The Maccabiah, widely dubbed the Jewish Olympics, officially got underway today following last night’s grand opening ceremony at the Ramat Gan Stadium. Americans can be proud that the loudest cheers at the ceremony came when Olympic gold medal swimmer Jason Lezak entered the stadium, and lit the Maccabiah torch.
And if you’re rooting for the States, you are likely to have cause to celebrate.
Almost one in eight athletes competing is American; in other words 950 of the 8,000. Maccabi USA will compete in 28 sports divided among 88 individual teams. The youngest American participant is 15. The oldest is Howard Bromberg from Riverdale, New York, who at 87 is competing in Grand Masters Tennis.
All has not been smooth sailing in the first day of competitions. Israelis are notoriously slipshod about getting the right licenses for events and Maccabiah organizers are apparently no exception. As the Jerusalem Post reports, police canceled a softball game between Israel and Mexico, as well as all further games in the competition because organizers do not have the necessary license.
Nor was the opening ceremony entirely smooth. Haaretz reported that the Maccabiah banned competitors from wearing ribbons to show support for the campaign for Gilad Shalit’s release. One Shalit activist was quoted as saying she believed that Maccabiah organizers did not want to embarrass government officials who attended the ceremony. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who some Israelis claim is not doing enough to secure his release, was in attendance.
It’s interesting talking to Israelis about the Maccabiah. Opinions range from extreme pride that a worldwide sporting event takes place here to complete indifference. Some see it as yet another event for Diaspora Jews with little relevance to them, and some stare blankly when asked about it and say: “What’s the Maccabiah?” Reuters journalist Ori Lewis is convinced that there is hardly any interest at home.
He argues in this blog post that more than it is a serious sporting event, today the Maccabiah is something of “a jamboree for Jewish athletes from all over the world to express solidarity with Israel” and “an event where young Jewish singles get the chance to meet an enormous number of potential future partners in a jovial environment.”
Three in five Israeli Jews supports Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements. But when they are asked to factor in that implementing his policy could lead to a deterioration of relations with the U.S., support drops to two in five. The new figures come from Tel Aviv University’s latest monthly survey of Israeli public opinion, the War and Peace Index.
What they show is that on the one hand, Netanyahu seems to representing majority opinion among voters. In short, polls are helping to build up a picture of mainstream Israeli opinion today as unsympathetic towards and prepared to dismantle outlying settlements; expectant that settlement blocs will remain part of Israel, and hesitant about stopping all building in settlements without getting anything in return for doing so.
Netanyahu’s stance that Israel will not establish new settlements, but will expand existing ones according to natural growth seems to fit in with the views of mainstream Israel. On the other hand, what we have long known to be true still applies: Israelis still care deeply about not clashing with the U.S., and at least one in five will, on the basis of this concern, withdraw support for a course of action they otherwise favor.
This month the pollsters surveyed the public on their attitudes towards the Palestinians and came up with some intriguing findings. Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, famously said in 1969 that there was “no such thing as Palestinians,” and some 32% of people polled do not recognize the existence of a Palestinian people. They were not asked why, but it seems that Meir’s logic, shared by many past Israeli leaders, has survived.
If we recall, Meir’s explanation for her statement was that there has never been an independent Palestinian state. She said: “It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
The statistic is fascinating not only because it indicates that a rejection of Palestinian peoplehood, which many presumed to have died out in recent years is alive and well. It also suggests that some Israelis are in favor of creating a state for a people that they claim doesn’t exist.
How so? Well in recent polling support among Israeli Jews for the “two states for two peoples” solution to the conflict, or the creation of a Palestinian state, has been as high as 70%. But in the new Tel Aviv University poll, only 62% believe a Palestinian people exists.
Of course, the tongue-in-cheek response is to ask who would live in and run the state proposed by Israelis who don’t believe in the Palestinians. But the apparently contradictory figures point to the way that backers of the two-state solution increasingly cite pragmatic reasons — and not deeply held convictions that the Palestinians deserve a state. While back in the 1990s, advocates of the two-state solution were often heard talking in terms of every nation’s right to autonomy, today you can believe that the Palestinians don’t exist but still want to give them a state in the hope of a quiet life.
This point is illustrated by considering what happens when pollsters, instead of asking whether respondents support the establishment of a Palestinian state, ask in terms of whether Palestinians have a right to and deserve a state. This is exactly what the Tel Aviv University pollsters did, and only 50% of respondents said they do.
The Tel Aviv University poll also found that some 56% of Israeli Jews oppose Israel taking even partial responsibility for the suffering caused to the Palestinians by the 1948 war, according to a new Tel Aviv University poll.
Respondents were asked for their feelings on the prospect of Israel taking some responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, even if the Palestinians were to officially take part of the responsibility for the events of 1948. This indicates that while there is majority support today for a dovish position on many issues that could be on the table in peace talks — most importantly dismantling settlements deep in the West Bank — the public is not giving way on this issue.
A total settlement freeze in the West Bank still looks a long way off. But there is a scaling back of Israeli activity in another disputed area — the Golan Heights, where the Israel Defense Forces have halted operations on Mount Hermon. Is it a “confidence-building measure” requested by the U.S.? Or could it even be a gesture to Syria preceding talks over the Golan? The answer lies in neither of the above. Rather, it reflects a newfound enthusiasm in the IDF for … flowers.
Mount Hermon, as well as being widely regarded as strategically significant, is also a home to special flora and fauna, and numerous species of birds. The IDF has agreed to halt all operations in the natural habitat of the Hermon, so that flora and fauna can grow without disruption from tank tires and birds can nest without the noise of bullets.
It is one of the perennial questions asked in Israel: How effectively does the country absorb its immigrants?
Traditionally, the answer is that Israel has effectively forged a national identity from diverse immigrant groups, and has done a pretty good job. But this is a point for discussion. For decades now, Eastern Jews have claimed neglect and/or discrimination and many Ethiopians say that their integration into Israeli society is far from complete.
A new piece of research, that second generation immigrants are poorer and stand a greater chance of dropping out of school than the children whose parents were born in Israel, reinvigorates the debate.
One in ten children in Israel has immigrant parents. But In 2007 a quarter of all children living below the poverty line were children of immigrants, according to a new report by the Absorption Ministry and the Israel National Council for the Child. Given that immigrants from western countries are often better off than others, this seems to paint a depressing picture of the process of absorption among immigrants from other places, including Ethiopia.
The research also raises a question about whether education can be relied on to help poor second-generation immigrants climb out of poverty. Just 1.8% of all Israeli children drop out of school. However, the report showed, among the children of immigrants, the figure is 3.8%.
Those living on the other side of the pond were struck with confusion this week when UNISON — Britain and Europe’s largest public sector union, with more than 1.3 million members — prohibited Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) from attending its annual conference in Brighton, which wrapped up Wednesday. TUFI has attended this conference for the past four years without issue.
According to statements made by UNISON conference organizers, TUFI was not allowed to attend the conference because UNISON could not guarantee the safety of TUFI campaigners, who were perceived by the public to be “pro-Israeli.”
As reported London’s Jewish Chronicle, UNISON told TUFI director Steve Scott that “they had complaints from members in the regions about Gaza.” Scott added, “We issued a statement about Gaza but obviously we didn’t condemn Israel’s actions, so they said we should not be exhibiting this year.”
According to UNISON conference organizer Bill Gilby, he and his staff hesitated at offering TUFI a place at the conference “because of the union’s long-standing policy position on the Middle East, and concern about the welfare of individuals if such a stall were to be there.” Gilby asserted that he would not describe TUFI’s “absence” as a “ban.”
Consequently, TUFI held a separate event this week, attended by more than 50 UNISON delegates, in the hotel outside of the conference center. Speakers included Terry McCorran, a UNISON branch secretary from Northern Ireland and founder of the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, and Eric Lee, who discussed the new organization Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), of which TUFI is part. According to TULIP’s Web site, the event went smoothly, with the vast majority of attendees supporting TUFI’s pro-peace, anti-boycott message.
TUFI was established to strengthen ties between the Histadrut (the Israeli TUC), the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the British Trade Union Movement.
There’s a truly fascinating new poll out on Israel-Diaspora relations, which shows that among adult Israeli Jews:
• 57% believe that American organizations that lobby the US government in support of pro-Israel policies should always support the policies of the current Israeli government while 32% said that such organizations are free to openly oppose the policies of the current Israeli government.
• 46% believe that American Jewish organizations are not doing enough to bridge policy differences and ease the tensions between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. Only 23% say the organizations are doing enough on this front.
• Almost two-thirds of respondents support using their tax money to provide basic services like education, healthcare and food to Diaspora Jewish communities that are struggling in light of the recent global economic situation. The younger the people surveyed the more likely they were to agree with this idea — among youngest age bracket polled, 18–24, support stood at 73%.
• 44% support the State of Israel recognizing Reform and Conservative conversion while 49% insist that only conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate should be recognized by the state.
• Around half think that Diaspora Jews should think of Israel when voting, and around 40% thought Israelis should think of the Diaspora when voting.
The poll was commissioned by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, B’nai B’rith International’s public affairs arm in Israel. It was conducted by Keevoon Research.
Every month, Tel Aviv University pollsters gauge Israeli public opinion, and the Bintel Blog closely follows the results.
The latest poll, which was conducted last week just before Barack Obama’s speech, found that 55% of the Israeli public felt that the American president leans in favor of the Palestinians.
Few Israelis, 5%, said that he favors their county’s position, and 31% said they view him as neutral.
As Obama sets about changing America’s relationship with the Muslim world, 60% of Israelis do not trust him to protect Israel’s interests in the process.
Asked about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, 65% of respondents said it was unsuccessful and just 19% deemed it successful.
Given all the international attention to settlements, the pollsters decided that in this month’s survey they would gauge opinion on this subject.
More Israelis feel that settlements are bad for the state’s interests than those who think they contribute: the figures were 48% and 43% respectively.
Nevertheless, Israelis tend to expect large settlement blocks close to the Green Line to remain part of Israel in any peace settlement (as do most analysts), and therefore 53% of respondents said Israel should not agree to evacuate all settlements, even if a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians hinged on doing so, while 41% said it should.
The figures were very different when it came to illegal outposts and smaller settlements that are among Palestinian towns and villages. Regarding these, just 29% of respondents were against evacuation while 53% were in favor.
Earlier this month, the Bintel Blog reported that Israeli Arabs were overwhelmingly impressed by the achievements of the State of Israel and keen to continue living here. It’s indicative of the increasingly complex identity of Israeli Arabs that new research out shows that the percentages who are prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is taking a sharp downturn.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that two out of every five Israeli Arabs claims that the Holocaust never occurred.
Haifa University’s index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel carries out an annual survey of attitudes among the Israeli Arab public. When it was launched in 2003, 65.6% recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. This year, the percentage dipped to 41%.
The percentage claiming this year that the Holocaust never happened — 41% — is a sharp increase from the 26% who made this claim in the 2006 survey. Some 37% of those denying the Holocaust in this year’s survey are products of post-secondary school and higher education.
In other statistics, 53.7% of Israeli Arabs recognize Israel’s right to exist as an independent state, compared to 81.1% in 2003. Just 56% agree that the right of return of Arab refugees should only be to a future Palestinian state — and not to Israel — compared to 72.2% in 2003.
Some 41.4% said that they participated in the past year in protests, compared to 28.7% who did so in 2003.
Regarding the use of violence, 12.6% support use of all means, including violence, in the struggle to improve their situation, compared to 5.4% in 2003.
The survey also indicated that Israeli Arabs are becoming less enthusiastic about social interaction with Israeli Jews. The percentage opposed to the idea of having a Jewish neighbor has almost doubled since 2003, from 27.2% to 47.3%.
Before loading the buses en route to Capitol Hill, Aipac delegates got a dose of reality with Vice President Biden reminding the pro-Israel activists just what it is the administration believes in.
Biden, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily buy into the Peres–Netanyahu doctrine of moving forward with the peace process without mentioning the term “Palestinian state.” Speaking on the last day of the Aipac policy conference, Biden actually used the term “two-state solution” and went on to say: “You’re not going to like my saying this, but [do] not build more settlements.”
This message is coming not only from the administration. Senator John Kerry, speaking in advance of Biden’s address, made a similar point: “Settlements make it difficult for Israel to protect its own citizens,” said the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But while differences might exist with the administration, one thing is clear: The Israelis felt perfectly at home. President Shimon Peres told the Israeli press that the atmosphere was so warm that “even all the refrigerators in the world could not chill it.”
Maybe it sounds better in Hebrew.
To watch video from the Aipac conference, or to read transcripts of the addresses given there, click here.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox top health official earlier this week said that, within the Jewish state, “swine flu” would be called “Mexican flu.” Perhaps he thought that all the talk of the potentially deadly flu associated with pigs would cause a run on pork chops, bacon and deli-style ham — even though the outbreaks have been having the opposite effect.
But then Mexico’s ambassador to Israel — concerned that his country’s name was being dragged through the pig sty — lodged a formal complaint with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and officials in the Jewish state agreed to refer to the virus by its treif name.
Now its American pork producers who want to rebrand the virus so to reverse the recent, precipitous drop in pork prices, according to Reuters. Their moniker of choice: North American flu.
Take that, North America!
The Reuters story also reports:
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was also talk of stripping the “swine” from swine flu, which CDC acting director Richard Besser said was leading to the misapprehension that people can catch the disease from pork.
“That’s not helpful to pork producers. That’s not helpful to people who eat pork. It’s not helpful to people who are wondering, how can they get this infection,” Besser told a briefing.
In other Jewish flu-related news, four of the six Israelis who were thought to have been infected with swine flu — or whatever you want to call it — have tested negative for the disease.
And the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel issued a press release, relating that its division of education affairs had provided its 600-plus educational institutions with “a question-and-answer sheet prepared by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a sample letter to parents, prepared by the New York State Education Department.”
These documents, the release made clear, are “easily modifiable for use by yeshivos across the country.”
During an interview Sunday with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” King Abdullah of Jordan said that all of the problems in the Middle East stem from the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told a seemingly incredulous Gregory:
Unless we solve the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab challenges, then we will always be an area of instability that costs all of us. … Any crisis you want to talk about — whether it’s Al Qaeda, Iraq Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan — all comes back to the sore, the emotional issue that is Palestine and Jerusalem. … What is Al Qaeda’s platform? It’s the plight of the Palestinians and Jerusalem.”
A portion of King Abdullah’s interview can be seen below:
Two musical hit makers are on their way to Israel.
“Hallelujah” singer Leonard Cohen has announced he will perform in the Tel Aviv area on September 24 as part of his ongoing world tour, which is currently winding its way through North America. Details have yet to be announced, but the musician and poet may perform at Ramat Gan Stadium, with the appearance following the cancellation of a concert in the country last year. Cohen’s previous audiences include Israeli soldiers, for whom he performed during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Also headed to Israel is Macy Gray, a Grammy winner for her 1999 hit “I Try.” The singer will be the only non-Israeli to perform at a festival honoring students and the city of Jerusalem. The concert will take place May 20 in the city, and follows three performances Gray gave in Tel Aviv last summer. The singer also performed at the Caesarea Amphitheater nine years ago.
The Queen Bee of American TV interviewers has opened up about her Jewish background and impressions of the Middle East’s most influential leaders.
In an interview published today in Yediot Aharonot, Barbara Walters describes the late Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan as a “brilliant and extraordinary” man, and says she wishes she could catch up socially with Rachel Dayan, his wife, more often.
The veteran ABC newswoman said one of her greatest political interviews — a joint Q&A with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat — was actually Begin’s idea, and that Sadat agreed only after the Israeli leader “personally requested” it during Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem.
Other interviews in the region had a less amiable feel, Walters said, recalling how conversations a few years earlier with Sadat, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had to be broadcast on different nights as a precondition for the interviews.
Arafat in particular could be a challenge: Walters remembers the PLO leader without affection, recalling his “habit of saying one thing to American journalists and something completely different to his people, the Palestinian people — though I never let out my anger or dissatisfaction during interviews with him.”
Born to non-practicing Jews in Brookline, Mass., Walters said she “never had a desire to travel to Israel” but found the country “amazing” when she arrived there on business. “Many people in the world would change their minds about Israel if they were to visit, to experience its tiny size and understand the region in which it’s located. When you look at a map, you don’t have an understanding of the reality,” she said.
Speaking of maps, if Walters could sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, she’d “present him with 10 facts about the Holocaust and ask him to respond,” she said. “If he said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map, I’d ask him how he wanted to erase an entire nation, millions of women and children.”
Although she’s racked up decades of experience, Walters is not necessarily a great interview herself, Yediot Aharonot writer Yaniv Halili noted. “She tends to answer questions with questions,” he reports, “despite the fact that she, the queen of interviews, knows that nothing is more annoying.”
Three questions created by the installation of the new government:
1). Just how hawkish will it be?
Everyone has had their crack at answering this question, but the most notable attempt must be that of the London-based Guardian. It got so carried away that it ended up printing this correction in today’s paper: “In an article headed Netanyahu ready to take charge as wrangling ends, 31 March, page 19, we said that Avigdor Lieberman and Binyamin Netanyahu were reported to have struck a deal last week to build 3,000 new settlements around East Jerusalem. In fact, the alleged deal involves 3,000 new housing units.”
2). Can you trust what Netanyahu has to say?
How the public loves it when a politician’s words come back to bite him, and that is just the spectacle we are seeing at the moment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done exactly what he has been dead against in the past, namely constructing an enormous government.
After giving cabinet posts to everyone he promised during coalition agreements there are 30 ministers, eight deputies, and new furniture in the cabinet room to accommodate everyone. In fact, it is the biggest government in Israeli history.
When Olmert built a 25-member cabinet Netanyahu described it as wasteful to an unprecedented degree.
He went on to strongly support a bill to cap the government at 18 ministers.
One of the instigators of this move was Likud lawmaker Gideon Saar who is now education minister. At the time, Saar said, “The cost of appointing so many ministers constitutes a waste of public funds at the expense of essential needs.”
3). Mission (allegedly) accomplished, will one of the nation’s favorite newspapers fold?
This most unusual question is being discussed in media circles.
Yisrael Hayom (translation: “Israel Today”), founded in 2007 by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has always promoted a right-wing agenda. It has been rumored that he only started the paper to get his friend Netanyahu in to office — a claim given exposure last year in a New Yorker profile of Adelson.
So what now? If it has achieved its aim, will it fold? In interviews this week, Adelson said no.
Even if it does close, its journalists shouldn’t be too worried. After all they did to swing the election, and given the new ethos on cabinet building, they could probably find jobs in Netanyahu’s new cabinet.
As the country is busy speculating whether the brand new Benjamin Netanyahu-led government will end up going to war with Iran, a former member of Iran’s Khomeini government has said that Israelis are over-estimating the life expectancy of the Iranian regime.
“I guarantee that within two years Iran’s regime will collapse,” Ayatollah Dr Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi told an audience at an international conference at Haifa University called “Looking at Iran.”
Khorshidi, who now lives in exile in Los Angeles, was justice minister in Khomeini’s first government and was imprisoned for five years after that for criticizing the regime. He said: “Iran has powers that can stun and even defeat the government. There are other elements that wish to separate state and religion.
“They see that as long as Islamic rule forcibly clings to the government, religion is connected with all that is bad, which harms [the religion]. These elements include religious persons, university lecturers, judges, and members of parliament.” He added: “We need no foreign element to replace the regime for us. We can and must do it alone.” Once the regime is replaced, the Ayatollah predicted, the new government will be on friendly terms with Israel too.
He said of the state of academia and culture in Iran: “Fifty percent of the university openings are reserved for people associated with the government, and in order to be accepted in the remaining places, the candidates must undergo tests that are of political character and not at all related to the study material.
“A respected 106-year-old Ayatollah, who can no longer see or hear, determined that using satellite is forbidden since it provides only sex-related films. For fifteen years, it was forbidden to use video machines, because the religious bodies feared that the youth would use them to view sex films. Thankfully, today the thirty million youths are less interested in the government’s propaganda against the West.”
Khorshidi said that the poor state of the Iranian economy is bad news for the government. “Prices go up twice a day and inflation is higher than 50 percent,” he said. “In the past we have seen despotic regimes that have been able to survive for extended periods, but there the financial situation was reasonable. Due to the impossible financial state of affairs in Iran, along with the youths’ desires, the only thing that preserves the regime is the military – but how long can this situation continue?”
At last we have it. An answer to the million-dollar question: How do you bring Israelis and Palestinians together?
And it is … crime.
A bank in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Ramallah was robbed last week, and the thieves made off with the equivalent of $30,000.
Palestinian police have revealed that of the six thieves, three were Palestinians, two were Israeli Arabs, and one was an Israeli Jew. Now isn’t that just a picture of a harmonious interdenominational group?
Palestinian police Colonel Adnan al-Damiri has reportedly said that the Israeli Jew “was the mastermind of the operation.” He said that coordination between Arabs and Jews could signal a “dangerous” trend in crime.
There is a more legal — though equally quirky — proposal for bringing together Israelis and Palestinians being put forward at the moment.
A group of American and Israeli Frisbee enthusiasts think their sport could be the answer to this region’s troubles.
Ultimate Peace, which they are organizing this week, is an Ultimate Frisbee festival which will bring together disadvantaged youth from Palestinian and Jewish communities from the West Bank and within Israel.
The idea followed a visit to Israel by the American Ultimate Frisbee team, the Matza Balls. During that visit, the team taught Israeli children and promoted the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. The American visitors returned home happy at what they achieved with Israeli youngsters but upset that their game was not being played by Palestinians.
The American Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts are joining forces with Israeli enthusiasts and the Peres Center for Peace to run the event. Gal Peleg, Director of Sports at the Peres Center for Peace, says on the event website: “Sport has an unparalleled ability to overcome barriers of language, politics and religion. Especially a sport like Ultimate Frisbee, which emphasizes fair-play, team cooperation and mutual respect, and offers a unique chance for Israeli and Palestinian youngsters to set aside their differences and work together to achieve a common goal.”
Peleg’s department has produced this video on its ethos of using sport to bridge gaps between communities:
They say that all Israelis reckon they are experts on falafel – where the country’s finest can be found, in what order the pita should be stuffed, which salads deserve to be included. Well that was before sushi arrived. Now that virtually every shopping street in the country has a bar serving up the Japanese delicacy, Israelis have lost interest in the falafel and turned their critical attention to sushi.
So who will take up the mantle as connoisseurs of falafel?
The answer, believe it or not, is the Japanese.
Israel is becoming a hugely popular destination for Japanese tourists. Japan’s most popular travel guide series, Globetrotter, has just revealed that its guides to only one country — Mexico — sell better than guides to Israel. And yes, there is a detailed section on falafel, which Japanese tourists can be seen enjoying and reviewing across Israel.
In fact, the popularity of this guide points to a wider phenomenon that travel to Israel from across East Asia is on the rise. Some 135,000 visitors from East Asia arrived in Israel during 2008, an increase of 20% on 2007 when 112,000 tourists from the region visited.
Israel is keen to encourage the trend. The Tourism Ministry recently opened an office in Beijing.
Back on the subject of eateries, can McDonald’s manage what Starbucks could not — namely to convince Israelis that they want neither Arabic-style “mud” coffee nor European-style espresso-based coffees, but rather American-style drip coffee? Starbucks tried the Israeli market but left. McDonald’s has just announced that it will open its McCafé chain — currently only at Ben Gurion airport — at several locations in Israel.
A Mrs Robinsonesqe trial ended in Israel yesterday. An English teacher from Rehovot was convicted of having a three-month affair with her 17-year-old student.
The teacher in question was found by the court to have regularly driven the student home at the end of the school day and had sex with him in her car, a rented room, or the home of a female friend of the student’s.
The friend took pictures of the two kissing, and rumors spread of the affair. The teacher and her husband were accused of making threats against the friend.
The case was not heard in full as the teacher agreed to a plea bargain, according to which she will plead guilty to having an illicit affair with a minor over 14 and abusing her position as an educator, pay financial compensation to her former lover and his friend, and undertake six months of community service.
The video that has Israel talking this week is, believe it or not, a Bollywood-style musical by the country’s leading weapon’s manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
It has emerged that at Aero India, a trade fair organized last month by India’s Ministry of Defense, Rafael screened a movie of Israeli dancers in Indian costumes singing about how the potential for Indo-Israeli defense trade ties. They are dancing around mock-ups of Rafael’s products.
Bloggers who write on security issues have derided the video. Noah Shachtman, contributing editor at Wired magazine and the editor of its national security blog Danger Room, writes:
Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee from You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who “need(s) to feel safe and sheltered.”
But for my rupees, the worst thing about the video is the damn theme song they’ve concocted for the thing. To pimp its weapons, Rafael produced a sitar-heavy twist on Rick Astley’s love letter to Satan, “Together Forever,” complete with a new chorus: “Dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga dee.” The rest of us now have to suffer for that bad, bad choice.
And how has it gone down in India? The Indian men’s lifestyle portal MensXP.com calls the lyrics “drivel.”
It’s odd that the reception in India was so unkind when Rafael’s research process seems to have been so thorough. “In Israel we have Jewish people from India, so we know about Bollywood and the song and dance numbers,” Assy Josephy, the director of exhibitions for Rafael, told the South Asian defense and strategic affairs site StratPost when asked about the background to the video.
Back as a bored Hebrew school kid in suburban Chicago, I passed the time by staring at the map of Israel that hung on every classroom wall in my synagogue. Although I’d never traveled there, I knew the shape and topography of the country remarkably well — the ironically shrimp-shaped swath of brown, ringed by three pools of blue: the Mediterranean Sea to the West, the Red Sea to the South and the Dead Sea to the East.
So imagine my surprise when, on my first trip to Israel two years ago, I eagerly visited the Dead Sea to find out that it’s gone — or at least shrinking at an unprecedented rate, along with the rest of Israel’s water supply. I felt cheated. All I wanted to do was float about in those intensely salty waters I’d read about my entire life. Instead, my pilgrimage merely introduced me to “Israel’s chronic water problem.”
Luckily, water specialist (er, Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition model), Bar Refaeli, is on the case. According to the blog, Green Prophet:
The [Israeli] Water Authority has recruited [Refaeli] to help educate the public about Israel’s water crisis. [She] will participate in an ad campaign to increase awareness and encourage water conservation practices.
Local actress, Renana Raz, participated in a similar public service announcement, with the catchphrase “Israel is drying out.” You can watch the Hebrew-language clip here (oh, if I had only paid more attention in Hebrew school.)
I can only hope that these efforts prove more effective than PETA’s campaign to use a nude Alicia Silverstone to convince people to be vegetarian.
It’s 10 p.m. in Israel — and the polls are now closed.
Real-time election results by city and sector (Kibbutzim, Bedouin, etc.) can be tracked here.
More than you could feel a palpable interest in the elections on the streets of Israel today, you could feel a strong sense of desperation from parents — huddling in shop doorways sheltering their offspring from rain showers and searching for an activity that would keep them entertained.
Election Day here is a public holiday when schools close and most people are off work. And Israel is not really geared up for rainy days.
So while the counting of the votes has not even begun, we can reveal the real election winner: the indoor entertainment industry. Luring thousands of parents with the promise of fun out of the rain, bowling alleys, children’s play centers and cinemas are enjoying sky-high takings. Many have queues stretching beyond their doors.