Tuesday, January 3, 2012

While America shuts down fire houses, cuts infant nutrition, US subsidizes Israel army sushi courses

Electronic Intifada
Ali Abunimah

There’s an astonishing piece of news in Israel’s Haaretz today under the headine “Israel allocates funds to help former IDF soldiers become sushi chefs”:
Demobilized soldiers will be able to study Asian cooking this year at the government’s expense, as part of an effort to reduce the number of foreign workers employed as cooks in Asian restaurants by training Israeli professionals to replace them.
It’s shocking for two reasons – one is the xenophobia that is rising to astonishing heights in Israel: not even the cooks of foreign cuisine can be foreign (I’ll come back to this) – but because of what it says about how Israel is using US military aid at a time of drastic cuts and austerity for American citizens. Haaretz says:
The cooking courses are estimated to cost about NIS 4.5 million a year, about NIS 1 million of which will come from the Defense Ministry budget.
That’s a few hundred thousands dollars – small change in the grand scheme of things – but not for the Israeli soldiers who will enroll in the course:
Six courses are scheduled for this year in the north, center and south, with a minimum of 25 students in each course.
Some recently demobilized soldiers taking the course may receive aid for housing and living expenses for the first few months. Though the NIS 30,000 tuition [about $8,000] is fully subsidized, students will have to pay NIS 1,800 each for clothing and equipment.

Is this what US aid is being used for?

Everyone knows that the US gives several billion dollars a year of taxpayer aid to Israel’s military – with few strings attached. The US in effect subsidizes sushi-making courses for Israelis, but at what price?
Here are some examples:
  • All around the US, school systems like the one in Milwaukee, have been laying off teachers due to budget cuts, or cutting basic services like police and fire protection.
  • Public universities in the US are dramatically raising tuition fees on students to make up shortfalls in state funding.

  • Last Autumn, as Congress was looking for ways to cut the US federal deficit by cutting spending and not raising taxes, Congress chose to cut $733 million from the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program – a move which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities would see 700,000 poor women and young children in the United States lose access to a basic nutrition program this year that has been shown to improve child outcomes.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers will be getting all-expenses paid sushi courses.

No debate in US system

What’s even more striking is that despite the superficial impression that support for Israel is a hotly-contested political issue, aid to Israel is completely “bipartisan.” While Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic Party of being insufficiently supportive of Israel, leading members of the Democratic Party boast that under the Obama administration, US military assistance to Israel “has been raised to unprecedented levels.”

Recently Deborah Lipstadt – a leading Holocaust scholar and supporter of Israel – lashed out in a Haaretz interview against “over-the-top pandering” to Israel by US politicians. Lipstadt also said that abuse of the Holocaust by American politicians seeking the favor of Israel’s supporters amounted to “soft-core denial” of the Holocaust.

Lipstadt’s comments were directed at Republicans – who are having presidential primary elections unlike the Democrats – but could have just as easily been aimed at leading Democratic Party politicians as well.

One can only agree with Lipstadt that such pandering is “unhealthy” – so much so that we have absurdities such as today’s news: US-subsidized sushi-making courses for Israeli soldiers while American infants are to see cuts in nutrition and no one has the guts to object.

Now that we’ve got the recipe, is there really any reason for them to stay?”

As I mentioned, the xenophobia inherent in almost every aspect of Israeli policy – even to the point of objecting to sushi chefs from countries that invented sushi has reached the point where it out does satire.

It reminded me of a sketch from the BBC satirical show Not The Nine O’Clock News from the early 1980s. In it Rowan Atkinson (later of Mr. Bean fame) plays a politician of Mrs. Thatcher’s
Conservative Party. Watch the whole sketch because you will see that what was political satire thirty years ago has now become real political discourse on a whole range of subjects.

In one line, Atkinson – satirizing anti-immigrant sentiments – says “Now, a lot of immigrants are Indians and Pakistanis, for instance, and I like curry. But now that we’ve got the recipe, is there really any need for them to stay?” The same now goes for sushi in Israel.

Oh, and don’t forget, that last year, just after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the reaction of Israel’s Ynet was, “Israelis fear sushi shortage after quake.” And here’s the Rowan Atkinson sketch.
Laugh, or you might just cry.

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