the Church. He was, after all, crucified - a punishment reserved for common thieves, and deliberately chosen to humiliate him and his followers - and unfortunates in this position were buried outside the city walls, i.e. outside the old city.

Who's going to tell them?

I've been there twice, once whilst on holiday in the country, with a friend who proceeded to ask me all sorts of embarrassing questions - embarrassing in that I am, technically at least, Christian, but I don't have a clue when it comes to Christian theology and Dogma; the second was when my mother, the good Bible thumper that she is, visited last autumn and insisted on the guided tour. Grubby grotty place. It's going to fall down sometime, and what will the potty lot have to fight over then? Absolutely bonkers...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Tel Aviv, Yom Kippur

Last month I spent Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, at my mother in law's flat in North Tel Aviv. I took a few pictures for the blog, but I'm only getting round to uploading them now, three weeks later. You know how it is, being as disorganised as I am.

Observant Jews fast and pray for the 24 hours of Yom Kippur. Non observant Jews leave their cars at home and haul out the bicycle.



The picture above is on Ben Yehuda, a busy thoroughfare that runs from the centre of Tel Aviv to the northern reaches of the city. Usually, it is pretty much impossible to cross, even at the traffic lights. In the background, you can see the stack of the old Reading Power Station. Apparently, bicycle sales shoot up by about 600% at this time of the year. You can see a few of them in the picture below.



This is on Dizengoff, the equivalent of, perhaps, Bond Street in London. It's a pretty surreal experience, with the coffee shops and boutiques shut, yet hordes of people on bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards and on foot, on the pavement, on the street...

It's a novel - and fascinating - way to see the city. You step off the curb and look up, and suddenly the city reveals itself in all its genteel charm. On a normal day, one never has the time - or the inclination, given the noise, the vehicles, the bustle - to stop and contemplate.



This is on Ibn Gvirol, next to Kikar Rabin, Rabin Square (just out of shot, to the left. It isn't actually terribly interesting to look at). The square was renamed after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination on the perimeter of the square, 13 years ago (following the secular calender) today. One way of telling how long a person has spent in the country is to ask what the square was called before Rabin's untimely death.



This I saw on a bus shelter next door to a particularly expensive boutique on Dizengoff. Tel Aviv is a consumer paradise - or consumerist hell, depending upon your instincts and inclinations.



This is Dizengoff Square, a concrete monstrosity adorned by a mobile sculptor created by the Israeli artiste Ya'akov Agam, renown worldwide for his 'optical and kinetic' art. It revolves, and the fountain at its centre shoots water into the air in a pre-programmed display every three or four hours. Classical music is piped from hidden speakers across the square. It's nice, but still doesn't stop the square as a whole from looking like a shithole. There's talk of demolishing it and replacing it with something perhaps a little more appropriate for the centre of Tel Aviv. Don't hold your breath...

There's a story, possibly apocryphal of how, after the sculpture was was installed in the the late 1970's - a donation from, I think, a city in Germany - the municipality of Tel Aviv allowed it to fall into disrepair. Agam, aghast, threatened to attend to the matter by personally disembowelling the installation himself. The municipality reluctantly attended to the matter. Here's another photograph of it below, albeit not from my camera



Tel Aviv itself is kinetic, a city of activity, of hustle, of movement, of noise. I quite like it like that. But Yom Kippur on the streets lends it another another perspective. People stop to chat on the street, greet old acquaintances. (Mrs Goy bumped into her old Chemistry teacher from High School, but was too shy to go and say hello. Shame.) You hear people talk, and you hear the languages too: Hebrew, English, German, French, Spanish, Tagalog. Even Arabic, although admittedly, not very much. It's easy to forget that it is people make up a city, each with their own interesting little story, and days like Yom Kippur allows one a small opportunity to eavesdrop, or just sit and watch, on a couple of these. I like Tel Aviv - I find it a charming, cosmopolitian place.
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Elsewhere in the country, at approximately the same time as these photographs were taken, Jews and Arabs in the old city and crusader port of Acre (Akko, transliterated from Hebrew) were busy shouting, screaming and trying to harm each other, each claiming to have a better right to the land than the other. It is always easy to get a bit cynical about talk of co-existence - at least for this generation, those who grew up in the shadow of two intifadas, Yassar Arafat and Arik Sharon - but even so, I don't think it is too much to expect people to respect the other's point of view, and to find a way to get along with each other, if not actually love one another.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Chutzpah...

Is defined, according to one wag, by the following:

A man kills his mother and father. He is tried, convicted and awaits sentencing. He is invited to say a few words by way of explaining mitigating factors before the sentence is handed down. He stands, clears his throat and stares the beak directly in the eye.

'Your honour,' he begins. 'I must ask you to consider, by way of mitigation, the fact that I am now an orphan...'

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I just did something shameless.

I wrote an article for a local publication, one that some of my neighbours subscribe to. I wanted to stop at the newsagents this morning to see if it had been published today, but was in a bit of a rush and forgot. So, I get home, wondering whether it was worth my while to turn back on a potentially pointless expedition when I see the publication in question. Sticking out of my neighbours letterbox. Delivered, this morning.

What would you do?

Of course, to extract said publication and check there and then is the pragmatic thing to do. And it isn't as if I'm not on speaking terms with the neighbour. But I know for a fact that there is no way in hell I would have done that, standing in front of his letterbox and leafing through his newspaper, before I moved to this country. No way at all.

It was worth it, mind. My piece wasn't in the publication after all, and I would have wasted 15 minutes on the round trip to the newsagent.

Off for the weekend now, to the Galilee. Food, family and fun. See you soon.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Depeche Mode

May 2009

Tel Aviv

I'll see you there :-)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Shana Tovah!

Happy New Year!

This blog is in Eilat, getting sunburnt by the pool, a cold beer in one hand and the Small Noisy One making friends with other people's children (and being looked after by Other Children's Parents, hopefully)...

See you next week!

Friday, 26 September 2008

It's raining.

I love the sweet musty smell that lingers after the first few rains of the year. The sharp fresh tang hanging in the air, after the long, hot, humid, sometimes fetid, summer.

I don't think it has rained here since the beginning of April. I love the sun, don't get me wrong; but there's nothing like the occasional sting of raindrops against the face...

All through the spring and early summer, the newspapers here were reporting about the critical water shortage, with the Kinneret - the Sea of Galilee, dropping to unprecedented levels. If it passes a predetermined red line, the newspapers reported breathlessly, the nation will be plunged into a crisis.

And so it came to pass. And nothing happened. Chastened by their apocalyptic predicitons failing to pass, the journalists sidled off to sensationalise something else. And Israelis continue to hose their 4X4's down...

(Don't be deceived by the last line - I'm no environmentalist. But I am often bemused by the proliferation of gas-guzzling motor cars and water wastage schemes in this country, given the dependence upon oil and the absence of natural water deposits that plague the country and to some extent influence its political relations with the neighbours...)

Paul McCartney performed in Tel Aviv last night. Didn't go - tickets cost too much. Instead, I went for a nice little encounter with the writer Matt Benyon Rees. Detective novels are not really to my taste, but after the entertaining evening - enlivened even further by an eccentric fellow who kept piping up that the real Palestinians are the Jews, that the Palestinians are actually the Amalekites and that eventually, Gog and Magog...ah, forget it - I'll certainly be checking his books out. I drove back home through literally deserted streets. Everyone in The Bubble, it seems, had gone to sing along to 'Live and Let Die'...

Thumbs Aloft!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

My excuse for not updating my blog...

Is that it is hot. To hot to think, to write, to do anything productive. (Even read, which is a problem since I earn a significant part of my minuscule income from reading)

This also presupposes the obviously disputable fact that this blog is productive. Like any other public outpouring of random ramblings, it quite clearly cannot be deemed to so, but it does clear the mind from time to time and allows me to concentrate on more pressing things, so that helps a little.

Mrs Goy - or the Feminist Mrs Goy, as I've taken to calling her - observed the other day that with Tzipi's triumph in the Kadima primaries, Israel now has a woman at the head of each of the three arms of Government - Dalia Itzik is the Speaker of the Knesset, and Dorit Beinisch at the Supreme Court.

I'm guessing she thinks that this is a good thing.

I didn't have the heart to point out that, in any case, Tricky Udi is still loitering in the corridors of power, resignation or not. I tell you, they'll have to cart the man away in chains.

Mr Mofaz, whom I blogged about previously, seemed on the verge of tears when he conceded victory to Tzipi. He apparently wants to 'take time out from Politics'. If that is anything like Mr Barak's 'lost weekend' away from the political scene, I imagine that he'll be back in five years or so, well connected, newly minted and itching to cause mischief. If I were Mrs Mofaz, I'd watch out...

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I had lunch with my father in law last Friday, in a nice family restaurant in Ramat Aviv Gimmel. Tucked in a corner, apparently eating, conversing with a companion and chatting on his mobile all at the same time, was Abraham Hirschson. Mr Hirschson was Minister of Finance until not very long ago, when he was obliged to resign after being accused of all sorts of naughtiness involving money belonging to the National Workers Labour Federation (don't these people ever learn: never fuck with trade union money), and a charity involved with holocaust survivors from Poland. He resigned from office last July, and recently the Attorney General announced that he was to be formally charged with ' breach of trust, aggravated fraud, theft, forgery of corporate documents and money laundering'. A bit of a mouthful that.

He has an elegantly sculpted beard and sideburns arrangement, somewhat at odds with the old denim and polo shirt he was sporting. Me, I've never trusted men with kempt beards (nor women neither, come to think of it). I was briefly tempted to ask him whether his lunch was being paid for by the Histradut, the general trade union body, but thought better of it. Stones and glasshouses and all that...

Funny, when Mr Hirschson started to get into difficulties, people accused Tricky Udi of being exceptionally naive for appointing someone with antecedents as crooked as Hirschson to the post. Little did we know then...

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Completely non-Goy related: Two of my favourite writers, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and the music critic Alex Ross, have just been awarded MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' Grants. The lucky bastards. Congratulations to both.

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One writer whom I believe came very close to genius, David Foster Wallace died last week, at the age of 46. As a fiction writer, his output was sometimes uneven, but his observational journalism was, in my opinion, unparalleled. His capacity to place an event, no matter how apparently banal and trite, within its precise, informed social context is unmatched. His facility for words, and experimentation with form, syntax and the accepted rules of grammatical expression defy description.

I mention all this because he wrote an interesting, engaging and honest profile of John McCain, (MK I), for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1999, I think. Given McCain's transformation from the straight talker who abjured the dirty political tricks of his then rival, George W. Bush, to...well, a classic pol, really, it seemed apt that the New York Review of Books decided to republish Wallace's profile, slightly elongated, in book form a couple of months ago.

Israel and Israelis are obsessed with November's election - the phrase, 'but will it be good for the Jews' never seemed so apt - and although I am by no means an Obama groupie (at least, not any more, as the Feminist Mrs Goy reminds me), I think that any Israeli with dual American nationality contemplating voting for McCain would do well to read this account of what he once was first, and then decide whether they prefer the old him, the new him, or are simply confused by a man who has mutated so grotesquely, almost overnight.

Rest in peace, DFW

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Acerbic Agony Aunt

This came through an email list I subscribe to this morning:

Hi All,

Can anyone tell me, especially anyone in the Iriya, why my child
receives free Arabic lessons (just started this year kita daled) and
we have to pay for English lessons which are much more useful and
relevant?

Answer: Because the last time I checked, Arabic was an official language of Israel, and English wasn't?

Okay, I am being a little tetchy here. Perhaps English is a little more relevant, but I would argue that Arabic is more useful, in this country, today.

Particularly if you're an aspiring Mossadnik or Shabbaknik. (Tongue wedged firmly in cheek)

Right, off to deal with the cause of my techiness. An employer who fails to accept that freelance work ought to be paid for, promptly and in full. But that's another matter altogether...

Have a good day.

Note - This is a passive-aggressive way of dealing with the question, I accept. The correspondent is never going to read this. But I'm too much of a coward to reply her, either directly or on the message board...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

This blog has been away

On holiday, to the two other cities he thinks of as home - London and Lagos.

Normal (irregular) service will recommence, shortly...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

RedBand Rocks!

I don't watch a lot of television here - not out of any disdain for the medium (as if!) but because of the obvious language barrier. It's a bit of a paradox, actually - watching television actually improves my Hebrew, but it's too much like hard work, so...

So, it was entirely by chance that I stumbled across RedBand on Hot V.O.D. a few weeks ago. (HOT is one of the two main cable networks in Israel; the video on demand service is self explanatory)

RedBand is fronted by Red Orbach, a garrulous, hard drinking, thoroughly incorrigible, washed up Zionist musician, on the comeback trail (for some odd reason) in Israel. He is also a life sized purple puppet.

His sidekicks are Lefty on Keyboards and Pancho on Guitar. Red left Israel sometime after the Six Day War to debauch himself across the world; Pancho and Lefty stayed behind, and have been reluctantly roped into Red's comeback attempt. His other faithful companion is Philip, a rat and roadie - for this, read procurer of Columbian Marching Powder and other illegal substances

There is a guest artiste on the show every week, surprisingly keen to allow themselves to be upstaged by a swearing puppet - Aviv Geffen is told that he'll never make it as a singer with a voice like his, Efrat Gosh narrowly escape decapitation, he has a threesome with Nechama HaBanot, and Maor Cohen is mistaken for a prostitute called Chantelle who promises to do...never mind, you get the drift.

It's only partially in English - Red, although he appears to understand idiomatic Hebrew perfectly is the exception to the Hebrew speaking cast - but it's quite easy to follow, and very very wrong indeed. Imagine a cross between South Park and Spinal Tap, with lots of casual profanity chucked it, and you'll have an idea.

There's a link to a clip HERE

Perhaps he'll sing Tembel with Arkardi Duchin one day. Now that'll be a treat... (A Tembel is a Fool)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Carry A Big Stick, And Shout Loudly...

I'm intrigued by Shaul Mofaz.

I've always assumed that politicians everywhere would say anything in order to secure the votes of a gullible public. But Mr Mofaz seems to be taking this on to another level altogether.

He has blamed the current security woes in Israel on...well, me, actually: "We always take into account what the goyim will say," Mofaz said. "I don't care what the goyim will say. I care about the security of the citizens of Israel. Do you think the pictures on CNN matter to me as much as the children and their fears and the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon who have abandoned their homes? No way!"

He inadvertently (cack-handedly) caused a spike in the oil price with ill-judged (and completely unsourced) comments about Mr Ahmedinajad's obsession;

He has promised to keep Jerusalem united, for eternity;

He has promised to take direct and personal responsibility for the current 'Peace' talks between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian National Authority. On the last point, anyone with long memory would either burst out in laughter or bitter tears, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

The problem is that Mr Mofaz is saying all this just to secure a mandate from Kadima, his party, as its Prime Ministerial candidate whenever there is a general election.

(Oh, by the way, I'm refusing to say goodbye to Tricky Udi - he won't go anywhere until he's led away in shackles, methinks)

What he would do if he does secure the mandate and runs for Prime Minister is anyone's guess.

To a degree, commentators are being a bit unfair about Mofaz. As is the case in Israel, some criticism is undoubtedly rooted in a snobbery towards his Mizrahi roots, the same sort of thing that contributed to the exodus of elderly Ma'paikniks from Avoda when Amir Peretz beat Shim-Shim three and a half years ago.

(A note for the mercifully uninformed: Ma'pai was the predecessor of the present Avoda, or Labour Party. It was in government, uninterrupted, from 1948 until 1977, and is thus responsible for most of the ills of this country today. It was the establishment, WASP party - White, Ashkenazi, Secular and Paratroopers [elite military units]. Shim Shim, currently in Beijing, was the arch-Mapaiknik, but is currently, notionally, a member of Kadima)

But then...

The first thing to note is the Mofaz, unlike Peretz, is not playing the ethnic card. He can't, really, because he has been at the centre of the establishment. A former Chief of Staff and Defence Minister can hardly claim discrimination in a society as militarized as Israel.

On the other hand, like Peretz, he really does appear to be pretty much inexperienced outside his core area - which, to put it crudely, is eliminating tiresome Palestinians. At the moment, he is the country's Transport Minister, a post as influential as being a Traffic Cop. He hasn't held any of the major cabinet posts outside Defence - Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior. He isn't surrounded by people who show any specialist knowledge in these areas. And I'm not sure he has noticed, yet.

The problem with Mofaz is that he is resolutely old school - the state of the country starts, and ends, with Ha Matzav - the situation - with the next door neighbours, and the *cousins* further afield in the Arab world. Which is correct, up to a point. However, what he doesn't realise - and what everyone else, from Bibi downwards, does - is that if one fails to keep one's eye on the ball, pretty soon there won't be much worth fighting for, what with capital flight, a slowing of inward investment, brain drain and so on manifesting a lack of faith in the Israeli economy, which is what matters. And sabre rattling, without the necessary placatory words to show that there is at least a residual interest in achieving some sort of peace with the Palestinians, isn't very 21st Century.

Furthermore, the spectre of the Second Lebanon War and the Winograd Committee still loom over him - the general consensus is that the weaknesses in the Israeli Army started to set in during his watch, and that his poor advice to Olmert during the war - bombard from the air, hold the ground troops, oh, look, the UN are actually negotiating a ceasefire, send in the ground forces quickly whilst no-one's looking - was at the centre of that fuck up.

Kadima - inasmuch as it didn't have much of a philosophy to start off with other than being King Arik's escape hatch from Likud - espouses, in public at least, a more measured approach to handling the Palestinian problem. Mofaz, in that respect, is an anachronism - he was once indiscreet enough to suggest, with a live microphone under his nose, that the Israelis take out Arafat - and probably belongs back in Likud. But since he left in a fit of pique after failing to upstage Bibi, I doubt if they'll have him back.

And, even stranger yet, Bibi probably fancies his chances of becoming Israel's next PM a lot more without Mofaz. Two hard core Bibi haters of my acquaintance have said that they will consider voting for him if Mofaz wins the Kadima primaries - akin, for them, to Turkeys voting for Christmas.

(Ehud Barak isn't a serious option, for all sorts of reasons too long and depressing to go into here. Maybe another time...)

The primaries are next month, just before the New Year. Let's see what happens...

Next: Tziporah Livni


Sunday, 10 August 2008

Mahmoud Darwish

R.I.P.

"To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass...I have no role in what I was or who I will be...it is chance and chance has no name...I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance."

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Blonde Ambition

My mother in law has gone Blonde.

Aesthetically, it suits her. Even if it didn't, I'm not sure she had any choice - she's probably covered every other colour in the visible spectrum...*

She ain't alone. Everyone does it here - dye their hair, that is. As the joke goes, you can always tell an American Olim (immigrant) because she's the one with the grey hair.

I don't think it's so much a youth thing as a vitality thing. People like to look - and behave - as if they are full of beans, bursting with energy, full of life. Mrs Goy and I go for a walk most mornings - the best way to cope with the Small Noisy One, whom has taken to waking up at 5 in the morning - and the streets are packed with pensioners (none with even a strand of grey, mind) elbowing each other out of the way whilst they powerwalk their way to eternal life.

I exaggerate somewhat, but I'm sure you catch my drift.

Of course, Israel is probably the only country I know where a senior politician - Bibi - actually dyed his hair grey, to give him the gravitas that he felt his age denied him when he first ran for Prime Minister. Don't think it worked, though...

In any other country, it would surely be the other way around, politicians dying the grey out of their hair. But then, Israel is like that, isn't it?

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Morrissey performed in Tel Aviv last night, supported by the New York Dolls. After some nostalgic debate, I decided against going. The tickets cost way too much, for one thing - about 45 Quid, I think. In any case, I've always argued that Morrissey only had one good album in him after he split up the Smiths - Viva Hate, from 1986 - and I'm yet to be convinced otherwise.

88fm (IMHO, the best radio station in the world) described the concert this morning as 'disappointing'. How that pleased me. Shallow, yeah, but what can I say?

I spent an interesting morning in the Nigerian Embassy today, but I'm too sleepy to write about it now. Perhaps tomorrow...

*For the record, she hasn't. I should clear this up now before she incites violent retribution against me for my perfidy. In any case, she's in better physical condition than your humble (and overweight) correspondent - spinning classes twice a week, swimming, powerwalking, the works. I think she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her hair :-) (This correspondent, incidentally, harbours a secret desire to go blonde himself, on the basis of a long standing belief that everyone should go blonde at least once in a lifetime. But since I'm pretty much completely bald now, I guess it's never gonna happen...not if I don't want to be mistaken for a psychopath, or worse.)

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sunday Morning

One day, I'm sure I'll get used to working on Sundays...NOT!

Anyway, I've been busy, and away, lately, thus the silence. I'll put up a proper post later, about my mother-in-law's blonde hair...but in the meantime:

I live in a block of flats, 22 to be exact. My neighbours, on the whole, are fine upstanding citizens. Some of them own dogs, which bark and snarl at night, but I'm hardly in a position to complain, even if I wanted to - we have the only baby/Pavarotti impersonator in the block, a baby with a constitutional aversion to sleep too.

Anyway, I'm cool about the dogs, and the Small Noisy One likes to play with them. So all is good. Except...

This morning, I found a steaming turd just outside the communal entrance. The door is set away from the street, and up a flight of stairs, so it wasn't as if it was the job of a passing or phantom canine defecater. This was, so to speak, an inside job. And it's not the first time either.

I tell you, it takes someone special to allow their dog to shit on their own doorstep.

OK. 600 words to write, and a deadline looming. I'l be back later...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Driving in My Car/Democracy, redux

I passed, just in case you were wondering.

I'm writing something about Egypt at the moment, and it reminded me of something I read years ago. At some point in time (I sincerely hope not now), in Egypt, the official Driving Test consisted of the simple request to reverse a car 6 feet, between two cones placed slightly further apart than a car's width apart.

Surely, on commercial grounds alone, this still can't be true, can it? What on earth would rapacious driving instructors (Motti, my dear Motti, not included, obviously) live off?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From today's Ha'aretz: this...

I can't imagine why I forgot about Mr Gaydamak when I was writing about the wholesale purchase of democracy. Now, he's a fascinating character...I think I'll be returning to him sometime soon.

Have a good day

Monday, 7 July 2008

Driving in My Car

I just finished my driving test.

I didn't kill anyone - at least, no one I noticed - but was a little deflated when the test supervisor bid me farewell and best wishes without confirming whether I had passed or failed.

Motti, my instructor, came back into the car. I asked him why they couldn't tell me the result there and then.

'Well...' he grimaced. 'I have a story for you.'

In 1974 or thereabouts apparently, an irate wannabe driver who had just been told that he had failed his test (back in the day, they did tell them on the spot, along with a discussion about what went wrong: in a minute, you'll see why this remains back in the day) pulled a gun (according to Motti: 'There are too many guns in this country. And too many Crazies...') and killed his test supervisor and instructor.

They now telephone you the following day to let you know how you've done. I empathise totally.

On the way back, he told me about a friend of his who used to be a football agent before an unfortunate series of incidents convinced him to leave the game to other people.

He bought players from good ol' Nigeria, amongst other places (His opinion? 'Nice country - but you bribe for everything!')

Actually, that bit is important, as you'll see in a minute or two.

Anyway, Motti's Friend decided to diversify, and entered the Parrot market. Apparently, Parrots can be had in Nigeria for about $100. Talking Parrots. Very cool accessories in the West. People are dumb enough to pay $5000 for Talking Parrots in the West. You get where I'm going?

Now, Nigeria, like other countries, has pretty strict rules about the exportation of live animals. Unlike most other countries, however, these laws can be worked around with a little patience and the feel of crisp dollar bills in an accommodating palm - the right accommodating palm, I should say.

So getting ten African Greys out of the country wasn't too much of a problem. (Ten? TEN!!! This is what we call Oju Koro Ju in Yoruba: Barefaced greed, essentially. Wasn't four enough, of five, or even six?)

However, there are no direct flights between Lagos and Tel Aviv. And Motti's Friend made the mistake of choosing to fly through Zurich.

Motti: 'By the time he finally arrived in Israel, they needed to take him from the plane in a stretcher, and straight to an ambulance!'

Me: 'What! The Nigerian police did this?'

Motti: 'No! The Swiss Police...'

I said something about presuming that Switzerland was the sort of place where this didn't happen.

Motti laughed. 'Not until they take you down into the basement...'

OK. Worktime. Have a good day

Democracy: Dem-All-Crazy, Crazy-Dem-All, Demonstration of Craze, Crazy Demonstration

'In a political crisis, there are two valves that can be used to find a solution: money and ego. I prevented the money valve, they had no choice but to give up on the ego.' Roni Bar-On, Israel's Finance Minister, quoted in Ha'aretz last week.

I won't bore you with the latest in the interminable battle for supremacy between Mr Olmert and Mr Barak. However, if there is one thing and one thing alone I have learnt from living in Israel, it is that Proportional Representation, as a means of selecting the legislative wing of a government, is a Very Bad Idea indeed.

I used to be a fan of it - for a while, back in the days when I was young and naive (specifically, if you are wondering, round about 1997, when the Lib Dems in England were promising the hypothecation of, I think, 1p in the basic rate of income tax to be used to fund the education system in the United Kingdom. I'm no longer a big fan of either hypothecation or the Lib Dems, although I do believe that a government has an absolute duty to fund education up until University - or alternative. But I digress...) until I realised it created what can only be described as the harlot's prerogative through the ages - power without responsibility.

To explain - the threshold for representation in the Knesset is, I think, 2.5% (I can't be arsed checking - it'll take too long). In effect, it means that any party organised enough to identify and mobilise its core vote can expect some representation in the country's parliament.

Proportional Representation militates against an absolute dominance of the parliament by any one party, and instead promotes consensus and coalition building. In theory. In practice, small parties with no intention and no real desire to rule the country can hold the bigger blocks to ransom, demanding lord knows what in return for their vote. In truth, it sounds a bit like Hamas before they made the mistake of winning the elections in 2006...

There isn't any one culprit in this stupid state of affairs - the religious parties, like Shas are usually pretty good in exhorting cash for social projects, 'independence' from the school curriculum for their schools (I use the word 'independence' advisedly, since this practice merely reinforces a modern type of slavery, in my opinion - but that's another matter altogether) and increased welfare payments for large impoverished families - their usual constituency. But they merely play the game well. Everyone is culpable to some extent.

Bibi, for example, slashed welfare payments and introduced the return-to-work Wisconsin Plan when he was Finance Minister a few years ago. Economic eggheads think that it was a wonderful thing, and helped pull Israel out of a recession. I'm not so sure, but since I can't manage my own resources effectively, I'll hold my counsel...

Anyway, Bibi is itching to get back into the Prime Ministerial seat again, but doesn't want to be the one holding the bloody knife when Mr Olmert is finally put out of his, and the country's, misery. So he let it be known that he will bump up welfare payments again if Shas, currently a minority member of the current administration, withdrew their support for Mr Olmert.

Which is about as unprincipled as one can get. To their credit, Shas refused - possibly holding out for something better...

Another example was Avigdor Lieberman's brief tenure as Strategic Affairs Minister, a reward for bringing his party, Israel Beitenu (Israel, Our Home) into the coalition for a brief while. Since Mr Lieberman, broadly speaking, carries a grudge against the non-Jewish world in general and Arabs in particular, this was a particularly inspired move, akin to handing the keys to the asylum to the most crazed inhabitant on grounds of seniority. Thankfully, he didn't last long before carefully shooting himself in both feet.

My point, essentially, is that proportional representation is actually the antithesis of good democracy (a contradiction in terms in itself, but never mind), and anyone who argues otherwise ought to watch the political scene here for a little while, and weep.


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Sometimes - not very often, mind - I actually feel a little sorry for Tricky Udi, Prime Minister. Even if what he says about the Talansky affair is true, that the money was merely for campaign purposes, he has been at the very least unethical in accepting money under the table, as it were. But he isn't alone.

Campaign funding is a murky, messy business. Ask Teflon Tony, or Bertie Ahern, for example. These two achieved perhaps the most momentous peace treaty since Camp David, but all everyone remembers now is that the one was flogging off knighthoods in return for party donations (allegedly, obviously), and the other...well, libel laws being what they are, I won't go into it, other than to say that Irish Taoiseachs have a proud tradition of accepting brown envelopes from industrialists in return for...nah, I'd better stop there.

There was an interesting - and depressing - article in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago about Sheldon Adelson, the third richest man in the world (and the richest Jew, by his own estimation). He sees no reason why he shouldn't use his riches to subvert - whoops, slip of the keyboard there - influence democracy to suit his needs. Results so far are mixed.

But I do wonder why I bother to vote.*

The child is awake. Time to play. Have a good day.

*Why do I vote? Because I thnk that everyone should be entitled to have a view, no matter how misinformed, about affairs of state, and to participate in the manner in which they are administered. Because occasionally - not very often, but occasionally - voting does change things, and I am an optimist. Because people died in order for me to be sniffy about the state of democracy today. Because I don't believe in wars.

It's not voting that I am against - it's the manner in which 'democracy' is carried out. There is a great song by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, 'Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense' (the title for today's blog comes from the song), which encapsulates my views pretty much perfectly. I'd have posted an MP3 of it, but my friend administers his musical estate and I'm pretty certain she'll sue me. But if you can find it, listen to it. It's a cracking song.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Immigration Blues (Part Two)

Somewhere in North Tel Aviv...

I wandered into a restaurant alone, famished. The waiter wanders over.

'You've come about a job?'

I frowned. He smiled. 'You are looking for work? Kitchen?'

Our eyes met. The penny dropped. For both of us, at the same time.

'I've come to eat...'

'I'm sorry, it's just that someone like you came...'

I scowled. 'Can I sit down and have a menu, please?'

'Of course.'

For a short while, I was really pissed off. What on earth did he mean, 'someone like me?' Can't he conceptualise a world where black people are customers?

Then I thought about it a little more carefully.

The refugee community in Tel Aviv has grown steadily over the last couple of years, from more or less nothing to about 4,000 odd. Most of the refugees are black Africans, from the Sudan, Cote d'Ivorie, Congo, Eritrea and so on. Pretty much all of them are in a desperate condition.

I did some writing work about the issue late last year and at the beginning of this year, and spent time hanging around their haunts in South Tel Aviv. For many of them, the situation is truly desperate.

Public opinion about their presence is mixed, as is usually the case with matters like this. For every person who opines that there is a humanitarian responsibility to help the refugees, many of them fleeing persecution and worse, there are others who consider them a blight to be eradicated as quickly and quietly as possible.

Tricky Udi falls into the second category, sadly. His opinions on the matter can be summed up in the memorable quote he gave a journalist a while ago: 'What do we have in common with them, anyway?'

He has a point there. Refugees don't have rich American patrons to (allegedly) give them envelopes stuffed with cash, and undeclared loans to subsidise family holidays. Come to think of it, they don't get holidays at all.

In a general sense, it's an interesting - and difficult - equation. Israel is a small country, and one that (for reasons good or bad - I have no particular views on the matter one way or the other) aspires to an ethnic Jewish homogeneity. The absorption of large numbers of refugees will certainly have a significant impact upon this aspiration, now and in the future. On the other hand, most Israelis with functional memories and any desire to engage with the country's history beyond the sloganeering and rhetoric are aware, painfully aware, of the country's roots, and how the question of safe refuge fits into this. There's no point belabouring the point - if you are reading this blog, you probably understand what I mean - but it's worth noting the the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Refugees grew out of the experiences of the Jews in Europe both before and after the second world war.

The Israeli government, in effect, does not have a refugee policy - not because the government is as callous as Tricky Udi, but because (I suspect) to have one without dealing with the knotty issue of the Palestinian Right of Return would be, well, a little difficult.

So, consequently, many of the refugees in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel are in a legal black hole, unable to claim asylum or process said claims in a timely and equitable fashion (for all I know, they may be lying, each and every one of them - BUT they deserve to have their cases heard, and adjudicated upon. In fact, International Law protects this right), and dependant upon the goodwill and handouts of the citizenry of this city. A few have benefited from loopholes in the system and erratic outbursts of government largesse - granting, or promising to grant (the two are not necessarily the same thing) asylum status to refugees from Darfur, for example, but not to those from South Sudan - but most live a peripheral life on the margins, eking out a miserable existence.

Which leads me back to my starting point. Over the last few months, I've noticed more and more black faces behind counters, waiting on tables, washing dishes and so on in Tel Aviv. You notice these things - black faces are a rare sight outside south T.A. - and it made me wonder.

It could be that they are being exploited pitilessly by employers hunting for cheap labour.

Or it could be an attempt, no matter how small and otherwise insignificant, to try and give these unfortunates a little bit of their dignity back, a chance to attempt to put their lives back in order by working and earning, no matter the fact that the amounts would probably be comparatively small.

I would like to think the latter.

Israel is not alone in this - there was an excellent article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago about the situation in the United Kingdom, here , where the treatment of refugees generally is a disgrace and an affront to civilised behaviour - but the story has more emotive undertones in this part of the world, taking into account the experiences of the 1930s.

No one can propose that Israel take full responsibility for every claimed refugee that crosses it's borders. But the government can't turn a blind eye, hide its collective head in the sand and hope 'ye hiyeh b'seder' (It will be okay). Problems like this don't go away.

My friend, the waiter was remarkably solicitous after our first exchange, really chatty and friendly. He was probably as embarrassed by his error as I was annoyed. But I'd like to think he meant well. In fact, I believe he did.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Bedtime Reading

I'm just about to finish this. (Yeah, it took a while. I've actually finished two other books whilst reading it)

It made me sad, very sad.

The guy, like everyone else writing about Israel and Palestine, has a set of opinions, a world view, that excludes much of the other side's opinion.

But, unlike pretty much every other book I've read about the conflict in this land - and I've read quite a few - he genuinely loves the land itself, he loves the nature; as you read you can actually feel his heart break as the glorious landscape is replaced by concrete and sewage and filth and waste, how both sides have exploited the land for political gain without caring for the consequences, other than that of dominion and control of the land, at all costs..

I'm no environmentalist - far from it, I'm city born and bred, and will remain so until I die - but, the loving care, the attention to detail, the vivid lyrical descriptions...

Ah, just go and buy the book. Read with an open mind.

Immigration Blues (Part One)

Welcome back.

All sorts of things to blog about, but strangely lacking in energy. Must be the heat or something

Anyway, to ease myself back into the habit gently...

I was waiting for a bus to Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago. (Yes, I'll get that pesky licence sorted out one day. Perhaps.)

An Indian fellow sits next to me on the bench. I look up, nod, and return to my magazine. He strikes up a conversation.

'Where are you from?'

I tell him. I was meeting a friend for dinner, and was hungry (not an unusual state of affairs). I wasn't in the mood for small talk.

'You live here?'

I nod. Only me. Why do all the crazies have to head straight to me?

He tells me that he works here, and that he lives in Herzliya, a short bus ride away. He pauses. I can tell that he is waiting for me to reciprocate. I sigh and put my magazine away.

I ask him what he does. He's a cleaner. It's hard work, he tells me, six days a week. But the money is ok, and he is able to put a little aside for his visa every month.

He wasn't talking Visacard. My curiosity was piqued. 'Pay for your visa?'

Of course, he tells me. It expires in 3 months and he needs to pay his agent to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

I take this in.

'How much did you pay for your visa?' he asks.

I tell him, truthfully, that I can't remember. He looks somewhat sceptical.

We sit in silence for a moment. A bus approaches. We look up expectantly. It's not the right one.

'What is your job?'

I tell him, as truthfully as I can without feeling like a complete dilettante. He nods, somewhat uncomprehendingly.

'Why did you come to Israel...to work? You have to leave soon?'

I explain that I came to Israel for other reasons than work, and that my marriage meant that I was entitled to remain in the country for pretty much as long as my wife was able and willling to put up with me. He nods thoughtfully.

'How much did the visa cost?'

I tell him again, truthfully, that I don't really remember. He presses me. I think for a moment and tell him something around NIS 500 ($100) or thereabouts. He drinks this in silently.

I turn to my magazine for a moment, but can't help myself. I fold it and put it away. 'How much did you pay for your visa?' I ask.

'6 Lakh Rupees.'

My familiarity with Indian currency is non existent. I roll my eyes in my head, grasping for a concept that would help me translate this to real money. He helps me out.

'$9000'

My eyes almost pop out of my head.

We sit in silence.

Eventually, I speak. 'Why did you choose to come to Israel, instead of...say London?' His English was reasonable, and there is a large Indian community in the United Kingdom. It seemed to make more sense to me. Not that I have anything against Israel, but it didn't seem like the destination, if you know what I mean.

'Ah...cost too much. Only educated people go to England. Thy get good jobs, can afford to pay for visa. Not like me.' He paused for a moment. 'I'm lucky to be here.'

$9000 for a one year visa to work as a cleaner. Some leech scored more than $8000 off the guy, for the dubious benefits of cleaning houses.

My bus arrives. I bid him farewell and go my way.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Odds and ends...

I have visitors from London here, so in lieu of a proper post, a couple of odds and ends from this morning's newspaper:

David Mumford, the American mathematician (I write, as if I am familiar with his work: I can barely make 2 and 2 make 4, most mornings) was awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize for Mathematics, presented by Shimon Peres last night; he promptly announced that he would be donating all $100,000 of it to Bir Zeit University, and the civic organisation Gisha. "I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive," Mumford said. "I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that."

I think Bibi was at the ceremony. I would have given anything to have seen his face when Prof. Mumford made the announcement.


Norman Finkelstein was deported from the country last night. Given that he apparently broke bread with the lads from Hizbo'Allah not very long ago, and wrote at length about it, I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise. However, his lawyer, Michael Sfard, stated that the actions of the Shabbak recalled "the behaviour of the Soviet Bloc countries". Uh-huh.

Finkelstein, a respected academic with the unexpected instincts of a streetfighter, got himself into a most unedifying row with Alan Dershowitz a while ago. The whys and wherefores of their spat are neither here nor there (actually - if you have half an hour of your life to waste, you could do worse than start off here), but it is worth reading a splendid article, tongue wedged firmly in cheek, by the historian and Ha'aretz columnist Tom Segev about the two here (unfortunately, the only link I can find for it is on Finkelstein's website - a couple of responses are included beneath, the second almost as amusing as the article itself)

Ok, I'm off. Have a good day. Sorry for all the hyperlinks. :-)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Behind the wall

It took a year, but yesterday I finally did it.

Contrary to what I had been told by everyone, it's remarkably easy to get into the West Bank - a walk through the Old City to the Damascus Gate, hop on a bus and half an hour later, you're there. Certainly a lot cheaper, and more fun, than hiring a cab and driver, as I had been advised to do by more than one person.

Work took me there - I'd wrangled an invitation to Al-Quds University to report on something or the other happening there. I'm not going to say too much about it now - I actually need to sit down and file my report first - but a few off the cuff observations:

The student population seemed, from a very unscientific sample, to be at least 60% female. Possibly more.

The campus was very well appointed, in stark contradistinction to the general environment of Abu Dis which, without actually being poor - I've seen worse, much worse in England, the States and Nigeria - was rather run down.

Economic necessities dictate that there is far more interaction between the two populations, Jewish and Arabic, than one would expect. The garages, general stores and so on all had Hebrew script advertising their services, alongside standard Arabic.

The Judean Desert is beautiful. Stunningly so.

The Wall (ignoring the arbitrariness of its existence) is an ugly scar on the landscape. On the other side, it is generally disguised by foliage and greenery whenever it approaches a conurbation. No such attempt here, and why should there be?


More later...perhaps. At the end of the function, a bigwig approached me.

'You're a journalist, I hear. Who are you reporting for...a local newspaper?' He wasn't unfriendly, but there was something...

Nope, I replied. I'm freelance, and on duty for a magazine many many miles from this troubled land.

'Good. That's far away, not important to us here. We don't want this reported at all locally.' And he walked off.

Now, I'm not sure what he meant by local - Palestine? Israel? But either way, it's interesting, the overarching imperative to control news output, and the factors that drive this need.

I should say that the event, under normal circumstances, should have been a VERY BIG DEAL indeed. But I was the only journalist there.

This country is strange, sometimes.

On the theme of the wall, I'm about to start reading this. Mrs Goy read it a while ago in Hebrew, and recommended it. I'll let you know how it goes.

TTFN

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Springtime...


When Mrs Goy suggested that we go flower-picking, I thought that (1) She had lost her mind, (2) She thought that I had lost my mind, (3) She'd become a certified (and certifiable) tree-hugging hippy.

But in the event, it was quite fun. The picture here gives you an idea of the natural beauty on display. The Small Noisy one was rather shocked that we allowed him to pluck the flowers without comment, and eventually he got bored with the freedom and tried to eat his shoes instead. But never mind...

Springtime is the best time of year in Israel. The weather is bearable, for one thing - nice enough to sit on the terrace with a cold beer and a book, open windows and fresh air day and night, and as for the plant life...

It'll soon pass though, Sadly. Last year, I don't think that the temperatures dropped below 30 Centigrade between the 15th of June and the 1st of September. Air conditioning becomes pretty much compulsory, along with sunglasses and short trousers. (This is rather problematic if your legs are as ugly as mine, but never mind...)

The Jewish calender is organised such as to ensure that Passover always falls in the springtime, a pretty complicated feat if one stops to consider that the Jewish calender is a lunar, and thus mobile, one. My language school teacher attributed this feat of scheduling to 'Jewish Genius': I take that to mean that she thought it a pretty clever thing indeed. (For an alternative definition of Jewish Genius, one not quite so admiring, see here.)

In practice, this means that a number of significant events always happen around this time of year, give or take a couple of weeks: Purim, Passover, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZicharon and Yom HaAzmaout.

Purim I blogged about previously. Passover, too, although I'd like to add that my Mother in Law apparently gets her religious festivals - and religions too, come to think of it - mixed up each year, judging from the amount of dead cow we eat, in various permutations but seemingly infinite quantities, during the Passover week. She likes her barbecues, she does. And so do I, although it takes forever to shake off the additional poundage each year.

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance day. Most years, newspapers occupy themselves with the hand wringing that accompanies the Anti-Zionist Haredi who choose not to observe the minute's silence that is marked at 10am on the day. This year, however, they found another target, with Avram Grant's decision to attend the crucial Champion's League semi-final between his Chelsea and Liverpool. (In the Jewish calender, the day starts at sundown, and this was a 7:45 kick-off) (Also, this is about Football, or Soccer if you live in the States. If you don't recognise the teams or the competition, it'll take too long to explain, and your life is probably the richer for not knowing anyway, so I won't bother.)

Grant is the child of Holocaust survivors, and thus probably has a clearer conception of the appropriate manner of commemorating the events of 60-odd years ago than most. But that didn't stop the unpleasantness that quite a few people in this part of the world poured on him from a great height. Mind you, they all changed their minds, or at least held their tongues, after Chelsea won and qualified for their first Champions' League final.

Another viewpoint, from a typically self deprecating yet caustically correct perspective, is here (NOTE: This was written and published several months ago, and not specifically for Yom HaShoah - but the sentiment is one that stuck with me, for some odd reason...)

Yom HaZicharon and Yom HaAtzamaout make a odd, if logical pairing, the first being the day of remembrance for those who were killed in Israel's wars, the second the nation's Independence Day.

Mrs Goy once commented that it must be an odd juxtaposition for those who have lost family and friends in the service of their nation: for a day, the nation mourns with you, then at sundown, the fireworks explode and everyone becomes merry...except you.

The families of the bereaved congregate in military cemeteries across the country, to hear the day's designated politician re-assure them that the sacrifice was not in vain, or words to that effect, and to remind them that vigilance remains necessary.

I suppose it would have been nicer still if those who died had some sort of choice about whether or not it they wanted to die for their country. But that's me being the silly pacifist, I suppose.

Israel is sixty this year, and quite a big deal is being made out of it, as one would imagine. I returned from London to find the bunting everywhere, and cars and balconies festooned in the Blue and White. Someone, somewhere, is making an absolute fortune on this, I suspect...

Anyway. I ramble. Work beckons, seductively...no, sorry, not work. Bed. Mid-afternoon nap time. Work can wait until later.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Postscript to Pesach (Part Two)

I omitted to explain my escape.

I'm in London this week, for work and other things, mainly involving the reckless consumption of leavened product (I booked the flight before the court hearing that I talked about here)

So no Seder, no Afikomen, but plenty of Weetabix and shopping for the Small Noisy One and Mrs Goy.

(Incidentally, if anyone knows where I can locate Weetabix, at an affordable price, in Israel, please let me know. The Small Noisy One has developed a taste for the stuff...)

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Pesach (Part Two)

I escaped. But more about that later.

My first Pesach was a curious experience. Mrs Goy had buggered off on a junket to New Zealand, but a couple of Israeli expat friends had taken over our London flat for the Passover Seder. Naturally, I was invited.

"Keep yourself hungry," one of them cautioned. "There will be plenty of food."

I like instructions like that. So I starved myself all day long.

Unfortunately, they omitted to tell me that there is an obligation to drink four glasses of wine during the Seder:

Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder. The first is for Kiddush (קידוש), the second is for 'Magid' (מגיד), the third is for Birkat Hamazon (ברכת המזון) and the fourth is for Hallel (הלל).

The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring out," "I will deliver," "I will redeem," and "I will take."

I'm sure this means something significant and meaningful. However, what I cannot say.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, by the time we finally got round to the important matter of eating, having extolled the verisimilitude and fortitude of the ancient Hebrews for more than an hour, I was as pissed as a newt, having imbibed on an empty stomach, and spent the rest of the evening under the table.

Anyway, this year, I won't be celebrating the Seder, because I am away from the Holy Land, in London with my resolutely non-Jewish family.

Not being Jewish confers a significant advantage upon me and Mrs Goy at this time of year: we avoid the Israeli national spring pastime, the need to figure out with which set of parents in law we will celebrate Passover.

Let me explain. As a family occasion - the family occasion - of the Jewish calender, the expectation is that families share the meal together. Simple, no?

As if.

Look at it this way. You have family A, with three adult married children, X, Y and Z. Spouses of X Y and Z are all Jewish, and have families celebrating the Seder as well.

Matriarch and Patriarch of Family A expect their children to share the meal with them. Which is fair enough. But this does not take into account the desire of the spouse's parents to have their children with them for the evening. And so on.

Generally, a degree in Stochastic processes is necessary to figure out the ensuing mess.

Negotiations can often stretch out for months before the meal, with resort to precedent, past habit and custom, and future expectations ("We spent the Seder with your parents two years years ago, but we can't this year because your brother is spending it with his wife's family, so that means that we are next due with your parents round about 2013...)

Essentially, it's a mess. And this is before taking into account the modern trend for divorced families...

Anyway, being a Goy helps - my in laws get me, each and every year, ad infinitum...

Chag Sameach!




Monday, 7 April 2008

Snakes on a Plane?

A few years ago, I flew El Al from Tel Aviv to London. I don't usually pick the Israeli national carrier, because they are hopelessly uncompetitive price wise, but this time I had no choice.

The in-flight movie was some disaster epic - I think The Day After Tomorrow - but it didn't start until after two thirds of the flight. I didn't particularly mind, as I was reading something or the other, but I did think to myself that there was going to be a bit of a problem if the film was longer than an hour and a bit.

After an hour, a stewardess reached into the control panel and started to fast forward the film. Mrs Goy, who was watching, asked her why.

'Oh, it's just talking,' she replied. 'You won't miss anything.'

Five minutes later, she was at it again. Mrs Goy rose to the challenge.

'Nu, so there's some action. A couple of people die. You're not missing anything.'

She switched off the movie altogether five minutes later. No one complained.

Saw this in today's Ha'aretz. Contrary to popular belief, I'm actually not an Atheist or anti-Religion. I believe in a healthy respect for each other's point of view, so far as it doesn't interfere with the legitimate lifestyle choices of another person or group of people. Sadly, this isn't really the case nowadays, in Israel and elsewhere.

I do wonder what the film was, though. My money is on Snakes on a Plane. Or Airport. Just the sort of thing El Al would do to piss everyone off.

OK. Off to work. Have a good day.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Economist on Israel

Economist journalist Gideon Lichfield has prepared an interesting series of reports to coincide with Israel's forthcoming 60th birthday. I don't agree with all his conclusions, but it is first rate journalism and well worth reading.

The link is here

Pesach (Part One)

I doubt there's a phrase in Hebrew guaranteed to depress me more than Kasher Le Pesach - Kosher for Passover.

If, like me, you had random bits of the Bible shoved into your head at irregular intervals in childhood, you probably know the story already - the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the promised land, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on and so forth. If you don't know the story, the Book of Exodus is most instructive in this respect.

Anyway, He-Who-Expects-To-Be-Obeyed punished the Egyptians for their intransigence towards the chosen people with a series of plagues, the last being that passover of the Angel of Death and the slaughter of all the first born of the perfidious Egyptians. Appreciating that this would probably make the Jews extremely unpopular, he advised the Chosen Ones to (and I summarise somewhat) gird their loins and prepare to flee when given the word. To make their impromptu exit all the more convincing, he instructed them to keep their bread unleavened, or unfermented.

This release from bondage is commemorated by the feast of Pesach, Passover in English. Much of which passes over me, as you can imagine. Except the pesky Kosher for Passover bit.

Because the Jews of Egypt were forbidden from taking leavened bread with them on their departure, the modern day commemoration forbids the possession of anything either already leavened - Bread, Pasta, or even Cake, dammit! - or capable of causing fermentation, like yeast. Round about now, observant Jews begin the systematic and comprehensive housecleaning to eliminate all traces of the contraband in advance of the holiday.

Now, what's this got to do with me?

Simple. Until this year, state legislation made it illegal to sell leavened products, known in Hebrew as Chametz, or even to display them for sale during the 7 days of the Holiday, Chol HaMoed.

Seven days: no bread, no crisps, no pita and no pasta. This is serious business indeed. And that's not even considering the absence of Beer and Spirits. Effectively, the State of Israel expects me to starve for a week.

Of course, there are ways around it. One can stock up in advance, something which my aggressively secular family in law are happy to do every year. "Just for you, our dear non-Jewish guest," they claim, some less convincingly than others (no names, but they know who they are...)

Or look for the shops and restaurants, mainly in Tel Aviv, that ignore the legislation and serve away, anyway.

It's a complicated business, more so because the State do seek out and prosecute transgressors.

But then, out of the blue, this happened last week.

It's a complicated, nuanced ruling, but essentially, what the judge seems to be suggesting is that the legislation was more symbolic - and so, merely concerned with the display of Chametz - than substantive - which would prohibit the possession and sale of same, as the law has been interpreted since time immemorial.

I dunno, It all seems a little too complicated. But it does mean that I might, just might, be able to get a decent meal during Pesach (My mother in law's no holds barred, eat until the last man is standing barbecues excluded, obviously - and more about those another time).

OK, the working week is about to begin. Interesting things happening this week. More on that later.