The sweet desserts of Berlin – aliya, yerida, and Zionism

October 27, 2014 by

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Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.

The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.

The rhetorical stakes are high.

Add to this the Milky rhetoric. An uproar began when it was revealed that the cheap Milky dessert created by Strauss Dairies – one of the early mainstay industries of the fledgling State of Israel – is available at a far cheaper price in Berlin, than it is in Israel. This in itself is not a great surprise. Nearly everything in the shops in Israel costs far less outside of Israel. You can even buy those Osem yellow crunchy things that you put in your soup for less in London than you can in Lod.

The “Milky Protest” insisted that the lower price of a dessert in Berlin was symbolic of the incredibly high cost of living in Israel. Of course for those opposing this critique of the cost of living – politicians responsible for it mainly –  the “Milky Protest” was symbolic of something else. It was symbolic of the trivial minds of empty people who contemplate or even commit Yerida (emigrating from Israel).

Combine the sacred cows of Holocaust and Yerida, together with the increasingly evident but wholly untended issue of socio-economic hardship, and inevitably you find more heat than light. This cartoon by Shay Charka, adding Milky cartons to “Shoes on the Danube” memorial offer a measure of the mainstream outrage.

holocaustilky

Charka’s hyperbolic critique is reinforced by more extreme expressions of the Berlin Milky protest. Emboldened by the discourse of yerida (and no doubt encouraged by the way in which establishment Zionist organisations have taken to embracing not rejecting “Israelis living abroad”) one group brazenly presents its relationship to the State of Israel as nothing more than a financial transaction between customer and server: “Waiter!” cries the facebook meme, “There’s a fly in my Country.” Make no mistake about it, urges the small print, “Just as you would exchange your soup that had a fly in it, so it is entirely your right to move on, and exchange a State that is rotten from within.”

fly in my state

This black-and-white argument, between idealist Zionists versus empty nihilists, was bound to get more interesting the moment people started singing about it.

Here is a wonderfully upbeat and irreverent song and clip from the Israeli band Shmeml, who don’t look to me to be making yerida any time soon. But they make it very clear from the outset that many of their friends have…

“Let’s be honest”, the bald band leader invites:

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t come here out of Zionism
They fled here because they didn’t want to die
And now they realize that it’s not really life here

So ideology is not an issue: What is at issue is the cost of living. And this is too high. Hence the same grandparents who fled to Israel for a life, now encourage their children to leave the same country for a better life.

This might be seen as further reinforcing the “fly in my soup” image of the protesters, until one looks to the song’s hyper-Zionist idiom. In the space of one verse and chorus it manages to reference Israel’s National Anthem, iconic liturgical references to Jerusalem, and even Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold. For someone praising life in Berlin, this is rather Israel-centric language to be using!

Which is of course its main underlying point. The singer is not looking to leave Israel – he loves the land and the language. He would happily hang out by the Kinneret all day. (“If there is any of it left”, he wryly comments, either in reference to its drying out, or to the way in which private pay-through-the-nose beaches have occupied every inch of its beaches).

Most “milky protesters”, like the tent-dwellers of the 2011 summer protests, do not wish to leave Israel. Indeed most statistics (notoriously difficult to verify) point to the fact that very few young Israelis are actually emigrating. Their protest is not against Israel or against Zionism. If anything theirs is a Zionist call to put the State back into the Jewish State, rather than handing it over to the super-rich whose allegiances are only to profit and not the People.

In this sense this second song, ostensibly attacking the pro-Berlin crowd, would seem in the end to be supporting their sentiment.

“This Ain’t Europe” speaks street. It tells the hipsters and the rich girls that they won’t feel at home in Berlin. The threat of anti-semitism is as thinly veiled as the first song boldly decries its misuse by politicians (They once again pin on me/The yellow star like a medal of honor”). The assumption behind the second song is that those aiming for Berlin are not rejecting Israeli financial policy, but Israeli culture. Israel ain’t Europe, the song chides. Here life is loud, we are Americans with an Arab sense of honor, but life here is addictive.

In this sense the two songs agree with each other. They both love Israel.

It is in listening to the different musical styles of the songs that it comes clear their disagreement is over a far deeper conflict than yerida.

The Ashkenazi/Mizrachi divide.

While “Here it ain’t Europe” mixes classic Israeli accordion and clubbing sounds, its singer – Margalit Tzanani – places it firmly in the Mizrachi musical genre. The rhythms, her trilling vocals, and Tzanani’s decades-old reputation as a Mizrachi musician and cultural icon, do not let us ignore the Mizrachi call to the Ashkenazi “Miss Hipster”.

It is, after all, only the Ashkenazi Israeli who will find an easy life in Europe. First, in an irony that is almost nauseating, an Ashkenazi Israeli is more likely to be able to obtain a European passport, since his or her grandparents are more likely to have fled the Holocaust from there. Second, the less “Middle Eastern” one looks in Europe these days, the more likely you are going to fit in.

The Shmeml boys unconsciously affirm this Berlin trend as Ashkenazi, when they level with us that their Grandparents fled for their lives for Israel, not necessarily driven by Zionist ideology. This was certainly the experience of most Ashkenazi immigrants to Israel. But the vast majority of Mizrachi Jews made aliya out of a desire to rebuild Zion. Very few Jews from Morocco “fled” to Israel.

And it is underneath these deep wounds in the Israel psyche – that of continued Ashkenazi hegemony ignoring Mizrachi needs, and that even more basic fear of abandonment that the threat of yerida awakens – that the urgent needs for social and economic reform will be buried once more…

 

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