Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Spiritual struggle

I don't believe that I've ever been impressed enough by a lecture by a Rabbi
to actually write about it. Last night we heard a lecture by Rabbi Natan Lopez
Cardozo from Jerusalem on "Jews by choice, and the future of Judaism."
He is an excellent speaker.
We thought this was going to be about converts (there is a rumor that Rabbi
Cardozo himself is a convert, but in fact he comes from an old Sephardic
family in Holland, his ancestor in the 17th century was a famous Rabbi there),
but that was not the case. His topic was more fundamental than that.
He drew a comparison between Abraham aveinu, who adopted the rigors of a
"Jewish life", choosing an ethical path of spiritual struggle, and the
situation after Moses rabeinu, when the Halacha had been handed down at
Sinai, supposedly sent by God to guide Jews/mankind into the righteous path.
So there were hundreds of years between Abraham and the forefathers
who were "Jews by choice," and the post-Halachic period when all Jews had a
guide on how to be "good." To simplify and summarize, he argued that Halacha
has become "frozen" and that most Jews are going through the motions without
the struggle for spiritual commitment. He suggested that this is why we are
losing many young people to Eastern religions where they look for spiritual
fulfillment, which they don't think they can find or have not found in
I agree with Rabbi Cardozo that Halacha has become "ossified" and that was
one of the reasons why I rejected Judaism and became secular in the first
But, I remember that our daughter told us when she reached maturity that she
had missed a spiritual element in her secular upbringing and that is why she
became Orthodox (ba'alat tshuva). But, at least she found it in Judaism.
I myself choose not to seek a spiritual path, but some look to the Dalai Lhama
and Buddhism for this element. Some Rabbis have visited the Dalai Lhama and
have pronounced him a tzaddik (a righteous man) and he himself is on record as
saying that if a Jew comes to him seeking spiritual guidance he sends them
back to their Rabbis, because they can help him more. Also, the Dalai Lhama
has said that Buddhists must study Judaism to see how Jews have managed to
maintain their religion in exile for thousands of years. Still Rabbi Cardozo
thinks that a new kind of Yeshiva is needed to teach the spiritual struggle in
live Judaism rather than just the frozen rules.

Monday, January 30, 2006

International Holocaust Memorial Day

The UN was founded largely in response to the conditions that led to
WWII and the Holocaust. It is certainly time 60 years after the war that
the UN should institute a day to commemorate the Holocaust. The date
chosen is 27th January because that is the day Auschwitz was liberated.
Better late than never. The British commemoration took place this year
in Cardiff. There were also events in the US Congress, the German
Reichstag (that Hitler burned), in Austria, France, etc.
One reason for the UN decision is the increase in anti-Semitism in
Europe and the gutter statements of the Iranian President Ahmedinejad.
There are many people who deny the Holocaust. Many of them would also
ironically like to complete its aim of wiping out the Jews, and Israel happens
to be a convenient focus for their hatred.
The Holocaust of Jews in Europe was a uniquely terrible event in world history
that consumed approximately six million Jews who were murdered by the
Europeans, and I use that term advisedly because the German Nazis had
substantive help from most of the countries of Europe and most of their
populations. Among those murdered were ca. 1.5 million Jewish children.
It is difficult to face this fact, but we have to. Since the Germans did not
want to waste expensive bullets on the Jews, many were killed by hanging,
and for this a metal loop was found to be the easiest way to kill a person.
But, children weren't heavy enough to strangle this way, so the German
soldiers pulled downwards on them to add their weight in order to break the
children's necks. This was done thousands of times, but no German soldiers
were ever tried for these atrocities, because the Allies wanted to retain the
support of the German people against the Communist USSR. Later on the
Germans, after some experimentation, decided that poison gas killed Jews
more efficiently. We must take an oath that Jews will never again be
defenseless in the face of such evil.
The victory of Hamas in the PA elections has a relevance to this situation,
since in their founding charter there are two clauses that are frankly
anti-Semitic. In one clause they blame the Jews for the "French revolution,
the Russian revolution and other revolutions.." and in another clause they
quote Jewish "plots" to take over the Middle East "and then the world, as
outlined in the 'Protocols of the elders of Zion.'" Yes, as incredible as it
might seem this is in the charter of the organization that won a plurality of
votes amongst Palestinians, and I am sure most of them believe this trash.
The Muslim radicals have taken over the fascist ideology lock,stock and
and after all one should remember that they were among those who supported
Hitler in his campaign to rid the world of the Jews. Most of the Arabs were
pro-German during WWII and this included the late Hajj Amin al-Husseini,
the Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent most of the war in Berlin. This is why I use
the term "Islamo-fascists," because it is the most descriptive and accurate
one I can find to describe their hate-filled and violent anti-Jewish ideology.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

End of the Bush doctrine?

The Hamas victory is a watershed in the history of the Palestinians and of the
whole Middle East. Until now the socialist/nationalist parties have
dominated Palestinian politics (the PLO and then Fatah). But, now after
the death of Arafat and the incompetence of Abbas, the Islamists are
ascendant. Because they are opposed to corruption, Hamas were described
as having "clean hands," but they are clean handed murderers. Terrorist
organizations cannot make democratic partners.
The Israeli Government, new as it is, seems unsure how to respond. Although
PM Olmert has tried to project a strong image by saying that Israel will not
deal with a PA Government containing Hamas, he is undermined by the
statements of his Ministers. Shimon Peres (who was Vice PM under Sharon)
stated that Israel might deal with a Hamas Government if it stopped terrorism,
and new FM Tzipi Livni said that if Hamas will not cooperate, Israel will take
more unilateral decisions. If they cannot get their act together they will
come off looking weak.
An election does not make a democracy! Having refused to form a coalition
with Hamas, some of the Fatah "opposition" took to the streets. There were
gunfights in various parts of the northern Gaza Strip, and an armed mob
attacked the PLC Parliament building in Gaza City, destroying part of it,
and was not persuaded to withdraw by Mohammed Dahlan, the former
Fatah Security Chief. No one knows for how long or if the Fatah gunmen can
be restrained, certainly they are not used to the concept of democracy. One
of their demands is the removal of Pres. Abbas who they see as guilty through
inaction of having brought them to this predicament. They are loath to have
Fatah give up power, and in the end this might result in more extreme civil
disturbances. Hamas might use legal means to restrain them, i.e. the PA
police and security forces, but they are predominantly loyal to Fatah, or it
might use its own Hamas armed forces, which could lead to a civil war. At
the very least one can conclude that this situation has not played itself out
What are the general implications for the Bush Doctrine of bringing democracy
to the Arab world? In Iraq it is unthinkable to have al Qaeda as a party
contesting the elections, yet the equivalent has been allowed in the PA. The
natural allies of Hamas are Assad of Syria, the Mullahs of Iran and the
insurgents in Iraq.
Now all the Arab countries will take the lesson, do not allow the Islamists to
participate in elections, because they will win, such is the primitive level
of political maturity in the Arab countries. So at a stroke this one election
will effectively end the Bush Doctrine. As a matter of fact this is not the
first time that Islamists have won an election, it happened in Algeria in
1992, leading to a military coup that cancelled the results, and in Turkey
some parties were declared illegal because they were anti-secular. Perhaps
we should salute Pres. Mubarak of Egypt, who realizes that his people are
not yet ready for democracy, after all who needs the Muslim Brotherhood
running Egypt. That would be another colossal set-back for the West,
comparable to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the formation of
"Hamastan" in the PA.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Conference on academic boycotts

On Weds I went to a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on
"Academic Freedom and the Politics of Boycotts." This was organized by
a Committee set up in response to the attempted academic boycott of two
Israeli universities (Bar Ilan and Haifa) that was passed by a rump session
of the AUT Union in the UK in April 2005, and then rejected by a full
meeting of the whole Union a month later. However, certain academic
leftist activists committed to the Palestinian cause are still attempting to
resurrect this boycott. They are also indulging in other nefarious schemes
to undermine Israel.
I particularly went to hear Alan Dershowitz, an excellent speaker. He
presented a lucid analysis of why these boycotts are directed at Israel. He
asked that any Union or other organization that is considering a boycott of
Israel be asked to establish a list of human rights violators in the world,
and he was confidant, as a lawyer who has spent many years working on
international human right cases, that Israel would be well down the list. In
fact, Israel is one of the few or only countries whose Supreme Court has
considered the subject of torture in detail, and revealed that the US Supreme
Court asked for copies in English of their deliberations when they were
recently considering cases relating to Iraqi detainees.
He asked rhetorically if the US Supreme Court would tell the US Government
where to put its fence with Mexico, which the Israeli Supreme Court has done
in regard to the Security Barrier in Israel. He emphasized that there is no
comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute with apartheid S. Africa, since
among other things the blacks were a huge majority while the Palestinians are
a minority. He also dismissed any comparison with the IRA situation, since
they have recognized the futility of terrorism and in any case were not trying
to destroy Britain. He showed that given Israel's productivity, especially in
health research, all of the world would be the losers of an Israeli academic
Several people considered the status of academic freedom around the world.
Marshall Goldman, an expert on Russia, said that academic freedom after the
fall of Communism was established from above, not below, and as such it is
very easy for Pres. Putin to reduce such freedoms.
One of the most interesting speakers was Prof. Zeedani from al Quds University
in East Jerusalem. He presented a very pro-peace position, and read a
statement from Sari Nusseibeh, President of al Quds University. They are
entirely against all forms of boycott and do not want to be helped by
activists in the UK. He pointed out that the boycott movement arose because
the PA Universities Committee asked the Israeli Commission for Higher Education
to allow Palestinian students and professors to enter Israel at will, but this
was rejected for understandable security reasons (some of the universities are
controlled by Hamas). The Palestinian University Committee passed a
resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli Universities, although he acknowledged that this was ridiculous because they cannot operate without Israeli cooperation
and in fact no such boycott has ever been implemented. Although he presented a
very compromising attitude, saying "violence will not lead anywhere,"
nevertheless he represents a very small percentage of Palestinian opinion.
Several other speakers considered the differences between boycotts, sanctions
and embargoes, and some compared earlier boycotts, for example against
German academics prior to WWII and now. All such boycotts were in fact
ineffective and hurt some of those most opposed to the Nazis, just as an academic boycott of Israel would mostly hurt left-wing academics sympathetic to the
However, some sanctions have worked, including the Jackson-Vanik
Amendment that stopped US trade with the USSR and caused them to modify their treatment of Soviet Jews and eventually to allow them to emigrate, and the UN
Sanctions against Iraq (remember the "dying" Iraqi children that was all faked
and how the "oil for food" program was misused).
Although I only went to a quarter of this conference, I judged that it was a
good thing to get a panel of international experts together to discuss this,
and anyone can look at the material on the net when it is available. The
conference was organized by Professor Gerald Steinberg of BIU, an expert on
the Middle East. For further information (program and lectures) view the BIU
site at: www.biu.ac.il/rector/academic_freedom/
For my past messages see: www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas victory in PA election

Hamas has won the PA election, with ca. 80 seats out of 132, but the final
results are not yet known. The entire Fatah PA Government of PM Querei
resigned en masse immediately. Apparently Hamas leaders called Querei and
Pres. Abbas and offered to form a coalition Government of national unity with
them. But, whether or not this will happen is also unknown.
This result is both bad and good for Israel. It is bad, of course, because
Hamas is an unregenerate terrorist organization, committed to the destruction
of the State of Israel, the suicide bombing of Israeli civilians and the
establishment of an Islamic State in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas issued
a statement that recognizing and negotiating with Israel is "not in their
It is good for Israel in that matters become simpler. In a sense the
Palestinians have once again shot themselves in the foot by choosing the
extreme. I wrote recently about the "double game" that the Palestinians have
been playing with Israel and the world for the past 30 years, under Arafat and
Abbas, proclaiming their commitment to peace with Israel and to peaceful
negotiations with a cessation of violence, but at the same time allowing the
terrorist groups (Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Aksa Martyrs Brigades) to
continue their activities. Now Hamas is going to be the government of the PA,
so there is no more ambiguity, the double game becomes once again a single
game, a war of Israeli survival against the Palestinian war of destruction.
We will be facing a "Hamastan" in the Palestinian territories.
Those who have been supporting the "poor" Palestinians, will find themselves
now supporting the most extreme Islamist religious elements, that can only be
described as Islamo-fascists. Those who think that by Hamas being included in
a Government that this will moderate their views are in for a shock. On the
contrary, this victory, coming on the heels of the Israeli withdrawal from
Gaza, will even more activate them to believe that they can in fact (with the
help of Allah) destroy Israel. If Hamas changed its basic policy it would no
longer be Hamas, as former Israeli FM Yigal Allon said, "a leopard that
changes its spots is no longer a leopard."
It must be noted that Hamas is in fact the Palestinian Branch of the Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood, established when Gaza was under Egyptian control
before 1967. As such it is also a threat to the Government of President
Mubarak of Egypt. Also, Alman al Zawahiri, second in command of al Qaeda is
from Egypt and was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Abu
Musab al Zarqarwi, who is the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, is a Palestinian
from Jordan, who has already infiltrated Jordan and has carried out suicide
bombings there. It is considered likely that he has established covert
relationships with Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.
This all points to an increase in terrorism and attacks upon Israel and to an
increase in Israeli responses. In other words there is likely to be a war
situation now. No doubt Iran will have some involvement in these activities.
This all makes the situation much more dangerous, and it is likely that the
Israeli public will retract from its move towards the Center and will tend to
support a more rightist position. This could catapult Netanyahu into the
position of PM unless Olmert quickly and strongly shows some responses
which are different from those for which Kadima was formed.
Both the US and EU have criticized this election outcome, and have stated
that they will not deal with Hamas as long as it retains its intention of
destroying Israel and continues to use terrorism. It will be interesting to
see how Hamas manages financially without the funds on which the PA
depends to pay its salaries. One thing this has shown is that the American
focus on democracy in the Arab world is both naive and premature. Polls
have shown that at present 60% of Palestinians support the use of suicide
bombings against Israeli civilians. Many on the left in Israel pooh-poohed
this fact and said that the Palestinian vote for Hamas was a protest vote
against Fatah corruption. But, the reality now is that their lives are just
as threatened as those Israelis who held right wing views that did not trust
the Palestinians. Even Yossi Beilin, the head of the leftist party Yahad
(Meretz) admits this is a set-back for peace.
However you look at it, this election result is a manifestation of the
Palestinian popular will. They have tried the PLO and Fatah, that has not
gained for them their fundamental goal of the destruction of Israel. Now
they are trying the party that unreservedly supports this aim. We'll see
how this choice helps them.


We went to a lecture by Gloria Mound on the Crypto-Jews (Anusim or 'kidnapped'
in Hebrew, Marranos or 'swine' in Spanish). She runs an "Institute for
Marrano-Anusim Studies" in Israel called "Casa Shalom." In her lecture she
focused mostly on the Balearic Islands, including Ibiza and Formentera as
well as Majorca and Minorca which are the largest islands off the east coast
of Spain. When there were massacres of Jews in Spain in 1391 and when the
Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, Jews fled to isolated places.
One of the nearest were the Balearic Islands, which are still quite isolated
and remote.
Starting with an innocent vacation on Ibiza in 1978, because they were
observant Jews, Gloria and her husband immediately met crypto-Jews. One
thing led to another and they went back every year and gradually met a whole
network of these people.
They discovered that in order to penetrate this secret community, that had
managed to survive because of its remoteness, they had to get permission from
the "head" of the particular family or clan. Often he would be a farmer living
up in the hills, and someone who they met would have to send to get permission
to talk with them and reveal their secrets. Because the islanders speak a
version of Catalan, not Spanish, and because they always considered themselves
distinct from the mainlanders and suspicious of all outside authority, the
secret Jews were able to live there without too much interference. The
Inquisition came to the islands, but only one secret Jew is recorded to have
been turned over to them.
She described their first meeting with the Bishop of Ibiza, who kept a menorah
on his desk and was a crypto-Jew, and they discovered that the only convent in
the town of Ibiza had a "secret" synagogue underneath it. This must have been
known to the nuns, but apparently it operated for hundreds of years. The
secret Jews, who outwardly were strict Catholics had a very specific secret
life. They only allowed their children to marry other crypto-Jews (sometimes
in strict family pacts of up to 250 families), the women lit Shabbat candles
in secret, they often had cellars where Hebrew books were kept, the children
were de-brainwashed after returning from Mass each Sunday, some of them
learned to say the shema before going to sleep. Nevertheless over the period
of 500 years, many of these practices were lost in specific families. They
also discovered a remote house with a mikva, in the village of Hueneja near
Granada in Spain, but the lady living there was a strict Catholic who had lost
interest in her crypto-Jewish roots, and was using it as a store room.
There was a particular connection between the crypto-Jews and the pirates who
sailed in and controlled many of these areas. The Jewish merchants made deals
with them, and often the pirates were themselves crypto-Jews. They used this
means to maintain communication between communities in Greece, Turkey,
North Africa and as far away as Cuba and the Caribbean. Hebrew books and
people were smuggled in and out. They know this from papers that were discovered.
In one case three young Sephardic men who were smuggled into Ibiza were
caught and imprisoned, one of them was turned over to the Inquisition (he was
the one mentioned) and so there are records of what was done and said. After
some years he was eventually bought out. At the bottom of a contract dating
from the early 1700s she found a postscript that asked the captain of the boat
to take these boys to Italy where they would be educated and the signer of the
contract would guarantee all expenses for them.
Over many years they met crypto-Jews in Spain and throughout the
Mediterranean and in the US. There is a large community of crypto-Jews in New Mexico and an expert Stanley Hordes has written a book about them entitled "To
the End of the Earth: a history of the crypto-Jews of New Mexico" (listed in
Amazon. Many years ago I met a Professor Albuquerque at the University of
Maryland in Baltimore, who confessed to me that he was a secret Jew, and that
there were many such families in Albuquerque. Gloria Mound told us that in the
Cathedral in Albuquerque there is an arch of Magen Davids above the altar. We
also met a Monsignor of the Church at a wedding of one of my technicians in
Baltimore who told us he was descended from crypto-Jews.
She also spoke about the crypto-Jews of Sao Tome and Principe, which is now
an independent country. I mentioned in a previous message that the King of
Portugal sent thousands of kidnapped Jewish children into exile on those
islands during the forced conversion of 1497. Now every year there is a
commemoration of this event at the spot where they landed. Although many
died, their descendents, some of them black, still adhere to their secret
Jewish practices, including the President and their Ambassador to Israel.
Although she started out as an amateur, Gloria Mound is now a recognized
expert on the subject, has amassed a collection of books and papers on the
history of the Anusim, that is being computerized for study and has aided
many crypto-Jews who come to Israel to convert to Judaism and to become
Israeli citizens.
For further information see www.casa-shalom.com
For my past messages see: www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


In these messages I try to relate stories and analysis about Jews and Israel
and what its like living here. This story is another one about our
musicologist lecturer Brenda Miller and the brilliant lecture she gave Sunday
night about Shostakovich. What has this got to do with Jews? Wait, you'll
Shostakovich was arguably the Beethoven of the 20th century, the most
brilliant composer who suffered terribly from the persecution of Stalin and
communism,but was not murdered like many of his contemporaries because
even Stalin recognized his musical genius.
Shostakovich graduated from the St. Petersburg/Leningrad conservatoire in
1924 and was instantly recognized as a musical great from his first symphony.
However, from the time of his 2nd symphony in 1927 he was put on the
black-list because it was considered too modern and individualistic and was
not based on "social realism." Nevertheless, Shostakovich remained a
committed communist, although his work often defied the party line and he was
denounced publicly and lived in fear and apprehension. During the subsequent
purges one of his best friends, Emil Meyerhoff, a Jew and a theatrical
producer was arrested and disappeared, and his wife was hacked to pieces
and left in her apartment as a warning.
I will not cover the details of the ups and downs of Shostakovich's life,
since that has been covered in the famous book, "Testimony" published after
his death in 1975 by his young protege, Solomon Volkov, who moved to the
West. A truly brilliant movie was made based on this book, directed by Tony
Palmer and starring Ben Kingsley as Shostakovich, that I highly recommend.
In 1941 Shostakovich composed his 7th "Leningrad" Symphony that was
considered to relate the Nazi attack upon his city, and was widely and
successfully performed. He was back in favor. But, in 1948, Minister of
Education Zhdanov publicly criticized him and his works were banned again.
From then until Stalin's death in 1953 Shostakovich wrote mainly for "the
So what was the connection to Jews? Because he was so harassed and
persecuted strangely Shostakovich identified strongly and secretly with the
Jews. Certainly he had many Jewish friends and certainly Jews did and still
do play a crucial role in Russian music. But, his identification was very
personal. From the point at which he decided to have no further dealings
with the Soviet system and to write music for himself (that would obviously
have to be kept secret and not published or performed for many years),
Shostakovich put actual Jewish songs or Jewish themes he made up into
nearly all of his compositions. So it is very surprising to find that the
best works of the greatest Russian composer of the 20th century are
suffused with a Jewish ethos.
Therefore, it is not unexpected that his 13th Symphony of 1962 is the
"Babi Yar" Symphony and is a setting of the poem by that name and others
by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, named after the gorge outside Kiev where a
massacre of 100,000 Jews was carried out by the Nazis in 1941. It is a
powerful piece of music not for the faint-hearted, with a strong Jewish
I have a personal story about this piece of music. When I visited Moscow in
1972 I visited the Melodiya store which was the main music store in Moscow
and asked for the 13th Symphony by Shostakovich. They brought me the 12th
Symphony, so I repeated my request with the use of a phrase book, and I got
something else again. So I asked for the Manageress, and when she refused to
understand me I asked if there was anyone in the store who spoke English and I
had him translate my request. I said I would not leave until they brought me
the 13th Symphony (then it was not available in the West), and finally I got
it. If I was not already being followed by the KGB for contacting Jewish
refuseniks I might have been more worried.
For more information about Brenda Miller's talks go to: www.musiclovers.co.il
For my past messages see: www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Double Game

The terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv last week, near the old bus station, luckily
did not kill any Israelis, but did wound ca. 30. By entering a small shwarma
(grilled meat) stand, the suicide bomber, pretending to be selling razor
blades, reprieved most of those who were sitting at tables eating outside.
According to Shaul Mofaz, the Minister of Defense, they have hard evidence
that the bombing was financed by Iran and planned in Damascus. He has shared
this evidence with the UK and US, so one must believe that it is true. It
coincides with the PA elections when even Hamas has been quiescent.
Since Islamic Jihad opposes the elections and so does Iran, it is most likely
that they hoped to induce some major Israeli reaction that could then be used
as an excuse to cancel or postpone the elections. That did not happen.
The PA elections are in many ways a farce, because whatever happens the
terrorist groups will continue to exist and operate alongside a supposedly
democratic system. This after all is the legacy of Arafat, founder of Fatah,
the major party in the PA. As before, Pres. Abbas either cannot or will not do
anything to stop this double game. US Secty of State Condoleeza Rice, said a
few weeks ago that the Palestinians can't have it both ways, they must either
choose democracy or terrorism, but apparently she was wrong, unless
something unexpectedly dramatic happens after the election. Anyway that
seems less likely because if Hamas is a major player in the PA Government it
will be even harder to act against them, and they are certainly not going to
change their basic policy or disarm voluntarily.
There are 11 parties contesting the elections. Fatah is expected to win by a
narrow margin over Hamas. Hamas is contesting an election for the first time.
Its popularity is based on two major factors, first it is regarded as less
corrupt than Fatah, and second it is less compromising in relation to Israel
and the Palestinian desire to regain the whole of former Palestine. Since
approximately one third of the electorate are expected to vote for Hamas that
indicates that at least one third continues to support the strategy of "armed
struggle," in other words continuing the use of suicide bombers (their only
means of attack?) against Israeli civilians. Given that many others in Fatah
(including their armed wing the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades) and Islamic Jihad
support terrorism, at least half of the Palestinians are in favor of
continuing it.
Notably Marwan Barghouti, who is in an Israeli prison serving multiple life
sentences for terrorist murders, is head of the Fatah list, put there by Abbas
under coercion from the Fatah young guard.
But there are some parties against terrorism, including the Third Way, a party
consisting of former Minister of Finance Salaam Fayad and the well-known
former Arafat spokesman Hanan Ashrawi, who are in favor of direct
negotiations with Israel (these are the same people who negotiated the Oslo
Accords and the so-called Geneva Accord), but their share in the polls is
only ca. 5%. There are other small parties with similar views, but they don't
add up to a serious challenge to the current Palestinian "double strategy,"
talk peace but continue terrorism. We'll see tomorrow what the PA
elections bring.
For past messages see: www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.com

A Yemenite brit

Last Friday lunchtime Naomi and I were invited to a Yemenite brit. A brit is
when a male child is circumcised 8 days after birth. It is a ritual carried
out by a mohel who is often a Rabbi. It is an occasion for celebration among
Jews that another male child is welcomed into the community. Whatever the
health implications of circumcision, this is in fact a religious ritual not to
be flouted.
When they brought in the baby and began the ceremony, the men gathered
around(the women usually hide, especially the mother) and in this case they
sang and chanted the prayers. Their chanting sounded very Eastern to us, like
Arabic or Indian. Quite different and distinct from what we are used to, even
though the basic prayers were the same, they were hardly recognizable. This
is more of a folk ceremony than an official one, there is no organized
religious authority that tells them what to sing, it is something that they
have celebrated from time immemorial.
In this case the Yemenite father is married to a woman from Russia via
Australia. Such is the melting pot of Israel for the Jewish people, that
groups that have been separated for a thousand years are reunited in flesh
here. This is their third boy, and his whole large Yemenite family attended.
It was noteworthy how small the grandparents are, and the current generation
are "normal" size, giants compared to them. That is because they had terrible
nutrition in their native Yemen. They were very badly treated by the Yemeni
Arabs, they were persecuted and murdered at will. They were forced to walk in
the street not on the sidewalk, even into modern times, and often dwelled in
caves because they were mostly forbidden to own property.
>From the 1880's -1920s Some of the Yemenite Jews made their way to Eretz
Israel over the desert all the way from Yemen, although many died or
were killed en route. After the State of Israel was founded in 1948 a
concerted effort was made to bring them here, and many thousands were
transported by plane in 1951 in an operation called "magic carpet." Most of
them had never seen a plane before. Just like the more recent Ethiopian
immigrants they came from a very primitive background, but they have now
fully integrated into Israeli society.
Israel exists mainly for them and similar groups, who unlike us (from the
West) had no other choices. They were desperately poor and deprived, and
would probably have ceased to exist as a coherent group by now if they had not
been rescued in such a dramatic fashion just over 50 years ago. So I am
pleased to say that we enjoyed sharing this celebration with them, it was a

Monday, January 23, 2006


Two apparently contradictory statements were made recently by leading
members of the Kadima party. Avi Dichter, former head of the secret service (Mossad), made a statement in which he said that Israelis need not be afraid of another sudden unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, as happened last year
from Gaza and northern Samaria under PM Sharon. He insisted that any further
withdrawals will be carried out only as a result of bilateral negotiations
with the PA or they won't occur at all.
By contrast, and almost on the same day, the office of PM Olmert issued a
statement that he will be speaking at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center at
their annual conference on the Middle East next week, and that he will issue a
major policy initiative that will include the intention of further Israeli
unilateral disengagements in the West Bank should the PA be unable to
negotiate due to their inability to control the terrorist organizations.
What are we to make of the apparent contradictions in these statements? One is
that Kadima needs to get its act together, that having a new party composed of
strong individuals is not enough, they have to actually agree on a coherent
policy. Another possibility is that these two statements are not as far apart
as it may seem and both are intending to give a similar message.
The overlap may be in the qualification given in Olmert's policy statement
that future unilateral disengagements from the West Bank may occur only if the
PA is unable to take control of the situation within the PA after the
elections. This corresponds to the period in which Dichter maintains there
will be no unilateral disengagements. But, on the other hand, if as
considered likely, Pres. Abbas is elected with a small majority of votes and
Hamas is a major player in the PA government, and Abbas does nothing to try
to disarm the terrorist organizations and bring them under control, then he
will be unable still to carry out the first step required of the PA in the
Road Map plan. Hence no bilateral negotiations will be possible, and then
under those circumstances, Olmert will do a Sharon-style disengagement from
the West Bank. He will draw the borders that are most expedient for Israel,
i.e. including all the major Jewish population centers on the West Bank, and
excluding all the major Arab population centers, and will then declare a
unilateral withdrawal to those borders. This will be a fait accompli, since
the PA has not and is unlikely to ever be under central political control or
ever be prepared to renounce terrorism and make an actual sincere peace
negotiation with Israel.
We will see in the near future which path will be taken by the Israeli
Government after the March election. A lot will depend on what happens in
the PA, and a lot will depend on which path Israelis believe the Kadima party
really intends to follow. If Israelis decide they don't want this uncertainty
or further unilateral pullouts, giving a boost to the terrorists, then they
might choose to vote for Likud. Bibi Netanyahu, in his speech at the Herzliya
Center conference will say that Likud will not carry out any withdrawals
without a reciprocal agreement with the PA, whenever that might be.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The wrong person?

The mother of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor correspondent who
has been abducted in Iraq, issued a statement in which she referred to her
daughter as "the wrong person." Why? Because her daughter is a known
sympathizer with the Iraqi people, who has been involved in Middle
East reporting for a long time, has supported the Arab cause, even goes
around in a burka (full black cover).and has refused to have a security guard
with her. In other words if you totally identify with the Iraqis and present
their viewpoint, then they shouldn't kidnap you. That also implies that there
is a right person to be kidnapped, i.e. one who does not totally accept and
present the Iraqi point of view. Who would that be?
It tends to show that the journalism practiced by Americans and Europeans
who report from Iraq, and elsewhere in the Arab world, is not objective
journalism, but is biased pro-Arab journalism, because that is what they
believe and because they think that will shield them from danger. They take
the liberal-leftist approach of advocacy journalism as the only way to
survive in that environment. That's why Daniel Pearl was prepared to go
undefended into the "lion's den" and meet with Islamists whose cause he
sufficiently identified with that he thought it would protect him.
That's why so many western journalists are kidnapped in Iraq, because they
haven't realized that to the insurgents it doesn't matter how much you
identify with the struggle of the underdog, the war of the colored peoples
against the white oppressors. To the Islamist insurgents they aren't allies,
they are agents of the west, preaching freedom of the press and liberal
ideology, when the insurgents are the furthest thing from liberal. They are
the new fascists, killing anyone who does not agree with them, and many who
I am reminded of a scene in the movie "Viva Zapata" when the President of
Mexico is taken by soldiers out into the countryside, and on the orders of the
Army Chief is shot. He starts to make a speech about duty and honor, but they
simply put on a siren to drown him out, and then shoot him. Being a liberal
can be a dangerous cover when fascism is active.
Last year an Irish woman, Margaret Hassan, who had married an Iraqi and
lived in Baghdad for 40 years and was running the office of CARE the
international human rights organization, was abducted and shot. Until they
actually found her body no-one who knew her believed they would shoot
her because she was so good, and helped so many Iraqis. But, what they
failed to understand is that she and Jill Carroll are precisely the "right"
kind of people. They are there, they are naive and they are vulnerable.
What could be better?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Misplaced sympathy

I have an idea for a dramatic movie. Two sensitive and intelligent young men
are told by their handlers that they must prepare themselves to become suicide
bombers. They are given instructions and then there is much soul-searching,
giving them a sympathetic view from the audience that identifies with their
terrible dilemma, whether or not to kill themselves (of course, there is no
consideration for the fate of their intended victims. After much
soul-searching they decide to go ahead with the action, and fly a plane into
the World Trade Center, killing themselves and 3,000 others.
Now if that had been the plot of the movie "Paradise Now" I doubt that it
would be garnering prizes in Hollywood. As it is, the Foreign Press
Association of Hollywood (consisting of 80 non-Americans) have not
surprisingly voted this the best foreign movie of 2005. That's because the
victims are merely Israelis, and everyone knows that they "occupy" and
persecute the poor Palestinians, and therefore anything the Palestinians do
against them is justified. However, that is not the case if the victims are
Americans working in an office at the WTC, or Brits going to work on the
underground, or Australians enjoying themselves in Bali, etc. Israelis are
Note also that this movie is a French-Dutch-German-Israeli co-production, and
the Palestinian-born director lives in Holland. Yet the movie was listed from
"Palestine," by the Golden Globes in their Award, when in fact Palestine does
not exist and did nothing towards the production of this movie (Israel did
more). The director Hany Abu-Assad used the moment of the prize to make a
pro-Palestinian bite that got on all the news programs (naturally). Does
anyone but me see an organized PR campaign in this?
It may be that this movie is well-made, it may be that it shows the true
dilemma that any "normal" human being might face before actually performing
this obscene act, but the whole story is misplaced. The Palestinian bombers
are not the victims as they are portrayed, they are the perpetrators, those
blown up by them are the victims, and they are not apparently given one
moment of sympathy in this movie, they are merely props. Therefore, as a work
of art it is inhuman and deficient, and it shows how far we have come that it
can be voted as the best movie in any category. Note that it has already won
an award at the Berlin Film Festival and a European Oscar.
Now there are three corollaries, first that the movie "Munich" opened the door
for this dismissal of the suffering of the true victims of terrorism and their
families, second that this tends to glamorize and justify suicide bombing (is
that what the comfortable Americans and Europeans want) and third that the
Oscars are due soon, and one hopes that the 8,500 or so Hollywood pundits
won't ignore the same issues and vote this film an Oscar. If you know anyone
who is a member of the 'Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' please
contact them and urge them not to vote for this movie. Do we want to be
honoring movies humanizing mass murderers? If so, then why not let's get a
group together and make "Paradise Now II: the WTC bombing." See how you'd
like that!
PS. Note that former Mossad Chief Shabtai Shavit, in a speech yesterday at a
symposium in Israel, stated that the movie "Munich," "has no relationship to
reality whatsoever...it does not properly present the way the Mossad
operates...and dishonors the Mossad." He also said that the actual events
were more dramatic than portrayed in the movie.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Israel, the PA election and E. Jerusalem

Today the Israeli cabinet voted to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote
in the PA election, although without the participation of Hamas. Since Hamas
is a major player in the upcoming election that creates some problems, but the
distinction as far as Israel is concerned is clear.
Israel controls East Jerusalem and has incorporated it into the united city of
Jerusalem as its capital. Therefore Israel has the right to decide who can
enter and what they can do there. Hamas is narrowing the gap with Fatah in
the PA elections, at present Fatah has 36% of the projected vote and Hamas
31%. Since Fatah are afraid of losing out to Hamas, Pres. Abbas was looking
for an excuse to cancel or postpone the elections. The relative decrease in
support for Fatah is due entirely to its corruption and the split in the
movement between the old timers (who were in exile in Tunisia) and the young
guard who represent its military wing (al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. In order to
avoid a further postponement of the election the US has brought strong
pressure to bear on Israel to allow PA electioneering and voting in East
Jerusalem, and to emphasize this policy the US sent two representatives,
Elliott Abrams and David Welch here. So in order not to be blamed for
causing a postponement of the election and in order to satisfy American
interests, the Israeli cabinet has acceded to this partial intrusion of its
sovereignty. There are supposed to be 200,000 Palestinians who live in E.
Jerusalem. However, some of them also have Israeli id cards and do not
vote in the PA elections, and many more simply aren't interested in voting
so that the actual number is ca. 5,000 who vote in 5 Post Offices.
Hamas is a terrorist group, and is listed as such by the US, the UN and the
EU. It has carried out hundreds of suicide bombings against Israeli
civilians, and has killed hundreds of people. Hamas has a constitution that
denies Israel the right to exist and calls for its destruction by military
force. Further, a few days ago a Hamas representative issued a statement
saying that if Hamas is elected to lead the PA, they will break off all ties
with Israel and will stop all actions related to the peace process. Such an
outcome would be a major defeat for Pres. Abbas, for the PA, for Israel, for
the US, for the Quartet and for the EU. There is no reason why Israel should
aid its declared enemy Hamas to participate in the election and in acquiring
votes. In fact Hamas participation makes a mockery of the democratic process
(just as the involvement of the Nazis did in Germany in 1933. So Israel said
"yes" to the election, but "no" to Hamas participation in it. Any member of
Hamas who tries to enter Jerusalem will be arrested.
Abrams and Welch also saw Pres. Abbas and announced that a Hamas election
victory would put in doubt all US support for the PA, since the Congress has
passed a resolution to this effect. The EU has also announced it would reduce
its support for the PA in such an eventuality. No doubt the Palestinians
themselves reject what they see as outside western interference. But, they
stand to lose half of their b$1 annual income from these sources. They can't
exist without it!
Meanwhile, the IDF is in the process of destroying three small illegal
settlements or outposts on the West Bank, and is preparing to remove a
slightly larger one, Amona. In Hebron, the IDF sent in a large force to
remove Jewish settlers who, after a suicide bomber killed an Israeli there,
took over the Palestinian market that is built on former Jewish homes, that
were in turn taken over when the Arabs expelled all Jews from Hebron in 1929.
These Jews feel that they are taking back legally owned Jewish property. But,
the Government is eager to placate the Palestinian Arabs and the US by
reverting the situation to its former status. In the melee that broke out
one IDF officer was injured and was evacuated to hospital, but the settlers
were not removed. Another clash is expected to take place today.
Many Israelis are in two minds about this, since we feel that Jews should have
the right to live in Hebron, where Jews had lived from time immemorial. But,
on the other hand, now that Gaza has been given up, a momentum seems to
have been created to disengage Israelis from any flash point. Nevertheless,
it does not seem to have won us any positive results from the other side, on
the contrary, the very success of Hamas that is presaged by the electoral
polls and the fact that one third of the Palestinian population is likely to
support Hamas, does not bode well for the future. The continued disengagement
of Israel from the West Bank only gives them hope that continuing their armed
struggle will gain them even more one-sided concessions from the Israeli
Government as it is now constituted. It should be mentioned that the last act
that FM Silvan Shalom performed before resigning was to criticize this policy
in E. Jerusalem and Hebron on behalf of Likud.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dirty war

Saturday night we watched a BBC made-for-TV movie called "Dirty War," about
the explosion of a dirty bomb in London. The Chief of security in the UK
predicted 2 years ago that a dirty bomb or similar device will be exploded by
Islamic extremists in a major western city within the next few years. This
film was a realistic attempt to show what it would be like if this indeed did
happen. It was very scary!
The action starts with an Islamist in Istanbul, Turkey, filling large lead
canisters with nuclear materials, putting these inside larger cans, and then
filling the cans with olive oil. He then drives to Sofia, Bulgaria, where the
cans labeled as olive oil are transferred to a British lorry, and are driven
to London. They pass customs without a second look (the lead canisters
mask any external radiation).
A young Muslim man in London ostensibly to study, rents a room and a cellar.
He and a friend then receive the shipment of the cans, and put them in the
cellar. The Security police in London hold an exercise to test their
readiness for such a dirty bomb explosion, and while the exercise is
inadequate and doesn't go well, nevertheless the Minister for London makes
very positive and reassuring statements about how well prepared London is,
but we see otherwise.
Because of a security alarm not connected with this situation, a situation
room is set up in London and a Muslim policewoman is included as a translator.
She goes to interview an old Pakistani lady who has called the police because
she saw the cans being delivered at night across the street to the two men who
she suspects are extremists because they criticized her for how she allows her
daughter to dress. The head of the Islamist cells, each one separate from the
other, meets with the student, and gives him instructions. But, now the
police are watching them and so they film the encounter and identify the man
as a potentially dangerous terrorist.
The next day another pair of Muslims who fly in specially are detailed to
transfer the radioactive material to the bombs. The terrorist spills some of
the radioactive material so he cannot make more than two bombs. These are
transferred to rented white vans and then the next morning the two pairs of
terrorists drive off with the bombs. Meanwhile the student and his mate and
the head of the cells are arrested, but it is too late, while they are being
interrogated one of the vans is exploded outside Liverpool Street station in
the center of London. Hundreds are killed and a radioactive cloud hangs over
London. The police try to restrain the crowds inside the contaminated area so
that they can pass through decontamination, but the numbers are overwhelming,
and they just break through the cordon, spreading the contamination.
The police trace the second van through CCTV and manage to shoot the two
terrorists before they can detonate the second bomb. Finally an area of
central London is declared off-limits for 30 years! People continue to die
from exposure to radioactive materials.
The really scary thing about this docudrama is that it all seems quite
feasible, and indeed was based on known facts. Expect it at a city near you

The party lists

There has been a lot of political infighting going on in relation to the
formation of the Party lists, that determine who gets elected in the upcoming
In the Likud, the Central Committee of over 3,000 members chose the list Thurs
night, with Netanyahu at No. 1 spot as the elected party Leader. In order to
avoid further infighting he agreed to appoint FM Silvan Shalom No. 2 on the
Likud list. The rest of the list as chosen last night had some surprises. In
third place is Moshe Kahlon, a relative unknown who was previously Uzi
Landau's assistant (Uzi Landau, the leader of the former Likud right wing
rebels is down at no. 14). A group of young MKs is now near the top of the
Likud list, indicating that the system works for ensuring some turn-over of
representatives. But, some of the favored leaders of Likud are still there,
Dan Naveh (8), Yuval Steinitz (9), Natan Sharansky (10), Limor Livnat (13),
etc. In the polls Likud is currently expected to garner about 15 seats.
Before these results were known there was a political spat over Netanyahu's
"order" to the 4 Likud Ministers in the current Sharon/Olmert Government to
resign. His thinking was not unexpectedly that it is difficult for a party to
run in opposition to the ruling party (in this case Kadima) if it is in the
same Government with it. As a consequence he demanded a letter from each
of the four, Silvan Shalom (FM), Limor Livnat (Education), Shmuel Katz
(Agriculture) and Dan Naveh (Health), agreeing to resign immediately. During
the day Silvan Shalom made a very critical statement about Netanyahu's
interference and the loss of Ministerial positions that could help the Party,
but by the evening all was resolved, and with his no. 2 position assured,
Shalom resigned without further fight. Now Olmert will appoint 6 new
Ministers to his Cabinet for the next 7 weeks or so before the Government
term comes to an end.
Another political spat involving Netanyahu occurred because it was reported
that he had claimed to be the heir and successor to Sharon. Some members of
Likud attacked him for what they considered a scandalous claim. But, then it
turned out that Netanyahu actually hadn't claimed this himself but it had been
the interpretation of a journalist from New York who had interviewed him.
Meanwhile Olmert is laying claim to Sharon's mantle.
Another party that had internal elections Thurs night was Shinui (meaning
'change'), a centrist secular party. The results were so catastrophic for the
leadership of the Party that all of them have resigned. Shinui came from
nowhere and won 15 seats in the last Knesset, making it the third largest
party. But, as often happens in Israeli politics, it was a one-Knesset
phenomenon. The party has now practically devoured itself and is expected to
win only 5 seats at most in the next elections. Since most of his supporters
and colleagues were defeated, Tommy Lapid (formerly a journalist) the Party
leader, has decided to split from the party and form a new party (like Sharon)
that (wait for it) may retain the original name if there are more of them than
those left behind! So that makes two small parties, another negative feature
of the Israeli system. Meanwhile the Labor Party seems moribund, with no real
platform, and little enthusiasm for its primary due next Tuesday.
Kadima, whose list is being selected by the Party leader (formerly Sharon now
Olmert), has placed Shimon Peres at No. 2, which is Olmert's first mistake as
far as I am concerned, since he is an 82 year old loser. But, he does have
credibility as an "elder statesman" and is due to visit the US next week.
However, he will not be FM. Kadima continues to surge in the polls, with some
predicting it will win up to 50 seats. But, this may decline when people
realize that this is not so much a coherent party as a bunch of individuals
seeking advancement. Sharon would have given coherence to the party through
his decisions and choices. But, now we don't know what Olmert can and will
do, and so it is difficult to predict, except that in principle right now the
idea of a major centrist party seems attractive to the Israeli electorate.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Hajj and other religious practices

I don't know about you, but certain practices of religions seem quite
primitive to me. In this respect I find the Hajj of Muslims to Mecca to be
quite ridiculous. Mohammed the originator of Islam obviously copied many
things from Judaism, which he learnt about while traveling the trade routes
and meeting Jews en route and then staying in Medina, which actually was a
mainly Jewish city (Medina means "state" in Hebrew). The idea of a Holy City
and a pilgrimage to it and prayers facing towards it obviously came from
Judaism's focus on Jerusalem, that was in practice for thousands of years
before Mohammed's time.
But some aspects of the Hajj seem far removed from the complete monotheism
supposed to represent Islam. For example, this focus on the Kaba, a large
black cube at the center of the main mosque in Mecca, seems almost idolatrous.
It supposedly contains a large black stone composed of basalt, that is not
native to Arabia. Noone knows how it got there, but apparently it was moved
there and was an object of pagan worship long before Mohammed. Just as with
other religious founders, he simply adopted what was popular. Also, the
stoning of the "devil" which is another of the acts required of the Haji is a
quite primitive action. Of course, the believers will say that all of this is
allegorical, but it seems quite literal to me. Every year hundreds of
pilgrims get killed in stampedes and accidents that are inevitable when
there are ca. 2 million people milling around in a confined area. Is it worth
Islam is a religion that emphasizes "submission," so one does it and does not
ask questions. This is similar to the wearing of the veil, the hijab, by
Muslim women. Actually, according to a program I saw produced by a
British Muslim woman, who does not wear the hijab, this practice is not
mentioned in the Koran, but has become traditional for Muslim women. In
Iran the age of female puberty is now considered to be 9 years old, and
girls of that age are required to wear a white hijab. Even she agreed this
was ridiculous, and she went with a women's group to an Ayatollah in Qom,
who was liberal enough to agree that it should not be mandatory and should
be required only when the girl menstruates for the first time. But, he is
probably too liberal for the ruling Ayatollahs. Nevertheless the wearing of
the hijab has caused significant political upheavals in both secular France
and Turkey, where it is banned in certain situations (in schools and
Government offices).
Certainly Christianity and Judaism have some primitive practices. All the
sightings of images of the Virgin Mary and the subsequent crowd hysteria to
see it is very primitive. The whole idea of Lourdes and its healing
properties is equally superstitious. And then there's the whole concept of
nuns and monks, and priestly celibacy, very unnatural.
Finally, for really primitive practices of Judaism, I love the circling of a
live chicken over the head to take away the evil spirits (a scape-chicken)
and the shaking of the lulav and etrog and the four plant species during
Its strange how these primitive folk practices persist in what are supposed
to be sophisticated systems of religious belief.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Legal processes

A Tel Aviv District court on Tuesday sentenced Abbas el-Sayid to 35
consecutive life terms for master-minding the bombing of the Park Hotel in
Netanya on Passover 2002 that killed 30 Israelis, and for a suicide bombing at
the Netanya mall in 2001 that killed five. El-Sayid was captured in an
operation by Israeli forces in the West Bank. It is IDF policy to capture
terrorists if possible, rather than kill them, but often it is not possible.
El-Sayid confessed to the crimes and proudly claimed responsibility. He
refused to participate in the court proceedings, but was represented by an
Israeli lawyer. Note that contrary to the proceedings in some countries this
terrorist organizer was tried in a civil not a military court.
Recently there has been another spate of uprooting and cutting of olive trees
on the West Bank. Last week another hundred trees were apparently damaged.
Acting PM Ehud Olmert himself spoke out against this form of vandalism. The
IDF has become dissatisfied by the response of the Judea and Samaria police in
catching the culprits of these incidents. The police say that they cannot
spare men to guard Palestinian olive groves at night, its too dangerous and
costly. Nevertheless, the IDF caught a settler at night with olive branches
in his truck. He is being held pending a possible charge against him for
destroying property.
The situation is however very complex. First, in order to be able to
prosecute these crimes in civilian courts, Israel was forced a few years ago
to extend Israeli law to the occupied territories, otherwise they would have
to be prosecuted under military occupation law. This was of course protested
by the Palestinians, event though it is in their interests. Second, the
Settler Council claims that the Palestinians have been found in several cases
to have destroyed their own trees in order to claim and receive compensation
from the Israeli Government (one farmer received $50,000). Finally, it is the
time of the year when the farmers severely prune their trees, often back to
the trunk, leaving no branches. To the untrained eye this looks like
sabotage, but is standard agricultural practice. It is possible that the
Israeli who was arrested merely collected branches from a grove that had been
pruned. So whereas anti-Israel activists delight in claiming that the Jewish
settlers are responsible for harassing the Palestinian farmers and destroying
their property, the situation might be quite different from that. We should
reserve judgment while the courts take their course.
Although prosecuting terrorists is far more important than damage to olive
trees, nonetheless, this also has to be legislated. Any Palestinian (who is
not even a citizen of Israel) can bring a case against an Israeli or the
Government, and some cases have gone all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court
in Jerusalem. Examples of this include cases against the location of the
security barrier in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where the original route chosen
by the IDF from a security perspective was opposed by Palestinians and in some
cases Israelis, and was re-routed, sometimes at great expense to the Israeli
State and considerable time delay. How many countries would allow such a
situation, where the location of a protective security barrier is determined
ostensibly by the enemies it is being erected to protect against. We are a
country of laws!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Electoral reform

We had our first of two meetings at AACI on electoral reform in Israel. The
speaker was Gad Yacobi, a former Israeli UN representative and Cabinet member
during the Shamir Administration. He has been actively involved in trying to
foster electoral reform in Israel for many years.
He started out by saying that he is not optimistic. The current system of
proportional representation favors the power of parties and lacks any direct
representation for the voter. When Ben Gurion adopted this system it was in a
great hurry in order to get the State organized, so they chose the simplest
system. Later he wanted to revert to the British system, but it never
happened. The main reason is that the parties and their members have a vested
interest in continuing the current system, since they are not responsible to
any particular constituency. Also, the parties have to form coalitions, which
means that small parties, especially the religious and the far left, are
essential and like to hold the balance of power. Because of this system,
when there is a National Unity Government, this leads to stalemate.
Of the 191 countries in the UN only 46 are democracies. There are only two
real Presidential systems in the world, the US and France, and the rest are
variations on the parliamentary system. A few years ago Israel tried the
direct election of the PM, but it was a failure, because then people voted for
marginal parties for the Knesset and so the PM and the Knesset were unmatched
(what is known as incompatible in France). So the direct election of the PM
was revoked.
There are many non-democratic aspects of the current system. For example,
in Kadima, Sharon's new party, the top members of the list are being chosen,
there is no electoral primary. In Likud the Central Committee votes (and
some votes are bought) and only Labor has a full vote of the whole party to
choose the electoral list in a primary. In the religious parties the rabbis
decide, and the far left party Yachad (Meretz) the party decides. Once the
list is chosen the electorate votes mostly for people they do not know and may
never have heard of, they usually only know the top 5 candidates on the list.
In the Knesset there is an Electoral Reform Committee that has been meeting
for years, and has come up with a new proposed system. In this system, the
country will be divided into 30 constituencies, but 3 candidates on a party
list will be chosen for each. It is felt that 3 members on a list can include
minorities and other groups rather than just one representative. That makes a
total of 90 members, the remaining 30 would be chosen as now on the basis
of the national proportional vote for parties. So the proposal is a
compromise between the two systems, and for that reason it may be too complex
to work. Two other changes, the minimum vote for any party is being raised
from 2 to 3% to avoid small parties (this has been agreed by the Knesset) and
parties smaller than 4 members would be excluded (this is proposed). It has
been calculated that this system would lead to 6 parties with 2 main ones
rather than the current 17 total parties represented.
One reason why electoral reform doesn't take place is that it is low on the
priority list of the Israeli public, understandably with security issues
taking top spot. Also, many of the Israeli electorate are immigrants from
non-democratic countries (former USSR, Ethiopia, etc.). In order to foster
education in this area, President Katsav recently formed an organization
called, "The Citizen's Empowerment Center for Democracy in Israel." This has
90 members split into 6 working groups that are expected to eventually come up
with proposals for electoral reform. At the meeting we agreed that we should
write them a letter supporting their efforts.
Anyway, electoral reform is a difficult task. Even in the very personalized US
system, where the appearance is that people vote for the man, in fact surveys
have shown that people's vote depends 80% on the party (Democrat or
Republican) and only 20% on the person!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Letter to an Israeli friend

We greatly enjoyed our dinner with you and your friends, but I feel I have to write to express my astonishment at some of their views and to clarify some points. I don't want to get into an exchange over this, but I want to state as succinctly as I can what I thought was wrong with their views:
1. Socialism: Most of your friends were socialists. One of them expressed the view that capitalism is "repressive." In fact, a great deal of experience has shown that socialism does not work, for two reasons, first it leads to very repressive societies, witness the USSR, China (which has had to re-invent capitalism), Cuba, etc. Even the so-called "democratic socialist economies," like the Scandinavian countries and India, have long since dropped the pretense of being socialist. Similarly the kibbutzim in Israel are an economic failure, and most have turned over completely to capitalism. I thought of myself as a socialist when I was young, but like most of the world I grew up. To read an excellent book that explains why liberal democracy with a free market economy is the model now for most of the world, read, "The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama.
2. Borders: I was surprised that you did not realize that the borders of Gaza and the West Bank are not internationally recognized borders but are ceasefire lines from 1948, only the borders with Egypt, and Jordan have been recognized as international borders in the peace treaties with them. Also, the UN recognized the Lebanon border after Israel withdrew. Repeated statements that there were so many plans (the Peel Commission, the UN Partition Plan, etc.) that gave the "same" borders that they are therefore "recognized" is nonsense, since none of those plans were ever ratified or accepted. Even UN resolutions have no validity if they are General Assembly resolutions because they are non-binding. Only UN Security Council resolutions are binding, and those that refer to the Israel-Palestine conflict require negotiations and agreement by both sides.
3. West Bank: The WB is considered in international law to be "disputed territory." It is incorrect to call it "Arab" or "Palestinian territory." This pre-judges the outcome of negotiations and accepts the media designation. Everyone realizes that a line must be drawn within the WB, but where remains to be seen. You were surprised that Israel had any claim to this land. The Israeli claim on this territory is based on the fact that Britain was given the Mandate in order to establish a Jewish Homeland under the terms of the Balfour Declaration, and there was no distinction made between different parts of Palestine. Although the WB was controlled by Jordan from 1948-1967, this was not recognized by the UN (only Britain and Pakistan recognized Jordanian sovereignty over the WB). You may say well this is all old history, lets ignore it and divide the land up now, but the question is how to divide it? Just because a majority of Arabs live in certain areas does not ipso facto make it theirs (although it might become theirs). If that were the only criterion, California should be ceded back to Mexico, northern Romania should be part of Hungary, etc., etc.
4. Blame: Several friends expressed a view that blamed Israel almost entirely for the plight of the Palestinians. This is ridiculous. Both sides no doubt have responsibility, but more and more people are realizing that the vast majority of the Palestinian Arabs do not want to come to terms with Israel. They want to continue their "armed struggle" using terrorism (80% in 2000, 60% in 2005). That is why Sharon was elected, and that is why he chose to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza (that I supported). It has become the majority Israeli view that we cannot deal with them so we must separate ourselves from them, hence the success of Kadima in the polls.
6. Military solution: People say "there is no military solution to the conflict!" That is not true, there is a military solution, but Israel is not prepared to use it. In a war the object is to defeat the enemy and in order to do so it is necessary to kill more of them than they kill of us. We are in a war, but we are not fighting as if we are. In Gaza we are bombarding empty fields. Is this effective?
7. Identification: Too many of our people are giving the enemy hope by identifying with their cause more than our own. One of your friends expressed great sympathy for the "poor" Palestinians, and I found this sickening, in that she prefers the Palestinians to her own people. Her description of the way "settlements" were "choking" one small Arab village, was pathetic. This was very similar to the attitude of the German Jews who preferred the anti-Semitic Germans to the Eastern European Jews. She should read a recent book entitled "The Oslo Syndrome: delusions of a people under siege," by Kenneth Levin, a Harvard psychologist, where he shows that the historical tendency of Jews to identify with their persecutors (the Stockholm syndrome), has rolled over into Israeli dealings with the Palestinians (the Oslo Syndrome). By the way, I found her comment before we left that I'm a "good Jew" condescending, in that case I could equally conclude that she is not a good Jew because she identifies more with the Palestinians than with her own people.
You may dismiss my views as "right-wing" but you cannot dismiss the facts upon which these views are based. At any rate its good that we live in a democracy where all kinds of views are tolerated.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The prospects for a positive outcome of the so-called peace process between
Israel and the Palestinians will now recede with time. There are two main
negative indicators, first the chaos and lack of control by the administration
in the PA, and second the loss of PM Sharon's firm hand on the Israeli helm.
In the PA, not only is there lawlessness and chaos, but some of the chaotic
actions tend to exacerbate the situation. Case in point, a few days ago a
group of al Aksa/Fatah gunmen took a bulldozer and simply demolished part of
the concrete border between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah. In the firefight that
ensued between the Egyptian border guards (who at first did not know if they
had permission to shoot) and the Palestinian gunmen, two Egyptian guards were
killed, and the border guard unit was withdrawn to a safer distance.
Apparently 200 Palestinians were arrested in Egypt for crossing illegally, but
noone knows how many hundreds more went both ways. This is the result of
allowing terrorist groups to retain their arms, so they feel they can, and do,
do anything they like. The excuse given for this attack was the arrest by the
PA police of Ala al-Hams, a leader of the Fatah armed wing, for the kidnapping
of three British civilians, Kate Burton and her parents, in Rafah last week.
In addition some PA offices are still occupied by armed gunmen, including most
offices in Rafah and the Election Authority headquarters in Gaza.
Another cause for concern is that Hamas is preparing to run in and may
possibly win the upcoming legislative elections in the PA in 2 weeks. That is
if they are allowed to take place. Because polls show that he is likely to
lose, Pres. Abbas is looking for an excuse for canceling or postponing the
elections that he can blame on Israel, and he is giving as an excuse the
Israeli refusal to allow Palestinian electioneering and voting in East
Jerusalem. According to past agreements with the PA, that have been applied
in previous elections, any Palestinian demonstrations are illegal in East
Jerusalem, and voting can take place but only through post offices, not PA
election booths. Since many of the Fatah armed factions are upset that their
candidates are not getting high enough billing on the combined Fatah list,
and that Hamas may win, they too are looking to subvert the elections. At
this point noone knows what will happen. If Hamas does win then the
likelihood that they will give up the armed struggle and stop rocket and
suicide attacks on Israel is very low. And even if they did, Islamic Jihad
has announced that it is continuing its attacks.
On the Israeli side the vacuum left by Sharon's now inevitable absence from
the political scene will be enormous. His ability to take unilateral action
and carry the political establishment and the country with him was
unparalleled, as he did with the Gaza disengagement. Although he denied that
he intended to carry out any more unilateral withdrawals, it is felt that he
would have drawn the borders of Israel in the West Bank, include all the large
settlements in Israel, and then withdraw to those borders unilaterally. This
has already been called the "big bang" process, since it would effectively
have given the Palestinians the maximum that they could get, ca. 85% of the
West Bank, and none of Jerusalem, without a specific negotiated agreement. At
present and for the foreseeable future neither Ehud Olmert, acting PM and
acting head of Kadima, nor any alternative leader has the stature to decide on
such a policy and carry it through. If Netanyahu of Likud is elected PM in
the March elections, then do not expect any such withdrawals. Only if Kadima
and Labor under Peretz win enough votes to form a coalition government, and
decide together on such a withdrawal, could it possibly happen. So the most
likely outcome is the existence of a stalemate for some time, at least until
the results of the March election become clear. Only if Kadima under Olmert
wins big (greater than 40 seats in the Knesset) could he then try to take
dramatic unilateral action. The future is fraught with unknowables, including
the possible actions of Iran that might result in a very significant change in
the geopolitical situation.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Playing to the gallery

It is the worst cliche to have Jewish Mossad agents being guilt-conflicted and
sensitive, full of self-doubt, and then after having killed for the good of
the State, on the orders of the Prime Minister Golda Meir herself, then
deciding not to return to Israel, to remain with the rest of the good,
sensitive Jews in the galut.
On what basis do the liberal American Jews, Spielberg and Kushner, who see
any killing as part of a dreaded "cycle of violence," decide that this is how
it should happen. In doing so they are not describing any actual events,
there is no factual basis for this, they are describing their inner
convictions. And how do they arrive at these convictions?
Some time ago I reviewed and described a book entitled, "The Oslo Syndrome:
delusions of a people under siege," by Kenneth Levin. Taking the pattern of
Jewish psychology through the ages, derived from the need to appease the
surrounding hostile Christian (and Muslim) populations, and to attempt to
identify with them, this liberal mea culpa could have been predicted. It is
so true to form, so consistent with previous historical patterns.
It is not only that the liberal diaspora Jews must deflect non-Jewish
suspicion that they might actually have different views to the non-Jewish
majority (for example, that Palestinian terrorists deserve to be killed), but
that they must find other Jews, less sympathetic ones, the ugly ones, who
don't share their galut mentality, to blame. It's those other ugly Jews, the
right wing Israelis, the "settlers," those who would murder terrorists as if
they deserved it, with conviction, without qualms, who are to blame, not us
good sensitive Jews who live alongside you, and would never disagree with
your deepest held sympathies.
I don't claim to be a hard, right-wing Israeli, who could kill without qualm,
but I damn well hope the trained Mossad agents are a whole lot surer of
themselves than the bunch of sissies shown in the fantasy called "Munich."
Some of you may think that I'm a little hard on poor Steven (although not on
the co-script writer Kushner), but I don't think so. By now I've read some 6
articles written by various experts on different sides of this issue (at least
two pro, that of Abe Foxman, and Eli Valley in the J. Post today) and frankly
it makes me sick.
It's not surprising that a very publicly self-confessed Jewish homosexual like
Kushner would not want to (be able to) show Jewish Israelis as strong macho
men, that would be inconsistent with his own bias. But, Spielberg, of
"Schindler's list" fame, who knows about the Holocaust, and should have
heard of the Levin book (it received a lot of publicity) should know better.
Not only do they not serve reality, since there is no reason to believe that
the Israeli killers were not every bit as determined and committed as their
quarry, but to present them otherwise is a reflection of their own
Nice Jewish boys just don't deliberately assassinate anyone (even if they are
diabolical killers). Better after 9/11 to let the terrorists kill us without
striking back, because doing so will only continue the violence and make us
as bad as they are. When in doubt, Jewish diaspora figures will always
engage in public self-emasculation.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Grave situations

There are two grave situations this morning, that of PM Sharon who suffered a
major stroke last night and is in a severe condition at Hadassah Hospital in
Jerusalem, and that of the State of Israel, that is in a state of political
The law was recently tightened so that the succession transferred smoothly to
Deputy PM Ehud Olmert, but there is no doubt that Olmert is not Sharon. The
whole political situation is left open by Sharon's now inevitable absence from
the political process. Sharon has made himself indispensable, he is the only
strong leader who has captured the middle ground, who had the stature and
experience to impress himself upon the body politic, and who was trusted to
make the right decisions, even if these resulted in painful unilateral
concessions to the Palestinians. Sharon had transformed himself from the
former hard line, right wing military leader, hated by many for his role in
the 1982 Lebanon War, into a centrist statesman, willing to take chances for
Now that he has organized the centrist party Kadima, with a conglomeration of
former Likud and Labor politicians, the question is how can it proceed and
where can it go with its head chopped off. Olmert is a good man, but he has
neither the experience, the charisma nor the leadership qualities of Sharon.
Maybe he can run the country as an interim PM, but he has no following as a
replacement for Sharon. He is widely seen as a follower of Sharon, a chosen
"yes-man", not as a viable independent leader.
Shimon Peres is left in an ambiguous position, he is neither a true leader of
Kadima, nor could he return effectively to Labor. The new leader of Labor,
Amir Peretz, would not have him back, just as the new leader of Likud,
Netanyahu, would not take back those who left with Sharon for Kadima.
Netanyahu is the only other leader with credibility, who at least has previous
experience having been PM, FM and Minister of Finance, and done a good job at
least at some of them.
Kadima was anticipated in the polls to take ca. 42 seats in the Knesset in the
upcoming elections in March, only 3 months away. Unless Olmert or another
leader of Kadima can quickly establish a high degree of authority, this number
will rapidly slip away. The question is can Netanyahu or Peretz capitalize on
Sharon's loss and make significant gains themselves, without obviously
trashing Sharon himself.
Sharon was a genuine war hero. He established early on a reputation for
aggressive military action, for example, when with his commandos he attacked
the Mitla Pass in Sinai in 1967, and against direct orders carried out a
frontal attack, captured it and subsequently destroyed much of the Egyptian
army trying to escape through it. Or when in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, after
much of the general staff had been reduced to inaction, he out-maneuvered the
enemy, captured the West Bank of the Suez Canal, and trapped the Egyptian
Third Army, thus making a victory possible.
As a politician he started out in the same vein, but somewhere in the 1990's
he adopted the Rabin transformation, seeing the necessity of taking unilateral
action in order to break out of Palestinian stranglehold in the mutual
struggle. He has effectively overcome the terrorist intifada with a
combination of the security barrier (not originally his idea) and the targeted
killings. He has exploited his relationship with Pres. George Bush to become
a trusted American ally in formulating the so-called Road Map to peace. Now
that he is effectively removed from the scene, and there is also chaos in the
PA, no-one can predict what will happen in the near future.
Let us hope that Sharon does not die, and has many years left to live, and let
us also pray that the road may become clear for the future political
leadership of our country.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Memory of war

This message came about because my grandchildren were taken to see the movie
"Narnia: the lion...the wardrobe." Apparently in the first scene the Germans
are shown bombing London in WWII, and then you see the bombs falling from
the point of view of the children who are central to the story. My grand-
children were surprised and fascinated by the fact that we had lived through
similar experiences. When they visited for Hanukkah they asked me about it,
what was it like, and I reminisced about some of my memories (I was 3 in 1941).
I told them about hiding under a table during an air-raid when the sirens came
too late, about seeing a Church behind our apartments (block of flats) take a
direct hit and how it rose in the air and then collapsed in flames across the
road. I told them about running down to the shelter in the yard behind the
apartments and sitting in there for hours with lots of people. Then I told
them about the disaster that occurred at Bethnal Green Road underground
station, where people used to go and sleep overnight for safety because it was
deep. One day there was a sudden rumor that it was about to be bombed and
people panicked and there was a crowd trying to push their way in, and because
the stairs were so steep people fell on each other, and hundreds were crushed
to death. Luckily my family missed the accident because they arrived a little
late. These are the kinds of things that happen in war.
I came to live in Israel and I'm glad some of my family live here because I
wanted them to be safe, and not to be exposed to the kind of dangers that I
experienced in my early life. But, unfortunately things have not worked out
that way. We still have homicidal maniacs wanting to kill us because we are
Jews/Israelis and we still face the threat of bombing from the air because of
the maniacal views of the Sh'ite leaders of Iran. I suppose I could say, well
lets escape to Alaska or Hawaii, or somewhere where there are no anti-Semites,
and no danger from terrorism and mad bombers. But, I'm afraid that there are
no such places, and anyway we feel safer (and more dignified) defending
our own country than trying to be inconspicuous elsewhere.
It seems necessary for each generation of Jews to experience and remember
some terrible acts against them, but they must be sure to pass that knowledge
on so that we can measure how far we have come. Now we don't just cringe in
fear, we also have our own means of defense and won't depend on whether or not someone else's airforce decides to protect us or not.

Monday, January 02, 2006

No longer in control

Yesterday a senior PA official in Ramallah was quoted in a front page article
in the Jerusalem Post as admitting that "we are no longer in control" of the PA,
and comparing the anarchic situation to that in Somalia, where there is no
national Government but local warlords control fiefdoms.
The British human rights worker Kate Barton and her parents were released
Sunday after a few days in the custody of an unknown terrorist group, and
were evacuated via Israel. She vowed to continue her work on behalf of the
Palestinian people (some people just don't get it). In recent months 17
foreigners have been kidnapped in the Gaza strip, but no-one has been arrested
for any of these incidents. And today it was announced that another Italian
foreign aid worker has been kidnapped. Also, Fatah gunmen issued a warning
to the election observers from various European countries, some 100 of whom
have arrived prior to the Jan 26 election, that it will not tolerate their
presence and it forcibly evicted some of them from a hotel in Nablus and
threatened to kidnap them.
A few days ago the armed PA police at the Rafah crossing between the PA and
Egypt took over the crossing by force and made certain demands of the PA,
including more money. The EU monitors of the crossing, who are there by PA
and Israeli agreement, and the foreigners who were present, escaped and ran
for safety to the Israeli post nearby from where the IDF is monitoring the
traffic thru the crossing. The car of the Pakistani Ambassador to the PA was
shot up and he and his family were forced to run to the Israeli side for
Hamas has said that it is suspicious of Fatah's intention to postpone the
election, which it hopes to win, but at the same time issued a statement
saying that it will not participate in the election if the Arabs in East
Jerusalem are not allowed by Israel to vote. This is strange since Israel
announced earlier that it is going to allow the small number of East Jerusalem
Arabs who have registered to vote to do so via the Post Offices, as before.
Also last night the UN Club in Gaza was taken over by a gang of Islamist
gunmen who blew the place up, although no-one was killed. It was one
of the few places in Gaza where liquor was sold legally, and had long been
threatened by the Islamist organizations. A 14 year old boy was killed in
a gun battle between rival forces in Khan Yunis, and several PA offices are
under terrorist occupation.
For the first time the IAF caught a team of three in the act of launching a
rocket into Israel from inside the new north Gaza security zone, and killed
two of them. Although the PA under Pres. Abbas has repeatedly stated that its
policy is against such rocket attacks, nevertheless it lodged a complaint with
Israel and the UN for the attack which it blamed purely on Israel. The PA
statement did no acknowledge that those killed had been in the process of
launching a rocket at Israel (no doubt Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner would
have agreed with that PA statement, after all violence only begets violence).
Finally, all four terrorist groups, al Aksa Brigades (Fatah), Hamas, Islamic
Jihad, and the Popular Front Committees, have declared that the temporary
ceasefire (calming) is at an end, and they all vowed to start active attacks
against Israel in the new year. As a consequence all IDF forces are on
maximum alert.
So what is the point of having a government in the PA, its as if it doesn't
exist, and Pres. Abbas chose this time to do a tour of the Gulf States.