Wednesday, 30 December 2009

I'm cold cold. At least, after the miserable weather in London this week, *winter* in Tel Aviv will be a welcome change.

Leaving Ben Gurion last week:

Stern Faced Child Playing At Security Expert (leafing through my British passport): What is the origin of your name?

Me: Nigerian

SFCPASE (Eyebrows raised): Algerian?

Me: No, Nigerian

SFCPASE: What language do you speak with your siblings at home?

I was tempted to tell her to watch Entourage, to get an idea of the potty language that we use. But instead, I humoured her by assuring her that we don't speak Arabic. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see an olive skinned type being escorted decorously to an inner sanctum...

No point going into the pros and cons of ethnic profiling: I have my views, and others have theirs. So be it. But I do object to surly, incompetent small children with no discernible skills other than the capacity to regurgitate stock phrases and questions - I can recite them by heart, and have actually pre-empted them by finished them off once or twice, just so we could get over the preliminaries and move on to taking my luggage apart - determining whether I am a security risk or not. I gather that the job is poorly paid, and many of the petulant children are actually moonlighting students, looking to earn a few extra bucks between classes.

Good for them: but as someone said told me once: pay peanuts, get monkeys. They really don't make me feel any safer, to be quite honest...

Meanwhile, whilst I've been freezing my butt off here in London, some stupid sorry-arsed incompetent Nigerian tried to blow himself up on a plane. As if the *good* name of our country hasn't been dragged through the mud enough already... Amidst all the hand wringing about how he evaded no-fly lists and security to actually get to Detroit, I rather suspect that flying back to Ben Gurion tonight is going to be no fun at all. British passport or not.

I may be gone some time...

Monday, 21 December 2009

A few things

...before I bugger off on holiday:

(Yeah, I should be packing. But I think Mrs Goy has done it all for me. I hope Mrs Goy has done it all for me...)

  1. To be quite honest, the return of the "Organ Harvesting" row doesn't particularly interest me. It's quite obvious that tampering with dead bodies, without the permission of their nearest and dearest, is pretty appalling. However, as the AFP report makes quite clear, this is something quite distinct from the big stink over the summer, following the story in Swedish newspaper Afton-Bladet: "The Channel 2 report said that in the 1990s, forensic specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, cornea, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives." Couldn't be clearer: another case of medical arrogance, something not at all limited to this crazy little part of the world. As an illustration, this should be rather instructive
  2. Mind you - as a twit twitting on twitter pointed out last night: "If one's people have a blood libel hanging over one's head, one ought to think a little more carefully about what one does with the bodies of others..."
  3. This interests me far more: A story in the Yeshiva World News about a woman in Ashdod asking the authorities to prosecute the city's chief Rabbi for contempt of court. The woman had applied for a Hechsher - Kosher certification - for her restaurant: The Rabbinate declined. The woman sued in the High Court: The court found in her favour. But the Rabbinate still resisted. The problem, it seems, is that she is a Messianic Jew - a Jew for Jesus. Them lot are not terribly popular in this part of the world, for some odd reason. The talk backs for the article are quite illuminating, as well as entertaining. And that's something I rarely say, since I genuinely believe that the talkback facility is only good for keeping the clearly unwell off the streets. There is a bit more background to the story here: If this blows up - as I suspect it will, if the High Court sticks to its guns - it is going to provoke a very interesting debate about the muddled mix between synagogue and state in Israel.
  4. (For the record: I should say that I believe, firmly, in freedom of religion. I also believe in freedom from religion.)
  5. Didi Remez - whom, as far as I can tell, is the only person ever to work in PR with anything approximating a human conscience - runs an interesting blog called Coteret. His argument, essentially, is that the English speaking press in Israel - which many foreign journalists, as well as people living outside Israel and with an interest in Israel, rely upon - is scandalously limited. Ha'aretz's English language edition and Yediot's English language website only translate a small percentage of all their news stories; jpost has an editorial slant which means that a lot of juicy stories pass it by. (I should say that I have a soft spot for two of these three outlets, but I agree with this assessment). So, to redress the balance and educate the Hebrew-challenged public, he translates stories in the Hebrew Press - Ma'ariv, Yediot, Globes and more - that he thinks have a significant public interest quotient.
  6. At the moment, he is working on one man's campaign to overturn the traditional obfuscation of the IDF's spokesperson Unit. Matti Golan, a columnist with Globes, decided to take up the IDF on a classic example of saying very much without saying anything at all - the story of a politician clearing an enhanced Army pension, even though his actual service was seriously circumscribed - with surprising results. Remez, after his translation, makes an interesting editorial point: "For civilian deaths, even those of children, a common IDF reply is along the lines of 'the (soldiers) felt threatened and fired at suspects', and except for a few exceptions that prove the rule, that is the end of any investigative journalism. Imagine the change if every foreign bureau chief or Israeli defence correspondent, took the Golan approach and really looked into the death of even on of every fifty or a hundred dead children. That's how oversight works - even the slight chance of exposure causes a tremendous change in behaviour." And so it should be.
  7. An interesting story from the BBC, this time about organ donation. Apparently, a law has been passed (or is about to be: I should check, but I'm already de-mob happy and refuse to do anything else in the name of 'research') granting Israeli organ donor cards the right to priority medical treatment, should they require an organ transplant. Now, I've carried a Donor card all my adult life, and I always will: I accept that there is a very slim chance that any of my organs will be good for anything in the case of my untimely demise, but on the off chance...quite seriously though, whilst I think that organ donation is pretty important, I'm not sure that this is the way to coerce people into going about it. In England, I think they now have the 'presumed consent' approach, which is to assume that one is happy to donate one's organs to science in the case of ones death unless explicit instructions to the contrary are made. Whilst I'm still not entirely comfortable with that either, it seems a better path to take. Prioritising health care on the basis of criteria such as this seems inequitable, at best.
  8. In any case, organ donor card or not, who knows whether the Israeli medical authorities will want my innards, anyway? I'm not allowed to donate blood in Israel, a consequence of the BSE/Mad Cow diseases outbreaks in the UK in the mid-90s; aside from that, there are documented cases of medical professionals discarding blood donated by Ethiopians, because they worried - without any evidence - that it might be tainted by all sorts of unpleasant things.
  9. I was about to look up a link for the latter point, but I've just realised that Mrs Goy didn't pack for me. Her argument is that since she isn't going on holiday with me, she sees no reason why she should sort out my luggage. So she only did the Small Noisy One's suitcase, and now has swanned off to work. Wives! I tell you...
  10. As any Hebrew speaker would be able to tell you, the word for 'owner' and 'husband' are the same in the language. So, to say 'my husband' is the same as saying 'my owner'. A civilised position that I fully agree with. However, Mrs Goy, feminist that she is, seems to have other ideas.
Right. I am off.

Friday, 18 December 2009

This time next week

...strikes by British Airways cabin crew allowing, I'll be in London following a time honoured Christian tradition in the United Kingdom - getting drunk in front of Eastenders, after eating way too much of my mother's Jollof Rice and Turkey.


I'd always kind of wondered what Jews do on Christmas Day. And then Saturday Night Live came to the rescue.*

*Metropolitan New York only.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bah, Humbug

...used to be the preserve of the Christian-leaning world - you know, the miserable old geezer who pisses over everyone's parade each year by pointing out that Jesus was probably born in October, or that the incongruities in the accounts in the four Gospels makes it at least likely that they were narrated, long after the fact, on the 1st Century equivalent of Facebook. Assuming that there was a Jesus, of course...

Anyway, I'd always kind of assumed, in a not-terribly-interested way, that Jewish history was kinda immune from this sort of scandalous ex post facto re-interpretation: I mean, you guys can trace your direct lineage back several millennia, no?

Apparently not. This year, the designated Scrooge who ruined Channukah is NYT columnist David Brooks, whom in typically dry and reasoned manner chucks all sorts of things at the nice and cuddly Channukah story of resistance and oil lasting 8 days and Nes Gadol and stuff like that. The link to the article is here (and for once, I recommend taking the time to read through the talkbacks; some of them are, unintentionally, hilarious), but here's a sample of Mr Brooks humbuggery (I get the feeling that I made this word up, but it's late and I'm too tired to look for a dictionary)

The Maccabees are best understood as moderate fanatics. They were not in total revolt against Greek culture. They used Greek constitutional language to explain themselves. They created a festival to commemorate their triumph (which is part of Greek, not Jewish, culture). Before long, they were electing their priests.

On the other hand, they were fighting heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith. If they found uncircumcised Jews, they performed forced circumcisions. They had no interest in religious liberty within the Jewish community...

I could be mean and point out some pretty obvious parallels with the situation today, but I won't. Not in keeping with the spirit of the season and all that...

Whilst on the topic of 'false' myths, I've just started reading Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People. To be honest, I didn't expect very much - I assumed that it would be either a book with a few kernels of interesting fact buried under a landside of academic drivel

(academics, as a general rule, can't write for shit: this, more than anything else, explains the enduring popularity of Malcolm Gladwell. But, as ever, I digress...

- but, so far (p40-ish) it has proven refreshingly readable. Dunno if his conclusions - which caused a bit of a stink here, when the book was published in Hebrew a year and a half ago - will stand up to scrutiny; I remember that one of the criticisms levelled against him was that he was a common-or-garden-variety political historian, and thus had no business loitering in the sacred halls of classical Jewish History. Still, a well written book means that at the very least I'll follow it through to the end, rather than chucking it aside in exasperation before I've cracked the spine properly. I'll try and remember to keep you, dear reader, posted in due course.

And now, back to my mission to taste every variety of Doughnut commercially available in Eretz Israel before the 8th Candle is lit. Reader, I may be gone some time...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Bring him home - Shalit, redux

As a postscript to my musings yesterday, about the emotional and psychological significance of captured soldiers: an interesting article about the same subject by Ethan Bronner, NYT's man in Jerusalem.

One paragraph in particular caught my eye:

“These people, although they are murderers, do it for a political cause and even if they don’t represent a country they are being sent by a military organization that is our rival and one day will make peace with us,” Mr. Liel, the former diplomat, said. “They are not regular criminals. We know that sooner or later when we have a peace deal they will be released.”

Alon Liel, quoted above, used to be the DG - head of service - at the Foreign Ministry. It's not something you hear people saying in these parts every day, and I doubt that everyone subscribes to this notion. Still...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

On Doughnuts, Gilad Shalit and other Chanukah Miracles

  1. When I lived in England, we used to run an ironic Christmas Tree Sweepstakes: the earliest confirmed date for spotting an erected Christmas Tree, indubitable evidence of the commercialisation of a sanctified family holiday (this bit always made me laugh - Christmas has always been commercial), cueing hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth in the petite bourgeois press, like The Mail. In Israel, I gather that the parallel cue is the sale of Sufganiot, Chanukah themed doughnuts. (I've talked about the link between fattening food and Chanukah before, here). For the record, I spotted my first Doughnut tray just after Sukkoth, a couple of months ago. Given the passage of time, I think the true miracle of Chanukah is that I still haven't had my first doughnut of the season. Mind you, it's a matter of necessity - If I'd started eating the wretched things in October, I'd look like one myself by now...
  2. Just for the record: The earliest I'd ever spotted a Christmas tree was on August the 27th, at Selfridges. Quite frankly, it's moments like that make me pleased that I don't live in the UK any more. The thought of enduring a four month run up to Christmas, fake cheer and over-priced tat, Wham's Last Christmas and talk about the Xmas No1, fills me with horror...
  3. Here, we don't have Christmas. Obviously. But there is Chanukah, and to get in the spirit, newspapers tend to look for some feel-good story to cheer the Jewish State up. Something that can be chalked up as a modern day Chanukah Miracle. Usually quite risible, but hey...
  4. This year, however, there is talk about a genuine Chanukah Miracle - the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured and held by Hamas for the last 3-odd years. There have been a lot of hopes raised and dashed since his capture; but talk about his imminent release have reached a crescendo in the last fortnight, with rumours that a deal has been arranged, that he's been moved to Egypt, that doctors have examined him to ensure that he is in good condition...hell, even Jonathan Pollard has got in on the act.
  5. But - and for once, I'm not being facetious - I don't think it is going to happen.
  6. Think about it this way; Hamas - as did Hezbollah, before them - kidnap Israeli soldiers for propaganda, rather than pragmatic purposes. Let's face it: in general terms, the capture of a few odd soldiers serves no strategic purpose whatsoever. But they do recognise the important psychological impact that it has on the Israel populace, of the capture of a soldier - or, as is more often the case, the holding over of the remains of a dead soldier.
  7. This psychological importance thing, I'm not sure I totally understand entirely. It seems an aggregation of all sorts of things. Perhaps I'll think about it another time. Anyway, the point is that it exists, and that Hamas recognises this state of mind. Thus, its efforts to exchange Corporal Shalit for about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. And the argument isn;t whether it is a fair swap in itself, but whether a very small minority of the prisoners should be freed because they have "blood on their hands."
  8. So, unless they have completely misjudged the Israeli public sentiment - and I doubt they have, even though Hamas tends to believe what it wants about the "Zionist entity", rather than what is true - there is no way on earth that they are going to award the Israeli public a genuine Chanukah miracle on a platter. It just ain't gonna happen.
  9. So, Shalit's poor parents will continue to wait and hope whilst their son continues to be used as a political football by all sorts of scum, pond life and career politicians. And the newspapers will find another Chanukah miracle.
  10. I've broken. I've just had my first doughnut. God, it tastes good.
  11. And there's this. Can't say I'm surprised.
  12. Time for another doughnut. I'll go back to running in the New Year. Hopefully.