A WAR OVER NOTHING?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
28 June 2011
TEL AVIV –
An Android phone application continues to cause fierce debate in the Middle East.
“How many times have you paid nothing and got something back? Now we offer you a unique opportunity: pay something and get Nothing back! This application does absolutely Nothing. By purchasing it you will help us prove that Nothing is indeed worth Something!”
Nothing – which retails for $0.99 – was developed by Israeli programmer, musician and author Nir Yaniv. In the few days still its release it has already sold in the double figures and was featured on prominent Israeli news site Ynet. One customer described it as “the best App I ever got. It does exactly what it promised to do! Nothing!”
Nothing Pro, retailing for $9.00 and described as “lighter in size, easier on both the memory and the CPU, and it does Nothing way more smoothly and efficiently than the regular consumer version,” has since been released.
Now the tongue-in-cheek application – described by Ynet readers as, variously, “the stupidest thing I have ever seen” and “pure genius” – and resembling British artist Martin Creed’s controversial, Turner Prize-winning piece Work 227: The lights going on and off – has been co-opted in the Middle East’s always-bitter political conflict.
Right-wing blog The Elder of Ziyon has used the application to attack Palestinian politics, writing, in part, “I think that we can expand on this concept. for example, a deluxe edition of Nothing that shows: Every Palestinian Arab concession since 1988; Every example of Mahmoud Abbas’ “moderation”; Every Palestinian Arab “human rights group” that calls for an unconditional release of Gilad Shalit; Every benefit that a Palestinian Arab state would bring to the world,” and continuing further in that vein.
When reached for comment, a bemused Mr. Yaniv said, “I never dreamed that anyone would use the app for political purposes. In retrospect, given the nature of the internet, I should have known better.”
Plans for an iPhone version of Nothing have since been announced.
My third and last guest-post for the Jewish Book Council this week, Remembering How to be a Jew:
I’m living in Israel again after seventeen years, which is a bit of a shock. The political discourse has always been ugly here, but it seems to be getting uglier, to the point that you might not want to open your mouth publicly about it. seventeen years after I left, an 18-year-old with a passion for beaches,science fiction and smoking things that were not strictly legal anywhere but the Netherlands, it’s surprising how little has changed.
There is still an occupation, of course. Still half-hearted peace talks designed to fail, still an unwillingness to understand what it is that is so wrong at the heart of the Jewish state. An unwillingness to acknowledge anything can even be wrong. It occurs to me that we, Israelis, have forgotten what it means to be a Jew. I do not mean putting on tefillin, or going to shul, or knowing our Moses from our Abraham (or our Absalom from our David). As Jews we were never very good at being observant, we were merely good at being Jews. It is partly things like the erasure of Yiddish for Hebrew, the writing of a victorious, patriotic, often vitriolic official history, the changing of our names (my family was Heisikovitz before it was Tidhar), the very re-writing of what it means to be a Jew. We are not diaspora Jews, we were told. We are a new brand of Jew. A sabra. Prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside, yaddy yaddy yadda.
We were the few against the many. We were Masada come again. It didn’t even occur to us that taking as our emblem the small, fanatic cult of suicides that was Masada said more about us than we could understand. We worked so hard at being Israelis that we forgot to be Jews. We forgot, in other words, that Jews had learned, for hundreds and hundreds of years, to live amongst other people. – read the full post.
Two bits of news today – one, an Israeli MP Yaakov Katz is concerned about the africanisation of Tel Aviv and predicts Tel Aviv residents will move to the occupied territories to escape the African invasion – I love how political discourse in Israel doesn’t even try to pretend it isn’t racist.
The second one is about Israeli actors signing a public letter calling on other artists not to perform at a new theatre built in a settlement. In response, the government vows to stop their funding.
I’m lucky, I suppose, that being a commercial writer I take no money from any governmental bodies. Consequently, I can tell the Israeli government to fuck off!
Isn’t that nice?
Of course, you can support me by buying The Bookman, or An Occupation of Angels… or, instead, buy one of the poetry collections by the wonderful Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. They wouldn’t teach them at schools here.
[Images from Walla News in Israel]
Some more pictures from Israel’s occupation of Gaza – but there’s nothing to see here, folks, Israel’s an honourable country with an honourable army – right? Right? Um, yeah…
We’ll be Right Back
Soldier having his picture taken in a Palestinian family’s kitchen
The Israeli cabinet (the rabidly right-wing, fringe-lunatic cabinet – which, for fringe, read vast majority of Israeli voters) has approved plans for a loyalty oath:
If passed by the Israeli Knesset, non-Jewish applicants for Israeli citizenship will have to swear allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state.” Critics say the oath invites discrimination towards non-Jews.
The new ruling is expected to be passed into law in the next few months and will affect several thousand people a year,mainly Arabs who marry Israeli Arab citizens. Jewish people wishing to become new citizens of Israel will not have to take the oath.
To be honest, when I heard about it I thought it was so ludicrous I wasn’t even going to comment on it. Silly me. The Israeli government thrives of ludicrous, after all – not to mention insanely racist – and is now blithely headed further towards straight-on fascism.
The core tension at the heart of Israel is its existence as a “Jewish, democratic state” – an inherent paradox of intent that remains unresolved but creates a country that is neither democratic nor Jewish. How idiotic this is can be seen in the words of that grandest idiot of all, the great Binyamin Netanyahu himself:
“The state of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and is a democratic state in which all of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews, enjoy full equal rights. Whoever wants to join us has to recognize us,” he said.
Spot anything strange in that?
Anyhow, under the new law I won’t have to swear the oath, lucky me, since I wouldn’t be able to do it with a straight face anyway.
This is a racist law – but this is an inherently racist country, too. So before they pass another law to shut me up, let me just say: fuck you, Israeli cabinet. Fuck you very much.
Been watching the news, and the on-going corruption trials and so on, and a guy on TV saying Israel was worse than either Italy or Nigeria in that regard (though it has less cappuccinos and less 419 scammers! a marvelous achievement).
And I was watching it, and I thought – but why are they all so cheap?
I mean, it really doesn’t take much to buy an Israeli PM! A couple of free trips to Europe and you’re sorted! Which makes me sad, because I’d like to think that, if I were prime minister, I’d ask for at least a summer house in Malibu and a bag of coke. And maybe a free packet of crisps.
Also on TV, the government is putting out an appeal for Israelis (link in English, check out the video…):
Going abroad? Meeting foreigners on a visit? Be ambassadors for Israel!
Many of us, whether we’re traveling or living abroad for an extended period of time, get involved in discussions with locals during which they bring up misconceptions and false information regarding Israel, without our having the tools and the correct information for coping with the questions or the barbs of criticism put to us.
At such moments, we’re seized with an urge to make the other person open their mind and especially their heart, and see us—see Israel—differently.
I am very glad indeed to be asked by my government to act as an ambassador. I am still looking into the renumeration package but I am told it includes strippers. In any case, here are some tips for living in Israel!
- Israeli drivers are – and there is no exception to this – assholes.
- You can get a fine for crossing a pedestrian crossing at a red light. Cars, meanwhile, are allowed to drive through when pedestrians have a green light.
- Butchers charge you extra to cut your meat. I mean, it’s not like it’s their job or anything.
- You have to carry an ID on you at all times.
- The banks charge you to deposit money. Forget about that strange foreign thing called earning interest.
- News begin broadcasting at 12:01am. News stop broadcasting at 11:59pm. Yes, you get a full two minutes which are news-free.
- Old women are mean.
- Chicken soup really does heal anything.
- You really don’t want to be an Arab and live here. Second-class status is something you can only dream about.
- On the plus sides, prime ministers come cheap!
You have to admit How To Kill a Goy would make a good title for a book. As it happens, though, it appears to be a Rabbinical manual, no less, written by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, on when it is permissible to kill non-Jews.
It includes such gems as
When we encounter a gentile who has violated the Seven Laws of Noah and kill him out of concern for upholding the seven mitzvoth, no prohibition has been violated.
It also apparently says that
Anywhere where the presence of a gentile poses a threat to Israel, it is permissible to kill him, even if it is a righteous gentile who is not responsible for the threatening situation.
Shapira has been arrested by Israeli police on “suspicion of incitement to violence against non-Jews.”
I wish I could say it beggars belief or state that Shapira will most likely be convicted. I imagine he’d be set free fairly soon, though. Israel has a culture of killing – from the illegal assassinations of its opponents (there’s even a Wikipedia page, List of Israeli Assassinations, with the 2000s being a particularly busy time) to the page 7 killings of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank (so called since they end up being reported, if it all, buried somewhere on page 7 of the newspapers).
It’s a shameful place to be in, as a country.
Shapira is not a cause – he is a symptom. There is a sickness in Israel, an acceptance of moral wrong that, like a particularly virulent meme, keeps spreading. A weak and ignorant government, an apathetic-at-best, rabid-at-worst electorate and a discreditable Left of an ageing minority don’t offer much hope for the future.
Still, I like to think there is hope. In September I’m supposed to talk at a panel on Writing the Future of the Middle East. The future hadn’t been written yet. Israel can choose to follow the path it’s been following all along – towards more deaths, more uncertainty, more suffering and wrongness – or it could follow a path towards peace, and justice, and regional prosperity. I keep thinking that, one day, it would turn from the current path and follow the other. Still, right now, it’s hard not to realise that’s just, well – science fiction.