Monday, November 23, 2009

Osem to Enter European Dairy Market


Gad Dairy, a subsidiary of the Israeli food manufacturer Osem has announced that it will enter the European dairy market. The subsidiary, which is Israel's fourth-largest creamery, will introduce its cheeses to the British kosher market first and apparently has ambitions to expand into the "ethnic food" sector (Ynet). Those who have tasted some of the country's other dairy products will probably agree that Israel turns out excellent supermarket cheeses and yogurts.

Gad Dairy's estimate for 2009 domestic and international sales is $70.9 million (270 million NIS). Its parent company, Osem, is the fourth-largest food manufacturer in Israel, after Tnuva, Strauss, and Coca Cola Israel, with sales at around 3,220 million NIS for 2009. Osem is also the maker of the infamous Bamba and Bissli snacks and invented "ptitim," which are often annoyingly referred to as "Israeli couscous."

Complaining about the inferior quality of American cottage cheese is something of a pastime among expatriate Israelis in the U.S.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Difference Between Haifa and Jerusalem

BY CARMIAIn Bat Galim, Haifa: "At this location, the Ruth Children's Hospital will be established."

In Talpiyot, Jerusalem: "At this location, with G-d's help, an integrated medical centre will be opened, which will include family and child medicine and a centre for child development."

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Iraq Election Law Vetoed by Sunni Vice President


UPDATE: Here is some more behind-the-scenes detail as well as speculation about Hashimi's vote. The author suggests that Hashimi is trying to position himself as a nationalist but is actually following a line that benefits Kurdish interests. He breaks down some of the seat numbers and explains why the Kurds are also interested in the minorities clause (it has to do with increasing Kurdish influence over Shabak and Yezidi lists).

Last week, the Iraqi parliament passed an elections law that was to have resolved some of the contentious issues surrounding voter eligibility. But today, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, vetoed the bill. Hashimi belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Islamist coalition. He objected specifically to some of the details of the proposed legislation which limited the representation of "minorities" and Iraqi refugees living abroad to 5%, according to the New York Times. Most of the 2 million Iraqi refugees residing outside the country are Sunnis; their numbers constitute 8% of the country's population of 25 million.

Initially, it seemed that the bill's handling of Kirkuk voter lists - it decided that 2009 lists of city inhabitants would be used - favored Kurdish interests, since it is widely believed that the Kurdish share of Kirkuk's population has increased significantly in the last 5 years. But on Tuesday, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, expressed his opposition to the law, threatening a Kurdish boycott in response to the seat allocation (i.e., the 5% limit). Apparently, Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, had also threatened to veto the bill, already before Hashimi did so (NYT).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Still Optimistic: Israeli Society through Caricature"

Information pamphlet about the exhibit

Students for Museum Studies at the University of Haifa have put together an exhibit entitled, "Still Optimistic: Israeli Society through Caricature." On display until the end of this month, the exhibit features caricatures and cartoons addressing a broad spectrum of issues that Israel is and has been facing for at least the past decade and a half. With so many excellent cartoons, it was very difficult to pick a favourite. Instead, I chose to highlight a few which resonated with me for different reasons.

This cartoon by Moshik Lin (2005) portrays globalization/Americanization, but with a local, ironic twist: the English signs and international companies dot a street named after Eliezer Ben Yehuda, considered the "reviver" of spoken Hebrew.

Eran Wolkowski (July 2006) displays the absurdity of the Second Lebanon War, when residents of northern Israel were under fire or had fled south, while life in Tel Aviv went on as usual. The mother, carrying beach equipment, looks at the מקלט - bomb shelter - which is locked and unused. Tel Avivians are often criticized for "living in a bubble."

Also in 2006, a couple of very high-ranking Israeli politicians were embroiled in sexual harassment cases. The scandals were viewed as a turning point by many who thought that it was time that sexual harassment was addressed in a more serious manner, similar to North America. (Caricature by Moshik Lin.)

Israeli teachers are known to receive pitiful salaries. Pointing to the person next to him, the homeless man tells the woman dropping the coin in his cup, "He intends to become a teacher, so he's doing his internship with me" (Shlomo Cohen, 2007). This was also the year that teachers went on strike for over two months.

"And who the hell are you?" Moses asks the Sudanese refugees he encounters in the desert (Daniela London-Dekel, 2007). The issue of what should be done with the Sudanese and other African refugees crossing into Israel is still a contentious topic which has yet to be properly resolved.

Lastly, I thought this cartoon, which is also by Moshik Lin and perfectly relates to the title of the exhibit, was brilliant. The man follows the arrow labeled, "It'll be fine," which is the answer to any and every problem in Israel, on these Escheresque stairs.

Monday, November 09, 2009

New Election Law in Iraq


The Iraqi parliament passed a crucial elections law yesterday, which is said to end a political stalemate that had prevented any progress on the road to holding new elections. The electoral law specifically addresses the thorny issue of voter lists in Kirkuk, the oil-rich city in northern Iraq, home to a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens.

Located in the Kirkuk Governorate, outside of the present borders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is currently comprised of the Iraqi governorates Arbīl, As-Sulaymāniyyah, and Duhok , the former Ottoman city's political future is still uncertain. As is well-known, Saddam Hussein settled large numbers of Arabs in the city to reduce Kurdish influence there. In the post-Saddam era, large numbers of Kurds have moved to Kirkuk. Arabs and Turkmens in the city and the Iraqi central government fear that Kirkuk will fall under KRG control. They have thus far insisted that future Iraqi elections, to be held in early 2010, would use 2004 voters' lists for Kirkuk. These lists would presumably have fewer Kurdish eligible voters for Kirkuk than lists compiled in 2009. As a result of the political stalemate among the various interested parties, a comprehensive elections law has languished.

The bill that passed yesterday, appears on the face of things to favor the Kurds. Under the new elections law, Kirkuk voter eligibility will be determined by 2009 residents' lists. Such lists would increase the Kurdish share of the vote and political representation of the city. As Juan Cole, translating and paraphrasing Al-Zaman, writes, Kurdistan Alliance MPs were jubilant at the passage of the bill. Cole believes that American Vice President Joe Biden must have lobbied hard with Arab leaders to achieve the passage of this bill (he takes issue with another blogger on this point):
Steve Clemons reports that Vice President Joe Biden played a central role in the negotiations. Clemons stresses his calls with Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani. But since the legislation was a big win for the Kurds, the hard talk must have been with Arab leaders such as PM Nuri al-Maliki, who gave up a lot on Kirkuk.

The New York Times quotes both Turkmen and Arab legislators from the city, reporting that

[t]he compromise satisfied each of the groups competing for dominance in Kirkuk. “We have passed a stage, a crisis, and no one is a loser,” said Abbas al-Bayti, a Turkmen legislator.

Osama al-Najafi, an Arab legislator, said: “There will be no injustice for the people of Kirkuk. This is a great victory for their historical rights.”

There is a proviso in the elections law intended to prevent voter registration fraud in Kirkuk, but that in itself does not seem enough to assuage the fears of Arabs and Turkmens that they might find themselves under Kurdish rule. Does anyone know how the impasse was really resolved? My suspicion is that some high-stakes wrangling was involved that included more far-reaching guarantees to the various parties, all backed by the U.S. government.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Erdogan Again


In the past two years, we have seen repeated crises in Turkish-Israeli relations. Most of these were set off by Turkish condemnations of Israeli policies and military operations. A few of these spats involved warnings issued by the Turks to both Israelis and American Jews that recognition of the Armenian Genocide by either Israel or American Jewish organizations would lead to irreparable harm to the Turkish-Israeli relationship. Time and again, Israeli commentators and politicians have tried to assuage the Turks as well as the Israeli public. "Everything is okay," and "military relations continue to be excellent and are immune from these political disturbance. Those sounding this line, however, are running out of credibility very quickly. Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan , seems intent on destroying ties between the two countries. Until now, the highlight was his angry outburst at Davos (see clip below). The recent cancellation by Turkey of an air force drill that was supposed to have included Israel also caused a stir. But Erdogan's remarks (Ha'aretz) today, ahead of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's meeting in Istanbul, take the cake.

Erdogan's statements included a defense of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and the incredible assertion that Muslims are incapable of carrying out genocide (I will not mention the obvious here; suffice to say that millions of Armenians feel very differently about this matter). Erdogan also charged that Israel had committed worse crimes in Gaza than Sudanese paramilitary forces had in Darfur. All this comes on the heels of the General Assembly's endorsement of of the Goldstone report. It is clear that the current Turkish government does not believe that Israel is an important ally. However important the ties between the armed forces of the two states might be, Erdogan's attacks on Israel since 2007 make him an enemy rather than a friend of the Jewish state.