Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthright, Birth Left & Hormonal Mifgashim

Some Israelis disapprove of her muckraking the Taglit after accepting a junket. Still, the romance of Birthright Israel captivated Kiera Feldman, who recounts her ten days on the 'love incubator' touring Israel's ethnocracy for free in the latest issue of The Nation. (Cue background music: Hava Nagila on the oudh.)

This unapologetically Zionist program originated with lefty Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, better known for the Oslo accords. Over the years, he has attracted deep-pocketed Jews to be godfathers of Birthright. Co-founder Charles Bronfman, the billionaire heir to the Canadian Seagram’s liquor empire, and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino king who is the 5th richest American, stand out. Touting Israeli settlers' Ahava Dead Sea products seems to be a sub-plot.

Some excerpts from Feldman's piece:

A new era is dawning for Birthright. What began as an identity booster has become an ideology machine, pumping out not only Jewish baby-makers but defenders of Israel. Or that’s the hope.

'hormonal mifgashim,’”is the promotion— by turns winking and overt —of flings among participants, or between participants and soldiers. “No problem if there’s intimate encounters,” an Israel Outdoors employee told American staffers during training. “In fact, it’s encouraged!” Birthright boasts that alumni are 51 percent more likely to marry other Jews than nonparticipants.

The free trip is framed as a “gift” from philanthropists, Jewish federations and the State of Israel. Far-right Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is the largest individual donor, having given Birthright $100 million over the past five years. The Israeli government provided Birthright $100 million during the program’s first decade; Prime Minister Netanyahu recently announced another $100 million in government funding. Birthright’s budget for 2011 is $87 million, a number expected to reach $126 million by 2013, enough to bring 51,000 participants to Israel that year alone.

To apply for a Birthright trip, participants need just one Jewish grandparent—and to pass a screening interview. (Practicing a religion other than Judaism is an automatic disqualifier.) After their ten days on Birthright, participants may postpone their return by up to three months to travel in the region, and it is not unheard of for progressives to “birth left” in the West Bank afterward (as I did)— although Birthright policy is that anyone discovered to have a “hidden agenda” of “exploiting” the free trip “to get access to the territories” to promote “non-Israeli” causes can lose her spot. Birthrighters planning anti-occupation activism with the International Solidarity Movement have been dismissed.

“Welcome home” is a predominant message, a reference to the promise of instant Israeli citizenship for diaspora Jews under the 1950 Law of Return. (About 17,000 Birthright alumni now live in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.) It serves as a pointed riposte to the right of return claimed under international law by the 700,000 Palestinians expelled in 1948 upon the creation of the Jewish state, and their descendants.

My traveling companions were not monsters. Birthright’s overstimulation brings about a deadening of feeling. It’s hard to imagine the suffering of others when you’re having the time of your life. In Tours That Bind, sociologist Shaul Kelner contends that Birthright activities revolve around “fun and good feeling,” meaning “the group’s hedonism is thus one of the most effective checks against a determinedly critical politics.”

It’s pleasure as a medium for Jewish nationalism. In Birthright, dissent is for fun-suckers.

Birthright Israel's raison d'etre is the declining birthrate for secular Israeli Jews. Young Jews from the Diaspora are being invited to bump up the Jewish population figures.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Auschwitz memento thief is top Herzliya official

Motti Posloszny and his wife were fined and given two-year suspended sentences for stealing items from the former Nazi death camp. Gili Cohen reports in Haaretz. Hat tip to Meir Javedanfar for the following:

"He said he made a mistake," one official said. "I don't know what would come over a man to make him steal from Auschwitz. It's completely insane."

"It's very sad - for him, for his family and for the municipality," the official added. "This is the largest department in Herzliya; it has everything. This is inconceivable."

Posloszny returned to Israel on Sunday after having spent a night in a Polish jail. He and his wife were fined and given a two-year suspended sentence; the Polish prosecutor said the fine would be used to help preserve exhibits at the camp, which now serves as a museum. Posloszny could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to Reuters, the couple stole nine items - including spoons, knives, scissors and porcelain bottle stoppers - from a warehouse where the personal effects seized from prisoners at the former Nazi camp are stored. They were arrested at the Krakow airport with the items in their possession.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dead lawyer hounds Mea Shearim court?

Every dog has its day, they say.

A Rabbinical court has ruled that the mean spirit of a secular lawyer who insulted judges 20 years ago was transferred into the body of a stray dog, reports Ynet news! This article caused a bit of headscratching among lawyers who haven't yet been reincarnated as canines. Ridiculous? PETA activists and their ilk don't think so and have unleashed their own flurry of protests. When the international press began drawing comparisons to Sharia courts and medieval justice to pariahs, many Israelis cringed. (The actions of Black Hats often seem barking mad to outsiders.)

A Jerusalem rabbinical court recently sentenced a wandering dog to death by stoning. The cruel sentence stemmed from the suspicion that the hound was the reincarnation of a famous secular lawyer, who insulted the court's judges 20 years ago.

Several weeks ago, according to the Behadrei Hadarim website, a large dog entered the Monetary Affairs Court near the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. The dog scared the court's visitors and, to their surprise, refused to leave even after they attempted to drive him away.

One of the judges suddenly recalled that about 20 years ago, a famous secular lawyer who insulted the court was cursed by the panel of judges, who wished that his spirit would move on to the body of a dog (considered an impure animal by Halacha). The lawyer passed away several years ago.

Still offended, one of the judges sentenced the poor animal to death by stoning, recruiting the neighborhood's children to carry out the order. Luckily, the dog managed to escape.

The head of the court, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin, denied that the judges had called for the dog's stoning. But one of the court's managers confirmed the report to Yedioth Ahronoth.

"It was ordered by the rabbis because of the grief he had caused the court," he said. "They didn't issue an official ruling, but ordered the children outside to throw stones at him in order to drive him away. They didn't think of it as cruelty to animals, but as an appropriate way to 'get back at' the spirit which entered the poor dog."

Jerusalem City Council Member and social activist Rachel Azaria sent an urgent letter to the attorney general, calling on him to "deal with the criminals". The Let the Animals Live organization filed a complaint with the police against Rabbi Levin.

Hat tip to Akiva Novick of Ynet News for this piece
UPDATE: The BBC now reports the court's denial of this dog death order, which achieved considerable coverage in the world press. "There is no basis for abuse of animals from the side of Jewish Halacha [law]," the rabbis said in a statement carried by Maariv news:
"A dog had entered the court and been removed". Intrestingly, there was no denial that a noisome lawyer had been cursed by the court.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Suddenly Last Supper...

This famous Untitled piece by Adi Nes, recently on display at the Israel Museum, cheekily references Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.' Here, secular Israeli soldiers eat in an IDF cafeteria, and if this turns out to be their last meal, there is no real sense of their impending deaths. (We can't quite discern the feelings of the po-faced chap dead centre.) A New York art blogger, KMK mused that Nes's image evokes 'The Silver Platter', a poem by Nathan Alterman, posted below.

Personally, I prefer the pop icon Last Supper, with Marilyn as Jesus and Clark Gable as her Judas Iscariot, which is often on display in a gallery window on King David street and reproduced on posters everywhere. In fact, there are myriad commercial permutations of this rather lame idea, ranging from Lego brick renditions to The Last Happy Meal!

The Silver Platter

by Nathan Alterman
(Translated from the Hebrew by David P. Stern)

...And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers

As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years

As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing
Stand straight in the moonlight
In terror and joy

...When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing
In plain sight of all
A young girl and a boy

Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime
On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed

To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time
Still bone weary from days
And from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion
Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head

Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion
And no sign that will show
If they live or are dead

Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter
Will ask: who are you?
And the two will then say

With soft voice: We--
Are the silver platter
On which the Jews' state
Was presented today

Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks
And the rest can be found
In the history books.