Friday, November 30, 2007

What's in a (Street) Name?

Street names are one way society commemorates it heroes, or shows its values. That is the case with suburban Toronto, where names like Oakdale, Ashgrove, Maplewood confirm the suburbanites longing for the rustic country life. (No matter that most of these suburbs had what few oaks, ashes, or maples they originally had ripped out when the bulldozers first started laying out the subdivisions. ) Similarly street names like Queen, King, Victoria, Edward, Palmerston adorn downtown Toronto and identify Canadian heroes of the 19th century.

Israel, with its string national mythology and ideological planning process, is the same - only moreso. The first house I lived in in Israel was on Modechai Anilewitz Street, named for the hero ofthe Warsaw ghetto and symbol of the heroic Jewish resistance fighter. Then we moved to Zangwill Street, named after the Israel Zangwill the famous Anglo Jewish author, play-write, early Zionist, and the man who popularized the slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land". Later we moved to Herzl St, named for the founder of modern political Zionism, and still later to Katzenelson St - named for a founder of the Histadruth trade union movement.

But now the Mapa Corporation of Israel has collected and published a statistical summary of all street names in Israel. So what and whom do Israelis honour in there street names?

Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that Israelis cherish biblical agricultural images of their homeland. This is followed by Jerusalem - both the present capital and a historic symbol. Somewhat surprisingly, the most honoured individual is the right wing ideologue and early Zionist, Zeev Jabotinsky. Labour leaders where farther down the list. And women fare very poorly in the list of honours by street name.

So here is a summary of the findings:
  • HaGefen (grape vine) - 105,

  • HaTe'ena (fig) - 95,

  • HaRimon (pomegranate) - 89,

  • HaTamar (date palm) - 70,

  • HaDekel (palm) - 70,

  • Ha'Ela (pistachio/terebinth) - 63

  • HaShaked and HaBrosh (almond and cypress) - 62 each

  • Jerusalem - 59,

  • Jabotinsky - 55,

  • Herzl - 52,

  • Ben-Gurion - 48,

  • Shabazi (Yemeni rabbi and poet) - 48,
  • Weizmann (Israel's first President) - 47,

  • Bialik (Israel's "national" poet) - 43,

  • Begin (Israel's first right wing Prime Minister) - 42,

  • Hannah Szenes (Israeli paratrooper killed in WWII) - 38,
  • Moshe Sharett Israel's first Foreign Minister, and second Prime Minister) - 35,

  • Levi Eshkol (Israel's 4th Prime Minister) - 31

  • Haim Arlozoroff (leader of the Labour Zionist Movement prior to his assassination in 1933) - 31,

  • Rabin (Labour Prime Minister assassinated in 1994) - 30,

  • King David - 28,

  • King Solomon - 28,

  • King Saul 25,

Golda Meir, Israel's only female Prime Minister was commemorated by 12 street names.

Reflection on Israeli Palestinian Relationships

I just saw the video clip Moshe and Munir on CBC. I have to admit to being very moved - and I recommend you spend the 15 minutes or so it takes to watch it. But it also made me think.

In the video we see Moshe and Munir: an Israeli and a Palestinian, former employer and employee, and former friends. They both long for the "good old days." They both lament the current atmosphere of violence. And they both lament the current lack of contact between them and between Israeli Jews and West Bank Palestinians in general.

But you have to notice that it is Moshe who is afraid to visit Munir in the West Bank and it is Munir who is prevented from traveling far from home, and certainly not allowed into "Israel proper". But it is, in fact, Munir who actually suffers from violence (his friend is shot by a settler and his olive harvest disrupted.) Munir longs to see Moshe's son, now grown up but whom he remembers as a young boy. But Moshe arranges to visit without his son - who is "away" at university - a lame excuse for anyone familiar with the size of Israel.

For Munir, the current situation is a tragedy. For Moshe a sad inconvenience. Both recall "the good old days", but clearly Moshe can easily live with the present, while for Munir it is very difficult.

But what of "the good old days"? - before the first intifada (which is what prompted then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin to making it harder and harder for West Bank Palestinians to work in Israel.) Were they really that good? Well, they both were and they weren't.

I too remember when it was quite normal and pleasant for an Israeli Jew to go shopping or just walking around the old city of Jerusalem; when Jewish friends exchanged the addresses of a really good bakery in Ramallah; or when we hiked through Wadi Kelt from Jerusalem to Jericho, stopping to talk to Beduin along the way. (Now those Bedouin have been moved off the land into miserable camps.) To be sure, the relationship was unequal. Moshe, after all was the employer and Munir the employee - it would be a very rare case indeed to find the ethnic and class roles reversed. And when we went shopping in Palestinian areas it was mostly for the bargains - depressed prices due to the lower wages, rents, and standards of living in the Arab areas. And when we went hiking, it was we who had an armed guard, not the Bedouin who we met along the way.

But the Palestinian economy was better then than it had been under the Jordanians, and the discrimination was mostly unofficial and of the kind that minorities everywhere are - unfortunately - accustomed to. What changed?

In a word - Settlements. This is original sin for which both Israelis and Palestinians (though mostly Palestinians it must be clearly said) are suffering. Once Israel started expropriating land and water for exclusive Jewish use, once it became clear that Israel wished to annex all or large parts of the West Bank, and to change their basic character, to develop them exclusively for the benefit of Jews, it was only a matter of time until Palestinians started to actively resist. For the first 20 years of the occupation, it was mostly peaceful, and Jews and West Bank Arabs mingled and lived in a common economy. But after the intense settlement activity of the late 70's and 80's the local Palestinians finally had had enough. The Palestinian resistance moved from overseas (the PLO in Tunis) to the local front. The first intifada (1988-1992) was a local resistance in response the land expropriations and the now clear and growing apartheid policies on the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel's response only made things worse. Palestinians threw rocks. Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition. Worse, Israel responded by making it almost impossible for Palestinians to work in Israel proper (and at the same time started importing vast numbers of foreign workers from Thailand, Bulgaria, Romania, etc.) and by imposing roadblocks and checkpoints. The Palestinian economy began to collapse, and Palestinians and Jewish civilians ceased to have any contact at all. (Of course Palestinians encountered Jewish soldiers all the time. In fact a Palestinian under the age of 20 has very likely never seen any Jew except for a soldier or a settler.) The Olso period (1993- 2000) only mitigated the shootings and (many of the) road blocks. Separation and lack of economic opportunity continued. As of course did the settlements. The Oslo period saw a huge growth of the Jewish population of the West Bank settlements, along with more land expropriations and by-pass roads - designed to create even less contact between Palestinians and Israelis.

So that brings us to today, and to Moshe and Munir, pining for the good old days of the "benign occupation" when people "just got along." Can we ever go back? Probably not. But if there is to be any hope for a rapprochement, it will have to come after the dismantling of most of the settlement infrastructure and a semblance of equality between the sides.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hechsher Tzeddek: Taking the Ethics of Food Seriously

Partly as a result of the numerous scandals over "kosher" slaughterhouse Agriprocessors (see my previous blog entries about this topic here and here), the Conservative movement is poised to institute a Hechsher Tzeddek - or "ethical kashrut" - certification program.

This is good news.

According to a proposal now before the movement's bi-annual conference, the certificate is to be given to food produced in a manner that meets certain environmental and labor standards, including worker safety and fair wages. The resolution is expected to pass easily.

The proposed certificate will appear alongside already existing kosher certification rather than replace it, say members of the Hekhsher Tzedek Committee.

Nigel Savage, executive director of Hazon, a nonprofit dedicated to Jewish environmentalism and social justice issues involving food, applauded the hekhsher tzedek initiative, which he said is a beautiful example of taking existing Jewish law to a higher level.

“In our generation, a growing number of Jews keep kosher and care about ethics, about treating workers fairly, about respecting the land,” he said.

The hekhsher tzedek will consider issues of workers’ rights and safety, and issues of animal welfare, including how animals are raised and slaughtered. Organic food issues are not yet part of the effort.

So, while not prefect, its a good start.

For the full story from the JTA click here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Giant Israeli Flag Breaks World Record

Now that's a reason for national pride ! Who needs peace, justice or security when you've got the biggest f*$k%#g flag on the planet.

"Ours is bigger than yours is! Na na na na na!"

Read all about it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Magnes on Mukasey

I wrote a few days ago about Michael Mukasey, then nominee for U.S. Attorney General. Well now he has been confirmed despite his refusal to clearly disavow U.S. use of "waterboarding", a torture technique by all accounts. Mr Mukasey is an Orthodox Jews and I fear his new job is more a source of shame - or chilul hashem in fact- than pride.

But rather than read me prattle on about this, go read what "The Magnes Zionist" has to say about this. He says it better than I could. Read it here.

Altogether, this may be my new favorite Jewish blog (now that Jewschool has deteriorated after Mobius' departure for more lucrative pastures.) If you have limited time, go read Magnes' stuff before mine. I will.

The Unkindest Cut of All

Thanks to my friend Eric for pointing this story out to me.

A top Israeli rabbi was injured in a circumcision accident.

Published: 11/15/2007 A top Israeli rabbi was injured in a circumcision accident.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, leader of the powerful Lithuanian religious movement, served as godfather at a Jerusalem brit Wednesday but suffered a deep cut to his hand, apparently when the mohel slipped.

The 97-year-old sage received stitches and was declared well. The baby was unharmed.

News of the accident had stirred anxiety throughout the fervently Orthodox community at Elisahiv's fate.

Participants at the brit agreed not to publish the mohel's name for fear of harming his business. He was widely assumed to have been nervous because of the eminent Eliashiv's presence.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Norman Mailer is Dead

To anyone of my 50-something generation Norman Mailer was an iconic figure. More so if you lived in NY City in the 60s or 70s (as I did in 1972-73).

Mailer died recently at age 84.

Now it turns out he was more Jewish than I imagined.

Mailer succintly encapsulates his attitude toward Judaism in an interview he gave earlier this year to Nextbook.

When asked, “What role has your being Jewish played in your being a writer,” Mailer replies emphatically, “An enormous role.”

He picks two aspects of the Jewish experience that influenced him -- the sense of history that makes it “impossible to take anything for granted” and also the Jewish mind.

“We’re here to do all sorts of outrageous thinking, if you will ... certainly incisive thinking," Mailer said. "If the Jews brought anything to human nature, it’s that they developed the mind more than other people did.”

Mailer continues in the interview to bemoan the loss of this ability due to what he terms “cheap religious patriotism,” suggesting that Jews have become distracted by an obsessive, hard-line approach to Israel and anti-Semitism rather than staying focused on broader intellectual pursuits.

Check out the full story in this article at the JTA.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Strange Time For War Talk?

It had become the accepted wisdom that Hamas would do whatever it took to derail the upcoming peace talks at Annapolis. This still may be true, though Hamas has not yet done anything "spectacular". Of course it does continue the semi-regular rocket attacks on Sderot and the surrounding areas, and it does continue to arm it militia and police in Gaza.

But now it seems that it may be the Israeli army which is doing whatever it can to derail the Annapolis talks. And of course, army policy cannot be disentangled from the political views and ambitions of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Despite being head of the nominally dovish Labour Party, Barak has been staking out a position as "Mr. Defense", trying to out-flank Prime Minister Olmert - and more importantly opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu - on the right.

In any case, as reported in many places, including the JTA, the Israeli military had been telling anyone who will listen, that it may be "forced" to invade Gaza very soon. (What it plans to do once it captures the territories is completely unclear. Israel was unable to stop terror or rocket attacks when it did occupy Gaza in the past. ) At best the timing, and increasing shrillness of this war talk must raise a eyebrows. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to scuttle whatever slim hope for rapprochement exists at Annapolis.

In any case, keep an eye in the Gaza front if the talks at Annapolis do appear to be making any progress.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Druze Riot; Police Fire; Everyone's Worried

If you treat people like shit, they won't like you.

If you treat a whole community as second class citizens, they will cease to be hyper loyal.

What's the mystery? Maybe, if Druze had the same economic opportunities as Jews, or if their villages received the same state support (water, electricity, roads) as Jewish towns, none of this would have happened.

The Druze are right too, when they say the police would never have used live ammo with Jewish rioters. (Just look at how violent, Ultra-Orthodox protests are handled.)

It seems that Israeli Jewish society is doing everything it can to fulfill the long held slogan "ha'olam kulo negdaynu" (the whole world is against us.) Well, as Herzel once said "im tirtzu eyn zo aggadah" - v ha meyvin yevin

Read the sad background story at the JTA.