Archive for the 'Half & Half' Category


Squeezable Bibi

Cross-posted with The Huffington Post

The U.S. administration has played it all wrong with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. After one year with both Netanyahu and Obama in office, the only “success” America has chalked up is a “freeze” on settlement building in the West Bank which is actually only a temporary freeze, and isn’t really enforced to begin with.

The Mideast experts in the West Wing apparently think they’re up against one tough negotiator, a guy who stands up for his principles. But if anyone in the White House would actually bother to show a bit of interest in Israeli media and its coverage of the prime minister, they would be shocked at some of the headlines which repeatedly pop up. Some of the most popular ones go a bit like this: “Bibi Backtracks Once Again” or “Bibi’s Never-Ending Zigzag”, and that old favorite “Bibi Caves in to Pressure – Again”. Everyone in Israel knows that Bibi is what we call in Hebrew “Lachitz”; he’s as squeezable as a ketchup bottle.

But this important fact seems to have evaded those D.C. experts. Indeed, what Obama and his aides have apparently failed to see is that Netanyahu is one of the weakest prime ministers this country has ever seen. As Yoel Marcus wrote just this week:

“One of Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics said the prime minister doesn’t know what to fear when he gets up in the morning. Why? Because he’s afraid. Every issue on which he feels he is likely to lose or fail – he abandons. Fact: Since coming to power he has not lost a single vote in the Knesset. He doesn’t submit any proposal on which he is liable to fail.”


Over the past year, Netanyahu has succumbed to pressure from coalition members and from his own party that has made him renege on so many of his initiatives, it’s hard to keep count. Here are just a few examples:

Value added tax on fruits and vegetables

Netanyahu backed down from a plan to impose a Value Added Tax on fruits and vegetables after he met strong opposition from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a partner in his coalition. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said that the tax would harm the weaker sectors of society. Eventually, Netanyahu claimed that “A central part of my job is to listen to the will of the people. I’ve reached the conclusion that now is not the time to impose this tax.”

The drought tax

The government had a great idea to hike up water prices to make people use less of this disappearing resource. But the huge public outcry meant that Netanyahu had to let this initiative go down the drain.

Expulsion of the children of foreign workers

Netanyahu’s government isn’t exactly known for its tolerance of minorities and foreigners. So, when he and his Interior Minister Yishai decided it was time to kick out the children of foreign workers in Israel, the public outcry worked once again. The deportations won’t begin until August 2010, assuming he sticks to his guns this time…

The Highway and Railroad Plan

Just two weeks ago, Netanyahu unveiled his plan to spend over 80 billion shekels ($20 billion) on new highways and railroads connecting the Galilee to the Negev. But officials in the Treasury got up on their hind legs and seem to have derailed this plan, as well.

National Heritage Sites

And just this morning, Netanyahu added two controversial sites to a list of sites that would be granted 400 million shekels (100 million dollars). After pressure from right-wingers, Netanyahu added the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to the list.

The “Jobs” Law

This would have allowed municipalities across the country to appoint dozens of deputy mayors to public offices at a huge cost to the public coffers. The huge public outcry did it again (thank G-d for Israeli public outcry…).

The Absorption Budget

When Foreign Minister and head of the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party Avigdor Lieberman heard that the Absorption Ministry’s budget would be cut along with all the other ministries, he called a press conference and announced his party wouldn’t be voting with the coalition. Bibi quickly put in a call, and invited him in for a chat at his office to promise it wouldn’t happen.

Right to vote for Israelis living abroad

Netanyahu’s initiative to allow all Israelis abroad to vote will probably change drastically, if not vanish totally into thin air. The goal, of course, was to strengthen his fan base, since most of the several hundred thousand Israelis living abroad are known to lean to the right. Netanyahu has met strong opposition from his coalition partners, mainly Ehud Barak and the Labor Party. It now seems the privilege will be given only to those who left the country one year before elections.

And this is just a partial list, from one year in office.

So, why is it that small-town politicians, officials and public outcry can twist Bibi’s arm, but the leader of the free world can’t even beat him in a thumb-wrestling match? Simple. Everyone knows Bibi is “Lachitz”, and everyone knows his weak spots. Everybody knows he cares what people think of him, that he can’t take the pressure, and most importantly: all he wants is to do what most prime ministers never do – finish a full term without going to elections.

You might ask then, “Why is it that when it comes to Iran and the peace process he doesn’t give in”? Well, that’s because those are precisely the areas where he has no pressure to do otherwise – not from abroad, and not at home.

U.S. administrations have rarely put any pressure on Israeli governments. The last time Israel faced any real pressure was when Bush Sr. threatened Yitzhak Shamir that the U.S. would cancel loan guarantees – a threat which many analysts say made Shamir eventually attend the Madrid peace conference.

Obama has done nothing of the sort. Even when his envoy, George Mitchell, hinted about using the loan guarantee threat again, America failed to follow through.

And it’s a shame. Because the experts in D.C. obviously don’t know what a huge opportunity has fallen into their laps. They have no idea what a weakling of a leader Netanyahu is. He never leads. He never initiates. It’s all about survival for him.

If only they knew that with a bit of pressure, in just the right spot, they could have Bibi eating out of their hands.


A Sight for Sore Eyes

Two nights ago Karen and I spent a few hours holding Emma’s hand at an emergency clinic in Tel Aviv. She had been vomiting the whole day, and by then she was quite dehydrated. Watching your kid cry her eyes out when a doctor sticks an IV drip into her wrist is as painful as it gets.
Thank G-d she’s OK now…
Another sight for sore eyes was a nice old lady sitting next to us in the nurse’s room.
Turns out it was Yael Dayan.
The first thing that popped into mind was: “Wow, she’s aged”.
She looked so frail. So tired.
I don’t know why she was there. I didn’t ask, of course. Although I must say, I was tempted to go over and tell her what a fan I am. Tell her that there’s really no one out there who puts up a fight anymore, like she used to. Like Yossi Sarid used to, like Shulamit Aloni used to.
But I knew better than that.
So, I just looked at her as she sat and held her cane while patiently waiting for the doctor.
“She shouldn’t be here”, I thought. As if she shouldn’t be here with all us common people. After all she’s done, after all the battles she fought. I felt like she should be getting the celebrity treatment. She deserves it.
“She looks like the Left does these days”, I said to Karen.
It sounded so cliché.
But that’s the thing about clichés, I guess, there’s always some truth to them…


1) Rituals

Last night I watched the Superbowl.

Watching the Superbowl in Israel is the epitome of being a Half & Halfer.

It takes dedication. 


And caffeine. In any form.

Why? Because the game starts at 1:30 am. Ends at 5:30 am.

Over the years I’ve watched the game in different settings.

First with Dad, as a kid. Then later as a teenager.

But then Dad started getting tired and never made it till the end of the game.

Then I was in the army. So, I missed 3 Superbowls. Now THAT’s Zionism.

In my 20’s I started hosting. Beers, nachos, guacamole – and during the pinnacle years: buffalo wings with Blue Cheese dressing. All home made.

When Karen joined the team, she tried to stay up – but never made it past the first quarter.

Just now, she admitted to me: “I was only in it for the nachos”.

But now, in my 30’s, it’s just me again. 

Me and my brand new La-Z-boy.

I look forward to this yearly ritual. Whether I’m alone, or with friends.

It’s a chance for me to connect to that other part.

That other Half.

2) Payback

I’ve used this platform to bash Israeli ad agencies for stealing ideas from American ads.

Superbowl 44 was payback day for the Israelis, when Coca Cola stole a 7-year-old Israeli ad for chocolate milk.

Couldn’t find a YouTube clip, so here’s the link to the news item on Channel 2 (interesting watch for English-speakers as well).חדשות/News/Economics/Consumers/Article,37234.aspx

3) Congrats

The Saints deserved it. Mazal Tov. 


The Other Israeli Siege

Cross-posted with The Huffington Post

Next week, Bibi Netanyahu will be celebrating his first (and may it be the last) anniversary of his February 10 election victory.

After one year in office, Bibi’s got reasons to be fairly pleased with himself. Security-wise, 2009 was the quietest year in the past decade.

Diplomacy-wise, he’s staved off pressure from a once-adored President Barack Obama to permanently freeze settlements (instead, he “gave” Obama only 10 months – and yet still, while the clock ticks, the building goes on), and he’s managed to stall the peace process long enough for Republicans (his ole’ buddies in Congress) to get back into business in D.C.


Even economy-wise, things are looking up; the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, is getting tonnes of kudos worldwide – even from the IMF itself – for getting Israel through the financial crisis practically unscathed.

In addition, a recent poll shows that although Netanyahu himself has lost some altitude among the public, his Likud party has gotten even stronger and would win a few more seats in the Knesset if elections were held today. Something he can definitely live with.

Meanwhile, Israel’s critics overseas have continued, and rightfully so, to denounce it’s continuing occupation of the territories, particularly the siege on Gaza. But what seems to have slipped under the radar overseas is a siege of a totally different kind: the siege on Israeli democracy itself.

Last year it began with full-blown Liebermanism (after Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman) – most notably with the “Loyalty Law”. Mr Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu party has done much damage to Israel on so many fronts, especially the diplomatic one, but if this law passes, MKs, who take an oath at the beginning of each Knesset term, will have to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel as “a Jewish democratic state”, instead of the usual “State of Israel and its laws”. That could pose a bit of a problem for, hmmm, let me think… MKs who aren’t Jewish?

But if January and the beginning of February 2010 are any indication, Israeli democracy will have taken a much more dangerous turn for the worse.

It is now official: Israel 2010 is a place where it’s dangerous to be a leftist, because you’ll probably be arrested for voicing your opinion in public; it’s a place where reporters and editors apply self-censorship at unprecendented levels; a place where government funding for culture is cut off if it doesn’t fit the government’s agenda; and last – but not least – a place where the second biggest (on its way to being THE biggest) newspaper is basically an extension of the ruling party.

Here are just a few examples of what has taken place in Israel in one month alone, January 2010. All of them are worth a blog post in themselves, but since events are happening so fast on the ground (as they usually do in Israel), I’ve decided to give you a quick wrap-up:

Growing Self Censorship
In early January, two major newspapers inexplicably shelved two stories.

* Ma’ariv wihtheld an interview with Mohamad Bakhri, the director of the controversial movie “Jenin, Jenin”. Bakhri made the movie after the bloody battle in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, where dozens of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers were killed. He was later sued for libel for how he portrayed the IDF, and has since been practically ostracized by Israeli Jewish society. Apparently Ma’ariv decided it would be better not to allow Bakhri to speak in its pages.

* Yedioth Ahronot completed an investigation into procedures of opening fire on Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead, and apparently found evidence that these procedures were considerably lax. But Yedioth never published the story, and eventually the British Independent got hold of it and did it for them…

Sheikh Jarrah Protests
Over the past few weeks, left-wing protesters have demonstrated in this East Jerusalem neighborhood against the outrageous, insensitive eviction of Palestinian families from their homes and replacing them with Jewish settlers.

Police showed a strong reaction to these protests, some say much stronger than they normally show during settler or Haredi protests. Also, police arrested dozens of peace activists claiming the protests were illegal to begin with, although the courts have decided (twice!) that this is incorrect.

The police handling of the protests is widely viewed as a severe infringement on freedom of speech in Israel, and the debate that ensued was reported extensively in Israeli media – especially on the net. Unfortunately, the debate over freedom of speech has recently overshadowed the real reason for the protests – the Jewish takeover of East Jerusalem.

Yisrael Hayom and Sara Netanyahu
The free daily newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, has long been considered by most in the Israeli media as a “Bibi-ton” (a mash-up of Bibi Netanyahu’s name and the word “iton”, which means “newspaper” in Hebrew). Founded by Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has had a long and close relationship with Netanyahu, the paper is no less than Israel’s version of Fox News. “Fair and Balanced”? Yeah, right…

Since its foundation, the founder and staff have constantly dodged claims of favoring Netanyahu, but when word about the Prime Minister’s wife being sued by her maid was published in the main rival, Yedioth Ahronot, well, Yisrael Hayom didn’t even try to hide it. There was no question about who’s side they were on anymore. Anyone who still had doubts – especially after reading the headlines and analyses of reporters, going out of their way to protect the First Lady – had to be blind. Did I hear “Pravda”?

Cultural Boycott
In Israel 2010, if you don’t make movies like the ones the government wants you to make, forget about any kind of funding. In his excellent blog “Promised Land”, Noam Sheizaf wrote last week about the sad story of an Israeli film called “Lipstikka”:

Lipstikka was originally planned to deal with director Jonathan Segal’s mother’s experience in the Holocaust. Later on Segal decided to move the plot to Ramallah, and to tell the story of two girls struggling to end the Israeli occupation. Like almost all Israeli films, Segal received financial support for his film from the Israeli Film Fund (IFF).

Last Friday, Israel’s most popular columnist – and Channel 2 News anchorman – Yair Lapid quoted in his weekly column in Yedioth a passage from a pre-production brochure advertising Lipstikka, which compared Israeli occupation to the Nazism. As a result, Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat (Likud) contacted the IFF, which immediately decided to freeze all support for Lipstikka. Director Segal claimed later that the brochure was written by a British PR woman who was sacked from the production two years ago – and that Lapid never contacted him to get his comment on the issue – but at this point, nobody really cared to listen.

Basically, what the IFF and the Minister for Culture did was little more than censorship. It is important to understand that it’s almost impossible to produce a film in Israel without the IFF’s help. Allocating funds according to the political message of films means that from now on only certain views will be allowed to be shown.

* Jared Malsin, a Jewish reporter who was the English Editor of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, was deported on January 20 after 8 days in police custody. He was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport for allegedly not cooperating with immigration officers’ questioning. But reports have since surfaced that Malsin was questioned about his critical reporting of Israeli policies in the West Bank.

* The notorious Oz unit of the immigration police, used on a daily basis to round up and deport foreign workers, went all the way to Ramallah on January 11 to grab Czech pro-Palestinian activist Eva Novakova and deport her to Prague.

The New Israel Fund
This is the biggest story in Israel for the past week or so. Israeli newspapers have run huge ads paid for by Im Tirzu, a right wing movement, claiming that NIF and its Chairman, Prof. Naomi Chazan, support Israeli NGO’s responsible for feeding Judge Goldstone false information and, basically, making us look bad abroad.

The caricatures in the ads of Chazan remind most people of dark times in Europe, and have really brought down the level of debate over Goldstone’s report to the UN. As a result, left-wingers have stooped down to their level and are now calling Im Tirzu activists “fascists”. What leftists should really be asking their opponents is: “Why is it OK for Americans to fund settlements, but not Israeli NGOs that do a lot of good for the country”?

Meanwhile, on Thursday Chazan was notified by Jerusalem Post editor, David Horovitz, that she will no longer be writing her weekly column in the paper, after 14 years. Which leaves Larry Derfner as the last voice of the left in that publication.


American media has over the years shown interest in violations of human rights in China, in North Korea, in Putin’s Russia and more. There are enough foreign journalists in Israel to cover any story they want – it’s time they started reporting on the other, just as dangerous, siege taking place in the MidEast.


Maybe We Can?

Israeli leftists (those of us that are left) can be divided into two. Well, probably more than two, but stay with me a sec… Those who want to end the occupation for pragmatic reasons, and those who want to see an end to Palestinian suffering. There are, of course, many gray areas in between…
I won’t go into the different reasonings for both – that could take years. I will say, that for me it kind of depends on my mood. If I’m in a “Have-you-hugged-your-Palestinian-today?-mood”, and I’m all feel-good-lovey-dovey, then I can easily go for a one-state solution and let my kid marry a Palestinian. But the truth is, I haven’t felt like that for years.
Usually I’m in a “Good-fences-make-good-neighbors-mood”. Which basically means, I want the occupation to end, for all settlements to be removed (now!), and that I wouldn’t feel too bad if I didn’t see another Palestinian for the rest of my life.
But every once in a while I get those peace-pangs, deep down inside. It happened again recently when I watched an interview on Channel 2 with Knesset member Ahmed Tibi. It brought back those good ‘ole feelings of “not only do I think I CAN live with Palestinians, I may actually WANT to live with them”.
I’m going to do an injustice to Tibi by trying to sum him up in just a few lines for those of you who don’t know him, but – it must be done. He’s an Arab MK, the leader of the Ta’al party. He is a trained medical doctor, and in the early 90’s before he got into the Knesset, he was an advisor to Yasser Arafat.
Over the years, Tibi has been called every name in the book, from “traitor” to “terrorist”. But I’ve always found him to be a rather moderate MK, and a straight-talking politician. Very rare these days, as you know.
To cut a long story short, last Wednesday on International Holocaust Remebrance Day, Tibi gave a speech from the Knesset podium. I guess that since it wasn’t Israel’s official Holocaust Day, they didn’t mind letting an Arab speak. But lo and behold, Tibi took their breath away – even Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin called it one of the best speeches he has ever heard in the plenum.
I’ve subtitled an interview Tibi did with Yair Lapid (who I recently wrote about here)  on Channel 2’s flagship Friday evening news show, about the speech.
Take a look (it’s only 5 minutes), and meet me later for a chat.
Now, some of my readers are probably saying: “Oh, Tibi’s just telling us what we want to hear”. Call me naive, but I thought he was very genuine.
First, for those of you who aren’t Israeli it might be difficult to understand – but to hear an Arab with a thick Arab accent tell the story of a young couple who fell in love in Auschwitz, with all the German and Jewish names, and tell it as if it was his people that had been persecuted – all this is very new to Israeli ears. It had a strange affect on me, at least…
Lapid, being the usual drama-queen that he is, was actually asking the right questions. Not the questions that I would have asked, but the ones that the typical Israeli on the street wants to hear answers to: We’re here to stay because of the Holocaust, can you understand that?
I believe Tibi understands. I believe many Arabs do – though I don’t know if all of them do. But the same can also be said about the understanding of the Palestinian’s pain on our side.
I do know that if we all lived by Tibi’s credo, of not wanting to beat each other – but to win together – things might look a whole lot better around here.

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,


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.

Another Favorite…

May 2020

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