Category Archives: Israeli politics

I was unfriended by a (Jewish) American Journalist

A few days ago I discovered that I had been unfriended by a Facebook friend, who is also a journalist living in the US (of course I won’t mention names).

In the first week of the war, this person, who lives on the West Coast, posted a few articles that were slanted against Israel. I was surprised as I knew her from the days she lived here and she always struck me as a balanced person. The first article that made me pause was the article placing some of the blame for the killing of lone soldier Max Steinberg in the fighting in Gaza on the Birthright program. I was shocked by this awful bit of low blow journalism, but I didn’t comment.

When she posted an article that blasted Israel solely for the suffering of Gazans, and took not one line of space in her preamble to point to any wrongdoing on the part of Hamas, I decided to comment. I would cut and paste my comment but for reasons mentioned above, I no longer have to access to it, so I’ll just have to reconstruct as best I can. What I wrote, and not in a rant (but you’ll have to take my word for that), was that the parents of children in Israel who are running to the shelters with their kids every day, several times a day, are entitled to be defended, and that it’s easy when you’re in the safety and security of the West Coast of the USA to criticize Israel’s attempts to protect its innocent citizens.

A couple of weeks later, I remembered my comment and was surprised that there’d been no further comments popping up on my page in response. When I checked, I saw why – I was no longer her “friend”. The loss of this particular Facebook friend gave me no cause for a pity party. But what got my Middle Eastern goat was the fact that this person, who is an esteemed member of the press, and I would like to think supports the notion that different people have different opinions based on their particular life experience, found my personal point of view about innocent Israelis’ suffering so offensive that she couldn’t bear having me as a Facebook friend.

It’s one thing to read articles written by journalists I don’t know who are too blind, to biased or too scared to try to show both sides of the situation. But when I know the person, and know that they know what it’s like living in Israel, it turns my stomach to think that they worship at the altar of Jodi Rudoren and her ilk, hiding behind an outmoded concept of journalistic “objectivity” so they can conform to a new PC approach to Israel that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with reality.

Was she too chicken to challenge me on my opinion? Maybe it didn’t suit her to stoop down to the level of an average Israeli Joe and debate the issue with a pleb like me. Maybe she didn’t want to engage with a person who in fact supports a two-state solution and isn’t a right-winger she can so easily dismiss to herself.

Whatever the reason, this trivial action took my already shaky opinion of journalists in general (and I used to be one at one point, and I know some brilliant journalists who I will always respect) and tarnished it even further. Give me a blogger any day, who doesn’t cower behind a large organization and offers opinions that you can take or leave, but that you know are their own.

This journalist taught me one thing: Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean that you are incapable of putting on blinkers and being as closed minded as the next guy. The media ivory tower is clearly a lot closer to the ground than we thought, and maybe that’s just where it should be so that people know that their news often comes from fallible people.

With Facebook friends like this….

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Looking Forward

Israeli-flagMurmurs in the media are talking of a real cease fire. As an optimistic person by nature, and somewhat of a pragmatist, my mind quickly turns to all the things I am looking forward to in the days “after”.

Not having to give my kids a long, neurotic lecture before they leave the house: “Do you know where there are shelters where you’re going?”; “You know not to be wandering around anywhere too far from a shelter”; “Make sure your phone is charged”; “Be careful, be careful, be careful.”

Not having to drive in a panic from my little rural town through what we know in Israel now as “open areas”, as those are the areas into which the Iron Dome allows missiles to fall because the risk is low of hitting anything. And not having to rethink my car journeys to make sure I don’t drive through open areas I can actually avoid, and rather take the longer routes through traffic.

Not jumping every time I hear a lawnmower start or a truck drive down the street, because they sound like sirens.

Not spending endless hours glued to the TV news, hanging on every word of every commentator, and hoping for some good news for a change, that doesn’t come. And not waking up in the morning and reaching for my phone to find out if anything has changed, before I’ve had my first cup of tea.

Not feeling compelled to read every Protective Edge-related article posted on Facebook, and getting irritated with the obnoxious, inflammatory comments posted by ignorant idiots from all over the world who know nothing from nothing. And not feeling mildly jealous when I see posts from friends on Facebook in other countries who get to complain about bad service, inclement weather and annoying neighbors. I also want to be able to complain about boring shit again on Facebook.

Not rationalizing that 43 missiles fired at Israel in one day is “better” than the 60 fired the previous day.

Not feeling deeply guilty that I live in a relatively quiet area of Israel while others live in virtual hell, rushing to shelters several times a day and night.

Not looking around for signs that point to shelters in every place I go to.

Not hearing airplanes flying over my house, which is under the current safe flight path from Ben Gurion Airport, and not experiencing the irrational fear of flying in our skies these days, on top of to my existing irrational fears of flying.

Not having my thoughts unduly occupied by the Hamas, the UN, the anti-Semites worldwide, Qatar, Kerry, and the moronic celebrities who for some reason think they’re as smart as they look.

But most importantly, I truly, and from the depths of my heart, look forward to not feeling the constant dread that more of our precious soldiers are losing their lives and that more families in Israel are joining the ranks of the bereaved; and to not be holding my breath for all my friends and family whose loved ones are serving our country and risking their lives to make Israel a safer place to live in.

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From Terror to Complacency in Five Short Days

Smoke from a downed missle

Smoke from the downed missile

Some more thoughts from our war zone…

It amazes me how Israelis, especially the youngest ones, adapt so quickly to situations and normalize them so fast. Once again, while we were on the baseball field somewhere in central Israel, at 16:30 today the sirens went off. Because we are in an open area, the sound of the siren isn’t very loud. I heard it and immediately ordered the kids near me (10-11-year-olds) to move into the safe rooms near the field. None of them looked very concerned. One quickly said: “But it sounds so far away. Why do we have to go?” My response was short and to the point (to say the least), and they all got up and hustled over the bases, past the dug outs, into the safe room.

Some claimed to have heard the booms, signifying that a missile  has been intercepted by the Iron Dome (may it be blessed). Just a couple of minutes into being the the safe room, the kiddies were restless and ready to leave. These situations create a short learning curve – within hours of the first missiles being fired last week, we understood that the danger comes in the minutes after the Iron Dome intercepts the missile, because that’s when the hot metal fragments come plummeting down to earth. So once again I had to exert my motherly authority and use my “strict” voice to keep them from scuttling back to the field prematurely. The players from the older team (14-15-year-olds) rolled their eyes at me. But I stood firm.

Glad I did. When we emerged, I noticed that not too far away, there was a significant display of billowing white smoke. Then the emergency services sirens started blaring from all directions. A brother of one of the players showed up with news – a missile had in fact been shot down and its fiery remains lay smoldering in a field not too far from us.

On the way home, with my 15-year-old son and two of his team mates in the car, I got a little jumpy when I heard a song that had siren-like sounds in the background. I quickly turned off the radio to check if the sound was coming from outside the car. And more eye rolling – this time from my son. “Mom, you’re being paranoid,” he said in his droll teenage monotone, without lifting his eyes from the What’s App screen on his phone. I confess that I am a little envious of this state of youthful complacency in the face of all this terror we are enduring. Oh to be 15 again!

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From Quiet Canada to Israel Under Fire

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

When the first missiles were fired into central Israel on Tuesday, my family and I were coming to the end of a short trip to Toronto for a family wedding. News from home, which first came in via What’s App messages to my daughter telling her that in our small town there had been an unprecedented air raid, was gut wrenching. We had just short of 24 hours to digest the awful news that no area of the country was immune to the rockets being launched from Gaza. The thought of flying into Israel, particularly into a Tel Aviv that was being targeted rather effectively for the first time, made me more than a little nervous. An online message from a friend slightly eased my fears – “You know the news is always darker from far”.

So true. In fact, the closer I got, ironically the less I feared what we were returning to. At the El Al check in counter at Toronto airport, I asked the attendant if there were a lot of cancellations. Her answer, in a heavy Russian accent: “No-one has cancelled. Very brave people.” That already made me feel better. Then I spotted a family of 6 who were clearly making aliyah, given away by a massive pile of baggage, punctuated by a large Mac computer box (no-one goes on vacation with such a piece of hardware). All I could think was this is the best and the worst time to make aliyah – the worst, well that’s obvious… missiles aren’t the greatest first impression; the best…things can only get better.

The mood on the plane did little to bring me down again. One tourist, about to spend three weeks in Israel, smiled broadly when he told a fellow passenger that the situation didn’t deter him because he likes a little action in his life. All around me, Canadian tourists were looking forward to spending time in Israel, undeterred by the less than sympathetic welcome they were surely going to get in Tel Aviv. Canadians, ey?

We landed, and Ben Gurion Airport was decorated with signs pointing the way to the air raid shelters. This was the only clue that something was amiss. Everything else was plain old normal – just the way we like to keep things as best as we can when the going gets tough. The nasty traffic on the way home was caused by our “normal” traffic accidents – five of them in total. And while the news stream was confirming many of my fears, and detailing the truly horrendous situations facing almost all residents of the South, life all around was going ahead as usual.

This morning, when the sirens went off while my son’s baseball team (that I manage) was in the middle of a pre-tournament practice game, we all quickly obeyed Homeland Security instructions and trooped off the field into the shelters. The experience of being in a small stuffy room with a team of very sweaty baseball players was far more unpalatable than the thought of missiles (no offense guys). We waited for the required 10 minutes, by which I mean an abbreviated 2 minutes, and returned to the field under the clear blue summer sky. The only hint of chaos was three tiny white puffy clouds in the distance – the last vestiges of the three missiles that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome minutes before.

One player commented that this was probably the first baseball inning ever to be ended by a missile attack. But I’m sure there were other moments in history that involved baseball and missiles. Either way, this was one moment that made me realize that hearing about an air raid from across the ocean is far more terrifying than being in one. In the midst of the chaos, I felt so much calmer. It really is less dark here than there. Still, I’ll be very happy when it’s all over and the only booms we hear at baseball are the sound of the ball cracking on the bat.

 

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Multi-tasking the Peace Process

A recent spate of articles that characterize Israelis as being indifferent to the prospects of peace in the Middle East make me wonder: What exactly does the rest of the world expect Israelis to be doing during yet another round of negotiations?

The recent Time cover story by Karl Vick “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” and Roger Cohen’s op-ed piece in the New York Times “Peace Talks? What’s on TV?” each express bewilderment about how Israelis obliviously go about their daily business – developing software, following the latest season of Israel’s version of American Idol, getting their kids off to school, etc. – while Netanyahu and Abbas have it out over the lofty issues of Middle East peace.

Considering that the rest of the world thinks that life in Israel is “as seen on TV” – a militaristic nation of people who, when they aren’t serving in the army, are all either building illegal homes or ducking rockets, it’s not surprising that they also think that its citizens only think, talk and breathe politics. At the discovery that we don’t, they seem to think we should all turn off our TVs, cancel our gym memberships, close our businesses, and most certainly avoid going to the beach, eating in restaurants or traveling abroad, and instead gather in the town squares to wrangle over political issues until the day there is peace in the Middle East. (And I’m wondering here if Americans abandoned their TV sets when the US invaded Afghanistan or Iraq. I suspect that prime time ratings didn’t drop too much.)

Well, strangely enough, Israelis DO have lives and can multi-task the peace process. Contrary to this latest buzz about blasé Israelis, we do care. It’s just that we’ve been caring for 17 long years. After 17 years the magic fades. Indifference sets in as we exercise our democratic right to be skeptical and only listen with half an ear to the proceedings in their “same squabbles; different year” formats. We switch from the news to CSI quicker than we did when we were transfixed by the historic pictures of Rabin, Arafat and Clinton on the White House lawn in 1993.

But if and when peace does come, Israelis will embrace it with a far longer attention span than the international media, and at the same time, we’ll continue sending our kids to school, peddling apartments and, of course, watching TV.

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Oui, Oui, Sarkozy

Finally, someone shouted the emperor is naked. Thank you Nicolas Sarkozy for breaking the ice and pointing out, in the most stylish, French way to Bibi Netanyahu, that it’s a mistake that the Israeli Foreign Minister is a right-wing, belligerent, xenophobe (not his words – mine).

With élan befitting a French president, behind closed doors, Sarkozy whispered words to this effect to the Israeli PM during his visit to Paris last week. Not intentionally creating any diplomatic incident, in a soft voice, he shouted out to the world that the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is no better than France’s own right wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Instead he gave his nod to former FM Tzipi Livni, whose presence is far more acceptable around the world, and whose approach is one of diplomacy and pragmatism and not of offence and brutishness.

It’s très absurd that Netanyahu accuses Sarkosy of interfering with our internal politics, when Israel publically denounced the Austrian government in 2000 after Joerg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party joined the coalition. How can we accuse other countries of condoning extreme right wing hard liners in their governments when we are doing nothing different in our own?

The absurdity continues when Netanyahu justifies Lieberman’s existence in as Foreign Minister of the State of Israel is that he has been democratically elected to represent the country. Huh? Rewind: The ruling Likud party was voted in with fewer votes that the opposition Kadima party (27 vs. 28); the person nominated to represent ALL Israelis abroad, is from the Yisrael Beiteinu party that won 15 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the February 2009 elections. Four months later, and it’s still hard to swallow.

We have a Foreign Minister who, if a referendum were held in Israel today, would more than likely be dumped. But the Israeli public rolls its eyes, and says: “This is the election system we have. What can you do?” Well, we may not be able to do much about it, but at the very least, we can take our hats off to French Prez Nick for doing what he does best – acknowledge nudity.

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The rabbi, the goats and the mall in Jenin

A traditional Jewish folktale tells the story of a poor man lived with his wife and six children, parents and parents-in-law in a one-roomed house in the shtetl. He couldn’t bear it anymore and sought advice from his rabbi. “Oy, Rebbe,” he said, “my life is hell, my home is chaotic, I can’t get a moment’s peace. I’m going crazy. What should I do?”

The rabbi answered: “You must go home and do exactly what I say. Take your goats and your chickens and your cow, and move them into your house to live with you.”

Puzzled, the man agreed, because this was, the Rebbe after all. He went home and moved his livestock into his tiny, overcrowded house.

The next week, the man was back at rabbi, whining even more ferociously about how much worse off he was, and how he was suffering. “What have you done to me?” he cried. “I’m losing my mind.”

So the rabbi calmly said, “Go home and take the animals out of your house.”

The next day the man came back to the rabbi and excitedly said, “Rebbe, you are truly wise. My house is so quiet now without the animals – it’s a pleasure.”

What brought this old favorite to mind was an article in Ha’aretz this week about the opening of the luxury Hirbawi Home Center shopping mall in Jenin last month. I’ll get to the goats and chickens in a second, but first, I must express my joy at this development and hope that there’s a trickle-down effect that spreads some optimism. I know this is a lot to ask of a shopping mall, but great social changes come from modest beginnings. I also have to wonder whether there are guards at the entrances checking bags…

So back to the goats: The article continued with an analysis by Jenin Area Commander Abu Tarek of how Jenin has transformed from a capital of terrorism to “the quietest, safest city in the West Bank.” One of the factors he said has brought on this change is that the IDF has become a lot less violent. Then, the article concluded, “…one of the Palestinians present, who witnessed his brothers’ arrest recently, chuckles: ‘They’re [the IDF] very gentle nowadays. They come quietly, knock on the door and say politely: Army, please open up.’” And that, dear readers, is the story of the Rabbi and the Goats, Jenin-style.

I couldn’t help but ponder this analogy and think that everything in life is relative. I don’t want to begin to think where this attitude could take us, and I wouldn’t want to presume to justify excess violence in the name of rendering the status quo tenable, but on the other hand, maybe there is something to be said for seeing how bad things could be in order to appreciate certain realities. No, I don’t condone unnecessary military force of any kind, and no, I don’t think that occupation is a solution in our region. But that doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself a good-hearted “chuckle” at this unfortunate Palestinian gentleman assessing his situation with the delightful optimism of the shtetl dweller who learned to embrace his over-crowded house following an excessive onslaught of resident livestock.

Maybe all sides should have a quick re-read of this tale, and think again.

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