A day at university – U of T

The hustle and bustle of young minds are dwarfed by vampire-ish Edwardian architecture – in itself super-imposed before a modern city skyline.
The statue of some great 19th century thinker sits forever doomed to ponder life’s great ideas in some busy cafeteria courtyard.
The echo of history rustles through the vines that scale gothic arches and towers, playfully winking at the unsuspecting students below. Perhaps one of them too will forever be enshrined and immortalized as a statue at the entrance to the student-services building?

Tomorrow’s scientists and engineers delve into their laptops – a coffee in hand for added concentration. Only a curious observer will note that Zuckerburg’s theorem and not Einstein’s occupy their screens.
A labyrinth of halls, courtyards and classrooms seem to entrap all who venture into this realm of study..

The students pour into an elaborate lecture hall like a swarm of ants escaping the oncoming storm. The professor gazes toward rows and rows of faces several stories tall. Illuminated half-eaten apples stare back at him from hundreds of laptop covers. He clears his throat into the microphone, drowning out the chorus of whispers, typing, and shuffling paper.
Class has begun.

Israel and Kibbutz life: first impressions

Arriving in Israel

The view

So here I am, two weeks in since I arrived in Israel, with the Carmel mountains stretching out beside my window, and the cool, blue Mediterranean humming in the distance.  There is definitely something special about the land here. It carries with it a depth of history that seems to echo from soil and relive itself out again with different characters facing the same dillemas as those that preceded them. The landscape here remains motionlessness, inviolable, bearing witness to us – playing the same foolish game of life, making mistakes, feeling, living , breathing and fighting. Countless people must’ve traversed the ancient roads that are now paved with bitumen, traffic lights and railroad tracks. New houses with Mezuzot are built beside ancient quarries that were appropriated by the Romans to build the outposts of their empire – that today only extends outward into museums and history textbooks. That is what makes Israel special. Past, present and future converge as one, here in the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe. And I feel like I’m in the middle of it, together with everyone else. This is truly history in the making.

Before I arrived in Israel, I always imagined that upon landing, I would suddenly feel something special – like a rush of exctacy to the brain, dilating my pupils with fundamentalist fervour. Needless to say, as I stepped into the terminal I felt numb and sleep deprived – the advertisements in English for McDonalds and Coca Cola seemed to give me the impression that I was in some strange suburb of Melbourne rather than the Holy Land. Western Culture is far-reaching, and fails to discriminate between countries, I thought to myself.

The delayed culture shock only hit me whilst I sat in the taxi from the airport – during the drive northward from Tel Aviv. On face value, the scene was no different from what you would expect in New York or London. There is little difference in the range and quality of cars on the road. Road sings and traffic lights bear resemblance to their counterparts in Oz. The fact that the driver spoke Hebrew didn’t phase me either. What hit me was more subtle: there was a large minority of drivers that completely disregarded the road rules. If changing lanes without indicating was to be the worst offence that I spotted, then I would definitely still be in Melbourne. The perpetual ‘road stress’ that I witness on a daily basis here stems from the ongoing tension of protracted war and conflict. When surrounded by a sea of enemies eagerly waiting for their opportunity to drive you into the sea, every minor formality and road rule pales in comparison. No wonder then, that more people are killed in Israel (during peace time) from traffic accidents, rather than suicide bombings. This is by no means a critique of Israeli society – but merely an observation of a people tired of war and hungry for peace.

This constant need to push and ‘be first’ is indeed, a double edged sword. On the one hand, Israelis may come off as too pushy or arrogant (when in fact the opposite is true) , but on the other hand this unique brand of ‘Chutzpah’ breeds innovation and diligence that is only heightened by the inexorable existential threat. For example, Israel’s high tech sector is the envy of the Middle East (“nicknamed “The Silicon Wadi”), and her economy rivals that of all the surrounding countries, despite having no oil and a minuscule population of only 7 million.

Kibbutz life:

Some of my pre-conceived notions about Kibbutz life in Israel have been both shattered and reinforced. I always imagined the Kibbutz to be a nuclear hub of staunch, sun-tanned idealists, plowing the fields by day, and recounting tales of heroism around a bonfire by night. Needless to say, this is the 21st century, and a life of pure agriculture and neo-socialism is economically unsustainable in the real world. This particular Kibbutz is comparatively wealthy – mostly due to the large plastics factory that exports materials around Israel and abroad (in fact it makes up 80% of the Kibbutz’s income). The old days in which children lived separated from their parents are over. Many sectors of the Kibbutz are privatised, Kibbutz members and their families have their own houses, and the food costs money (although workers and members receive a monthly budget from the Kibbutz to spend in the dining room.)

In many senses, the traditional Kibbutz movement – just like the Romans – is confined to the history books. Today, it is simply an attractive place to live and work. Yes, everybody receives the same monthly allowance in the dining room, and Kibbutz members still vote on matters of importance. However I believe that humans are by nature, acquisitive: we want to own, to have more, to aspire to lead and to buy low and sell high. We are naturally competitive – so it was only a matter of time before human nature trumped over ideology.

From the first day, I was assigned to work in the cowshed. My job consists of collecting cows, trudging through hills of cow feaces and urine, milking the cows, returning them to their barns and then washing away piles of excrement with a high pressured hose. Once I got used to the smell (I would describe it as spending time in an airtight room with an un-flushed toilet, with the smell of hay seeping in from under the door)  the work became more enjoyable. The cows are scared-‘shitless’ (pun intended) of us, and their entire social hierarchy within the barn collapses once a human approaches. Some cows are more eager to be milked. Others take some cajoling. A small minority are purely phlegmatic, and resist milking attempts quite violently. Perhaps once they realize their strength, they might band together like in ‘Animal Farm’ and mutiny against our tyrannical rule. But seriously though, they need to be milked. Otherwise their udders might explode like a blended milkshake.

As I write this, two scenes from the cowshed come to mind:

"The carousel"

1. The cows are milked on a large automated carousel, with tube-like sucking machines that we attach to the udder. The milk is then collected into a large vat, and shipped off for packaging so that people all over the country can enjoy cereal, cheese and coffee. One particular morning, at around 4:30am in the heat of work, the song ‘Aint no sunshine when she’s gone‘ by Bill Withers played through the loudspeakers. The cows remained at their stations cluelessly staring at each other from both ends of carousel, as they slowly rotated around the centre, as the sucking machines emptied their udders. This scene seemed to come straight from a horrible nightmare – the cows placidly bobbing to the music like kids on a merry-go-round in first gear. For some unexplained reason I found this situation quite comical, and I just felt the need to record this moment here for future reference.

2. Washing away the large, clumpy piles of cow-shit from the floor with the hose is a long and tedious experience. In the long stretches of time during this activity, I often become mesmerized by the rivers of “chocolate” and “caramel” foam that stream past my feet and into the drain. When the high-pressured water hits a large build-up, the cow-poo is thrown into the air like a mini-meteor shower, and then gracefully floats down the gooey river upon returning to earth. I once had the unpleasant experience of opening up the hose onto the adjacent wall, and immediately thereafter, the cow-remains ricocheted backward into my face. If I can endure this, then every slimy, sticky or disgusting thing that I will ever encounter will probably pale in comparison. Taking out the garbage isn’t so hard after all, mum!

Why Wikileaks is good for America

Wikileaks: Can't be erased

So what does it take to plug a leak so large that it threatens to undermine America’s national security interests, her soldiers and global standing? A leak so worrisome that Hillary Clinton described it as  “an attack on the international community and the alliances and partnerships, that safeguard global security.” The answer is: nothing. Nothing can and will stop Wikileaks. Under the pressure of the US government, the original Wikileaks website was taken down, only to be replaced by hundreds of identical mirrors all over the internet. Like a drop of food colouring in a clear glass of water, classified documents have spread so voraciously around the world wide web, that the only way to hinder their movement, is to shut down the internet completely. And even then, the entire cache of top secret information is being downloaded to personal hard-drives as we speak: regular people seizing the opportunity to become free-speech activists, and in doing so, take part in an unparalleled piece of history from behind their computer screens, one BitTorrent package at a time.

You can not shut down Wikileaks. Like the principles that built America into a beacon of freedom and liberty, Wikileaks is an idea that transcends mere politics or diplomatic niceties.  Wikileaks represents the frustration of the entire post 9/11 generation, that has slowly watched the West wither into a shell of its former self, pre-occupied with unpopular wars, financial crises and a clear process in which civil liberties are eclipsed by the expediency of governments. The Wikileaks movement represents a clear statement: We will not allow America to sink like the Titanic into despotic oblivion. The US government may be bounded by a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, but these are merely pieces of paper that are ascribed national importance. Government enforces these laws – and the Government has the power to annul them. What are laws but resounding statements etched into dusty tomes? Politicians allocate funding for Police, Education, Health and other public services – and these cogs are the only thing keeping our fragile society from descending into a Libertarian anarchy – devoid of the rule of Law.

What we see today, is a growing trend in which the necessary evil of basic government is further expanded, moneyed and made elaborate, way beyond the size necessary for its principle function: to keep order. In the same way that the absence of government leads to chaos and bloodshed, an all-powerful government is a monolithic bureaucracy that controls absolutely – a quasi North Korean oligarchy, spying on its citizens, and replacing due process with administrative convenience. To paraphrase former US president Gerald Ford, “A government big enough to give you freedom, is a government big enough to take your freedom away”.

And this is where Wikileaks comes in. Assisted by the world’s anonymous playground, the internet, Wikileaks is exposing US hegemony in a bid to prevent the monster that she may become. The US isn’t an echo of the crumbling Roman empire – the US is an injured superpower, abandoning good intentions in favour of political survival.

I grew up on a staple belief, that there exists a faraway democracy, America – a land that guarantees freedom of speech and religion – and vigorously upholds ethics and laws, as the epitome of safety, multiculturalism and achievement. This is what I still believe. This was the vision of America’s Founding Fathers. This was the America that landed a man on the moon, and that cultivated the bulk of the world’s Nobel Prize winners. America is simply too precious to dissolve itself silently into the night, and thus abrogate the golden age of Pax Americana that has provided a protective shield over the Western world. Today, more and more voters are becoming disenfranchised with the major political parties, and the political discourse is becoming increasingly polarized: Democrats and Republicans are shifting further away to opposite extremes, like two magnets repelling each other. A cursory read of the New York Times or the Huffington Post reveals that most Americans bewail the lack of cooperation in government, and it’s increasingly skewed outlook that stands at odds with that of the people’s. Coupled with the fear of homegrown terrorism, the fear-factor that seemingly drives politicians has led to the US Government imposing, for example, restrictive surveillance measures that curb the very tenet that America was founded upon: liberty.

US government: greater transparency required

The Wikileaks exposé is at least the first step in propagating a culture of transparency and accountability. If nobody holds a mirror up to the American government, then who will prevent its imperfections from developing into carcinogenic tumours? The release of 250000 classified documents, dubbed “Cablegate” was like a shock to the system. The video of an American Apache helicopter gunning down journalists in Iraq, sought to achieve a similar purpose: To portray the Iraq war as needlessly unjust and unnecessary, and in doing so, to prevent it from dragging on like its counterpart, the Afghanistan war. I believe that there are just wars, but public opinion has made it clear that these two aren’t one of them. Had Wikileaks released top-secret footage of the Dresden bombings during WWII there would be no outrage, no media explosion. Saving Europe from the evils of Nazism was inherently just and necessary and the bombings, even if questionable were justified and accepted. Today, many people struggle to list defendable reasons for occupying Iraq, or even invading Talibanistan with the purportedly nebulous mission of capturing Bin Laden and smoking him out of his Waziristan cave-compound. Ten years on from 9/11, these wars are increasingly seen as the hand of American imperialism, attempting to gain a foothold in the Middle East: Veni, Vidi, Vici.

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange

Whilst Assange may be driven by a desire to expose alleged American malfeasance, I see the leaks in a different light. I doubt that the US has committed crimes any more heinous than those committed by the Communist regime in Beijing and those committed on a daily basis in The Congo and Darfur. Yes, focusing solely on America may seam gratuitous, or even an exercise in Chomsky-style America bashing. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as constructive criticism: a chance for the people to look at themselves through the window of 250000 classified documents, and to ask: “Where are we going?” and “What do we want our future to be?” Wikileaks and the Internet are now the upholders of worldwide freedom of speech, until the West can retake the reigns. The leaks must force the US to reevaluate her position, and to return to the trail that she set out on in 1776. In every respect the United States is a success. But perhaps now, more than ever, the message of America’s founders should be resounded loud and clear in the public domain, and on computer screens everywhere. History may judge the past couple of US administrations unfavourably, but that does not mean that America is doomed to a downward spiral of debt and iron-gripped bureaucratic control.  The wikileaks were a victory for freedom of speech, and they should be hailed as such by those concerned for America. Now everything said behind closed doors has been released into the public domain, and voters should choose their candidates more cautiously – those who foster political unity, call for less concentrated power in the hands of government, and greater transparency regarding policies.

"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" - Patrick Henry, 1775

I await Wikileaks China, and damning information about other countries that may lead to political reform. But today it is 1983 on the streets of New York, LA and Washington, and George Orwell is giving you the chance to prevent his novel from becoming reality. America pumps more money into the failed wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, borrows larger sovereign funds from China, and increases taxes. Political positions become more extreme, fear and distrust increase, and neighbours become enemies. This is not America – this is dystopia. The massive Wikileaks dump have given the country and indeed the entire Western World, a fresh opportunity to alter course before it’s too late. I believe that the world’s moral compass still lies in America’s hands – and the magnetized North pointer is pointing directly in Wikileaks’ direction.

Social conformity: what I hate about it

If there’s one thing that I hate, it’s social conformity. The entire routine of middle class etiquette –  of shaking hands, apathetically receiving awards, and greeting people you hardly know with a polite ‘thank you’ and a fake, automatic smile with nothing behind it. It conceals. It cages me within a cynical culture, my freshly pressed school uniform which I’ll never wear again, trapping me within a defined social role – student. Or teacher. Or lawyer/doctor/professional. Where I belong is in a pool, swimming laps and feeling the light breeze run past my new haircut, or on my bike, dodging parked cars and pedestrians, hearing a “get off the ***** footpath” and arriving home soaking wet from the rain. Instead I stand clumsily, unphotogenically, a shell of my ‘self’, greeting people and smiling, but not truly existing in the moment. This is apathy at it’s most potent. This is indifference. I just don’t care. I am forced to be here, listening to what you did yesterday, and returning a humourous, witty anecdote in return. We all politely laugh, and awkwardly move on to a new set of faces that you won’t remember in the morning.

“Why this fine lad, is white, graduated from a good school, and lives in a decent neighbourhood. Feel free to revel in the banality of our middle-class mannerisms, and bask in the mediocrity of this entire situation.” This is all I hear – or want to hear. Like overblown language, this entire process reeks of tribalism – yes, tribalism. An educated, sanctimonious desire to suppress our deep animalistic instincts, and the innate desires within to grab a chair and throw it through the window. Instead we all stand there. Imprisoned lions, full of energy, engaging in a competition to see who can appear the most sedated. I assume the adults find these dehumanizing conventions to be second nature. After all, they’ve been inculcated since birth to look smart, flash a sharp smile, and hold eye contact in order appear engaged. Surely, they too once experienced the frustrations that I now rail against. But all of them still stand there: greeting each other warmly, feigning interest, offering to meet at a later date. Perhaps, deep within, some part of them feels an urge to rip off the buttoned shirt and go skydiving. Or to politely interrupt with an ‘excuse me’, pull out a sledgehammer and slam it into the grand piano on stage.

This is what I feel. But I am bounden by the rules of society, manners and the dreaded conformity which is forced upon me by my elders. Look the same. Talk the same. Be the same. Undoubtedly, a foreign accent or an interesting article of clothing will always raise questions. “A great conversation starter” you tell me, as I affably smirk on the outside, but vomit in disgust within. This isn’t hatred. The emotion isn’t so efficacious. It’s more, impatience. Frustration. Just wanting to get the hell outta here. This isn’t your fault. This is society. This is an ongoing chore that has been foisted upon you, upon us. And the only way to break out of it, is to poke your head out of the river, and swim against the stream. To be noticed. To be labelled an ‘attention-seeker’. You don’t want to conform? Well then, you don’t belong here. Take your fake, automatic smile, to some other uncharted horizon –  where pleasantries are reserved merely to politics, and etiquette does not exist – and there you can bathe in the carnal playground of humanity, hiding behind nothing but your personality. It seems that the only way for me to escape the conversation, is to break out of the chains and to disappear completely.

We are of course, as my former maths teacher once put it in his thick Russian accent: ‘social animals‘. It turns out we need a sense of acceptance, friendships and family to survive. The man with no one to confide in, is an unlucky man. But what irks me so much, is the way that seemingly simple gestures and behaviours have been masked over and coated with a heavy layer of convention and double-speak. It’s painfully annoying to stand there and listen to someone talk about absolutely nothing. Of zero interest to me or to anyone around. To sit there helplessly while the person beside you claps into your ear, and thunderous applause builds up from behind. Of course, I could butt in rudely and turn away, but this would spell the most grievous form of insult known to white, middle class, social animals: rejection. And frankly, I don’t want to. As much as I hate it, I simply sit there and take it, appearing engaged and civilized, but imploding within. The pool beckons. The wet drooping park, right after a torrential downpour is calling. The invigorating wind blows outside, and I, seemingly impervious, sit there in a huge hall laden with a plethora of speakers and lights and clapping hands, and I take it. I am one of them. I have become the social conformist.

Being Jewish and criticizing Israel

Being Jewish today is not easy. Not only do Jews have the burden of religious and cultural obligations, but we are generally expected by wider society to be the archetypal role models of ‘morality’, ‘servitude’ and victim-hood. Indeed, in the wake of 2000 years of pogroms and persecutions across Europe and the Middle East culminating in the The Holocaust, The Jewish people have always been considered the mistreated minority: by the left as the defenseless underdogs and the scapegoats, by the right as the stateless wanderers at the mercy of benevolent kings and tyrannical rulers. But by 2011, a mere 65 years after the crematoria of Birkenau fell into their ghostly silence, everything has been reversed. The State of Israel – a country whose rasion detre is to provide a refuge for ‘The Wandering Jew’, is today portrayed as the aggressor rather than the victim. The words Israel and “apartheid”, “occupation” and “Nazi” have become so synonymous, that with the help of the internet, the transition from ‘helpless Jewish scapegoats’ to  ‘vicious Jewish oppressors’ is accelerating faster than ever.

Jewish and anti-Israel: antisemtism?

But amidst the antisemitic barrage of hate speech and hyperbole, lies legitimate criticisms of the State of Israel – her policies, the domestic and social problems, as well as her relationship with immediate neighbours. Israel is generally accepted as  ‘The Jewish collective’ – the single most identifiable symbol of Judaism across the world, so when Israel is criticized legitimately, this can often be misconstrued as anti-zionism or even anti-semitism. What I wish to focus on however, is the curious (and growing unfortunately) phenomena of Jewish anti-zionism in the wider context of Jewish voices criticizing Israel from the Diaspora. Make no mistake, Jews can be antisemites as well as anybody else (Pablo Christiani and Shlomo Sand instantly come to mind), and many of the voices spearheading the attack against Israel from college campuses across America and Australia, are in fact Jewish. The question is – what motivates so many Jews to rise up against their homeland and side with her enemies?

This is a question that I posed to international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler when he came to speak to us at school. Is it that because so many Jewish children are raised on a steady diet of social justice, they feel compelled to interpret Israel’s actions as a gross injustice? His answer was insightful and interesting. Many of these Jewish anti-zionists have little or no connection to their heritage, and their campaign against Israel is often misguided, because they are ignorant of the facts on the ground. They are perceived by others to have more legitimacy in this issue because they are ‘Jewish’ – and Israel is ‘the Jewish state’ , yet ironically, the only time they publicly display or feel connected to their ‘Jewishness’ is when attacking Israel or siding with antisemites.

As an example, he reminded us that many of the Soviet Union’s most vociferous supporters were (yep, you guessed it) misguided Jews. Despite the fact that 2 million Jews were caged within the totalitarian Stalinist confines of institutionalized discrimination, and that students and mothers were marching on the streets of London, New York and Johannesburg demanding the freedom of Soviet Jewry – overzealous Jewish communists in the West continued to voice their support for the regime: A regime that denuded millions of Jews of their identity and still insisted that the word “Jew” was printed on their passports, so that they would never forget what they were. Today, a growing number of “Jewish communists” wage a similar, misguided battle. The simple fact that their parents are Jewish instantly makes them “experts” – yet they arrive on campus with little or no idea about Israel, Jewish history, culture or tradition. As little as 25% of American Jews have visited Israel. The number that attend Jewish day schools or youth groups is even lower. Every second Jew intermarries. Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to Marc Mezvinsky was hailed as proof that the golden age of the Jews of America is at it’s peak – however in another age such a marriage would have been widely shunned and criticized.

Martin Luther King: "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”

At the risk of calling Jewish anti-zionists ‘traitors’, I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about being so quick to dismiss them as loonies or useful idiots. On the one hand, I share many disagreements with them. On the other, I’m proud that there is such a wide diversity of thoughts and opinions within the Jewish community. These people may be the ‘black-sheep’ of the family, but they’re part of the family nonetheless. I see this growing trend of anti-Israel radicalization amongst Jewish youth as synonymous with the distortion and deterioration of left-wing politics – which historically assumed support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. An example is the Guardian newspaper which initially voiced support for Zionism, only to become infected with rabid Arabism over the course of the century.

Indeed, Jews have historically aligned themselves with the left side of politics. The left demanded Jewish emancipation in Europe during the 19th century. Jewish women spearheaded the fight for universal suffrage and feminism. The Bund, Trotsky and the Mensheviks lobbied to bring down the Czar in Russia, and create an egalitarian socialist utopia for all citizens. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched hand in hand with Martin Luther King at the height of the civil rights movement. These are all examples of Jews and left-wing politics working hand in hand to achieve universal human rights and freedom for all. The bad news, is that for the past 30 years, classic left-wing politics has all but disappeared, only to be replaced with a hollow shell of fanatical, ignorant, youth claiming immediate expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict after reading Wikipedia.

Secular Jewish antizionism - misguided

This is essentially what Jewish youth face on university campuses across the Western world. They are immediately receptive to any injustice: Tibet, Darfur, The Congo. They hear soundbites on the Israeli-Arab conflict for the first time, and the magical, idealized picture of the Jewish paradise shatters: Israel isn’t the heroic wonderland of their childhood, but an aggressor fighting in their name! Yet rather than researching about the conflict in-depth to discover its root causes: the existential threat Israel faces on a daily basis – and the democratic and human rights afforded there as the only in the entire region – they immediately jump onto the bandwagon of anti-zionism, further propagating the distorted image of Israel as the chief violator of human rights in the entire world. This view is further compounded by anti-zionist academia and faculty on Israeli, American and European campuses – further forcing brutal images down unsuspecting throats. This is at least one of the principle causes of secular Jewish anti-Zionism. Jewish anti-Zionism on religious grounds from groups such as Neturei Karta demands a separate article altogether, however, they too seek to achieve the same outcome: the destruction of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

The claim that ‘all critiques of Israel are antisemitic’ is patently false and ignorant, because that would mean that Israel is the #1 most antisemitic country on Earth. There are no secrets in Israel. The Hebrew press uncovers everything and presents the damning allegations to the Israeli public. Does this make Israeli journalists writing in Hebrew for an Israeli audience antisemitic? Of course not! Every one of Israel’s 6 million Jews has something against the government and its policies: the despicable education system, unnecessary bureaucracy, the communities in ‘the territories’ (West Bank), final status on Jerusalem, and so forth. Their anger is neither antisemitic nor anti-Zionism – it is rather constructive criticism by those who love the country so much that they choose to live there. From this we can deduce the yardstick between legitimate criticism of Israel by Jews in the diaspora: if the criticism is directed to a distinctly Israeli audience, then it is most likely constructive criticism, appealing to voters to rectify the problems in their society. If the criticism is directed at a non-Jewish or a hostile audience, then the criticism, whether legitimate or hateful, instantly is construed as anti-Zionism.

Jewish refusenik turned head-of-the-Jewish-Agency-for-Israel, Natan Sharansky presented the famous three D’s to determine whether criticism of Israel is in fact antisemitic:

1. Demonization: portraying Israel as the single worst violator of human rights in the world and the embodiment of evil. This includes claiming that Palestinians are the ‘new Jews’ or that the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are now perpetrating a new Holocaust upon Arabs living in the vicinity.

2. Double Standards:  ignoring other far more serious crimes committed worldwide by focusing solely on Israel and her imperfections, turning a blind eye to Arab incitement and terrorism, and selectively bemoaning the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, whilst ignoring Israeli deaths at the hands of Hamas, Hezzbollah and the al-Aqsa martyrs brigade.

3. Delegitimization:  inferring that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. This includes incorrectly portraying Israel as a vestige of colonialism or claiming that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’. Other examples include using selective quotations from Jewish texts such as The Talmud or Shulchan Aruch to support an anti-Israel agenda. Additionally, citing being ‘Jewish’ as conferring some type of authority to speak legitimately on behalf of other Jews in order to denigrate Israel is antisemitic.

I have a confession to make: I too have many qualms about the Israeli government and the path the country is taking. The correct place for me to air these complaints is in Hebrew on an Israeli newsite – to those who are receptive to such criticism and have the voting right to change the situation. Attacking Israel on non-Israeli sites or arenas is easily misread as anti-zionism and gives fuel for neo-nazis, Islamists and antisemites who don’t understand the nuanced and complicated problems within Israeli society. It is irrelevant that I’m Jewish, that I’m moving to Israel in a couple of months, or that I plan to enlist in the IDF: If my criticism breaks one of the three D’s or is directed at the wrong audience – then I too am guilty of antisemitism, and I hope that I am the first to recognize this. I remember talking to an elderly Hungarian Jew on our way back from a Passover Seder at night. I asked him why he decided to leave Israel, and what his views are on the country in general. He gave me a sharp stare, and then cooled off a bit: “I could tell you,” he answered me, “but I’m here now, not there. I don’t have to endure the hardships of living in Israel. I have no right to speak out against them.” And then we continued on in silence through the deserted streets and flickering light lamps – his droll, heretical wink giving me the answer that I was looking and hoping for.

Victorian state elections 2010: Underwhelming. The Greens cash in on voter apathy.

Today was supposed to be a momentous occasion in my life. Having recently turned 18, I was able for the first time to exercise my democratic right to vote, and to finally take the future of Victoria into my own hands and make a difference – if at least by one vote. Needless to say, the Victorian state elections have been painfully underwhelming and drop-dead-boring to follow. In my previous post on the 2010 Federal elections, I noted that there is no longer any passion in politics: same boring ads, same staged debates, same cliched speeches masked over with fancy promises and sweet nothings. Politicians are in slumber mode, and the electorate wearily shows up to the voting station once more – feeling numb and expecting nothing at all. In many ways, these elections are similar to the recent Federal elections, in that they have been exceptionally uninspiring – except in the case of state elections, nobody really cares anyway.

One thing that I’ve found odd (someone please explain this to me), is that the Greens are so fashionable. Not politically of course. Their policies carry little substance. I’m talking about Green’s supporters and the way they dress.  It’s as if they’ve realized that no sane person would vote for a haphazard party, hastily put together on a vague idea of “saving the planet”, so they resort to Mac-style tactics by appealing to the lowest common denominator: looking ‘cool’ appealing to the smug, hipster demographic. That’s right, if you’re an artist, in a band or you buy your jeans from a grocery store, chances are you fit the Greenie stereotype.

At the polling station, I was met by the usual crowd of party-fanatics handing out as many fliers as possible, in the hopes that they could win me over in the last minute. There was something different about the Greens supporter. Let’s just say off the record, that not even that attractive 20-something Greenie girl, waiting for me at the entrance with short-shorts and a handful of glittering ‘eye-candy’ fliers, could get me to vote for The Greens. If this is what I think it is, then it is: Desperation. If they can’t win you over logically because of sound policies, then they go for “plan b”: trendiness.

That’s not to say that the two major parties, Liberal and Labor ran anything resembling a campaign either. The only admirable thing I can say, is that, scare tactics and campaign smearing have been at a minimum. Perhaps that’s because neither party has the budget to launch a successful smear campaign – or they just didn’t have the imagination to make anything up. No-wonder then, that voter apathy is skyrocketing and becoming the norm. At times like these, a quote by Elie Wiesel comes to mind:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”

click to enlarge

Indifference is what many people feel in regards to politics today. The only way to get voters’ attention is with novelty: “Provide me with a revelation of TigerWoods-esque proportions, or leave me alone to play golf”. In a world dominated by political-correctness (pun intended) and a clinical dissociation between the leaders and the people, no wonder people are thronging to vote for the Greens. At least they seem ‘alternative’, and hey, it makes you feel good about saving the environment! Now stand aside as I park my hummer and guzzle a can of coke that 12 Chinese children died to make. But what have the Greens really got going for them? Well nothing. And here’s the election flier they hand out at polling booths to prove it:

There are so many things wrong with this flier, that it practically embodies what is bad with politics today. Firstly, the slogans “Your vote is powerful” and “Because who you vote for matters”, is the kind of crap I’d expect to hear dished out of a Nivea hair ad: “because you’re worth it”. These slogans lack any context as to why we should vote Greens, and leaves a glaring question unanswered: does my vote still matter if I don’t vote Green? Perhaps, you’re “powerful” enough to make that decision on your own – without having fake Green guilt shoved down your throat by misguided friends. But they’ll have you know – that they’re very capable at branding you as a right-wing bible-belt fascist if you don’t agree with them.

The list of their policies is even more ludicrous. They represent an over-simplified summary of nothingness, and I kept thinking to myself: this must’ve been a project given to Grade 5 kids, because there is no way this was written by an adult. These are simply milk-n-cookies feel good goals that you would come up with, if you posed the following question to a primary school: “What can make Victoria better?”. So unless you can be bothered reading through their flier, their policies are essentially:

Water: Save more water!

Health: More money for health!

Education: Make it better!

Public transport: Put more buses on the road!

Climate Change: DUH!

At least The Liberal party were respectable enough to give out a no-nonsense, one-sided simple flier. Because unlike the Greens, they realise that they have no need to appeal to uninformed constituents in a last-ditch scramble for votes:

Labor wasn’t exceptionally terrible either. At least they can vouch on John Brumby’s good record and that killer automatic smile with nothing behind it:

The one thing that all the fliers shared in common? They were each printed on “100% recycled fibre” and certified as “Carbon Neutral” and “Greenhouse friendly!” Wait: did they just steal the Green’s “green” message? Nope – because if  The Greens get the votes, they’ll be sure to put a “Carbon tax” on everything imaginable: next election, you’ll be paying to see each flier, and you’ll feel guilty about it as well.

According to an article in the Australian:

The acceleration in the Greens vote, he says, is being driven more by instinct than specific issues: “It goes across a range. At one end it is almost apathy: ‘What have I got to lose?’, ‘I’ve tried the other two, they are just going to be more of the same, so why don’t I try these other guys?

All the major parties ran underwhelming campaigns, and The Greens are standing on the side, looking trendy and snatching up votes, not based on the party’s merit – but simply the fact that they’re a ‘change’ and they represent an idealized version of what most kids hope to emulate. Well here’s one teenager in the key ‘Youth Demographic’ (18-24) that is bucking the trend. By voting for one of the major parties, I might be voting for crap – but at least it’s the kind of crap that I’m familiar with.

Racial profiling for security

Israel has a clear record for airport security. Why? Because it insists on interviewing passengers rather than simply scanning them – as this is a far more effective way to expose any wannabe-plane bombers. Sometimes of course, innocent people are mistakenly pulled aside as well. Unfortunately, the deteriorating security situation on planes demands that such screening procedures are made in order to potentially save lives.

Written in first-person with heartfelt prose and emotionally-pulling anecdotes, ‘Nicki’ went through the experience and “survived” to tell her tale on Yediot Achronot:

Immediately and without explanation, my bags and passport were taken from me and further security appeared demanding to know whether this girl was really Australian. I found this question offensive: she is as “Australian” as I am, just without my “stereotypical” blond hair and blue eyes. They started questioning her background, which made me think: if she or I were any type of security threat, would I openly say her name? Of course not. The situation didn’t seem rational to me.

When I was at Ben-Gurion airport, I went through a screening as well. Needless to say we spoke in Hebrew which is always a plus in such a situation. Whilst I do empathize with Nicki, a security disaster on board a plane, far, far outweighs the collective grievances of all tourists that have to endure a security search or an interrogation. According to this article:

While civil libertarians in the United States continue to grapple with the difficult issues of racial and ethnic profiling, Israelis claim that they move beyond profiling to what they term behavior recognition. They study facial expressions, look for nervous gestures or inconsistent stories in passengers’ responses to questioning, or oddities like unusually bulky clothing that seems out of place for the season of the year. Security personnel use common sense and intuition to look for any tell-tale signs that something about a passenger is not quite right.
The simple fact of the matter is that some people pose a greater risk than others – and some may be a carrying bombs on board unwittingly such as the case of Anne-Marie Murphy, a 32 year old Irish woman whose Palestinian boyfriend planted explosives in her suitcase. In the words of Mordechai Rachamim, an Israeli sky marshal:
“The attitude must be that they have to wake up every day, every morning, and say, ‘This morning, there is going to be an attack.’ …It doesn’t matter if you are a bodyguard, or if you are dealing with hijacking or security. You have to say every morning, ‘Today, this morning, there’s going to be an attack.'”

Facebook culture: a substitute for actually experiencing life?

“Ye, don’t worry mate. I’ll Facebook you tonight”

This has become my regular parting, a sort of “see ya later, mate” if you will – with the obvious intonation to further contact at the end. If this is any indication of Facebook’s popularity and growing influence on youth everywhere, then one could conclude that Facebook is taking over our lives. Well, sort of.

I often wonder what happens when a sub-culture like Facebook becomes so ubiquitous, so widespread, that the term “to Facebook” becomes a commonly used verb. The premise of social networking is that each profile is customized to reflect a person’s character, personality and interests. A snapshot in time of your life – photos of yesterday’s graduation, yearnings for the future, your relationship status and emotional state. However I witness of growing trend of “Facebookerization” whereby social networking becomes the primary pursuit in socialising – rather than simply a mere documentation of what we do in ‘real life’. Take for example the growing phenomenon of “Facebook addiction“, whereby people spend hours glazing through profiles, pictures and  news feeds – searching aimlessly through groups to call their own, and of course, the dreaded ‘apps’ and mini-games such as Farmville, that desensitize their helpless victims glued to the screen and keep them in a trance for hours. This is where using Facebook crosses the line from  a useful networking tool to a brain deadening waste of time.

Personally I try to limit my Facebook usage to essential contact. Talking with relatives overseas. Organizing a movie with friends. Occasionally announcing an important milestone in my life. But these days, it’s simply not enough. If you don’t have a solid Facebook presence, then you are disconnected from the world and your social milieu. Not appearing in enough pictures means that you don’t get out much. Unless you compulsively leave mindless wall posts on friends walls, you don’t really care about them. Showing affection equals taking an interest on Facebook – and posting prudently to boot. How ironic then, that less than ten years ago, spending time on the computer and internet was the epitome of antisocial behaviour. Today, if you don’t have a web presence, you will be judged – and you probably won’t even know about it.

Mind numbing posts - recording the mundane and the banal

Yesterday, I needed to contact a friend about selling my school books. Instinctively, I logged on to Facebook to send him a message. I couldn’t find him in my “friends list”, so I initiated a general search – and lo and behold, he didn’t appear in the results. I was dumbfounded. Everyone has Facebook. How could he so rudely exempt himself from the unspoken obligation of social networking? And then it hit me – he is the lucky one. He doesn’t have to deal with annoying status updates which mean nothing (driving 2 da Shops@!, OMG killer partay, *insert-random-quote-that-you-found-smart-so-that-other-people-will-think-that-you-are-profound*). He doesn’t have to squirm at pictures of drunken photos that show up in the news feed. And most of all, he doesn’t have to justify his online presence in a cynical culture of conformity that constantly demands you to reveal more and more of yourself – a culture in which nothing in secret, and nothing is sacred: a peer-pressure mentality that requires your identity and Facebook page coalesce into one. This is no more evident than at every gathering, where a couple of people with digital cameras circle around like hyenas, coaxing you into poses, staging photos, documenting the party on Facebook (and increasing their Album collection from 101 to 102) as evidence that you ‘get out sometime’ – and by extent, that you are popular or “socially adept”.

According to an article in SMH:

An Australian study shows how Facebook and other forms of online social networking are now “ingrained” and how, for many, their friendships have come to depend on it.

Clearly, this growing trend carries wider ramifications for wider society and teens’ social development. 20 years ago, to find out about somebody, you would actually have to have a real conversation with them. Today, contact is limited to unadorned words typed onto a message. The entire process of interaction disappears. You cannot judge emotion or feeling this way (and emoctions are certainly no substitute). You can’t see, or smell or touch the person whom you are talking to. All you are doing is exchanging pleasantries through an Ethernet cable. At least with a phone, you are able to hear a voice – one of the five senses that forms a connection – if a tenuous one at best. With Facebook and social networking in general – actual contact is a bare minimum. You don’t know whether you’re talking to a 17 year old friend-of-a-friend, or an unemployed tradesman in Azerbaijan. This is worrying – and this is where our basic function as humans, to socialise – loses it’s meaning, ironically, on a website designed for that very purpose.

A typical profile

I have a confession to make. I like Facebook. There is something appealing about “stalking” your friends. Seeing what their hobbies are. Whether you share similar musical tastes. When to remember to buy them a birthday present. When to congratulate them on the promotion/graduation/new job. There is something quite useful about talking to friends on the other side of the world, with whom you would normally have no contact. There is something fun and naughty about seeing what your friends get up to these days. But when harmless Facebook surfing in small quantities becomes a substitute for real social interaction or dare I say – life itself, that’s when it is no longer a Social Network, but a dehumanizing substitute for real life.