Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just like Grandma's

Eating in Israel is like eating at your grandma's; they're afraid you won't get enough food.
The bread is plentiful and magnificent and portions are huge. So far, service in nice establishments is remarkably charming and the prices are equivalent to NY.
But where in NY will anyone give you a humongous and delicious millefuille for free?
Today I had the most memorable meal of the trip at Dr. Shakshuka in Yaffo. I had the assortment of Tripolitan salads, one with more concentrated exploding flavors than the other, and the complete couscous, which came with a veal shank that fell off the bone and a potato stuffed with meat. It tasted like someone's grandma spent four years in the kitchen making it. It feels like I ate a plutonium bomb. Amazing.
As is my custom, I will probably have to pay excess weight when I get back.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What White City?

Tel Aviv is fabulous, but would it kill them to keep it in shape? It's so dilapidated in places, it looks like a cross between Old Havana (before the paint job) and Beirut (after the shelling). There are zillions of amazing Bauhaus buildings, but few have been spiffed up, despite the UNESCO landmarking. The parks are in bad shape and there is a lot of garbage, which not even the batallions of cute feral cats can keep in control. This may be the only city on Earth where the most expensive luxury boutiques surround a plaza that looks like a stampede of buffalo just ran past it, but that is part of its charm. Tel Avivians may not have either the time, the inclination or the cheap labor to tend to their gardens and paint their buildings. But don't they have a mayor?

Welcome to Israel

Flying Israir to Tel Aviv, the head steward was a cross between a stand up comedian and a poet. In Hebrew, he was hilarious. In English he stuck to the airline script.  Some samples:
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you have heard 7000 times, the hour of arrival is 3:20 pm. Please set your watches 1 hour ahead and the temperature ten degrees more. This is one hot country.
For those of you who have never ever flown before, that huge blue mass below us is the sea.
Please keep your seat belts on and don't let the kiddies put their hands and feet out the window.
After our food service, there will a great deal of activity around the restrooms. Please do not congregate around and do not tarry. It's not a jacuzzi.
The buying of duty free items was a bazaar. I actually heard him call it "the duty free hysteria". Lots of cartons of Marlboro being sold. At one point a woman was distracting him as he tried to charge a credit card. "Lady, I'm making mistakes with millions here".
When he arrived he said: "my dear friends, if you had a pleasant flight, please tell everybody, and if you didn't, tell them it was pleasant anyway."
He got an ovation and gave us all his email address over the PA system.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Esto es Vida!

I don't know what it is about the Cote D' Azur that it is so delightful, even as it is chock full of  men wearing ugly square-pointy shoes and pastel colored pants. There is something about this outrageously expensive town (one beer and one glass of rose at the Hotel Majestic: 23 Euros), that is extremely soothing to the eye and the soul. The sun shines, the sky and the sea are super blue, and the seafood is amazing. This is, after all, Provence.
I have been coming to the advertising festival for 3 years now and was finally able to get a table at perpetually mobbed Coquillerie Brun, est. 1958, late last night. It did not disappoint. A non pretentious seafood place with amazing shellfish platters (freshest oysters ever), an unbelievable fish soup and a tarte tatin with caramel and fleur de sel ice cream that made us vow to eat there everyday, if we only could. The euro is a little bit cheaper than last year, totally engorging our sense of largesse. 
So you will forgive me if all I can talk about is food right now. That and the thing that never ceases to amaze me, which is that the French in this part of France are so much nicer (for the most part) than the ones in Paris.
I have to find out at what time is the Mexico game. I also didn't see mes amies the Leopard Ladies last night, so there are 2 mysteries to be solved.
See you later (I wanted to say A tout al'heures, but I don't know how to spell it)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Department of Abject Bullying: Mexican Police vs. Mexican Piñatas

O, how short lived is my joy of Mexico's victory over France 2-0 today.
That, mes amis, felt really, really BON.

Alas, I open the NY Times and I find an article about piñata makers in trouble. Apparentely, Marvel Comics, in cohoots with the Mexican Federal Police, who could better use their time pursuing more serious crimes, is persecuting piñata vendors who use characters like Superman or other creatures that are copyrighted to death by huge American conglomerates. Supposedly, Marvel wants the piñata makers to pay rights and they consider piñatas piracy. Then it turns out, as I suspected because no one at Marvel could possibly be so dumb, that the raids are orchestrated by the self same police to extort money from piñata makers, probably the most innocent Mexican people in existence. Here's the kicker:
But the story line got a twist when it turned out that the raid might have been as questionable as the piñatas that were seized. The attorney general’s office said it had no record of Marvel’s calling for such an operation, which existing law required before a raid could be conducted, and the company insists it had nothing to do with it. Federal officials later said that it was Televisa, a Mexican television conglomerate, that filed the complaint that led to the raid.
Whatever the raid’s provenance, the lawyer assisting the vendors, Fidel López García, said that it appeared to have been aimed primarily at extorting money from the vendors and commandeering their wares, not an uncommon event in Mexico. Mr. López and the vendors say that, after seizing thousands of piñatas, the police and the officials not only began selling them on the street but offered to sell them back to the vendors.

1. As we like to say in Mexico, por eso estamos como estamos, "that's why we are where we are". Deep down in the gutter.
2. The way I understand piracy is: an item that has been copied to exactly resemble another item as to appear to be exactly that item, like a fake handbag, fake Rolex, a pirated DVD or a plastic tchotcke. But a piñata does not pretend to be the exact copy of Captain America. Good luck carrying your piñata Prada bag around. It's obviously hand made and meant to be beaten to a pulp and torn to shreds by candy-crazed children. It has a very short lifespan. No one would confuse a piñata for the real Spiderman. Whoever he is.
By this same token, I assume that the guy in Coyoacán who makes pancakes in the shape of celebrities, phalluses, Mickey Mouse and Spiderman (or your very own likeness), is also considered a criminal.
The piñata is Mexican folk art. The despicable assholes who came up with this one, terrorizing not only hardworking people but people who keep a wonderful Mexican tradition alive (albeit with shit Disney characters*), their balls should be made into a piñata, stuffed with crushed glass and hung upside down in the Zócalo. Who wants to be first at bat?
Don't we have plenty of corrupt politicians and drug murderers and evil police to go after?
* The only silver lining I see in all this is that perhaps we can go back to having our beautiful traditional piñatas in the shape of stars and non copyrighted characters, instead of stupid Buzz Lightyear.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Silvio 1 - Audience 0

Silvio Rodriguez at Carnegie Hall. He still has that beautiful voice at 64. His songs are gorgeous even if half the time I have no idea what they mean. The band, 3 acoustic guitars, drums and a flute, fantastic. He is a wonderful songwriter who has written a catalog of many beautiful, melodic songs. I know these songs too well, yet hearing him live was deeply moving. He is a great artist. Period.
The audience, however, was something else. I can understand their love, devotion, adoration and worship.  But I don't remember being in a concert hall so full of noisy, obnoxious, restless, disrespectful people. Adults who behave like toddlers. People screaming requests at the top of their lungs as if we were in a giant piano bar. Understandably, they want to hear their favorite songs; so do I. But has it not crossed their minds that the artist has constructed a set list of the songs he wants to play in the order he wants to play them and that there is meaning and beauty in this order? He is not the clown you hired for your birthday party. So when Silvio responds the first time if we can let him sing a couple of songs it should be evident that he is asking people to respect the evening he has in mind. Well, the crazy screaming never stopped, in fact, it increased, even as it was clear that he wasn't going to budge. It would piss me off.
I like Silvio as an artist. The whole revolutionary thing is not what sways me. My admiration for him is devoid of the fervor of some of his ardent admirers that conflate the artist with the regime they adore and the Che Guevara T-Shirt, and who would not stop yammering and screaming at him all night long. I have absolutely no patience for these people. So sue me.
At one point he left the stage for a brief intermission but the band remained and played their asses off. However, you could barely hear them because the audience reacted as if they weren't there. They took the time to talk amongst themselves at full volume, call their grandma, go to the bathroom. They gave the musicians wild and loving ovations, but the disrespect to Silvio and his band was appalling. Of course, I'm sure they are not even aware of it, they think their chaotic love is perfect and enough. That respect for the artists and the audience around them is superfluous. But really, Latinos, man qué falta de educación. And this is not a proletariat thing. The tickets were expensive. I paid $80 to sit in Mars.
I know I am a crank. The woman next to me sang all the songs in my ear the entire concert (not a great singer, but at least not out of tune, and to her credit she knew all the lyrics). She was so emotional that I could not bring myself to tell her that I hadn't bought tickets to listen to her. In the end, it was a singalong anyway and since everyone sang, so did I. A committed, loving audience is a wonderful thing and the energy in the air was amazing, (I'm not that cranky) but I wish people were a little more attuned to the artist on the stage, the delicacy of his songs and to the people around them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Judt What I Needed

Since it looks highly unlikely that I will be able to go back to writing about pleasant topics like Mexican Japanese Peanuts, here are some thoughts on Tony Judt's mostly balanced op-ed piece in the NY Times about the odious cliches being brandished from both sides in the Middle East tussle.
Indeed, half of my current anxiety comes from some facile, overly simplistic, histrionic and ignorantly hostile cliches coming from the pro-Palestinian side; and the other half, evenly split in the middle, are the facile, histrionic, absurd, defensive, and sometimes downright idiotic cliches that I am hearing from the Pro-Israel side, which I dare not repeat here for fear of hurting our own cause. So thank you Mr. Judt for pointing this out. 
The internet has exponentially increased the rhetorical grotesquerie on both sides. It is exhausting, depressing and appalling. But I have some disagreements with Mr. Judt. Don't be lazy and read his article. I'm only quoting certain parts.
Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized. The bad behavior of its governments does not “delegitimize” it, any more than the bad behavior of the rulers of North Korea, Sudan — or, indeed, the United States — “delegitimizes” them. When Israel breaks international law, it should be pressed to desist; but it is precisely because it is a state under international law that we have that leverage. 
So far, so good.
Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today. The expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged.
But the point is irrelevant. “Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries.
I have some qualms with the discrimination statement. It's not untrue, but is discrimination of non-Jews living inside Israel's borders any worse than that experienced by non-European minorities in many democratic European countries? I'm asking.
The increasing discouragement of internal dissent is also true, and yet the vigor, the intensity and the openness of debate in Israel is still very much alive. I wish that Jews in the diaspora were as open to debate as the Israelis. There is a strong, free and robust opposition in Israel, which is simply non-existent anywhere else in the region.
Mr. Judt neglects to point out that the Israeli military is unique among the militaries of the world in that it is a civilian military, not a volunteer army. All Israeli men and women have compulsory military service for 3 and 2 years respectively, starting at age 18. Then, all men have to serve in the reserves a month a year until age 55. True, some stay on and become professional soldiers, and true, many of them end up in positions of political power. But this is because the entire country is militarized. Pretty much everybody goes to the Army. The distinction is important because most people think the Israeli Army is like any other. I'm sure that Israelis would be the first to throw their rifles and their uniforms away if they could afford it. 
Israel is not responsible for the fact that many of its near neighbors long denied its right to exist. The sense of siege should not be underestimated when we try to understand the delusional quality of many Israeli pronouncements.
Unsurprisingly, the state has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. 
I agree, though I wouldn't call it delusional, I'd call it distorted. Bunker mentality. Tunnel vision; brought about mainly by the extended occupation, a cancerous tumor that grows harder to extirpate with each passing day, if both sides keep refusing to negotiate. As long as it's there, the occupation will continue crippling and weakening Israel morally and politically.

"Terrorism is the weapon of the weak", says Judt. Yes, unless it is financed, supported and encouraged by states whose best interests are to deny Israel a peaceful existence, at the expense and enormous suffering of the very people they claim to protect.

I agree with Judt about the Israel lobby in the US. In my view it's a generational issue. For the most part, the people who run the Lobby still react as if the cossacks are at the door and the pogrom will begin any minute, although there isn't any concrete evidence that our lives as Jews in the diaspora, let alone in the US, are in any kind of danger, yet. Fear is their greatest motivator and their greatest weapon of persuasion.  But fear clouds reason and intelligent thinking and we end up weakening our arguments with our running around like headless chickens and overreacting, as happened last week with Helen Thomas. Fear also discourages dissent, and that is what I most resent about this Lobby. As for Judt's wondering why American congressmen dance so eagerly to the tune of the Israel lobby? Nothing more conspiratorial than votes. If 10 Cubans in Miami can hold an entire country hostage to bad foreign policy for decades, imagine the voting power of the largest concentration of Jews in the world outside of Israel.
The next one is a hairy one:
No. 6: Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this. 
Whoa there, Mr. Judt: The recent past? The Soviet Union? What about Iran and many Arab countries today who practice a melange of official antisemitism/Anti-Israel policies and who fan the flames of hatred in the people with the most reason to resent Israel? Antisemitism is a very useful tool for tyrannical governments. It diverts attention from more pressing internal problems while it instills a fear of dissent with its virulence, even in populations that barely include Jews.
The next paragraph is the one I think will be giving Jews a zirotsky:
One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed. 
Well, "anti" is not the same as "post". To me Zionism is the belief that Jews need to have a state in the place of their origins.  Now that we have a Jewish state, isn't it beside the point? Hasn't it become a charged word, mostly used derogatorily by the other side? Zionism hasn't failed insofar that there is a Jewish state. Of course, this state should be the best Jewish state it can possibly be, beholden to principles of justice and freedom and respect and tolerance, in accordance with Jewish philosophical tradition, and more importantly with the painful lessons of Jewish history.
Zionism will have failed if Israel ceases to exist or if it becomes a morally and politically untenable state. It will have failed if Israel becomes a theocracy instead of a secular democracy. But mostly, it will have failed if it doesn't offer Jews inside and outside its borders the prospect of a normal life in peace and prosperity. Israel's enemies are pushing for it to fail. It's the responsibility of Israel and the Jews to make sure this doesn't happen. And this will not be achieved, as Judt, Amos Oz, David Grossman and many others point out, through sheer brute force.
We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be dismissed.
Correct. Israeli Jews criticize Israel all day long. I criticize Israel because I worry about it. Not every Jew that criticizes Israel is a self-hating Jew, as some would have it. Some non-Jews criticize Israel cogently and rationally. Criticism is rational. Prejudices are ancient, visceral and deep seated. There are many people who criticize Israel with a virulence that does not seem commensurate to mere political ideology (some of them Jews). Many times it is very difficult to separate the criticism from the prejudice. Most people who bear prejudices don't even know it, or will not admit it. It behooves us Jews to learn to recognize the difference and to pick our fights well.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Poor Little Helen Thomas

I am amazed that in the comments section in the NYT on the Helen Thomas Affair, in one of the posts, 1222 people agree with her statement that Israel should get the hell out of "Palestine" and that what she was saying is true but no one dares to call it out. This is alarming.
The "get the hell out of Palestine" is pretty bad. The place has not been Palestine since 1948. The place is Israel. And I don't think she was talking about just the occupied territories, but it's hard to tell.
“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.’’
What is really appalling is her answer that Jews should go "home" back to Poland and Germany or the US, or anywhere that will have them, except Israel. Which in essence means that she does not believe that the Jews should have a state in Israel.
I thought that except for those shining beacons of tolerance and democracy like Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran and most Arab states except Egypt and Jordan, we were long past the stage of not recognizing the right of Israel to exist. For an American journalist of her stature, this is shocking. To say the least.
But then buried in the article I find a possible reason for Thomas' outburst. She is of Lebanese origin. I hope that this is not what explains it, but it looks like it might. That the animosity travels generations and borders like this makes my heart sink.
Poland and Germany are really not the best places to send Israeli Jews packing, I would think. That's where they were running from when Israel was founded.
But the anger against Israel is so huge right now, that people see past the enormous implications of this comment and agree with her and feel sorry for her wrinkled ass because poor Helen, now she has been forced to retire.
You know what? If she really believes what she said, and if she really is as feisty as she has been for the past 90 years, then she should not apologize. Stand by her principles. Show her true colors.
Because the problem, which is what I feared the minute I heard about her resignation and her canceled speaking appointments, and the tearing of garments and wringing of hands, is that then she becomes a martyr to tyrannical Israel and the all powerful Jewish lobby (which I wish would pipe down once in a while. They should be pleased that they have now created a victim in Helen Thomas) and we are in deep doodoo.
This is still a free country. If that's what she thinks, too bad.

Monday, June 07, 2010

If Not Special, Then Why Bother?

Either I am not as smart as I think I am, or Michael Chabon's argument against Jewish exceptionalism is confusing and unpersuasive. The title of his piece is Chosen, but not Special. I would say exactly the opposite: Special, but not Chosen.
I agree with Chabon that there are as many stupid Jews as there are smart ones (I have a laundry list; don't get me started). My instinct is that in the world there are far more stupid people than there are smart ones, so this must apply to Jews as well.
But what makes Jews special? Not the idea that we're chosen, which is like an advertising slogan -- catchy but totally spurious.
Is it the Bible? That's a pretty special book. Assyrians, Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians: amazing cultures that at one point coexisted with us have been gone for centuries; we are still hanging in there. Why is this? Luck hardly seems to be the answer. If what Jews have is luck, I certainly want no part of it. Jews have survived by being exceptional. Perhaps by being tribal instead of imperial. By stubbornly taking our culture with us even when we were displaced. By marrying within the faith, keeping it within the family, and by making sure that the faith and the culture are passed along even in the direst of circumstances. Surely this explains as bizarre an accident of history as is to be born a Mexican Jew, with origins in Eastern Europe and perhaps medieval Spain. So at my family's Passover seder in Mexico I am not wondering who is the smartest or the stupidest person in the room; (in contrast to Chabon, I find stupid people are extremely hard to ignore). Instead, I'm wondering how is it possible that in this place and this day and age we are all singing a song in Aramaic that was written thousands of years ago somewhere in the Middle East.
Jews have seen no end of grief for sticking to our own kind, even if it looks really bad to everybody else. We care about our heritage and we don't want to lose it. And what is this culture that we are passing along? It's not just the tenets of the faith, which the great majority of Jews, in their modern secular incarnation, do not really obey. We eat chazer, desecrate the Sabbath and don't take the Bible as literally as our ultra-orthodox brethren. But we still have a unique culture and a rich philosophical and narrative tradition. A culture that prizes life on earth over paradise in death, and, that at its best, values education, intellectual inquiry and intelligence both in business and in thought. It is also a culture that, at worst, seems to feel more alive when beset by the anxiety of persecution, real or imagined, which I would advocate for turning down a notch or two. In fact, I would suggest that instead of being so fearful, we should use our seichel, which means brains, a little more.
Some cultures place a great deal of value in hard work, others in education, others in their own concepts of honor or piety. Yes, some of us humans are smart and some aren't, but we are not all alike. Are Jews like everybody else? I would say no. Are Tainos or Tasmanians or the French like everybody else? No. Not better or worse. But different. And why should this not be so? What exactly is Chabon advocating for? Is the point we should stop being so arrogant as to think that we know better than anyone else? This could be communicated more clearly and directly. I read the piece three times and still could not gather what exactly is his point.
Let us not, henceforward, judge Israel or seek to have it judged for its intelligence, for its prowess, for its righteousness or for its moral authority, by any standard other than the pathetic, debased and rickety one that we apply, so inconsistently and self-servingly, to ourselves and to everybody else. And let us not forgive ourselves — any more than we forgive Israel, or than Israel can forgive itself — for that terrible inconsistency.
Somebody please explain this paragraph to me. If there is irony in this, I'm not getting it. I certainly hold Israel to a higher standard. I hold the US and Israel to a higher standard than I hold Sudan or North Korea. The better equipped a country is to be better, the better we should expect it to be.
Israeli writer David Grossman has said that he pines for the day when Israel will be a normal country, with the problems of a normal country and not with its apocalyptic and apoplectic daily burden of war and hatred.  Who knows if this is possible, but it is certainly more desirable than asking Jews to stop placing a high value on using our head. 
Just this weekend I had an argument with an Israeli woman who was berating me for asking what she thought were the wrong questions, and daring to tell me what to say to a manager at a gym. I didn't know her, but this did not prevent her from acting as if I was a pathetic moron and only she knew how to deal with the situation. If Jews think that we are smarter than everyone else, wait until you meet an Israeli. They think they are smarter than all the other Jews and everyone else. This comes across as incredibly aggravating arrogance (see: Bibi). This arrogance can on occasion be justified by their hard circumstances and the good they have done with them (but not the bad). So maybe a better idea would be to ask Israelis to stop looking down on an uncomprehending world and stop looking down on the Jews that are worried sick about it, and as Amos Oz said last week:
Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians*. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.
Let's use our brains. 

*and I may add, a very concrete organization that is funded and supported by Islamic countries that have no interest whatsoever in the peaceful existence of Israel.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Soccer Fever

I got it, but this is mostly since I live in New York. Watching the World Cup here is great fun because there are always huge numbers of people from the participating countries. It's a great party. 
In this corner of the world, all the games are in the morning. Let work come to a grinding halt in the entire continent! Drinking before noon for 3 weeks!
What's not to like?
Now, to the business at hand: Mexico has the unenviable position to be in the opening match against the host country (it has been the host country twice, so suck it up).
I, a living repository of conspiratorial cynicism, believe these things are always rigged as much as possible for the host country. So I'm not saying that Mexico has been paid to lose (they have never really needed the money to get that done), but that it's going to be a major battle to prevail against the home team opening day. Bring it on!!!!
Now, rooting for Mexico is all well and good but unless there is a bona fide miracle, we're not going to win this baby, so I need to root for a team that actually has a chance to win. USA? They are so enormous at every other sport that the fact that they are 14th ranked in soccer gives me a little schadenfreude. I actually like that soccer is not this country's game. You can't be a giant in everything. However, I have a soft spot in my heart for them, 'cause they work so hard, they have a fantastic goalie with Tourette's syndrome, and it would be cool if they vanquished some important enemies.
I like Argentina because it has Messi. And I love Messi. I don't like them when, like the Italians, they overdramatize and play dirty, but watching Argentina play is always a pleasure.
I'm over Brazil. They play a lovely game and if they come with real jones for winning (last time around I got the impression they didn't care), they are the most beautiful thing to watch. Otherwise, don't waste my time.
Uruguay? Why not?
Fact is that right now, it is impossible for me to know who I will root for. My allegiances change according to team style, spirit and personality.
Will there be a match between the two Koreas? That would be amazing to see. I propose that if South Korea wins, North Korea gets to dismantle their nuclear arsenal and stop torturing its people. Same if it loses.
I wonder if Big Mini-Enchiladito, who is a great soccer player and a devoted soccer fan is ready for the World Cup.  I need to talk to his mom.
So let this crazy time begin. ¡Vamos Tri!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israel Takes the Bait

Looks like George Packer and moi think alike:

Israel Takes the Bait

My only "but" is that classic civil disobedience tends to happen within the confines of the same country, like Packer's Birmingham example. It is a sobering new variant that citizens of a foreign country decide to confront a foreign state outside their borders. Except for Greenpeace, I can't think of any other example of foreign civil disobedience. But the fact is, the world has become minuscule.

Department of Needless Pain and Anxiety

It is with a heavy, heavy heart that I learn about the newest Israeli miscalculation in Gaza. The Israelis are used to explaining and countering and defending themselves, but it is getting increasingly hard to swallow their explanations.
Obviously, a vessel that deliberately tries to break a military blockade is looking for trouble. The whole exercise is designed not only to bring aid to those who need it, but to make Israel fall into a public relations trap. Which, astoundingly and stupidly, it did. A civilian vessel, with civilians inside, carrying humanitarian aid to civilians, defying a blockade which is mostly punishing the civilian people of Gaza. And what does Israel do? Needlessly storm the ship in international waters. Israel offered to dock the boats in Ashdod and search the aid before sending it to Gaza to ensure no arms smuggling. The flotilla would not have that. They wanted to go directly to Gaza and do it themselves. It is a gutsy provocation and one that should have been dealt with a lot more cunning and a lot less brute force.
Israel needs to start winning the international public relations war, instead of coming up with farkakte military operations that are impossible to justify morally and that set back the hopes for peace in the region. As I write this, Netanyahu is saying that no matter what the world thinks, he's sticking to his guns. This policy of who is mas macho is going to end up hurting Israel and the Jews.
What would happen if aid was permitted, and Israel tried playing the role of good cop, instead of the bad cop? How would Hamas react? This blockade has similar unintended consequences as the Cuban embargo: it helps the enemy, it makes them stronger.
Israeli Army leadership either has extraordinary tunnel vision or they fail to see or care about how this is plays out in the world. But the consequences of such an irresponsible strategy, so badly implemented are dire and global. Gone are the days in which something happened in that crazy part of our planet and the repercussions weren't a threat to the stability of the entire world and to the safety of Jews everywhere. This is not Israel's mission in the world, to make it a more unsafe place for Jews inside and outside its borders. But this is where the occupation is leading.
I am a staunch supporter of Israel and its right to exist in peace in the world. But as Mario Vargas Llosa has said, and I paraphrase, at this stage, the occupation has reached grotesque levels (and he is a friend). 
The Israelis are not only becoming tone deaf. They are squandering the little good will they accrued since 9/11. They are ostracizing themselves once again from the community of nations. I agree with many Israelis and Jews who feel that some actions of the occupation now go way beyond a guarantee for safety. In fact, the occupation creates a climate of feverish hostility to both Israel and the Jews, more of a threat to stability, plus it is morally incompatible not only with a democratic state, but with the core principles of Judaism and with the lessons from our painful history.
The world does not have a long memory. The world does not want to look at the ancient thread of hostility and at who started what. The world looks at hundreds of thousands of suffering people right now, and it is outraged.
And frankly, so am I.
I have been reading the commentary in Israeli newspaper Haaretz and it's a shitstorm in Israel, where there is healthy, vocal dissent. This is a reminder to my Jewish friends that it is possible to love and support Israel without scrambling to justify the indefensible. Here are some links from Israeli newspaper Haaretz that reflect my feelings about this entire mess.