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entries tagged with: Marcy Oster


JERUSALEM – Lebanon and Israel are at war — over hummus

This record-breaking 4-ton bowl of hummus, prepared in the Israeli-Arab town of Abu Ghosh in January, was bested in mid-May in Lebanon when some 300 chefs made a 10-ton bowl of the stuff. Rachael Cerrotti/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – Lebanon and Israel are at war — over hummus.

Over the weekend, some 300 chefs in Lebanon created a plate of hummus weighing more than 23,000 pounds, or 10 tons — more than doubling an Israeli record that had been set in January.

With an official Guinness World Records representative on hand, the chefs reportedly used eight tons of boiled chickpeas, two tons of sesame paste, two tons of lemon juice, and 154 pounds of olive oil.

A day later, Lebanese chefs continued the food frenzy of record setting, frying up 11,381 pounds of falafel.

The weekend feat shattered the record set by 50 chefs in the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem in January, when they created a four-ton plate of hummus to beat a record set in Lebanon several months earlier.

Lebanon and Israel long have had dueling claims over which culture came up with hummus. Lebanese chefs accuse Israel of stealing the product and exporting and marketing it around the world as an Israeli creation.

“If you enter any good hummus restaurant in this region, you will see Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, sitting at the same table, eating the same food,” Shooky Galili, an Israeli who blogs about hummus, told CNN. “I think in the end this rivalry will show that we in the Middle East have far more in common than the things that divide us.”

No shortage of chickpeas has been reported in the region.

How do you talk on 2.1 mobile phones?

Israelis are more technologically connected, work longer hours, and are more educated than they were a decade ago, according to a recently released report of Israel’s 2008 population census.

The average Israeli has 2.1 mobile phones, according to the report. Some 71 percent of Israeli households have personal computers and nearly 91 percent of those households have an Internet connection. In 1995, 27 percent of Israeli households had a personal computer.

In 2008, 26 percent of Israeli families lived in rented homes, an increase in the number of renters. Some 66 percent owned their residences.

About 10 percent of the population is 4 or younger; those 85 and above make up 1 percent of all males and 1.5 percent of all females.

The average work week for Israelis in 2008 was 40.5 hours — 45.2 hours for men and 35.5 hours for women. In 2008, about 10 percent of Israelis spent fewer than eight years in school, 47 percent spent nine to 12 years in school, 21 percent spent 13 to 15 years in school, and 21 percent had more than 16 years of formal education.

Roughly 29 percent of Jews in Israel were born abroad, according to the 2008 census, compared with 62 percent in 1961 and 42 percent in 1983.

The Central Bureau of Statistics’ 2008 census included visits to 400,000 Israeli households and a telephone survey of 250,000 individuals. Previous censuses were conducted in 1961, 1972, 1983, and 1995.

Haredi rabbis: Israeli companies are bad investments

Israeli companies that trade on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange are a bad religious investment, a haredi rabbinical court has ruled.

The Badatz rabbinical court, whose rulings are observed by much of the ultra-Orthodox community, has decreed that Jews should not buy shares in Israeli companies because they violate Jewish law by operating on Shabbat or using suggestive advertising.

The prohibition includes companies owned by religiously observant businessmen.

The Badatz-appointed financial investment supervisory committee began working two years ago to set criteria for “kosher” investments. The committee’s rabbis concluded that nearly every publicly traded company violates Jewish law in some way.

Culture ministry part of Pride Week

For the first time, an Israeli ministry will be a sponsor of Israel’s gay Pride Week.

The week of events, titled “Love Thy Neighbor,” will commemorate Liz Trubeshi and Nir Katz, two young Israelis who were murdered at a gay community center in Tel Aviv last year.

Israel’s Science, Culture, and Sport Ministry will kick in an estimated $13,000 to fund a pride village in Tel Aviv’s city center during Pride Week, which runs June 4 to12.

Dairy food fight

Israel’s top three dairy companies are battling for customers for Shavuot, when dairy product sales jump by nearly 50 percent for the dairy-oriented holiday.

Tnuva Food Industries will supersize its packages of cheese, cottage cheese, and milk, while the Strauss Group and Tara Dairies will lower prices, Israel’s business daily Globes reported. Tnuva and Tara also will invest a combined $1.7 million in pre-Shavuot advertising.

“There is heavy consumer traffic at the refrigerator during the holiday, and it will happen whether we participate in the party or not,” said Michel Ben-Weiss, the health-and-wellness division general manager at Strauss.

Cabinet fills dental-care holes of kids

Israeli children may be smiling more now that pediatric dental care is part of the health care basket.

The cabinet approved the inclusion of dental care for children up to the age of 8 at a cost of nearly $47 million a year. The plan will go into effect in July.

Free services will include twice-yearly checkups, a cleaning, and twice-yearly X-rays. Fillings and extractions will cost a nominal fee.

“There must be healthy and open competition in providing dental care to Israel’s children,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Approximately 2,000 health fund dental clinics and 5,000 independent dental clinics are located throughout the country.



Reaction mixed to announcement on easing of Gaza blockade

On Monday, the day after Israel announced that it was easing the Gaza blockade, an Israeli truck driver walks by trucks filled with goods bound for Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – Israel’s decision to loosen its blockade of Gaza is drawing both praise and criticism.

Israel’s security cabinet voted on Sunday to ease land-based civilian imports to the Gaza Strip; the naval blockade will remain in place.

The move garnered praise from the White House, which released a statement Sunday saying it welcomed the new policy toward Gaza.

“Once implemented, we believe these arrangements should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza while preventing the entry of weapons,” the statement said. “We strongly re-affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, and our commitment to work with Israel and our international partners to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.”

Turkey, which lost nine citizens when Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla determined to break the blockade, continued to slam Israel following the announcement.

“If the Israeli government really wishes to prove that they have given up the act of piracy and terror, they should primarily apologize and claim responsibility in the slaying of nine people on May 31,” said Egemen Bagis, Turkish minister for European Union affairs, according to The New York Times.

The blockade of Gaza was put into place by Israel and Egypt in June 2007 after Hamas violently wrested power in the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. It was designed to thwart the import of weapons or weapons-capable material into Gaza and pressure the coastal strip’s rulers into releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid in 2006.

An economic blockade had been in place since Shalit’s abduction.

Pressure on Israel to ease the latter blockade, which had been climbing steadily, increased dramatically following last month’s Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening to announce the easing of the blockade, reportedly played a central role in establishing the new protocols for Gaza. The Quartet — a grouping of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia — issued a statement after Israel’s announcement calling for its rapid implementation and an easing of the conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Under the new rules, all items except those on a published blacklist will be allowed into Gaza. Until now, only items specifically permitted were allowed into Gaza. The blacklist will be limited to weapons and war materiel, including “dual-use items” that can be used for civilian or military purposes. Construction materials for housing projects and projects under international supervision will be permitted, according to a statement issued by Israel’s security cabinet.

The plan also calls for increasing the volume of goods entering Gaza and opening up more crossings, as well as streamlining the movement of people to and from the strip for medical treatment.

Despite the easing of the land blockade, Israel will continue to inspect all goods bound for Gaza by sea at the port of Ashdod.

Israel called on the international community “to stop the smuggling of weapons and war materiels into Gaza.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague praised Israel’s plan but took a wait-and-see attitude.

“The test now is how the new policy will be carried out,” he said.

German officials called for a complete end to the blockade in the wake of Israel’s refusal to allow Germany’s minister of economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, to enter Gaza during a four-day visit to the region.

For their part, Hamas officials said the easing of the blockade was not good enough to relieve the distress of the Gaza population. They called the changes “cosmetic,” according to Ynet.

In Israel, the announcement received mixed reviews. Some lawmakers, including ones from the centrist Kadima Party and the center-left Labor Party, criticized the government for buckling under pressure, saying the move would strengthen Hamas. But others, such as Labor’s Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, praised it. Arab-Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi called it insufficient, saying the blockade should be lifted completely.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the French news agency AFP that the blockade should be abolished altogether.

“These steps alone are not sufficient,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said, “and all efforts must be exerted to ease the suffering of the people of Gaza.”



Tourists flocking to Israel at record pace

Tourists from Singapore cover themselves with mud while bathing in the Dead Sea. Yossi Zamir/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – Israeli tour guide Yossi Weiss was leading two busloads of American Christian pilgrims on a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City when he noticed how difficult it was to move around.

The Jewish Quarter was crowded and busy as the group visited the Temple Mount, Robinson’s Arch, and other famous sites, observed Weiss, who recently was named chairman of the Israel Tour Guides Association.

It was one sign of the record year Israeli tourism is having.

Despite the hand-wringing over Israel’s image overseas, the political direction of the Jewish state, and the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, visitors are continuing to flock to Israel — more than ever.

In the first half of 2010, some 1.6 million tourists visited Israel, setting a new record, according to the Israeli Tourism Ministry. It constituted a 39 percent increase over the same period of 2009, which included the Gaza war, and a 10 percent increase from the first half of 2008, Israel’s previous record year for tourism.

“Israel is a sought-after tourism product,” said Oren Drori, senior deputy director general at the Tourism Ministry, adding that there is a wide gap between Israel’s political image and its actual image.

Despite the gains over last year, the number of visitors for 2010 is only slightly ahead of where the numbers were 10 years ago, before the start of the second Palestinian intifada, according to Ami Etgar, director general of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association.

Claiming that Israel can do better, Etgar said, “This is a country that every person in the world has a motivation to visit.”

Furthermore, the record numbers have not translated into equal gains for Israeli hotels because many of the tourists are day trippers visiting from Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, and Turkey, according to Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotel Association.

The numbers also include the passengers on cruises that dock in Haifa and Ashdod ports. For nearly a decade, cruise ships did not stop in Israel because of ongoing security issues, but they have returned in recent months, and bookings have increased for 2011.

“We are glad that people are coming to visit the country,” Gonen said. “We hope they will come again and stay longer.”

Industry experts attribute Israel’s tourism boom to several factors:

• Israel has changed its aviation policies to allow more airlines to land in the country, including charters and low-cost European carriers.

• The evangelical market is growing. Three-fourths of all visitors to Israel are non-Jewish, and 35 percent of those visitors define themselves as pilgrims, according to Drori.

• More Russians are coming, in part because Israel lifted the visa requirement for travelers from Russia in 2008. With the visa restriction now being lifted on Ukraine, the number of visitors from that country is expected to grow, too.

• Tourism traffic from Latin America, particularly Brazil, has risen dramatically. A new El Al route established earlier this year between Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo has helped bring more visitors from South America. “It’s a boom,” Pilgrim Tours’ operations manager Eduardo Kitay said of the agency’s Spanish and Latin American pilgrimage tours. Kitay says the agency is so busy, it may have to turn away groups at the end of the year and into early next year.

• New tourism markets, such as the Far East and Eastern Europe, have begun to send more travelers, while tourism from Germany, England, and France remain steady. North America remains the No. 1 source of tourists to Israel.

Tourism Ministry officials attribute their success in promoting Israel to implementation of the recommendations from a 2006 report by Ernst & Young on Israeli tourism. The report found that Israel has the potential to more than double the number of annual visitors, to between 4 million and 5 million per year, and the way to reach that point was to promote Israel’s attractions while minimizing any negative feelings associated with its political developments.

The study propelled the Tourism Ministry to develop “intensive, segmented, and focused” marketing and advertising campaigns to improve Israel’s image as a tourism destination while targeting specific audiences, Drori said. Over the past year, targeted advertising campaigns have run in the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Scandinavia, and Brazil, ministry officials said.

The manager of Tel Aviv-based Yarkon Tours, Joseph Mizrachi, says the main increase in bookings has come from Christian visitors. Jerusalem is the agency’s main destination, in addition to such Christian religious sites as the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret), the Jordan River, the Mount of the Beatitudes, and Mount Tabor.

The surge in tourists also has benefited the Palestinian economy by sending visitors to the west bank cities of Bethlehem and Jericho. Though Israeli passport holders are barred by law from entering areas fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, known as Area A, the Tourism Ministry recently allowed Israeli tour guides into Bethlehem in preparation for leading tours there, and Israel is considering easing restrictions on Israeli visits to Palestinian areas.

Weiss, of the Tour Guide Association, says August and September do not look very promising. The American market, which usually books well in advance, appears to be waiting until the last minute, he said, speculating that concerns about the economy could be the reason.

“It puts some uncertainty into the equation,” he said.



Bedouin demolitions raising tensions in Israeli land dispute

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 13 August 2010
A Bedouin boy helps to rebuild the family tent Aug. 4 in the unofficial village of Al-Arakib in the Negev after it was demolished by Israeli authorities. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – A standoff between the Israeli government and an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev Desert is raising tensions over land rights in southern Israel.

Village residents are rebuilding their homes for the third time in as many weeks after their demolition Tuesday by Israeli authorities.

In the first demolition order carried out July 27, some 1,300 police escorted Israel Lands Administration officials into the unofficial village of Al-Arakib before dawn, removing the area’s 300 residents before razing 45 structures, including homes and chicken coops. Residents rebuilt their homes and the police returned — twice.

The government says the Bedouin are occupying the land illegally; the Bedouin refused the government’s offer to let them stay as renters.

Among the Bedouin of the Negev, the demolitions are stirring anger.

“These demolitions will lead to an intifada in the Negev,” Bedouin and Israeli Arab Knesset member Talab El-Sana told reporters as he barricaded himself in one of the structures that ultimately was demolished.

The demolitions are the result of a dispute between the Bedouin and the Israeli government over rights to specific lands in the Negev comprising about 8,500 acres and 30,000 Bedouin. The Bedouin say the area has been in their families for generations, even if it has never been formally registered with the government. The Israeli government says the Bedouin are new to the land.

Balancing Bedouin claims to the land and their nomadic lifestyle against the needs of the modern Israeli state has never been easy in the Negev, where the Bedouin compete for space with Israeli military training zones, towns, and agricultural zones. For decades, Israel has tried to get the Bedouin to settle in organized towns the state established for them.

Approximately 155,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, 60 percent in the seven permanent towns the government created between 1979 and 1982, according to the Israel Lands Administration. The remainder live in homes and shanties scattered about the Negev. It is these Bedouin who frequently run up against government enforcers.

Israel has plans to build 13 new villages in consultation with Bedouin representatives to house these Bedouin, according to the ILA.

Approximately 150 to 200 Bedouin structures of the 40,000 considered illegal by the Israeli government are torn down each year.

The flare-up at Al-Arakib is the latest in a series of similar incidents since 1998, when the ILA says the Bedouin began to enter the area under dispute. The village has been the subject of cases in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Bedouins’ residence at Al-Arakib was illegal.

The ILA offered the Bedouin a deal under which they would rent the land at the nominal fee of about $2 an acre, which they refused to pay. The ILA received a court order in 2003 to evacuate and demolish the homes in the village.

Many of the residents of Al-Arakib also have permanent homes in one of the Bedouin towns, Rahat, where their children are registered in schools, according to Ortal Sabar, an ILA spokeswoman.

Yeela Raanan, spokeswoman for the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, told Human Rights Watch that only a few dozen Al-Arakib residents have other homes and that “there are at least 250 people now who don’t have another option.”

Some Al-Arakib residents reportedly also have individual land claims pending in Beersheba District Court.

Ariel Dloomy, projects director for the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace Development, says he believes that in the wake of Al-Arakib there will be more demolitions of Bedouin settlements. He said the wholesale demolition of Al-Arakib was a trial balloon to see how the Israeli people would react.

“There is a deep lack of knowledge about the Bedouins and their historic presence on the land on the side of the Jewish population in Israel,” Dloomy said. “Most of the Jewish Israelis view this conflict as a zero-sum game, while we think there is a place for everybody — Jews and Arabs — in the Negev.”

In an editorial criticizing the government for demolishing the homes at Al-Arakib, Israel’s daily Haaretz called the Bedouin “the children of the Negev.”

“Destroying their homes and pushing them into the crowded and poor Bedouin cities creates a much more severe political and social problem than the danger of the Bedouin living on state lands,” the editorial said.

During the demolitions at Al-Arakib, some critics suggested that the state wanted to clear the area for the Jewish National Fund to plant a forest at the site. JNF denied the claim, issuing a statement last week saying it “was not involved in this operation and has no link to the subject of evacuating Bedouin soldiers whatsoever.”

The organization plants forests throughout the country under a master plan of the Israeli government, a JNF spokeswoman told JTA.

JNF’s Blueprint Negev, a plan to bring about 250,000 Israelis to live in the Negev by 2013, also is raising funds to benefit the local Bedouin population. Among the sites planned is the Abu Basma Regional Council Complex/Medical Center, to be built on land donated by JNF, as well as parks and water supply and treatment projects.

After the demolitions of recent weeks, Bedouin leaders warned that the government is doing serious harm to its relations with the community.

“The attempt to uproot Bedouin citizens from their settlements constitutes a serious insult to all Bedouin,” said the Committee of Al-Arakib. “All attempts to uproot the residents of the village will fail in the end.”



Israeli institutions facing new boycotts — by Israelis

The new cultural center in the west bank city of Ariel, where some Israeli actors have refused to perform, is scheduled to open in November. Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – By now it would seem that Israelis are accustomed to calls for boycotts of Israeli products and institutions.

Many, however, may have been caught off guard this summer when those calls came from inside Israel.

In two separate incidents over the past few weeks, Israelis issued a call for boycott or announced a boycott of an Israeli institution for political reasons. One protest came from the right, directed at an Israeli university with allegedly “anti-Zionist” professors on staff; one came from the left, directed at an Israeli theater in the west bank.

The boycotts from within may mark a new front in Israel’s political battles.

For the time being, mainstream Israeli figures are condemning both boycotts.

“Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art,” Israel’s minister of culture and sport, Limor Livnat, said in response to the theater boycott.

The latest boycott call came after several Israeli theater companies announced plans to stage productions at a new theater in Ariel, a Jewish city of 20,000 in the west bank. The $10 million cultural center in Ariel, which was built partly with government funding, is scheduled to open Nov. 8. It will be the first major theater in a Jewish settlement, most of which are smaller bedroom communities.

As the theater schedule came to light, nearly 60 Israeli theater professionals signed a petition last weekend saying they would refuse to perform at the new venue or in any west bank settlement. On Tuesday, about 150 academics and authors signed a letter supporting the petition.

“We will not take part in any kind of cultural activity beyond the Green Line, take part in discussions and seminars, or lecture in any kind of academic setting in these settlements,” the letter said.

“My contract with the theater says explicitly that I am obligated to perform within the State of Israel — and Ariel is not part of the state,” director and actor Oded Kotler, a boycott petition signer, told Army Radio.

The Ariel boycott call follows on the heels of a call to boycott Ben-Gurion University issued by the campus group Im Tirtzu, which says that professors in the university’s department of politics and government harbor anti-Zionist biases and are silencing students’ Zionist viewpoints.

Neve Gordon, the head of the university’s department of politics and government, has called for a “social, economic, and political boycott of Israel.”

University President Rivka Carmi condemned Gordon’s call but has not dismissed the department chief.

“The fact that I condemn his statements doesn’t mean I can fire him,” she told the Jerusalem Post. “You cannot fire someone for their political opinions.”

University spokesman Amir Rozenblit said that the university complies with the quality and content requirements of the Israeli Council for Higher Education, and that it hires faculty members based solely on their professional and academic qualifications, not political opinions.

Im Tirtzu’s threat to approach Ben-Gurion University donors for failing to dismiss its “anti-Zionist” staff prompted some Im Tirtzu supporters in the United States to rethink their support for the organization.

Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion University condemned the boycott call by Im Tirtzu.

“Just as university president Prof. Rivka Carmi harshly condemned those who called for an international boycott of Israel, so too the university denounces any group that calls for a boycott of any Israeli university based on the opinions of its academic faculty members,” Rozenblit said.

This week, the Israeli media were buzzing with opinion-makers debating the Ariel affair.

In Haaretz, columnist Akiva Eldar suggested that artists who oppose Israel’s presence in the west bank use the opportunity to stage performances for settlers that would prompt them to think twice about the occupation. Another of the daily’s columnists, Gideon Levy, countered that Israeli theaters would be boycotted internationally if they forced actors to perform in the west bank.

Many voiced outrage that government funding goes to the theaters whose members are now calling for the boycott.

“The theaters that suck up the state’s money owe their dose of culture to the taxpayers,” Eitan Haber wrote in Ynet. “So, first get on stage and perform, and only later you can head to anti-settlement protests if you wish, even in Ariel.”

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister weighed in.

“The last thing we need at this time is to be under such an attack — I mean this attempt at a boycott from within,” Benjamin Netanyahu said. “I do not want to deny the right of any person, of any artist, to hold to a political opinion. He or she can express this opinion. But we, as a government, do not need to fund boycotts. We do not have to support boycotts directed at Israeli citizens in any manner whatsoever.”

Netanyahu, Livnat, and other government ministers have threatened to sanction theaters that refuse to perform in west bank venues.

The Habima, Khan, Beersheba, and Cameri theaters are all scheduled to stage productions in Ariel. The theaters each received about $2.5 million to $3 million from the ministry of culture and sport, according to an official in Livnat’s office. The ministry was not involved in funding the theater in Ariel, which is located about 10 miles inside the west bank and is the fifth-largest Jewish settlement in the territory.

The theaters issued a collective statement saying that the scheduled Ariel productions will go on, but that they would “respect the political opinions of their actors.” The theaters are consulting with their legal advisers on how to proceed with artists who refuse to perform in the west bank, a culture ministry official told JTA.



Dancing with Pamela, welcoming Bieber, an elephant moves to Turkey

JERUSALEM – Here are some recent stories from Israel that you may have missed.

Dancing with Pamela

Former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson is preparing to dance into Israelis’ hearts.

Coming off her sixth-place finish on America’s “Dancing with the Stars,” the 43-year-old Anderson will appear as a guest judge in the sixth season of Israel’s “Dancing” version. In addition to voting and offering the Israeli dancers feedback, the former model and Playboy cover girl reportedly will do some dancing, too.

Anderson’s comments will be subtitled in Hebrew.

Don’t mess with the apes

A new security barrier going up in Jerusalem will protect Israeli families from a new kind of intifada: rock-throwing chimpanzees.

The chimps at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo begin throwing rocks whenever they became agitated, The Jerusalem Post reported. And their rock-throwing antics usually generate large crowds, agitating them even more.

The new reinforced glass barrier, which is not called a security fence, coupled with filling in the moat in the chimpanzee exhibit, will allow the chimps to come right to the glass and get a close-up view of their human audience.

Freezing eggs for future fertility

Healthy Israeli women in their 30s can now freeze their eggs for future use.

Under the Health Ministry’s national health-care package, the women will be allowed to freeze 20 ova harvested in up to four extractions.

Until now, only women undergoing current fertility treatments or potentially egg-destroying treatment such as chemotherapy were covered for egg freezing under the national health-care plan.

The new law, which went into effect at the beginning of the month, will also allow Israeli women to serve as egg donors, meaning that Israelis will not have to look to women abroad for egg donations.

Gabi the elephant does Turkey

A famous Israeli elephant has taken up residence in Turkey. But it’s not a signal of thawing of relations between the two countries

Gabi the elephant, who was born in Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo in 2005 after being conceived by artificial insemination, boarded a ship bound for Turkey last week with two other elephants, zebras, a hippo, and several lemurs from the zoo and the Ramat Gan Safari.

The animals docked in Turkey before traveling overland to a zoo in Gaziantep, not far from the Syrian border.

The current tensions between Turkey and Israel, which were raised after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists while intercepting a Turkish-flagged ship attempting to evade Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, were not a factor in the transfer, according to Shmulik Yedvad, the zoo’s head curator. He said the transfer was handled zoo to zoo, not government to government.

“There’s no connection to politics,” Yedvad, who raised Gabi from birth, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Happily,” he added, “everyone is working together for the good of the animals, and all the politics are just not relevant.”

Costly morning rush hour

Traffic jams in Israel are not just irritating, they are expensive. A new report issued by Israel’s Finance Ministry says that the Israeli economy loses more than $5.5 billion annually as a result of traffic jams

The traffic jams may be a result of the fact that the use of public transportation by commuters going to and from work dropped by 20 percent between 1995 and 2008, along with a reported increase of the use of private cars of 15 percent, Haaretz reported. A 2007 United Nations study found that Israel had the most crowded roads of all the Western countries it studied.

The number of cars entering Tel Aviv daily rose by 18 percent between 2004 and 2008, and by 16 percent in Jerusalem. A rise of 46 percent of traffic in Jerusalem between 2015 and 2030 is possible, according to the Transportation Ministry.

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv said it will ban trucks from entering the city on major roads during the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. rush hour beginning Jan 1. The plan is similar to one in effect in Jerusalem.

Biding their time for Bieber

Young Israeli music fans are keeping their summer music calendars open after hearing that teen pop star Justin Bieber will perform in Israel.

Seven Israeli producers are vying for the opportunity to bring the 16-year-old heartthrob to center stage in Israel next summer or perhaps in April, Yediot Achronot reported last week. The performance in Israel would be part of Bieber’s “My World Tour,” which began in June following the launch of his second album, “My World 2.0.”

Bieber recently accepted an offer to perform in Israel at a private event held by a French millionaire, according to Yediot. The cost to stage a Bieber concert in Israel is estimated at $1.5 million, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page called “Justin Bieber fans in Israel” had 11,224 fans as of Sunday.



Bibi’s wheels, two ladies dancing, popping the question

JERUSALEM – Here are some recent stories from Israel that you may have missed:

Bibi’s million-dollar ride

Israel under the radar

Few luxury cars come with an anti-grenade defense system, bulletproof tires, or other serious security features such as a bulletproof armored cabin and an automated fire extinguishing system.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new official car, an Audi A8, has all of them, plus one more thing: a $1 million price tag.

The car also has a wide-screen DVD screen, a refrigerator and a humidor for cigars, according to reports, plus more mundane luxury items like a sun roof and leather interior.

Its 12-cylinder, 6-liter engine, with 450 horsepower, is the largest made by Audi for the A8. The car weighs in at nearly three tons.

Two more of the cars have been ordered to round out the prime minister’s convoy.

Netanyahu’s current convoy includes armored Toyota Land Cruisers and Chevrolet Suburbans.

‘Dancing’ takes a step

Pamela Anderson, in Israel to promote her anti-fur campaign and to guest judge on the Israeli version of “Dancing With The Stars,” visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday. Flash90

Israel’s “Dancing with the Stars” is kicking up its heels for a fifth season with same-sex partners for the first time.

Television sportscaster Gili Shem Tov, a lesbian married to a woman with whom she has a son, is paired with professional dancer Dorit Milman, who wasn’t aware that she had a female partner until Shem Tov walked into the studio for their first meeting.

“Because I share my life with a woman and have a family with her, to me this is the most natural thing to do,” Shem Tov said during the introductory show last week.

“Dancing with the Stars,” based on the British “Strictly Come Dancing” show, is the first of 35 versions broadcast in countries around the world to have same-sex partners.

So who will lead? The women said on the first show that they would take turns.

Meanwhile, former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson landed Sunday in Israel to serve as a guest judge.

Anderson has asked Israeli politicians to support a bill that would ban the use of animal fur to make clothing in Israel. The bill has angered the haredi Orthodox parties, since many of their adherents wear a streimel, a sable-trimmed hat.

Anderson has called on the politicians to view a graphic People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals video.

And the winning numbers are …

A 10,000-to-1 event that occurred twice in one month has put some big bucks in the bank accounts of three Israelis, plus a bit of extra cash in the pockets of a handful of others.

The six main numbers hit twice in Israel’s state lottery in less than a month; the seventh strong number was different, however.

Three players guessed the seven numbers correctly and each won more than $1 million. Some 95 others played the six base winning numbers in the second drawing, according to reports, each winning $1,116 to $1,831.

Gentlemen, start your engines

The popular British television show “Top Gear” raced into Israel to film an episode.

Hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May arrived recently from Iraq via Jordan driving a camouflage-colored car and another with a water pipe attached to the door. Paparazzi chased them through the hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The show also reportedly filmed in Nazareth and the Golan Heights.

No one is saying whether the hosts managed to wreck a car, as they are fond of doing, during their visit to the land of aggressive drivers.

The episode is set to air during the next season. “Top Gear” has hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.

Diamonds are forever

Israeli police helped their Belgian counterparts crack a $1 million international diamond theft.

Some of the diamonds, stolen by a worker from a diamond factory in Antwerp, were sold on the black market. A pickpocket in Paris ripped off the others from the thief.

Earlier this year, a shipment of diamonds sent from Israel to New York turned out to be part of the stolen Antwerp diamonds.

Based on the information from New York, Israeli police were able to track down the member of the diamond exchange who sent the diamonds. In his home they found several more of the stolen diamonds, as well as documentation of the sale of some of the other stolen jewels.

For your eyes only

James Bond may be on his way to Israel after Israel and Britain signed an agreement to cooperate on filmmaking.

The deal, which makes Israel a preferred filming location for British films, also will give British production companies financial incentives and tax benefits from the state to shoot in Israel, Ynet reported.

British Foreign Minister William Hague signed the pact on a recent visit.

Parts of the next Bond movie reportedly may be filmed in Israel. In addition, British filmmakers are considering producing two films about the British Mandate period in Israel, according to Ynet.

The pot is on the government

A Health Ministry committee has recommended that medical marijuana be included in the country’s national health basket.

The committee cited the steep increase in the price of medical marijuana that, if unchecked, could rise further if it does not join the list of included medicines.

The panel also recommended adding more Israeli doctors allowed to prescribe medical marijuana.

About 5,000 prescriptions for marijuana are expected to be written during 2010, according to Haaretz. The number of patients using medical marijuana could rise to 50,000 if the committee’s recommendations are accepted.

I do, I do

A physics student here may have created the world’s smallest marriage proposal — and he wants it documented as setting a record.

Elad Dekel, 25, who attends the Israel Institute of Technology, is trying to get his proposal, written on the back of a one-square-centimeter, gold-coated silicone chip, included in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest marriage proposal in the world.

Created at a nanotechnology research center in Dresden, Germany, where Dekel went as part of an exchange program, the proposal was in Hebrew and German and included a picture of the couple, Ynet reported.

Dekel showed his girlfriend, Chen Mendelowitz, the proposal under a microscope when she came to Dresden for a visit.

She said yes.

JTA Wire Service


Doughnuts, draft dodgers, and sexy paranormalists

JERUSALEM – Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

Dough for doughnuts

It’s hard to hate Elie Klein of Beit Shemesh, even though he’s been chowin’ down on sufganiyot without gaining a pound.

Israel under the radar

As of Sunday, the still-slender Klein, 30, has raised more than $4,000 for three dozen charities just for eating the Israeli doughnuts — 39 of them.

Via his Facebook page, Klein has asked family and friends in Israel and abroad to donate a certain amount per sufganiya he munches. He has raised more than $100 per puffy fried confection for 37 causes.

The gorging mitzvah grew out of a friendly rivalry among several friends to see who could eat the most sufganiyot, a traditional Chanukah food. The sponsors decide where the pledges go.

Klein, who had a doctor check him out before starting the sufganiyot marathon, told The Jerusalem Post that he’s been balancing his goodies by having plenty of salad. He told Ynet that he is “blessed with a crazy metabolism” and has not gained any weight yet as a result of his binging.

Draft-dodging women caught on Facebook

Memo to Israeli women: If you claim to be religious to avoid army service, don’t update your Facebook status on Shabbat. And don’t post photos of yourself in immodest clothing.

The Israel Defense Forces is using the social networking site to help catch draft-dodging women and reportedly has nabbed 1,000.

Military investigators looking for women who lied about being religious to evade mandatory army service have found young ladies posting photos of themselves in immodest clothing, dining in non-kosher restaurants, and responding to invitations to parties taking place on Friday night.

Some 42 percent of Jewish women in Israel do not serve in the army — 35 percent of them signed a declaration that they are religiously observant. The army has 60 days to challenge the declaration, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli men at 18 and finished with high school are required to serve three years in the Israeli military; women are required to serve two years.

Recharging their batteries

Israelis will soon see electric cars on its roads, imported to test battery recharging stations at several sites throughout the country.

Better Place, a company based in California and Israel, was granted permission by the Minister of Transportation to import 13 Renault Fluence electric cars to test the stations. The cars are set to be approved soon for marketing in Israel for 2011, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, making Israel one of the first markets for vehicles with a quick-change station, where the vehicles can pick up a freshly charged battery for immediate use.

Sexy entertainer

One of the sexiest men alive, at least for the year 2010, lives in Israel.

Israeli paranormalist Lior Suchard was named to People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive list for 2010 representing his age group, 28, on the Sexy at Every Age list of 100 men.

“I still can’t believe that I’m on the list; I’m in shock,” Suchard, who is performing his Uri Geller-esque act in Las Vegas, told Ynet. “I got all sorts of text messages from people telling me that I’m in the magazine, so I immediately ran to the store to buy it.

“On the one hand I’m a little embarrassed, but on the other hand this is very exciting. It was never my goal to be on it, but it is definitely cool to be included.

‘Traffic Light’ passes Emmy muster

“Ramzor,” an Israeli sitcom about three longtime friends and their romantic relationships, won the International Emmy Award for best comedy.

The Emmy was awarded Nov. 22 in New York at an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences ceremony.

“Ramzor,” which means “traffic light” in Hebrew, defeated entries from Thailand, Mexico, and Britain. It was selected as a finalist by a panel of 700 judges from 50 countries.

Earlier this year, the Fox network bought the rights to the show, which is being called “Mixed Signals” and is scheduled to air starting in February. The American version will be written by Bob Fischer, who wrote the Fox TV series “Married with Children” and the film “Wedding Crashers.”

Russia also has purchased rights to the show.

The Hebrew version will be aired in several other countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Georgia, Ynet reported.

“Ramzor,” which airs on Israel Channel 2 and is owned by its franchisee Keshet, is taping its third season. Its second season was among the top 10 most watched shows of 2009, with 23.7 percent of Israelis watching.

‘Sex and the City,’ Israeli style

Casting has begun for an Israeli version of the hit HBO series “Sex and The City,” Ynet reported. The series will follow the lives and loves of three 30-something gal pals. The four American women lived in New York; the three Israelis will live in Tel Aviv.

Ynet reported that young Israeli actress Neta Plotnik has been tapped to play the Carrie Bradshaw character made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker, a Jewish actress.

Two episodes will be filmed as the Globus Corp., which is producing the series, searches for a broadcasting contract.

On the Oscar shortlist

The Israeli documentary film “Precious Life” has been shortlisted for an Oscar.

“Precious Life,” the story of a sick Palestinian child in Gaza and his mother’s efforts to get him the care in Israel that he needs to survive, is up against 14 films for one of five spots to vie for the Best Documentary Film award at the 83rd Academy Awards in March.

The film, by award-winning Israeli TV reporter Shlomi Eldar, who is making his documentary directorial debut, has been screened at festivals around the world in recent months.

JTA Wire Service


Reform looks at ways to reinvent the movement

Returning food to its rightful place: Eating disorders in the Jewish community

This piece is excerpted from Rabbi Zlotnick’s chapter in “A Sacred Table” (CCAR Press).

[M]any of us were raised with the philosophy that it is always better to have too much rather than too little food at a special event. Holiday tables are laden with dish upon dish placed before the family, while relatives urge one another to “Eat, eat!” Some people speculate that this phenomenon may be attributed to our history, during much of which we experienced periods of dire deprivation and starvation….

Perhaps the power of Jewish history subconsciously plays itself out every time we gather with food as our centerpiece.

This sets the scene for eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating / compulsive overeating) to become silent yet destructive forces in our families and our community….

Jews, especially but not exclusively Jewish women, are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders. People who are high achieving, well educated, and middle class are more susceptible to eating disorders than other people are. And this is often an accurate description of many of our families in Reform congregations.

Those who work in the field of eating disorders insist that … [e]ating disorders are not about food. They are about emotions and psychological wellbeing…. Hunger and nourishment are no longer connected to the nutritional value of the food on the plate but to meeting emotional needs that are not satisfied in other ways….

Occasions on which families gather for the Jewish holidays can be particularly nerve-racking for people with eating disorders. With every course, family members make comments and suggestions: “Try the kugel”; “Oh, take another piece. You can afford it”; “Sweetie, you’ve had enough dessert.”

…Anorexics often regard Yom Kippur as a day of licit fasting, a day in which everyone else experiences the “high” of self-starvation. For binge eaters, the overabundance of sweets at an Oneg Shabbat can be both tempting and painful. Passover seders, Yom Kippur break-fasts, and Chanukah latke-eating parties can all be extremely anxiety-provoking for those with eating disorders. Yet family members at these events often do not even realize that their loved one is counting calories, pushing food around on the plate, running to the bathroom to vomit, or inspecting each bite that everyone else is taking…. Jewish families have a difficult time accepting that a loved one is self-destructive.…

As a community, we have begun to chip away at the denial that compels us to say “not my loved one” or “not in my synagogue” when we see someone engaged in self-destructive behaviors….

Jewish values can pave the way to a healthy relationship to food and nourishment. Our Sages teach that in each generation since the destruction of the Temple, every table in every Jewish home has become an altar — that is, a center for the sacred in our lives. Judaism emphasizes that food should be enjoyed as one of the gifts of Creation, but it should be enjoyed in moderation…. According to tradition, every meal begins and ends with a b’rachah, a blessing, of gratitude for the food we are about to eat, which enables us to live, to work, and to love. Kashrut can also be a means to attaining a deeper reverence for the way in which we nourish ourselves, leading to an experience of wholeness in the world….

In Judaism, we believe that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image. For people with eating disorders, this belief has been submerged. As a community, we can help return a sense of their own sacredness to people with eating disorders by being sensitive to their needs at family and temple events, by focusing on who people are rather than how they look, and by reaching out to the entire family, not just the individual with the eating disorder. Together we can return food to its rightful place: not as a weapon that our loved ones use to destroy themselves but as a pleasurable part of our Jewish experiences and memories and as a means to nourish the best in ourselves. As Rabbi Akiva taught in Pirkei Avot 3:14, “Human beings are loved because they are made in God’s image.” We can help people with eating disorders discover that they, too, are loved and that they, too, have within themselves a spark of the Divine.


After U.N. votes for Durban III, battle lines are drawn

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 31 December 2010
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva on April 20, 2009 prompted walkouts by numerous European countries. Michael J. Jordan

When the original U.N. anti-racism conference, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, devolved into an anti-Israel hate fest, Jewish groups around the world were caught unaware.

So when the Durban Review Conference was called for Geneva in 2009, Jewish activists started their fight early, persuading numerous countries to boycott the conference, dubbed Durban II, effectively blocking it from becoming a repeat of Durban I.

Now, with last week’s U.N. vote to authorize Durban III — a U.N. General Assembly session planned for September 2011 to commemorate the original Durban conference — the battle lines again are being drawn.

“The vote of the U.N. General Assembly, while not unexpected, sets the stage for a celebration of the outrageous events that took place during Durban I, which were permeated by manifestations of bigotry and hatred,” said a statement from the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The event is scheduled to be held shortly after the 10th anniversary commemoration of September 11th. It is hard to imagine a more insensitive action, recalling that the attack on the World Trade Center that killed thousands was carried out by those influenced by the same hateful ideologies that Durban I came to represent.”

The first plans to boycott Durban III already are taking shape. Canada announced in November that it would boycott the September 2011 session on “Combating racism and follow-up of the Durban Program of Action.”

“Canada will not participate in this charade,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at a Nov. 25 news conference. “Canada is clearly committed to the fight against racism, but the Durban process commemorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it.”

Both the United States and Israel have warned about Durban III turning into another occasion for gratuitous Israel-bashing.

When the matter came to a vote last Friday, the vote was 104-22 in favor of the special General Assembly session; 33 countries abstained.

“We voted ‘no’ because the Durban Declaration process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we do not want to see that commemorated,” said a statement by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice. “The United States is fully committed to upholding the human rights of all individuals and to combating racial discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry. We stand ready to work with all partners to uphold human rights and fight racism around the world.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement announcing its intention to skip the session.

“Under the present circumstances, as long as the meeting is defined as part of the infamous ‘Durban process,’ Israel will not participate in the meeting,” the statement said. “Israel expects the participants to deal appropriately with the serious manifestations of racism throughout the world, and to reject attempts to once again divert world attention from this dangerous phenomenon by means of cheap politicization.”

Condemnation of the U.N. vote by Jewish groups was fast and furious.

“The original Durban conference attempted to validate the perverse theory that Zionism is racism,” the B’nai B’rith International executive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, said. “Durban’s legacy of hate, intolerance, and double standards should never be forgotten, and should certainly never be celebrated.”

The Anti-Defamation League called for a boycott of Durban III.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said the anti-racism agenda has been misappropriated. “The global campaign against racism has been hijacked by countries that have little regard for human rights and whose primary goal is to advance highly political agendas,” Harris said. “To bring this traveling show of hatred to New York is scandalous and will not advance the noble U.N. mission of defending and protecting human rights.”

At the original U.N. conference against racism in Durban, the United States and Israel walked out when it became clear that it had devolved into little more than an opportunity for vitriolic Israel-bashing that many said bordered on anti-Semitism. The conference’s final document singled out Israel for special condemnation.

In Geneva in 2009, several European and North American countries announced ahead of time that they would not attend the conference out of concern that its special focus on Israel would make a mockery of the issue of fighting racism, and several more walked out of the conference when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the occasion to bash Israel.

The countries that voted last week against the Durban III session were Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Among the countries abstaining were Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, and Spain.

JTA Wire Service

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