Saturday, 28 February 2009

Harry Potter and the Protocols of Zion

Living in this part of the world, it becomes very easy to slide into a partisan appreciation of the problems between Israel and the next door neighbours. Broadly speaking, I lean to the left; I can't say that I'll be the biggest fan of the incoming Israeli government, for instance.

That said, a half hour reading some of the more, shall we say inspired talkbacks on the Guardian website does wonders for restoring the natural balance; reinforcing the natural scepticism that comes from the suspicion/knowledge that pretty everyone with a vested opinion is blowing hot air out of their bottoms when it comes to the Middle East.

This delightful video below performs much the same function. The thing is, I thought it was a glorious send-up at first. Apparently not. Try to watch with a straight face ;-)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Land for Peace

In today's Ha'aretz, quotes from an interview between Bahrain's Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and British Television's Sky News.

This bit caught my attention:

The Crown Prince said Britain should work with moderates in the region and avoid adding fuel to extremists' fire.

"Work with the moderates in this part of the world, to work for peace, prosperity and stability," he said.

To settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "you give up land for peace," he said. "Land that you haven't already built on. It can't be simpler."
(Italics mine)

It may not be the fairest solution, but it's certainly the most pragmatic. But in the meantime, the hardliners continue to conduct the orchestras, pushing any hope of any resolution without extreme violence further and further away...

Monday, 23 February 2009

Waltz With Winslet

So Waltz With Bashir somehow managed not to win the Oscar. Pity. It was, far and away, the best thing I watched last year, combining stunning visuals and an engaging narrative. Whatever Gideon Levy might think, I think it is an important social document, all the more relevant because despite the pretty explicit anti-war narrative

(again, whatever Gideon Levy might say or think. On this point, he's wrong, just wrong. If he wants to criticise the director, Ari Folman, for not speaking out about the Gaza campaign, fine. But that's something else altogether) actually was seen - and talked about - by a lot of people far outside what one might consider the core left wing constituency for the film. The first thing to do in making amends with the past is to acknowledge that there is a past. And that Waltz with Bashir does, with honours.

Still, whilst an Oscar would have been nice, it doesn't require an award to grant it the seal authenticity or significance. Here's a short clip for the the two people in Israel who still haven't watched it, and anyone else who may be interested...(Absolute killer soundtrack too - it isn't every day you get to hear PiL anywhere).

However, the fragrant Kate Winslet did win - at long last - and for her 'Holocaust drama'.


Let me explain. A few years ago, she had a cameo on Ricky Gervais' excellent 'Extras' (available, btw, for free on HOT VOD - worth checking out) and...well, just watch the clip - with a healthy dose of British humour.

(Not related to anything - a couple of years ago, a heavily pregnant - week 39 - Mrs Goy attended a special screening of Ms Winslet's last Oscar nominated film, Little Children. As is the wont of pregnant women everywhere, at some point she needed to use the bathroom. On opening the door, she ran into - literally - Ms Winslet, sending her flying. Ms Winslet, however, was much more concerned about Mrs Goy, apologising for not looking where she was walking, although [knowing Mrs Goy as I do] she probably wasn't at all at fault. That's nice. You don't get Hollywood stars saying sorry to you every day.)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

My park in Tel Aviv

Laughing about Hitler is always a tricky business. Take the video above, for example. A mash up of a scene the excellent film Downfall, it is an extended rant about the impossibility of parking in Tel Aviv - and it is as bad as it is made out to sound, too. (Context: Rothschild, Ibn Gvirol and so on are major streets in Tel Aviv; Ron Huldai/Chuldai is Mayor; Petach Tikvah is a sleepy suburb about ten km from central Tel Aviv)

That said, not everyone sees the humour in using Hitler - or his cinematic avatar - as the conduit to poke fun at Tel Aviv Municipality. Noah Flug, the chairman of the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, wrote to YouTube asking that the clip be taken down on grounds of poor taste.

It is often hard to gauge the precise line between acceptable and unacceptable humour. Often, what may seem funny to one person may come across as gratuitously offensive to another. The interesting thing is, there are certainly any number of Tel Aviv-is who would find this tickling. No doubt, they've (1) hunted high and low for parking spaces in the bubble and (2)[and I'm guessing here] have no immediate connection with the Holocaust.

What is funny is that this is a poor take on a completely unrelated mash-up of the same scene, concerning the British journalist Giles Coren. It's a long story that won't interest most people, but essentially he sent an...impassioned letter to the sub editors at the Times after they managed to cock up one of his pieces.

Infinitely more amusing. Mind you, I was with Coren on this one, even if his response was a bit over the top. I wrote a short piece for a publication somewhere once; the sub, through the inspired decision of dropping an indefinite article 'a' in the first sentence managed to reverse the thrust of the entire article and make me sound like a raving idiot. Like Hitler, actually. A feat I normally manage all by myself.

Right, back to the coalface...

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Shahar Peer

...was once the next big thing in Israeli tennis, but is struggling through a bit of a bad patch at the moment. Anyway, she was supposed to participate in a tournament in Dubai this week. But the authorities in the United Arab Emirates had other ideas, and declined to issue her with a visa.

There's a thoughtful piece on the issue in today's Guardian (Yeah, I know, Boo, Hiss. Whatever. Richard Williams, the author of the piece, is an extremely well informed and perceptive writer about sports and, occasionally, film and music; which is to say, he sticks to his brief and discharges his duties well, something that I cannot really say about the Granuiad's political commentary, domestic and international. But that's neither here nor there...). (Note: I'm recommending the article, not the talkbacks. As ever, when it comes to the Middle East, dear readers of the Granuiad are off their meds again...)

The issue of boycotting Israel rears its head time and time again, usually in the academic and cultural fields, and usually in conjunction with the cultural and sporting boycotts of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

This is not the place - and I'm not the person - to talk about the validity or effectiveness of boycotts. But I am always a little bemused about the arguments put forth in favour of banishing Israel - and, more importantly, Israelis - into the outer darkness.

For one thing, the academic and cultural boycotts of individuals are, at their root, an example of collective punishment - the same thing Israel's most strident critics accuse it of perpetuating in the Territories. Yes, I know that there is a significant - vast, even - difference between a man denied his right to assembly, movement and so on on the grounds of "security" and a lecturer denied the opportunity to advance ones career on the basis of ones ethnicity, but it is the same principle, isn't it? Should individuals be held responsible for the actions of their states? And if so, at what point? Can they be relieve themselves of this burden if they disavow the actions of their state? (This may sound bizarre, but I do remember reading about a magazine in the UK that refused to cover an Israeli dance troupe, but suggested that they would reconsider if the troupe publicly disavowed the actions of Mr Sharon. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but I'll go look it up later).

For another, the boycotts instigated as a result of South Africa's Apartheid policy - assuming, for the purposes of this argument, that it is accurate and correct to equate Israel's policies in the Territories as Apartheid

(and on this point, I am genuinely astonished by the intellectual sloppiness of the people that do this. There is much - much - that is awful about the situation next door. People who know about these things, whom have seen and understand the impact for themselves, use their own words to describe it. Those that haven't look for nice catchy slogans to attach to the situation. The problem with this is that it isn't terribly hard to distinguish between South Africa's official policies to the black majority population after 1949 or thereabouts, and Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians. And once this happens, the arguments become muddled and degenerate into rhetorical slanging matches that fail to illuminate or educate)

...the boycotts never sought to penalise individual sportspersons. South African national teams were banned from international competition; this was because they were segregated, full stop. Individuals, generally did not encounter this fate.

Anyway, bottom line is that Ms Peer missed the tournament. Which is a shame. Of course, she may have been knocked out first round...

Right, back to work.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Haruki Murakami is awarded the Jerusalem Prize I put on a nice shirt and my second best suit and drive to the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem last night.

Of course, it wasn't entirely without controversy - this is Israel, after all. The International Solidarity Movement had published an open letter to Murakami-San, suggesting that to accept the award would be akin to cheerleading on behalf of the Israeli Government. Or stuff like that.

But even this was all very muted, not at all like the almighty fuss that blew up last year when Nadine Gordimer was invited to participate in the International Writers Festival.

(Side issue - to head off some of the more pointed criticism, Ms Gordimer agreed to visit Al-Quds University to speak, with a small group of students, about the role of a writer in times of conflict. I tagged along for the day. Whilst waiting for her to arrive, I chatted with an engaging, if slightly impressionable young man. He wasn't entirely certain why he had been gang pressed into attendance - he was a business major, he explained, and wasn't realy a fan of literature - and was really crestfallen when Ms Gordimer arrived and she turned out to be...well, not black, basically. But that's another matter altogether.)

Of course, the problem with occasions such as this is that one never knows what is going to happen - not all media appearances can be stage managed, and I bet there were a few people wary of Mr Murakami launching into a passionate denouncement of the Zionist Entity before ripping the citation to shreds and...ok, I'm getting carried away. In the event, Murakami-San was extraordinarily gracious, making a witty (he described novelists as professional liars, before extended the category to include Generals, Diplomats and Politicians - with dearest Shim-Shim sitting not quite six feet in front of him - but he did have a smile on his face as he said this), generous (thanking the people of Israel for the high regard in which they hold his writing) and thoughtful speech.

"When I was asked to accept this award," Murakami said, "I was warned from coming here because of the fighting in Gaza. I asked myself: Is visiting Israel the proper thing to do? Will I be supporting one side?

I gave it some thought. And I decided to come. Like most novelists, I like to do exactly the opposite of what I'm told. It's in my nature as a novelist. Novelists can't trust anything they haven't seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands. So I chose to see. I chose to speak here rather than say nothing."


"If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals.

I have only one purpose in writing novels; that is to draw out the unique divinity of the individual. To gratify uniqueness. To keep the system from tangling us. So - I write stories of life, love. Make people laugh and cry.

We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it's too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us - create who we are. It is we who created the system."

There isn't very much one can add to this.

I've never driven to Jerusalem alone before, and I spent most of my way their worrying about getting lost. I didn't, as it happens, but I did spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to exit the fiendishly labyrinthine car park at the convention centre on my way out. And I hadn't been drinking, either. Driving back, I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis and wondered why most things in life couldn't be so sweet, or so simple.

If you haven't read Murakami before, I warmly recommend The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, or Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Norweigian Wood, whilst very moving, isn't representative of his ouvre, and perhaps should be left to later.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


A beautiful day, the first real day of Spring.

We decided to go to the park. Soak up some sunshine, shake off the Winter cobwebs.

Unfortunately, half of Israel had the same idea. Or so it seemed.

Eventually, we found parking space, a good ten minute trek from the park. Or more like half an hour, if you're trekking with a recalcitrant 2 year old more interested in dog shit (his favourite activity at the moment is to point at random dogs and shout 'Wow-Wow...Kaa-Kii' [Doggy...Poo-Poo]).

The place was heaving. Even the Small Noisy One was mometarily cowed into silence. Then he flung himself into the fray...

Whilst the Feminist Mrs Goy rushes after him, I sit in the sun and, apropos of nothing, try to decide whom amongst the throng voted for whom. I gave up after a bit, but only after concluding that the parents screaming the loudest at their children were Friends of Avigdor...

Mrs Goy, incidentally, voted Hadash - the Communist Party of Israel, a mixed Arab/Jewish enterprise. I am guessing that in the solidly petite bourgoise suburb that we live in, they probably treated her vote as a spoilt ballot and discarded it...

My sister left for London the night before last. She works, occasionally, as a freelancer or the BBC. Not in a news gathering or reporting capacity - although this did not stop an elderly relative of Mrs Goy from asking whether she (the Missus) could explain to my sister, as a representative of the accursed organisation, that the Israelis were not always the Bad Guys/


Thie morning, the Small Noisy One awoke and announced that he was ready to go to Gan (Kindergarten). At 6.30. On Saturday. Tears and recriminations later, I very reluctantly agreed to drive him to the deserted location. Where he proceeded to stand, patiently, for almost half an hour before I managed to coax him back into the car and back home again.

This, to my mind, proves two things: Firstly, that the apple can indeed fall far from the tree (I was, at best, an indifferent student, with no enthusiasm whatsoever for all forms of education, formal and informal, from a very young age); and secondly, that my child clearly misunderstands the purpose of the Sabbath. Which may not be so much of a surprise. Some good Jewish education is in order, methinks...(first lesson: Thou shall grant one's father a proper lie-in on the day of rest...)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The trouble with Avigdor not that he is a fascist - although there are very good arguments in support of this - but that he is a demagogue and an opportunist and doesn't really stand for anything.


A conversation with an acquaintance, a long term Olah from Europe, this morning.

She - I really hate myself for thinking this, but sometimes I wonder whether Kahane was right

Me - (Jaw slapping against my chin)

She - (hurriedly) Oh, he was an odious man, no mistake about that, but you wouldn't remember just how bad it was in the 90s, with all the suicide bombings and so on. The problem is that the neighbours only respond to force. And that's something that Lieberman understands.

Me - So you agree with Lieberman's motto - 'No Loyalty, No Citizenship?'

She - (shrugging her shoulders) So, do you think that the Arab population of the country do not have any responsibilities towards the state?

I told her that, obviously, all citizens of a state have certain responsibilities that come together with their rights (this is a basic premise of Jusirprudence, but one which many people chose to ignore), but that the position of Israeli Arabs was far more complex than a simple slogan, and that Lieberman carefully avoids engaging with this inconvenient truth.

She - (Arms folded) Like what?

Me - Like the fact that Lieberman's slogan applies, in theory at least, as much to the Haredim as it does to the Aravi'im.

She - Oh...

Me - And, more to the point, Lieberman doesn't seem terribly interested in supporting some of the key pillars of the Hebrew State.

She - Like?

Me - Like civil weddings, for example.

She - Oh...

(She is religious, and believes in preserving the Jewish Character of the State of Israel)

(Digression - On the whole - and I suppose I can say this because I have no emotional or historical connection to Eretz Israel - I don't mind whether Israel is described as the Jewish State, or anything else for that matter: what does matter is how the state treats its minority populations, recognising that they deserve special protection because of their status.)

Me - And soon he'll order all shops to sell Pork on the Shabbat

She - Stop! You're pulling my leg now

On the last point, yes I was. But the trouble is Avigdor is that he is trying hard - too hard - to be all things to all people - the minority Arab population of this country aside, obviously. The parlous relationship between Israel and the neighbours at the moment has opened up a rich mine of anti-Arab sentiment that he is happy to tap into - but the bigger issue, one which I suspect will become exposed pretty soon, is that he doesn't actually have any solutions. This is all well and good when one is in opposition - power without responsibility, and all that - but once he enters government, something that is looking increasingly likely with the split vote betwen the major parties - he will have to either toe the line of the senior party in the governing coalition or, not to put it nicely, excrete where he eats.

The blessing - if there is indeed one - is that I doubt that the next Knesset will be a very long one. It will be impossible, barring a major suprise today, for any one party to build a stable governing coalition (short of the formation of a Unity Government, which I doubt will happen), and when things do begin to fall apart, Avigdor the meddler will certainly be at the centre of things.

Hopefully, that will mean that he will go the same way as The Pensioner's Party, Shinui and all those other surprise packages from past Knessets - into oblivion.


One other thing:

Israel, broadly speaking, is a functional democracy. Democracy isn't perfect - as Churchill put it, it's the worst form of government, except for all the others - but it does try to give everyone a voice in how the country is run.

Sometimes, this means that the country will be run by people with whom one disagrees fundamentally. So be it. That is the way it goes, and one should accept these things with a good grace. If one believes that one's political ideology is the correct one, then the job is to convince others of this fact, rather than to force one's views open them, accuse them of stupidity or worse, or actively seek to subvert that basic principle of one man, one vote.

Do go out today and vote. But use your vote wisely.