Sunday, May 29, 2005

A victim of the boycott

When the academic boycott was announced by the British Association of
University Teachers on April 25, I looked around for something practical I
could do. At that time I was reviewing a scientific paper submitted by a
British group to the American journal "Molecular Cancer Therapeutics," which
is published by the American Association for Cancer Research. Not knowing
the scope of the boycott, but being aware of the growing atmosphere of
anti-Semitism/anti-Israelism on British campuses, I decided that I would not
review this paper, but that I would write to the journal and politely
decline to review it because I objected to this British boycott.
So far so good. Then I decided that I would not hide my small action, but
would also write to a group of scientific colleagues to tell them what I had
done and suggest that they join in a general boycott of British academia.
From an American and Israeli perspective this seemed eminently justified.
Not only had a large British teacher's Union (46,000 members) opted to adopt
a boycott of two Israeli Universities (Haifa and Bar Ilan) but the prospect
of further actions of the kind could certainly be anticipated. Urgent
action was needed to cut off this trend, before it moved on to other fertile
ground. When I sent my letter I had no illusions that I alone would spark a
general boycott of British science, only that some individuals would know
about the possibility of this action.
In response, I received a few positive supporting notes from some
colleagues, but imagine my shock and surprise when I received a long and
insulting letter from a prominent British Jewish scientist (who shall be
unnamed), accusing me of being as bad as the boycotters, of being a "racist"
and many other things. Not only that, he stated that I should not be
employed at the Hebrew University and threatened that he would make it his
business, through his good contacts, to get me fired! I had thought that
sending my letter to the UK would not be exactly appropriate, but I never
envisaged such a vehement and arrogant response. I never expected to be
threatened with a boycott myself.
Naturally I responded to him, pointing out that a counter-boycott is not the
same as a boycott (if it were the UN would never use sanctions), and
certainly denying that I am a racist. There are two other points worthy of
comment. This person said that the only valid response was to boycott only
those who had actually boycotted Israel, not anyone else. In my opinion this
is a matter of judgment, since sanctions and boycotts are intended to hurt
the innocent to bring pressure on the guilty. Also, he claimed that the AUT
was not important and he knew no members of it. I regarded this as
irrelevant, because they certainly exist and took the action they did. It
seems to me that he had lost sight of the point of it all, much like the
British officer in "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
This particular scientist not only continued in this unbalanced approach and
responded similarly to another colleague who took up my case. Finally,
he wrote to the Rector of the HU and told him that I was a racist and an
enemy of Israel, and asked him to take action against me. Because of his
relationship with the Rector (who has invited him to lecture here), the
Rector took this matter very seriously. Luckily I had kept my host in HU
informed of my actions and of this person's reaction, so there was someone
who could refute these claims and put the matter into some perspective.
Also, since I am a Visiting Professor, I am not strictly under the authority
of the Rector, but that of my host.
A conciliatory letter was sent to this person and it was pointed out in the
letter that there are various ways to respond to a boycott, no-one has the
monopoly on the correct response. Further, those opposed to the boycott
should not be wasting their time and efforts fighting each other. The focus
should be on the counter-boycott. He responded quickly in the same tone as
before and vaguely threatened my host, who decided not to respond to this
In this situation one has to wonder why a British Jewish scientist would be
so motivated as to try to actually boycott an Israeli Jewish scientist
working at an Israeli University. What is there in the British Jewish
characterthat could instigate such a perverse reaction (or was it one
Anyway, the question becomes moot now that the AUT boycott has been
rescinded. But, a lot of damage has been done, and the enemies of Israel
are not influenced by rational considerations. The next possible challenge
will be the companion Union NATFHE that is having their annual meeting next
week. I had a long and acrimonious exchange with their Secty. General, and
he is a died-in-the-wool "liberal fascist" i.e. he is more concerned that
the Palestinians not suffer from colonial occupation than that Israeli
children are killed by suicide bombers. So don't expect this struggle to be

Friday, May 27, 2005

Abbas in wonderland

Pres. Mahmud Abbas of the PA finally got his visit to the White House. In
an unusually gushing joint press conference, Pres. Bush spoke about
Palestinian democracy, transparency, economic development, contiguity etc,
etc. Abbas repeated the need for Israel to do practically everything,
including withdraw to the positions before September 2000 (when the
Palestinians started the intifada), stop settlement activity, stop
unilateral withdrawals, allow refugee returns, start negotiations, divide
Jerusalem, etc. etc. It all sounded so easy, but the problem is that its
mostly pie in the sky.
Pres. Bush said that you can't have democracy with groups of men running
around with guns! But, that's precisely the situation that exists in Gaza
and the West Bank. He also said that you can't have democracy without due
process of law, but there is no effective civil law in the PA. Pres. Bush
said that progress can't occur until there are two democracies side-by-side,
but while Israel is a stable democracy, and has been for over 50 years, the
PA is nowhere near democracy, just because it had one election.
Security is the main issue that is the key to everything else. You cannot
have Hamas doing its own thing, with its own army and ability to attack
Israel any time, and have a stable democratic PA. Bush and Abbas know this,
but the fact is that Abbas has done nothing about this so far. He has not
bitten the bullet. In the PA he is known as a "wet rag," because he has not
faced the problem of armed groups of men doing what they like throughout the
PA. Reorganization of the security forces is continually underway but has
not made actual progress.
The one feat that he can claim is that he has presided over a period of
"calm" for the last few months, that has seen a great reduction in terrorism
and reduced deaths on both sides. But, whether or not he has the guts or
the means to carry out actual reorganization and stop Hamas and other groups
having militias in the streets with their own weapons seems unlikely.
One of Bush's main points to Abbas was that the US opposes any settlement
activity by Israel since it could prejudice the final outcome negotiations
of the road map and the incorporation of the whole West Bank in the
Palestinian State. As the CNN commentator said this seems like a
contradiction to what Bush promised Israel regarding the modification of the
lines to take account of large Jewish population centers. Hopefully these
apparently irreconcilable issues can be worked out in negotiations, as Bush
also implied, as long as both sides are democratic.
Abbas was also promised m$50 by Bush in direct aid for Palestinian renewal.
But, the Congress has very carefully put strings on recent money given to
the PA in order that it does not disappear like the previous funds. It's
true that Arafat is gone, and that the current Minister of Finance is
considered to be honest, but it is unlikely that Congress will agree to
simply give such a large sum to Abbas without strict accounting.
So while Abbas is currently in wonderland, when he returns he will have to
face once again a PA in which the reality is quite different, where there is
no transparency, where gangs of armed men roam around without control, where
Hamas threatens the calm at any moment, where there are no reliable security
forces, and where there is no democracy. At present he is the only game in
town and he is a lot better than Arafat was, so Israel is likely to go along
with him. But, the situation seems familiar, to strengthen the leader of
the Palestinians in order to get an agreement at any price, the US is
prepared to lean on the Israelis to make concessions to him so that he can
show his people that he can deliver. Am I missing something, or have we
been here before?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


When we try to make sense of the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust, of the
murder to millions of Jews in Europe during WWII, we tend to be overcome by
the scope of it all. If we instead focus on one aspect some things become
clearer. At the dedication of the memorial adjacent to the Great Synagogue
in Budapest for the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in 1944-5, the
Hungarian Prime Minister said "we are here to commemorate the deaths of
600,000 Hungarians who were murdered by other Hungarians. Never again must
Hungarians be allowed to kill Hungarians." This is an interesting statement
because it does not mention the word "Jew" but instead emphasizes that they
were Hungarians. Until recently there would have been few Hungarians who
would have regarded Jews as Hungarians, even if they were born there and
even if they only spoke Hungarian.
It is common in the West to regard tribalism as an ancient and dead topic.
But, tribalism was very much alive and well in Europe and was one of the
main causes of WWII. It should be remembered that the Hungarians were a
group of tribes who in 896 CE arrived in what we now call Hungary and
decided to stay. They conquered the land from the surrounding Germanic and
Slavic tribes. Hence Hungarian is a strange alien language within a
surrounding sea of Indo-European languages with which it has no connection.
It is interesting to note that this conquest is seen as legitimate, while
some others are not.
After WWI, because it was an ally of Austria and Germany, under the Treaty
of Trianon, Hungary lost about 2/3 of its territory. It lost Slovakia to
what became Czechoslovakia, Croatia to Yugoslavia and Transylvania to
Romania. It entered WWII on the German side expecting to capture these
areas back, but since Germany lost the war, Hungary lost those areas
forever. But, there were and are still large Hungarian-speaking minorities
in these surrounding countries. The matter was settled only about 10 years
ago in treaties signed between Hungary and each of these countries (Croatia
and Slovakia now independent countries) in which they agreed to respect the
linguistic rights of their Hungarian inhabitants in exchange for a guarantee
that Hungary accepts the current borders.
Thus, was tribalism converted, thru wars and conflict, and treaties into the
modern concept of the constitutional state that guarantees the human rights
of all its citizens. It took 150 years more or less for the American ideals
of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to percolate into the tribal
soul of Europe.
It is as well to remember that the diabolical fate of Germany's Jews rested
on the same paradigm. Namely that Jews and other ethnic groups were of
distinct races, and that blood was more important than culture, that Jews
could not also be Germans or Hungarians and that Hungarians could not also
be Germans. Only recently Germany amended its citizenship laws to include
non-Germans. Civilization prevailed, but at what price?
Now again we see the same stirrings of anti-Semitism in Europe, but
ironically in a united Europe, within the EU, because Jews are once again
seen as outsiders, not European enough to share the same tribal instincts as
the rest. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tactical retreat

Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted a major attack on his
arch rival PM Sharon last week regarding the latter's Disengagement Plan for
Gaza and Northern Samaria. Netanyahu, is hoping to become Sharon's
successor by appealing to the majority of right wing Likud members. Some
might call him opportunistic, but then aren't all politicians. Netanyahu,
although opposed to the Plan, has remained in Sharon's Government and has
admitted that Disengagement is a "done deal," and that it is supported by
the majority of Israelis. In other words he wants it both ways.
In this Plan of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Sharon adopted what was
considered to be a left wing policy, that was previously proposed by former
Labor PM Barak and Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna. So why did Sharon
adopt it? This is a mystery to many and is considered to be a traitorous
act by his former supporters in the Yesha (Yehuda-Shomron-Aza) settler
movement. Since Sharon is the very exemplar of a military man (he was
undoubtedly one of the greatest generals of the IDF) we can speculate on
this not only from a political but also from a military point of view.
There is little doubt that Sharon would not adopt any Plan that did not make
excellent military sense to an icon of Israeli power.
The political aspects of this policy have received most attention, because
the pressure from the US and EU for Israel to take some conciliatory action
towards the Palestinians was very great, but its military dimensions have
been neglected. What are these military aspects? As outlined by various
spokesmen they include, a) the need to reduce the length of the lines
whereby there is constant friction between the IDF and Palestinian armed
forces, b) the need to consolidate the IDF positions so that they are not
exposed all over the Gaza strip, and c) the need to remove Israeli settlers
from a potentially dangerous position where they have to be protected all
the time at great loss of men and cost to the Israeli state. The military
reaction to ameliorate this situation can be regarded as a tactical retreat
or an organized retreat, rather than a retreat under defeat. Of course,
this may not be the perception of Hamas or the terrorists, but their
perception does not truly matter, since their bravado will not win them any
battles. In a successful war campaign there is nothing wrong with a
tactical retreat, on the contrary. In many cases a tactical retreat
precedes a later stronger tactical attack, often in the form of a pincer
movement that traps an over-confident enemy.
Meanwhile the main opponents of the disengagement are the Israeli right wing
settlers, and today some of them blocked about 40 major intersections around
the country with burning tires and their bodies. They were attacked by
several motorists who objecting to sitting in traffic jams while they
demonstrated, and the police arrested several of them. This has happened
before and the demonstrators were released without charge. Now the police
may see that this is getting out of hand and may actually charge and
imprison some of them, if only to stop them continuing this policy.
Certainly it will gain them no supporters among "middle" Israelis.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Alice Wolf

This is a belated Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) message that I
intended to send then, but I had to confirm the details with our neighbor
who lives across the landing from us. She is a delightful octogenarian.
Nevertheless such memories are timeless.

Alice (Aliza) Wolf was born in Czechoslovakia but grew up in Senta, northern
Serbia, then Yugoslavia, about 25 km from the Hungarian border. This region
was Hungarian-speaking, and her first language was Hungarian, but she also
spoke German and Serbian.
When WWII started she and her husband moved to Budapest, thinking that they
would be safer in a large city. He had a job in a hospital there, but since
he was a Jew they were not allowed to pay him. Nevertheless, the Head
doctor divided the total staff salary out between the doctors and ensured
that he received pay.
In 1944, under German control, the Hungarians started to deport the Jews to
Auschwitz and other camps. Alice and her husband at one point were
arrested, but luckily they had genuine papers. In the Police station one of
the Hungarian policemen treated them decently and actually shared his dinner
with them, and told her to go home. But she waited for her husband until
they released him. However, his papers counted for nothing when he was
rounded up later in the street and deported. She was unable to find him and
only found out much later that he had been sent to Dachau, considered the
worst possible place, where he died in about a month.
Alice went to see her close friend who had also moved to Budapest, but her
friend had forged papers and told her to stay away. Luckily she knew a
non-Jewish Hungarian woman who had been married to a Jewish man, who had a
room where she could stay. But, she had to hide the fact that she was
Jewish because anyone might give her away. There were other Jews staying
there with forged papers pretending to be non-Jews.
After about a month she had to leave this location and returned to her
friend, who helped her to find a room to hide out in. But, she was only
there for a week when she was arrested and taken to the police station. In
a way this proved providential, because nuns came around in the morning
asking if anyone wanted to convert to Catholicism. Having found out that
she was pregnant Alice jumped at the chance, although it was only pretense,
as the nun's probably knew. She was given work in the kitchen, which was
very lucky since she had enough food and warmth. She stayed there for about
a month until the Russians arrived and everyone was freed.
However, it was not as simple as that, since the Russians were taking women
off the street and raping them. She had to hide during the day and could
not travel at night. Eventually a group of people from Yugoslavia got
together and went to the Embassy and received armbands that identified them
and protected them from the Russians. Then they started the journey back to
their homes. On this journey she met her future second husband, although
they did not marry for 2 years.
It was still dangerous to travel around and in one place a friendly couple
hid this group of Jews in a sugar factory where he worked. When she got to
her home her parent's apartment was completely gutted, everything had been
stolen. But, the Yugoslavian communists were friendly to the Jews and they
were treated well. However, only 300 out of 3,000 Jews from her hometown
returned, and so with her new husband and daughter, and her father's parents
and her brother, they decided to emigrate to Israel, where they arrived in
Quite coincidentally, on a trip to Mt. Gilboa form our Hebrew Ulpan, we sat
next to a couple from Hungary and their friend also from Hungary. When her
parents were taken away she was 8 years old, and had no-one else. The
mother of her two friends, a non-Jew, took her in and treated her as a third
child. She was coached in how to behave as a Christian, and although most
of the neighbors knew about her, she managed to survive the war with them.
On one occasion because of the danger she was sent to the country, but then
brought back. She said the reason for her survival was "pure luck." The
other lady is in Naomi's Hebrew class. She is a very lively person, but
spent time in Auschwitz and did not want to talk about it. None of these
people have given their memories to Yad Vashem.

Friday, May 13, 2005

British anti-Semitism

Many years ago we had a series of inter-faith meetings at our synagogue
(Beth El) in Bethesda MD. The meetings with the various Christian
denominations went quite well. But, I remember that the Muslims that we met
with were very non-committal. After the formal part of the meeting I
chatted with an Imam, and during the conversation he said to me "so many
bad things have happened to the Jews, there must be a good reason for it."
I thought about this rationalization when I recently received an exchange of
letters between several British Jews, triggered it seems partly by my
article on "A tale of two lions." There are those British Jews, living in
England, who have a natural desire to under-estimate the effects of anti-
Semitism, and there are those of us who have emigrated to Israel, who have
no need to under-estimate these effects, indeed according to the former we
are deliberately over-estimating the level of anti-Semitism in Britain.
It is true that the Blackshirt movement of Oswald Moseley started losing
support among the British people as soon as he adopted anti-Semitism
as a major policy. This coincided with the massive meeting they had in
Wembley in 1936 at which Jews in the audience were beaten up in full
view of cameras and reporters. But, a subtle point, it was not so much
the anti-Semitism that turned off most Britons, it was the violence. They
objected to political violence. That was what they did on the continent,
in France and places East, but not in Britain, where they managed their
politics as gentlemen without recourse to violence. This reminds me of
the response of US Pres. Wilson before WWI, when advised that the US
should expand its investigations of possible spies in the US by
intercepting their mail, he said "gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's
mail!" Well that was a long time ago, and now in Britain you have "yob"
culture, murders of young women practically every week, football
hooligans, increasing anti-Semitic violence, an increase in the Muslim
population and increased pro-Palestinian activities particularly by left
wing extremists.
There was a time when Jews sat quietly and were passive in the face of
monumental persecution. They rationalized that "this will pass," "it will
get better," but unfortunately it did not. Generations of accepting fate
led to the near destruction of the Jewish people. I have no illusions and I
think this is a realistic attitude. The Jewish people would be well on the
way to extinction if it were not for the existence of the Israel Defense
Forces. As it is we will probably never achieve the level of population,
a mere 14 million, that we had prior to WWII. It's true that democracies
protect minority rights. But, nevertheless, all Jewish facilities in
Britain and throughout Europe have to be protected by armed guards, and this
has been true for years. Is this the kind of environment that Jews should
expect to live in as equal citizens in a democratic country?
Something has fundamentally changed. When I was growing up in Britain in
the 1950s there was constant and pervasive anti-Semitism, but it was largely
surreptitious. It was too soon after the war, after the photos of the camps.
It was grassroots, from below not above. Now leaders such as Mayor Ken
Livingstone, MP George Galloway, future Lady Tonge, and BBC commentator
Orla Geurin, can act as public conduits for these views. As commentator
MelaniePhillips has said, anti-Semitism has once again become "fashionable."
I don't expect howling mobs to be raging through the cities of Britain
attacking Jews, but I do expect a gradual increase of anti-Semitic incidents,
an increased threshold of the acceptance of anti-Semitic public statements,
an increased tolerance of anti-Israelism throughout sectors of British society, including the media, academia, the political establishment and so on.
To those British Jews who won't take this sitting down, take a leaf from the
President of Haifa University. He has announced that unless the AUT
rescinds its boycott at its May 26 meeting he will sue them in the British
courts. This is how the KKK was decimated in the US South, by legal action
taken by the families of those who had suffered as a result of attacks by
the KKK.
Writing letters and petitions is good, but taking action is much better.
Rights are worth nothing unless they are protected.

Israel at 57

Israel at 57, middle aged. We have done a great thing here, building a
viable country from scratch under constant attack and threat.
But, it was at great cost, nearly 27,000 Jews died from before the state was
founded, both in uniform and civilians. Of those ca. 1,200 were killed by
terrorists in the past 5 years of the intifada. Yesterday we honored all of
them in Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day for the Fallen. This was only a week
after Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yes, we Jews have a lot of
our people to remember.
It has been noted that the commemoration by Israel for the Fallen soldiers
is done somewhat more devotedly in Israel than for the Shoah victims. I
suppose this is because they mostly died young, fighting to defend the
State, while most Holocaust victims were just that, victims. Israelis
prefer the active to the passive, which they don't altogether understand.
It was noted that PM Sharon seemed ill at ease at Auschwitz, he did not fit
in there, it was not natural for him, as compared for example to PM Begin,
who came from that European milieu. Sharon is a Sabra, born and raised on
the land here. So do the generations change.
When I drove to Jerusalem a few days ago I had to pass thru a security
checkpoint. Of course, there was a traffic backup, but I passed thru
quickly. Maybe it was because I had two Israeli flags flying from my car.
On Independence Day here it is customary to fly the Israeli flag from cars
and homes. The whole city is bedecked with blue and white. I know that in
the US people would be scared to fly the Israeli flag from their car, or
have a sticker with it on. People of other nationalities have no such
compunction, Italian Americans have the Italian flag, and blacks some kind
of African flag, and so on, but Jews do not have the Israeli insignia, such
as the Magen David. Some anti-Semite might attack you, might curse you or
hurl something or even worse. The same is true even more so in Britain and
Europe. Jews fear to be identified as such in public places, many religious
Jews remove their kippot, and women hide their Magen David necklaces inside
their clothes. Such is the state of freedom in our great democracies.
That's one reason I delight in living in Israel, freedom from fear! Of
course, we have another kind of fear, namely terrorism. But, fortunately,
fighting back has so far worked. Many terrorists are dead and although we
lost many of our people, we did not give in to despair. There is a
significant lull in the terror, even though there are still rockets fired
and attempts by suicide bombers. During this lull life has returned almost
to normal, and there is a surge in tourism and life outdoors.
Last night people gathered in every city and town in Israel and celebrated.
There were fireworks and music, and even though there was security, we take
that for granted. It was an enjoyable evening and we all felt happy that
Israel is very much alive.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A normal country

Yesterday the son, wife and daughter of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel
Shlomo Amar were arrested for having kidnapped a young man who had started
a relationship with the daughter. The Rabbi's estranged son and two of his
Arab friends apparently took him to an Arab village and held him there. The
boy's haredi sidecurls were cut off and he was badly beaten. Then he was
taken to the Amar family home in Jerusalem where he was kept overnight and
beaten again. This was done in order to stop him from seeing the daughter,
whom he had met thru a chat room. But when he was released he went to the
police. The Rabbi is abroad in Thailand (even Rabbis have vacations) but he
also may be arrested upon his return because he may have had prior knowledge
of the incident and not reported it.
Of course, the reason for this incident was to protect the "family honor."
In the Palestinian areas the results tend to be more extreme, and the victim
is usually the woman. Last week three sisters were beaten and two of them
strangled to death in a case involving "family honor," and in another case a
young woman was killed. This woman had been put under the protection of the
Mayor of Ramallah, but nevertheless the father, after having given his word
of honor that he would not harm her, killed her anyway. This rarely happens
in Israel.
If that isn't weird enough, an IDF soldier was arrested in Ariel after
coming under suspicion of drug use after exhibiting erratic behavior. When
interrogated it was found that he had a swastika tattooed on his arm and
told the police that he was a Nazi. Further investigation showed that in
his home in Ariel he had swastika flags and other paraphernalia, and from
his computer the police were able to find that he had been in touch with
neo-Nazi groups in Russia. His mother first denied any knowledge of this,
but on interrogation confessed that she too was a pro-Nazi sympathizer. How
did they get into Israel and how did he manage to join the IDF? Good
Following a series of anti-Sharon slogans painted on various tombs and other
places, two more comparing Sharon with Hitler were found on Yom Hashoah
(Holocaust Day), one on an overpass into Jerusalem and the other at the
cemetery at Mt. Herzl. Since this has been going on for some time and since
it is most likely a right wing youth group is doing this, you would think
that the police would have taken some action to find them by now.
We are all concerned about terrorism, but since the threat has receded
somewhat with the current calm or ceasefire, the true horror of the loss of
life due to traffic accidents is hitting home. Four people were killed in a
head-on collision on the road to Eilat yesterday when one of them was
overtaking a truck on a single lane highway. The number of people killed in
the past week is 12, what a terrible toll for a small country.
Israel it turns out has become a center for the trafficking in prostitutes,
mainly because it is a much more open country than the surrounding
dictatorships. Women (not necessarily Jewish) are brought in from mainly
Moldavia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries. Most of them are as
usual promised good jobs and then pimped to traffickers who smuggle them
mainly thru Egypt across the Sinai desert, where it is very difficult to
find them. From Israel some of them are then sold to other countries.
One of the early Zionist leaders said that we would know the Jewish State
was a success when we became a normal country, with Jewish policemen, Jewish
prostitutes and everything else other countries have. Well, if that's the
case it looks like we have made it.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The good, the bad and the ugly

Who are the winners in the British General election? Each of the three
major parties will tell you that they are, Labor because they scored a third
win, Conservatives because they significantly cut Labor's majority, and
Liberal Democrats because they increased their number of seats to make them
a serious third party. But, the results could also be considered a net loss
for all three parties, Labor because they went down from a 167 to a 64
majority, Conservatives because they did not manage to overthrow Labor's
government, and the Lib Dems because they are still a long way down as the
third party.
Each Party leader hopes they will do better next time, but each Party
leader's tenure may be limited. Tony Blair because he presided over such a
loss and is considered a liability by many members of his Party, so that he
may soon have to stand aside and make room for Gordon Brown to take over
from him. Michael Howard may have saved himself some time because of his
Party's significant increase in seats, but maybe not too long, and Charles
Kennedy of the Lib Dems may last somewhat longer than the others.
What is the significance for Israel in this election result? Maybe not much.
Commentators spoke of there being no "Jewish vote" in the UK anymore, and
consequently no appeal by the politicians to Jewish causes. The themes of
the AUT academic boycott and the increase in anti-Semitism in Britain, that
worry Jews, did not appear in the election campaign, and are really
non-issues. The Israel-Palestinian conflict hardly mattered, and then only
for Blair as a partial way to deflect some of the attention away from the
Iraq war. But, it didn't really work since the question of Blair's
integrity was made a campaign issue by Howard, and the media attention to
this issue was excessive. Blair's anti-war opposition probably accounted for
most of the losses the Labor Party sustained and the other two parties
gained. But, Blair is still in power, he is still backing Pres. Bush and is
a strong supporter of Israel. His eventual replacement Gordon Brown is
equally supportive of Israel, so there is no likely change on the horizon.
The Conservatives are also pro-Israel, and only the Lib Dems might
ironically be considered a less pro-Israel party.
One of the ugly results of the election was the victory by a wide margin of
George Galloway who was elected to Parliament representing his Respect
party. This was achieved not only on an anti-war, anti-Blair platform, with
a defeat of the Labor candidate, but also with the strong support of the 40%
of Muslims living in his Tower Hamlets (Bethnal Green) constituency. This
is one of the first cases of Muslims in Britain flexing their political
muscles. Maybe the eclipse of the Jewish vote and the concomitant growth of
the Muslim vote indicates further trends in the future. The marginal
British National Party and the UK Independence Party (anti-EU) both did very
poorly in the election.
Another election result is worth mentioning, Fatah defeated Hamas in the PA
local elections yesterday, obtaining a 60% to 30% majority (of course Hamas
is complaining about electoral fraud). This result is good news for Pres.
Abbas and for Israel and the Americans, who have put a lot of emphasis on
democratization. These are the first local Palestinian elections in 29 years
(not 15 as I mistakenly stated previously, which is the time since the last
national elections for the Palestine Legislative Council, next due in July),
and it gives Abbas' party a strong lead in local town councils.
It is reported that the process of disarming local militants has been
completed successfully by the newly reconstituted security forces in Jericho
and Tulkarm, the two cities on the West Bank so far handed over by Israel to
PA control. Israel held up the continuation of this process until they were
satisfied by progress in disarming militants, and now the handover will
continue, starting with Kalkilya. The cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin
will pose far greater challenges to the authority of the Palestinian
security forces if and when they are handed over.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

PA democracy?

Natan Sharansky resigned as a Minister in PM Sharon's Government this week
because he is against the disengagement plan. He argues that the PA must be
a functioning democracy before they will be ready to actually make peace
with us, and so to carry out the disengagement from Gaza before the PA has
reached that level is self-defeating. He also argues that a unilateral
withdrawal without some kind of concessions from the other side is
dangerous, giving them the impression that they can get something for
nothing. This is the argument used by Sharon's right-wing Likud opponents,
and is not very new, and one wonders why if he believes this he did not
resign sooner. There is another cynical view that once he resigns he can
earn large sums as a lecturer in the US, given the popularity of his book
about democracy with Pres. Bush and his Administration.
The PA has shown very little signs of improving under Pres. Abbas. Although
Abbas initially said that he would take guns away from the street gangs that
are controlling the PA, now he has announced that his reorganized security
services will not allow any one to carry arms on the streets, although they
can keep them at home and the security forces will not enter people's homes
to search for guns. Even this minimal requirement for law and order has
been criticized by the terrorist groups, including Hamas and al Aksa
In the past few days several villas being built on the beachfront in Gaza
were bulldozed not by the IDF but by PA forces on Abbas' orders,
because they were built illegally on public land. This kind of corruption
has been routine in the PA, and this is the first time that Abbas is seen
to be dealing with it. Several of Yasir Arafat's former cronies have been
removed from their positions because of corruption and transferred to other
positions, one as Ambassador to Jordan and one to the UN.
Israel has sent the IDF and Israeli security forces into PA territory
several times to arrest wanted terrorists who are involved in planning
suicide bombings. One such was a senior Islamic Jihad member, Shafiq Abd
al-Ghani, who was killed in a shoot-out near the village of Saida, north of
Tul Karm. He was wanted for involvement in planning the Stage nightclub
bombing in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago when 5 Israelis were killed. Staff
Sergeant Dan Talasnikov, 20, of Moshav Nir Galim was also killed and another
IDF soldier was wounded in the clash yesterday between paratroop commandos
and wanted Islamic Jihad operatives. Pres. Abbas termed the incursion
"Israeli aggression," but Israel criticized the PA for not doing anything to
curb terrorist activity.
This week there will be the first PA municipal elections in 15 years.
Fatah, the leading party, is expected to lose significantly because of the
absence of Arafat. Abbas does not command his support, and Fatah is split
between the old corrupt Fatah and the "young guard." This is likely to
result in a victory for Hamas, which is seen as a major problem by Israel.
How can Abbas bring peace or democracy if he is incapable of acting against
a strengthened Hamas?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Internal colonialism

When I was growing up in England and went to University in London and
Cambridge, I experienced three basic attitudes towards being Jewish. There
was the antagonistic anti-Semitic attitude, sometimes bordering on hatred,
and there was the more general polite dislike. This manifested itself as
what I call "internal colonialism." The English weren't quite sure how to
react to us, so they treated us like the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish,
namely conquered peoples who were expected to be loyal, even though we were
way below their own levels of class and importance. There were also many
English who were very friendly towards Jews, and I was treated very fairly
by many whom I met in an academic capacity.
The Jews (in those days) were generally harder working, more intelligent and
greater achievers than the English. Our boy's school was about 30% Jewish
overall, but in the Sixth Form (boys taking higher education) there were ca.
70% Jews, and all the best ones were Jewish. Jews were characterized as
being "pushy", and in addition the English dubbed us "clever." They didn't
like us being too competitive and treating them as equals. But, that was in
the days when the Jews were the only minority group, except for the Irish,
who were hated, and the Welsh and Scots who were tolerated. Then the blacks
and the Indians of various types arrived, and then the whole of Europe came
and now England is a huge multi-ethnic mixture, and the Jews are one of the
more well integrated minorities, and the Irish, Scots and Welsh all have a
degree of local autonomy. But, still the Jews are different.
How is it that one generation after Margaret Thatcher, who blew away the
notion that the Conservative Party should be controlled by the landed
gentry, there are now (heaven help us) Jews running it. And this is because
after trying three failed upstarts as leaders (including the likes of the
pathetic Ian Duncan-Smith) they finally found someone with some talent,
Michael Howard.
This makes the self-righteous, doctrinaire socialist leftist liberals very
nervous. Since the Palestinians are the darlings of this set, they are happy
to find a scapegoat in the same Jews, although this time transposed into
racist oppressors. Knowing nothing of the history and culture of Zionism
suits them well, since they can transpose their native anti-Semitism into a
strong anti-Zionism. Together with their facile anti-Americanism, they have
a natural coherent so-called "anti-war" ideology. Except that they gloss
over the fact that supporting the Palestinians is, until now, actually
supporting the more war-like, more aggressive, pro-terrorist side.
"Palestine" comes from the name "Philistine," that the Romans used to
describe this land even though the Philistines then no longer existed, in
order to de-legitimize the Jewish connection. Most people are not aware
that the name Palestine has nothing whatsoever to do with the Arabs. The
Philistines were here in Biblical times, the Romans in just post-biblical
(when the New Testament was being worked out) and the Arab/Muslims only
arrived around 700 AD, quite a gap. But, since the British Empire for its
own reasons also preferred not to attribute a Jewish connection to the land,
they also used the designation "Palestine." Ever since then the British
left have been following the same road opened by the British colonialists.
So the British subjected the Jews to colonialism in Palestine and internal
colonialism within England. Miraculously we managed to break away from them
and to defeat them and to establish ourselves as a sovereign independent