* Druze MK next in line for Israeli presidency: would be the first non-Jewish leader of a Jewish state or monarchy since the death in 4 BCE of King Herod
* Israel and Jordan declare a joint war – on flies
* Naomi Ragen fights segregated bus lines
NOTE ON GAZA COVERAGE
Please note that as fighting continues between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, the international media is generally failing to mention the high number of Palestinian children being killed and injured. By contrast, they rarely failed to draw attention in the past when Israel accidentally killed a Palestinian minor.
Also not properly reported is the arrest in Gaza by Fatah yesterday of seven Iranian arms and chemical weapons experts, who Fatah said were working with Hamas to develop chemical weapons at labs in at the Islamic University in Gaza City. Fatah said they also found more than 1,000 rifles and an undisclosed number of missiles at the university. Some European and American academics take great pride in twinning themselves with such universities, while boycotting Israeli ones.
1. Israeli men live longer
2. Kafiyehs adorned with Stars of David
3. “It’s no great honor being an Israeli this year at Davos”
4. Meet President Dalia Itzik
5. Druze MK next in line for Israeli presidency
6. Moshe Katsav clings on
7. Perfect timing: Finance committee raises President’s salary
8. Most Israelis want Olmert, Peretz to follow Halutz’s lead and quit
9. Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi
10. Likud surges ahead in polls
11. Norway’s boycott of Israel backfires
12. “Israeli male lifespan among highest in developed countries” (Ha’aretz, Jan. 25, 2007)
13. “Entrepreneurs sell kafiyehs adorned with Stars of David” (Wash. Times, Jan. 20, 2007)
14. “Jews and Arabs declare war – on houseflies” (Al Bawaba, Jan. 22, 2007)
15. “Naomi Ragen fights segregated bus lines” (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 25, 2007)
16. “Israeli billionaire Saban biggest donor to US politicians” (Yediot Ahronot, Jan. 23, 2007)
17. “Israel’s image hits nadir” (Yediot Ahronot, Jan. 24, 2007)
18. “Berlin festival shuns Israel” (Yediot Ahronot, Jan. 21, 2007)
This dispatch concerns recent developments in Israel.
ISRAELI MEN LIVE LONGER
According to new findings, the average lifespan of Israeli men is among the highest in the world. Men in only five countries – Iceland (where the average age is 79.2), Japan (78.6), Switzerland (78.6), Sweden (78.4), and Australia (78.1) – have longer lifespans than Israeli males, who live an average of 78 years.
According to the report “the quality and high level” of doctors and nurses “are a significant source of the success of the Israeli health system.”
However, Israeli women rank close to the middle of the field of developed nations compared to their international counterparts, though they do live longer than Israeli men, with an average lifespan of 82.4 years. (For more, see the first article below.)
Meanwhile, novelist Naomi Ragen and the Israel Religious Action Committee of the Progressive (Reform) Movement are petitioning Egged and Dan, the Israeli national bus companies, who operate 30 ultra-orthodox (haredi) bus lines throughout the country.
On these haredi buses women are forced to enter the bus from the rear doors and sit in the back rows away from ultra-orthodox male passengers, and they are barred from boarding unless they wear “modest” clothing. Five women, including Ragen, have petitioned the Israeli High Court demanding that the Transportation Ministry stop running these lines until they operate in accordance with the law. Ragen is herself Orthodox, as well as being one of Israel’s best-selling writers, and a long-time subscriber to this email list. (For more on this court action, see the fourth article below.)
KAFIYEHS ADORNED WITH STARS OF DAVID
Two Israeli entrepreneurs have repackaged the Kafiyeh, the black and white scarf made famous by Yasser Arafat who wore one daily, adorning it instead in blue and white Stars of David and stripes like those that appear on the Israeli flag.
The idea was thought up by Ben Haim, a sculptor, and Moshe Harel, an industrial designer. Haim said, “I see kafiyehs in every place, but not an Israeli kafiyeh. The Palestinians have one, the Jordanians have [a red and white] version and the Saudis have one, why shouldn’t we?” (For more, see the second article below.)
The Arab paper Al Bawaba reports (in the third article below) that “In a rare show of solidarity, citizens of Israel and Jordan came together to declare war recently, not on one another, but on a common enemy plaguing both – houseflies.”
A delegation of Israelis and Jordanians met in the Jordanian city of Safi recently and signed a breakthrough memorandum of understanding to work together against the flies and against the desiccation of the Dead Sea. Scientists believe the sea’s shrinkage has caused a rise in houseflies on both the Jordanian and Israeli sides of the sea.
The fifth article below reports that Israeli billionaire and media mogul Haim Saban, who has donated at least $13 million to U.S. politicians, now tops the list of donors to political campaigns in America.
“IT’S NO GREAT HONOUR BEING AN ISRAELI THIS YEAR AT DAVOS”
Israeli columnist Sever Plocker warned his countrymen before the recent Davos Conference, to “stay away if you haven’t yet boarded the plane. Please don’t come, because it’s no great honor being an Israeli this year at Davos. In fact, it’s humiliating.”
Plocker argues that “Israel’s image is at an all-time low.” “It’s seen as a declining and dysfunctional country whose president is about to face charges of rape, whose prime minister will be interrogated on suspicion of advancing his associates’ interests, whose finance minister will be ousted from his post due to an affair involving finances and non-profit organizations, whose army chief already resigned due to the failures of the war, and whose defense minister will soon be forced to follow suit.”
Yesterday, Israel’s former Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, was convicted for indecent behavior, for having kissed a young female soldier against her will. Ramon will be sentenced on February 21. Ha’aretz’s editorial notes that “the verdict in the Haim Ramon trial marks the beginning of a new age, but not necessarily a better one. Defining Haim Ramon as a sex offender and a non-consensual kiss as a sexual crime opens too wide a door and may blur the boundaries between real sexual crimes [like those President Katsav is accused of] and inappropriate behavior.”
The final article below reports on “the Berlin International Film Festival, which [according to the author] has been consistently undermining Israel’s existence in recent years.”
MEET PRESIDENT DALIA ITZIK
Israel’s acting president for the next three months is Dalia Itzik. Until this week, she served as the speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. A long-time member of the left-leaning Labor Party, Itzik turned her back on Labor a year ago to join the centrist Kadima party, along with her mentor Shimon Peres, who is expected to run for president when fresh elections are held.
Itzik took over as acting president last Thursday after lawmakers approved President Moshe Katsav’s request for a three-month leave of absence. Katsav said he needs that period to defend himself against allegations of rape, breach of trust and other criminal offences.
Itzik, 54, is Israel’s first female president, albeit only an acting one. Golda Meir was Israel’s first female prime minister in 1969.
As acting president, Itzik will have all of the president’s powers, including the right to grant pardons, accept new ambassadors’ credentials, receive weekly reports on cabinet meetings and be briefed by senior defense officials.
Itzik was born in Jerusalem to a family of Iraqi origin, and worked as a school teacher for many years, as well as being an activist in the Teachers Union’s Jerusalem branch. She emphasized that she is not planning to run for the presidency after her temporary term expires.
DRUZE MK NEXT IN LINE FOR ISRAELI PRESIDENCY
The Israeli next in line to the presidency of the Jewish state after Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik is not a Jew. The next time Itzik goes abroad, the acting president will be Druze MK and Deputy Knesset Speaker Majallie Whbee of the Kadima party. Whbee is a resident of the village of Beit Jann, near Acre.
Itzik postponed a trip to Spain last Wednesday, but is to go abroad next month. Whbee said he is looking forward to leading the country, even if it would only be temporary.
Whbee will be the first non-Jewish leader of a Jewish state or monarchy since the death in 4 BCE of King Herod, a descendent of Idumean slaves whose father converted to Judaism, and whose mother was a Nabataean.
Whbee said he would be proud to be Herod’s successor. “Herod built Jerusalem, and I hope I can follow in his footsteps and build the country well.”
Israel this week confirmed the appointment of Raleb Majadaleh as Minister of Culture, Science and Sport. He is Israel’s first Muslim Arab cabinet minister (as reported on Jan. 11, 2007 on this list in the dispatch “Israel appoints its first Arab cabinet minister (& Mossad-KGB double agent dies”.))
KATSAV CLINGS ON
Moshe Katsav, who was born in Iran, called impending rape and other sexual assault charges the product of “poisonous, horrible lies.” But few believe him given the weight of evidence against him, and top officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have beseeched Katsav to stop clinging to office and allow the nation to heal.
Thirty of parliament’s 120 lawmakers, 10 more than required, have signed a motion to begin impeachment proceedings, and nearly 70 already have said they would vote to remove Katsav. Many Israelis have said professional politicians should be barred from standing for president in future.
PERFECT TIMING: FINANCE COMMITTEE RAISES PRESIDENT’S SALARY
The Israeli business daily Globes reports that Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) on January 24 approved a 2.3 percent pay raise for President Katsav, even though he is suspended from office.
Katsav’s salary is higher than that of other Israeli leaders, such as the Prime Minister, the President of the Supreme Court, and the Governor of the Bank of Israel.
MOST ISRAELIS WANT OLMERT, PERETZ TO FOLLOW HALUTZ’S LEAD AND QUIT
According to a new poll, the majority of Israelis want Premier Ehud Olmert and his defense minister, Amir Peretz, to resign over the failures of the recent war on Lebanon, in which 159 Israelis were killed. The military chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, resigned two weeks ago. Olmert is also facing a police investigation over corruption allegations.
CHIEF OF STAFF GABY ASHKENAZI
Halutz has been replaced as army chief by Maj.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi, 53, fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war and took part in Israel’s rescue of more than 100 hostages held by Palestinian and German hijackers at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. He has extensive experience in Lebanon, commanding major operations in the first Lebanon war in 1982 and overseeing the eventual withdrawal of all Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000.
He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is a graduate of Harvard University’s international business administration program. He was born in Israel.
LIKUD SURGES AHEAD IN POLLS
According to a widespread new poll released on January 31, if fresh elections were held, Likud would gain 32 mandates, whereas Kadima would gain only 9, and Labor 9. Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman’s party on the right of Likud) would come second with 10 mandates.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was perceived as the person best suited to serve as prime minister, earning 34 percent support and beating out his competitors by a wide margin. After Netanyahu, those surveyed favored Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor Knesset Member Ami Ayalon, who each earned the support of 16 percent, then Ehud Barak with 8 percent. Ehud Olmert trailed with only 3 percent of the vote.
NORWAY’S BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL BACKFIRES
One year after the Socialist Left Party (SV) launched its boycott of goods from Israel, the import of Israeli goods to Norway has actually increased by 15 per cent, the Norway Post reports (www.norwaypost.no/cgi-bin/norwaypost/imaker?id=43237). SV party secretary Edle Daasvand, who has led the campaign against Israel, admitted to the newspaper Vaart Land that he was disappointed by the results.
I attach seven articles below.
-- Tom Gross
ONLY FIVE COUNTRIES HAVE LONGER LIFESPANS FOR MEN THAN ISRAEL
Israeli male lifespan among highest in developed countries
By Relly Sa’ar
January 25, 2007
The average lifespan of Israeli men is among the highest in developed countries, according to an annual Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel report released Wednesday. Israeli women, meanwhile, rank close to the middle of the pack compared to their international counterparts.
Men in only five countries have longer lifespans than Israeli males, who live an average of 78 years: Iceland (79.2), Japan (78.6), Switzerland (78.6), Sweden (78.4), and Australia (78.1).
Even though Israeli women place lower than Israeli men, they live longer, with an average lifespan of 82.4 years.
The average lifespan is one measure for defining quality of life and differentiating between developed and undeveloped countries.
According to the report, the mortality rate in cities in the center of the country as well as Jerusalem is 7 to 8 percent lower than the average national rate.
The most prevalent causes of death here are heart and blood vessel diseases, which were responsible for 30 percent of all deaths in 2003, and cancer, at 25 percent.
“The quality and high level” of doctors and nurses “are not an insignificant source of the success of the Israeli health system,” the report said.
However, although the number of doctors in Israel is similar to the rate in other industrial countries – 3.4 per 1,000 people - not all residents equally benefit from such prevalence. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have more doctors than the national average – 4.2 and 3.9 per 1,000, respectively – while northern communities have only 2.3 doctors per 1,000 residents.
Residents of the periphery also have access to fewer hospital beds and an inferior medical infrastructure compared to those in the country’s center, the report said.
While the number of nurses has increased in many developed countries since the 1990s, there has been no similar increase in Israel. Israel’s 5:1,000 nurse-to-resident ratio places it at the bottom of the list of developed countries, along with Poland, Portugal, Greece and Turkey. Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands have three times as many nurses working in their health-care systems.
AN ISRAELI KAFIYEH
Entrepreneurs sell kafiyehs adorned with Stars of David
By Joshua Mitnick
The Washington Times
January 20, 2007
It’s been four decades since Yasser Arafat made the back and white kafiyeh scarf the indelible symbol of Palestinian nationalism when it became part of his daily wardrobe.
Now, two Israeli entrepreneurs have repackaged the scarf with a distinctly Zionist motif, in the hope that their countrymen will adopt it as a patriotic fashion accessory.
“It’s going to be like the falafel,” said Ben Haim, a sculptor who dreamed up the idea with Moshe Harel, an industrial designer.
“Generations afterward will walk around in the kafiyeh,” Mr. Haim said.
Unlike the black and white scarf favored by the late Mr. Arafat, or the red and white version common in Jordan, the Israeli kafiyeh features sky-blue coloring.
A closer inspection reveals the scarf pattern is actually miniature Stars of David, while border stripes mimic the stripes on the Israeli flag.
Despite their Zionized take on the Arab head scarf, Mr. Harel acknowledges that his kafiyeh will encounter a reflex-like resistance before Israelis can overcome the political baggage from decades of violence to make the kafiyeh their own.
Across the divide, a parallel reflex is also likely among Palestinians, who are prone to see the Israeli kafiyeh as another Israeli appropriation of a piece of their culture.
Other examples include hummus, water pipes and belly dancing.
“If it was not already locally felt that the Israelis were overtaking all aspects of Palestinian life in order to erase it, chances are that this offensive version of the kafiyeh would not raise more than an eyebrow. Instead, a great deal of offense is being taken,” wrote the Palestinian National News service in a recent article on the Israeli kafiyeh.
Mr. Haim, a resident of Haifa who runs a shop near a mosque, said he’d been toying with the concept for years before deciding with Mr. Harel to work on developing the product.
“I see kafiyehs in every place, but an Israeli kafiyeh I still have never seen. The Palestinians have one, the Jordanians have one and the Saudis have one, why shouldn’t we?”
Mr. Harel said the kafiyeh helps fill a need of Israeli Jews to better integrate into the Middle East. Once Israelis adopt the accessory, it will create “a common denominator” with their neighbors.
“Until today, the kafiyeh has been identified with Palestinians or with the Palestinian struggle. The fact that we’re manufacturing a kafiyeh suddenly softens the effect that it has. That was the goal. To give the feeling that we’re integrating into the region, and that everyone has their own kafiyeh.”
ISRAEL AND JORDAN DECLARE WAR ON HOUSEFLIES
Jews and Arabs declare war – on houseflies
January 22, 2007
In a rare show of solidarity, citizens of Israel and Jordan came together to declare war recently, not on one another, but on a common enemy plaguing both – houseflies.
A delegation of Israelis and Jordanians met in the Jordanian city of Safi to discuss the problem facing residents of both sides of the Dead Sea as a result of sea’s shrinkage, according to Haaretz.
The delegation, along with officials of the Jordan Valley Authority and district governors, signed a breakthrough memorandum of understanding to work together against the flies and against the desiccation of the sea
In addition, they agreed to establish a border crossing for merchandise and workers on the Dead Sea’s southern shore, and to establish a regional peace park south of the Dead Sea.
“It is a rare event in which the representatives of so many Jordanian bodies meet with Israelis, as political pressure usually prevents such meetings,” said Gidon Bromberg the joint Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian Friends of the Earth-Middle East (FoEME) that organized the trip.
He added that the shared nature of the issues on the local level had created the level of trust needed to reach the understandings.
The source of the fly problem was finally discovered in the fields near Safi: a fertilizer that attracts the winged pests.
“People here are poor, and they don’t have money to buy suitable fertilizers,” said Dr. Farouk Arslan, a Jordanian ecologist accompanying the group.
“This fertilizer gets wet and attracts the female flies, and that’s how the next generation develops,” explained Shlomo Abadi, a pesticide expert advising both sides.
Most residents of the banks of the Dead Sea on both the Jordanian and Israeli sides have never visited one another. In many respects, however, they are mirror images of each other, complete with potash works and their evaporation pools and a large number of hotels.
The shrinkage of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the earth, requires intervention at high levels. Mayors on both sides are trying to raise international awareness of the importance of preserving the area, one of the most important geological formations on earth.
NAOMI RAGEN FIGHTS SEGREGATED BUS LINES
Naomi Ragen fights segregated bus lines
By Dan Izenberg
The Jerusalem Post
January 25, 2007
The Egged bus company operates 30 mehadrin (haredi) bus lines throughout the country where women are forced to enter the bus from the rear doors and sit in the back rows and are barred from boarding unless they wear “modest” clothing, according to a group of women who petitioned the High Court on Wednesday against the Egged and Dan bus companies and the Transportation Ministry.
The petitioners included author Naomi Ragen and the Israel Religious Action Committee of the Progressive (Reform) Movement.
The five women who petitioned the court recounted personal experiences riding on the mehadrin lines.
Ragan, for example, was riding on the No. 40, a municipal route connecting Strauss St. in downtown Jerusalem with her home in the Ramot Gimel neighborhood. On the occasion in question, the bus was empty and Ragen took a single seat towards the front of the bus.
As the bus began to fill up, several men approached her and demanded that she move to a seat at the back. Ragen replied that there was no sign posted in the bus stating that she had to do so. She also told them that as an observant woman, she knew that there was no halacha (Jewish law) preventing her from sitting where she was.
She then reportedly suffered insults and physical threats, including a scolding from a haredi man that lasted the duration of the trip. According to Ragen, the bus driver did not intervene to guarantee her safety or order the male passengers to leave her alone.
One of the other petitioners, a woman who is serving in the army, was returning to Kibbutz Revadim from Jerusalem on mehadrin No. 494 late one night when the driver ordered her to get off the bus in the middle of the highway after haredi passengers complained that she was dressed provocatively. The woman said she had been wearing a skirt that came to just above her knees.
A third petitioner was barred by the driver from entering the bus because she was wearing trousers.
The first mehadrin lines were introduced in 1977, after a committee appointed by the Transportation Ministry recommended introducing bus routes that would attract haredi customers. According to the plan, all passengers were to be allowed to alight from any door and the bus and drivers would not prohibit any passenger from sitting where he or she wanted. It would be up to the haredi community itself to “persuade” male and female passengers to enter the bus and take their seats separately.
There were originally four pilot routes, two in Jerusalem and two in Bnei Brak, all of which served haredi neighborhoods. After a certain period had elapsed, the Transportation Ministry and the bus companies were supposed to review the situation and decide whether or not to expand the lines.
No such review ever took place, but the number of mehadrin lines has been increasing ever since.
Today, 23 of the segregated Egged lines are intercity, meaning that they are not used exclusively by haredim. In some cases, the mehadrin line is the only one traveling directly between two destinations. Passengers who do not want to abide by the mehadrin restrictions must often take two buses, travel for longer, and pay more to get to the same place from the same starting point.
The petitioners demanded that the Transportation Ministry stop running the mehadrin lines until they operate in accordance with the law and that it conduct a study to assess the demand for mehadrin routes, rather than acceding automatically to the requests of haredi rabbis and communities for more segregated bus lines.
ISRAELI BILLIONAIRE HAIM SABAN TOPS LIST OF U.S. POLITICAL DONORS
Israeli billionaire Saban biggest donor to US politicians
Communications tycoon has donated at least USD 13 million to American politicians. As a close friend of the Clintons he contributed to the Democrats, but President Bush has not been deprived either
By Itamar Eichner
January 23, 2007
Israeli billionaire and media mogul Haim Saban is at the top of the list of donors to political campaigns in the US.
Fox Network revealed over the weekend that Saban has donated approximately USD 13 million to various candidates.
According to the report, Saban, a close friend of the Clintons, is one of the major donors to the Democratic Party, though he has also contributed to republican candidates, including President George Bush and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Next on the list of donors are Stephen Bing, father of Elizabeth Hurley’s son, who donated USD 10 million; Businessman Fred Eichner, who has given candidates USD 8 million; and Steve Forbes, owner of Forbes magazine, who has funded election campaigns at the sum of USD 7 million.
The last on the list is Jim Pederson, who was contender for US Senate for the State of Arizona, with a little over USD 6 million.
“ISRAEL’S IMAGE IS AT AN ALL-TIME LOW”
Israel’s image hits nadir
No great honor being an Israeli at Davos this year, but we deserve it
By Sever Plocker
January 24, 2007
My advice to those planning to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at the prestigious Swiss ski resort of Davos is, I beg you, stay away if you haven’t yet boarded the plane. Please don’t come, because it’s no great honor being an Israeli this year at Davos. In fact, it’s humiliating.
Israel is no longer viewed as a thriving, high tech superpower or even as a brutal occupation power. It is viewed in a completely different light:
It’s seen as a declining and dysfunctional country whose president is about to face charges of rape, whose prime minister will be interrogated on suspicion of advancing his associates’ interests, whose finance minister will be ousted from his post due to an affair involving finances and non-profit organizations, whose army chief already resigned due to the failures of the war, and whose defense minister will soon be forced to follow suit.
This is the sate of affairs in Israel in the winter of 2007 as seen by the world’s surprised economic, political and academic elites, arriving in Davos for four days of sessions focusing on the fate of humanity.
Israel’s image is at an all-time low. On Wednesday, when the conference’s participants arrive at the local congress center to attend lectures, sessions, workshops and symposiums, they will be carrying European newspapers on whose front pages Israel will prominently star. And what kind of Israel emanates from these pages? The picture they will get is of a country of rapists and corruption at high levels, a country that is falling into moral decline.
‘What happened to you Israelis?’
Reports of the indictment against the president open every news broadcast in Europe, and the presenters sound as though they find it difficult to read the text in front of them: The State of Israel and sex scandals at the top? Jews and rape? Jews and corruption.
A dark shadow has fallen on Israel’s image worldwide. Until we remove it, these honorable people will hesitate to shake our hands, identify with us and invest in Israel. They are already hesitating.
Our long term friends, veterans of the Davos conferences, are pulling me aside and asking me in an embarrassing whisper: “What’s happened to you Israelis? How did you get this way? Are you a country full of rapists and corrupt people?”
The International Monetary Funds’ rosy reviews and the positive quotes forced out of some polite and stammering international CEO, or some Arab-Muslim statesman who didn’t understand the question, will be of no avail.
The bitter and embarrassing truth of the matter is that Israel’s image in Davos – a prism of the world’s elite – has reached its nadir.
It’s very unpleasant being an Israeli at Davos 2007; it’s unpleasant but we deserve it.
“THE BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL HAS BEEN CONSISTENTLY UNDERMINING ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE IN RECENT YEARS”
Berlin festival shuns Israel
Officials funnel funds to events that have wiped Israel off the map
By Eldad Beck
January 21, 2007
Does Germany indeed recognize Israel’s right to exist? Officially, there have been diplomatic ties between the two countries for the past 41 years. German governments have reiterated their commitment to Israel’s right to exist. In the corridors of power in Jerusalem, the mantra that Germany is Israel’s second most important ally after the US is incessantly being sounded.
However, these facts are slow to penetrate the consciousness of significant parts of the German public, including government officials and the intellectual elite. Take, for example, the Berlin International Film Festival, which has been consistently undermining Israel’s existence in recent years.
Political correctness still obligatory
The festival’s management is careful, of course, to invite Israeli films to participate. After all, political correctness is still obligatory. However, those in charge of making the selections usually prefer more controversial films – preferably with an anti-Israeli tone, if not anti-Zionist. The controversy of several such films that reached the festival in recent years covered for the lack of cinematic quality.
The war of attrition is continuing this year as well, despite the invitation of an Israeli film to the official festival after several years of absence from this prestigious event. The notification announcing the festival’s official panel of judges noted that members would include “the Palestinian actress, film director and scriptwriter,” Hiam Abbass, who starred among other movies in the controversial film Paradise Now, and in the problematic TV screenplay of The Gate of the Sun, where Zionists and Israelis were compared to Nazis.
Abbass, a talented actress, was born in 1960 in the Galilee – 12 years after the founding of the State of Israel. As far as I recall, the Galilee still belongs to Israel. Although Abbass has been residing in Paris for the past 20 years, she still holds Israeli citizenship. According to Abbas, she is maintaining her Israeli citizenship for reasons of convenience only – so that she can travel internationally – but as long as she carries an Israeli passport, she is deemed an Israeli citizen for every purpose and intent.
Is this true friendship?
Are these facts not clear to the organizers of the Berlin festival, which is also financed by governmental funds? Obviously not. Abbass has every right to define herself as she sees fit. However, the organizers of the event don’t have the right to erase the State of Israel’s existence.
Complaints leveled at the festival’s conduct towards Israel have been rejected out of hand in the name of freedom of speech and art. Even government officials funding the festival are shirking responsibility lest they be accused of censorship. Yet despite this, we should no longer ignore the fact that Israel is being systematically erased throughout German cultural institutions.
While spokespersons representing the Berlin government openly condemn the Iranian president’s statement calling for “wiping Israel off the map,” German government officials are funneling funds to public events that have already wiped Israel off the map, while replacing it with “Palestine.” Is this true friendship?