Last day of my holiday :-(
why not a fish
Saturday, April 30, 2005
That AUT thing again
I’m continuing to turn over Stephen Howe’s article in my head. It seems to me that he is victim to that failing common to specialists, whether they are plumbers or nuclear physicists -- yes, he has “read many hundreds of articles, interviews and documents relating to the controversy;” and he has “talked in detail to many of those most closely involved at Haifa”; he has “even written a little about it” himself, but still, or maybe because of this, he is quite unable to see the wood for the trees.
NEW YORK, April 28 (AScribe Newswire) -- ”The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences has released the text of a letter to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom calling upon the organization to "rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by AUT delegates on April 20, 2005."”
An excerpt of the letter:
Professor Hashem Aghajari is a prominent Iranian historian and political dissident. In 2002 he was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death for stating that people should not blindly follow the teaching of religious leaders...
As a longstanding member of the British Association for University Teachers (AUT), I cannot recall a single motion to boycott Egypt or Iran for these appalling human rights violations. Nor, for that matter, do I recall the AUT lifting a finger to ease the abysmal denial of academic freedoms and human rights in the Middle East, where repressive leaders supersede state institutions, where citizenship is largely synonymous with submission, and where physical force constitutes the main instrument of political discourse.
Update: Yes, we need
General Secretary, The Association of University Teachers
Dear Sally Hunt,
Regarding the AUT recent decision to boycott Haifa University and Bar Ilan University in Israel, I am shocked to learn that, in addition to a call for boycott, the AUT is ready to offer a waiver to scholars on condition that they publicly state their willingness to conform to the political orthodoxy espoused by the academics who sponsored your motion.
Oaths of political loyalty do not belong to academia. They belong to illiberal minds and repressive regimes.
Based on this, the AUT's definition of academic freedom is the freedom to agree with its views only. Given the circumstances, I wish to express in no uncertain terms my unconditional and undivided solidarity with both universities and their faculties. I know many people, both at Haifa University and at Bar Ilan University, of different political persuasion and from different walks of life. The diversity of those faculties reflects the authentic spirit of academia. The AUT invitation to boycott them betrays that spirit because it advocates a uniformity of views, under pain of boycott.
In solidarity with my colleagues and as a symbolic gesture to defend the spirit of a free academia, I wish to be added to the boycott blacklist. Please include me. I hope that other colleagues of all political persuasions will join me.
Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi
The Middle East Centre
St Antony's College
Friday, April 29, 2005
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Here is the full statement of Haifa University. I gave a few excerpts of this yesterday.
And here, if you are feeling openminded, is an interesting article about the AUT affair. Its author, Stephen Howe, claims to be impartial. I wouldn't know about that because I don't know who he is or what his connection to the affair is, although I suspect he is not nearly as impartial as he claims.
For instance, I fail to see the relevance of the details he gives about the percentage of Arabs and Druze in Israeli universities and among university teaching staff compared to their percentage in the general population to his discussion on the boycott (And if he brings it up, why are only Arabs worthy of a mention in this respect? Why not Ethiopian Jews? Why not women? Why not the descendants of Jews from Arab countries living in development towns in the South of the country? Are they not under-represented in Israeli universities?). He does point out that Haifa University does actually have a more than fair representation of Arabs on its student body, and in some faculties their percentage is even higher than in the general population.
I also fail to see the relevance to the discussion of the mention of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir having attended Bar Ilan University, other than as a snide underhanded attack on that university.
Howe supplies intricate details of the Ilan Pappe/Teddy Katz affair which are worth reading, albeit with a very critical eye. Although he doesn't say so, reading between the lines it looks like one of his sources of information is Katz’s MA thesis supervisor, who apparently was not Ilan Pappe after all, but Druze historian Kais Firro.
His description of the highly publicized Teddy Katz libel court case is short and low on detail, and again he links only to a questionable Palestinian information source. He cites the reason for Teddy Katz's signed apology in court for libeling Alexandroni soldiers in his MA thesis (by claiming they had committed a massacre in 1948) being Katz's poor health and the pressure he was apparently under from family and friends. I fail to see the relevance of this, although it is a popular explanation on pro-Palestinian websites. To even things out, he also cites the claim of political pressure as the reason for Katz’s subsequent retraction of the apology, which was not accepted by the court.
I refer again to Haifa University's official statement, this time on the Teddy Katz affair:
Howe’s bottom line is this:
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
I am enjoying the reactions to this decision by an organization of British lecturers to boycott two Israeli universities. The affair has created a lot of interesting reading material, much of it by people as much opposed to Israel’s policies as they are to the decision to boycott Israeli universities. I’m hoping that this is a good sign because it means is that there are still a few of intelligent, learned people in Britain who do not think Israel is an illegitimate state. I’m hoping it means that they really are interested in peace in this country, and not in smashing the Jewish state, unlike the people responsible for promoting the boycott seem to be. Perhaps one or two of the people who voted in favor of the boycott, without bothering to check the facts, are starting to feel like real idiots by now. Well, perhaps not.
Douglas Davis is amusing as always:
You see, Professors, these machines are not only the engine of the globalized, capitalist world but they also depend on technologies that have been produced by Israeli academics in the Zionist entity.
Also, I'm afraid you may not use the British Library because it has been computerized by Ex Libris, a Zionist company that was spawned by the odious Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
And if, God forbid, you develop problems of the small intestine, you may not pop the Zionist-invented "video capsule," which passes naturally through your body as it monitors this delicate piece of your anatomy.
Jpost offered some reactions by Haifa University among others:
The case against Israeli academia, in general, and the University of Haifa in particular, is devoid of empirical evidence and violates the principle of due process. Driven by a prior and prejudicial assumption of guilt, the AUT has refused to confuse itself with facts."
During the past few years, according to members of the university's faculty and administration, the only measure taken against Pappe was a complaint lodged with the internal faculty disciplinary committee, which focused on Pappe's unethical behavior towards his peers and his efforts to disbar them from international forums for contradicting his views. Contrary to Pappe's claim, the university said it had made no attempt to expel him.
Baram recalled how, in 2002, he received a letter from a prominent British scholar who turned to him to intervene against Pappe's expulsion from the university.
"I told him that no expulsion had ever been contemplated," Baram said. "Ilan had simply lied to him – nor was there any international campaign in his support, as he claimed there was in his letter to The Guardian."
Prof. Benny Morris, Israel's most prominent "new historian" (a historical movement questioning early Zionist narratives), also told the Post he found Pappe's call to boycott his own university "immoral." "If he doesn't want to be paid by a university subsidized by the state he is hostile to, he should resign and find another place to teach," Morris said.
In a review of Pappe's latest book, which was published in The New Republic last year, Morris pointed to a series of false statements it contained, ranging from basic facts and wrong dates based on careless research, to politically slanted mistakes meant to prove how evil Israelis are.
"It is a totally distorted book, it's badly written history," he said. "His entire campaign is illogical and immoral. He presents himself as a politically persecuted scholar, yet his contribution to Israel's 'new historiography' is pretty marginal."
By the way, I was going to link to what I thought at first was a good editorial in Haaretz on the issue, until I got to the obligatory ‘However’ opening the last paragraph. They just couldn't help it.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Old monkey mind, new monkey mind
Have I told you I’ve rejoined my meditation group? I came back from my weekend knowing for sure that if I want the feeling of wellbeing to remain with me I was going to have to keep at it. I find it difficult to meditate on a daily basis but once a week can also do me good.
So I managed to weasel out of a Bar Mitzva celebration one Tuesday and a ‘brita’ (celebration of the birth of a baby girl) the next, and I’ve asked the other participants of my art class, and the teacher, to move it permanently to another day. From now on, Tuesday evenings will be spent on my cushion on the floor, watching my breath.
Tonight the meeting is in Kfar Saba, a bit of a schlep, but I don’t want to miss it.
It’s a strange experience going back. I was a founding member of the group in 1998 and was very active for a time. Now there are a lot of new participants who aren’t really new -- they’re just new for me. And it’s all the same but very different. I know it is me that has changed.
The woman who is having the meeting at her apartment asked if I would like to facilitate. I thought this was a bit strange. I’m a newcomer, I said. And she said I wasn’t. But one is always a newcomer to meditation, I think, every time one sits down it is for the first time. Maybe that is why I stopped. It got stale because I was grasping at it.
I'll just make some matza brei before I leave.
It could have been me.
It could have been me keeping my Star of David hidden under my blouse, lying about why I couldn’t work on Seder Night, telling people I was going for a holiday to America when really I was going to visit my family in Israel. And if it had been me, I too, like them, wouldn’t even know I was doing it. I too would not be able to see that anything was wrong.
It's so nice being on holiday. I spent the morning strolling around the old Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv with a friend. It's so lovely there. Next time we want to do a guided tour. They have them all the time, but you have to book in advance.
Then we had a light lunch in a restaurant, under a tree.
Monday, April 25, 2005
The ultimate ‘Hevr’e-man’.
Ezer Weizman has died. The morning newspaper is full of eulogies, I leafed through them as I ate my bowl of matza and agristada, but I didn’t really feel like reading any of them.
Mum knew Ezer Weizman. She met him when she was giving some talks about Israel in England. He was guest speaker or something. I think it was shortly after we had moved to Israel. I was only small but I remember she found him very charming. She told him which school we kids were going to in Haifa and he recounted the tale of how he was expelled from that very same school when he was a lad. He was like that. He knew everyone, and everyone felt comfortable with him.
I think they kept up some sort of contact and, as former chief of the air force, he gave her advice when Our Sis was having a hard time in the army. Then he became a minister in Menahem Begin’s government and Mum didn’t like to keep in contact, she was too modest to feel comfortable. (How do you say ‘lo haya la na’im’ in English? Somehow it doesn’t sound the same).
He was dughri, was Ezer, straight-talking. He always spoke his mind, even when it got him into hot water, and it often did, especially when he was president. The archetype of the Israeli Sabra, he had that quality some people have -- you couldn’t dislike him, even right after he had just made the most outrageous comment. And now he’s gone, but he will continue to be part of Israel’s collective psyche.
There are two guys I see on a regular basis whom I assume are street dwellers but I can’t be sure. For a long time I thought they were the same person. Both are in their mid-thirties, I think, bearded, blue-eyed and always dressed similarly, with a sort of nerdy tidiness, only shabby and sad. They don’t smell bad, neither of lack of washing nor of drink. It crossed my mind recently that both are very good looking, but I doubt very much if women would find them attractive.
The reason I mix them up, I think, is because of something they transmit, or don’t transmit, something about the way they interact with the world. You can never catch their eye. They walk on the inner side of the sidewalk. They look down. I get the feeling that they don’t want people to notice them, that they are trying to be invisible.
On Seder Night, after the meal was over, I went round taking orders for coffee and tea. For some reason, everyone found it amusing that I wrote it all, like a waiter (okay, okay, I do know I’m not supposed to be writing on hag), so I wouldn’t forget who wanted what. Later when I brought Our Sis her tea before everyone else she said I shouldn’t bring hers first – FHB (Family Hold Back). But everyone in the room was family, close family, all nineteen of us (We were only nineteen in the end because our soldier had to stay on the base and our chef had to work – he is employed by one of the major Tel Aviv hotels).
And now I’m wondering where the two bearded men with the blue eyes spent Seder Night, and if they were surrounded by family, and if anyone asked them how many sugars they would like in their lemon tea.
Maybe this is why there is a tradition to invite a stranger to share the Seder. There is so much warmth and family feeling, not to mention food, it is only right to share it all with those who don’t have any of their own.
(Cross posted on Israelity)
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Our living room is currently a bit like a wild life film on the Discovery channel. Billy is gorgeous – tiny, skinny and lovable (by the way, it isn’t so much that Bish’s arm is so hairy, more that Billy is really really teeny). I’m so glad we took her in, poor little mite.
Shoosha has got over her shock at the entrance of a new feline scent into her territory. She also seems to have got over most of her jealousy. Now she is mainly left with her curiosity. It is fascinating to watch the first interactions between the two.
Billy rushes over to say hello when Shoosha regally enters the room, then stops dead as she realizes that Shoosha is not going to gush all over her like we do (regents don’t gush, you little squirt). Shoosha moves away. Billy starts feeling threatened and edges back carefully. And then the amazing thing happens – Shoosha starts following her, the famous Shooshy inquisitive look on her face. She follows her all around the room. Billy hides under a table and then under another table and then behind the couch. Finally she gets tired, climbs up onto the couch, and crawls into a blanket and goes to sleep.
Bish and I have become quite the zoologists, pretending we’re part of the furniture so as not to upset the balance.
Talking about zoology, this British academic boycott is also an interesting phenomenon. I must say their timing is particularly intriguing, not to mention their choice of institutes to boycott.
Karen Alkalay-Gut has some interesting observations on this issue, as always (second post on 24th April).
Pesach chores are over! Now I can start enjoying myself. But actually, the Seder was great fun. The reason I like having it at our place is because then we can invite both sides – my family and Bish’s. And they all get on great. Who would believe it?
This year I finally remembered to invite my cousin from the north and her family enough time in advance (in previous years I left it so late I was eventually too embarrassed to call her), and the best thing was having my aunt, Dad’s sister, who was over from England.
I don’t know how we always manage to have so much food. When it’s still in list form, it seems like there isn’t going to be enough. I made an extra zucchini pie, just in case, and I had contingency plans – extra stuff stashed in the freezer – for a starvation disaster. Even when everyone had arrived, and the food was all set out on the kitchen table (I remembered to clear space on the table this year – I’m getting better at this), it seemed like it couldn’t possibly feed everyone. It was only when it was all finally on the table and people were digging in that we realized, yet again, that there was an obscene amount.
The good thing is that there is plenty left over. I’m not going to have to do any cooking all week, which is a waste really, seeing as I’m home anyway.
I’m home anyway. Wow, I’m finding it hard to get used to that. This is the first Pesach I’ll be home all week for fifteen years, besides when I had Youngest, of course, and that doesn’t really count, because I spent most of hol hamoe’d (the ‘weekdays’ of Pesach, which are regarded as a sort of half holiday) in the maternity hospital worrying about matza-(unleavened bread)-induced constipation (as if childbirth-induced constipation wasn’t enough).
We always worked half days in Pesach so it was a waste to take time off. I’d have had to pay for a full day off, although if I worked I would only be working till twelve thirty every day, so it wasn’t worth it. This year they’ve sent us all home to save money and we only have to pay two and a half days of leave for the four work days we’ll be off. With Hag days, Shabbats and Fridays I’ll be home for a full nine days!
The only thing wrong with last night’s Seder is that we didn’t manage to get things back on track after the meal. I love the songs, and R.T., Our Sis and I always have a royal time with the food blessing and the songs. R.T. is hilarious after a glass of wine or two, or four, but it just didn’t happen this year. The kids got their afikoman pressies and that was that. Never mind. Next year.
Friday, April 22, 2005
New kitty update:
We've changed her name - Billy. (I tried for Matilda again, but no one took any notice). I'm quite happy with Billy.
She's a poor little street kitten, as you can see, only a few weeks old.
Shoosha is actually being quite wonderful, all things considered. She's cautious and mildly hostile (more than usual). She's sniffing around a lot (Shoosha) and is jumpy (again, more than usual). Bish reckons she realizes that this is only a tiny helpless kitten and not a real threat.
We've asked Eldest not to touch Billy at first, seeing as she's Shoosha's main human. She was a bit sad about this, Billy is so teeny and cute, but she understands. She shed quite a few tears yesterday when Shoosha hissed at her, but now they're best friends again.
Billy, on the other hand, is already showng signs of being friendlier than Shoosha. Eldest is a bit worried about this. She doesn't want everyone to love Billy and not Shoosha. She's so sweet is Eldest.
We've been encouraging Youngest to bond with Billy. She's always a bit jealous of Shoosha and Eldest's special relationship.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Shoosha has a little sister. I've just adopted her at the pet shop. She hasn't got a name yet. Shoosha is sulking in the bedroom.
Eldest isn't home. She doesn't know.
Update: Shoosha isn't sulking anymore. She's just sleeping.
Update: Okay, we've probably made every mistake in the book about bringing a new cat into the home. The people in the pet shop should have told us, very naughty of them. We're learning. She's called Bilbee, that's Hebrew for Pipi Longstocking.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
It's not so much that I don't have anything to say, it's that everything I have to say is work related and far better left unsaid.
Never mind. I'm off work from Friday till the following Sunday. Nine whole days of NO WORK. As kids say in this corner of the globe: YESH!
Saturday, April 16, 2005
A week before Seder Night
I’m starting to get panicky. A little voice in my head is yelling "Help! Help! I can’t take it! It’s too much!" This is an excuse to go and lie down and read my book about the meaning of street names in Tel Aviv. It's so boring I always fall asleep.
Organizing Seder Night is really not so difficult. I've done it before. There is a trick, you see. You delegate. Everyone brings something. If I play my cards right all I will have to do is make the hardboiled eggs and set the table.
Not that setting the table for Seder Night is such an easy thing. There is quite a lot to remember and prepare. And of course, you have to get your brother-in-law to bring over the spare folding table on time. You can’t really set the table if you haven’t got one...
But I’m still in denial. I should be making lists. I should be making phone calls and organizing things. Instead I’m moving between not thinking about it and panic. That book with the street names is getting a lot of use.
Mum would have had the table set by now. I can hear her in my head, "There’s only a week left till Seder Night and you haven’t set the table yet?!"
(Cross posted on Israelity)
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Hearts growing strong
He worked hard and deeply, telling his story, painting it, meditating, bringing his entire life into awareness. As he slowly healed, he developed a profound compassion for others in similar situations. He began to visit people in the hospital who had also suffered severe physical losses. On one occasion, told his physician, he visited a young singer who was so depressed about the loss of her breasts that she would not even look at him. The nurses had the radio playing, probably hoping to cheer her up. It was a hot day, and the young man had come in running shorts. Finally, desperate to get her attention, he unstrapped his artificial leg and began dancing around the room snapping his fingers to the music. She looked at him in amazement, and then burst out laughing and said, "Man, if you can dance, I can sing."
When this young man first began working with drawing, he made a crayon sketch of his own body in the form of a vase with a deep crack running through it. He redrew the crack over and over and over, grinding his teeth with rage. Several years later, to encourage him to complete his process, my friend showed him his early pictures again. He saw the image of the vase and said, "Oh this one isn’t finished." When she suggested he finish it then, he did. He ran his finger along the crack, saying, "You see here, this is where the light comes through." With a yellow crayon, he drew light streaming through the crack into the body of the vase and said, "Our hearts can grow strong at the broken places."
Yesterday I stood in a queue for an hour and a quarter in Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people stood there in line along with me, quiet and orderly, some chatting to the people they had come with, others making new friends. And more and more were joining the queue all the time.
It moved forward very slowly, but no one pushed; no one tried to cut in; no one complained -- I didn’t hear even the faintest of grumbles.
For thirty years I’ve been standing in queues in this country. I have never experienced a queue quite like this one. So what was this, a flash mob of German tourists?
These were people who had come to give blood for the national pool of bone marrow donors, in the hope of helping to find a match for three year old Omri Raziel. These were people in the business of giving. It was an act of selflessness. They had come because of their compassion for this little boy and his terrible suffering, in the hope that maybe they could save his life.
They weren’t standing in queue for themselves, so it made no sense for them to be angry or impatient or grabbing. And so many of them came, all over the country, that by lunchtime there were no test tubes left anywhere for the blood samples.
Now all we can do is hope they find a match. To pay for testing all the blood samples little Omri's family needs to raise over a million dollars. You can help too.
I’m utterly fed up of blogger.com, but I don’t have the time or the energy to create an alternative right now. Passover next week… 21 guests… nothing ready… no plan… aaaaahhhhhh… change the subject.
As you can see I’m in denial.
The day before yesterday my blog disappeared. Some blogger.com bug, apparently. Luckily Bish the superhero saved the day. Yesterday I wrote an excellent post and blogger.com erased it.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Sunday, April 10, 2005
God is the tiny brown insect
crawling along my teaspoon.
If I am not very careful
I will drown it when I wash the dishes.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
I’m not sure how this happened. I thought I’d be busy until Purim and then I would have more time to, you know, do my thing (= as little as possible). But Purim has been and gone and I’m busier than ever.
I don’t even have time to explain. Tomorrow I’m off for a much needed, and long planned and anticipated, meditation weekend, before coming back straight for my Caf? Diverso deadline, school trips, scout trips (big maybe, there’s a story there, but I have no time to tell it), Seder Night for twenty one hosted by little old scatter brain here, etc etc.
This is one of the best posts about cats, if not the best.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Karen Alkalay-Gut about living and creating in Tel Aviv. I especially love the poem at the end of April 1st.
Guess what? I made Story of the Month on Cafe Diverso for April. That means my story will be on the home page all month. Scroll down, it's at the bottom.
It's called Why was this night different?
Mum sat quietly smiling at her place by the big, festive dining table Bish and I had set out in our living room for the evening. She was so tiny, so fragile, no more than a shadow of the plump bundle of energy we had always known. She had been diagnosed just three weeks before, and even though the chemotherapy she would be starting, after the Passover holiday, gave us hope, I think we all knew deep inside that it was the last Seder Night she would be with us. Little did we know that by the end of the evening, Seder Night would have changed forever, and not only for our family.
Every year in the spring, on Seder Night, the whole extended family gathered to retell an ancient story of how our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt, to embark on a journey into the desert that would eventually lead them to the land of the Fathers. Religious and secular alike, on the first night of Passover, Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora took part in telling the story to the next generation. The sages of old had bequeathed a memorable way of passing it on.
Preparation for Yom HaShoah
My youngest’s class will be responsible for the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) ceremony at their school this year. I personally think they are too young, it’s usually done by the fifth graders, who are a year older, but the teacher thinks it’s a good idea.
They began the preparations a few weeks ago with a trip to Yad Vashem’s branch in Givatayim, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. They were shown a film about Auschwitz and a writer came to talk to them. I asked Bish to go with them, because I know my little one is sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust and I just wanted one of us to be there.
Yesterday was the second stage of the preparations, a workshop at school with the parents. One of the parents, a history teacher, talked to the children about Nazi ideology. I thought this was a very wise choice, which helped the children put the Holocaust into some sort of historic and philosophic context. Children in this country are bombarded with difficult imagery and rhetoric from a very young age. It is important for them to understand that there was an idea and logic (however warped) behind the incomprehensible evil.
After this we split up into little groups of children and parents, and talked about how the Holocaust touched us personally. This we tried to express visually by making collages.
After breakfast, we were fortunate enough to be able to listen to a wonderful woman called Hannah Gofrit. Hannah has written a book for children about her experiences as a child in the Holocaust. The children had all read her book and the whole session was just her answering their questions. But what answers!
The children tended to ask very specific, technical questions about details that they hadn’t understood in her story, such as ‘How did you breathe when you were hiding in the cupboard and in the sack of potatoes?’ And out of these simple questions she conjured up for us a very powerful, compelling image of what her life was like – the deprivation, the helplessness, the fear, the mental exhaustion, the minute by minute struggle to survive, for years.
She spoke so wonderfully, with such strength and optimism, without even the tiniest hint of self pity, that it didn’t really register with me at first, the horror. Hers is a story of survival.
When it hit, it hit hard.
Her answer to how you breathe in a sack of potatoes – when you are a child hiding in a sack of potatoes, you become a potato. And potatoes don’t breathe.
Cross posted on Israelity)