Pot, pork, pastrami: You can choose your vice in this week’s quiz, which also happens to include questions about Coke, wine and “Mad Men.” We’re going all Don Draper on you. Or at least Michael Ginsberg.
Take the quiz after the jump.
The following items appeared in the Israeli media this month: Superland, an amusement park outside Tel Aviv, makes a policy of reserving separate days for Israeli Arab high school classes and separate ones for Israeli Jewish classes. A Jewish community pool in the Negev refused to admit a group of Bedouin children with cancer because, in the words of the manager, the patrons have a problem with that “sector.” In a hidden-camera investigation by Channel 10 news, branches of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, refused to allow three out of five Israeli Arab customers to transfer their accounts to a branch in a predominantly Jewish area, while routinely allowing all the Jewish customers to do so.
I have to admit, I am surprised. I didn’t think it was this bad.
I didn’t think the racist practices against Arabs in Israel — not Palestinians in the West Bank, but people who live in “Israel proper” as citizens — were so deeply entrenched. Unless I’m extremely mistaken, this sort of thing doesn’t, couldn’t, go on in the United States, or Canada, or other Western countries that Israel likes to think of as its peers in the democratic world.
No doubt a lot of Jews would say: Israelis have a long history of terror and hatred from Arabs, what do you expect? In return I would say: Arabs have a long history of violent subjugation and hatred from Jews, what do you expect?
But let’s put that duel aside and keep in mind who we’re talking about: Bedouin kids with cancer. Arab youngsters wishing to go to an amusement park. Random Arab adults trying to switch their bank accounts.
Was the weekend rally in New York against Israel’s plans to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews boosted by a prominent rabbi’s forged endorsement?
According to a writer on the Hasidic Yiddish forum KaveShtiebel.com, a letter in support of the Satmar-led demonstration by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the foremost leaders of the Lithuanian Haredi sector, was forged.
The letter, which appeared to be a handwritten note by Kanievsky, was circulated Sunday morning by email and social media and posted to various websites. It reads: “It is an obligation upon all to heed the ruling of the Gedolei Yisroel to protest today against the draft decree.”
The KaveShtiebel writer, who goes by the name “Yeedel,” points to key idiosyncratic phrases in the letter that appear to be lifted from an earlier unrelated letter by the rabbi.
Before Sunday’s event, which was ultimately attended by up to 30,000 people from across the Haredi spectrum, were conflicting reports over Kanievsky’s endorsement, with various letters circulating in his name, some calling on his followers to increase Torah study instead of attending mass rallies. At stake here was whether the event would be seen as a mostly Satmar demonstration, or pull together a broad display of unified solidarity.
An article on the American Haredi website The Yeshiva World was quick to blame Satmar organizers. “The forged letter,” the article says, “speaks values of the organizers act to delude the purpose of the mass protest, especially the desecration of the name of a Godel HaDor, in attempt to deceive the general, non-affiliated and Yeshiva, public to attend the protest.”
According to the Yeshiva World article, Rabbi Kanievsky’s family confirmed that the letter was forged. It is unclear whether the identity of the forger has been identified. Kanievsky himself has apparently not commented on the dispute.
In an unusual show of unity, various streams of ultra-Orthodox Jews joined together June 9 in a massive rally in downtown Manhattan to protest the Israeli government’s recent efforts to draft yeshiva students into the military.
Even the dueling factions within the Satmar Hasidic movement put aside their differences to organize the protest, and the feuding brothers who claim to lead the Satmar, Aharon Teitelbaum and Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, both participated. Organizers said the rally drew 30,000 people, virtually all men, to Foley Square. Other reports put the number at 20,000. The New York City police did not offer their own estimate.
The organizers tried their best to hide any anti-Zionist sentiments and focus only on the anti-draft message during the two-hour rally. Speakers on the stage repeatedly asked the crowd to put away any signs with messages against the State of Israel, and there were at least three cases in which protesters physically took down anti-Zionist signs held up by other protestors.
Yaakov Shapiro, an appointed speaker for the Satmar community, said in an interview with the Forward that even though he himself is anti-Zionist, the goal of the protest was to prevent the universal draft and, in his words, save Israel’s yeshivas.
“The reason why we survived 2,000 years and more, is because of these yeshivas,” said Shapiro. “Nothing else maintains the continuity of the Jewish people. Nothing else maintains our survival. Without the yeshivas we are extinct as a people, and that’s what they are trying to do.”
But the anti-Zionist undercurrent bothered some of the protestors. An Orthodox man from the Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn, who requested that his name not be published, said he came to the rally because he agreed with the general message, but he felt very uncomfortable with the anti-Zionist signs he saw.
The tables were well and truly turned at the Western Wall this morning, as the Israeli Police, which until this spring detained women holding communal prayers, executed a mass operation to protect them and facilitate their worship.
Until April 25, the police treated the monthly gatherings by the feminist alliance Women of the Wall as illegal, and as a result detained its members. However, on that date a Jerusalem district court ruled that this interpretation of the law wasn’t correct.
As a result, at their service a month ago, they were allowed to hold their communal prayers. However, the scene was chaotic, with large numbers of Haredi protestors doing much to disturb the prayers, and some of them throwing projectiles at the women.
At today’s service, however, the scene was very different. Haredi leaders, keen to for their community to avoid the bad press it received a month ago, and instructed youngsters to keep away, in a bid to keep hotheads at bay. But the biggest difference was the punctilious organization by police, who took their obligation to protect the women exceedingly seriously.
While just a couple of months ago it was the objectors to Women of the Wall who had the upper hand at the Wall, today, they were kept away from much of the women’s section as WOW gathered. Police escorted women in to the prayer area from their buses. If you hadn’t arrived on a bus, officers asked where you were going, and only if you were participating with WOW were you allowed near their gathering. The officers covered a special walkway with tarpaulin, so that WOW participants couldn’t be seen by Haredi demonstrators — and in a worst-case scenario of object being throw wouldn’t be harmed.
Writer, editor and artist Rachel Abrams died June 7 of stomach cancer, at age 62.
Abrams came from a noted neo-conservative family that included her mother, Midge Decter, a founder of the Project for a New American Century; her stepfather and longtime Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, and her husband, political scientist and diplomat Elliott Abrams. Abrams’ brother, John Podhoretz, is the current editor of Commentary.
She was a board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel and maintained a blog, “Bad Rachel,” that was critical of liberal thinkers and American Middle East policy. Her work also appeared in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Commentary and The Weekly Standard.
An email to the members of Ansche Chesed synagogue on the Upper West Side included this remembrance from John Podhoretz:
Rachel was many things—a writer of great power, a visual artist and sculptor of immense talent, an editor of remarkable delicacy. She spent her teenage years wandering around the Upper West Side of Manhattan…barefoot, in preparation for the three years she would spend on Kibbutz Machanaynim in the 1970s. She was tough minded and tender-hearted, and her passions were her children, her husband, her family, the United States, Israel, the Yankees, Anna Karenina, mystery novels and the Cooking Network. She was surrounded in her last days by her beloved family–husband Elliott, children Jake and Nani and Joey, children-in-law Hannah and Gaby and Josh, by me and her sisters Naomi Decter and Ruthie Blum and by her parents, Midge and Norman Podhoretz.
Like many urban legends, the myth — and now mess — of the Jewish National Fund’s supposed agreement to pay former President Bill Clinton $500,000 in charitable funds to speak for 45 minutes to an exclusive group of Israeli dinner guests began with an incorrect press report — which then got repeated until it was “fact.”
On May 31, Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli Minister of Education, published an opinion piece on-line in Haaretz in which he informed his readers that Clinton would be the keynote speaker at a gala dinner to be held in honor of Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Peres Academic Center on June 17. The dinner, a celebration of Peres’s 90th birthday, was to be an exclusive event for a select list of invitees, Sarid wrote. And each guest would be required to donate $828 to the Peres Academic Center’s scholarship program.
Infuriated by the high cost, Sarid, who was himself an invitee, made some phone calls, and learned that Clinton’s 45-minute speech would cost a half a million dollars, to be paid to Clinton’s charitable foundation. He also heard from his sources that the Jewish National Fund, a co-sponsor of the exclusive gala event, would be paying Clinton’s fee.
Now Sarid was even more angry. Why was the JNF, an organization created to collect money from Jewish donors to build and improve the state of Israel, using its funds to enrich Clinton’s philanthropy, with its quite separate charitable agenda? Effie Shtenzler, chairman of JNF-Israel, had no clear answers for Sarid when the latter called asking about this. So Sarid published his op-ed, and the story exploded.
Over the next few days, other media outlets, including the Times of Israel and Yedioth Ahranot, crucified the JNF for supposedly betraying its mission and misleading donors.
It was only later that follow-up reporting by the Forward and others clarified what really occurred.
When the Forward contacted JNF’s New York office, which collects donations from American Jews and transfers them to JNF-Israel, the New York office explained, a bit beseechingly, that it was a separately incorporated U.S. affiliate and was not responsible for any decisions made by JNF-Israel.
But when we contacted JNF-Israel officials they, too, passed the buck, so to speak. The officials admitted that JNF-Israel had, indeed, signed on as a co-sponsor of the gala event at the Peres Academic Center. But they insisted, “The Peres Academic Center… invited [Clinton], came to financial terms with him and paid him, a long time before [JNF-Israel] were part of it.”
And that turned out to be the case. Officials with the Peres Academic Center, a small, relatively little known social science school in Rehovot, confirmed to the Forward that, yes, they were the ones who had engaged Clinton and were putting up the cash.
But the saga was far from over. When Peres learned through the press reports that what was supposed to be an evening to honor him was doubling as a fundraiser, he announced he would not attend since Israeli regulations prohibit him from participating in money raising events. The Peres Academic Center (which is named after Peres but is not related to him in any way) realized its blunder. You could not very well have an evening in honor of President Peres without President Peres. So the school retreated from the idea of the event doubling as fundraiser, and announced all invitees would now enter for free.
In other words, the school is now eating its costs for bringing in Clinton, leaving its donors, perhaps, as the ones who should be asking tough questions.
But thanks to the original erroneous press reports, that was not enough to get JNF off the hook. As the criticism went global and reached potential donors worldwide, JNF announced this afternoon that it was backing out of any participation in the gala event. It would therefore take back from the Peres Academic Center any funds that it had already provided for the event.
Bottom line: The Peres Academic Center, with JNF as a co-sponsor, tried to dance at two weddings simultaneously — honor President Peres and raise funds for its own purposes. Media found out and lambasted JNF, while basically ignoring the Peres Academic Center. JNF backed out and left the school with a reported bill of half a million dollars. And Yossi Sarid will be able to hear President Clinton’s speech for free.
Will Walmart’s arrival spell the end of Kensington Market, the quirky, vibrant Toronto neighborhood that housed most of the city’s Jews in the early 20th century?
Locals think so. And more than 40,000 of them have signed a Change.org petition urging the city to reject a property developer’s proposal for a three-story mall whose anchor tenant would be the Arkansas-based big-box retailer.
Walmart would abut a neighborhood of narrow streets where mom-and-pop shops still hawk nuts from buckets outside storefronts, and fishmongers and cheese merchants do a thriving trade. New arrivals like artisan food purveyor Thomas Lavers Cannery & Deli – whose locavore wares include house-made pickles and pastas – have also contributed to a mini-resurgence of the market as foodie hotspot.
“Don’t let a Walmart and 3-story shopping mall destroy Kensington Market,” reads the Change.org headline. It’s not hyperbole, says Jennifer Herszman Capraru, a theater director and a leader of Friends of Kensington Market, the ad-hoc group behind the petition.
“Toronto is becoming zombies in condo hell. Kensington Market is one of the last bastions of alternative community in the downtown core,” said Capraru, a Montreal native and daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
“Kensington Market is one of the oldest open-air markets dating from the turn of the century still existing in North America,” Capraru said. “When you shop here, you support a family. The money stays in Kensington. Walmart will be taking capital out of our community and investing it in a multinational corporation.”
Marion Kane, a veteran Toronto food journalist and Kensington Market local, is even more emphatic. “WalMart is a store that keeps its prices low through exploitation of its employees and of the workers in poor countries who toil in sweatshops in dangerous conditions,” she told the Forward. “Walmart buys on such a huge scale that they can undercut virtually anyone but especially small, independent retailers such as those that have been the heart and soul of Kensington Market for more than a century.”
A rare joint rally sponsored by both of the dueling factions within the Satmar Hasidic movement could bring upwards of 20,000 protesters to downtown Manhattan this Sunday, according to Satmar insiders.
The Satmar factions, led by two warring brothers who each claim the title of rebbe, rarely cooperate. Yet activist supporters of both sides are said to be in the final stages of negotiating a deal to both endorse the same massive protest against Israeli efforts to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli military.
A committee within the Israeli Knesset agreed on draft legislation early this week that sets quotas for the number of ultra-Orthodox men expected to join the military, and raises the possibility of criminal penalties for draft dodgers.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States and in Israel oppose the draft. While Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States are not Israeli citizens, and would not be subject to the draft, many have close family and communal ties in Israel. Young ultra-Orthodox men from the United States often study at yeshivas in Israel, institutions that they worry would be shuttered if their Israeli counterparts are drafted.
Followers of Aron Teitelbaum, the Kiryas Joel-based Satmar rebbe, first called the protest, which is permitted to begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Manhattan’s Foley Square. Followers of Zalman Teitelbaum, his Brooklyn-based brother, then offered to lend their support. Negotiations are reportedly ongoing.
Assuming the deal between the Satmar factions is finalized, and assuming other ultra-Orthodox groups join in as expected, attendance could surpass 20,000 people, according to one activist follower of Aron Teitelbaum. Without Zalman’s support, the follower estimated an attendance of 10,000 people.
Last May, the support of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, including Zalman Teitelbaum but not Aron Teitelbaum, drew 40,000 Orthodox Jews to an anti-Internet rally at CitiField in Queens.
Welcome back to the Forward’s weekly news quiz! It’s time to think about diamonds, dementia and the fifth edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Which may include a name for people who think about diamonds, dementia and diagnoses.) Also: Think about Michael Cera. Are you sure you’re thinking about Michael Cera?
When Israeli female soldiers get saucy, some Israelis can’t help but applaud. Columnist Halleli Jabotinsky published newly surfaced photographs on her blog, and declared that they actually performed an “important service” by humanizing the Israeli military and also looked “cute.”
In the photographs, which went viral in social media, new recruits exposed their thongs under their uniform, and in a separate image posed in helmets and a tiny amount of combat equipment.
The military has disciplined them, but over at Haaretz Allison Kaplan Sommer has some sympathy for them as young women “who don’t necessarily have any desire or natural aptitude life in the military, but are doing their duty, and decided to relieve the boredom in a silly way.” She wrote: “If these girls were living the life their American peers, they’d be just another bunch of airheaded sorority sisters pushing the limits of good taste on Facebook. Sure, their campus might be buzzing about them, but the Washington Post and New York Times wouldn’t be into their business.”
But army bases aren’t the same as university campuses, and anybody who cuts these girls slack for their very feminine prank should check that there isn’t some patronizing gender-politick at work.
Jabotinsky’s views, which are common, are underpinned by a chauvinistic attitude towards female soldiers. She would have us believe that they should be applauded for looking good, and that they did well by illustrating to the world that girls, even in the IDF, will be girls. The subtext is: What do you expect from women; leave the real soldier-work — the serious stuff — to the men. But in the army rules are rules, uniforms aren’t to be sexualized for public consumption on social media, and nobody should praise soldiers for doing so — even if they think, as Jabotinsky does, that it ultimately gives the IDF a good image.
I appreciate Hillel Halkin’s passionate response to a cartoon that supports the boycott of Israel, promotes anti-Semitism, and advocates a viewpoint that he insists must not be permitted in a Jewish newspaper.
Unfortunately, that is not the cartoon I drew.
My cartoon pilloried the absurdity and intellectual vacuity of hasbara, the public relations effort by Israel and its supporters to disseminate the Israeli point of view. It was a satire of chauvinistic Jewish discourse on the issue of Israel in light of the recent uproar against Stephen Hawking, and it made no comment either for or against what Halkin calls “the Israel boycott movement.”
To be sure, Halkin alludes to the actual content of my cartoon in order to summarily dismiss it, insisting that the most jingoistic critiques of Hawking — particularly of the “He Should Discard His Israeli-Made Intel Voice Chip” variety — were fringe and marginal. Hillel Halkin’s claim is not supported by fact. But having made this claim, he goes on to insist that my cartoon can only be read as a championing of boycotts. “It is a pro-boycott cartoon,” Halkin concludes about a satire of contemporary Jewish debate.
If Halkin would prefer to discuss the boycott movement rather than a cartoon about hasbara, he might be surprised to learn that I am not an advocate of boycotting Israel for the same reason that I am not an advocate of censoring items from Jewish newspapers based on ideological filters. I have faith in open discourse, I have confidence in the capacity of people to reason and grapple with opinions they might not agree with, and I feel that when we start outlawing the free exchange of ideas, we sacrifice much more than a single cultural exchange or cartoon.
Contemporary Skopje is a slightly strange place.
The nationalistic Macedonian government has been throwing money at the capital city in an attempt at beautification, since 80% of Skopje was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963 and had been refashioned in the communistic style with wide avenues and high-rise concrete apartment blocks.
The new chosen style, however, is a decidedly kitsch and neo-classical one — colonnades, colossal statues, and a triumphal arch — making for a disjointed and somewhat vulgar finish.
But across from the bronze sculpture of Philip II of Macedon, and set back from the river behind the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, is the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia.
Right in the centre of Skopje, this dedicated museum inaugurated in 2011 remains the only one of its type in the Balkans, and with its prominent location it places the story of Macedonian Jewry at the heart of the history of the city and the nation.
There has been a Jewish presence in Macedonia since the Roman imperial period, but mass settlement commenced during the 16th century, a consequence of the exodus of Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492. Arriving in Greece and Salonika in particular, Jewish populations made home in large urban centres throughout the Balkans, including Sofia, Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Split. In Macedonia, Jewish life centred on Bitola in the south, as well as Shtip and Skopje.
Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun says he is “trying everything to play in the MLS next season” ahead of the Israeli national team’s soccer friendly against Honduras in New York on Sunday, June 2. The game, Israel’s first in New York for over 35 years, will take place at Citi Field, after the annual Celebrate Israel parade.
The English Premier League star, who won a Europa League champions medal with London giants Chelsea this season, said that he is currently in talks with several clubs. His contract expires in June and “playing in America is one of my favorite options and I am trying everything to find a team in the MLS.”
The Israeli national team captain, and former Liverpool and Arsenal player, denied that his wishes to leave the English Premier League are a result of his being a repeated target of anti-Semitic hate speech on Twitter from British fans, saying that he thinks “the whole issue was exaggerated.” Benayoun continued to say that “there are racist people all over the world, even in Israel, and I don’t pay attention to those people no matter where I play.”
Had Jack Lebewohl of the legendary 2nd Ave Deli been competing yesterday in the final round of 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee, he would have lost to the winner, 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali. The Jewish food maven would have misspelled the winning word: ‘knaidel’.
“The thing is, we spell it k-n-e-i-d-e-l,” the deli man said in reference to the Jewish dumpling and Yiddish word for matzo ball, that was the winning word. He’s not sure how the judges could have been sure that Mahankali spelled the word correctly, when “there’s no Webster’s Dictionary for the spelling of Yiddish words.” (Though there is the widely accepted YIVO style, which spells it kneydl.)
‘Knaidel’ or ‘kneidel’, Lebewohl says it’s all good. He likened the difference in spellings to the differences in Yiddish pronunciations between Galicianers and Litvaks. “It’s also like how Polish Jews like their gefilte fish sweet, and the Hungarians like it with more pepper,” he said.
For Lebewohl, the elevation of the modest Jewish dumpling to the status of winning national spelling bee word essentially signifies that Yiddish is truly entering the vernacular. “Non-Jews in New York use Yiddish words all the time,” he said as he recalled how Al D’Amato unfortunately called Charles Schumer a “putzhead” during the 1998 New York senatorial race.
Newly minted New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner dodged a question at a mayoral debate last night on the controversial Jewish circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh.
The practice, which entails direct oral suction on an infant’s circumcised penis, has been blamed in a handful of cases of herpes. The city’s health department, under the urging of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has instituted a regulation requiring parents to sign a consent form indicating that they are aware of the risk of herpes transmission before the practice can take place.
The Democratic mayoral candidates have previously mostly said that they support the regulation.
Weiner, when asked about his position on the consent forms at a forum in Manhattan Beach, didn’t address the question directly.
“For me, it comes down to my values as someone who believes in the ethos of New York, and part of that ethos of New York is we all come from different places, we bring different cultures, we bring different ideas,” Weiner said.
In his response, Weiner also cited a 2005 Forward report from his previous run for mayor in which he said that he opposed city regulation of the practice.
“It is not the place of the department of health to be deciding on a religious practice,” he told the Forward at the time.
Horace Mann alumni like me got emails in our in-boxes a few days ago and soon thereafter, the news was splashed everywhere: our alma mater had officially apologized. The school apologized for the many instances of child abuse, sexual assault and worse that journalists have revealed as occurring in its classrooms, hallways and teacher’s homes.
One thing the administration didn’t do? Commission the investigation sought after by survivors.
This latter failure isn’t surprising. As I noted when the story first broke, institutions — unless pressed extremely hard — always close ranks and do the bare minimum needed to concede wrongdoing. And schools are particularly funny as institutions go. They purportedly exist to serve students, but students move through them, out of them, away.
After this transient population moves on, what’s left is the “good name” of the institution, the institution’s staff and leadership, and most importantly its money. Even the buildings don’t always remain, at least not on the campuses of New York private schools, which have raced to outbuild each other in absurd ways. Private education can be great, but it has a bottom line.
And the bottom line means that the stewards of places like Horace Mann will be invested in brushing off the taint of scandal, of criminality. They are always looking to return the focus to their students’ impressive Ivy League acceptance rates, well-equipped classrooms and gleaming buildings.
Hence, the apology without an investigation, sent out on the Friday before a holiday weekend, when it would have the least-possible impact.
There is no shortage of people willing to take a credit for the Soviet Jewry movement. Take it from me. I know this to be true. While on tour with my book, I don’t remember a single reading where someone in the audience didn’t chew me out about why their Uncle Murray wasn’t included in the story and that he – he! – was the true savior of the Soviet Jews.
But there is one person who has never really taken a bow for all she did to inspire the movement and keep it going: Avital Sharansky, wife of the imprisoned refusenik, Anatoly (now Natan), who was wrongfully accused of being a CIA agent in 1977 and sentenced to 13 years in prison and labor camps. Throughout the years of Sharansky’s imprisonment, Avital traveled the world on his behalf, leading demonstrations, meeting with world leaders, appearing at rallies next to the likes of Charlton Heston and Joan Baez. Telegenic, emotional, and possessing a particular charisma, Avital was even dubbed by Washington Post columnist, Sally Quinn, “the Israeli Audrey Hepburn.”
But in February 1986, Sharansky was freed and Avital immediately retreated from the public eye. As ubiquitous as she seemed for so many years, she suddenly went silent, fulfilling, presumably, the dream she had articulated again and again – to make a home, raise children, live a quiet life.
Until last night. After almost three decades of refusing any honors or plaudits, Avital was given the Emma Lazarus award by the American Jewish Historical Society. The evening was an opportunity to highlight her unique role in the movement and – most movingly – to hear her voice again.
Greetings! This week’s quiz takes us off on a hot date and then plunges into debt with a high-flying company that tanked. Plus we visit Milan for a treat, Senegal for a surprise and Brooklyn for a scare — and not just from the apartment prices. Take our quiz!
Last weekend, I was detained for 10 hours and then deported back to the U.S. after flying to Panama for a weeklong vacation. I’m starting to get over the sheer frustration about the experience, which was caused by a Panamanian rule that visitors must have at least three months on their passports to gain entry to the country. In truth, it was my fault for not knowing the rules of the country I hoped to visit.
Frustration aside, it was a learning experience for me. Ironically, I’m in the midst of promoting a campaign to get the Israeli government to release African asylum seekers from detention, where they are being indefinitely imprisoned without any chance of applying for refugee status. The campaign is called Release Now!
During my hours in detention in Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport, I saw some things that really made me angry. I was treated particularly well in comparison to everyone else in detention. But that was obviously because I was able to lobby for my rights; and also because I kept mentioning that I’m a human rights activist. Thus, I was allowed to get food twice and to make phone calls three times, while others were not given such privileges.
What upset me most was the treatment of black men from Africa and elsewhere who were the majority of detainees — a potent reminder of the racism they face around the world, including in Israel.
There was one man from South Africa who was actually a Somali with full refugee status in South Africa. He worked in the tourism industry and was being sent to Panama by his company for two weeks. He had visited the Panamian consulate in South Africa and they had given him permission and documentation to enter the country. The authorities at the airport chose to deport him but did not explain why.
Another man from Haiti did not understand that he was being taken to a hotel overnight and then deported the next day. He only spoke French.