Archive for November, 2011

An epochal development: kosher food manufacturer Yarden has produced a cook-at-home shawarma product. I first heard of this momentous news when Yarden’s new product won a ‘Shawarma Showdown’ organised by Israel Connect. The blind-tasters preferred it to that of leading joints Solly’s and White House Express.

I bought some Yarden shawarma while I was in Golders Green recently and tried it last night. It only needs three minutes frying in a pan, so even someone as culinarily-catastrophic as I was able to prepare it. I also added some rice, hummus and salad to the plate. That’s the sort of confident mood I was in.

Oh, it was delicious. It was as if I had teleported from east Berkshire to Golders Green. I highly recommend that shawarma aficionados – that’s all of us, right? – try it out. Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’d be curious to hear what your favourite shawarma joint is. I wrote of some of my favourite British places last year, including White House Express (whose manager once dubbed me their ‘shawarma ambassador’).

However, my favourite shawarma place in the world is Hakosem in Tel Aviv. On the corner of King George and Shlomo HaMelch, Hakosem serves shawarma that is almost grotesquely luscious. Their falafel is also amazing. They will often hand you a free sample of falafel as you queue. I believe Hakosem means ‘magician’ – and it is well-named.

What’s your favourite shawarma eatery?

Back in June I wrote in the Jewish Chronicle about ‘the magnificent Rabbi Yisroel Lew’ of Chabad Bloomsbury, the man who nicknames me ‘Hasidic Goy’. It was wonderful to bump into his magnificence whilst dining on shawarma at White House Express last night.

Actually, speaking of the Jewish Chronicle, I have a column about Benjamin Netanyahu in this weekend’s edition. I’ll post a link here when it goes live on their website.

What’s the most boring talk you’ve ever been to? The dullest one I’ve been to was in Jerusalem last summer. I’m not going to identify the speaker, it wouldn’t seem fair or kind to. What I will say is that, given that he is a passionate expert on life in Jerusalem, which was the subject of his speech, the fact he managed to bore me of all people is an astonishing achievement on his part.

Oh, I couldn’t believe how dull the talk was – I thought my brain was going to cave-in! There were only four of us in his specially-invited audience, so etiquette rather dictated that slipping-away was not an option. Instead we just had to sit there and pretend to be interested. Before long I was half-hoping I’d suffer a heart attack or an epileptic fit – anything to escape the tedium.

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In 1999, Ehud Barak was asked by a journalist what he would do if he were a Palestinian. “I would join a terror organization,” he replied.

This week, he was asked by American TV journalist Charlie Rose whether, if he were Iranian, he would seek to build nuclear weapons. “Probably,” he answered.

Him and his Israeli candour, eh? It’s as if he’s trying to write own version of Beyoncé’s song If I Were A Boy, but called If I Were A Goy.

Barak is one of the Israeli leaders I understand least, I think. I actually once got riotously drunk with one of his cousins but cannot say I learned anything about the man himself during the process. (I do remember we ran-up a monstrous bar bill, though, and were both relieved we weren’t paying it.)

Anyway, two questions for you: what would you do if you were a Palestinian, and if you were Iranian would you seek to build a nuclear bomb?

Benjamin Netanyahu is an oft-misunderstood leader of a much misunderstood country. ‘Bibi’ is routinely described as a hardliner, a man utterly opposed to conciliation, and a warmonger. These accusations do not fit the facts.

Let’s have a look at the warmonger allegation first. Netanyahu, who is in his second term as Prime Minister, is one of the few leaders in Israel’s history not to have presided over a war, despite ruling during a time of intense threats and a number of attacks on Israeli civilians from several borders.

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It is almost another ‘Yo Blair’ moment. Journalists at the G20 summit heard what was meant to be a private conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama. The topic? Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu.

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It takes something special for me to miss The X Factor, especially when a double elimination is rumoured: this Sunday evening I will be speaking about Israel to 300 sixth-formers at Eton College.

It is only a 10-minute walk home afterwards, then I can catch-up on who got the boot on The X Factor. By the way, if anyone texts me a ‘spoiler’ in the meantime they can consider that a friendship-ending moment.

What an honour to be speaking at Eton. I’ve prepared my speech, but I’m always up for improvements. What would you tell them about Israel?

A few months back, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) launched a bold new campaign, which provoked a lot of debate. Personally, I think the campaign has things going for it, particularly its creative and imaginative spirit.

I haven’t set foot in a university campus for over a decade, so I will assume UJS members know more about 21st century student life than me. More crucially, I agree with them that some of the methods people have used to advocate for Israel are no longer working.

I think that far from attacking people for having fresh ideas we should be welcoming them.

Simply parroting that the security barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers, that Barak offered Arafat 91 percent of the West Bank and that there are Arab members of the Knesset isn’t enough. Robotically and uncritically repeating the Israeli government line on everything is also not going to convince anyone with a functioning, critical mind.

So as we watch Israel’s image sink, will we try new ideas to raise it back to buoyancy, or will we wave it off with one last shriek of ‘But Sharon withdrew from Gaza in 2005!’

When the UJS was first attacked for its new campaign, it cited the example of Tony Blair’s modernisation of the Labour Party in its defence. This was a sound comparison: like them he faced opposition from the dinosaurs of his movement whose pride and egos meant they would sooner go into political extinction than consider that people younger than them might understand modern Britain better.

The positivity of groups like the UJS and FZY is admirable and important, particularly given the prominence of gloom-mongers in our movement, with some of our key commentators repeatedly issuing demoralising messages about Britain ‘sleepwalking into an abyss’ and peddling insane fantasies that the entire British nation is obsessively demonising Israel 24/7.

Let’s be clear: most people in Britain don’t give Israel or the Palestinians a moment’s thought. Why would they? They’re busy thinking about their own lives, what’s on the TV, how they’ll pay the rent, their family, where they’re going on holiday, what the kids want for Christmas.

The aforementioned negativity prevalent in sections of our ranks is in contrast to the atmosphere of Palestinian lobby groups who, for all their obvious faults, are effective at recruiting the general public to their cause, due in part to the positive ‘we can win this’ mentality they exude. While our side are telling a diminishing number of sympathisers that we’re sleepwalking to an abyss, the Palestinian groups are telling their swelling numbers they can march to victory. Go figure.

I don’t think the UJS have all the answers. They don’t claim to either. I’m actually suspicious of those who do insist they always know best. Give me an open mind any day of the week.

When someone in our number is honest and brave enough to put up their hand and say: ‘This isn’t working – shall we try something new?’ we should welcome and encourage them.

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.