With Friends Like These

The international guidebook giant Lonely Planet recently published a list of the ten hottest cities to visit in 2011, and Tel Aviv is one of them.

The joy here in the White City is only matched by the surprise at the flattery, and all over Israel people are beaming with pride over this blue-and-white achievement – even people who spend large chunks of their day bitching about Tel Aviv in general, and the things that the good people at Lonely Planet laud in particular – hedonism, open homosexuality and the bar-synagogue proportions, for instance.

It’s great of course, and I’m as happy as the next Tel Avivian about this honor that’s been bestowed upon us from the dons of backpacking. But I can’t help to feel that this compliment is just as much a backhanded insult.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the thing is that Lonely Planet people love slightly dodgy, rundown and preferably dangerous places where you see as few white, clean and rich people as possible. They call it “authentic”, and think it’s all the rage to spend a little time there, checking out the natives and sampling the local cuisine. This is what causes them on the one hand to trash the bazaar in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is reasonably clean, well-organized and caters to everyone, as inauthentic and even too touristy (the ultimate insult), and on the other to extol the virtues of the smelly, dingy and utterly uninteresting suq in Akko as exotic, exciting and authentic.

If you’re not convinced, I can only recommend that you take a look at the other cities on the list. In the media people keep on saying that we’re number three after New York and Tangier, but they tend to skip that other tourist magnets on the list include Iquitos, Ghent and Newcastle.

I rest my case.

UPDATE: Also the Svenska Dagbladet travel blog questions Lonely Planet’s selection, asking if these really are the places that one must visit in 2011 — and answers its own question with: “Well, possibly if one has travelled as much as the editors at Lonely Planet.”

November 3, 2010 at 09:13 6 comments

I Am Student Hear Me Roar

This week, the students finally took to the streets to protest the unfair treatment they get compared to the yeshiva bochers. In my humble opinion, that protest was years overdue, and I can only wish them the best of luck in demanding equal rights for students at universities and in yeshivot.

In that spirit, let me offer a word of advice: with all due respect to closing off roads in Beer Sheva, if you really want results it’s the access roads to Ben Gurion Airport (not University) that you need to block.

October 29, 2010 at 14:06 1 comment

Simultaneously in Tel Aviv

Last week, Israeli grandmaster Alik Gershon broke the Guinness World Record in simultaneous chess by playing against 527 other chess players, winning 87 percent of his games. The event took place at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Thursday and Friday.

The previous record, set in 2009, was held by the Iranian grandmaster Morteza Mahjoub.

The Ministry of Defense has yet to announce whether systematically going through the book of Guinness World Records and breaking every single Iranian record is a new form of psychological warfare against the Islamic Republic.

October 24, 2010 at 16:47 1 comment

Closet wide Shut

On Friday, Israeli media revealed that the popular singer Harel Skaat is gay. Over the weekend this has been the hottest news item in all sorts of media outlets.

The nation is in a state of shock.

Rumor has it that similar scoops are to be expected in the following days, revealing that water is wet, the sun is hot and Elvis is dead.

October 23, 2010 at 15:55 1 comment

Loyal Lifestyle

Yesterday, the government decided to promote a bill in the Knesset that would create the so-called Loyalty Law. This law would demand of non-Jews who wish to take Israeli citizenship to swear an oath of loyalty to the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The decision had hardly been made before various pundits and intellectuals started to throw the good old F word around. There was, however, no lack of less hysterical critics. Several cabinet ministers voted against, including all Labor ministers.

One can’t help to ask how Avigdor Lieberman, who’s been clamoring for a Loyalty Law for ages, thought that the law would work in reality. Maybe he wants the Ministry of the Interior to draw up a list of non-Jewish citizens, and if – sometime in the future – the Jewish majority in the country is threatened, they will be asked to convert to safeguard “the Jewish character of the state.”

October 11, 2010 at 10:22 Leave a comment

The Malmö Monologue Continues

If anyone thought that all would be peaches and cream in Malmö now after the mayor established the Dialogue Forum, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.

On October 2, a seventeen-year-old member of the Christian Democratic Party’s youth movement, who had criticized the mayor Reepalu for his lax attitude to antisemitism, was attacked and beaten up on his way home from school.

Fortunately, and rather surprisingly, the police actually managed to apprehend the assailant this time – partly because he had published a threat on the victim’s Facebook page a few months ago, stating “You’ll die, Jew lover”.

October 4, 2010 at 07:30 Leave a comment

Confessions of a Traveler

Bitte Hammargren, the Middle East expert at Svenska Dagbladet wrote a column recently where she reflected on the fact that Israel, arguably the most flight security conscious country in the world, has such an apparently cavalier attitude to passengers bringing fluids onto planes departing from Ben-Gurion international airport.

I have a similar experience, and – after having flown extensively back and forth all over Europe this summer – I must say that Ben-Gurion has the absolutely best and most efficient security checks of all the airports I’ve ever been to, leaving Rhodes, Ataturk, Kastrup and Barajas far behind. Copenhagen’s airport Kastrup stands out with its especially inefficient and painfully slow security check.

The key to the expedient security procedures at Ben-Gurion is the interview that all passengers are put through before they’re even allowed to check in. Once they pass the eye of that needle, the mechanical check of luggage and pockets is fairly painless – the logic being that if you’ve been let through to that stage you’re probably mostly harmless.

I know that the interview can be far from a breezy formality. Anyone who can be suspected of harboring ill will, and particularly a will to blow a plane up, are given the third degree by the security staff. Israelis usually are unaware of this annoying routine – unless they happen to be Israeli Arabs – because Israeli passport holders get through fairly quickly. Single European males are also regarded with suspicion, and before I got my Israeli passport I was usually held up for a ten to fifteen minute chat at this point when leaving Israel.

Since I did quite a lot of travelling to and from Israel in the decade or so before I settled here permanently, I developed a keen sense for what kind of answers would shorten the interview.

In the end, the temptation to lie to get past this hurdle quicker turned out to be too big for me.

At first I only lied a little bit to expedite matters, but soon enough it turned into a sport. I would make up long and intricate stories that I would feed the girls (why are they always girls, by the way?) who interviewed me. I know that this is an extremely risky business, and if I had been caught lying it would have reduced my time in the tax free shops considerably. Nonetheless, I always got away with it, and at the end I don’t think I ever spent more than a minute or two being grilled.

Thankfully, I don’t need to employ that kind of tactics anymore.

October 1, 2010 at 06:24 1 comment

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