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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

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.