Today I got proof that I’m really a good Jewish boy. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as shrimp couscous before I read Lisa Goldman’s brilliant article in the Forward, in which she tells us the story behind the policy of Israel’s Foreign Ministry not to reimburse staffers for non-kosher business meals.

Surely, the policy was a case of religious coercion, said one lawyer friend. I wondered if Ali Yahya, an Israeli Arab who had served as ambassador to Helsinki and Athens, had been required to take his non-Jewish colleagues to kosher restaurants.

Finding myself at the foreign ministry on an unrelated matter, I stopped by the press department for a chat with the spokesman, Yigal Palmor, to ask what he thought of this kosher dining policy.

“It’s a totally irrational policy that creates an impossible situation,” Palmor said, without missing a beat. “There’s not a single decent kosher restaurant in the entire Galilee region – only kebab and hummus joints. Same goes for the Negev. So I’m supposed to take a delegation of Swedish diplomats on a tour of the north and stop for lunch at a hummus joint? It’s undignified and it creates a bad impression. And it’s hypocritical. Why would a secular Jew take a non-Jew to a kosher restaurant?”

Goldman also interviewed the guy responsible for the policy, who admits he himself doesn’t care much about kashrut.

Yitzhak Eldan, the chef de protocol, decided upon the ministry’s kosher-only policy several years ago. “Some people resisted it,” he said. “They made their opposition clear. But I never doubted this was the way a Jew should behave… I am not religious, but I believe that the policy of the ministry must reflect the sensitivities of all the people in the state of Israel, including the religious minority.”

Or maybe it just showed what an uncultured brute I am.

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  • My comments on this story in der Forverts:

    I recall a certain hip Tel Aviv based journalist describing with disgust how a certain now former Israeli PM and mayor of a major city dined in a fancy shmancy New York restaurant with his son. Père et fils dined on shrimp and the bill was presumably paid using cash perhaps illegally provided by a Modern Orthodox Jewish Long Island businessman. Emphasis was placed on the fact that they were eating shrimp. Why? Because on top of the fact that the former PM was engaged in allegedly sleazy financial practices, and that his son was a yored, they were eating treyf! However you slice it, it doesn’t look good.

    Yitzhak Eldan, who is actually a pretty chill guy, may be the public face of a policy that when applied strictly, seems ridiculous, but the overall theme of the policy I think is sound. As an Israeli taxpayer, and not a particularly Orthodox one either, I don’t want my tax money to pay for scenes in which my ostensible representatives are publicly chowing down on pork or shellfish while conducting business in my name.

    And what’s this bullshit Yigal Palmor is spouting? Hummus joints are undignified? That sounds a bit uh… classist? Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were in hummus joints. What is undignified to one person can be charming and authentic to another. Besides, that’s how a large chunk of Israel’s population eats on a regular basis. If you’re going to show people around the country, shouldn’t you show them an accurate view of it and not just a rosy perspective of a Tel Aviv bubble?

    Finally where is the citation for the assertion that most of Israel does not eat kosher? And kosher by what standard? Anyhow. I think it’s a good policy though obviously a bit rigidly applied. I don’t want to live in a Jewish state where the only remaining manifestation of our Jewishness is a proclivity for infighting.

    Have an easy fast today! If you’re fasting that is.


    For the record, I didn’t mean to imply any hypocrisy on the part of our hip Tel Aviv journalist who I respect and admire very much. I don’t think she was offended by the now former PM and his yored son eating shrimp. I think she just found it ironic that the very treyf meal may very well have been paid for by an Orthodox Jew. I on the other hand found the entire scene distasteful. But that’s just me. Clearly I am longing for the day when Israel becomes a complete theocracy – sex segregated beaches in Tel Aviv, women covered head to toe, Jews force fed geffilte fish on Shabbos, lashes for the consumption of kitniyot on Passover etc. One can always dream!

  • I would but it seems all comments and even the ability to comment are gone from your article. Que passa?

  • Lisa Goldman’s article is indeed brilliant (except for her neutral reference to George W. Bush– all Bush references here at J. must be negative and mocking).

  • Oh, boo hoo.

    There are plenty of nice restaurants in the north. Almost all the Jewish-owned tourist industry caters to the kosher Israeli consumer, and Tiberias, Zefat, and other cities have significant religious populations.