Daniella Ashkenazy

Backpage News from the Front

June 2016 Column 3


June 9 – 15, 2016

ABOUT THIS COLUMN: “Backpage News from the Front” is a series of weekly special reports ‘for the duration’ of  the Jihadi Wave of 2015/6 (for lack of a better name) that combines the regular odd and only-in-Israel Chelm-like-but-true news stories ‘hiding’ in the Hebrew media that are normally reported by this author twice-monthly in columns entitled “Chelm-on-the-Med Online” – antics that Israelis continue to do even in the worst of times, and piquant aspects of heightened conflict – from the galling, to the touching, to the downright bizarre.


To express their solidarity, members of the Australian embassy chose to put their money where their mouth is in every sense of the word.  Aussie Ambassador Dave Sharma and his staff went to lunch at the upscale Max Brenner café the day after the terrorist attack in Sarona. And on Friday a diplomatic delegation that included ambassadors from Russia, Italy, Spain, Georgia, Hungary, Norway, Spain, France, and Australia and deputy ambassadors from Canada and France did the same, in a similar demonstrate of support. Even the deputy ambassador of the EU was present.
Hummmm. Is someone missing?

American ambassador Dan Shapiro sufficed with a very ‘telegraphic’ tweet* that sounds like a quickly scribbled postcard: “Strongly condemn tonight’s horrific terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. Cannot be justified. Deepest condolences to the families of those murdered.”

Sweet… (Israel HaYom, American Embassy website, Dave Sharma twitter account)

* Talk is cheap, or in this case – cheaper: The American ambassador – hunkered down ‘somewhere in Israel’ – retweeted (!) the Australian ambassador’s lunchtime update from Saronia… (Suggestion to readers: Compare Shapiro’s pro forma response with Sharma’s ten tweets between June 8-10.)


Graduates of the IDF Intelligence Corps unit 8200 (smonah ma’tyim or 8-200) have made their mark founding countless ground-breaking startups in information technology.  Now a group of seven 8200 vets are applying their expertise in signal intelligence collection (SIGINT) and code decryption to attack is unique target: the stealth enemy decimating palm trees in Israel (and elsewhere in the world) – the red palm weevil.

The beetles, native to southern Asia, bore into date palm trees and lay their eggs; the hatching larvae then quietly eat the heart out of the trees.

Date palms often crash to the ground without warning.  The weevil’s devastating effect is irreversible six to eight weeks after a tree has been invaded but if diagnosed early enough can be treated with special pesticides…but how can one separate healthy trees from infested ones?

AGRINT is now fine-tuning the prototype of a tiny sensor that can be attached to the trunk of each date palm tree that will be capable of identifying penetration of the tree by separating the signal the invaders emit – the frequency and unique ‘audio signature’ as they munch – from the background noise of other boring insects, nesting birds, and the wind and the rain.

Within months the cyber-warriors expect to have the solution.* (Ha’aretz)

* For those who remember the story of another IDF vet –  Norris from the K-9 Corps: It turns out dogs can indeed pinpoint a date palm targeted by the weevils.  The down side is a dog tires easily from this intensive task of sniffing for the presence of red palm weevils, while there are half a million date palms in Israel in commercial production ….not counting all the ornamental palms in gardens and parks across the country.


According to statistics released just prior to Hebrew Book Week – which opens on June 16 (tonight), 8,537 new titles were published in Hebrew over the past year, along with another 959 children’s books; 388 were works by first-time authors. These are books published by bona fide publishers, not counting vanity publishers and self-published works. So, is everyone reading?

Uh, apparently not…

In a survey of reading habits conducted last summer by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion together with Gallup, among a random sample of Palestinians, 54.1 percent of the respondents said they “hadn’t read a book in a long time” when queried “when was the last time you read a book” and 42.5 percent replied that their aversion to reading was “because they find reading boring.” A parallel survey in the Jewish sector by Pew in April 2015 found only eight percent of the adult Jewish population in Israel doesn’t read books; 82 percent read at least one book a month. (Yediot, PCPO website, Pew Research)


OK, so religious sites around the world often request, even require visitors to wear ‘modest dress’ which has some logic.  But, let the tourist beware! The executive director of the Knesset Ronnen Plott has slapped down a dress code in the halls of the Knesset – not on parliamentarians (over whom he has no authority*).  On tourists…      Plott has nixed not only tank tops and flipflops…and shorts – even 3/4 length pants. He’s also hell-bent on banning fashionable artificially distressed jeans – which constitute 80 percent of all the jeans on the market.

Over 260,000 tourists visit the Knesset annually…or did. (Yediot)

. * Only in 2006 was a dress code introduced by the chair of the Knesset at the time – Dalia Itzhik…who banned MKs wearing jeans and sandals (de rigueur in Israel and practically a ‘national costume’ for Israelis, even at funerals). What about other parliaments? The British parliament has a 700 year-old dress code (a 1313 statute) that makes it illegal to wear a suit of armor in the House of Commons and there are still loops in the MPs’ cloakroom for parliamentarians to hang their swords on.


Two entities have submitted designs to the Tel Aviv Municipality for tiered or revolving bicycle racks that can accommodate 200 bicycles in the space it takes to park four standard motor vehicles.

The racks tendered by city hall are earmarked for secure underground municipal garages.  Bike parking services are designed to solve a major blight in the City that Never Stops even in the wee hours of the night when annually an estimated 27,000 bikes, motor scooters and the likes exchange hands literally overnight, with the assistance of a standard hardware store bolt cutter. (Calcalist)


Talk of ‘the shoemaker goes barefoot’!

It took gynecologist Professor Rami Gamzu, director of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and former director-general of the Ministry of Health two decades from beginning his 1997 internship to ‘make a baby’ of his own’:

“Over the years I delivered babies, performed Cesarean sections, and treated thousands of pleased new mothers, perhaps deferring my personal passions too long in deference to my public career,” remarked the new first-time father of a 3.2 kilo baby girl. Gamzu just turned 50. (Israel HaYom)  Photo credit:  Ichelov Medical Center Facebook account












About the Author
Daniella Ashkenazy is a bilingual Israeli journalist and the founder and CEO of Chelm-on-the-Med Online, a news outlet in English of zany news from Israel culled from the Hebrew press, designed to transform preconceptions about Israel – one chuckle at a time