Sex, the Metro and security in Cairo

Egypt’s government closed the main Cairo Metro station under Tahrir Square in August 2013, as part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea was to make it harder for demonstrators to reach the square.This article in Al-Ahram, a state-owned paper, describes the inconvenience, the overcrowding and the inevitable sexual harassment of women that has resulted for ordinary people . It’s a slice of daily life in Cairo.

Cairo's Metro

Cairo’s Metro

Cairo’s Metro is a main artery of transportation in the sprawling, poor, overcrowded city. It has only two lines, but the old, shabby cars run through many of the heavily populated quarters of the city. I used the Metro often, taking a taxi to the Sadat station under Tahrir–the one that’s closed now–buying my ticket for one pound (14 cents), crowding into one of the cars ans speeding quickly to my destination, bypassing the constant traffic jams on the streets. Once some young men started making fun of me, probably because they so rarely see foreigners, and assuming I didn’t understand what they were saying. I ignored them–the banter was harmless–until just before I got off, and then I turned and told them in Arabic that their show was very entertaining. They laughed, and so did I. That’s Cairo–for men. The Al-Ahram story shows, once again, what it’s like for women.

The real story of Jordan’s anger at Israel

Mark calls it “eye candy” in this analysis on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh.

Jordan has recalled its ambassador to Israel over violence at the disputed holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound sits atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples. Jordan’s king canceled a ceremony marking 20 years since Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty. Trouble? Not really…listen here as Mark talks to host P.J. Maloney.

The Western Wall, with the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary behind it

The Western Wall, with the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary behind it

Playing into Hanin Zoabi’s hand

Radical Israeli-Arab member of parliament Hanin Zoabi has Israel  exactly where she wants it.

All she has to do is make some outrageous statement supporting Hamas, backing violence, opposing the Israeli military or whatever, and off they go with another round of denunciations, calls to throw her out of the parliament, strip her of Israeli citizenship, expel her to Gaza, charge her with treason, execute her, or worse.

So the more she speaks, the more she gets denounced, the more she gets headlines. And, she believes, the more votes she gets.

Her latest outrage, comparing Israeli police to Nazi storm troopers last week in Jerusalem, along with violent demonstrations in Israeli Arab communities, prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come up with this formula:

“I have instructed the Interior Minister to use all means, including evaluating the possibility of revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Exactly what Zoabi wants. Take action against her, give her more publicity, more votes.

There’s the real issue. People vote for her because of her views. So Hanin Zoabi is not the problem.

A democracy as strong as Israel’s can handle extreme comments from its representatives with no harm done. The real questions are — why does she keep getting elected, and what happens to her and her followers as a result in the long run? Do they find themselves relocated to a Palestinian state, or do they commit themselves to Israel?

Let’s dispose of the treason argument first. Here’s the definition: Treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.”

Treason requires actions, not words. You could make a case that her 2010 sailing on the Mavi Marmara ship challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was treason, but even that wouldn’t stand up to legal scrutiny, because that wasn’t an act aimed at overthrowing the Israeli government.

Israelis should be proud that in their country, people can get elected and say whatever they want. It was a mistake to ban racist rabbi Meir Kahane from the Knesset in 1985, too. As President Lyndon Johnson, one of the best politicians ever, put it — better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

A parliamentary democracy like Israel grants immunity from prosecution to members of parliament for statements and actions in conjunction with their positions. Zoabi could be prosecuted if she sold drugs or took bribes. She cannot be prosecuted for making disgusting statements or taking inflammatory actions, even backing Israel’s enemies.

Nor should she. Israel would be better served by seeing to it that such statements cause her to lose support, not win votes.

Israel is strong enough to weather the outrages of Hanin Zoabi. It also needs to be strong enough to persuade her followers that her way leads to personal and national disaster.

Read more at The Times of Israel

The Knesset, Israel's parliament (GPO)

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament (GPO)

Coca-Cola building Gaza factory–the real solution

Coca-Cola is building its first factory in Gaza. This report says it’ll be ready in six months and will provide 3,000 new jobs for Gazans. This is the right way to solve the Gaza problem.

Here’s the math. About 1.8 million people live in Gaza. It’s impossible to know what the unemployment rate really is, because statistics are unreliable, and much of the Gaza economy is unofficial (we’d call it illegal), as in most places in the developing world. But let’s say it’s 50 percent. That’s a recipe for hopelessness, extremism and Hamas.

Now let’s say there needs to be one wage-earner per four people. That means Gaza needs 450,000 jobs for full employment. It would need another 225,000 jobs it unemployment is 50 percent. Another 20,000 jobs would cut the unemployment figure–and chances are, if those jobs are created by building factories, the “multiplier effect” would create the rest. That refers to jobs in sectors that supply or service the factories, and consumer sectors that spring up because of the increase in available spending money.

So a few big factories with 20,000 workers altogether would transform the Gaza economy as night turns into day. Coca-Cola’s 3,000 is a good first step. That figure already includes the multiplier effect, since the factory itself would employ “only” several hundred people. That’s why they call the effect “multiplier.”

“All” we need to do to make this happen is break the iron grip of the UN on Gaza. Through its handouts, schools and refugee camps, the UN is perpetuating the suffering of Palestinian refugees into the fourth generation for its own reasons and that of Palestinian politicians. If we redirect all that aid from handouts to building factories, it wouldn’t matter if the factories are immediately profitable. It’s aid money, don’t forget. What matters is that Gaza gets an economy, people start earning money and supporting their families, and for the first time in decades, they have some hope. And trust the energetic and positive spirit of Palestinians–they can turn this into a self-supporting economy in time. Then we can really talk about peace.

It’s worthwhile noting that Coca-Cola is the one that defied the Arab boycott of Israel for decades, selling its products here, while others, like Pepsi, buckled under. In 1991, Pepsi finally started marketing here, and that set off a lively conversation around our Shabbat dinner table: Do we buy Pepsi to support their decision to sell in Israel, or do we refrain from buying because they boycotted Israel for so long? It went back and forth before my son Haggai, a teenager at the time, settled it with this: “I tried Pepsi, and it sucks.”

Haggai, me and our dog back then