This Week in Israel: Netanyahu visits Berlusconi, an American-Israeli student is arrested in Egypt, rising cottage-cheese prices cause protests, Book Week begins, and more
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and eight members of his Cabinet flew to Italy his week, where Netanyahu met with his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, and the two Cabinets also met. At a joint press conference, Netanyahu offered praise for the Italian prime minister, which, paraphrased, became a headline in the newspaper Israel Hayom: “Silvio, There Is No Better Friend Than You.” (Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar dubbed the relationship “an alliance of rejects.”) During the trip to Italy, Netanyahu spoke to Israeli author Etgar Keret for Haaretz’s annual literary edition in honor of Hebrew Book Week, telling Keret that he views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as insoluble, or bilti patir. That prompted opposition leader Tzipi Livni to ask of the prime minister: “Who are you to bury the chances of a deal and of normal life here?” As one blogger wrote: “It’s official: Bibi’s plan is to wait for the problem to go away by itself.”
“Disbelief is the first feeling you have to overcome when you hear that your friend has been detained by Egypt’s dreaded secret police, the Mukhabarat,” Ronen Shnidman wrote about Ilan Grapel, the American-Israeli Emory law student arrested in Egypt on what Israeli officials and Grapel’s friends and family say are trumped-up charges of spying for the Mossad. Grapel is accused partly of playing a role in Egypt’s anti-government protests. Israeli newspapers exhibited a large dose of skepticism about the Egyptian allegations, with Yedioth Ahronoth running the front-page headline “Israel: Egyptian Alila,” which means “false accusation” and is used in the phrase alilat dam, or “blood libel.” In a sidebar headlined “Confused” (Mevulbalim), the paper laid out contradictory reports coming from Egypt about various aspects of the incident, including Grapel’s name. Israel Hayom described Grapel as “Not a Mossad agent, not James Bond: A student arrested on a false charge.”
Israelis are organizing a Facebook revolution of their own. The lofty goal? A consumer boycott of cottage cheese—an Israeli staple that locals refer to as just plain cottage, pronounced “KOHT-edge”—in protest of its rising price. The Facebook protest pages have rather unwieldy names, like “We’re not buying cottage cheese until they abolish the price hike” and “We’re not buying cottage cheese, such a basic product whose price has reached nearly 8 shekels, for a month.” Yedioth announced the arrival of “The Cottage Cheese Protest” on its front page and Maariv ran a graphic showing the price of a standard container of the cheese curd rising from 4.84 shekels in 2006 to 7.80 shekels as of the beginning of this month. It reported that more than 15,000 people have pledged not to buy cottage cheese for the month of July. But Globes, a financial newspaper, said that supermarkets were reporting that discount offers (possibly in response to the protests) had actually boosted cottage cheese sales by between 25 percent and 50 percent by the end of the week.
A minor uproar arose this week over Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz’s decision that the Yizkor memorial prayer for fallen soldiers should mention God. The original version of the IDF Yizkor was written by Zionist leader Berl Katznelson, who referred to the people (or nation) of Israel—“May am Yisrael remember its sons and daughters”—rather than to God. The wording was changed after the Six-Day War by the army’s chief rabbi at the time, Shlomo Goren, and both versions have been used since. Advocates of the secular version say they want to restore Katznelson’s wording, but as a commenter in one Hebrew chat room noted, Katznelson’s version is itself based on the prayer recited on the Jewish holidays that begins Yizkor Elohim, “May God remember.”
Israeli newspapers devoted a lot of space to the 50th annual Hebrew Book Week, which features book fairs and sales across the country. In a Maariv article titled “Week of Magic” (Shavua shel Kesem), prominent Israeli novelist Zeruya Shalev compared Book Week—which began this week and will last for 10 days this year—to other annual celebrations, like birthdays and the Passover Seder. “In no other country is there a week like this, which has come around every summer for 50 years, just like the heat waves,” she wrote. A Yedioth article headlined Dapei Zahav (literally “Pages of Gold,” which is what Israelis call the Yellow Pages) also reflected the idea of Book Week as a national celebration, but put it a little differently: “And here, finally, is a holiday that doesn’t involve kugel.”
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