Archive for July, 2009


It’s My (Hebrew) Birthday!

Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_JerusalemHappy Tisha B’av! Come on, I know you’re all bummed out because of the Temple lying in ruins, but hey, at least you got Half & Half these days, right? Right? So go on, tear your shirt, get dusty, sit on the floor, don’t eat anything, and when someone asks you “Hey, what’s with the Tisha B’av face?”, just smile and think of me…

But on a serious note, if you really are fasting – hope it’s an easy one. Especially in this weather. And, just a few things I’d like you to read:

First, an op-ed piece by Nadav Shragai, about Tisha B’av. As you can imagine, me and Nadav don’t really agree on anything, but here’s an example of a right-winger who can write an op-ed in a calm fashion, and state his legitimate view about going up to Temple Mount.

Several years ago I went on a fascinating trip of this kind with archaeologist Dan Bahat, and I have returned many times since. Even today, Tisha B’Av, after some 30 years of writing for Haaretz, I will go there. Like many others I will look back knowing that the memory of the past and heritage is in many ways also the history of our present and future, and that only thus will we improve the chance that others, including our enemies, will recognize this continuity and affinity.

And just three more reads concerning my post about “Breaking the Silence”. The first is a news item on Ha’aretz about a sharp rise in requests from IDF combat units for material on military ethics during warfare.

There has been a sharp rise in requests from Israel Defence Forces combat units to the Education Corps for material on military ethics and “values during wartime,” says Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, the army’s chief education officer. Speaking at a seminar yesterday in Jerusalem on “War and Peace in Jewish Heritage,” Shermeister acknowledged an inherent tension between protecting soldiers and avoiding harm to innocent civilians.

Another piece is by Jeffery Goldberg that I just saw, even though it’s already a few weeks old. BTS came under criticism for Israel-bashing, and in response to my post journalist Adi Schwartz pointed out that not all human rights organizations are neutral, and are funded by parties with conflicting interests. Adi’s point is reinforced when Goldberg tells us of one of the most important groups worldwide, Human Rights Watch, who sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia (of all places) – and came back with some funding.

I’m not one of the people who believes that Human Rights Watch is reflexively anti-Israel, and I think the group has done admirable work exposing Israel’s human rights violations (and admirable work, of course, exposing human rights violations across the Middle East). But this allegation, if proven true, would cast serious doubt on whether Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division could ever fairly judge Israel again.

 And lastly, Amir Mizroch of the Jerusalem Post writes about the IDF’s attempts to investigate its actions during warfare:

Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avihai Mandelblit is not always a popular figure in the military, especially when he punishes soldiers who break the law while fighting Israel’s enemies in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank. For Mandelblit, there is no difference between routine security operations and full-fledged war, and no difference between Arabs and Jews. There is only the law.

From his third-floor office at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Mandelblit represents the core of Israel’s defense against the legal onslaught by unfriendly countries and organizations across the world. While the shooting has stopped, Operation Cast Lead is not over yet – it has just moved to another front. 

 Good reading!


We Need this Woman

Dr. Phil couldn’t solve the conflict – maybe this gal can. She’s a problem solver.


A Tale of Two Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are hard to come by. They’re basically every journalist’s dream. Some of the biggest scoops in history have come from whistleblowers. But they’re rare, mainly because they have a lot to risk. Their job, their status, even their own well being. Which is also why some choose to stay anonymous.
Two stories that have popped up over the last couple of weeks involving the military are being widely discussed in Israel. They were both published due to whistleblowers, albeit very different kinds (which we’ll get to later). But the way Israeli society and media has reacted to these stories, I think, really says a lot.
The first story is about a report published by Breaking the Silence. BTS is an organization with a clear agenda. It was founded in 2004 by IDF veterans who wish to expose “the corruption which permeates the military system”, as their website points out. So, they’re far from being neutral, and I don’t agree they should be coined a “human rights group”. In its reports, BTS usually “hunts out” soldiers for testimonies,  whereas soldiers rarely approach the organization by themselves. In this specific report, the organization published testimonies of soldiers who fought in the recent Cast Lead Operation in Gaza, who claimed that the IDF used the “neighbour policy“, where soldiers force Palestinians by gunpoint to walk into a house in order to make sure it has not been booby trapped or that militants aren’t hiding in it.
shachenThe procedure was outlawed by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2005, but there have been reports that the IDF has since used the procedure on various occasions.
The soldiers who testified remain anonymous. BTS gave the report exclusively to Amos Harel, the Haaretz military correspondent, and also to the foreign media. And that’s when hell broke loose.
The Israeli media, lead by IDF spokesperson Avi Benayahu, began an organized effort to deligitmize BTS and the report, claiming that there is no way the IDF can investigate anything if they stay anonymous. Also, the attacks centered on the BTS as an organization, its funding and its agenda – not on the testimonies. It got even uglier on one of the Army Radio morning shows, hosted by Kobi Arieli and Irit Linor. Arieli is a Haredi journalist, Linor a former author who has too much to say about nothing, supposed to be the opposing secular liberal. Arieli began the segment by telling listeners about how, when he was a lad, guys who tattled on their friends always got beaten up. (listen here in Hebrew):
Arieli: “In the case of these left-wing traitors, with all their identity problems and that have no idea who they are and tattle on us to the other side … the question is, why aren’t they being beaten up and sent home with scars?”
Linor: “This is an organization that just made up a report. I mean, base it on something, you piece of trash.” She added later: “These are a bunch of weaklings, I think that even I could beat them up”.
First of all, I’d like to ask Arieli: If you don’t have a problem with the illegal neighbour policy, than you shouldn’t mind people ratting you out, right? And to Linor: … Oh boy, I don’t know what to say to a person who calls IDF veterans who were sent by her government to the territories to defend her “a piece of trash”.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the way BTS handled this story is problematic. In his blog, Jerusalem Post News Director Amir Mizroch shows us how fishy the whole story is:
Several days before all this, Breaking The Silence gave out their report to a wide array of foreign media, and not to the IDF to probe into itself, with the caveat that they observe the embargo until after Haaretz published the report first. All of which shows their original intent was to get as much uncritical worldwide publicity for their report. Legitimate, sure. Fair? Not so sure.
But I think many people have lost sight of the fact that this isn’t a story about the way it was published, but about WHAT was published – damning testimonies, in a leading newspaper, by one of the most respected journalists in the business – Amos Harel (full disclosure: I am a former employee of Haaretz).
Harel wrote in his analysis piece:
The nay-sayers should simmer down. The men behind the testimonies are soldiers, that is certain. Three of them met with Haaretz, at the paper’s request. While there is no definite way of vouching for the credibility of their reports, it is safe to say that they did fight in Gaza and that they provided enough authentic detail to prove that they are not imposters.
I can understand their desire to stay anonymous. These guys are basically kids, 18-21 year olds and are still serving. Coming out and testifying against their commanders about abusing the rights of Palestinians? “Gutsy” would be an understatement.
So when CAN you tell on your commanders? Ah, that brings us to our next story. YNET last week published an exclusive about severe abuse in the armored corps. Turns out there’s a brigade that has quite the hazing ceremony for new inductees, and YNET even had some gruesome photos that showed the outcome. Apparently, several soldiers and their parents decided to “break the silence” about the hazing, later some girlfriends joined the noise, and some of the commanders were eventually arrested.
And how did the media react to this one? Everyone was outraged, of course. Those poor soldiers, those wicked commanders.
You’re probably saying “Hey, at least these guys weren’t scared, they didn’t stay anonymous”. Sure, it must have been scary to rat out their commanders, but there’s a difference. First, that dispicable enemy on the other side isn’t involved, and second – there’s a chance for revenge against those commanders. They’re going to jail.
The bottom line is this: Haaretz published a story about whistleblowers. Shoud they have? Yes. Will it be difficult to investigate? Also yes. YNET also published a story about whistleblowers. Goes without saying that they should have, and it’s already being investigated.
This leads us to a sad conclusion: In Israel, because the IDF is still seen as the “most moral army in the world”, we all react with shock and horror to stories about “our sons” being abused. But when it comes to shocking disclosures about these same sons’ behavior toward the Palestinians, the shock and horror  is reserved for those turn-coats who dare attack the army and sully the IDF’s name. How dare they?
They must be a “piece of trash”.

I’m Going to Neverland


Michael Jackson’s children seem to be popping up everywhere, and just in time Half & Half has gotten hold of the lyrics of Paul Simon’s new song, “I’m going to Neverland”! Press play on the video below and sing along with lyrics underneath:


The smog of Southern Cali,
Was sticky like a barrel full of tar
I am following the coastline
Up the highway
Through the cradle of the Schwarzenegger war
I’m going to Neverland,
Santa Barbara, California
I’m going to Neverland
Small boys and children and oddities,
We are going to Neverland
My travelling companion is nine years old
He may be the child of Michael’s first (or second) marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
There’s money to be received
In Neverland
He wakes me up and tells me he’s dead
As if  didn’t know that
As if I wasn’t watching it just then
As if I never noticed, the way reporters wiped the drool from their chin
And he said losing MJ
Really really sucks
Everybody sees you’re sad when you’re not
Everybody sees you’re just don’t care
I’m going to Neverland,
Santa Barbara, California
I’m going to Neverland
Small boys and children and oddities,
We are going to Neverland
And my travelling companions
Are mostly children and wackos
I’m lookin at mostly children and wackos
But I’ve reason to believe
There’s money to be received
In Neverland
There’s a girl in Santa Monica
I wouldn’t give her more than twelve or thirteen
And sometimes when I look around
And see all those kids he touched, I say
Oh, so this is what they mean
They mean things happened down in Neverland
And I see that losing MJ
Could make a lot of kids much safer
No more court hearings about touching and fondling,
No more court hearings
In Neverland, in Neverland
I’m going to Neverland
For reasons I prefer not to explain
My bank has told me I ought to see
And maybe my boy isn’t black
But hey neither was MJ
And maybe we’ll never know what he was
But I’ve reason to believe
There’s money to be received
in Neverland

How’s That Workin’ for Ya?

On one of my last posts, two people who are dear to me had quite the debate (Liat and Lee) going on about the Mideast, and some way or another Dr. Phil got mixed in. I was amazed that the two actually quoted Dr. Phil in the first place, but was even more amazed at how the quotes were very relevant to the discussion. And so, it got me thinking. What if? (Yeah, you know where this is going…. so press play on the video below and let’s get this show on the road!)

Dr. Phil: Hello! Wow! Thank you! Thank you! Alright! Thank you! Have a seat… Thank you! Settle down now… Have a seat…. OKayyyyyy let’s get started.

You might know our next couple from the hit show “CNN”, they’ve been battling at it for the past 60 years and there just doesn’t seem like there’s any light at the end of the tunnel. Well, let’s see if I can prove ’em wrong. But first, let’s see what our camera crew caught when they weren’t looking. Take a look:

Dr. Phil: Tough pictures. OK, let’s bring out our couple, give a warm welcome to Israel and Palestine!

(Crowd applause, Israel walks in first, short skirt, smiling all the way. Palestine follows, sits beside her, looking grumpy, like Israel has total control over him or something…)

Dr. Phil: OK, now let’s get started. Now, let’s start with you (points to Israel). First, lemme say you’re just cuter than a speckeled pup in a red wagon. But, you say you’re ready for peace and meanwhile continue to steal this man’s land.

Israel: “Steal” is kind of a harsh word, don’t ya think?

Dr. Phil: Well butter my biscuit, I chose steal and I’m sticking with it honey, take it or leave it. Now, are you willing to rise above all this and admit it’s stealing?

Israel: Well, it’s not that easy Dr. Phil (wipes a tear from her eye). I mean, I really want to move on in this relationship, but he just doesn’t trust me. And he keeps sending these terrorists to kill me. I mean, why do I have to give up land? Just so he can ask for more and more and eventually has everything I own?

Dr. Phil: Well, all I can say is “The most you get is what you ask for”.

(Israel and Palestine look at each other, a bit confused)

Dr. Phil: Now you, (points to Palestine) you look like you been rode hard and put up wet. But is it really necessary to chose violent resistance over peaceful, more efficient ways?

Palestine: Yes.

Dr. Phil: Son, you’re gonna have to do better than that, one word sentences aren’t gonna get you off the hook on MY show, so you better be ready to start talkin’ or start walkin’.

Palestine: OK. Look, you’re right, maybe I get angry sometimes too quickly, but –

Dr. Phil: “Anger is nothing more than an outward expression of hurt, fear and frustration.”

Palestine: Exactly! Wow, you really hit it on the nail Dr. Phil –

Dr. Phil: I know son, this isn’t my first rodeo, hehe…

(Crowd laughs heartily, everyone looks gorgeous, like they’re on Oprah)

Palestine: I mean seriously, why should I trust her? She keeps saying that she wants peace, but then she keeps taking more land, killing more of our women and children, we can’t move anywhere in the West Bank, and in Gaza we now live in a jail, and –

Dr. Phil: Now hold your horses, son, just wait. I hear ya, I can hear the pain. (Leans towards Israel). Can you hear that pain too? Are you hearin’ what I’m hearin’? Cuz if you’re not, somethin’s wrong here hun. And if you do hear it, but don’t care, well let me just tell you this: “Awareness without action is worthless”.

(Palestine nods his head, Israel is looking at Dr. Phil in utter disbelief)

Israel: Look, I did not come on national television to be portrayed as the bad gal! We Jews were there first, there’s no disputing that, and we have a right to settle any where we want in the Holy Land – we’ve done it for decades, and we’ll continue to do it for many decades to come!

Dr. Phil: You will?

Israel: Yes (shivering from excitement).

Dr. Phil: Uh huh. (Dr. Phil leans back in his chair, rubs his chin) And how’s that workin’ for ya?

(Israel fiddles with her dress. Tears start to swell up, she’s beginning to realize, it’s settling in. Dr. Phil puts a hand on her knee. She gasps. It’s a bit too high. But hey, it’s Dr. Phil, he wouldn’t try anything funny…  right?)

Dr. Phil: I know, this is tough for ya. But this is a slow process, and we’re gonna work through it together, OK?

(Israel nods as she sobs on more and harder. Palestine puts an arm around her shoulder, but she shrugs him off)

Dr. Phil: Now Palestine, it’s too early for that. Don’t be countin’ your chickens before the eggs hatch! I like to say: “Life is a marathon, it’s not a sprint”.

(Palestine looks at Dr. Phil, trying to figure out what in the world did he mean by that. He leans towards Israel, whispers in her ear)

Palestine: What did he just say?

Israel: Shhh! I don’t know! Shut up! Just nod and we’ll get out of here sooner. I swear to G-d, you’re dead during commercial break, I can’t believe you dragged me all the way for this wacko.

Dr. Phil: You say something hunny?

Israel: No, no, nothing… just finally realizing how right you are. I really have to acknowledge his pain too, as well as my own.

Dr. Phil: Exactly. I think we actually made some progress here! Heck, that wasn’t too hard – almost like water off a duck’s back. Ya know, “Sometimes you make the right decision – but sometimes you make the decision right”.

Israel: All right, that’s it. I ‘ve had enough of this crap. I’m outta here.

(Israel storms off the stage. Palestine sits for a minute, and decides to follow)

Palestine: Sorry Dr. Phil, I don’t know what came over her.

Dr. Phil: Hey son, don’t apologize to me. It’ll take a while, trust me. There’s still a lot of meat on that bone. Which reminds me, I always say: “Get up each morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and see yourself not as someone who is over weight or out of shape, but as the someone you will become”.

Palestine: Shut up Dr. Phil! Shut up in al-abuk, I swear to Allah! I’ve had enough of your rantings and of your made up infidels sitting in the audience! 

Dr. Phil: Hehe, well aren’t you like two peas in a pod. Aw, I love makin’ the peace…

(Palestine storms off stage, yelling: “Israel, I know a good hummus joint! Come, forgive me! I promise we’ll go to Jerry Springer next time!”)

Dr. Phil: Wow, was that somethin’ or what? Those two ran out like chickens with their heads cut off! Join me next time when I take on the troubles of yet another troubled couple, you’re gonna love these two, they’re really sweet: China and Tibet! Don’t miss it.


Is it getting hot in here or what?

Many of our readers across the pond may not know this, but besides the best-selling Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are other conflicts Israel can be very proud of. One of my favorites is the Secular-Orthodox saga. It’s got drama, violence, religion, suspense – you name it.

Secular vs orthodox affairs have throughout the years been on a constant low flame. There’s the usual protest against something opening on Shabbat, or rock throwing in Me’ah She’arim, or a Knesset Member from the left whining about how much money yeshivas get, or Haredim protesting against new roads because they find ancient Jewish remains, and so forth. But every few years it seems tensions run on a slightly higher flame.

Over the past 20 years, I can remember two such periods. The first was when I was in high school and later in the army, during the large scale protests against religious coersion (which I proudly took part in back then). These occured during the rise in power of the religious parties in coalition governments, mainly Shas. ‘Twas the days of Shulamit Aloni (where is she when we need her?) and Yossi Sarid heading Meretz on the left, and the leader of Shas Rabbi Yaakov Peretz, and his young charismatic deputy Aryeh Deri, in his mid 20’s, who would later lead the party, only to ultimately go to jail (and anounced this week that he’s coming back to politics). I think the thing I remember most from those days is the HaBonim disaster, where 22 kids lost their lives after their bus got stuck on some tracks and was hit by a train. Peretz claimed it was because of faulty mezuzah’s in their school and that people in Petah Tikva weren’t keeping Shabbat. Needless to say, that didn’t go over so well…

The second period I remember is when Yossef Tomi Lapid took over Shinui, and led his party to an amazing 15 mandates in the 2003 Knesset elections with a clearly anti-religious (some say racist) campaign. Back then, the main argument was around drafting orthodox into the army and the Tal commission (and subsequent Tal Law, which ultimately failed). Lately, I have a feeling we’re embarking on period #3, like another flare up is lurking. In the past three months or so there have been a number of events that have brought orthodox and secular out to the streets:

haredim 1

  • Karta parking lot – The Jerusalem courts ordered last month to open this lot, near the Old City, on Shabbat. The city claims that the police urged them to do so, in order to avoid double parking on nearby streets by the many visitors who come to see the Old City on Shabbat, and thus posing a safety hazard. Ultra-orthodox groups, led by the Eda Haredit, claim this is a desecration of Shabbat, and went out to violent protests. There have been reports that not all the ultra-orthodox agree with the Eda Haredit protests, and that there is a lot of internal politicking going on behind the scenes that are triggering events.
  • Kiryat Yovel – It’s the typical “There goes the neighborhood” scenario. Kiryat Yovel, in the south-west part of the city, has long been a hiloni-masorati neighborhood. Secular, veteran residents are complaining that synagogues are being open illegally, that the Haredim are taking over. The main battle is now concentrated around two apartment buildings on Stern St., former student dorms for the Hebrew University, that are up for sale. One secular group is bidding against seven Haredi groups.
  • Ramat Aviv – Another “There goes the neighborhood” scene. This time haredim are buying up flats in the heart of “Secular-City”, North Tel Aviv. The veterans won’t stand for it, the “intruders” couldn’t care less, but the debate here turned ugly after an op-ed by the notorious(?) Gideon Levy, who usually pisses people off with his anti-occupation essays, was published in Ha’aretz and titled “Anti-semitism is rearing its head in Tel Aviv”. You can guess what that one was about.
  • Starving child – An ultra-orthodox woman was arrested this week for allegedly starving her 3 year old boy. Haredim held violent protests yesterday against the arrest, claiming that Haredi mothers are being targeted with baseless allegations. As a result of the protests, Barkat too a pretty drastic step and decided to halt all municipal services to the orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and Mea Shearim, for fear of the safety of municpal employees.

Still, despite these hotpoints, it’s not exactly the same as those two periods I mentioned before. First, there’s no Meretz and there’s no Shinui leading a secular campaign. In fact, it seems politicians from the Knesset have by large decided to steer away from these flare-ups, and not risking adding oil to the flames or endangering their own alliances. Second, the issues themselves are very local, there’s no Tal Law or religious coersion to campaign against on a national scale. So, on the whole, it’s too early to tell if this will develop into anything wider. I certainly hope it doesn’t.

The flames are still low, but I don’t know – Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?


Should Expats Be Quiet?

istock_cloudsxsmallI’d like to open up a certain topic for discussion here on Half & Half. I have a question that I’ve been trying to answer for years, and this past week the urge to answer it has become even stronger. My last posts on the Cellcom ad have received a lot of attention, and during my activity on Half & Half and on other blogs who discussed the ad, I interacted with quite a few Israeli expats.
Israeli expats are often called by Israelis “Yordim“, a term that seems to be a bit derogatory when you think about it (Yordim, from the word “yerida”, which means “going down”, descending – as opposed to making “aliyah”, which means ascent). For many years, Israelis have often felt that Yordim were in essence traitors. They abandoned the hardships of building a country for their own aspirations abroad. Over the years this sentiment has weakened, almost to the state where most Israelis either admire those who try to make it abroad, or are just plain jealous. But one thing that hasn’t changed, I think, is the feeling some Israelis get when they’re exposed to opinions of Yordim. Many think they don’t have the right to criticize Israel and it’s policies. I admit, I sometimes feel the same way. Sometimes I say to myself “How dare he? Does he live the hard life here? Does he have to deal with a Manhattan cost of living on a  Middle Eastern salary? Does he live in a war zone? He chose not to, so he should up”. And usually when I do feel like that, I feel guilty afterwards.
And this is my question: Do I have the right to feel this way? This question branches out into many sub-questions, and I would like the discussion here to be about expats in general, not only Israelis and Yordim.
expatriateI wasn’t born in America, but being brought up by Americans and growing up there, I often feel a bit like an American expat. Despite this, I feel that in the past I have refrained from openly criticizing America in front of other Americans, feeling I didn’t have the right. An exception to the rule was during the Bush years, when I would tell my American relatives exactly what I thought. But since they were on the same side of the political map, it was like preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, I wonder today if they ever, maybe even subconsciously, had an uncomfortable feeling about me voicing my opinions, when I wasn’t living there? Do I have the right to? Can I be critical of Obama if I feel the need to?
Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion about any topic in the world. So, if a foreigner can tell me that settlements are wrong, or that settlements are right, why shouldn’t a Yored be able to? Just because he left, is he denied the right to an opinion? Or is this only about how you voice your opinion, and where?
My wife, Karen, is British. Does she have the right to criticize Gordon Brown?
Does a Republican expat in France have the right to argue about Roe vs Wade with a Democrat in NY?
Can a Yored living in LA tell me that my left wing or right wing opinions are wrong? Has he lost that right? Why? Especially if all his family still lives in Israel?
So, this goes out to all you expats, Half & Halves, or anybody who reads this blog and has an opinion about it. Tell me what your thoughts are on this. I need some answers…

July 2009
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