Israel has finally made it to the headlines without connection to our continuous existential struggle. While this nation was celebrating Independence Day, foreign broadcasters and publishers had a field day at our expense. What attracted attention this time was the Communication Ministry’s edict not to allow American-purchased iPads into Israel. For once Israel wasn’t being demonized for ostensible intransigence or worse in the Palestinian context, but instead, derided as the only western state to bar the latest hi-tech gadget.There was ample cause for scoffing – it’s incongruous when a country on the cutting edge of hi-tech research and development bans – even if temporarily – the hottest hi-tech device. Worse, no advance notice was publicized and travelers who bought their iPads in the US and declared them dutifully at customs were taken aback by the arbitrary decree. Their iPads were provisionally confiscated and the owners were informed that, beyond the first 48-hours post-confiscation, they would have to shell out a hefty per diem “storage” surcharge. The length of said wholly involuntary storage is anyone’s guess. But have no fear, our resourceful customs authorities have offered a way out. Passengers whose iPads have been held up may sell them via an overseas-bound vendor. To this end, affected passengers need to locate and make a deal with someone flying abroad, then produce his/her plane ticket by way of proof. A customs employee will afterwards deliver the iPad to the plane (for a NIS 200 fee) and hand it over to the designated iPad custodian. NO WONDER all this has occasioned almost universal ridicule. The sudden reversal of Israel’s routine policy on non-commercial imports – and an eminently sensible one at that – embodies bureaucratic capriciousness and imbecility at its worst. Why did the Communications Ministry abruptly order customs not to release iPads into Israel? The official excuse is that the devices aren’t compatible with local Wi-Fi configurations (standards for transmitting data over high-frequency local wireless networks). But the same strong-signal problems exist with other devices – including a variety of laptops, cell-phones, the iPhone and BlackBerrys – which are not banned. The incompatibility can be easily resolved, to boot. One widespread speculation is that the local Apple franchise may be leery of private imports, hence the stipulation that the ban will be reversed once Apple releases a version of the device compatible with European wireless specifications. But we cannot verify that any business interests are behind this bizarre ministry move. All we can say is that the very fact that the rumor mill is being churned so vigorously underscores the preposterousness and pettiness of the ministerial diktat. This is almost on par with the insistence throughout the 1970s to ban color TV from the country (after decades in which television was altogether blocked in the name of socialist ideals). With hardly any black-and-white sets still being manufactured even back then, Israeli importers were required to install special mechanisms to remove color from our screens. No sooner was the uniquely Israeli absurdity mandated than a locally invented contrivance was marketed to every household to function as an “anti-color-eraser.” In 1981, after it opted to put an end to the ludicrousness, the government was roundly excoriated and accused of seeking to buy votes. WE HAD every reason to trust that such episodes could be regarded ascurios from an era of shortsighted official imperiousness, an era forwhich few of us retain much fondness or nostalgia. But the iPadconfiscations of recent days indicate that the twin grains ofhigh-handedness and irrationality have not been entirely rooted outfrom our midst. Does the Communications Ministry perhaps fear that our sidewalk cafeswill be inundated with hand-held gadgets? Are ministry functionarieslooking out for our wellbeing in the same manner in which the culturalcommissars of the 1950s sought to protect our souls from televiseddecadence or in which their 1970s torchbearers valiantly attempted tohold back the tides of inexorable progress? Whatever skewed logic triggered this folly, one result isunquestionable – Israel has iPadded itself into an internationallaughingstock. This hardly bolsters our reputation as a worldtechnological powerhouse.