Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Jewish flotilla' captain returns home, nobody cares

Oh, dear. Supporters of the so-called Jewish flotilla sent out tweets today encouraging people to welcome home Glyn Secker, its captain, as he flew into Heathrow. And in the event? Only eight people, including the usual suspects, cared enough to turn up. As for the sign encouraging Jews to boycott Israeli goods - let's just note that Secker was flying home El Al (possibly not by choice).

Simchat Torah trivia

For the basics on the festival of Simchat Torah, Tablet has a nice run-down. But here are some other facts you might not know, from Avraham Ya'ari's classic history of the festival, 'Toldot Chag Simchat Torah' ('The Origins of the Festival of Simchat Torah,' pub. in Hebrew by Mossad Harav Kook).

Whilst we often pride ourselves on / lament (depending on who you are...) the unchanging nature of our tradition, this history shows how enormously fluid some of our traditions actually are. Among the fascinating points:

-- Simchat Torah originated in Babylon and was not celebrated in Israel until the end of the first millenium - ie it is a total diaspora festival. The reason is that in Babylon, the Jews had the same one-year cycle for reading the Torah as we do today, whereas in Israel they finished the Torah every three / three-and-a-half years, and not always on the same date. When the communities in the land of Israel finished the Torah, they would hold a festive meal, but no 'Simchat Torah' as we know it.

-- The festival originally did not involve reading from Genesis, but merely finishing Deuteronomy. Hence, the original term was not 'chatan Torah' (Bridegroom of the Torah/Law) but 'chatam Torah' -- sealer of the Torah. There was, of course, no chatan Bereshit.

-- The original name wasn't 'Simchat Torah' but 'Yom Habrachah' -- the day of the blessing, named after Vezot Habrachah -- the last chapter of the bible which was read on that day, and also after the haftarah they read then, in which King Solomon gave blessings (I Kings 8:22). In Spain it was known simply as 'the last Yom Tov of Chag.' In North Africa it was 'Yom Hasiyum' -- the day of completion. The name Simchat Torah originated in Spain, after the first millenium.

-- Hakafot on Simchat Torah were not known at all until the last third of the 16th century, and the first time we hear about it is in Tzfat in the days of the Ari, from where it spread out to other communities. Previously, some communities in Ashkenaz took out all the Torah scrolls, but it took 150 years for the custom of hakafot to spread, after it was mentioned in several books and after Jews from the land of Israel travelling to other communities helped institute it.

-- There are a few customs for Simchat Torah which we know about because there are rabbinic responsa addressing whether they were permissable. These include bringing spices and incense to shul and burning them in front of the Sefer Torah. In Israel between the 17th-19th centuries, during hakafot, people used to hold lit wax candles, and this custom also spread (in several places they used to use havadalah candles...). Another fire-related minhag was getting the children to burn the schach from succot on ST.

-- Other lost minhagim: Worms - they would dance around bonfires on Simchat Torah. In other places in Ashkenaz celebrations of Simchat Torah involved jumping over a fire. In a small number of communities the singing on Simchat Torah was accompanied by musical instruments played by non-Jews - and at times by Jews (In Venice, for example, there was a debate over whether the players could use an organ as it was used in churches; other instruments, however, were ok). In other places eg. Sarajevo, they played drums during hakafot. In some Ashkenazi communities, particularly in Poland and the Balkans, in the seventeenth century, they let off fireworks and firecrackers. Many people used to eat and drink in shul whilst the Torah was being read, often food baked by the women of the community...

-- There were many special customs for the women on Simchat Torah, including in some places, decorating the Torah scrolls after Minchah on Shmini Atzeret in preparation for Simchat Torah; selling the 'women's mitzvot' for the rest of the year - which included, I note, sweeping the floor of the shul -- throwing candy on the chatanei Torah; and honouring the wives of the chatanei Torah as 'Kallot Torah.' Once hakafot began, women were graciously allowed to watch proceedings, even in communities such as Yemen where women generally did not come to shul at all. In Southern Russia, women were actually allowed into the men's section; in Lithuania, women and girls came into the synagogue to kiss the Sifrei Torah; in Baghdad, each shul used to lay out all of its sifrei Torah and both the men and the women used to go from shul to shul kissing each scroll.

-- The tendency to confuse Simchat Torah with Purim has a long history. The priestly blessing was changed from Mussaf to Shacharit so that the Cohanim would not be drunk when they said it; in some communities it was cancelled altogether. There are also a number of poems about Simchat Torah which equate the festival with drinking and frivolity from very early on, as well as rabbinic warnings on the matter. There were lots of parodies of religious songs (including Echad Mi Yodeah, and Kiddush) that were popular on Simchat Torah, and there was also a customof appointing a 'Purim rabbi / Purim head-of-kehillah' on ST and of allowing the young men to take over proceedings, including the old shtick of tying people's tallitot together, stealing food from ovens, etc. etc. etc. This was all very widespread but apparently Salonika was particularly known for letting the service become jokey.

Chag sameach everyone!

Jews and pork

The New York Times has a longish piece on Israel's first pork cookbook, which even the article admits "has not caused much of a stir so far".

Nevertheless, it has sold over 1,000 copies. And:

At Yoezer, a high-end restaurant in Jaffa, the chef Itzik Cohen has held dinners for as many as 90 customers exclusively with the book’s pork recipes.

Dishes included frittata with bacon, prosciutto and zucchini; cabbage filled with pork and polenta; pork scaloppine with risotto; pork-cheek soup with hummus; spaghetti carbonara; pork ribs marinated in yogurt; and pork meatballs with fennel seeds.

“They were good evenings,” said Mr. Cohen, who has since incorporated three of the dishes into his everyday menu. “Everyone was enjoying the food. It all came out beautiful.”

The thing is, it wouldn't matter for most of those customers if the food was absolutely disgusting. As with the restaurant, Traif, which recently opened in Brooklyn, the thrill is mostly in eating something taboo.

Samuel Pepys goes to shul

OK, ok, I know I post this every year before Simchat Torah, but I just love it.

On October 14, 1663, diarist Samuel Pepys made a visit to a London synagogue at Creechurch Lane (later Bevis Marks). It was Simchat Torah, but he had no way of knowing that what he was witnessing was not typical. Here is his horrified description of the goings-on:

Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson's conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew.

And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew.

But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall...

Good to see that nothing changes....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ahmadinejad's rocky PR strategy

Next month, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to visit Lebanon. After political meetings in Beirut he will travel south, tour the areas damaged in the war with Israel in 2006 – and, according to reports, lob a rock at Israel over the border fence in a symbolic gesture.

The thinking, presumably, is that this would be a great PR coup - that the image would cement Ahmadinejad’s reputation as the Islamic world’s foremost opponent of the Jewish state. But would it really?

The move (if it ever happens - not at all clear) would, of course, be modelled on the famous photo of Prof Edward Said, who in 2000 threw his own stone at Israel. It is worth remembering that Said’s photo, which was reproduced around the world, did him enormous damage in the West, making him look like a hot-headed agitator rather than a reasonable, respectable academic.

Ahmadinejad has very little credibility in the West to ruin, but many people would find an image of him personally engaging in political violence distasteful.

In his own country, Prof Gerald Steinberg reminds me, Ahmadinejad has often been criticised for being too focused on the Palestinian issue at the expense of his own people, and also for projecting an image of Iran that is mad, dangerous and outside the community of nations. A picture which re-enforces those exact perceptions might not be too popular at home either.

Naturally, we would all prefer not to see Iran's dictator getting the satisfaction of throwing rocks at Israel. But given that there is very little Israel can actually do to stop him, I say, rock on, Ahmadinejad. Give us the picture that will instantly convey, to any remaining doubters, just how mad you really are.

Related: Tim Marshall, Foreign Affairs editor of Sky News on Ahmadinejad’s Lebanese visit (Sept 13 podcast)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Who owns Meah Shearim?

A row is brewing in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Meah Shearim over the right of women to walk in the street. (I feel like I'm writing about Afghanistan and can hardly believe this isn't satire.)

It began several weeks ago when the extreme Edah Charedit deliberated whether to close the streets to women on Simchat Beit Hashoevah, during Succot. The thought was that the celebration would attract crowds from outside the neighbourhood, and promote the mixing of the sexes, which might lead to immodesty.

In the end, they "merely" (according to Yediot Achronot, a secular newspaper!) decided to close the streets to women from outside the neighbourhood. But by then, word had leaked of their original plans, and now a group of secular feminists is demanding the right to march through the strictly Orthodox neighbourhood "in protest against the increasing radicalization and damage to haredi women's status within the community". The police are not thrilled.

The problem, though, is that they are framing the problem all wrong. Both sides are presenting this as a problem of women's rights - how dare women be kept off their own streets? And of course, that is a major issue - the idea that in this day and age, streets can be closed to women is preposterous.

But I see it as something larger - a question of the rule of law. Because this is a neighbourhood where the residents are exclusively Charedi, the Charedi leadership is behaving as if it "owns" the streets, and has the right to decide who walks where. This is entirely untrue. Unless a road is privately owned, the street, no matter who lives there, is public property - and is ultimately the responsibility of the state. Private citizens cannot stop others walking there, no matter how strongly they feel about the area. It is simply not up to the Edah Charedit to close the streets to anyone - or to decide which side of the street each gender can walk on, another recent trend.

Allowing the Charedim to effectively set their own laws in their "own" neighbourhood is a dangerous precedent. The police, and the state, should be fighting to retain their control over these Israeli streets, and not allow little islands to develop with an entire different set of rules.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Miliband's mum: backer of Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Much energy has gone into figuring out where the Miliband brothers stand on the Jewish spectrum. For the most part, they show few signs of anything beyond a cursory interest in their Jewish heritage, they are uninvolved in the community, neither of their partners are Jewish and relatively little is known about their positions on Israel.

So here is another element to throw into the mix. According to the BBC and Haaretz, the Milibands' mother, Marion Kozak, is a "a leading member of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians", the group which is on the very margins of the Jewish community.

It is actually unclear just how "leading" she is and what real role she might play. But she certainly is a signatory.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Michael Oren's Yom Kippur sermon

Jeffrey Goldberg, by far my favourite Jewish blogger, has posted the text of a sermon delivered by Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren to three Washington syngogogues on Yom Kippur. It is an absolute must-read.

Oren starts by explaining the dilemma faced by the biblical Jonah:

If he succeeds in convincing the Ninevehians to atone and no harm befalls them, many will soon question whether that penitence was ever really necessary. Jonah will be labeled an alarmist. But, what if the people of Nineveh ignore the warning and the city meets the same fiery fate as Sodom and Gomorrah? Then Jonah, as a prophet, has failed.

Such is the paradox of prophecy for Jonah, a lose-lose situation. No wonder he runs away. He flees to the sea, only to be swallowed by a gigantic fish, and then to the desert, cowering under a gourd. But, in the end, the fish coughs him up and the gourd withers. The moral is: there is no avoiding Jonah's paradox. Once elected by God, whatever the risks, he must act.

It is exactly the same, he says, for many modern politicians:

Take, for example, the case of Winston Churchill. During the 1930s, he warned the world of the dangers of the rapidly rearming German Reich. The British people ignored Churchill- worse they scorned him, only to learn later that he was all along prescient and wise. But what if Churchill had become Britain's Prime Minister five years earlier and had ordered a pre-emptive strike against Germany? Those same people might have concluded that the Nazis never posed a real threat and that their prime minister was merely a warmonger.

Oren goes through a series of similar examples, and then finally addresses the question of the Israeli prime minister, faced with the dilemma of creating a Palestinian state, which will probably be hostile to Israel; and - most important of all - the question of what to do about Iran's nuclear weapons.

Do you remain passive while Iran provides nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups, targets Tel Aviv with nuclear-tipped missiles, and triggers a nuclear arms race throughout the region? Or do you act, as Israel has now, joining with the United States and other like-minded nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, hoping to dissuade its rulers from nuclearizing? And, if that fails, do you keep all options on the table, with the potentially far-reaching risks those options entail?

The issues of terror, the peace process, and Iran evoke strong emotions in this country and around the world, and often spark criticism of Israeli policies. Yet it's crucial to recall that those policies are determined by the leaders elected through one of the world's most robust and resilient democracies. Recall that the people of Israel--not of Europe, not of the United States--bear the fullest consequences for their leaders' decisions.

There is no escaping the responsibility--as Jonah learned thousands of years ago--and that responsibility is borne by our leaders and by the majority of the people they represent. Israel today faces decisions every bit as daunting as those confronting Jonah, but we will not run away. There is no gourd to hide under or fish to swallow us whole. Terror, the peace process, Iran--our Ninevehs--await.

He ends with a plea for unity between Israeli and American Jews, and a request that they "appreciate" the quandries faced by their leaders.

So what is he saying here? Some of those listening, said Goldberg, assumed he was asking American Jewry for support during "difficult times" in the peace process and with Iran. Others thought he was preparing them for the continuation of the settlement freeze and an attack on Iran. To me, it sounds as if both of those are true. What is interesting is that unlike many shul sermons where support for Israel is taken for granted, Oren is very conscious that his (Washingtonian, probably left-leaning and likely highly influential) audience needs convincing. He is essentially having to make Israel's case to American Jews.

How do you read it?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Attention, European do-gooders

According to Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, this is what happens to European aid to Gaza:

According to Abu Musab, a top Islamic Jihad commander in the Rafah refugee camp, Hamas has failed at governance and resistance alike. “There’s no government in Gaza,” he said flatly. “We’re under Israeli and Hamas occupation."

“They are as big harami as Dahlan,” he said, using the Arabic slang for “thieves”. “They used to be mujaheddin, but today they are fat millionaires with nice cars,” he added, pointing to his flat stomach. “Look, you can either be a millionaire or you can lead a resistance. But you if you take the medical aid sent by Europe to help the poor people of Gaza and sell it in your own pharmacies to make money for yourself and the government, you can’t have both.”

At this point he pulled a packet of antibiotics from his pocket; it is stamped: “A gift of the people of Norway. Not for resale.”

“I just bought this from a Hamas-run pharmacy here in Rafah for my son,” he said. “I had to go to a Hamas pharmacy to make sure the pills weren’t fake or made from poor materials in Egypt. If you want real medicine, you have to buy the aid Europe sends us.”

The article, by The National's Beirut correspondent, also includes several comparisons between Hamas rule and Israeli rule, made by residents of Gaza. The Israelis are deemed very very bad, but better than Hamas. Read the whole thing here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A religious model?

On American television, there is hardly a reality show out there which has not featured a religious Jew. The Apprentice, at one stage, had two Shabbat observant contestants at the same time (who had to miss an assignment during the High Holy Days); recently, there was a frum doctor from Florida on Big Brother, who kept Shabbat in the house.

And now we have Esther Petrack, 18, on the new season of America's Next Top Model. A graduate of Maimonides high school in Boston, her religious identity is already being thrown into confusion by participating in the programme:

After letting Esther say a bit about herself—namely, that she was born in Jerusalem— [Tyra Banks] asked her about her Orthodox Jewish practice. “Do you honor the Sabbath?”

“Yes I do,” Esther responded, proceeding to explain the rules regarding the usage of electricity, computers, cell phones, and cars on Friday night and Saturday. Tyra sternly informed her that ANTM contestants work all the time, seven days a week. (I never realized that modeling was so urgent!) Would Esther, Tyra wanted to know, be able to adhere to the ANTM work schedule? Her Jewish identity was all of a sudden squarely on the spot, not unlike that of her Biblical namesake....

She replied after a momentary hesitation: “Yes, I would do it”... [NOTE - a few sources have claimed that in the uncut version, Esther actually first said that "I will do everything in my power to keep the Sabbath - MS.]

Even if Esther’s reversal in front of the panel seemed fast—one moment she honors the Sabbath, the next she honors ANTM’s schedule—we got to see her thoughtful side a few moments later. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m figuring things out,” she said directly to the camera. “I’m going to try to do as much as I can religious-wise, but I did kinda draw my line in the sand when I auditioned for this.”

Of course, comment across the blogosphere seems divided between those lamenting the fact that Esther seems to have ditched religion (to whatever extent) for a shot at fame, and those celebrating her for ditching religion in order to fulfil the American dream. Personally, I am sorry when any Jew stops practising (and if you are going to stop, modelling seems a particularly shallow reason to do so). But I do think that Esther should be taken at her word. She is young, she is not yet solid in her religious identity, and I don't see much difference between her and so many 18-year-olds who behave religiously 'inappropriately' in so many different ways on their gap year in Israel or when they get to university, and later return to lead fully religious lives - except she is conducting her experiments on national television. Just like them, she should be allowed to make her own mistakes and come to her own conclusions without being driven away by the disapproving masses.

Meanwhile, a whole horde of young Orthodox men will be watching - and waiting....

(Via Sarah Bronson)

Sarah's silence: a completely original reading

I know it's a bit late for Yom Kippur, but this interpretation of the story of the akedah, the binding of Isaac, is just dazzling in its originality and imagination.

The basic question is why Sarah - not the quiet type - is silent during the story. Dvora Yanow's startling answer (written in 1994, by the way) is that she is not really absent at all: the whole episode is part of a dream by Sarah, following the banquet Abraham made in the previous chapter following Isaac's weaning. In the dream, she is working out her own emotional response to a variety of themes from her own life, including the exile from her own father's home and land, and in particular, the circumcision of her son (represented as the akedah).

Sarah weaves the two "journeys" together in her dream: her wanderings from her land, her birthplace, her father's house (why have the commentators only noted the meaning of this uprooting for Abraham?); and the 8-day-old son's journey from the bedroom, from the crib, from the arms of his mother, to the sandak in the living room who will hold his legs down, awaiting the mohel's knife. How many mothers, waiting nervously, anxiously, angrily in a back room, have experienced this act as the binding and sacrifice of their sons?! Here she has protected her son from Ishmael's taunting, only to see him placed in mortal danger, and by her husband, his father, no less. Sarah is silent in the dream as she watches the circumcision-sacrifice take place, as many mothers have silently complied with an act which goes against their maternal instincts.

Yanow goes on to show how this fits in with the text and even solves some of the textual problems, and widens the issue to address the silence of Jewish women, as an ideal, throughout the ages.

I urge you to read the whole thing here. As a modern midrash, it's superb.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Most gruesome Yom Kippur practice, ever

Apologies for lowering the tone around here, especially on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, but - butt....

According to the Huff Post:

On the evening of Yom Kippur, in preparation for the 25 hour fast, Jews the world over will offer charity, request forgiveness from friends and family whom they may have wronged, and immerse themselves in the mikveh (the ritual bath) to be purified. At some point, perhaps post-mikveh and before donning their white garments for the Kol Nidre service, many of them will stick a little something up their tuches.

I discovered this secret several years ago, here on West 90th Street in the week before Yom Kippur when I was complaining to a neighbor about how not eating or drinking doesn't bother me, but the caffeine withdrawal is brutal. "In Monsey, there's a run on caffeine suppositories the day before Yom Kippur," my in-the-know friend shared with me. I envisioned a hoard of desperate, bearded Jews pounding on a pharmacy door, like heroin addicts begging for a fix.

No further comment necessary...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The pope's Jewish timing

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, is going to give the response to the Pope at the Pope's main interfaith event, tomorrow - eruv Yom Kippur.

Finally, someone really will be able to say gut yontiff to the pontiff!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Israelis are not allowed to live normal lives, apparently columnist Roger Cohen, never one for original thought, has jumped on the Time magazine bandwagon and written a column questioning Israelis' desire for peace:

It’s the end of a hot summer. The kids are returning to school. The economy is pretty good. Violence has become rare enough to intrude only lightly. Barriers shield Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza. The beach is beautiful, politicians corrupt. What’s the use of politics, anyway?...

Well, the basic thesis is pretty much right. Israelis aren't much interested in the peace process - they know better than to put any hopes in it after so many false starts before. But, note to the editors of Time magazine: this does not mean they are not interested in peace. They simply recognise that conditions are not ripe at this current time.

But here's my larger problem. Over the past few years, I have read story after story about regular Iraqis, Afghans etc. who struggle to continue with their daily lives despite the chaos and violence all around them. In every version, this is construed as something positive: look how brave these people are, for ignoring politics and starting new businesses, sending their children to school, going to the beach! Isn't it wonderful that they plod on regardless!

Transfer that same scenario to Israel, though, and suddenly the insistance of your average citizen on actually living a little becomes something negative and dirty - in Roger Cohen's world, evidence that the culture is "cynical" and "blase". Increasing numbers of citizens of Western cultures tune out of politics, voting in ever decreasing numbers, because politics seems to have less and less relevance to their lives, and it is politics which is deemed to be broken. But the same process in Israel is somehow evidence of the population's moral degeneracy.

Yet again, Israelis are judged by entirely different standards.

RELATED: Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren has written a rebuttal to the multiplying accusations that Israelis do not care about peace in the LA Times

Monday, September 13, 2010

Now, Jewish MEN wear burkas

Great news for Charedi women. Ladies, from now on, you can do your shopping in mini-skirts, tank tops, bikinis - whatever. There is no issue of modesty. Your men can't see you anyway!

Because as of last week, the latest meshugaas to emerge out of the Charedi world is the burka-wearing men. Actually, they're not exactly burkas: they are even more extreme. Not only do these pieces of cloth leave no slit for the eyes, that's their whole point: to stop the men from seeing.

Yes, yes. You read that correctly. The Jews are famously innovative and now we have become the first in the world to cover up our menfolk's faces and eyes rather than our women's. On the journey to Uman before Rosh Hashanah this year, some of the pilgrims covered their faces with black cloths to stop their eyes being defiled with any "threatening" sights:

"Support for flights without movies" is the name of a small group that several years ago encouraged Haredi travelers not to take regular flights unless they had cardboard that could cover the movie screens on the airplane seats in front of them.

This year the idea caught on that immodest sights may also be a threat outside the airplane - in the airport terminal, for example. So pilgrims are being encouraged to bring scarves along.

"In any cloth shop, ask for a thin lycra cloth 70 cm wide (blue, brown or black ) costing about 20 NIS," reads one instruction. "It needs to be about 1.5 meters long ... which is necessary so it will sit well and not flow in the wind."

The leaflet notes that even if people laugh at someone wearing the scarf on his face, those covering their eyes "will be rewarded a thousand fold."

In a telephone interview from Uman, one pilgrim named Avinoam added: "It may sound ridiculous to you, but it has been more successful than expected. I recommend that you try it."

And if you don't believe it, the pictorial evidence is here.

Now, personally I am sorry for these men who are apparently so weak-willed that they are incapable of even walking through an airport terminal without succumbing to terrible temptations. But given the choice between the men covering up and the women covering up? These men have finally come to realise that if they do not wish to see certain parts of women's bodies that in normal society are uncovered, the onus is on them to stop looking rather than on the women to hide themselves. Now, that's the kind of burka I can get behind......

UPDATE: Some more pictures here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The rape of "B" and the media lynch that followed

This summer, both the Israeli media and the international media went beserk covering a case in which an Arab man was convicted of "rape by deception" - in this case, having sex with a woman after masquerading as a Jew (two men were previously convicted of the same crime, however they had misrepresented their socioeconomic status). The Israeli legal system, concluded pretty much everyone, was racist.

Well, you probably haven't noticed that the real version of events was somewhat different to the one presented by the media last month. You wouldn't have noticed because, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no mainstream media outlet that has covered the new evidence that has emerged in the last few days; even in Israel, Ha'aretz, which broke the development, has only run its report in Hebrew (a bizarre editorial decision, considering how much attention the case received overseas).

Last week, in short, the testimony of the victim was finally released, following a petition by a local Tel Aviv paper, and with it, a fuller version of events has emerged.

The victim, "B", was a highly vulnerable woman, who had been repeatedly raped by her father, and forced by him into prostitution. At the time of the rape episode, she was staying in a women's shelter following another rape by her father.

According to her testimony, this was not consensual sex which she only got upset about once she realised her partner, Sabbar Kashur, was an Arab (as was claimed across the world); it was a real rape. Here is the full excerpt from Ha'aretz, which you should read in full (translation courtesy of Elizabeth):

On that morning, September 3, 2008, B. left with the director of the shelter, a social worker and another friend who stayed at the shelter to a meeting in Galgal, a crisis center for homeless youth. After the meeting the three left to another location. B. recounts: “I walked toward Zion Square and then sat by a Cellcom store at 13 Ben Hillel street… I sat on the rocks under a tree and listened to (music; LG) on my MP4.” Then, B. says, a guy she didn’t know appeared, riding a moped. In the interviews conducted with him later, Kashur said that he arrived there to shop at a near-by store. “He drove behind my back toward me”, continued B. in a broken language that characterized her whole testimony... “and he stopped few meters from me, like only a little far from me. He called me, like, to come to him, and I told him that he should come to me… we talked for about seven, ten minutes before the incident happened”.

At this point occurred the dialogue that was later used as the basis for the charge of deception against Kashur. “At first he told me his name was Daniel (and not Dudu, the nickname his friends use, as Kashur claimed in interviews; LG)… he didn’t want to tell me his last name… after a few minutes he like said ‘Cohen’”. B. also said that “he asked me if I have a boyfriend and I said no, and then he asked me if I want to be his girlfriend. I asked him if he’s married, and he said no, and then I asked him if he has children and he told me he doesn’t have children.” Later in that conversation, according to the testimony, Kashur asked B. for a kiss. “He wanted me to give him a kiss on the cheek and then he gave one back”. According to B., they also exchanged phone number.

At this point, according to the testimony, Kashur invited B. to see where he works, supposedly in the building at 13 Ben Hillel Street, outside of which they were standing. “He said he wanted to invite me for coffee and show me his workplace there”, said B. The reason she gave for agreeing to leave with an almost complete stranger was “I looked for someone to put my trust in… I know that strangers, you even don’t contact them… but because I was like, as you know, when I told you that I came from a place where there’s no, I lived on the streets for a while too… I thought that if I am with him, I’ll feel safe, and I’ll have, I’ll be financially secured. I really like trusted him.”

Right after they entered the building, B. claims, Kashur began forcing himself on her. “We were in the staircase, like in the first stairs of the building, where we entered and then he asked for a hug… so I hugged him because he said that he wants a hug for warmth and love because he didn’t have a relationship in a while, like a girlfriend… and when I felt that he was too clingy, I tried pushing him away, so he used force a little like, got a little aggressive.” According to B., Kashur wouldn’t let go. “He lifted my shirt and the bra and kissed my chest”, she said. But then, a blond woman entered the stairwell, and Kashur stopped. He decided to move from the stairs to the elevator. “When I was with him in the elevator he also touched me and started acting like some psychopath. I was so scared of him… I started sensing that something strange was happening, because I noticed that I wasn’t going to any workplace and I don’t see any coffee cups, and I don’t, then I began to panic and started like, I also screamed when it started happening.”

When they left the elevator on the top floor of the building, according to B., Kashur took her to the stairwell that led to the attic. There, according to her, he raped her. “We took off my pants and underwear”, described B., “and all of this was done with force, I didn’t agree to anything… I was left in just my shirt. Then he took off his clothes… then he put saliva on his penis and then, it was like full penetration, like, it wasn’t with consent as he claims. He laid me on the floor… and asked to kiss my chest too and then like when I asked that he stops and tried to push him away, he started pressuring me with his arms forcefully on me… when I tried to push him with my hand in his stomach, this happened in a more advanced stage, when he was already inside of me, then he said that if I don’t stay silent and I don’t resist, then it would like end faster and it wouldn’t be like, he wouldn’t use force. I still resisted him and it was forced.”

According to the testimony, after Kashur climaxed, he stayed lying on top of B. for a while. After that, he got up and left, leaving her half naked. “Then (Kashur; LG) just disappeared and took my MP4…”, she claimed, “and I ask that he return it to me because it is in his house.” Left alone in the stairwell, B. began to weep. “I was really hysterical”, she said. At this point she also noticed that she was bleeding out of her vagina and panicked even more. After a few minutes her brother happened to call and she asked him to call her caregiver. The caregiver quickly contacted B. who told her about what happened. “She told me not to freak out and call MADA [an ambulance – E]”, B. recounted the conversation following which Yasam [Special Patrol Unit – E] policemen arrived at the scene and found B. up the stairwell. “The Yasam (arrived; LG) before MADA”, says B., “when they arrived I was… I wasn’t wearing pants, like stayed this way, because I was in shock. The floor was dirty with blood and I was really afraid of touching myself to see if I’m alright, I was really frightened.” After this the MADA crews arrived as well. According to her testimony, in the examination in the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital scratch marks were found on her body, which were documented in the Prosecution’s file.

Following this incident, "B" was hospitalised in a mental hospital which has a section for women victims of sexual crimes. She was apparently not even aware that the man was an Arab until police proceedings had already begun.

Kashur was originally charged with rape and sexual assault - nothing to do with deception. However, in order to prevent a long cross-examination of the clearly traumatised "B" on the stand, the prosecution eventually negotiated a plea deal with the defence, who agreed that the charge would be changed to "rape by deception". While this carried a less severe penalty, it ensured that Kashur was convicted and reduced the trauma for "B".

By using this plea, in other words, Kashur got a lighter sentence than he would have otherwise. However, it allowed him to present himself as the victim of the justice system - as an Arab being punished for having sex with a Jew, rather than as a man being punished for raping a woman. And the media - completely ignoring the (admittedly technical and dry) protestations from the court system - swallowed the story whole.

So what do we learn from this? That some cliches are true.

First of all, a lie can get halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on. It has taken months for the real story to emerge, although it sounded bizarre right from the beginning, and now it has no chance.

Second, as far as most of the media is concerned, why ruin a good story with the facts? The disgrace is that none of the international outlets which blasted Israel for its "racist" court system have bothered revisiting this story now that additional evidence is out. No one is interested in the truth. They were only interested in scandal, particularly where Israel was concerned; everyone was willing to believe that the Israeli justice system was unjust, because it fitted into an established and popular narrative.

The local Israeli media gets even less credit. They were in a better position than the international media to properly investigate this shocking story, but the tale of a loose, racist Israeli Jewess was too good for them to pass up as well. Now they are, on the whole, also ignoring the truth, allowing even the Israeli public to believe the worst about their own justice system.

It will be really instructive to see, over the coming week or so, how many media outlets do take their journalistic responsibilities seriously and correct their original stories.