My Word: A perplexing Purim

There’s no time like the present holiday to ask some questions, ranging from the funny to the peculiar.

Israeli left-wing activists wearing masks (photo credit: AP)
Israeli left-wing activists wearing masks
(photo credit: AP)
Pessah – one of those quintessential Jewish holidays summed up as “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” – is usually considered the appropriate time to ask questions. But Purim, the topsy-turvy and even less politically correct festival on the same theme, seems like a good point to start practicing. Consider it the first stage of Pessah cleaning, going through mental drawers.
What’s on the country’s mind? Judging by letter writers in the Hebrew press after the Dubai affair, a number of people want one big secret revealed. And it’s not a question of identities.
Assuming the Mossad was behind the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination – and most of the world is assuming that it was – how could it be that Israel managed to send a large team of agents into the heart of the Arab emirate, carry out an accurate hit, and safely get out of the country (being caught only on security cameras) but cannot find and rescue Gilad Schalit, the IDF soldier being held by Hamas in nearby Gaza for nearly four years?
And if in the future we were to succeed in pulling him out of his hell, would we be condemned for illegally entering Palestinian-controlled territory (even if we didn’t use any passports at all)?
Many questions arise from the Dubai incident: When will it become a movie? Or the basis for a novel by Daniel Silva in his series starring fictitious Mossad agent Gabriel Allon?
Will tourism figures in Dubai show a peak for January as police there continue to discover what they claim are ever more agents who entered the country on foreign passports that month?
And did the members of the hit team list business or pleasure as the purpose of their visit?
IF IT SEEMS that Purim comes around faster every year, it could be that its spirit of the absurd simply lasts longer.
Note the (well-advised) televised apology by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, after his soldiers accidentally killed some 20 civilians traveling in a convoy last week. Now note the absence of demands for a UN commission of inquiry – even though Justice Richard Goldstone might have some time on his hands.
To be on the safe side, however, if McChrystal decides to take a break from tackling Taliban terrorists the best he can in difficult circumstances, he should avoid traveling to Britain. Under the current British legal system it’s doubtful that even Winston Churchill would have been able to declare his intention to “fight on the beaches” without being accused of crimes against humanity and the environment.
Or maybe there are double standards when it comes to judging Israel.
Just imagine, for argument’s sake, what would have happened had Israel, rather than Switzerland, decided to ban minarets on mosques last year.
Although I suppose we have our own way of protecting our cultural identity.
The cabinet last week revealed its plan to renovate and protect more than 150 historic sites. The decision to include the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb on the road to Bethlehem – or “the way to Efrat,” as the Bible puts it – was quickly questioned by the Israeli Left and blasted (only verbally, so far) by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas warned it could trigger a third intifada (which raises the question: who’s counting?) and hinders the move to get back to the negotiating table.
This begs the question: If the Palestinians aren’t willing to recognize the Jewish connection to these two ancient sites, what is there to talk about?
Similarly, Jordan last month petitioned UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, claiming ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I ask myself: How many Jordanians can decipher the Hebrew script on the parchments they suddenly feel so passionately about? And how do you translate “hutzpa” into Arabic?
With friends (or at least peace treaty partners) like this, who needs enemies?
Perhaps it would be best to ask the university staff and students around the world who – with no visible sense of either irony or humor – advocate boycotting Israel in the name of academic freedom.
No wonder Minister for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein discerned a need to improve Israel’s image abroad and grant the general public the means of answering Palestinian propaganda with his “Masbirim” campaign.
But why did he abandon his position as minister responsible for public broadcasting in its time of need? The broadcasts of Israel Television and the Voice of Israel in Hebrew, Arabic, English and other languages might not go as far as the intrepid Israeli backpacker but they can reach a far larger number of people around the global village.
One place the media can reach – unlike the average Israeli – is Iran, where we definitely have an image problem. Lots of questions about Persia’s current rulers pop up around Purim.
For example: In the post-Mabhouh world – a better place – one wonders what would happen were the Purim story to unfold today. Just who would be considered the victim: the Jewish community which managed at the last moment to avert Persian plans to annihilate it or Haman and sons who were strung up on their own gallows when their dastardly scheme was discovered?
One of the most disturbing questions is: When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims Iran is developing nuclear facilities to treat “cancer” what – or should that be whom – does he consider a malignant growth?
IT MIGHT be noted, though, that there has been some progress in this area. Several countries are finally realizing that the fallout – literal and figurative – of Iranian nuclear weapons would affect them. And although Ahmadinejad continues his demands to “wipe the Zionist entity off the map” at least it means he has put us there in the first place.
Israel does exist, albeit stuck uncomfortably between the devil and the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. It even manages to find reasons to celebrate (other than simply its survival, no mean achievement in itself).
One thing’s for sure: Israelis don’t die of boredom.
If you follow local politics, why bother thinking of a Purimspiel? The satire is built in.
Ditto the world of the ever-more-extreme ultra-Orthodox zealots: How is it, for example, in the week in which the Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation reportedly advised ultra-Orthodox airline passengers to hang a “mehitza” around the top of their airplane seats to shield them from immodesty, a colleague sent me a picture of a haredi family in Jerusalem celebrating Purim with all the numerous children sporting Father Christmas costumes? Perhaps this is what happens when you are so cut off from the outside world. Or maybe in the age of Photoshop, when revolutions are carried out via Twitter, you don’t know what to believe any more.
Purim, after all, is a reminder that nothing is quite as it seems. It’s also a time to eat, drink and have fun. May we always have the last laugh.