Bintel Blog

Israeli Teens Say No to Arab Rights and Compliant Army Service

By Nathan Jeffay

A new survey of Israeli high school students makes for depressing reading. When the Jewish sample was asked whether Arabs should have equal rights, some 49.5% said no.

An even higher percentage, 56%, said that Arabs should not have the right to run for office. Particularly alarming is that a repressive attitude towards Arabs and religious observance seem to go hand-in-hand. Looking just at the religious respondents from the Jewish sample, 82% said that Arabs should not have equal rights.

The figures come from a poll just conducted by the Maagar Mochot research company. The poll also contained figures which, if translated from talk to action, would raise major questions about how the Israeli army will be able to function when these youngsters are drafted.

Some 48% of respondents, including a significant number of secular students, said that they would refuse to evacuate outposts, while 31% said they would refuse to serve in the territories.

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Two States for Two Peoples: A Postscript

By Nathan Jeffay

Here’s an interesting postscript to the first installment of the new Forward series “Imagining Two States for Two Peoples.” In the article, published yesterday, we consider Palestinian claims about the difficulties that settlements cause for Palestinians trying to travel around the West Bank. Now, settlers are making the same claim about the new Palestinian city of Rwabi.

Rwabi, just north of Bir Zeit, has been under construction for two months, and will be home to around 25,000 Palestinians. It is a project of a Qatari-based firm called Bayti.

Residents of the nearby settlement of Ateret are furious. One, Motti Hominer, has written to lawmakers asking them to put a stop to construction. He told Haaretz:

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Israel's North Is 53% Arab

By Nathan Jeffay

While the international community is, for understandable reasons, fixated on the population balance between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, a demographic war is being fought in a lower-profile part of Israel — the north.

Zionist groups have long been encouraging residents of central Israel and new immigrants to move to the north in a bid to strengthen the Jewish presence. And there is a similar interest in laying roots by some Arabs. Influxes of Arabs in to certain northern towns, such as Carmiel are taken by many locals as evidence of this.

New figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, an agency of the Israeli government, show that if you take Haifa out of the equation, there is already an Arab majority in Northern Israel. Some 53% of residents, the bureau reported, are Arabs.

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Israeli Arabs Lose Enthusiasm for National Service

By Nathan Jeffay

Two years ago, a Knesset panel discussed the possibility that Israel’s Arabs — who are currently exempt from any national service — could perform civic service in schools, hospitals and other non-political institutions that need volunteers. The polling at the time was fascinating in revealing a gulf between leaders and their constituents. Three quarters of Israel’s young Arab citizens favored the idea, while 90% of their political leaders opposed it.

Now, the percentage of young Arab citizens who favor the idea has fallen to 54%, a new Haifa University Survey indicates. So what has happened over the last couple of years to change the figure? It would seem that the opposition of the leaders has rubbed off on the general Arab population. When the idea was mooted back in February 2008, Arab leaders made their objections very clear. “Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,” Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker with the Balad party declared at a rally.

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Israelis and Immigrants: A Love-Hate Relationship

By Nathan Jeffay

What do Israelis think about immigrants? A new survey, commissioned by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, reveals something of a love-hate relationship.

The majority of the population — some 73% — thinks that immigration is vital for the state. This is presumably primarily due to what many Israelis consider the need to boost the Jewish demographic in Israel.

Nevertheless, Israelis see a clash between national and personal priorities. Some 30% of Israeli-born respondents think that immigration makes it harder to find housing and 35% think that makes it tougher to find work.

Immigrants are also thought responsible for crime, with 52% of Israeli-born respondents saying that immigrants have a negative effect on crime. The high figure on crime may well be connected to recent the arrest of immigrants for high-profile crimes and the ensuing discussion about immigration laws and crime, which was reported here.

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Carrots (for Israel's Cabinet) and a Sticks (for the Rest of the Country)

By Nathan Jeffay

So they say that an army marches on its stomach. Is the success of the Israeli cabinet also based on its nourishment?

There are clear similarities between feeding an army and feeding the Israeli cabinet, most obviously the sheer quantity of food required. In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s panic to pull together a coalition, he doled out ministerial posts left right and center, meaning that the country has the largest cabinet ever.

But it seems that Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser has also taken on the ethos of an army commander, namely that it is his job to keep the troops healthy, even if that means controlling their food intake. As a result, at the weekly cabinet meeting this week, for the second time in a row, ministers were denied their normal snacks. There were no bourekas (savory pastries) or rugelach or even sandwiches, but rather muesli, yogurt and vegetables. Hauser reportedly put a political spin on the decision, saying that “unlike its predecessors this government will serve a full term of four years and I want the ministers to still be capable of standing on their feet.”

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Poll: A Minaret Ban Would Make Little Headway with Israelis

By Nathan Jeffay

Israelis are more tolerant than the Swiss about mosque minarets.

At the end of November Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban mosque minarets. Here in Israel, a large part of the Jewish public feels antagonism towards the Arab minority, as indicated by various attempts in the last year to pass legislation aimed at it such as the Nakba law and the success of Yisrael Beiteinu in last year’s elections after proposing an “allegiance law” that would require all citizens to pledge allegiance to the state. Furthermore, a lot of Jews who live within earshot of the call-to-prayer complain that it is annoying.

But while in the Swiss referendum 57.5% of voters were for banning minarets and just 42.5% against, in a simulated referendum in Israel a firm majority was against. According to a new poll 43% of Israeli Jews would oppose such a ban while 28% would support one. The rest were undecided.

Intriguingly the strongest opposition came from the demographic that is often most antagonistic to the Arab minority — religious-Zionists.

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Yelling Match Live on Israeli Television

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli television certainly has its moments. On Thursday night, as much of the Western world relaxed and got ready to toast the New Year and many TV channels ran fluffy items, things got heated on a popular Israeli talk show.
Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker from the Arab party Balad was in the Tel Aviv studio of Erev Hadasha (“New Evening”), a Channel 23 program which is broadcast live. After a few moments of amicable discussion, the focus turned to Gaza and Zahalka accused Defense Minister Ehud Barak of killing children. The interviewer, former Haaretz journalist Dan Margalit, initially responded with a rather understated remark that the comment was a ”chutzpah.” Then, in true Israeli-style, a fight began — propelled not by the subject under discussion but by the various names that the two men called each other.

The fight lasted around a minute and a half. Then the interviewee was removed from the studio. In most other countries one imagines that the presenter would have dusted himself off, composed himself, and got the show back on track. Not in Israel! As the co-presenter shifted uncomfortably and tried to move on, Margalit started speaking about the altercation and got his frustrations off his chest. The back-and-forth restarted, and ended with Zahalka yelling that the studio is located in Sheikh Munis, an old Arab village. Margalit responded by claiming that the incident shows Zahalka’s true colors as a politician who wants all of Israel to become Palestine and not just areas that Israel captured in 1967. The footage has been posted on YouTube with an English translation that gives the general idea but isn’t correct throughout. 



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Oren: Israel Is Part of God's Plan

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A fierce attack on J Street wasn’t the only notable element of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s address to the biennial convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism earlier in the week.

During the prepared portion of his remarks, Oren issued a surprising proclamation of a personal belief in a divine plan behind the creation of the State of Israel. He said:

A God who fixes laws throughout the physical space can also intercede through the course of human history. Perfectly logical. To believe in the God of history is to believe in the reason why a tiny remnant of [the Jewish] people, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, returned to [Israel].

… To believe in a God who cares about history leads one to assume that there is a reason why, some 3,00 years ago, this obscure group of nomads, wandering somewhere around the Middle East, came up with these extraordinary notions of a single God, and the extraordinary notion of universal morality. And there’s a reason why that faith enabled that people to survive as a people when so many other peoples have vanished, in spite of expulsions, inquisitions, and massacres. And there’s a reason to believe why this people was given a land in which to realize its national destiny, and to understand why that people, bound by its faith, longed to return to that land, even when that people was exiled.

The remarks seemed well received by the audience. Oren, who says he grew up Conservative but now attends a Modern Orthodox synagogue, is the official representative of the Israeli government in Washington. Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence calls Israel the “birthplace of the Jewish people,” but does not describe the creation of the state as an act of God’s will.

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Hip Hopping Mad in the Holy Land: Sagol 59

By Micah Kelber

In “The Land of No Hop” the rapper Sagol 59 (Khen Rotem) lays out evidence to justify his belief that despite a number of successful Israeli hip hop groups, the genre has not yet been born in Israel.

His reasons range from the fact that the most popular radio station is owned by the government and run by the army to the fact that swearing doesn’t sound as good in Hebrew as it does in English.

The points he makes are intriguing and each one opens up wider discussions. Hopefully, he’ll keep writing about this: To what degree does Galgalatz play music that is critical of Israel or the army? If the goal is to make Hip-Hop catch on, should Israeli hip-hop be sampling from “the pensive folk songs” that Israelis used to establish the state instead of less well known catalogues of Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes? Why can’t Israelis accept the alter-egos of rappers allowing for hip-hop myths to be created — why is sincerity so important?

As a cultural artifact, Sagol 59’s essay may be more telling about his own feelings of inauthenticity than the notion that Israelis will always prefer Eric Clapton to well crafted tracks. What is “always” and who are “Israelis?” It might be comforting for him to believe that these concepts exist, but this is probably wishful thinking or perhaps the indoctrination that he laments creeping back in to his own thoughts. Why must hip-hop achieve national cultural status in order to be thought of as “born”? If it manages to teach one lonely kid in Afula that his thoughts about life are reasonable and in need of expressing, might that not be enough?

Furthermore, there will always be a “next” in Israel as there is everywhere (although it is odd that one can still predict, with relative certainty, that if you sit long enough at a cafe in Israel, you will hear a Tracy Chapman record. And if you beg for the disc to be changed, you will then hear Bob Marley or the Doors).

Israeli hip-hop could help itself by giving up its penchant for unconsidered atavism. Sampling old songs is essential to the genre. But why must old American hip-hop phrases be recycled (often in translation) in Israeli rap? Self respecting rappers need no longer “come to the hood” or refer to the audience as “y’all.” Hip hop artists in israel will be championed when they tap into expansive specificity, not lingo.

As for whether an English word like “motherf***er” inherently flows better into the ear than a Hebrew “benzona” a conversation that took place at a dinner party I recently attended is instructive:

When the evening’s talk turned to politics, one of the guests forgot himself and let out a string of indelicate profanity, only realizing after that the elegant hostess across from whom he sat may have regarded his manner as boorish and offensive. With his eyes agape, he apologized profusely. But she assured him:

“We don’t mind if you swear here… as long as you do it well.”

The graceful audience for Israeli hip-hop might just be waiting for the same.

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Palestinian Hotels Get a Boost

By Nathan Jeffay

Is a tourism boon taking hold in Palestinian hotels? According to new numbers from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, it would seem so. More people are booking, and when they do, they are staying for longer, the figures show.

Some 135,939 guests stayed in Palestinian hotels during the third quarter of 2009. This figure represents a 42% boost from the same period last year and a 37% increase on the second quarter of 2009 (though bear in mind that hotels are always quieter in the second quarter than the third, which includes the summer).

The number of guest nights was also up, at 310,643, an increase of 30% from the same period last year.

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Offbeat Israel: The Promised Land for Antlions?

By Nathan Jeffay

Are national characteristics catching on? Do you ever find yourself being a little bit less polite when you visit Israel? A new study by the University of Haifa suggests that even rodents seem to act one way in Israel and another way elsewhere.

Here is the mystery that researchers set out to solve. The boundary between Israel and Jordan is a man-made outcome of British rule in the Middle East in the last century. So how come rodents behave differently on each side?

Jordanian gerbils live life with a far more carefree attitude than Israeli gerbils, which conduct themselves with a great deal of caution. And okay — Israel is supposed to be the Promised Land where milk and honey flows and agriculture thrives, but the Bible never said it’s a Promised Land for antlions did it? So why are antlions, an insect whose larvae are called doodlebugs in North America, more fertile around here than in Jordan?

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Jeopardy Does Jews' Clues in the Holy Land

By Laura Sinberg

Getty Images

I’ll take Israel for $2,000, Alex.

That’s what contestants on “Jeopardy!” were saying November 23, when the famous quiz show included a Double Jeopardy category titled “A Journey Through Israel.”

Host Alex Trebek and his team, the Clue Crew, traveled to the Holy Land in early September, the show’s first time there, to tape the questions, which also will be used throughout the year.

They spent nearly three weeks exploring and filming, starting in Tiberias and winding their way around the country. The questions gave a taste of four of the locations that Trebek and two of the three Clue Crew members visited, said Jimmy McGuire, a Clue Crew member for the past nine seasons.

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Offbeat Israel: A College Reference Contingent on Joining the IDF

By Nathan Jeffay

Want a reference from your teacher? Then enlist in the army.

There’s deep concern in the IDF about draft dodging, with the figure of army-age males avoiding compulsory military service nearing a third. Of recent, there have been several unusual moves to stem the trend. One was an advertising campaign harnessing the power of sex appeal, as discussed in this Forward article. Then the Interior Ministry began exploring the option of withholding passports in the case of draft dodging — see this Haaretz article.

Now teachers are getting involved.

At Iron Chet, a religious boys’ school in Tel Aviv, the percentage of students obeying their conscription orders stands at 96 — up from 75 in 2006. The school has been doing a hard sell to students on the importance of serving their country. It has also started to withhold benefits to those approaching the end of their school careers, but not yet signed up. For them there’s no place in the graduation ceremony, just a certificate in the mail. They don’t get letters of recommendation for further study and they’re not welcome to return to the school to visit. It will be interesting to see whether this kind of thing spreads to other schools and whether, if it gets the back up of some students, it become the subject of a legal challenge.


Herziliya, the NIMBY capital of Israel, is up in arms. The wealthy seaside town is to continue to play host to an airport. The municipality, backed by residents, is desperate to have it closed down, but the National Council for Planning and Construction has rejected the petition to do so. Herziliya, heavily populated by top-level businessmen and diplomats, probably counts the country’s most frequent fliers among its residents. But they are concerned that the airport is noisy and lowers the value of their homes.

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Poll: Israeli Ill Will Toward Germany Is Dissipating

By Nathan Jeffay

Is bad will towards Germany vanishing from Israeli society?

Once, it was common to hear people say they refuse to buy German goods. A new Hebrew University poll reveals that today only 6% of Israeli citizens today do so.

In fact, Israelis are pretty engaged with German culture. A third of respondents said they had watched a German movie of recent.

Among Jewish Israelis, pollsters found that some 61% are very satisfied with how Germany has dealt with Holocaust memorial and four in five think that Germany today is a “different Germany” to that which carried out the Holocaust. When the same pollsters asked that question on several occasions during the 1980s, the figure was always fifty-something percent.

In the new poll, when asked about German’s role in the Middle East, Jewish Israelis were very positive. Some 54% said they have confidence in Germany — 9% more than have confidence in France. Interestingly, only 27% of Israeli Arabs said they have confidence in Germany. This reflects a feeling among Arabs that Germany is pro-Israel. But it goes deeper.

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Israelis Believe Their Country Has Become Safer

By Nathan Jeffay

One of the most interesting phenomena regarding Israel’s security situation is how differently Israelis perceive it than many who live abroad.

A year ago, this writer was sent by a British newspaper to cover the Paul McCartney concert in Tel Aviv. The commissioning editor was not interested in the music or the performance. He just wanted a running update of how many people had pulled a gun at various points throughout the performance.

The contrast between this image of ultra-dangerous Israel and the country as its citizens perceive it is underscored by a new piece of research. Tel Aviv University’s monthly public opinion research project, the War and Peace Index, asked Israelis to describe the level of national security. Some 38% described it as high, 37% as medium, and just 22% as low.

The figures indicate that Israelis believe their country has become safer in the last two-and-a-half years. In April 2007 24.5% described national security as high, 36% as medium, and just 39% as low.

People also feel greater personal security than in April 2007. Back then, 42.5% rated their personal security as high, 42.5% as medium and 24% as low. In the new poll, the figures are 49%, 29% and 19% respectively.

Despite all the talk of a possible attack on Iran, some 48% of respondents to the poll see a low or very low chance in the next five years of an all-out attack on Israel by one or more Arab states. A large minority of 44% sees a high or very high chance of such an attack while 10% do not know.

If war does come, most Israelis believe they are in good hands. Asked about the Israeli army’s ability to cope with the military threats 85% rely or very much rely on it to defend the state of Israel and its citizens successfully in the event of an attack by Arab states.

Nevertheless, a large majority of Israelis, 72%, say that the need to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very urgent or moderately urgent, compared to only 24% who do not see it that way. People across the political spectrum take this view, with a surprisingly narrow discrepancy between different shades — 82% on the left, 79% in the center and 66% on the right.

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Israel's Education Minister: 'Ghetto' Conditions at Petah Tikva Schools.

By Nathan Jeffay

It is one of the most emotive education stories to hit the Israeli media in a long time. There are 109 Ethiopian immigrants in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv who don’t know where they are going to school when studies start tomorrow, because the local religious schools won’t take them.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar today spoke of schools creating “ghetto” conditions in this report and video and opposition leader Tzipi Livni is on record saying that the schools “don’t act according to the basic principles of equality. Sa’ar has cut state funding to the schools, which are all semi-private meaning this constitutes a loss of 60% to 75% of their income.

In Petah Tikva, children and parents demonstrated, carrying signs saying “enough with discrimination,” “enough with racism,” and “since when do schools teach racism?” Ethiopian-born Kadima lawmaker Shlomo Molla has called on the Education Ministry to “complete the puzzle and take away the three racist schools’ licenses.”

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Wedding as Political Statement

By Nathan Jeffay

Everyone hopes that their wedding will make a statement. But not in the same way that Olga Samosvatov and Nico Tarosyan’s wanted.

They tied the knot earlier this week at the Tel Aviv landmark Dizengoff Square, and their ceremony was a public polemic against Israel’s marriage laws. To them, the ceremony was the real thing, but according to Israeli law it meant nothing.

Both bride and groom are unable to marry in Israel under the law of the land. Israel, in its 60 years of statehood, has never overhauled its system for registering marriages, which it inherited from the Ottomans via the British. Only religious authorities — the Orthodox-controlled chief rabbinate, mosques and churches — have the power to solemnize marriages. This means that 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who had enough Jewish lineage to qualify for aliyah under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Orthodox religious law, are unable to marry.

Samosvatov, 29, immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1995 with her Jewish mother. A secretary in a Tel Aviv law firm, she is able to prove that she is Jewish and would be entitled to marry in an Orthodox wedding. Tarosyan, 34, immigrated to Israel in 1995 from Moscow, Russia by himself. He served in the Israeli army and currently works as a computer technician. Although both his parents are Jewish, he cannot prove he is Jewish and is not entitled to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.

They came together on Monday under a chuppah in a ceremony put together with Havaya, a secular organization which is fighting for the state to recognize non-Orthodox marriage. Given the current rules, as they want the state to recognize them as husband and wife, they will travel abroad for a civil marriage there (though there are no civil unions in Israel, the state recognizes foreign civil marriages).

In a statement, the bride said she hopes that their very public ceremony will highlight the struggle of Israeli’s who can’t marry and help “to change the law in Israel so that people can have whatever type of Jewish wedding they want.”

The groom said: “In Russia we were hated because we were Jews and here in Israel we are discriminated against as Russians.”

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Sabras and Olim on Israel's Arab Minority

By Nathan Jeffay

More than half of Israel’s Jewish public supports encouraging Arabs to emigrate from Israel. Breaking down the figures, some 77% of immigrants favor this course of action compared to 47% of Sabras. These figures come from the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual Democracy Index, released today.

They reflect a growing sense of concern among Jewish Israelis about the loyalty of the Arab minority to the state. This has been manifest in the success of Yisrael Beiteinu in February’s general election after pedalling a proposal to make all citizens swear allegiance to the state and the ongoing passage through Knesset of the so-called Nakba Law.

Interestingly, the question of who is harsher towards Arabs — immigrants or Sabras — is not as clear cut as responses to this first question suggest. While immigrants are harsher towards Arabs on this issue, when it comes to the question of Arab rights, it is the other way round. Some 38% of the entire Jewish public think that Jewish citizens should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens. This belief is held by 43% of Sabras and 23% of immigrants.

There’s another figure that challenges attempts to paint, on the basis of this survey, a simple picture of Israeli society. Some 54% of the public says that only citizens who are loyal to the state are entitled to benefit from civil rights. This question seized on the theme of Yisrael Beiteinu’s idea of a citizenship law, which has riled many, especially Arabs. But interestingly, almost one in three Arabs polled said that civil rights should be dependent on loyally — possibly a case of them actually using the survey to demonstrate the very loyalty that is being questioned.

Moving from politics to lifestyle decisions, immigrants from the former Soviet Union appear lukewarm to Israel. Among parents aged 31–40, four out of five Sabras is certain they want to raise their children in Israel, while only 28% of immigrants from the former Soviet Union feel the same. And while 80% of Israeli-born citizens are certain they want to live in Israel, among immigrants from the former Soviet Union the figure drops to 48%.


Israel’s lawmakers went on recess today, and thank goodness they did. Like a bunch of naughty school kids they were starting to get very mischievous as the semester came to an end. A few hours ago, they got a well-deserved telling off from speaker Reuven Rivlin. “If this is the way you behave, no wonder the public thinks this is a circus,” he said. This seems a little harsh… on circuses, which feature genuinely talented people doing impressive things. In comparison, on Thursday the lawmakers were reading children’s books, checking their text messages, and doing crossword puzzles. Read why here.

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Maccabiah Update: A Softball Miracle and Misplaced Nostalgia

By Nathan Jeffay

Congratulations Team USA! The American delegation to the Maccabiah is delivering the goods.

Yesterday, American pole-vaulter Jillian Schwartz set a new Maccabiah record, reaching 4.24 metres. She broke the record set just a few minutes previously by Israeli national champion Morin Azizi. Obviously, Schwartz won a gold medal in the process.

There was another gold medal for America yesterday thanks to Brown University student Samantha Adelberg. She ran the 800m race in 2:13.65.

The U.S. basketball, softball and baseball teams are all undefeated, and the first US fustal team to enter (fustal is a variant of soccer played indoors) won its first game, which it played against Estonia.

So American sportsmen and women are doing their country proud, but coaches beware: Israel is out to poach them. As the media here has reported, Israel is offering cash incentives of more than $3,000 for members of foreign teams to move to Israel.

If you read a past Bintel Blog on the Maccabiah, you will know that organizers were left red-faced after failing to get a licenses needed to stage softball games. They were canceled by police as a result. Given the Israeli passion for bureaucracy which means that most licences take an age to arrive it’s a miracle, but organizers managed to secure the necessary license yesterday, and the softball is back on.

Another topic discussed in this previous Bintel Blog is the suggestion by some that the Maccabiah is not really a serious sporting tournament anymore, and is more of a social event. We put this claim to Ron Carner, head of the U.S. delegation. Here’s what he had to say: “It’s a very high-level competition, and it’s a social and Zionist event. One doesn’t detract from the other. The number one part of the program is the sport, and everything else flows from that.”

After reading this piece in Haaretz about what the Maccabiah used to be like, one wonders whether those claiming the competition has gone downhill are indulging in a bit of misplaced nostalgia. At least nowadays medalists actually get their medals.

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