Archive for January, 2009

Excuse of the Year

I was recently asked by someone, a reader of this blog as a matter of fact, how I could stand commuting daily from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by bus without killing myself. Even though I must admit that it’s far from enjoyable every day, I have yet to contemplate suicide. (Admittedly, it has occasionally brought me to thoughts of homicide, though.)

The trick is to relax and forget about work. In order to achieve this, one needs to be prepared. I try to sleep, read or listen to the radio. I download my favorite radio shows, such as the weekly podcast of the New York Times Book Review, Vetenskapsradion historia and various documentaries from Swedish public radio.

But whatever preparations you make, sometimes you can’t escape work.

The other day on my way home from Jerusalem, I was listening to a documentary about Refaat el-Sayed. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he was a very successful businessman in Sweden in the middle of the 1980’s. He was even dubbed “Swede of the Year” in 1985. At least he was successful for a little while. The beginning of the end was a failed major deal with Volvo in 1986, and soon thereafter el-Sayed’s financial empire collapsed.

The show was mildly interesting, and would probably be of little interest to anyone who didn’t live in Sweden in the 1980’s and therefore doesn’t remember that decade as the years of Palme-el-Sayed-Gorbachev.  However, it becomes really interesting toward the end (ca 01:20:30 into the podcast), when el-Sayed gives his own explanation to why everything went south in 1986. Unlike most people, such as the media and the court that put him in jail, he doesn’t blame the crash on his lying and shady business.

Instead, he blames “the Zionists”. He says:

“P G Gyllenhammar [the head of Volvo at the time], he’s dependent upon the Zionist organization in the world. P G Gyllenhammar is a part of that group, directly or indirectly.”

In el-Sayed’s mind, powerful international Jewish business people wanted him to fail, and didn’t want him to become a player on the international financial markets because he’s an Arab, born in Egypt. All this to protect Israel. The show can be downloaded here.

Yes, Refaat, that makes perfect sense. This “Zionist organization” has really done a great job keeping Arabs out of the financial markets…

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January 30, 2009 at 12:26 Leave a comment

All Publicity?

When a certain kind of Israelis hear that I’m from Sweden, they tend to ask why on earth I would choose to live here when I can actually live in Sweden. Sometimes, like this morning when I went on one of my too frequent visits to the Tax Authority, I ask myself the same question.

On the other hand, Sweden isn’t exactly the land of milk and honey, either. But problems in the northern periphery of Europe aren’t really of any interest to Israeli media, and so the favorable image of Sweden stands strong.

The question is what effect the last days’ examples of anti-Jewish activities in various parts of Sweden, most notably Luleå and Malmö, will have. It certainly reminded me of a good reason to leave.

Judging by the press coverage in the Jerusalem Post and Yediot Aharonot, I might also get fewer incredulous questions about my choice of dwelling in the future.

January 27, 2009 at 13:53 1 comment

The Ninth Commandment

In this post-modern day and age few things hold society (I’ve spent too many years as a graduate student to comfortably take the word “civilization” in my mouth) together. A part of this eroding foundation is the Ten Commandments. They are supposed to be the rock of morality on which all human interaction is based, and most of us try to stick to them in our day-to-day lives — in one way or another. 

I was reminded of this ancient wisdom this morning when I went to the Tax Authority on one of my many visits to this grand example of Levantine Bureaucracy.

For those of you how might not know, anyone who’s got more than one employer needs to go to the local branch of the Tax Authority and file a form confirming this fact, and asking the state to instruct the employers to adjust the level of tax they need to deduct from one’s gross income. Why can’t the employers and the Tax Authority take care of this automatically without involving me? Why do I have to go through with this ridiculous ritual, not once every time I start a new job, but annually — even if I have no changes to report?

But I digress. These are all good questions, but beside the point.

The point, instead, is the fact that the Tax Authority in Jerusalem caused me to transgress against the Ninth Commandment today. It might seem serious to lie to the Tax Authority, but to my defense I need to stress that I did it ex post facto.

At the entrance, the security guy asked the regular question about whether I was carrying a gun. This is standard procedure at any government office, museum or restaurant.

But then he went on to ask:

“Do you intend to attack anyone inside this building, either physically or verbally?”

At first, I thought he was joking, and answered negatively with a smile.

However, after some time in the crowded waiting room, brooding over the stupidity of the exercise, I started to realize that the question might have been serious after all. And then, after two hours of waiting, when we were all told that their printing system had broken down and that we couldn’t get the proper documents required to get a salary this month, I caught myself entertaining exactly the kind of intensions I had promised not to harbor when I entered the building.

I apologize, Mr. Bar-On.

January 27, 2009 at 13:18 3 comments

Northern Exposure

I was reading Per Gudmundson’s excellent blog this evening, and found a most disturbing piece of news. Apparently, the Church of Sweden and the City of Luleå where I grew up have decided to cancel this year’s memorial ceremonies on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27. The reason isn’t fear of roaming polar bears, forecasts of excessive snowfall that would disturb the event, or just plain laziness.

Instead, it turns out that they’ve decided to cancel because of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The newspaper Dagen quotes the assistant vicar at the cathedral of Luleå, Bo Nordin, saying that the planned memorial service in the cathedral felt “uncomfortable” and “inappropriate” since the “war in Gaza has upset so many people”.

On his blog, Johan Ingerö asks rhetorically if Anne Frank somehow can be blamed for the violence in Gaza, and in Svenska Dagbladet, Sanna Rayman demands of those responsible for the decision to cancel the commemorative ceremonies to spell out exactly why it all of a sudden would be “inappropriate” to remember the victims of the Holocaust in light of the situation in the Middle East.

However, not everyone in Luleå thinks it’s acceptable to blame Jews murdered more than 60 years ago for what’s going on in the Middle East right now. One of them is Miriam Mozel, and she plans to arrange an alternative manifestation on Tuesday in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. 

I can only commend her efforts, wish her the best of luck and call on any readers in might have in the subarctic area of Sweden to join her manifestation on Tuesday.

January 24, 2009 at 18:06 3 comments

ConfuSSion

I’ve never really understood neo-Nazis. I don’t understand how people in our day and age can actually dream of a totalitarian racist dictatorship, where the Greater Good of the People and/or State and other Concepts spelled with Capital Letters take precedence over the petit bourgeois idea of the will of the individual, and his or her rights.

But sometimes my lack of understanding of neo-Nazis reaches new heights. It goes beyond not understanding how anyone can actually see the Third Reich as a lost Utopia, and confuses me on a whole new level.

Russian neo-Nazis are an excellent example. How can Russians march up and down the streets of Moscow or St Petersburg and scream “Heil Hitler!”, “Sieg Heil!” and other such nonsense? Have they no idea what Hitler thought of Russians? Or what he and his buddies did to them when they had a chance?

These guys, apparently members of an illustrious society called “the Aryan Guard”, give me the same feeling of utter incomprehension:

confussion1

I’m not talking about the fact that they’re marching with Muslims — a group of people usually not favored by neo-Nazis — but would rather like to point your attention to another intriguing aspect. Note how they’re carrying an Israeli flag with the text “TERRORIST STATE”, with the letters S written in the runic style characteristic of the SS insignia, implying that Israel isn’t merely a “terrorist state”, but even a Nazi one. That, in and of itself, may be stupid, but it’s been seen before.

What makes these short-haired young men so intriguing, and difficult to understand, is the fact that they actually wear the very same SS-letters on their collars. This would make you think that they actually identify with the Schutzstaffel.

What’s the deal here? Why are they protesting against Israel if they think it’s an SS-state? Or maybe they think Israel gives their beloved SS a bad name? Or maybe this is actually a clever counterdemonstration in favor of Israel?

Are you confused?

So are we.

January 21, 2009 at 15:56 1 comment

Breaking the Radio Waves

For those of you fortunate enough to understand the language of August Strindberg, Ingemar Bergman and Liza Marklund, and who happen to take an interest in anti-Semitism in Europe, I can recommend this morning’s broadcast of Godmorgon, världen! (“Good Morning, World!”) on Swedish Public Radio 1.

There you can hear Gideon Levi from Haaretz claiming that what Israel has done in Gaza over the last few weeks is much worse and more brutal than Sabra and Shatila, and how he’s a lone voice of sanity in his war-mongering and morally corrupt homeland. But you’ll also have the opportunity to hear yours truely talking about anti-Semitism in Europe and especially in Sweden in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.

The broadcast can be found here, and if your blood pressure is high enough as it is, you can skip Levi’s bit and go straight to minute 20:45.

January 18, 2009 at 11:29 1 comment

Semiotic Confusion

I had just sat down in the cafeteria with my lunch about an hour ago when the air-raid siren went off. At first, no one really took it very seriously, but after a while people started to remember that there actually is a war going on, so they stopped eating and asked each other what they should do.

One would think that this is an easy one: when the air-raid siren goes off, one looks for shelter.

One would be wrong.

It seems that Jerusalemites have been conditioned to treat the air-raid siren as an indicator of a public event — no doubt a consequence of years and years of wailing sirens on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen.  Consequently, they all got up to go out on the terrace to get a better view.

One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if it hadn’t been a false alarm.

And those of you who might think that this is a behavior isolated to employees of Yad Vashem, can read this report on Ynet with an eye-witness in the Katamon area who reacted in the exact same way. He’s quoted as saying:

“I went out on the balcony to see if there was anything going on, but there was nothing. The neighbors asked what had happened, but it didn’t seem to be serious.”

According to the report, this guy wasn’t the only one who reacted to the siren by going out to have a look and not to seek shelter.

It would seem that the City of Jerusalem has an important educational task ahead of them.

January 14, 2009 at 11:53 1 comment

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