Archive for January, 2010

31
Jan
10

The Protocols of the Elders of Zapato

Last week, somewhere, in a dark room in a dark building in Reston, Virginia, a meeting of the most powerful men and women of the world took place.
That’s right. You know who they are, you’ve heard of them for years now. Some have told you that they’re just an urban myth, that they don’t really exist. But they do.
Yes, we’re talking about – of course – the order of the Elders of Zapato.
The Elders of Zapato meet every four years in a different location. Half & Half has been given exclusive entrance to this extraordinary meeting to give you – but of course – The Protocols of the Elders of Zapato.
Chairman of the meeting, Selcuk Ozbek from Turkey, pounds his gavel and orders silence from all the attending shoers. Ozbek was just recently accepted into the order in October 2009 after shoeing the director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss Kahn, when he gave a speech in an Istanbul university.
Ozbek: My friends, we have gathered here today to deal with two issues.
The first, accepting into our lines a new and distinguished member. And second, choosing our new leader after the order has deemed Richard Reid, also known as The Shoe Bomber, unfit to lead us as his actions do not constitute shoeing per se. We nonetheless wish Mr. Reid success in his future endeavors, shoe-wise or… or otherwise.
Let’s begin. I call upon Pini Cohen to enter the room.
Cohen enters. On January 27 2010, Cohen shoed the President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Dorit Beinish, and successfully hit her smack in the schnoz.
Ozbek: Pini Cohen, you have been called to join the Elders of Zapato after successfully shoeing a high ranking official. To complete your joining of the order, repeat after me:
I, Pini Cohen, hereby promise to continue shoeing whenever I can, using all shoe brands and designs – except for Manolo Blahniks, they’re way too gorgeous.
Cohen: I hereby promise.
Ozbek: Good. You can come in. But take your shoes off, damn it! You rookies have to be barefoot the first time, I told you!
Cohen tiptoes in and joins the round table.
Ozbek: Now it’s time to go for the second issue.
Around the table, people started to move in excitement. Every one at the table knew the next leader was perfect for the job. 
Jarnal Singh: Oh, come on! Let’s do this already, can’t we skip the protocol?
Singh, a Sikh journalist, shoed India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram in April 2009.
Singh: I can’t wait! I’m practically jumping out of my Batas!
Ozbek: Dear Singh, all in good time. We must do this one step at a time.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi: I don’t know why you’re all so happy about this new leader. I shoed the leader of the West!
Al-Zaidi was of course referring to his famous shoeing of George Bush.
Cohen: But you didn’t hit him! You missed! All of you missed!
One of the attending yelled: “But I hit Ahmedinajad’s limo!”
Martin Jahnke: It’s not about hitting! It’s about how you throw! And let’s face it, our next leader has been an inspiration to all of us since 1996!
Jahnke had the balls to shoe Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in February, 2009.
Al-Zaidi: But at least I threw my shoes at politicians. This woman you are choosing threw it at her servant.
Just then, the doors to the room slam open, and Sara Netanyahu walks in to her infamous campaign song she’s been using over the past two years to excite the masses. It’s Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Sole of her Shoes”
The room is in awe. Even over the loud music they can hear the diamonds scratching on the wooden floor.
After holding in all his excitement, Singh decides to join along and… sing:
“People say she’s crazy, 
She’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes!
Well that’s one way to lose those walking blues!
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes!” 
Sara takes her place at the head of the table. She takes off one of her Extreme Dior Gladiator Platforms and shows everyone the diamonds on the sole of her shoe.
All bow their heads. Even al-Zaidi knows who’s in charge now.
Netanyahu begins her acceptance speech in a low, almost whispering voice. Everyone bends closer to hear.
Sara: Thank you all for accepting me as your new leader of the Elders of Zapato. We have many things on the agenda… but first,

WHO THE FUCK CHOSE THIS DUMP FOR THE MEET? WE ONLY GET TOGETHER EVERY FOUR FUCKING YEARS, DID WE HAVE TO DO THIS AT THE HOLIDAY INN IN RESTON? WHO’S THE FUCK-FACE WHO BOOKED THIS JOINT??!!

Ozbek, head still bowed down, began to lift his hand. Sara shoes him with the diamond studded sole. One swing, goodbye. Instant death.
Sara: OK. Where were we?…  Oh, right! The agenda.
29
Jan
10

Another Favorite…

29
Jan
10

A Quadruple Heads-Up

Sometimes I find myself reading an article about a politician who won an election or began leading a country out of nowhere. It happened to me recently with the Scott Brown fiasco in Massachusetts, and it happens to me often when it comes to other places around the world, too. But that’s the way things are for all of us, right? You just can’t stay on top of all the latest affairs, all the time.

So I got to thinking, maybe it would be useful for some Half & Half readers if I dropped some names and gave you a heads-up about some people, who in my eyes are the next superstars in Israeli politics. People you’ve probably never heard about – but who have at least hinted on various occasions that they want to reach the top of the pyramid. So, here are:

Half & Half’s 2000 n’ Teens Israeli Top Dogs:

Yair Lapid

Lapid is the son of Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, the former Justice Minister and head of the once-powerful centrist Shinui party. Tommy, who passed away in 2008, was a long-time journalist for Maariv. In 1999, his party got an astounding 15 seats in the Knesset. Like father like son, Yair is considering making his move into politics, too. And he won’t be the first, of course. In recent years, Israel has seen a virtual tsunami of journalists dropping their keyboards in favor of the ugly brown leather seats in the Knesset plenum.

Yair is one of the most familiar faces in Israel today. He’s starred in some of Israel’s biggest movies, hosted Israel’s most famous talk show, he writes the most read-column about his family and marriage in the front pages of the weekend supplement of Israel’s most-read newspaper (Yediot), was the main presenter for Bank HaPoalim’s advertising campaign (Israel’s biggest bank), and two years ago took up the position of anchor of the most watched TV station Channel 2’s flagship Friday night newscast. He’s written 9 novels, and is an amateur boxer. He is loved, adored, even worshipped. To many, he represents “The Beautiful Israeli (HaYisraeli HaYafe)”. Or what they want Israel to be: smart, witty, mainstream – and no less important – drop dead gorgeous (even if surprisingly short).

When asked in a recent interview if he had any intention of going into politics, the country stood still. And he knew we were all waiting for the reply. So before answering, he slowly looked down, paused (as if he really had to think about it, even though everybody knew that he knew that we knew that he knew that we knew), and then said: “I’ll have to decide one minute before the elections”. It was television drama at its best, made by Mr. TV himself.

So basically, if Bibi holds on long enough, we’ll have to wait around 3 years to see if (some say it’s only a matter of “when”, not “if”) Lapid jumps in. But there are already enough who are afraid of him. MKs Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and Carmel Shama (Likud) have just proposed bills to impose a cooling-off period of 6 months for a journalist wishing to run for Knesset. They’re already calling it the “Lapid Law”.

Meanwhile, Lapid will keep interviewing on prime time TV politicians he might join forces with and transmit his agenda from behind the costume of a journalist.

Ofer Eini

You probably don’t know this, but Ofer Eini is one of the most powerful men in the Middle East. He’s a tax advisor. But he’s also the head of the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union congress. 

Eini climbed the ladder slowly – but steadily – in the Histadrut through the years. Not due to his abilities as a tax advisor, but rather through his skills as a leader and politician of the unions. In 2006, he eventually replaced the former head of the Histadrut, Amir Peretz, who went on to head the Labor party and serve Defense Minister in Olmert’s government (which didn’t end too well, as we all remember).

Since then, Eini has grown stronger by the day. The media has taken a liking to him, and he is often portrayed as the national mediator, the guy who saves Israel at the last minute from huge country-wide strikes, the guy who keeps Ben Gurion Airport open.

He’s a master negotiator – which in my eyes, of all the four people I talk about in this post gives him the best chances of reaching the top one day. As a powerful force in the Labor Party, he was the one who convinced Barak to join Bibi’s coalition last year, and he was the one who time after time since Bibi took office has forced the PM to renege on various taxes and regulations that would have damaged the interests of the unions.

Lately, over the past few months, his rhetoric has been changing. He’s heating up. He’s been warning Bibi and the Finance Ministry that he’s done being Mr. Nice Guy. He’s allowed various small institutions to strike here and there – but nothing major yet. It seems like he’s planning a big, national strike soon. Very soon. And strikes scare people in Israel, especially politicians.

People around Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) say that Eini is heating things up for his own political aspirations, which Eini and the Histadrut have since denied over and over.

But this is probably one of the only times I’ll ever agree with a Likudnik.

Shlomo Lahiani

Lahiani is probably the most charismatic mayor in the country. He was first elected mayor of Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, as a Labour-backed independent in 2003 with 45% of the vote and re-elected in 2008 with an amazing 86.3% of the vote. To say that Bat Yami’s love him would be an understatement.

But lately, things have gone a bit sour for the Sherrif of Bat Yam. He was arrested by the police in late December 2009 on suspicion of fraud and misuse of public funds. The police made sure the arrest was caught on TV, with the footage showing how the cops confiscated his cellphone and entered his house while the kids were still asleep.

He’s since denied all the allegations, and can’t wait for his day in court to supposedly prove everybody wrong. Most Bat Yamis couldn’t care less if he’s a thief or not – all they know is that housing prices have gone up, streets have been paved, flowers have been planted, and Bat Yam has started to shed its mirror image of Newark, NJ.

On his latest TV interview he didn’t deny he has plans on being Prime Minister one day.

And if he turns out to be Ariel Sharon’s successor as Mr Teflon after the court case – his popularity will go sky high, nation-wide.

Gideon Sa’ar

Sa’ar, the Education Minister, has at times been considered “Bibi’s poodle” (the poodle title was first given to Yossi Beilin, who was dubbed Peres’ poodle). A former journalist and lawyer, Sa’ar’s popularity in the Likud has rocketed over the years, and is considered to be the top candidate of the next generation to take over the Likud.

In December 2008 he won the Likud primaries for their Knesset list, putting him in second place after Bibi himself. He’s repeatedly said that he will not compete against Netanyahu, but everyone is waiting for him to make his next move. And that’s all I’m willing to write about a Likudnik.

Apologies.

26
Jan
10

Not Evil All the Time

Last week, Ethan Bronner of the NYTimes wrote a very interesting piece about the mixed feeling Israelis have about the country’s aid to Haiti. No one was against the aid itself, but rather the discussion revolved around how the aid portrayed Israel in the world, and how it stands in stark contrast to the aid – or absence of aid – given to Palestinians just miles away. As usual in Israel, the divide was between right and left. Take a look, I think this is a real important read (and it’s not too long…).
Here’s a small excerpt:
But on the same page, another commentator, Larry Derfner, argued that while Israel’s field hospital in Haiti is a reflection of something deep in the nation’s character, “so is everything that’s summed up in the name of ‘Gaza.’ ” He wrote: “It’s the Haiti side of Israel that makes the Gaza side so inexpressibly tragic. And more and more, the Haiti part of the national character has been dwarfed by the Gaza part.”
But, I have a problem with this discussion and with my leftist brethren on this topic. I think the aid to Haiti should be looked at just the way it is: Simply as aid – nothing more. Israel should be proud of its rescue team, of the quality of its field hospitals and that they got to Port Au Prince way before the bigger and closer countries did.
The immediate comparison and/or linkage of this assistance to the conflict with the Palestinians is, in my eyes,  tiresome. Come on, give us a break lefties (me included!) – our guys were saving lives over there! And risking their own while doing it! These are apples and oranges. There’s just no need to connect EVERYTHING to the conflict.
Having said that, I do have a problem with the way Israeli media blew the whole Israeli rescue team story out of proportion. Almost as if they were a bigger story than the quake and the survivors themselves.
To give you a better idea of how things are seen over here, I decided to subtitle a skit from Israel’s most popular satire show “Eretz Nehederet” (A Wonderful Land) that kind of sums up how the media coverage was ridiculous, and it also touches on the need for so many Israelis to simply have someone pat them on their back and tell us: “See? We’re not always evil”.
I’ve always thought satire shows are a great way to understand how the locals see things. So, just to get you up to speed, this particular skit is with Roni Daniel, the military correspondent for Channel 2. Daniel is known for his right wing views and that he can never say anything bad about the army. They’re always right. In fact, he often urges them on television to do more, to be more ruthless towards the “enemy”. He was sent last week to Haiti with Israeli rescue team.
Enjoy 🙂
23
Jan
10

Yes, Mrs. Sara Netanyahu

It’s late at night at the Prime Minister’s residence. Bibi is comfortably seated on his La-Z-Boy, reading Glenn Beck’s latest novel. As his wife Sara walks in, he puts down the book, looks over the rims of his glasses at the title, looks back again at his wife, and grins. “Ah, the irony”, he thinks to himself.
He puts down his copy of “Arguing with Idiots” and takes his glasses off.
Bibi: Hey Sara…
Sara: Bibush, how are you sweetie pie? Can I get you anything?
She sits on the sofa. He cringes as he watches her heels dig into the expensive, leather cushions.
Bibi: Sara’le, we have to talk.
Sara: Oooo, that doesn’t sound good…
Bibi: Well, you’re right. It isn’t.
Sara stiffens. Bibi notices this, and takes extra precaution. He knows any false move could result in disaster. His advisors have been calling him every minute since the papers got hold of their maid’s lawsuit against them for alleged abuse, underpayment and forced work on Shabbat. They told him he had to rein her in this time. Last time, in 1996, it was the nanny. Then it was the secretary, and now the housekeeper.
Sara: OK. I’m listening. Is this about the heels? I’m taking them off, see?…
Bibi: No, no… it’s not that Sara’le… well, that too. But, not only that. It’s about the lawsuit.
Sara: Oh… OK.
Bibi: Listen, I have to ask you something.
Sara: Shoot.
Bibi: Did you really tell our maid to only refer to you as Mrs. Sara Netanyahu?
Sara: Yes. Is there something wrong with that?
He noticed her lips quivering as she answered. He had to tread carefully here. He turned to her mustered up the warmest smile he could produce.
Bibi: Sweetie, Sara’le… It kinda comes off, how to say, snobbish…
Sara: I just like order and heirarchy, you know, Bibi? I mean, I just like it when they respect me? You know?
Bibi: Yes, honey. I know, I know…
Sara: So, why is it so difficult to call me Mrs. Sara Netanyahu? I mean, for God’s sake, I’m the freaking first lady of Israel!
He motions her to quiet down, he doesn’t want this conversation to get into the papers as well.
Bibi: Sara, listen… how many times do I have to tell you, you’re not the first lady of Israel.
Sara: But I am!!! I am!!!! And did you just motion me to quiet down? Did I actually SEE that?
Bibi: Sara’le, calm down sweetie…
Sara: No YOU calm down! (her voice starts to take on a certain shrieking sound, similar to sewer rats in one of those Indiana Jones movies)
Bibi: Sara’le…
Sara: That Lilian is lucky I didn’t throw a shoe at her like I did that other girl!
Bibi: I know honey, she’s very lucky. She really is.
Sara: And I’ll tell you something else, Bibi… You better be careful yourself. The last time someone shooshed me down like that it didn’t end well.
Bibi: I’m sorry Sara’le…
He noticed she was running her index finger on the edge of her high-heel, over and over again. He felt very thirsty all of the sudden. 
Sara: They have to learn to respect me Bibi, they must! Now everybody thinks I’m crazy!!!
He doesn’t know how to react to that one, so he just shuts up for a second. Suddenly he understands that his silence might be interpreted as an agreement (which it was, of course), so he’s to quick to find words. Any words! Something!
Bibi: I know, I know. Look, I’ll take care of it…
Sara: How, sweetie?
Bibi: I told Sheldon about it, he said the paper will fix it.
Sara: Our paper?
Bibi: Yes, Yisrael Hayom.
Sara: So glad we have our own paper, Bibush.
Bibi: Me too honey-pie.
Sara: I’m so glad I’m a child psychologist, too. Aren’t you, Bibush?
Bibi: Yes Sara’le. It’s wonderful.
Sara: I wish people would at least respect me for that, you know? I mean, if you can’t respect me for that, then, like, grow up already! Right? Like, fuck you! Right, Bibush?
Bibi: Yes Sara’le.
Sara: I mean, I’m a fucking child psycologist, Bibi! Don’t they know that?!?!?! I’m smart!!! I am!!!
Bibi: Yes, honey, you’re very smart.
Sara: Don’t you start with me, too!
Bibi: What? I was agreeing with you, Sara’le, calm down…
He breaks into sweat. He’s decided to do anything in his powers to keep this tantrum to no longer than 5 minutes. But she lifts her shoe, pointing it at him.
Sara: And don’t call me Sara’le! Call me Mrs. Sara Netanyahu!
Bibi: Yes Mrs. Sara Netanyahu.
She takes aim…
Sara: Good! Now, I want to hear you practice those answers I wrote down for you when Obama calls next time.
Bibi: Yes, Mrs. Sara Netanyahu.
He lifts his hands in front of his face, waiting for the shoe to land on his face. He keeps saying to himself, “G-d, why couldn’t you give me shoe-dodging reflexes like George W. Bush?”
Luckily, the only thing she hits is Glenn Beck’s right eye.
23
Jan
10

What? So Soon?

Remember what Thomas Friedman wrote a few weeks ago about the U.S. involvment in the Mideast peace process?
Let’s just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: “My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It’s just you and me and the problem we own.”
Indeed, it’s time for us to dust off James Baker’s line: “When you’re serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix.”
And today I read that in your interview to TIME, Barack, you’re already frustrated? After one year in office?
“Both sides — the Israelis and the Palestinians — have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. 
I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.
And Hillary, you too?
“Ultimately, as the president also said in his interview, this has to be between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The United States, the UK, the EU, the Arab League, everyone can work together to try to create the conditions for a resolution of the outstanding issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but at the end of the day, they must make that decision.”
As my good friend Mohamed pointed out to me, it started even earlier with a typical Rahm Emanuel outburst to an Israeli diplomat:
“The US administration is tired of you, the Israelis and Palestinians. You’re wasting precious time and are missing an opportunity to make peace. There is going to be a stage in which we’re simply going to give up on this endless conflict and leave you alone.”
I don’t know. Either you guys are truly giving up, or Friedman is getting paid as an advisor to the White House… Whichever it is – it’s pretty lame.
20
Jan
10

How to Screw up an Omelette

While we were all watching the stream of pictures and videos of devastation coming in from Haiti, another huge seismic event was building up right under our noses, a 9 on the political Richter scale, in Washington D.C.
The Democrat’s loss this week in the Senate race in Massachusetts is a huge setback for the Obama administration, but it’s repercussions will be felt worldwide, as well. That’s right, even the peace process in the Middle East is going to suffer from this.
One can only wonder what the Democrats were thinking when they let this one slip through. This loss shows how Obama’s people not only misunderstand deeply what is bothering the American public today, it also shows they have no political savvy whatsoever when they needed to put all their weight and influence behind one of their own.
The failure is so collossal, it will seriously damage Obama’s image as a leader who can make the right decisions at the right time. At the height of the NFL season, with the Superbowl just weeks away, this is much like the losing team making a sudden comeback and sacking the quarterback deep in his own territory. As the NYT wrote:
“States do not come more Democratic than Massachusetts, the only one that voted for George McGovern over Richard Nixon in 1972, a fact that older residents still recount with fresh pride.”
The timing couldn’t have been worse. One day before his one-year anniversary in office, Obama got such a huge wake-up call, he’ll probably find it hard to fall asleep the next few days. With the mid-term elections coming up this November, Republicans will use this momentum to their advantage easily. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Republicans are far more excited than Democrats to turn out and vote in November: 55% of Republican voters said they were ‘very interested’ in the election, compared with 38% of Democrats.”
The knee-jerk response in the news was how Obama’s health-care plan is now in jeapordy. But there’s more at stake. What are the chances now for a strong climate change bill, or more regulations on Wall Street, or that new tax on bankers’ bonuses, or a new immigration bill?
And it just gets worse:
“It will be lost on few in the House or the Senate that the Democratic defeat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state came despite a last-minute personal appeal from Mr. Obama, who campaigned here for Ms. Coakley on Sunday. This suggests that Mr. Obama may be of limited or no help to candidates in close elections. No less important, he may not have much leverage to stop them from defying him in Washington.”
Great. So now he won’t even be able to control his own team.
And let’s not forget Bibi. He must have hit the roof with joy when he heard the news. Aluf Benn from Haaretz summed it up nicely: 
“Over the past nine months, Netanyahu has managed to curb pressure from Obama, who enjoys a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. Now, however, Obama will be more dependent on the support of his Republican rivals, the supporters and friends of Netanyahu. 
If Obama’s popularity continues to dive and the Republicans recapture at least one of the houses of Congress in November, Netanyahu and his partners will be able to breathe deep and continue expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Sure, it’s known that incumbents suffer losses in mid-term elections. It’s natural. But the Kennedy seat??? It reminds me of what my teacher at the Tadmor cooking school told us once in class: “You have to be pretty ‘talented’ to screw up an omelette.”
Barack, I gotta tell ya: this is one hell of a screwed up omelette.



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