Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Makeover

For those of you who think I have magically been able to score you a trip to appear on an episode of Oprah to get a makeover, designer clothes and to hear hundreds of women cheer you on, I am sorry to say you will be sorely disappointed by this post.  

As a blogger (and aspiring writer) it's quite interesting what types of events or little things that happen during an ordinary day which can get you thinking of writing about it, putting your opinion out in cyberspace.  For me I have no grand formula.  Often I feel like my blog is  part a diary,  part a way to give my friends and family in faraway lands a glimpse into the details of our lives and part soapbox, a place to rail, protest and put my opinions out into the world.  For anyone that reads this who knows me personally, you know I am no shrinking violet.  I am a woman with strong opinions who is not afraid to say them, to be in opposition with others and willing to go the extra mile in order to try and convince others of my point of view. I sometimes wonder if that comes through in my writing as well.  I think it does but often my posts revolve around my daughter and while I am no less opinionated there, those posts are way more sentimental so perhaps for people who do not know me personally and who are reading this it might seem like I have had too much coffee or a really bad day, but I assure you this is me.  I am a highly opinionated, convinced of my own point of view above all others to the point of bitchiness.  That's the charm of me.  

So, the other day I was eating lunch at work.  We have a cafeteria in the basement of our office and although I have always been someone who preferred to get out of the office at lunch, I very rarely go out for lunch these days.  For one, the Dutch are not big on lunch, they eat sandwiches and drink milk (even the adults), the plainer the better.  So there isn't a lot of interesting choices to eat lunch out (Au Bon Pain would do nicely here).  And to boot, our in-house cafeteria is way better than what is out there at most cafes or restaurants in the area.  We certainly do not have your typical Dutch cafeteria, with just bread and cheese and raw ground beef called of all things Fillet Americain, standard lunch meats, mostly all offshoots of ham or liverwurst disguising itself as pate.  I stick to the chicken breast, which I call turkey, thank you very much.  Despite my lunch meat issues, it's very high quality and best of all it is free (well, we don't pay for the food but of course because it is given to us, the government considers it income so we have to pay taxes on it -- hello socialism).  On top of this my working days are often jam packed with meetings and projects and it is just more efficient to eat downstairs.  So what I tried to say in a couple of words but ended up giving you way more information than you probably wanted on this, I don't go out for lunch much and eat in the cafeteria.

Our cafeteria has lots of long tables and the idea is that lunch time is a time to socialize with your colleagues.  People are just supposed to sit down where they find a place and mix.  It's really a nice idea and I think is very good way to promote office culture. The reality is that people don't mix all that much.  Most people eat lunch with the people they work closest with.  Lawyers in most cases do not mix with non-lawyers (such is the upstairs/downstairs social structure of a law firm) and most 'teams' sit together.  There is an Accounting table, an HR Table, a Marketing table, a Receptionists table, etc.  I am the department head of the secretarial group, by far the largest group in the office next to the lawyers but I very rarely eat lunch with them.  For one, they often don't spend much time in the cafeteria, they usually eat quickly and then take the rest of their lunch hour outside the office shopping or whatever.  For another, I never want to intrude on them.  Maybe they are using their lunch to unload or unwind and maybe they cannot do that if I am around (the I-don't-want-to-talk-in-front-of-management idea).  Often I eat with the HR group, as they have kind of adopted me because I work closely with HR a lot of the time (largest group, largest HR issues), but more often than not I break the social compact and eat alone.  I enjoy eating alone to be honest.  I spent a lot of my day in meetings or talking with people, listening to their problems, their ideas and what concerns them.  When I eat with my fellow department heads it becomes more of a working lunch, and when I eat with other departments often I am peppered with all kinds of questions about how my department is doing, or requests for assistance.  Eating along allows me the ability to turn off for a bit and I really do appreciate that.  The majority of people do not eat alone and do not like to and I often feel like I am breaking some kind of unwritten rule by choosing to do so.  I do catch people from time to time giving me strange looks like either, they feel terribly sorry that I am eating alone, or I am the snottiest bitch in the world because I don't want to socialize at lunch.  Still though, while I certainly enjoy eating with others, I also enjoy eating alone and choose that option a decent amount of the time.  Again I digress, what I have just pontificated about in two paragraphs I could have said in 10 words or less.  I eat in and I eat alone.  There, 7 words.  None of this of course has the slightest bit of anything to do with what I wanted to talk about but apparently I am in a sharing mood.  Just go with it.      

So, the other day I ended up at lunch quite late and was indeed eating by myself.  Not far from me were a group of other people and they were engaged in conversation, I think about vacation destinations.  Although my Dutch is good it is sometimes difficult for me to pick up on topics mid conversation.  They were talking about what airlines fly from Amsterdam to Israel and what are the best to take.  From personal experience I know that both KLM and El Al fly daily flights between Amsterdam and Tel Aviv and that other airlines fly 2 or 3 times per week.  Anyway they were debating whether it was better to fly KLM or El Al and one of the people said immediately, "you don't want to fly El Al." And they went on to talk about how the security checks for El Al are absolutely invasive and ridiculous.  The person apparently in the know said that on El Al individual luggage searches, interrogations and full body scans are standard practice and that it takes a full two hours minimum to get through security when you fly. They then said that KLM is the better option since there is hardly any security.  I sat there listening to them bash El Al and finally I offered, "El Al's security is tight but they don't use full body scans." All of a sudden 7 pairs of eyes were on me and they said, "sure they don't." And then softly in Dutch someone said, yes, they just enjoy violating people's rights.  At that moment my head, in those 14 eyes looking at me was surely replaced by an Israeli flag probably with an Uzi wrapped up in it.  

Now, quite a lot of people in my office know that I lived in Israel.  I make no secret about it.  Making no secret of it does not mean the same thing as advertising however, and I am acutely aware that by contrast many Europeans see Israel as an imperialist abuser denying the Palestinian people their rights of freedom of expression and statehood (among many others).  Americans by contrast are (and I am generalizing) much more pro-Israeli.  This in my mind is due to a couple of important reasons.  The first is that Americans (again generalizing) believe that democracy is good and other forms of government are less good.  Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East is something easily identifiable for many Americans.  America's quote-unquote special relationship with Israel also puts Americans in a pro-Israel stance as well.  And of course America's  fears and loathing of Islam certainly is a contributing factor.  Europeans on the other hand feel that they are less manipulated than Americans and therefore take a more neutral stance.  Whatever their feelings are about Islam (and I truly believe that European Christians are no more accepting of Islam or Islamic culture or society but that is a post for another day), they are just a lot less vocal about their views about it.  

There has been a lot of talk in recent years and decades about "The New Anti Semitism" which is the phenomenon which has developed in the latter part of the 20th century which directs itself not as anti-semitic or anti-Jewish sentiment, but opposition to Zionism and and Israel.  Europeans by and large buy into this and most non-Jewish Europeans that I know believe that Israel is an unchecked power and needs to be stopped.  They also believe hook, line and sinker that it is the Palestinians who are being victimized and that Palestinian statehood has to come at any cost for Israel.  What's ironic is that I think that anti-Zionist/anti-semitic sentiment in Europe is just as strong as anti-Islamic sentiment in the US.  There are a lot of similarities.  Both are grounded somewhat in fear either real or imagined, both defy reason and logic.  Both are influenced heavily by cultural stereotypes.  I also think one cannot underestimate the power and influence of the press in helping to form public opinion on this (and of course many other topics).  American press continually is anti Islamic leaning while European press is markedly anti Israel.  Therefore it stands to reason that this is why Americans tend to be overall more supportive of Israel and Europeans more supportive of the Palestinians.

The new anti-semitism is controversial and there is a lot of support both for and against the argument that anti-Zionist is in fact anti-semitism.  Both sides of the argument have merit and a reasonable amount of scholarly wisdom behind them.  Europeans have literally thousands of years of inbred, structural anti-semtism to contend with.  Generation after generation believed that we killed Christ, that we killed Christian children to use their blood for our religious rituals, that we were responsible for the depression of the 1930's and zillions of other supposed wrongs.  That stuff doesn't just wear off.  My parents were of the generation that believed anti-semitism was the cause of everything.  Restaurant lost your reservation?  Anti-semitism.  Grocery store out of radishes?  Anti-semitism.  Didn't get that scholarship? Anti-semitism.  I always found this rather humorous .  But as I get older I see this mentality ever so subtly creeping into my thinking.  I think generations of deep-seated structural anti-semitism creep through.  

I have had some rather uncomfortable conversations with colleagues and other Dutch people about this and they insist that their views are only directed negatively toward Israel because Israel is denying self-determination to the Palestinians and for no other reason.  One particularly uncomfortable conversation happened at a work party where (after a few too many glasses of wine all around) I got into a conversation with a guy who, despite my attempt to change the subject numerous times felt that he absolutely had to tell me about Israel's human rights record and Israel's imperialist plan to starve the Palestinian people to death so that Israel could take over all of Palestine (Uhhh, check please).  The worst thing about it was not that this guy's views were different than mine or anti-Israel but that he tried to disguise what was nothing more than hate in some kind of reasonable discussion about the issues.  At one point I offered that Israel would not  compromise on its own security and that the Palestinians would have no chance at a state without Israel's security concerns being met.  He questioned why this was so important to Israel and wasn't it just another way for Israel to deny the Palestinians their destiny?  I offered that security was so important for one reason because Israel was primarily concerned with protecting its citizens and all Jews from harm.  That many Jewish people believe that the Holocaust happened because Jews had no escape from Hitler's Europe and that without Israel and a strong Israel at that, Jews all over the world would be at risk.  This guy's answer, and this was not some ditch digger off the street with a 6th grade education, this was a lawyer, an educated person and someone schooled in the rights of others and justice, said "I am so sick of Jewish people using the Holocaust, it is enough already with the Holocaust." With that I excused myself, told this guy as politely as I could that I thought it was best to end this conversation and I got up and sat somewhere else.  I was glad several months later when this guy quit and went to work elsewhere.    

Now I am not trying to say that this a-hole is typical of all Europeans and certainly many are a lot smarter not to spout their views like this.  But I do think the bias is generally there.  I see how people look out of the corner of their eye when I mention that I used to live in Israel and it is the absence of reaction or words that tells me very clearly what camp they are in.  You don't need words to speak volumes.  

For me as much as possible I try to fly under the radar about my views on this, I don't hide but I don't advertise either.  Although I do blog about it, so how much under the radar is that?  

What's interesting to me is that I also believe in a 2 state solution (although not at the price of Israel's security).  I have always felt this way and while my views sometimes take on new or expanded meanings and ebb and flow a little bit (I am less concerned with Palestinian rights when Hamas is shooting rockets into Israel or when they blow up a bus or a cafe and I am more in favor when Bibi Netanyahu generally speaks, wins elections or even breathes), that has never changed.  I do think though that people pitch their tent on whatever side of the issue they happen to sit on, most people not even coming close to understanding the complexity and delicacy of the situation.  There are so many justifications for both sides and this is one of the biggest and most layered onions there are.  After nearly 6 years of living in Israel my general views have not changed, only that the complexities are too enormous for any one person to get their mind around.  It's tough.  

The other day I was commenting on a friends' blog on this very topic and she was saying that it really irks her when she reads that the Palestinians are the last people under occupation and that the world just forgets about Tibet.  I offered the following response which really sums up my views:

It pisses me off too that the world seems focused on Israel and the Chinese occupation of Tibet hardly gets any press. I always find it curious that Israel, such a small nation in the grand scheme of things has so much of the world’s attention. At the risk of sounding like my parents’ generation, blaming the supermarket being out of tomatoes on anti-semitism, I do think that is the distinguishing factor.
I think while anti-semitism has become incorrect in the world, it hasn’t gone away, how can centuries of conditioning just vanish? The Holocaust did a lot of things and maybe it did accomplish the elimination of structural, bureaucratic anti-semitism against a country’s own Jewish citizens but it did not make anti-semitism go away. It just became quieter, in the back door so to speak. The Palestinian question/issue/crisis or however you want to put it is a way for people to legitimately take their anti-semitic feelings/views and put them legitimately into the world without having to bear the label as anti semite. It is the new anti semitism or as I call it, just anti-semitism.
As a Jew, an Israeli (of sorts) and a person who truly believes in a two state solution I find it difficult to believe this belief but also continue to stand up for a people who so clearly hate us. And it is not just Hamas or other extremist groups which practice hatred of us so clearly, it is John Q citizen and not just in the territories/Gaza but all over the so called ‘Arab World’ and beyond. Ordinary people, who may not be plotting Jewish death just hate us, for no other reason that they have been given outward and subliminal messages since before the womb that we are the enemy.I personally believe that the setting has to be right for peace to take hold. I don’t know what that right setting is but it was there when Sadat went to Israel and it was there after the first Gulf War. It takes men (or women) of vision to bring it about, sometimes at great personal cost. Anwar Sadat was one of those men, Yitzhak Rabin was another. I know this belief is not grounded in anything I can prove, but I do believe we just have to wait for the next opportunity and next person with the inner strength, determination and vision to cut through all the layers upon layers of noise, innuendo, propaganda, barriers to do what is necessary to bring peace about.
 Grab hope in whatever form you can.

So, all  you Europeans out there call it anti-Zionist if you must but to quote Jim Garrison, the only man to bring anyone to trial for the murder of JFK, "if it smells like it, feels like it and looks like it, call it what it is".  He was referring to Fascism, but is this so far off base?

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