International Papers

Kosher Nostra

Britain’s Sunday Telegraph reported that the “bread police” were out in force this year to ensure Israelis’ adherence to Passover’s dietary laws. (For a Passover primer, see thisSlate “Explainer.”) Teams of three or four, mostly composed of non-Jewish Druse men, raided hundreds of restaurants, bakeries, and stores, levying $25 fines on any establishment with leavened bread on the premises. The “matzo law” has been on the books for 14 years, but it has not been observed until this year, when Eli Yishai, chairman of the Orthodox Shas Party, took over the interior ministry. Yosef Paritzky of the liberal Shinui Party claimed that the ministry was distorting the law, which he says doesn’t ban the sale or consumption of leavened bread, but rather its presentation for public sale. An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post said that while “Most Israeli Jews love and respect Jewish traditions and religious practices willingly and with no coercion. … [M]any Israelis do not like to be forced by law to obey religious laws.” Therefore, the clampdown will reduce religious observance and deepen the rift between the liberal majority and the Orthodox minority. The op-ed concluded, “If Yishai continues to use his questionable legal power only to score points in his internal struggle for the control and leadership of his party, he will just increase the antagonism toward his religious values from the vast majority of the public.”

An op-ed in Ha’aretz backed a bill due to be discussed by the Knesset that would “normalize” Israel’s weekends from the current Friday/Saturday to Saturday/Sunday. The piece noted that it is only during the middle days (Hol Hamo’ed) of the weeklong Passover and Sukkot festivals that Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox families mingle with the rest of the population, “Because on Saturdays, they are not allowed to travel and to have a good time. And on Fridays they’re preparing for Shabbat, and have no time for leisure.” Consequently, there is an “unhealthy alienation” as ultra-Orthodox, modern-Orthodox, and secular Jewish communities become more “ghettoized.” Responding to the economic arguments of opponents of Sunday as a day of rest, the op-ed noted:

Why is there not even one developed country, with a GNP similar to ours, in which Sunday is a work day? Maybe there is, after all, some basis to the theory that productivity in fact increases, and absenteeism plummets, when the worker gets a real weekly vacation, long enough for both resting and going out to have a good time?

Crush groove: Last Wednesday’s South African soccer-match stampede, which caused 43 deaths and 89 serious injuries, was “a disaster waiting to happen,” according to the Mercury of Durban. The stampede occurred when thousands of fans—with and without tickets—tried to force their way into the stadium. The venue for the match between the country’s most popular teams, the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, was too small to accommodate the crowd, and although organizers announced years ago that matches between the two would require advance ticket purchases, they relented and allowed sales at the gate. The Mercury alleged that as many as 90,000 tickets were sold for a stadium with capacity for 60,000 spectators. It added, “The [league] must, as a matter of urgency, educate the public to arrive earlier for games and prevent fans from arriving in a bottleneck five minutes before the kickoff.” Johannesburg’s Star agreed: “It is common practice for tickets to major matches to be sold only at the stadium on the night of the game, leading to large crushes as too many spectators turn up. In South Africa, crowds frequently try to break down barriers to get in once officials have closed the gates.”

The incident was a near replay of a 1991 incident in which 42 fans died during a game between the same teams. For South Africa’s Sunday Times, that was the greatest tragedy:

[T]hose pointing fingers … should state clearly that at the heart of the tragedy lies a key cancer in South Africa—a refusal to learn from the past. Despite all the lessons we have learned from previous disasters, we fail to heed the warning signs of an impending tragedy.

The García factor: Although observers had predicted that none of the candidates in last Sunday’s Peruvian election would garner 50 percent of the vote, former President Alan García’s second-place finish shocked the world. Favorite Alejandro Toledo took 36.5 percent of the vote, while García beat conservative candidate Lourdes Flores by a margin of 25.8 percent to 24.3 percent; a runoff between Toledo and García will take place in late May or possibly early June. García, whose disastrous 1985-90 presidential term was marked by hyperinflation of up to 7,650 percent, a debt crisis, and the rise of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru guerrilla movements, returned to Peru after nine years of exile just nine weeks before the election. Argentina’s La Nación expressed concern that the runoff will turn into a populist battle with each candidate making promises he can’t keep. With the markets already depressed by the prospect of a return to García-ism, the paper detected a trend away from Toledo’s roots as a “responsible and respectable economist” and toward “demagogic promises that raise doubts about Peru’s future economic stability.”

La Tercera of Chile published an interview with García in which he claimed there is “a very good chance” he will be Peru’s next president. After an acrimonious contest between Toledo and Flores, which at times descended to an exchange of racial epithets, it will be difficult for Toledo to attract the voters who supported Flores in the first round. García, who was just 35 when he took office in 1985, also claims a special bond with Peru’s youth voters. Writing in Spain’s El País, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who lost 1990’s presidential runoff to Alberto Fujimori, offered an explanation for the “amnesia” of those Peruvians who lived through García’s presidency:

If there is one thing that characterizes the politics of the developing world, it is “Adamism.” Always beginning from zero, as if nothing has happened before, as if nothing could be learned from the experience of living. Living life as pure present can be a way of staying alive, a way of defending oneself against the paralyzing mortgage of a past that for a large part of society represents frustration and horror. But it is also a way of ensuring that the mistakes of the past are repeated.