Lectern

By Steve Kelman

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More notes from Israel -- Coca Cola, Purim and struggle

The amount of Coca-Cola people drink in Israel is stupendous. Even at moderately fancy restaurants, one will see a third of the people drinking Coke. Elsewhere, it is ubiquitous. Often, people share a one-liter bottle. At my meetings here, bottles of Coke were always available. (By contrast, the bottled-water craze does not seem to have come here to any great extent.)

I asked a friend about this impressive Coke consumption, and got an interesting answer:  During the decades when Arab countries refused to do business with firms that traded with Israel, Coke established itself in Israel – sacrificing its business in the whole Arab world -- and Israelis gratefully remember this. Pepsi made the opposite choice, and to this day is common in Arab countries but not in Israel.
 
Israelis these days have been celebrating Purim, which in the U.S at least is a fairly minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. The day commemorates how, during the Biblical exile to Babylon, Jews were saved from an extermination plot by Haman, thanks to the efforts of the Jewish wife of the Persian king.

In the United States, it is a holiday largely for little children, who make loud sounds whenever Haman is named as the story is told. In Israel, however, the holiday is huge, becoming the Israeli functional equivalent of Halloween and Carnival, but dominated by teenagers rather than little children. Teens, dressed up in costumes, parade urban streets with their friends, and there are more formal carinval-like parades, with floats and such, around the country. Threats to Jews are of course a recurring theme in Israeli culture, which partly explains the importance of the holiday here.
 
Speaking of threats, there have been two notable events in Israel while the world has been preoccupied with Japan and Libya. They got a lot of attention here, but not much outside of Israel, it seems.

One was the murder of a settler family in an outpost in the West Bank. The settlement itself is a fairly isolated one in an area that would clearly be part of any future Palestinian state, and the settlers there are apparently known as a fairly provocative bunch. The killing, however, was gruesome -- three children, one a three-month old baby, were brutally stabbed -- and Israelis of course put aside political differences both to mourn and to express anger that such events can occur. The killing was also an occasion for Israelis again to debate the question of whether Palestinians really are willing to accept Israel's presence in the region.

The second event, just a few days later, was the interception of a ship headed for Gaza with a large cache of weapons, including weapons designed to knock out Israeli assets. To the Israeli government, discoveries such as this justify Israel's continuing partial naval blockade of ships coming into Gaza.

One more observation: When driving around the country, one can see office-building evidence of Israel's high-tech research strengths. Microsoft has a large, modern office buildings along the highway outside Tel Aviv and another near Haifa. Google has a building outside Haifa, while Intel has one outside Tel Aviv. A number of healthcare tech companies, such as Medtronics, are also represented with big office complexes.

Posted on Mar 23, 2011 at 7:26 PM


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