Monday, January 29, 2007

Eilat: No longer the end of the world

Until today, Israel's southernmost city of Eilat seemed like a world apart. To Israelis, it was mainly a holiday getaway, or the last Jewish outpost on a trip to the Sinai. It had a nightclub called "The end of the world" and a street bearing the same name. It was a place separate from the tensions and dangers that can interfere with ordinary life elsewhere in the country.

What changed today is that a suicide bomber killed three people in Eilat. It was the Red Sea resort's first suicide bombing.

More than 99 percent of Israelis don't live in Eilat. Their homes are in the center and north of Israel, beyond the rugged hills and desert that separate Eilat from the rest of the country. To them, the bombing is a message that this remote city is no longer a refuge where you can get away from it all.

The fact that the bombing took place in a neighborhood away from Eilat's hotel district is not much comfort for the local tourist industry. Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog is rushing from one media outlet to another to assure the world that Eilat is a safe place to visit.

Only last week some Israelis received an e-mail alert noting that Rabbi Josef Shalom Eliashiv, a leading anti-Zionist rabbinic authority, has ruled that under Jewish law Eilat is not part of the Land of Israel. This ruling has implications for the observance of holy days and festivals in Eilat. A blogger who noted this offers the opinion today's attack was a divinely directed event, aided by terrorists, to remind us that Eilat "is just as much Israel as Jerusalem, Sderot, Tel Aviv, Haifa and everywhere else."

"Sometimes we need our enemies to remind us of who we are," he wrote.

Whether or not anyone's god was a partner in the murders today, three anti-Israel groups are claiming joint responsibility. One of these three, the Islamic Jihad, is said to have been planning this attack for the past year.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv


Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

President Katzav speaks in code. We get it.

Haaretz's editorial-page cartoon this weekend shows Attorney General Menahem Mazuz in his office with a sign on his desk stating, "I am a Mizrahi."

If this seems obscure, it is because the message is in code, Israel-style. Ordinary Israelis understand this code, which is based on words that don't need to be spoken because everyone knows what the speaker is trying to tell us.

Israelis understand that this cartoon refers to an aspect of the scandal surrounding President Moshe Katzav.

International media have reported on the political and judicial aspects of the case. The president faces indictment on charges of rape, sexual harassment and other crimes.

The aspect on which the Haaretz cartoon is commenting has been absent from major international coverage so far.

The cartoon alludes to Katzav's assertion, also in Israeli code, that an ethnically motivated conspiracy is conducting a witch-hunt against him.

On Jan. 24, in a 40-minute monologue on television, Katzav charged that those who have been conspiring against him include the news media, the prosecution, the police, unnamed elites, and people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Katsav said the reason for this is that media people could not accept his election as president six and one-half years ago.

Decoded, this means that Katzav wants Israelis to believe that the cause of his being investigated is his Mizrahi origin, and that that therefore he is a victim of Ashkenazi prejudice.

"Mizrahi" denotes Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. It literally means "eastern" or "oriental." It distinguishes them from Ashkenazi Jews, who are of western origin. "Ashkenazi" literally means German, but it applies to Jews from elsewhere in Europe too.

Katzav did not need to use these terms in his televised presentation to the nation. It was enough to remind us that he began life in Israel in an immigrant camp, and to blame an elitist clique and the media.

Avirama Golan of Haaretz picked up on the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi angle. At the center of Katzav's speech, she wrote, was the good versus the bad and "the light-skinned versus the dark-skinned, the elite versus the undesirable others."

"Unfortunately," Golan wrote, "the latent message of Katsav's speech was that he is nothing but an innocent boy from the Kastina transit camp, whom no one wants to see in the President's Residence."

Daniel Ben-Simon quoted Zion Amir, one of Katzav's lawyers: "Ask anyone who was in a ma'abara [an immigrant camp], and he'll tell you that the president is right. That he really is a victim of those elites who don't want people like him anywhere. Today it's him. Tomorrow it's you or someone else. Think about it."

Ben-Simon, who is of Moroccan origin, evidently thought about it. A few nights later he said on television that after Katzav 's speech he had almost the same bad feeling he would feel after a terrorist bombing. Katzav, he said, was playing on the emotions of a couple of million Israelis at the bottom of the economic ladder, and the television speech was like a call to civil war. Ben-Simon likened Katzav to a suicide bomber carrying an explosive belt.

Ben Caspit, a Maariv columnist, commented that it didn't bother the president to let the evil genie of ethnic rivalry out of the bottle.

Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, the Hungarian-born former justice minister, said Katzav has added sin to crime by fostering ethnic antagonism. Lapid said he would not want to live in a country ruled by the prejudices that Katsav was attributing to Israel.

Mazuz, the attorney general who is bringing the case against Katzav, was born in Tunisia. In noting Mazuz's Mizrahi identity, the cartoon in Haaretz points out the hollowness of the president's suggestion that ethnic prejudice is the only reason he is being investigated.

Katzav is on leave of absence now. The acting president of the country is Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who is of Iraqi heritage.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv
cross-posted at

Labels: , ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hawking helps out

Stephen Hawking, holder of the Cambridge mathematics chair that once was Isaac Newton's, visited Israel last month.

In a program organized by the British Council, Hawking met with students, scientists and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He lectured in Jerusalem and answered questions on a popular Israeli television interview show. He talked with Palestinian students and spoke in Ramallah.

One item that does not appear on the official schedule released by the British Council is Hawking's starring role in a public-service television announcement aimed at raising awareness of efforts to help disabled people in Israel.

Hawking delivers the message in his familiar synthesized voice:

"In 20 years, Man may be able to live on the moon.

"In 40 years, we may get to Mars.

"During the next 400 years we may be able to leave the solar system and head for the stars.

"But meanwhile ---

"---meanwhile, we would like to be able to go to the supermarket, the cinema, and restaurants."

Short and to the point, less than 40 seconds, it began appearing on Israeli television channels last week.

You can watch it at YouTube or via the site of Access Israel, the non-profit group for which Hawking made the video.

The video results from an initiative of Geller-Nessis Leo Burnett, a Tel Aviv agency which approached Hawking and asked him to help out on behalf of Access Israel.

Tali Milchberg, art director of the project, said Hawking's script was Israeli-written. A local photographer made the still pictures of Hawking that appear in the video.

After the taping, the agency published a newspaper advertisement stating, "Thank you, Professor Hawking."

"One need not lose hope," Hawking has written on his own website. He has lived for more than 40 years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disabling disease which so far has no cure.

He discussed this and other personal matters in a television interview with Yair Lapid on Israel Channel 2, also available on YouTube.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

LINKS in this post:

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A friend in need

Veterans of an Israel paratroop company that fought in Lebanon more than two decades ago received an urgent appeal for help yesterday.

The appeal came from the former company clerk, now a suburban working mother. She sent e-mails to the entire unit about the plight of one of their 1980s comrades-in-arms who recently encountered disastrous business reverses.

To keep from losing everything including his home, this ex-fighter needs to come up with lots of money in the next few days. He seeks loans, not gifts.

Soldiers who have learned to trust each other with their lives can make requests like this. He will pay back the loans after he gets back on his feet, the company clerk wrote.

A local business operator who was also a paratrooper in Lebanon in the mid-1980s expressed hope that by now some of the people from that unit have made enough money to bail out their buddy. This is probably not the case, though. The amounts needed approach $90,000.

This story has a particular poignancy.

What happened is this. The soldier who is in trouble today did not return to private life after Lebanon. While others from that company were making their way in the civilian world, he stayed in the army. He served in an elite covert unit where he laid his life on the line many times.

After 20 years in the army, he took his pension and went into business, supplying doors and windows for buildings. He invested his pension and everything else he had in the business. It prospered.

Not long ago a major customer declared bankruptcy and disappeared. This set in motion a classic sequence. Now he cannot fill orders or buy new merchandise, and the banks are closing in. He owes money to four Israeli banks. These banks have lately been spending handsomely on advertising to convince us that they are friendly and helpful to customers, but this will not lessen their insistence on putting him out of business next week.

Declaring bankruptcy is not an option for him. He intends to stay in his community and raise his children there.

That's the problem, in a nutshell. So, dear reader, if you think you have any part of the solution, feel free to ask me how to get in touch with this brave soldier to whom all Israelis owe a lot.

---Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

A nice place to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there

A nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there

When I left the USA to live in Israel, I left behind loving and concerned relatives. Every time they hear of terror attacks here, or wars, they are worried for my safety, and the safety of our family. They call, they write. They remind us all diplomatically, but insistently that we have a place of refuge in the great United States.

Many years ago, my friend and room mate, who was from Detroit, was serving in the Suez Canal, during the war of attrition. It was not pleasant or safe. Every time he came home on leave, he had war stories, told from the viewpoint of a laid-back pacifist who did not relish the idea that people were shooting at him, nor the idea that he was shooting at other people. Then one day we saw news about the rate of violent homicide in Detroit. Some quick calculations showed that he was at least twice as likely to get murdered walking down the street in Detroit, as he was likely to meet death from the efforts of our Egyptian neighbors on the Suez Canal.

Many years ago I visited the US for some professional training. We were housed in the dormitories of a most respected American University, hospital and medical schools, in a great American city. We debated the reasons why were told not to leave the grounds unaccompanied under any circumstances, and considered the possibility of a foray to the local entertainment establishment.

"Just formal regulations," offered one of our members. "Nothing to worry about. "

He had almost convinced us, but our deliberations were interrupted by the unmistakeable sound of a gunshot, from which we drew the necessary conclusion.

I remember a visit not long ago to a relative in Queens, N.Y., quite a peaceful place really. This relative lived in a protected "estate" - with a wall, as in medieval times, and a gate, and guard and a checkpoint. The guard at the checkpoint was not an IDF soldier of course, but there is no doubt he served the same function. We were cautioned not to go outside of this compound at night. We were cautioned not to walk around Central Park at night. When we met people in New York, many offered their favorite mugging stories, and some offered stories about anti-Semitic inicidents. Almost all observed that it is very dangerous to live in Israel.

Everyone has their own stories, to be sure, and some of them are not pleasant, but at least we know why we suffer the various dangers of life in Israel.

When the occasion arises, as it frequently does unfortunately, we have gotten many of these telephone calls and letters importuning us to escape the missiles of Saddam Hussein or the bombs of the Hamas or the rockets of the Hezbolla by fleeing to safety in the United States. My sons were reminded of the excellence of institutions of higher learning in the United States as well. All of these offers are politely, if insistently and firmly declined. America is a nice place to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there. Too dangerous, you see.

Ami Isseroff

Continued (Permanent Link)

Guest blogger: Tel Aviv's taxis

by Ernest Stock
I gave up driving when I turned 80, and have since been using taxis a good deal. They will get you anywhere in Tel Aviv within 15 minutes or less, are not expensive, and there's no parking problem.

I must have taken about 200 taxis these last two years, and I don't think I've come across the same driver more than once; there's so many of them. And they're somehow all different types and from different backgrounds; there's no single mold that fits the lot.

And yet there are some common characteristics. The minute you enter a cab in Tel Aviv you're in the presence of a proud and vocal individual who feels himself the equal of his passenger. He is not shy in letting you know his views on politics or other subjects, or in drawing you out on yours. But he does this without being obtrusive or aggressive. If you indicate you prefer silence, he'll respect that too. But he'll keep the radio on, for his pleasure, feeling evidently that he has much right to being entertained as his passenger.

Nor is the radio the only voice you will hear during the ride. There is incessant chatter from the company's dispatcher on another speaker, and above it all the driver may, often as not, carry on a private conversation on his cell phone. Actually, "private" is not the right word, because you'll hear about anything from the man's marital problems to how he plans to spend the next weekend. Just yesterday, during a somewhat longer ride from a suburb, I heard my driver give instructions to his wife on how to fend off a persistent caller trying to get the parents to pay their son's debts.

Some drivers are expert players on the stock exchange and during the ride call their brokers. I sometimes try to make mental notes which I forget by the time I get home. The sums involved may be considerable. Indeed, I've heard a driver talk on the phone about a real estate deal in the hundreds of thousands (shekels or dollars, I don't recall which). Still, he thanked me politely when I added a small tip to the fare shown on the meter. (Unlike the New York cabby who some years ago handed me back the quarter I gave him, with a contemptuous, "You need it more than I do, mister.")

In general, one sometimes gets the impression that the man behind the wheel has other things on his mind and that for him driving a cab is not a full-time occupation. Only a woman driver told me she loves it because it relaxes her. On the other hand, a middle-aged male with a Russian accent told me last week that he spends half the year in Moscow doing business, and that during the half he spends here with his family he drives a cab because he is tired of staying home.

Another good thing about taxis in Tel Aviv, by the way, is that you can phone for one
from your home and it will come for you within five minutes.

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Visiting Tel Aviv

About 20 men and women in religious robes appeared on the beach in Tel Aviv the other day. They wore black from head to toe. For a few moments they stood at the water's edge and seemed to be conferring. Then one of the women took off her shoes, raised her skirts above ankle-height and tiptoed into the Mediterranean. The sea is chilly in January, and she entered hesitantly. Another woman followed her into the shallow water, and then two more. The men stayed on the sand, watching, talking among themselves.

Their clerical garments identified them as Christians. They wore the type of soft cap known as a skufia, with a Russian-style pointed top showing that they were from an Orthodox denomination.

A young man in non-religious dress accompanied them. He explained that he and they were part of a Ukrainian group of 52 tourists visiting Israel for one week. They came from Kiev, Odessa and even from places in Russia. They stayed in Jerusalem and traveled to Christian sites around the country. On their final day, they were exploring Tel Aviv.

Before leaving, the visitor responded to a question which locals may ask of tourists: How did he like it here?

"I would like to live here," he said.

By contrast with these Ukrainian Christians, a U.S. Jewish group that was visiting Israel did not make it to the beach in Tel Aviv. This group went to Jerusalem and other parts of the country where ancient Jewish history took place. Their itinerary ignored the first Hebrew city of the modern era.

Standard tourist itineraries treat Tel Aviv as a way station to or from the airport. For Jewish tourists, the Israel Ministry of Tourism suggests a sample 10-day itinerary which proposes Tel Aviv for sightseeing the day before the flight home. The itinerary advises, "See the dazzling New Opera House - part of the Golda Meir Center for the Performing Arts. Visit the Tel Aviv Museum. Admire the Art Deco and Bauhaus architecture of Rothschild Boulevard and revitalized Neve Tzedek. Visit Independence Hall where, in 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel. And visit the beautifully restored 4,000-year-old city of Jaffa with its cobblestoned streets lined with artists' galleries and boutiques. Tonight, discover the bustling Tayelet promenade, abuzz with cafes, entertainment and crowds. Overnight in Tel Aviv."

A sample Tel Aviv itinerary for Catholics proposes only Jaffa and the beachfront Tayelet promenade. It recommends that the Catholic tourist visit St. Peter's Church and the House of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa.

For Protestants, the Tourism Ministry offers even less in Tel Aviv---only a quick visit to Jaffa after arriving at the airport: "Evening tour of Jaffa, an ancient port where Peter saw a vision atop the house of Simon the Tanner and from which Jonah the Prophet embarked. Rest from transatlantic flight."

One reason Tel Aviv does not get much play on tourist itineraries may be its Hebrew character. Its cultural, intellectual and business life are what make Tel Aviv an especially interesting city, and these take place almost entirely in Hebrew.

In 1997, the U.S. magazine Newsweek cited Tel Aviv as one of the ten best cities in the world for young Americans to advance their careers, experience new cultures and learn about the world.

Tel Aviv ordinarily does not receive media coverage. A big foreign news corps covers Israel, but most of its members are based in Jerusalem and don't know Hebrew. Some foreign journalists come to Tel Aviv for restaurants and entertainment, but few are likely to understand what is going on in the city's coffee houses, pubs, theaters, markets, shops, local weekly papers, night spots and business centers. Almost all of it happens in Hebrew.

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Our life, according to Ezra

Ezra the gardener did not wash the stairs Friday. He was in a hospital, recuperating from surgery.

Ezra (not his actual name) is almost 80. He has seldom missed work in the past 21 years. Since 1985 he has been the once-a-week gardener and janitor of the small Tel Aviv apartment building where I live. On Friday mornings, he cleans three flights of stairs and tends the plants along a path leading to the entrance. This makes the place more pleasant for the sabbath.

The work takes two hours, and Ezra has made it clear many times that this job is important to him.

His commuting takes more time than the work. To get to his two-hour job, Ezra travels for three hours roundtrip, with three different buses in each direction. Ezra used to take care of other buildings in the neighborhood, but one by one they laid him off, and only we remain.

Some people try to avoid Ezra. They know it is not easy to stop him once he starts talking. Like many Israelis, he has much to say. He talks about the stupidity of the government, the cruelties committed by criminals, the high cost of food, the security dangers that Israel faces, and a range of other subjects in the news.

To those who take the trouble to listen, Ezra talks of three personal sorrows.

One of Ezra's sons was off to a promising career in the security services when a crippling illness struck him. He cannot walk. His superiors arranged a job for him at a computer instead of in the field, and Israel's national insurance pays for the costly drugs he receives. His wife, a daughter of a kibbutz, is very supportive. It looks as if Ezra's son will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

"This is our life," Ezra says in summation when he tells of such problems. "Our fate."

Another son became an officer in the army and married a woman officer who served under his command. They returned to civilian life, and, influenced by a charismatic rabbi, joined a religious community. Now they have about a dozen children and very little income. Ezra bought food for them a few times, but they refused it because it did not have their rabbi's approval as kosher. One time, they persuaded Ezra and his wife to spend a weekend with the rabbi and his followers. Ezra and his wife never went back.

Ezra's wife suffers from an illness of the joints. She is in pain most of the time. Ezra takes care of her, cooks and does most of the housekeeping. His only help is a worker who comes once a week for three hours, paid for by Israel's national insurance. Ezra and his wife married when she was 17 and he 27. They have been together for more than one-half century. She is a wonderful and lovely woman, he says.

Over the years, Ezra has told bits of his own story. He came from Basra, the big port city in southern Iraq, and arrived in Israel as a young Zionist in the big immigration of the early 1950s. Unlike some immigrants from Iraq, he does not claim that life was better there.

One day, after some prying on my part, Ezra told about growing up in Iraq. When he was a boy his father, a moneychanger, went to another city to do a deal and never came home. People in the other city killed him and took his money.

Another time, Ezra talked about what happened to the most important Jew in his hometown. Shafiq Adas, who had a business in Basra, was said to be the richest and most influential Jew in Iraq. He had Muslim partners and highly placed connections in the government. His millions and his contacts did not save him after the authorities accused him of helping the Zionists. In 1948, the Iraq government took his money and hanged him in public.

Lately Ezra has been dealing with his own medical problems. He does not complain the way some people do. If asked about his health, he will give a grim report, followed by a shrug and a little smile. Then he adds his standard conclusion, the lesson he applies to other hardships he has witnessed: "This is our life."


Continued (Permanent Link)

Recalling Teddy Kollek

Originally posted at

Here are a few personal recollections of Teddy Kollek, the Vienna-born ex-kibbutznik who served as Jerusalem's mayor from 1965 until Ehud Olmert defeated him in 1993. Kollek died today (January 2, 2007) at 95.

In the 1970s, Kollek spoke at a breakfast meeting of journalists visiting from the United States. The organizers asked me to chair the program and introduce Kollek.

He arrived late, alone.

As I rose to make the introduction, he cut me off.

"So, what are your questions?" were his first words to the group. He took it from there. Everyone, Kollek included, knew he needed no introduction.

Some years later, Kollek gave a guided tour of his city to visitors attending an international conference on local government in Israel. I was there as a member of the conference staff. As before, Kollek came alone, without the typical entourage of aides who accompany mayors of important cities.

He walked briskly along a hillside, and not everyone in the group was keeping up. I saw a chance to speak privately with him and ask for an appointment to interview him for a book I was researching. He could shed light on Haganah activities in New York in 1947-48, before Israel's war of independence. He had headed the no-longer-secret Haganah mission.

"I'll give you five minutes," he said and kept striding toward a point overlooking his city.

I protested. He took a moment to explain. Speaking slower and with less impatience, almost like an exasperated parent, he explained that he wasn't going to devote more than five minutes to talking about the past. What mattered now was the present and the future, he said, and he was prepared to make time to discuss that.

Another time, when he was pushing 80 years of age, I ran into Kollek at the arrivals terminal at New York's JFK international airport. He was alone, and no security guards were in evidence. He was standing at a baggage carousel, waiting for his luggage. He stood there with no sign of impatience, and with no VIP treatment. He said hello, and when his luggage arrived he wrestled it off the carousel by himself and walked off alone. He was still the mayor of Jerusalem then, but he wasn't flaunting it.

Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv
January 2, 2007

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel is the gift of the compiler

"Egypt," wrote Herodotus, "is the gift of the Nile." The flood waters of the Nile renewed the top soil of the Nile valley and created an agricultural power house that was to feed the Roman Empire, as well as making Egypt one of the richest countries in antiquity.

In the early days of the state, Israel was the gift of the United Jewish Appeal and the printing press of the treasury.

For the first 35 or so years of Israel's existence, our main resources were sand, barchash flies and new immigrants. Add to this the Arab boycott, which was obeyed by numerous western firms. Add to this the demands of an outsized defense budget. Add to this our distance from European and American markets, and the expense of shipping heavy manufactured goods. Add to this a certain Israeli nonchalantness about "finish" in products, which ensured that a product with three holes for screws would usually have only two screws and one empty hole. Add to this periodic wars that scared off tourists.

Our main trading partners were countries that took pity on us. Our income came from subsidized agriculture, subsidized factories and subsidized subsidies. Our industrial products were things like automobiles that didn't quite work right, inedible candies, wine, oranges and diamonds. The candies could be exported abroad to be sold to Jews with strong digestive systems, who would give them as gifts to Jews with stronger digestive systems, who would smile and say "Thank You." If they were not yet acquainted with Israeli candy, they might try to eat them. Otherwise they would pass the gift on the next time they needed to bring a modest house gift to someone they didn't like too well.

This custom was observed in Israel as well, and is recorded in more than one story by the humorist Efraim Kishon. In Israel it was less widespread. While foreigners were sometimes unacquainted with the culinary properties of Israeli candies, Israelis were all too familiar with them. Israelis with weak digestive systems and poor judgement were eliminated by the benign and providential workings of the laws of natural selection. The rest adapted quickly. In consequence, all such gifts were passed on in Israel. As we are a small country, people would occasionally get back the same candy they had given as a gift to someone, many months or years before -- an embarrassing occasion for both parties.

Later it was discovered that we could also make brandy. Brandy is a much better gift than candies, because most people who consume alcohol seem to be able to get used to just about anything. I am not an expert on bad brandy, but ours was pretty bad. Your humble servant has a not immodest capacity for liquour. I have been properly inebriated on more than one occasion, thanks to sour mash whiskey, bourbon, beer, and scotch, and I can remember all of those times except one. Once I got drunk on a relatively modest quantity of Israeli brandy at an Independence day camp fire. I cannot remember anything much, but several friends would not speak to me for a long time. Israeli brandy is not meant to be drunk to excess. We are a sober people.

It could never pay to manufacture anything in quantity in Israel, because there was no market by international standards. Typically, a man who bought a machine that made lipstick tubes imagined that he would become a great industrialist. Instead, he found that if he ran this machine for one day a year, he could produce a year's supply of lipstick tubes for the entire consumption requirements of Israel. These could not be exported, as they could never compete with the tubes produced more cheaply by even bigger machines elsewhere, where raw materials were also available locally.

A socialist government oversaw a more or less equal division of the national debt. The shortages were divided among the peasants and clerks in an equitable fashion. Everyone was employed doing something, and had job security, even if what they produced had no value. Automobiles, refrigerators and similar items were luxuries for the very rich. A modern refrigerator was not just an appliance, but a decorative status symbol, to be polished and shown to admiring visitors. The opposition political parties blamed the poverty on socialist government policies, but in truth, the poverty was mostly due to lack of income, which is the source of most poverty.

An example of an Israeli industry was the detergent factory at a certain kibbutz. This detergent factory did not make any detergent. It imported detergent for say, $500 from Germany, paying the shipping of $50 or so. For another $400 it packaged the detergent, and for another $50 it shipped it back to Germany. It sold products costing $1,000 in total for $900, making a profit of $100. This was possible because the import dollar was exchanged at a different rate than the export dollar, and the difference was made up by a subsidy, which in turn was subsidized by printing money, which was subsidized by insufficient borrowing at relatively high interest and more printing of money. Our ministers of the treasury were depised by most of the citizens as agents of impoverishment and sources of draconian decrees. The truth is that they were financial wizards who made possible an economic perpetuum mobile. The Israeli economy of the early years ran on will power. It was the transposition, on a national scale, of what the Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem had long ago characterized as the main occupation of Jews - Luftgescheft - air business. In the 1960s, experts calculated that Israel would certainly be bankrupt in ten years, as it would be unable to service its national debt. Nobody was worried though. Experts are always announcing things like that about Israel. In the 1930s, British experts proved that it would never be economical to irrigate the land using water pumped from the sea of Galilee, and therefore the land could only support perhaps a million more people in total. But Israel built the national water carrier anyhow, and it pumps more water in a day than was consumed in all of Palestine in the year 1948, and the population is many times greater than was dreamt of in the philosophy of those experts.

Nonetheless, it is hard to walk on water without getting your feet wet. The laws of economics cannot be suspended as Joshua suspended the Sun in Geba and the Moon in the valley of Ayalon. Printing money leads to devaluation of currency. Devaluations were announced without warning, after the banks were closed. Often they were announced in the late evening hours. A man could go to sleep a millionaire and wake up a pauper. It happened. In consequence, every private transaction, savings account, labor contract and rent contract became tied to the dollar. The artificial exchange rates produced a "black" market that was a national institution. The Jerusalem Post published the price of the black market dollar regularly, as well as the going rates for commercial ladies, for the benefit of tourists.

The socialist government was replaced by a free enterprise one in 1977. Soon after, the different dollar rates and economic controls were abolished and taxes on luxury items were lowered. The Likud was going to show the people the benefits of free enterprise. The result was 500% annual inflation, which was licked eventually by firing the minister of finance, a hapless fellow named Aridor, and instituting draconian controls. That didn't solve the basic economic problems of Israel.

Israel's economic problems were solved in large part by the hi-tech and software industries. Software does not have to be produced in quantity. The shipping costs are minimal. The value is in the idea. In 2006 Israel had a favorable balance of trade for the first time in history. Israeli currency, once the butt of jokes, appreciated by about 15% in relation to the dollar.

In large part, twenty first century Israel is the gift of the software compiler. But that is only part of the story.

Ami Isseroff

Labels: ,

Continued (Permanent Link)

Friday, January 5, 2007

Express your face to the ascender

The title, "Express your face to the ascender" is the literal translation of a Hebrew propaganda slogan of bygone days - "Hasver Paneycha La'oleh" meaning "welcome the new immigrant." There is also "Hasver Paneycha latayar" - Welcome the tourist.

So welcome to the prospective new immigrant, tourist, and any other foreigners who might want to know about Israel, wherever you are and whatever your religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, and political beliefs or non-beliefs may be. More...

Just as it is hard to translate Hebrew to English literally, it is very hard to translate Israel into English for foreigners, but not because of language difficulties. Anyone viewing Israel from abroad may see it through several layers of distorting spectacles. It is the "Jewish State," (with a large Arab minority) and Jews after all, have a special and not always very honored place in the cultures of the world. It is also "the holy land" of Biblical times and the site of pilgrimages. It is the land where Jesus lived and preached. It is in the news because of wars. It is idealized by Christian Zionists and villified by anti-Zionists.

For many years, people came here expecting to find sand dunes, camels, penniless new immigrants, Holocaust survivors, picturesque ruins and continuous warfare. The newsreels and propaganda films of my early U.S. childhood that showed Israel, usually showed boatloads of immigrants in shoddy clothing carrying bundles of belongings; TV news reports showed Israel whenever there was a war or a terror attack -- or the Eichmann trial.

People living abroad acquired very strange ideas about our country.

In later years, all the news reports seem to show that Israel is populated by dangerous fanatics from Brooklyn. They give the impression that most of the vehicular traffic here consists of APCs, tanks and ambulances carting off victims from terror attacks. That footage is real enough usually, but it represents only a small portion of Israeli reality. Not so real are the cartoons in European journals that may show our leaders eating babies, and the imaginative descriptions of Jewish "settlers" putting on their Kippot (skullcaps) and perhaps saying a blessing before shooting Arabs. Our leaders eat regular food and not babies, and our soldiers wear regular military uniforms. Religious men must wear head covering at all times.

Begin by understanding that Israel is a country quite a bit like yours, assuming you live somewhere in the industrialized western world. That will give you a much better picture of Israeli reality than you can get from news footage of terror attacks and settlements and wars. We have the same shopping malls, the same glass and steel hi-tech skyscrapers, the same traffic jams, the same pollution problems etc. Israel is probably quite a bit like where you live, only smaller, very much smaller.

There are some important differences from most countries. In San Francisco, I went to a museum. They had some "very old" things there from 100 or 150 years ago. In Israeli museums, the exhibits are liable to be 3,000 years old and more. In Pennsylvania, you can visit the site of the battle of Gettysburg, which took place in 1863. In Israel, you can visit the sites of battles that took place in 863 BC. History is all around you here. It is even older than European history.

Every time I have visited cities like New York or London or Florence, I have found them very much the same, even after an absence of several years. Once you know the way, not much changes. Every time I have been away from Israel for any length of time and returned, there were new roads, new communities, new buildings, and important changes in municipal thoroughfares. Detours and route changes are often not very well marked, so getting in and out of cities like Tel Aviv can be an uncertain adventure for the unwary!

Not all the changes turn out to be good ideas. Israel drained the Huleh swamp in the 1950s, but subsequently it has been decided that this was not so good for the ecology and should be reversed. A great elevated mall was built in Tel Aviv to replace the quaint Dizengoff circle, with its coffee houses and air of pre-World War II European civilization. Probably it was a mistake that will eventually be reversed.

So Israel is an old country, that is also always new, a characteristic envisioned in the novel written by Theodor Herzl 100 years ago - Altneuland (Old New Land). This name did not translate well into Hebrew I suppose, so it was translated to a totally unrelated name - Tel Aviv, meaning Spring Hill. Tel Aviv became the name of the first new Hebrew city, founded a few years later, in 1909.

There is another big difference that Israelis take for granted. When I lived in the US, people were shocked by the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese, which took place in a Queens courtyard in 1964 while 38 people looked on and did nothing. I like to think that it can't happen here. For better or worse, Israelis and Palestinians get involved whether they are Arabs or Jews. Many years ago, I helped a friend do a short film in Jerusalem. A girl went out to the middle of the street and fainted. This little charade was repeated several times, each time with the same result, a crowd gathered in seconds to protect her, attempt aid and get her off the street. The "charade" is repeated over and over in real life. Every emergency brings people running to help.

Ami Isseroff
(AKA News Service - 'cause that's how the blog works)


Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Coming soon

A new weblog will appear here early in 2007.

Watch this space.

Continued (Permanent Link)

'Like this, as if' is a literal translation of Hebrew slang, 'kahzeh ke'ilu.' This Hebrew expression is a literal translation of 'so, like,' as in 'It was so, like, cool.' A weblog translating Israeli life into English.

Notice: Please read Ami and Joe: two great men have left us

You can receive our articles by e-mail. For a free subscription, please enter your e-mail address:

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Notice- Copyright Materials

Israel: like this as if articles are copyright intellectual property of the authors. Please link to the originals and quote parts of them in non-commercial Web publications, and forward them to friends by e-mail with the URL of the original article and credit to the author. Other uses require written permission.

Zionism-Israel Info Center
Zionation Web Log
Zionism & Israel News
IMO Web Log (Dutch)

Zionism-Israel Pages
Brave Zionism
Israël-Palestina.Info (Dutch & English)
MidEastWeb: Middle East
Middle East Web Log

Irene Lancaster's Diary
Sharona's Week
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Cynthia's Israel Adventure
Jeff Weintraub Commentaries and controversies
Meretz USA Weblog
Meryl Yourish
Simply Jews
Liberal for Israel
Southern Wolf
ZOTW's Zionism and Israel News
Zionism On The Web News
ZOTW's Blogs
Christian Attitudes
Dr Ginosar Recalls
Questions: Zionism anti-Zionism Israel & Palestine
Peace With Realism
Realistic Dove
Sanda's Place
Blue Truth
Jewish State
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Zionism & Israel
Maps of Israel
Six Day War
Zionism and its Impact
Jew Hate!
Zionism on the Web
Articles on Zionism
Anti-Zionism Information Center
Academic boycott of Israel Resource Center
The anti-Israel Hackers
Antisemitism Information Center
Zionism Israel and Apartheid
Middle East, Peace and War
The Palestine state
ZOTW Expert Search
ZOTW Forum

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

RSS V 1.0