Eliad Cohen is Israel’s top gay icon / Haaretz
Some people visit Israel for the holy sites. Some visit Israel as a political statement. Some visit Israel because they think Israelis are “hot.”
Disagree? Well, the Israeli Tourism Ministry and City of Tel Aviv do not. Recently, Israel’s economic capital held a Winter Gay Festival advertised using not just a sand-snowman, but also posters and videos replete with muscular Israeli men, armed with bursting biceps in tank tops. You could be forgiven for thinking Israel was advertising the virility of its menfolk, from both the posters and admiring European tourists on the city’s beaches this winter.
This trend is not just a one-time fluke. Witness the various posters and advertisements it has produced replete with the images of the strong, muscular, Israeli men of the IDF, or the beautiful women of Tel Aviv’s beaches. Of course, many countries use the attractive bodies of their citizens to invite tourists — but in many ways, this effort for Israel is political as well: it is sexy hasbara.
It is no secret that a certain type of hasbara operates below the belt buckles of Jews and Gentiles alike from Brooklyn to Birobidzhan. From the shirtless, muscular frat brothers in Birthright ads to the landscapes of bikini-clad female combat soldiers in the IDF, Israel not infrequently uses its sex appeal to garner support. The goal? Well, it seems to be that if enough people have “hot” associations with Israel, they will then support its government’s actions.
Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan / Doron Matalon Instagram
Life sure is hard when you’re a contestant at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to wowing the judges with your swimsuit, your evening gown and your talent, you also have to be constantly on the lookout for quick-footed, iPhone-toting Israeli beauty queens who are dead-set on squeezing themselves into a selfie with you.
Or at least that’s what Miss Lebanon Saly Greige would have us believe.
The Lebanese contestant is accusing Miss Israel Doron Matalon of photobombing her, after a picture of the two beauty queens smiling side-by-side circulated on social media, causing an uproar in Lebanon. Because Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, some Lebanese saw the selfie as evidence that Greige was consorting with the enemy, and called for her to be stripped of her title. Here’s how Greige defended herself on Instagram:
“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.”
Did Miss Israel really photobomb Miss Lebanon, or is that just Greige’s excuse?
Yair Lapid (Getty Images); Moshe Kahlon (Facebook
When Yair Lapid skyrocketed to the top of Israeli politics during the last election campaign in 2013, he did it by positioning himself as the most “hevrati” (socio-economically conscious) candidate. He and his party, Yesh Atid, capitalized on the momentum of the “tent protests” that brought half a million Israelis to the streets to fight the rising cost of living. By speaking to this middle-class frustration, Yesh Atid wound up with 19 seats and the Finance, Education, Welfare and Health portfolios.
Now, less than two years later, Yesh Atid has fallen from both grace and the governing coalition, and Israel’s exhausted middle-class has understood that its hope was misplaced. But while Israel’s socio-economic problems are worse than ever, Israelis still want someone to hope with — and this time around, it’s Moshe Kahlon.
Born into a Mizrahi family in a working-class neighborhood in Hadera, Kahlon rose to fame as communications, and later as welfare, minister in Bibi Netanyahu’s second term when he successfully broke the Israeli cell phone cartel, slashing prices by up to 90%. He surprised many by bowing out of politics in late 2012, though there was widespread speculation that he was planning an electoral bid. While Kahlon wound up sitting out the last round of elections, he finally founded his new party, Kulanu (All of Us), last year.
Kulanu’s campaign is heavily based on Kahlon’s reputation as both “social-friendly” and untarnished by the corruption scandals that regularly sweep Israeli politics. According to a recent survey of the Israeli public by the Jerusalem Post and Maariv, Kahlon is the “least corrupt” of the major candidates and best at handling socioeconomic issues. It comes as no surprise, then, that Kulanu is quickly becoming the Yesh Atid of 2015.
But the reality of Kahlon’s record tells quite a different story.
(JTA) — The deadly hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris has French Jews (and some non-Jews) proclaiming “Je suis juif,” or “I am Jewish,” in solidarity with the four people killed in the attack.
Who are the Jews of France? Here’s a primer.
About 500,000, the most of any European nation and more than any other country in the world except for Israel and the United States.
France is home to some 66 million people; about 80 percent of them are Catholic. There are also between 5 million and 6 million Muslims, with many tracing their roots back to the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey.
BBC journalist Tim Willcox / Screenshot
Tim Willcox’s question was heinous in and of itself. In the midst of a BBC interview with an Israeli resident of Paris and daughter of Holocaust survivors, who had been talking about Jewish suffering in Europe, the journalist ventured: “But many critics of Israel’s policy would say that the Palestinians have suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” This, before the bodies of the four innocents killed in the terror attacks on a kosher market in Paris had even been buried.
Why did Willcox feel the need to ask this question, to bring Israel into the discussion and at the same time invoke the canard of Jewish collective responsibility for actions of the Israeli state? Political commentators and Israeli watchdog organizations have pointed out that Willcox has a record of missteps when it comes the Jewish question. Discussing a story on the BBC News channel on Jewish donors to the Labour Party, while guests talked about “the Jewish lobby,” Willcox suggested unprompted that “a lot of these prominent Jewish faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”
More convincingly, in a widely shared article in The Spectator, Nick Cohen deems the notion that “Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined” to be “the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice.”
Ignorance is certainly a contributing factor — people seem to have short memories (actually, no memory at all) when it comes to Jewish history — but it’s not the predominant one. What Willcox seemed to be trying to do was provide, in a crass, idiotic, and insensitive way, balance in a situation where none was required. In doing so, and in particular by mentioning Israel, he unintentionally highlighted what can be a problem with the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at the Grand Synagogue in Paris / Getty Images
I’ve got two immediate and possibly contradictory takeaways from the news that French President Francois Hollande asked Benjamin Netanyahu not to appear at the unity rally that took place in Paris on Sunday.
Let’s first look at the reasons Hollande reportedly gave. The French president, according to Haaretz (with information that has now been confirmed by the prime minister’s office), wanted the march to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and hoped to avoid anything that might distract from that message, “like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Bibi apparently embodied that distraction.
So it’s come to this, all Israel’s PR efforts notwithstanding. The Israeli prime minister can no longer represent anything in Europe other than conflict — as opposed to being just another head of state, he stands for discord, his presence a provocation. If they didn’t already have confirmation of this fact, Israelis can truly say goodbye to that Zionist objective of being a normal people in a normal country.
That’s the first lesson. Whether you think Israel has brought this upon itself or that it is being judged by a grossly unfair double standard, when the Israeli prime minister is asked not to attend a march celebrating solidarity with Western values because his presence would be an irritant, there’s a problem.
The other lesson, though, is: So what?
Hollande was wrong not to invite Bibi because, for one thing, it’s at crisis moments like these that attitudes can shift. Bibi needs to see that he has more to gain from celebrating these Western values, joining the international community and not grasping an excuse to simply skulk off and declare himself and Israel the victim once again. Hollande made the same mistake by not inviting Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, who was able to gain even more political capital out of this victim status, and in the long run hurt Hollande’s vaunted cause of “unity.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at kosher grocery store in Paris / Getty Images
Israelis are having a hilarious time mocking their prime minister’s visit to Paris, with ironic tweets and Hebrew Facebook statuses galore.
For those who haven’t been following the story, Netanyahu crashed the national solidarity event despite President Hollande’s explicit request that he stay at home. Then, after the VIP reception at the Elysee Palace, cameras for a local media outlet caught him elbowing aside a female French minister as he tried to jump the queue for the bus that would transport the group to the starting point of the march. Finding himself relegated to the second row at the march itself, he shoved aside the president of Mali and inserted himself in the front row, one down from Hollande himself and within eyesight of Angela Merkel.
Noy Alooshe, the Israeli journalist and musician who became a YouTube sensation with his 2011 remix of Zenga Zenga (spoofing Libya’s then-leader, Muammar Qaddafi), created a new clip spoofing Netanyahu’s Paris antics. Alooshe uses the theme song for Loony Tunes to accompany speeded-up footage of Bibi pushing aside the Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keitar, in order to insert himself in the front row. Perhaps the funniest part is when the Malian leader leaps away from Bibi’s touch as though the latter had a communicable disease. It wouldn’t do, presumably, for the violent Islamists in Mali to see images of the country’s president walking arm-in-arm with the prime minister of the “Zionist entity.”
Just a few leaders down the front row was Mahmoud Abbas, standing near King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan. Did he and Bibi exchange meaningful glances? After all, the Palestinian leader’s presence was salt in the wound for Netanyahu, who insisted on coming despite Hollande’s request that he stay home. But Bibi got his own back: in the photograph tweeted from his official account, all but Abbas’s right ear is cropped out of the frame.
I marched in one row with world leaders in order to unite against terrorism. Any terrorism must be fought to the end pic.twitter.com/X5oFg5r3cB— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) January 11, 2015
Relatives mourn during the funeral for Emanuel and Miriam Riva in Tel Aviv, Israel / Getty Images
I spent my weekend glued to the television. Even if I’d tried, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off the images of Paris: that kosher supermarket and that video of a policeman on the ground getting shot in cold blood that played over and over again on all the Israeli channels.
Perhaps the reason why it deeply touched me is because I work in television news and I live through such events way more intensely than other people. Or perhaps it’s because France is the country I grew up in from age 11 to 18. It’s where I got my elementary and high school education, and it’s the place I called home up until five years ago.
Since I moved back to my real homeland, Israel, I admit that I have distanced myself from France. Not all my memories from there were good. But still, much of who I am today I owe to France and French people. Seeing their sorrow, their horror and their pain made me feel close again.
Israelis have always felt misunderstood by the French, as far as I can tell. After September 11, many said that countries like France would only begin to understand what Israelis go through on a daily basis after something like that happened to them.
Well, many are now describing the events of the past week as France’s own September 11. But today, no Israeli thinks for a second that gaining that understanding was worth the cost of 17 lives.
(Haaretz) — Just as you can sometimes identify Israeli tourists abroad by their loud voices, poor manners and gauche behavior, none of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who watched Sunday’s Paris rally on television had any problem locating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: smack in the middle of world leaders at the front of the marchers.
The terms that constitute guiding principles for the French people – façon and finesse – suffered their own terror attack on Sunday. There was nothing further from Parisian manners, refinement and style than the behavior of Netanyahu. Or maybe as he should now be called, Grayshirt Bibi.
Such behavior as cutting in line, sneaking onto the bus by pushing and shoving, using elbows to get to the front at some event is so Israeli, so us, so Likud Party Central Committee, that I want to shout: Je suis Bibi!
Photo by Naomi Zeveloff
As a million people gathered in today’s Paris march, French Jewish immigrants stood in solidarity with their co-religionists abroad, first at a post-Sabbath rally outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv and then on Sunday at Jerusalem’s City Hall.
Hundreds of French Jews gathered in a conference room for the Jerusalem event, which began with a somber reading of the names of those killed in the attacks over the past week. Audience members held “Je Suis Charlie” signs as well as placards in Hebrew that read “Israel is Charlie” and, most creatively, “Tzar li,” a play on the name Charlie that means “I’m hurting.” The pun was a perfect way for Israelis to express empathy for French Jews and the painful experience they have just lived through.
As Israeli leaders made their way to Paris today to march in solidarity with the victims of last week’s attacks, the Jewish Agency was doing double duty by recruiting French Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Hundreds of Jews attended a Paris “aliyah fair” that had been planned before the attacks. About 1% of France’s Jewish population of 500,000 has already immigrated to Israel. Last year, 7,000 French Jews made aliyah, double the number that had come the previous year. After the attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to increase efforts to bring European Jews to Israel.
At the Jerusalem rally, French Jews in attendance felt mixed on the idea that French Jews should move to Israel for their own safety.
(JTA) — Before the HarperCollins Middle East atlas story is deleted from email inboxes, it pays to spend another moment ruminating on the damage caused by companies that ought to know better.
On its website, HarperCollins bills itself as “one of the world’s leading English-language publishers.” It has a storied brand and a list of top-notch authors going back some 200 years. It markets books in more than 150 countries on a wide range of subjects and boasts of having had 400 best-sellers in the past fiscal year.
Among its offerings in 2014 was the Collins Middle East Atlas, which was sold to schools in the Middle East. Atlases are usually reference works, not consulted for daily reading but good to have on the shelf when needed. This edition omitted Israel from maps in the Middle East. The West Bank and Gaza are noted, but not Israel.
Confronted with this omission, a HarperCollins spokesman said that maps marked with Israel’s location would have been “unacceptable” and the omission — clearly intentional — was a bow to “local preferences.”
Leaving Israel off the map in Middle East textbooks and atlases is nothing new. Arab countries, from 1948 on, have perfected the practice. Palestinian textbooks not only leave Israel off the map but put Palestinian place names instead of Israeli cities and towns.
People gather outside French embassy in Berlin to say #JeSuisCharlie / Twitter
Paris, my city, is under attack. All of France is shocked and shattered.
As of 11:00 this morning, French TV channels and radio stations have interrupted their regular programming to cover the story of the attack. On Twitter, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is now trending worldwide, unifying all those who reject terror of the kind we saw today.
Like all French citizens, my particular community — the Jewish community — is reeling from the news. Concerned as we have been for years about the spiraling communal tensions, the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and the steadily mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, this hits an especially raw nerve.
Jerusalem store owner Amir Schreiber has sold out of pepper spray multiple times / Naomi Zeveloff
Pepper spray has become a hot commodity in Jerusalem as the city’s Jewish citizens are arming themselves in the wake of recent Palestinian attacks — and some innocent Palestinians are getting sprayed.
On Jerusalem Facebook groups, people are asking and advertising for the product, and in the city’s brick and mortar stores, sales of the spray are up. In November, a “make your own pepper spray” cooking class was even advertised on Facebook.
Tal Yona, a 17-year-old Jerusalemite, began selling pepper spray with three friends after the Har Nof attack, when two Palestinians killed four Jewish worshippers at an Orthodox synagogue in the West Jerusalem neighborhood.
Yona knew a friend who was selling the spray, and he asked to get in on the business. “I figured it was a great idea, we would be making money and citizens would be able to protect themselves,” he said.
Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam / Courtesy of Neta Elkayam
Call it a confirmation bias. Everywhere I turned this year, I saw a new expression of Arab Jewish identity. The revival seems to be happening across all fields — literature, food, music — yet somehow nobody’s talking about it.
As an Arab Jewish writer (my family hails from Morocco, India and Iraq), I couldn’t be happier about this flurry of cultural expression. I’m often dismayed by how “Ashkenazi” becomes a stand-in for “Jewish,” while Sephardic and Mizrachi voices fall by the wayside.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Eduardo Halfon’s new novel, “Monastery,” in which the conflicted, tragicomic protagonist denies his Arab identity when talking to certain Jews, and his Jewish identity when talking to certain Arabs.
I also geeked out over two academic books this year: Lital Levy’s “Poetic Trespass” and Liora Halperin’s “Babel in Zion” argue that Arabic is every bit as Jewish as Hebrew is. Early Zionists may have tried to separate Palestinians and Jews by marking Arabic as “their” language and Hebrew as “ours,” but that doesn’t erase the fact that families like mine spoke, studied and sang in Arabic for centuries.
Neta Elkayam sings “Ta’ali” / YouTube
Young Jewish musicians are reclaiming Arabic as they explore their roots. Some of them focus on preserving rare video and audio clips. Regine Basha, for example, collects Iraqi Jewish music in her archival project, “Tuning Baghdad.” Others, like Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam, remix their grandparents’ musical traditions and bring them into the 21st century. Elkayam speaks perfect Hebrew, but she chooses to sing in Marocayit, the Arabic dialect of her grandparents (and mine).
Young Jews argue with pro-Palestinian supporters beside a banner calling for a Palestinian state
The prospect of a U.N. Security Council vote on parameters and a timeline for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, coming as it does in the lead-up to Israeli elections, is eliciting this tricky argument: “We can’t pressure Israel when Israelis are going to the polls, because it will only help the Right.”
That argument fits neatly into the list of memes that time and time again have been used to justify U.S. inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Memes like: “We can’t press for peace with the region in upheaval.” “We can’t ask any Israeli prime minister to take action that could destabilize his government.” “This is a losing issue that will cost any president and his party dearly.”
All of these memes are grounded in two self-congratulatory, self-serving premises: that we really, truly are committed to achieving peace and a two-state solution; and that we really, truly would take consequential action to achieve these goals, but circumstances beyond our control prevent it.
These memes have the quality of “truthiness,” making intuitive sense to Americans who are sick of Middle East wars and foreign interventions. But truthiness is not the same as truth.
Obama is caricatured as Che Guevara, an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution, on the cover of Brazilian magazine Veja / Getty Images
As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.
Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?
The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.
Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?
I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?
Participants in the Open Hillel Conference at Harvard University / Gili Getz
For my entire life, I have been deeply connected to the institutional American Jewish community. From day school to summer camp, youth group to a gap year in Israel, the Jewish community has been my home. As a result, I have a strong connection to Israel.
Since coming to college, I have made it my goal to understand as many narratives as possible around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I spent my entire junior year abroad: a semester in Amman, a semester in Haifa, and this past summer teaching English at two different Arab schools in the north of Israel.
When I returned to the United States, I had a lot of conflicting feelings and information to process. I went to the synagogue in which I had been actively involved since birth, hoping to discuss the conflict in Gaza with my home community. Yet, I was disappointed to encounter a one-sided echo chamber that had little interest in hearing other opinions.
I quickly realized I needed a different Jewish community, one where I didn’t feel a need to justify my complex, conflicting and ever-changing views. A Jewish community that understood the importance of intellectually rigorous debate and that would explore the most difficult and even taboo Israel issues with me.
So I joined the Open Hillel campaign, a movement of students and young alumni, working to promote inclusivity, diversity and open conversations in Jewish spaces on college campuses. To be honest, it’s one of the most splintered Jewish groups I’ve ever worked with. We are left-wingers, centrists and right-wingers, united around one principle: the Jewish tent must be “open.” That’s where our consensus ends — there is no agreement on exactly what that term means.
Apparently, those are Naftali Bennett’s two least favorite words.
In a campaign video posted online today, Israel’s far-right Minister of the Economy and leader of the Jewish Home party poses as a hipster equipped with full-on flannel, glasses, beard and a cute little sweater-clad pug. He bumbles around Tel Aviv, apologizing profusely every time somebody wrongs him.
A waitress spills coffee on him? He’s sorry! A driver crashes into his car? He’s sorry! A woman steals the bike he’s about to ride off on? He’s sorry!
Oh, and when Haaretz reprints a New York Times editorial headlined “Israel needs to apologize,” he reads it and says: “They’re right!”
When at last the hipster pulls off his disguise, the newly revealed Bennett looks straight into the camera and proclaims, “Starting today, we stop apologizing. Join the Jewish Home party today.”
A Tunisian Jewish family on the island of Djerba / Getty Images
The Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom recently came to the Chabad here in Oxford to give a Shabbat dinner talk. Needless to say, this event was not an ordinary Shabbat dinner by any means. After a meal of traditional Tunisian foods, the ambassador spoke about the need for co-existence, the importance of listening to other narratives, and — most interestingly for me — the status of Tunisian Jewry today. Though only about 1,500-strong today, the community leads a vibrant life — and many of the 80,000 Tunisian Jews across France, Canada and Israel regularly return to Tunisia for visits, even buying property there.
The ambassador painted a very inspiring picture. Yet one lady present was not quite in favor of this interpretation: She continuously interrupted him to claim that Jews were either struggling for survival after being forced to leave Tunisia, complete victims, or that the Israeli side of the story was being completely ignored. What’s more, she implied that Jews would only buy property in Tunisia if it were cheap — that there was nothing to see and the country was “dirty” and “barren.” As for one Tunisian Jewish community’s endorsement of the Islamist Ennahda party, she was completely dismissive.
The ambassador responded eloquently to her claims and kept the discussion from being derailed. And another Moroccan gentleman pointed out the ex-Vichy French and Israeli state roles in the deportation of Jews to Israel. But this lady’s outburst made me think: How might the Tunisian Jewish experience shake up some of our (Ashkenazi) assumptions about Mizrahim and Israel?
On December 10, UAW 2865, the union representing 13,000 University of California graduate student workers, announced that a resolution to align with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel had passed a membership vote. This is the first American union to join the BDS movement, and the outcome is deeply upsetting to many Jews, Israelis, and non-partisan opponents of one-sided boycott and divestment tactics.
For some, it might be tempting to argue that UC students, especially the Berkeley and UCLA students that made up the majority of the vote, are instinctively anti-Israel and that this fight was hopeless. I would advise against that defensive line of reasoning, convenient as it may be. I believe that there are three primary — and remediable — reasons we lost.
First, this was hardly a fair vote. The same union leadership first staked out its clearly partisan position in a one sided pro-BDS statement and then oversaw the voting process to support it. Nearly all materials sent out to membership strongly advocated a yes vote, and little space was given to the opposition. If you were not already a member, to vote, you had to join a union that had already made clear its vision of Israel as a “settler-colonialist” state. BDS supporters were also able to use an already mobilized base of union members and leaders to swing the vote their way. BDS opponents were fighting an uphill battle to both mobilize a new base and to convince ambivalent or uninformed union members.