Thursday, 30 July 2009

Eating Falafel on Holiday...

In a country where it rains. Incessantly. Mercilessly.

After obscenely high temperatures and 75% humidity, it makes a pleasant change. For the moment. I'll probably be cursing perfidious Albion - or at least the perfidious Albian weather - by this time next week.

After a long, liquid encounter with a friend a couple of days ago, I stopped for a late night bite at Notting Hill's Falafel King (certainly not the best Falafel joint in London - try Maoz for that. But I was desperate...)

There were two smartly dressed men at the counter, conversing in Hebrew. Odd, I thought. Israelis only wear suits if they have to, or they are paid to do so...

I thought nothing more of it until I read this.

Oh dear. Perhaps the poor things were having an official dinner...

(The second half of the article, where the hapless Chef de Protocol of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs first tries to chat up Ms Goldman, then tries to retract the interview in a fit of irrational pique is absolutely priceless. "I am going to file a complaint against you...there will be consequences." Charming!)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Goy sues employer, loses

OK, perhaps I shouldn't be so flippant...

From The Yeshiva World News:

A lawsuit filed by goyim employed in Bnei Brak’s Maynei HaYeshua Hospital seeking additional compensation for being the institution’s shabbos goyim was not successful. The workers took their case to the Tel Aviv Labor Court, demanding payment according to the law which says a Jew who works on shabbos R”L must received additional pay.

The full story is here.

Now, as I understand it, it is forbidden for a Jew to cause another Jew to break the Sabbath - by employing another Jew on a Saturday, for instance.

One can - just about - understand the legislation referred to in the case, entitling Jews whom work on the Sabbath to extra pay, if one accepts that the day of rest has cultural/ethnic considerations over and above the religious duty to maintain the Sabbath; that the seventh day has a special significance to all Jews, not just observant ones.

On the other hand, one could argue that the Shabbos Goy is providing a unique service, one that relatively few people in the country can provide on behalf of the hospital (it's in Bnei Brak; I assume that it is a religious establishment). Perhaps if the petitioner had a slightly stronger negotiating position to start off with...but then, I assume that there isn't anyone at all in the hospital - Jew or Goy - entitled to the additional payment

I'll be speaking to Mrs Goy in due course; I wouldn't mind a premium added to my per diem for services rendered during the day of rest. (The fact that I do precisely nothing Chez Goy most days, Sabbath or not, is neither here nor there, obviously...)

Hat tip to Religion and State in Israel

Friday, 17 July 2009

"Who is a Jew", Redux

Anshel Pfeffer writes about the issue - in far more eloquent and informed manner - here.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

So, who exactly is a Jew, anyway? (UK version)

Not in Israel, mind; with Rabbis revoking the conversion status of immigrants ill-advised enough to stand in the way - literally and figuratively - of well connected Rabbis, I suspect that this is what Father Jack describes as an ecumenical matter...

(nb: If you are not familiar with Father Ted, I beseech you, please seek it out. I think even Voltaire would have been proud of its cleric-baiting credentials)

...but more to do with the recent ruling of the British Court of Appeal concerning the admissions policy of the Jews' Free School.

It isn't a straightforward matter, involving - as it does - the arcane rules that govern the quasi independence of so-called 'faith schools' in the United Kingdom, schools whom receive funding for their day to day operations from central government but are largely left alone to administer academic and bureaucratic matters as they wish.

Faith schools, whilst forbidden from explicitly excluding applicants because they are not members of the denoted faith, are allowed to set criteria to establish priority if they are over-subscribed; in simple English, this means that if there are more kids clamouring for a place than places actually available, then the school is allowed to put in place tie breakers to decide who gets in and who stays out.

It is an important point because 'Faith' schools are commonly believed to outperform - significantly - secular schools in the state sector. Parents have been known to rediscover generations-dormant piety, to baptise their children in faiths that they have never subscribed to, and to do other (otherwise) outlandish things in order to secure a place in their school of choice.

Church schools usually employ the criteria of giving preference to actively practising Christians, with references from their parish priest and evidence of active participation in church activities required. It is easy work for a determined parent to make mincemeat of this stipulations...

JFS (as it was rebranded a few years ago) - and, I assume, other Jewish 'Faith' schools - falls under the jurisdiction of the British Rabbinate - Orthodox, that is. Their tie-breaker in the case of over-subscription - and JFS is always oversubscribed - takes the halachaic definition of Judaism as the starting point; a child born to a Jewish mother.

A case has been rumbling along omniously lately, concerning a child denied a place at JFS because his mother became Jewish under the auspices of a ceremony not recognised by the Rabbinate - i.e. not an Orthodox ceremony.

(I think that the mother converted to Judaism in the early 1970s, and in Israel, under a reform Rabbi. But I don't remember exactly.)

Anyway, the point is that her son was turned down for a place - or, to be exact, not given the preference that would have secured him a place - because "his mother had converted to Judaism in a procedure not recognised by the Chief Rabbi".

Her husband sued, and after having the case dismissed in the High Court, won the appeal on the grounds that the policy employed - of enforcing the matrilineal definition of Judaism, in conjunction with the recognition of only sanctioned conversions - was discriminatory.

(The whole issue is more complicated than this, fiendlishly so, and this summary is informed more by my knowledge of British school admission law than of Judaism per se - if I've misunderstood anything, please let me know.)

It is also worth noting that the mother of the boy attends Shul regularly.

The ruling has caused a stink. A big one. Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom commented that the ruling brands Judaism as racist, and others have suggested that the ruling could be employed as the starting point for a court-defined definition to that vexatious question...

I must confess to being more than a little puzzled. Looking at it from a personal perspective: As applied up until now, the admissions policy at JFS would give precedence to my son - the child of an agnostic Catholic (don't ask what that means, it'll take too long) and a secular Jew - over the child of an observant, but non-Orthodox Jew.

That doesn't sound completely right.

On the other hand, it isn't for me to even attempt to define what is and what isn't correct when it comes to matters like this. If you have any thoughts, do drop a comment or two. I am genuinely curious...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The evil genius of Israeli advertising (continued)

My mother, who lives in London, is a very late - and very enthusiastic - adopter of the internet. Scarcely a day passes without her sending me by email the newest chain letter threatening all sorts of unpleasantness if I don't forward it to my nearest and dearest within 17 hours (I bin, without reading), latest health scares (I refer her to without further comment) or grim amusement courtesy of youtube (I usually watch - a guilty pleasure).

Last night, she forwarded this to me. It is in Russian and I doubt that she noticed that it is an advert for the Israeli State Lottery.

It is so wrong on so many levels. It is also bloody funny. I think someone needs to give the fellows in McCann Erickson a new set of toys to play with...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Football against the Enemy

I'm sure this seemed like a good idea at the time...

ps - For what it's worth, I don't think the ad is racist, as has been suggested quite a bit. However, it does beg a rather interesting question: Why can't the Palestinians fetch their own ball themselves? Or, to look at it another way, why are the Palestinians completely invisible?

pps - The game is called Football, ok? Not Soccer. Only the Americans call the game Soccer.And we know how good they are at the game...what's that? Reached the finals of the Confederation Cup? Narrowly beaten by Brazil? Oh...(slinks off, stage left, deflated.)

ppps - This blog's title is also the title of, in my opinion, the best book written about football, ever. The author, Simon Kuper, has also written another interesting book about the uncomfortable relationship between Ajax Amsterdam and their devoted - fanatical, even - Jewish fan base. Both books are really worth reading...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Under the Eucalyptus Tree

A couple of weeks ago, we went on a ramble in the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve in the Golan, a bracing walk ending at the Brichat Meshushim - the Hexagonal Pool. The pool is so named because of the striking features along its walls, pillars of hexagonal-shaped (more or less) stone. There's a technical explanation, involving the crystallisation of cooling lave, I believe; but like most other technical things, it only confused me...

Getting to the pool requires a 20 minute walk along a steep downhill path. It was a hot morning, and we were all perspiring like crazy by the time we got to the bottom. The pool was indeed a sight for sore eyes...

There are more pictures here. (Not by me, though, I was too lazy to take the camera.)

Unfortunately, what goes down must eventually come back up (actually, that isn't technically correct, is it? Never mind. I'm sure you understand what I mean...): the Small Noisy One was stung by a bee just before we left, and was too upset to walk. I carried him on my shoulders all the way back up. He's quite a big child, and I'm quite a lazy father. Fun it wasn't.

At the top, I recuperated in the shade of an Eucalyptus tree. Mrs Goy thought that the Nature Reserve was on the site of an old Syrian army base; according to folklore, the trees were in place because an Israeli spy called Eli Cohen convinced the Syrian army to plant them because they would provide excellent shade for the troops.

They also made the air bases easy to spot from the air...

Eli Cohen was eventually captured and hung by the Syrians; he is one of a number of operatives honoured at the cumbersomely-named Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Centre, which oddly seems to be located somewhere near the soulless Glilot Junction on Kvish Hof, Motorway No. 2, which runs between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

There's an article about it here.


Something different?

A blog post entitled A Settler-Arab Peace Initiative must be worth reading. Especially when it starts with a sentence like this: "Settlers probably have more direct contact and interaction with local Arabs of Yesh(a) than any other sector of Israeli society."

Check the full post out at the (perhaps slightly misleadingly-titled) The Muqata Blog. Sounds...well, intriguing.

Right, back to, make that Stage 9 of Le Tour. They're going to start climbing Col de Tourmalet in a minute. All 2000 metres of it. Rather them than me...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Le Tour de Israel?

I'm spending a lot of my time these days - too much, one might argue - in front of the television, feeding my obsession with professional cycling and specifically Le Tour de France.

Watching the race wend its way through the rolling, verdant landscape of the Pyreenes, a couple of questions come to mind:

(1) Given the popularity of road cycling in Israel: I wonder why aren't there any Israeli professional cyclists on any of the major teams? (Astana's Levi Leipheimer doesn't count. For one thing, he's American. And then, there's this)

(There is a team on this year's Le Tour called Katusha. Give or take an additional Y, one could...nah, best to leave that where it is.)

(2) Given Israel's varied landscape, I wonder why isn't there a Tour Of Israel? It could start with a prologue round the Old City of Jerusalem, head south to the Dead Sea, have two or three flat stages, starting in Be'er Sheva, then passing through Tel Aviv and Netanya up north, then two mountain stages in the Galilee. Perhaps a mountain top finish in the Golan, even? (Or perhaps not. The next door neighbours might take umbrage...)

There's a great history of Le Tour, written by a contrarian British journalist called Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Wheatcroft also wrote, a while ago, an interesting book called The Controversy of Zion, which won the American National Jewish Book Award.

Former literary editor of London's Spectator, Wheatcroft describes himself as "a genuine neutral or agnostic" on the Arab-Israeli conflict, seeing right and wrong on both sides. In this dispassionate yet opinionated history, which sweeps from Theodore Herzl's Zionist dream to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995, Wheatcroft condemns the 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism as gravely malicious, a reflection of the Arab states' malignancy. While praising Israel as "a unique island of constitutional government in the Levant," he echoes the observation of U.S. journalist I.F. Stone that Zionism involved a psychological act of denial along with a physical act of displacement of Palestine's Arab population. A richly detailed chronicle of Jewish nationalist aspirations and of Diaspora Jewry's shifting relationship with Israel, Wheatcroft's study is crammed with incisive profiles of such Jewish figures as Disraeli, Heinrich Heine, Martin Buber, Karl Kraus, Isaac Deutscher, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi and Robert Maxwell; "self-hating Jews" Karl Marx and Walter Lippmann; part-Jewish Marcel Proust; and Jew-haters Richard Wagner, Hilaire Belloc and Hitler.

Worth reading...

OK, back to the TV. I'm rooting for the young Spanish rider, Alberto Contador. He seems less full of perfomance-enhancing naughtiness than most of the other riders.

Have a good week.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Self Important Cant

Most Fridays, Ha'aretz's Mosaf (magazine supplement) runs an extended, "hard hitting" interview with prominent personages from the the public sphere (the Army, Politics, the Judiciary and Diplomatic affairs, basically. Some argue that the second is merely an extension of the first, and that the only function of the other two is to clear up the mess made by the others...)

Occasionally, the interviews are genuinely enlightening - one recent example was that with Zehava Gal-On, until recently a member of the Knesset for the left wing Meretz Party. More often, they are - unintentionally, one presumes - laugh out loud amusing, dominated by the self-importance of the interviewee.

With these, the common denominator tends to be the presumption on the part of the interviewee that they, and they alone understand the existential threats faced by Israel and that if given a free hand, will restore peace and order within a fortnight, to the point that they'll even have the Israelis and the Palestinians dancing the Hora together etc etc...

This week's interview is with National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, and at times veers into the latter territory. My personal opinion is that the National Security Adviser ought to be keeping a low profile; others may disagree.


A couple of highlights:

On the relationship between Israel and the current Palestinian regime of Mahmoud Abbas: "...on the contrary, he is preserving eternal greviences against us and intensifying them. After (Tricky Udi) offered him almost everything, he says wide gaps remain..." (italics mine)

Lets turn this around slightly. So Olmert offered Abbas almost everything. The implication is that what remained was, in Israel's eyes, relatively trivial. So why not offer it to the Palestinians too?

(Of course, my take on this is that what does remain - the right of return for Palestinian refugees from '67, and sovereignity over parts of Jerusalem - are not trivial matters at all. But, somehow, Arad appears to believe that they are.)

Or, on the Golan Heights:

(Interviewer)...that even in peace, we must ensure that a large part of the Golan Heights remain in (Israeli) hands

(Arad) Yes...for strategic, military and land-settlement reasons. Needs of water, wine and view. (again, italics mine)

I think only the hopelessly naive would suppose that Israel could, under current circumstances, achieve an accomodation with Assad's Syria. For as long as the Syrians provide succor and more to Hezbollah and Hamas, and for as long as they continue to break bread with the Tinker from Tehran, the opportunities for a lasting settlement seem pretty slim. Most people accept this. Doesn't deter them from trying to effect a change in the status quo, but at least they know where the goalposts are. However, Arad places equal emphasis of the Golan vinieries

(The Gamla Merlot from the Golan Heights Winery is absolutely delicious, b/t/w: but that's another matter altogether)

...and the view

(equally breathtaking: but I need to stick to the point)

...seem, shall we say, a little eccentric. I mean, it is kind of him to think of my wishes, to be able to have a lovely evening picnic in Katzrin, a few bottles of decent Red to hand, but I would like to think that there are, like, more pressing reasons for keep control of the Golan...

Or perhaps not.

What is interesting - and isn't mentioned at all in the interview - is that Arad was until recently barred from the United States as a security risk. He was a long time Mossad agent (common knowledge, not giving away any state secrets here), and was implicated - fairly, unfairly, who knows? - in the AIPAC spying case. As such Shrub's people deemed him a security risk and revoked his entry visa into the United States.

The AIPAC two have now had the case against them dropped; for this, and perhaps other reasons, the objections to Mr Arad visiting the United States have been allowed to go away. Good to know it, it would have been just a bit embarrassing to have the Israeli National Security Adviser unable to enter the United States, no?

Mind you, this all happened rather quietly; for the information in the last paragraph, my thanks to the Tikkun Olam blog of Richard Silverstein.


Right, enough of this bollocks.

Goy will be at Ganei HaTarucha in Tel Aviv this evening, boogie-ing down (if one can correctly use this optimistic phrase and my name in the same sentence) to my country-woman, Nneka, performing with Reggae outfit Groundation tonight. Which leads me to another question...How is it that, after two years of being starved of quality live music, suddenly everyone and his uncle have decided to peform in Tel Aviv? Depeche Mode, Suzanne Vega, Calexico, the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna (ok, so I stopped caring about Madonna round about 10 years ago, but still...)?

Very odd indeed. But I'm not complaining.

(ps - if you aren't familiar with Calexico's music, check them out. They are bloody fantastic!)

(pps - there is lots of quality live music in Israel. Much of it Israeli. I'm just being silly...)

Have a good weekend, y'all!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Vitamin P

Okay, unscheduled break over.

Sometime last year, I posted a message on an online forum, asking for the contact details of a (potential) professional contact.

Someone kindly obliged; but in a postscript to her message, warned that I'd need "Vitamin P" if I hoped to make any headway.

"Vitamin P?"

Israel, many argue, was built upon the premise of what we call in Nigeria "man know man": Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours back. In short, the act of granting favours and preferential treatment to either (1) people whom one knows personally - by blood, marriage, friendship or other, less immediately tangible connections or (2) People in a position to reciprocate the favour in due course, in short providing a reason to tilt a decision in one's favour.

Some call it nepotism; others, less kindly, describe it rank corruption. Everyone, apparently, refers to it as Protekzia or Vitamin P.

Why is it so prevalent in Israel? Who knows. My guess is that, given the heavily centralised organs of state pre and post independence, combined with a natural (?) dichotomy between the participants in successive waves of Aliyah and the differing "ethnic" origins of each wave, this was pretty much inevitable. You know: The Russians viewed the Poles with suspicion. The Poles thought the Yekkes, with their ties and jackets in the noon-day sun, insane. The pre-1939ers felt a combination of pity and condescension to the post 1945ers. And as for the post-1948ers from Norht Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East...

But that's off the top of my head. The point is, the prevailing belief is that nothing is completely straight in Israel, and that people habitually call upon ties of kinship and friendship willy-nilly in order to get ahead in life.

(Digression: One interesting fact I came across once was that, up until just before he left the Army for politics in the early 1970s, Arik Sharon was a card carrying member of Mapai/Avoda - the presumed pre-requisite for getting along in life and in politics, back in the day...)

Yesterday, the main newspapers reported that Alon Hilu, the winner of this year's Sapir Prize for fiction had been stripped of the award because of an undeclared connection; Yossi Sarid, the chair of the judging panel is an uncle (by marriage) to Hilu's editor, and furthermore had business connections with Yedioth Books, Hilu's publishers.

(It says something that this made the news, whilst the award itself was very scantily reported; but that's another matter altogether...)

Of course, responsibility lay with Sarid to declare the connections right at the beginning: the failure to do so caused this embarrasing affair in the first place. But I can't help thinking that more is being made of the affair than is necessary.

Let's, for the sake of argument, assume that Sarid did declare all relevant relationships at the onset. Would that mean that he should have been obliged to recuse himself from the judging process? I think not. The overlaps in certain areas of public society, in this country - Politics, the Arts, Public Punditry, Journalism and so on - are significant enough as it is, without taking into account the fact that, really, Israel is a very small country indeed.

But I'm not sure that people are that forgiving. The immediate insinuation is that Hilu's "triumph" (now turned to ashes, of course) was a result of Vitamin P: with such impeccable connections at the top of the tree, how could he not win?

Pity, that. Needless suspicion. Look at it another way: Another member of the jury, Ariel Hirschfield, has had similar suspicions levelled against him, this time for an undisclosed connection with another nominated writer, Ronit Matalon. In this case, the book in question was actually dedicated to him. Let's face it, it would be pretty hard to be more transparent than this. I mean, his name is on the bloody fly-leaf...

But then, who believes in transperency in this country? I guess everyone is just afraid of being stitched up, of being a Frier. Shame. Life doesn't need to be so full of suspicion.