In the eye of the beholder - comment

Israel is notorious for its flip-flop bureaucracy, which on the one hand can be severe beyond logic, and on the other can be extremely lax.

ISRAELI MODEL Yael Shelbia. (photo credit: TWITTER)
ISRAELI MODEL Yael Shelbia.
(photo credit: TWITTER)
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it’s the best of times and the worst of times for Israeli model and soldier Yael Shelbia, recently voted the most beautiful woman in the world and due to be the first Israeli to appear on the cover of the February edition of the Dubai-based L’Officiel Arabia. She will also be featured inside the magazine wearing creations by Israeli designers.
Shelbia, who is the first Israeli to be featured on the cover of the magazine, has a rare, Lolita-type beauty of childish innocence and naiveté, coupled with a kittenish sexiness. Out of 100 finalists selected from thousands of beautiful women around the world in the annual contest run by TC Candler, she was voted number one.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and not everyone would agree with the choice. Indeed, among the other 99 women, there were some with the most incredibly beautiful facial features. But even if one disagrees with the choice, a beauty contest should be free of politics. Some Palestinians, unhappy that yet again an Israeli had come out as number one, wrote some very vitriolic posts on Shelbia’s social media platforms. She wasn’t chosen because she is Israeli. She was chosen on the basis of her beauty.
What was interesting in viewing the other finalists, was the preponderance of women from Asian countries, and Asian women who were born in Western countries, including the relatively high percentage of women of mixed race who appear to have inherited the best genes from both sides. There was also a lot of evidence of dissatisfaction with natural attributes – such as Asian and African women who had changed the color of their hair to blond or ginger-red. Perhaps next year there will be a co-equal first in the voting with an Israeli and a Palestinian woman in the lead. That seems to be an unlikely ice-breaker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but stranger things have happened in the Middle East in recent months.
■ ISRAEL IS notorious for its flip-flop bureaucracy, which on the one hand can be severe beyond logic, and on the other can be extremely lax. Like so much else, it depends on who is dealing with any specific issue. This is particularly troublesome in recognizing someone’s Jewish identity, and the right of anyone who fits the legal criteria, to immigrate to Israel and receive Israeli citizenship. There was a time when Israelis were unable to renounce their citizenship, even if they had come to the country briefly as infants and they and their parents had received citizenship, but had subsequently relocated to another country. The child who tried to return as a tourist on a foreign passport was detained by immigration authorities for not having an Israeli passport.
The worst instances of bureaucracy in this realm are actually in the opposite direction, where people who grew up Jewish come on aliyah and want to get married are suddenly told that they don’t qualify according to Halacha, Jewish law. For anyone who has never experienced that, it’s difficult to imagine the traumatic effect. It’s tantamount to negating a person’s identity, and it happens far too often to people who were born Jewish or were converted to Judaism by Orthodox rabbis.
One of the most horrendous and ridiculous cases was reported by Jeremy Sharon in last Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post. Prof. Ruth Katz – descended on both sides of her family from the priestly tribe of Kohanim; whose Jewish credentials have been confirmed by an Orthodox rabbi; whose parents are buried in Jerusalem; and whose siblings and children have all immigrated to Israel and have been recognized as Jewish – has been consistently denied Israeli citizenship by the Population and Immigration Authority. Other than the fact that they keep finding fault with her documentation, there is no logical explanation for her dilemma.
In the days when Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan served as director-general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Rabbinical Court system, he traveled abroad to help people prove their Jewish identities and did everything in his power, including some amazing detective work to determine that they were Jewish according to Halacha. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find someone with his compassion and understanding in today’s corridors of rabbinical bureaucracy. Instead of welcoming people to the fold and finding some kind of halachic outlet if their Jewish identity is in doubt, they turn away practicing Jews.
This kind of bureaucracy has long been prevalent in both the ministry and the rabbinate. The Jerusalem-born late husband of the writer of this column was born before the establishment of the state, but according to his ID, he was born in Israel, which did not exist as a sovereign state at the time of his birth. He wanted his ID changed to indicate that he had been born in Palestine, but no clerk would agree to this, no matter how much he argued.
■ BY THE same token, it is doubtful that the request of former Knesset speaker, former Labor MK and former chairman of the Jewish Agency Avraham Burg will receive a positive response to his appeal to the court to annul his registration as a Jew in the Population and Immigration Authority’s records. In a recent interview with Haaretz, Burg said he didn’t perceive his request as something radical. The Nation-State Law has turned it into something essential, he said.
Burg, whose late father, Yosef Burg, was a member of Knesset for some 40 years, and one of the founders of the National Religious Party, knew that his son was somewhat of a rebel. The senior Burg had to live with the fact that his son was one of the founders of Peace Now. But he would probably turn in his grave if he knew just how far to the Left his son has moved politically. It was one thing to join Hadash in 2015, and before that to openly support J Street, but to formally ask to be stripped of his Jewish identity would have been regarded by the senior Burg as an abomination, an act of heresy.
To those who have followed Avraham Burg’s career and his writings in the Hebrew press, it was obvious that the day would come when the political straw would break the camel’s back. Burg, who is a tireless advocate for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens, better treatment of Palestinians, and preferably a two-state solution or some kind of federation that would upgrade the status of the Palestinians, agrees with Arabs and Druze that the Nation-State Law is racist. He even goes so far as to call it fascist.
Some Druze and Arabs are willing to accept it with an amendment that specifies equal rights for all of Israel’s minorities, but it’s doubtful that supporters of the law would agree to something like that, because it would allow mixed communities of Jews and Arabs, and it would give additional building rights to Arabs. People pay lip service to all citizens having the same rights, but when push comes to shove, it’s not true, and it’s not just a difference between Jews and Arabs, but also Jew and Jew. It follows the old principle that all men are equal, but some are more equal than others.
■ THE DECISION by former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot not to throw his hat into the political ring is a sign of wisdom. Eisenkot has seen what happened to his predecessors in the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, and things don’t look too hot for Moshe Ya’alon. A few years back, Shaul Mofaz likewise slipped down the popularity poll. Eisenkot did not want to join that stable. The risk was simply not worth the effort. His decision also proves that so-called political pundits live by guess work and are essentially feeding off each other. Someone floats a political balloon and everyone runs after it, only to discover that it had very limited air and dropped even faster than it rose.
■ RAMLE MAYOR Michael Vidal has sparked the ire of merchants of the famed Ramle market, many of whom sell their wares not only in Ramle but also around the country, spending one or two days setting up stands and kiosks in busy parts of towns and cities. Shuk Ramle, as it is known, has been functioning for some 60 years, but Vidal wants to close it down and has been negotiating with the Israel Lands Authority to put up housing complexes on the site. The merchants are furious because such a move would deprive them of their livelihoods. Some say Vidal kept the market closed even when health authorities permitted markets to reopen. Vidal wants to get rid of the historic market because rates and taxes paid by future apartment owners would result in much more income for the municipality plus a higher budgetary grant from the Finance Ministry.
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