Monday, April 30, 2007

Winograd Committee leaks

The first leaks of the Winograd Commission Report, looking into the handling of the Second Lebanon War of 2006, were reported in the Israeli press in the past two days. They are said to be devastating to PM Olmert and his leading appointees, Defense Minister Peretz and former Chief of Staff Halutz.
Olmert is said to have ordered the IDF into war with Hizbollah without due consideration of alternatives. Peretz and Olmert had no significant discussions of strategy and since neither are military men nor had any experience with security matters, both were totally dependent on the Chief of Staff's advice. Halutz is criticized for having given the political leadership only one option, and to have excluded the advice of lower ranks of the IDF command. He is particularly responsible for having decided on mainly an aerial attack and for excluding all other approaches from consideration until very late in the war.
None of this is a surprise, and is in fact what the chattering classes have been saying all along. The analysis is based on the simple and obvious fact that both Olmert and Peretz were unqualified to be carrying out a military campaign, and were therefore totally dependent on Halutz's advice. But, these are only leaked details, the actual Report will be officially released tomorrow, Monday afternoon, with all the gruesome details upon which the Committee's conclusions are based. But, this is only the interim Report covering the first five days of the war.
Even with only these initial details, the Report is said to be so bad for Olmert and Peretz, that there are many calls now from all sides of the political divide for them to resign. Yossi Beilin, leader of the only Party, the extreme left Yahad (formerly Meretz) Party that opposed the war itself throughout in the Knesset, called for Olmert and Peretz to resign, but prefers to have them replaced by an alternate Kadima leadership, rather than face new elections (in which Yahad might lose votes). The same is true of other Kadima members, who tend to be less vocal in their criticism of Olmert and Peretz, and some Labor leaders who are calling on Peretz to be replaced. The rightwing opposition, mainly Likud, that supported the war itself but opposed the strategy of the war as it was carried out, are calling for the Government itself to resign and for new elections to take place. Netanyahu met with Beilin in an unusual combination of opposites, since both are in the opposition. Netanyahu as leader of the opposition has so far kept quiet, preferring to bide his time.
Certainly, if the Report is as damning as expected, public opinion will strongly support the resignation of Olmert and Peretz and the initiation of new elections. How long Olmert can stave off this eventuality is unclear, but his coalition still has a majority in the Knesset, so it may be necessary for some members of his coalition to break with the Government before this can be achieved. It is possible that part of the Labor Party will split from supporting Peretz and Kadima and will bolt the coalition. But, it is sure that Olmert will try to hang on for as long as he can, if only to prevent the Report and other criminal charges against him (there are nine) from being implemented. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been grooming herself as a probable replacement for Olmert in the Kadima Party, since she is apparently the only member of the top Govt. leadership who has escaped criticism by the Winograd Committee.
The next few weeks will be interesting and critical for the future of the State of Israel. At least while this is going on we have a competent new Chief of Staff, Gaby Ashkenazi, who is presiding over the revamping of the IDF following the previous Reports on its state of readiness and military competence. It is expected that Olmert will manage to hang on until the final Winograd Report of the war is released in August.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gender taxes?

An Italian economist on the BBC proposed a new form of selective taxation, gender taxes. According to his scheme women will be taxed less! In that way he hopes that this will attract women to work more, and since they will gain more income after taxes, this will to some extent balance out the lower salaries women are paid often for the same work.
This scheme is based on the fact that women in the western world tend to take less challenging and less risky jobs. For example, there are in proportion more females in teaching, nursing, service jobs than in business and finance. Also, even within these more male-dominated areas, women tend to take the less risky jobs, so that there are very few women in corporate high finance. The reasons are obvious, women tend to be less aggressive, and need to have more job security so that they can attend to their children and family. One could therefore argue that women get the percentage of men's salaries on average that they deserve (as determined by the market). But, to engage in a bit of social engineering is not bad. In order to recompensate women for the difficult roles they have to juggle, and to face the fact that men and women are in fact biologically different, it makes sense to tax the two genders differentially.
In order to compensate the Government for its loss of revenue due to lower taxes for women, this would be accompanied with a concurrent increase in taxes for men. If men earn more than women they should expect to pay more taxes than women. This form of gender discrimination, while it goes against all the politically correct attitudes that we have come to accept in the West, would end up making a fairer distribution of wealth in society.
This scheme is obviously more appropriate to Italy, where women tend to work much less outside the home, than to Scandinavia, where women are treated more or less equally to men in all spheres of the workplace. But, the concept of gender-based taxes could be very helpful in the developing world where the culture is strongly stacked against women working at all.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Everyone a hero

The policy in the Pentagon apparently is that anyone who is killed or captured in Iraq or Afghanistan is automatically a hero. No matter what the facts are, they have stories on hand to apply to each and every case, so that fighting morale is maintained, the home front is satisfied and the media is happy. If everyone is a hero, no one needs to worry.
But, its not actually like that in real life. Pvt. Pat Tillman, the footballer who volunteered to go to Afghanistan, was killed there in 2004. Although he was said to have died a hero while fighting the enemy, it turned out that that was a lie, and he had actually been shot by "friendly fire" coming from his own troops. His comrades were told that they would get into a lot of trouble if they told anyone the truth.
The case of Jessica Lynch is well known. She was injured when her convoy of trucks got lost in Iraq in 2003 and was ambushed. She was the only survivor while 11 others were killed. She was subsequently rescued from an Iraqi hospital by a platoon of marines. It was said that she was a hero who had fought the Iraqi Army singlehandedly and had then suffered bad hospital treatment. Actually she was badly injured in the encounter and had not fired one shot. Furthermore in the hospital, the staff had treated her very well and had saved her life. Practically everything told about her was a lie, in order to make her into a "little miss Rambo."
So who is it in the Pentagon who is responsible for making up these lies and propagating them. Three generals and several other officers have been accused of being involved in the charade, but so far the person who is actually responsible for inventing these lies has not been found. If they are, it will undoubtedly be justified in order to maintain the morale of the troops, to keep relatives happy, and to give the press a positive story to tell. I suppose they'll say that we all know that "war is hell," but when you're actually at war there's no point in wallowing in it. Just change the story and everyone will be happy.
But, we hope that this kind of thing doesn't happen in Israel. It's different here, people talk to each other all the time about the incidents in war. Within minutes cell phones (that are not supposed to be used from the front) are ringing. Soldiers call their Moms and Dads and their comrades back home. It's a lot harder to cover things up when you have a tight knit community that is more like an extended family than a usual army. Also, I'd like to think that here we face reality more practically, we can't afford to lose, so we have to know what's happening and why, so as to avoid the same mistake next time.
In the Second Lebanon War, the IDF under-estimated Hizbollah. When troops went into villages in southern Lebanon they chose the closest and largest houses for cover. Once the troops had crowded in there, during the day they were easy targets, Hizbollah had mined those houses and also had rockets pointed directly at them. Many Israeli soldiers were killed and wounded because they fell into this simple trap. Hopefully never again!
We did have some heroes in our war in Lebanon. But, we prefer not to have dead heroes, we want live soldiers!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Likud Anglos

On Thurs afternoon I attended the inaugural meeting of the Likud Anglos group at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv. Since there were 18 of us and parking in central Tel Aviv is impossible, we rented a small bus. The meeting was crowded with over 250 English-speakers from all over Israel - Netanya, Ra'anana, Petach Tikva, Modi'in, Jerusalem, etc.
Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the crowd. He was dynamic and positive. He emphasized that peace comes through strength, not through weakness. Giving unilateral concessions, which has been the Israeli mode since the Oslo accords, has been a failure and has only given the Arabs a sense of Israel's weakness and hence has galvanized them to be more aggressive. At present they talk peace but they prepare for war. In order to deter them Israel must be strengthened. Only then will they choose the path to peace. He also emphasized two other issues, economic and educational. After his stint as Minister of Finance, the hard changes he made has caused the Israeli economy to boom, although he was criticized by the left. In order to allow Israel to reach its potential and double its GDP per capita in the next 20 years more surgery has to be done on the economy. This includes lowering taxes and reforming the banking system. Finally, in the presence of Limor Livnat, our former Minister of Education, he said that Israeli children must be educated to know their Jewish history and heritage, so that they know why we are here and are prepared to defend the country. He urged us to be activists in defeating the current unpopular Olmert Government.
His words were very well received by the audience. The other speakers, all members of the Knesset, were Yuval Steinitz, former Chairman of the Knesset Defense Committee, a very reliable and honest politician, Gideon Saar, Yisrael Katz, former Minister of Agriculture (who spoke in Hebrew) and Limor Livnat, who spoke about her recent tour of the US.
Altogether a very good start for a new group of English-speakers who will support Likud as the current leaders of the opposition, in the hope that they will form the next Government of Israel.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Notwithstanding the wishful thinking and the biased reporting, there has been no real ceasefire from the Palestinian side in Gaza since it was supposedly initiated some months ago.
Not only have there been continuous firings of Kassam rockets into southern Israel, but there have been numerous and constant attempts to carry out terrorist attacks, including car bombs and suicide bombs from both Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian Islamic Jihad never accepted the ceasefire even in Gaza, and since there is no ceasefire on the West Bank, the IDF has continued to attack terrorists, their hideouts and workshops there.
On Saturday four rockets hit the Negev town of Sderot and one house was severely damaged, although the family living there luckily escaped injury (they suffered from shock). In response Israel continues to fire back at the teams of rocket launchers on the Palestinian side. On Sunday, at least seven rockets and mortars were fired into Israel in a major escalation that was claimed by all three major terrorist groups, including Hamas. This continued on Monday, Independence Day, and they were reportedly intending to kidnap another IDF soldier under cover of this onslaught. It was reminiscent of Hizbollah's actions last year that precipitated the war in Lebanon. IDF counter-attacks were accurate and killed several terrorists. The IDF now has long range cameras that can pick up the terrorists from long distances, and they have computerized guns that are accurate over long ranges. A Hamas spokesman for the PA Unity Government stated that Israel had killed nine Palestinians over the weekend and they were therefore cancelling the (nonexistent) ceasefire.
But, Israel had been exercising restraint in Gaza, not hitting back with major force. Now the Israeli Government has announced that the ceasefire that it was unilaterally keeping will be ended, and the IDF will take whatever action is necessary to stop these attacks. Somewhat mysteriously the Palestinian side issued press statements yesterday that IDF tanks were entering Gaza and that the IAF had dropped leaflets warning residents that they would be attacking.
The Israel Govt. denied these reports, but stated that since Hamas is both the terrorist organization carrying out the attacks and the Government of the PA, they would have to take appropriate action against the PA. So it is possible that things will hot up in Gaza now that the pretense of a ceasefire has been abandoned by both sides. But, while Hamas is training an army of 10,000 men with Iranian support on the ruins of former Israeli settlements in Gaza, the Israeli cabinet in its meeting today decided to adopt only measured responses, i.e. targeted killings of rocket launchers and leading terrorists, not a major incursion into Gaza. However, PM Olmert announced that Hamas Government leaders are not exempt from attack.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sex and violence

Although I have seen and read a lot about the murders carried out at Virginia Tech by the deranged Korean student, Cho Seung-Hui, I have not seen the most likely reason for his actions highlighted. Without beating about the bush and calling a spade a spade, the most likely explanation for his actions was sexual frustration.
It is noteworthy that most shooting sprees in schools and colleges are carried out by young men in their mid to late years of puberty. Cho was 23 years old, but apparently had little or no contact with other people, including the opposite sex. He was a loner, but it is noteworthy that in the previous two years he had been reported to the police twice for stalking young women. And these young women, from the photos published, were very attractive and unlikely to want to have a relationship with Cho. Also, the first act of murder that he committed was to shoot a very attractive young woman in a neighboring dorm room to his own. Although police have not so far reported any contact between Cho and this woman, the fact that he chose her is striking.
There is evidence that Cho was mentally disturbed, and that he was ruled as mentally disturbed by a judge after the second of the stalking incidents. He was then taken to a mental health center by the police where he voluntarily admitted himself for 2 days. But, his mental health record was private, and it was not officially known to either the University or to the State authority that controls the purchase of guns. Obviously this is a loophole in the law that needs to be filled. If a person has a record of mental disturbance and has received treatment for it, this must be taken into account in the decision to allow that person to function in a university environment and to purchase a gun.
Cho's English teacher, Nikki Giovanni, was so upset by Cho's behavior and writings that she threatened to resign if he was not removed from her class. This is strong evidence that he was disturbed, since very few teachers would threaten to resign over a student. His writing was full of sexual violence and pornographic images that are unacceptable in a normal educational context. Some have made the connection between Cho's behavior and Giovanni's well known anti-establishment and liberal views. But, the fact is that other of her pupils have not become multiple killers, and in this case the evidence is clear that the motivation came from within Cho and not purely from outside. But, even though he was Korean, Cho chose women who represented the ideal of European beauty, this being the cultural norm in the US where he grew up. There is no evidence published that he either chose Korean or Asian girls, or that he frequented prostitutes.
Young men with high levels of testosterone develop in parallel both the need for sexual gratification and high levels of aggression. This is why they are so attracted to violent computer games, as well as to young women. But, men who are chasing an ideal woman that is beyond their reach usually up end being sexually frustrated. Most young men eventually find a way to make civilized contact with young women and then mature. Those who cannot and remain frustrated manifest their sexual frustration as increased aggression. In rare cases, this frustration and loneliness turns to fantasy and then acting out the fantasy of "getting even" with the perceived causes of the condition, both young women and competing males. I am not a psychiatrist, but I can speculate on the causes and origins of such an extreme, but not unique, case of mass murder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Whatever they say about Boris Yeltsin, who died today, I loved him. He was great, when he stood upon that tank in front of the "White House," the Parliament of the Russian Federated Union of which he was the first elected President, in 1991 and defied the Communist coup plotters, he made history, he was my hero. And in 1993 he once again stopped the plotters, and didn't hesitate to fire on the White House where they were holed up. We are all in his debt. Whatever becomes of Russia, he was the man who saw clearly that Communism must be stopped, and he did it. As such he changed the world and achieved the impossible. Noone predicted that Communism would be overthrown in our lifetime.
I remember seeing him when he was Mayor of Moscow agreeing with shopholders that there was something terribly wrong when they didn't have enough food to feed the people in such a great and potentially rich country as Russia. His outspokeness got him into trouble with the Communist leaders, and he had a falling out with Gorbachev, that had unforseen consequences. Yeltsin was too much of a loose cannon for the dour Communist leadership. He was larger than life itself.
When Gorbachev came to the conclusion that Communism needed to be reformed, he intitated the process of perestroika, that lead to a previously unheard of openess, that gradually changed the political climate in the Soviet Union. But, while Gorbachev was a reformer, he was not a revolutionary, he wanted to be a Communist with a heart. When the hard-line Communists tried to overthrow him while he was vacationing in Georgia, and they put him under house arrest, it was Yeltsin who stepped in and prevented that. Without himself as the focus of the opposition the Soviet Union might still exist. Yeltsin went all the way, not only did he face down the coup plotters, and showed them up for the incompetents they were, but he then took over Gorbachev and forced him to sign away the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was the catalyst, but Yeltsin was the activist.
Of course, he was embarrassing with his drunkeness, his acting up, his inability to control that huge country in a process of transition. Putin, who he selected as his successor, is the exact opposite, serious, dour, capable and strong. Much of what Putin is doing these days, such as taking over the oil industry from the oligarchs and putting it back under state control, is a reaction to the excesses of Yeltsin's tenure. But, whatever comes next, Yeltsin's place in Russian history is assured. He was the one who the Communists had feared all along, the counter-revolutionary, who undid the control of the Party over the State and the people. He deserved to live a happy and carefree life, we will never see his like again.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Remembrance Day

The day before Independence Day (Yom Ha'aztzmaut) is Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron) for all the fallen in Israel's many wars and terrorist attacks. In the past year 233 Israelis have been killed, principally in the Second Lebanon War. According to the official count, since the first Jews moved outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1860, there have been 20,305 Jews killed here either in combat or terrorism.
This is a large number for a small country with now barely 6 million Jews. It would be equivalent to ca. 1,000,000 in the US, where the population is 50 times larger - perhaps if you add up all the casualties of the US including the War of Independence, the Civil War as well as WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, it is that many. Every country has its casualties, lost in defending its freedom, especially democracies.
In the Falkland Islands War of 1982, 25 years ago, Britain lost 258 men and Argentina nearly 1,000. Was it worth it? Who can ever say, but a principle was involved (Argentina invaded the "Malvinas"). And when Israelis go into Lebanon or elsewhere, it is not with bravado but with determination to do what has to be done. It is our survival as a people that is at stake.
Some of you will have heard of Joseph Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Tsarist army, who lost an arm fighting in WWI. He came to live in Eretz Yisrael and established one of the first Jewish guard units (Haganah) at the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai in the very northernmost tip of the Huleh Valley in Galilee. He was killed in 1919 in an Arab/Beduin attack, and his last recorded words were "it is good to die for one's country." It is on the basis of this kind of heroism that our young men and women go out and fight for our sovereign independence.
Unfortunately, there are more Israelis killed in traffic acccidents (now over 400 per year) than in any warfare situation in the same period.
In every town in Israel there is a Yad Lebanim (Memorial to the sons), and usually the Yom Hazikaron service takes place there. This evening for 2 hours I did guard duty at the annual Yom Hazikaron youth service in the main square in Netanya. There were about a thousand youth in different groups and about twice that number of audience. It was a very well behaved crowd. Luckily it was a boring duty with good security. They had a youth choir that sang nicely and they lit torches for each war, and the father of a soldier who died in the Lebanon war last year spoke. It was all very well done and well organized. If only we did not have to continue losing our young men and women in this senseless way.
Tomorrow (Monday) the day of Remembrance turns into the day of celebration for Independence, a typically Jewish combination, and we're going out with friends to enjoy the fireworks.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Enemies and friends

In an interview on IBA News, Michael Oren, author of a book on the Six Day War of 1967 and a recent history of US policy in the Middle East, said that although there remain threats to Israel, notably Hizbollah, Syria and Iran, in general terms Israel is far better off than it has ever been. He noted that we no longer live under threat from the Soviet Union, we have diplomatic and trade relations with China and India, and the Palestinians are so intransigent that basically everyone has given up on Gaza and the Hamas-dominated Government of the PA. Even the Arab States are showing some interest in negotiating with us, although their position is inflexible. Also, our economy is strong and most importantly we have a mutual defense relationship with the powerful USA, as demonstrated by the current visit here of the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So things have been a lot worse than Israel faces at 59 years of age.
The Arab League has formed a Committee of Jordan and Egypt, both of which already have a peace treaty with us, to approach Israel about the Arab/Saudi Plan. The rest of the Arab countries are afraid to commit themselves to actual peace, so they are sending King Abdullah of Jordan to Israel with the message, accept our terms (withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, accept the "right of return of the refugees," etc.) and maybe then we'll recognize your right to exist. Surely they can't be serious (this is the McEnroe response).
Similarly the National Union of Journalists in England has made itself a laughing stock ("a bunch of loony leftists") by adopting a boycott of Israeli goods. Not only do they call for Israel to relinquish its occupation of Gaza (which it did two years ago) and not only do they accuse Israel of deliberately planning the attack on Lebanon (when it was Hizbollah that attacked us and kidnapped our soldiers), but they choose to do this when other journalists are demonstrating for Allen Johnston who was kidnapped in Gaza and has been held for over a month. What idiots! The fact that they only select Israel for this kind of boycott, as if all other countries in the world are pure and blameless, proves their bias and hatred. The Foreign Press Association of Israel/Palestine crticized this resolution on the grounds of its obvious lack of balance.
So with enemies like these who needs friends. But, luckily we have a friend in Washington, and until now in London, and maybe if Sarkozy wins the Presidential election in France tomorrow, maybe we'll also have a friend for a change in Paris. If Iran continues on its current path we'll need all the friends we can get.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Guns or guile

The Jews of Europe were a relatively wealthy community. But, very few of them owned guns. Certainly in the midst of war having guns may not have saved them, but at least it could have provided an edge for those being rounded up to be murdered. That's why even in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I am against denying the "right to bear arms" to ordinary citizens. In Europe, guns were very expensive and difficult to come by, but for those who were being arrested they could have made the difference between life and death.
Before WWII, Zeev Jabotinski, the Revisionist leader, proposed to the Allies that he establish a Jewish Army of 300,000 men to help defend Poland and the Jews from the Germans in case of war. But, the Allies rejected the idea, and the Poles and Jews themselves were negative. In the Warsaw Ghetto the Jewish units bought guns at exorbitant prices from the Polish underground, when they could get any. The Jews fought with rifles from WWI and had almost no ammunition. Yet they managed to hold off the might of the German Army for 1 month. If only they had had more guns, the outcome might not have been different, but at least their fight might have been less desperate. According to the famous dictum of the time, "better to die on your feet than live on your knees."
In place of guns the Jews had to use cunning to survive. Here are some examples: In Amsterdam during WWII, the Germans sent the Dutch police into houses to round up the Jews. In one case the father refused to answer the door, he told his children to be quiet and pretend they were not there. The young Dutch policeman did not try to break down the door, but said "I know you're in there, I'll be back," and went away. But, he did not come back. All the other Jewish apartment dwellers went down as told and were never seen again. The people in that apartment survived.
My wife's grandparents were on a train leaving Poland in 1914. Polish soldiers got on the train and were examining everyone's passports. Her grandfather, fearing that as a Jew his passport would get him arrested, went along the train and saw the guard's compartment. Inside he saw the Guard's clothes, including an apron and a white cloth. He put the apron on, put the white cloth over his arm like a waiter and walked along the train as if he were a waiter. He went past the soldiers when they were in a compartment and they ignored him.
In central Poland an extended family survived WWII by hiding in deep caves. They had to buy food from the local peasants at night, but noone gave them away, probably because in that isolated area there were few sources of income. They hid for nearly three years and some of them never came to the surface during that whole time, and they hold the endurance record for staying underground, but not willingly. In another case I know of a family who lived in a ditch in the middle of a deserted field. Noone came for them because there was no address! How they could survive in the open in this way is a mystery of human endurance. But they lived, and after the war moved to Canada where they prospered.
Many years ago I met Sevach Weiss, the former Knesset speaker, who with his family survived the Holocaust by hiding in the crawl space under a barn that was used as a dance school. The Ukrainian owner charged them "rent" and for the food that she delivered every night. They lived in that narrow space, unable to stand up and unable to go out during daylight, for over a year. They survived, but they were part of a small minority.
In this case, in the absence of guns to defend themselves, "better to live on your knees that die on your feet."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Independence Day

At this time of year Israel is bedecked with our national flag, the blue Magen David on white with a blue stripe at top and bottom, representing the tallit. The Magen David, although an ancient symbol of Jews and Judaism, only became a universally accepted Jewish symbol in the nineteenth century.
I put out our flags today, over our balcony, in readiness for Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) on April 24, as proclaimed by David Ben Gurion in 1948. The whole country is alive with blue waving flags.
Whenever I do this I remember my father putting out the British Union Jack in our house in the East End of London. He always did this early so that the anti-Semites, and there were many of them, wouldn't have another excuse to verbally attack us. It was necessary to show one's loyalty in order to be safe. Not a very strong advertisement for British tolerance.
The main celebrations here take place on the evening before Independence Day, according to Jewish tradition, and we have booked our annual place with friends at a nearby restaurant on the front by the sea to witness the fireworks in Netanya. I think every municipality in Israel has a fireworks show that night and some have large musical extravaganzas.
It gives me great pleasure to drive down the highway with this tangible symbol of our State flying behind me in the breeze. In the US, where Italians and Blacks drive around with the flags of their subcultures on their cars, it is noticeable that Jews do not drive around with the Israeli flag or the Magen David on their cars, because even in that most free and open society there is fear of too many enemies who might find this an excuse to attack an individual. Anti-Semitism is always there. Of course, in Europe it would be unthinkable to attract attention to yourself as a Jew in such an open display of Jewish pride, it could get you killed.
Only in Israel can one drive down the highway brandishing the Israeli flag and not think anything of it. Happy 59th birthday Israel!

Thursday, April 19, 2007


It has been reported that a small army of ca. 300 Muslim fundamentalists have attacked a police station in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, killing 12 in retaliation for the assassination of a Muslim cleric there. In response the Nigerian Army counter-attacked and killed 20 of them. This an area in north central Nigeria where there have been regular conflicts between Muslims and Christians. One of the causes of conflict has been the introduction of Sharia law into the predominantly Muslim States of Northern Nigeria, which nevertheless have a significant Christian population.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with 140 million people (the population of African countries is often smaller than expected because of the poor sanitation, lack of medical services and inadequate food and water supplies). The north of the country consists mainly of the Muslim Hausa and Fulani tribes. They were converted to Islam quite early on after Berber tribes of North Africa fled south across the Sahara desert to escape the invading Arab armies. The Berbers included many Jews who had settled amongst them and together they formed one of the first organized civilizations in West Africa. So there is some Jewish blood in northern Nigeria. The Arabs pursued them south and conquered them and the surrounding indigenous peoples and converted them to Islam.
In the south the tribes along the coast were conquered by the British and converted to Christianity. This includes the Ibo tribe in the south east of Nigeria, the region that tried to become independent as Biafra in the 1967-70 war. When we were in Cambridge we became friendly with an Ibo couple, who asked me to be the Godfather of their son, so somewhere in Nigeria I have a Godson.
In the west of Nigeria the Yoruba tribe has remained more or less pagan. So Nigeria is divided into three main regions (compare Iraq). Yet, they have adhered together as a unitary state. Nevertheless, the pressure of Muslim extremism from the north has caused many conflicts, including thousands of deaths and requiring the mobilization of the Nigerian army to put down civil strife, and this can be expected to worsen in the future.
Another area of conflict in Nigeria is the estuary of the Niger River near Port Harcourt. The local people are contesting the exploitation of the oil fields there that have given them little or no income, all the money goes to the Government and into the pockets of politicians. There will be more fighting there until something changes. Nigeria is a potentially rich country, where corruption is endemic and progress is arctic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The Tel Aviv University Center for the study of Anti-Semitism has announced that there was a doubling of anti-Semitic incidents world-wide between 2005 and 2006. This is attributed to the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Most of the incidents occurred in Western Europe - France, England, Holland, Scandinavia, and most were carried out by young Muslim men against identifiable Orthodox Jews. During the same period there was a reduction (12%) in anti-Semitic incidents in the USA as indicated by the Anti-Defamation League. Clearly the USA is a safer place for Jews than Western Europe, although from that point of view Israel is even safer. That may be the reason why there is an increase in the number of French and British Jews making aliyah.
Anti-Semitism is the fundamental cause for Israel to be the pariah state in the whole world. A high proportion (ca. 1/3rd) of UN activities are still devoted to Israel than to any other country. The propaganda of left and right lambasts Israel - if only Israel made concessions to the poor Arabs, then there could be peace in the Middle East, and the whole world. What nonsense! There is no peace because the Arabs by and large don't want peace! PM OLmert has indicated his willingness to meet with a Committee of the Arab League to discuss the so-called Arab/Saudi Peace Plan, that is as it stands no more than a capitulation plan for Israel. So far such a Committee has not been established.

1. The number of Holocaust survivors living in Israel is ca. 250,000 (4% of the Jewish population), not the figure of 80,000 that I quoted in a previous article, which is actually the number of Holocaust survivors living below the poverty level due to lack of financial support. The current Govt. claims that it will correct this deplorable situation.
2. In the end the Vatican representative in Israel, Cardinal Franco, reversed himself and did attend the State Holocaust Memorial ceremony in Jerusalem. He said he had achieved his aim of drawing attention to the offending caption to a photograph of Pope Pius XII in Yad Vashem.
3. Only one school in the UK has so far said that it will stop teaching the Holocaust because of complaints by parents of Muslim pupils, and so far this policy has not been implemented.
4. In listing documentation centers on the Holocaust I should have added the Wiesenthal Center, both in Vienna and Los Angeles, that has played a central role in tracking German war criminals.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Holocaust documentation

The weight of the Holocaust lies heavy on my shoulders, and the weight of the murdered Jews lies heavy on my soul.
After WWII the Allies established the innocuously named "International tracing service" in a small town in Germany called Bad Arolsen. It was put under the administratrion of the Intl. Red Cross. But, while not actually secret, access was restricted, and they used the legal excuse of not revealing personal information without documentation. This smacks of anti-Semitism to me, just as the Swiss Banks would not give out information to relatives of those who were murdered in the Holocaust without a death certificate. Only this year, after 62 years, have the archives been made available by the controlling countries to qualified organizations and individuals.
The Archives includes information from every camp that the Germans established throughout Europe, collected together by the Allies. Whereas after the war it was estimated that there were ca. 7,000 camps of various kinds (labor camps, concentration camps, death camps) it is now known that there were ca. 20,000 camps. The voluminous miles of Archives have folders on 17.5 million persons (!). They include anyone who was in any way investigated or arrested by the Germans, including Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners (Communists, Socialists) and many other nationalities as well as Jews, all this in only 12 years (1933-1945).
In the Archives are the "Totenbuch" or death books, listing those excecuted or murdered in many different ways in most of the camps. For example, it is revealed that on Hitler's birthday in 1943 in Matthausen Camp, a Jew was shot in the head every 2 mins for 24 hrs, as a present to the Fuhrer. That was 720 Jews murdered. This is not a general statement, but each of the names of the Jews is recorded in single spaced hand-written entries on one page, with the exact time he or she was "executed." This is the insanity of the German mind.
Towards the end of the war, when it became impossible to keep up with the rate of killings, the details were dispensed with. For example, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews, who were transported to Auschwitz in 1945 were not registered. The Jews of Budapest were forced to march by road without food or drink the nearly 300 km to Auschwitz, and those who could not keep up were shot along the route. Noone knows how many were murdered in this way.
In other places there are also huge documentation centers that contain millions of entries of Holocaust material, including those taken from Europe after the war by the US Government, most of it stored in huge warehouses in Beltsville, Maryland, as well as at the National Archives in Washington DC. Then there are also the Holocaust Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. All these millions of pieces of paper contain stories that chill the blood.
In Auschwitz, which was a huge camp with thousands of German accomplices and hundreds of slave labor factories, it is recorded that ca. 1.6 million people were murdered, the vast majority of them Jews. In this camp it was possible to do anything to a Jew. One group of Lithuanian soldiers used to throw people from a sixth floor window and watch how they smashed to earth. Another German group liked to stand naked women up against a wall and shoot them in the genitals, while taking bets on their shooting accuracy. Even the Commandant of the Camp considered these activites excessive and obscene and the soldiers were punished, usually by being sent to the Eastern Front, and the "games" were banned.
In the Plaszow Camp near Krakow the sadistic Commandant Amon Goeth, as shown in the movie "Schindler's list," used to shoot Jews randomly from his bedroom window every morning. It was forbidden for Germans, especially SS, to have sex with Jews, but Goeth ignored this regulation, as well as stealing money from the camp for his own private uses. As a result he was arrested, tried and hung by the SS.
Within the SS there was discussion about what to do about the Jews of Great Britain (listed in the Wannsee document as 330,000) when they were captured. Should they establish a concentration camp in Britain or would it be more economical to transport them to the Continent to the camps already there, to Drancy in France or Westerbork in Holland, and from there to Auschwitz? Preliminary plans were drawn up to establish a transit camp between London and Cambridge, near the flat area called the Fens. But, (luckily for us) the British Jews were the only ones in Europe that remained beyond the reach of the Nazis (technically Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal were neutral, but there were very few Jews there).
I don't write this to reject the deniers of the Holocaust, there is more than enough evidence to convince any reasonable person . But, we must remember not only the deaths, but the savagery with which they were meted out, the suffering of starvation and the human degradation. In the Camp at Majdanek on Yom Kippur 1944, the starving Jews were lined up and offered bowls of nutricious soup. None of them stepped forward to eat the soup, even non-religious Jews showed their contempt for the Germans by refusing to eat.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yom Hashoah

Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Hashoah, is on a different date than that commemorated by most of the international community, including now the UN, US and the EU. They prefer to commemorate the day when Allied forces liberated the Aushwitz Death camp, the largest concentration camp in German-occupied Europe, where ca. 1.6 million people (mostly Jews) were murdered!
Originally the date in Israel was chosen to commemorate the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, an act of unparalleled bravery by the remainder of the Ghetto defenders, but since this was on Pesach the date was moved to a week after Pesach, and the date of Nisan 27 in the Hebrew calendar was chosen as a National commemoration, that falls this year on April 15.
The day is actually called "Holocaust Martyr's and Heroe's Memorial Day" and includes commemoration of those individuals and groups who defied the Nazis and their accomplices throughout Europe in their inhuman, sadistic and deliberate genocidal murder of Jewish men, women and children.
Recently I saw a report on the granddaughter of Heinrich Himmler visiting Auschwitz. She was appropriately sorrowful, how could her own grandfather have done this? But, even though the youth of Germany is now supposedly changed, they manage to tranform their anti-Semitism into anti-Israelism. In principle, many of them have not changed. If Israel is an "illegitimate" and "apartheid" state, as the left in Europe and elsewhere claim, so much easier to support the irrational murder of 6 million Israelis. The only difference is the acceptance by the world of Israel as a legitimate state and ultimately the IDF.
The papers and media include accounts of the survival and sagas of many of those Holocaust survivors who live in Israel, some 80,000 of them now as they age and die off. Its nice that most of them have grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in Israel. But, the disturbing news is that Israeli Governments have not been very solicitous of them, and have only recently begun enacting laws to protect them and see that they all receive basic food and medical support. There are complaints that the social workers who provide this support are demeaning to them, just as were many in countries in Europe, requiring them to show their injuries and detail when and where they were beaten, injured, etc. Why do such people in Israel show so little sympathy?
A new phenomenon has been discovered, that some "righteous gentiles" who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust, have come to live in Israel (98, of whom 43 are still alive), some because they were rejected by their local communities after WWII. Some were incarcerated in prisons or camps because of their activities and in some cases members of their familiers were murdered. The Knesset has also extended to them the rights of Jewish survivors, including Israeli citizenship.
Perhaps the most distiurbing news about the Holocaust is that some British schools have removed teaching about the Holocaust from their curriculum because of complaints from Muslim student's parents. Can you imagine the fuss if Jewish children asked that Islam be removed form the curriculum because it upsets them? What can Muslim parents possibly gain by this kind of narrow mindedness and exhibition of hatred. May it never happen to them.Tonite (Sunday) there will be many commemorations in Israel, including the National one at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and at most synagogues. The Vatican representative to Israel is the first diplomat to refuse to attend the ceremony in Jerusalem, because of a caption under the photo of Pope Pius XII at Yad Vashem. It states that Pius XII never issued a public condemnation of the Nazi massacres of Jews, which is one reason why John Cornwell's authoritative book about him is entitled "Hitler's Pope." It seems to me that they protest too much!
Whatever you do or don't do on this memorial day, remember the dead and sufferers of the Holocaust and make it known that it really happened.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Doha Debates

The BBC in its world edition broadcasts the Doha Debates monthly. Doha is the main city of Qatar, one of the independent Gulf States, that has become one of the leaders of modernization and development in the Arab world. The Chair of these Debates is usually Tim Sebastian, well-known former interviewer of the BBC series called "Hard Talk." The Debates are supported by the Qatar Association for Education, Science and Social Development. These Debates usually take a classic form, a motion is proposed, there are two speakers on each side, the audience asks questions and then an electronic vote is taken. It all appears so civilized.
Of course, although there are Israelis present at some of these Debates, since it is taking place in Doha, Qatar, and since it is being run by the BBC, only left-wing Israelis who are either known to be "soft" in their views towards the Arabs or outright self-haters of Israel are allowed to speak. The first time they had an Israeli was Deputy PM Peres a few months ago, who answered questions mainly from students at the local University. This was at least a good forum for the Arab students to hear some Israeli views.
This month's Debate was on the question "should the Arabs give up the 'right of return' of Palestinians to Israel?" Speaking for the motion were Yossi Beilin, Chairman of the left-wing Meretz Party, who made the point that Israel can never accept the "right of return," so continuing to support that was effectively preventing a peaceful settlement. Also for the motion to drop the "right of return" was Bassam Eid, the Palestinian Human Rights leader, who resides in East Jerusalem, and who said that Palestinian suffering must end and the Arabs must be practical and not emotional.
Speaking against the motion were Ilan Pappe, the ultra left-wing Jewish anti-Israel academic from Haifa University, who is leaving Israel for the UK, and Ali Abu Nimah, the son of Palestinian refugees, who co-founded the "electronic intifada," who called Israel " a racist state." The audience was mixed, from all over the Arab world, young and old, extremist and pragmatic. One young man spoke about the need for the Arabs to break from the past, and to compromise with Israel to solve the conflict. One young woman said that although she lived in Qatar, she would willingly give up her comfortable life and go to Palestine and fight against Israel for the "right of return" (but as Bassam Eid said "that is emotional rhetoric").
Not surprisingly, when it was put to the vote, this Arab audience voted overwhelmingly against the motion, by a margin of 82% to 18% against giving up the Palestinian Arab's "right of return" to Israel, i.e. they voted for a continuation of the conflict and no compromise. Unfortunately that is the reality of the Arab position, even in this "civilized" and "modern" corner of the Arab world.
Perhaps one day they will allow mainstream Israelis to participate in these Debates, and perhaps the Arab audience will not be so overwhelmingly extreme. But, until that day dawns in the far distant future nothing will change. However, the Doha Debates at least represent an insight into how the "modern" and "civilized" Arabs are thinking. Not much different from the ossified and uncivilized ones.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Schisms in Hamas

The British Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin made the observation that every movement or organization has within it the seeds of its own destruction. As organizations grow they become beset by problems that may resolve into internal schisms that rend the organization apart and lead to its downfall. This certainly happened to Empires within my lifetime, the great and proud British Empire is no more, forced to give up colonial domination for self determination (in Israel as well as India and elsewhere), the Japanese and German Empires lasted a short time due to their dependence on force and subjugation, and the Russian Communist Empire collapsed because it could not afford to control its dependent countries.
Political organizations are equally subject to this rule, for example the Communist movement split early into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, the Nazi movement had its Blackshirts and the SA. The Zionist movement had its political armies, the Haganah and the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Some were able to overcome their differences and survive, others were not. The Palestinian movement has been beset by internecine warfare, for example the PLO for a long time had many distinct groups that fell within the two categories of those who were prepared to deal with Israel (e.g. Fatah) and those in the "resistance" (PFLP and Hamas) who were not.
Now that Hamas constitutes the Government of the PA, there is a schism even within Hamas that mirrors that within Fatah. There are those who are prepared to "deal" with Israel, even while expressing their eternal opposition to it, and those who will accept no such pragmatism. Fatah was split between the "old guard" who followed Arafat's path of pretending to deal with Israel while at the same time carrying out a program of terrorism to "pressure" Israel to make concessions, and the "young guard" of the more militant fighters who believe that the "armed struggle" is the only path for the Palestinians. So similarly there is now a schism within Hamas, between those who, like PM Haniyeh, want to act in a somewhat "responsible" manner, and to gain world support, and those who see their task as purely fighting to destroy Israel, and this includes not only some of the gangs of younger terrorists, but is lead by members of Hamas within the ruling elite, such as former Foreign Minister as-Zahar. Meanwhile the leadership of Hamas in Syria is equally torn between trying to appear diplomatically accceptable and carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel to show how recalcitrant they truly are. It is said that Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas in Syria, has decided that the time has come for Hamas to pretend to appear respectable. But, the activist elements on the ground in Gaza are not prepared to go along with this. So there has been fighting and shooting between some of these two groups in Gaza, as well as between Hamas and Fatah.
It seems that the gang holding Cpl Shalit in Gaza are from a clan that accepts no compromise on Israel's right to exist. As such it is impossible for them to agree to a prisoner swap with Israel, since in their view this means dealing with the devil. But, on the other hand, the leadership of Hamas and Fatah realize that the PA cannot gain legimitimacy and receive foreign aid without releasing Shalit, and cannot get support from their own people without getting Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails. So unfortunately the release of Shalit has become hostage to the vicious internal struggle within Hamas.

Limits of expression

Azmi Bishara is an Arab Member of the Knesset, a representative of the Balad or Arab Communist Party. Being a Christian has not made Bishara less, but rather more extreme in his views. As an MK he regularly expresses his opposition to Israel as a Jewish State. Not only that, he has often broken the law, and got away with it because he is an MK. For example he has spoken at meetings in Lebanon and Syria supporting the activities of terrorist groups such as Hizbollah, which is illegal for an Israeli, and generally acting as a traitor to his country. Yet, he has gotten away with it for years. There have been several attempts to modify the law to make it possible to prosecute him for his activities (to remove his parliamentary protection) but so far none ahve passed. Freedom of speech in Israel goes beyond what would be allowed for any MP in the UK or Representative in Congress in the USA. Could you imagine any one of them going to Iraq and supporting the insurgents or to Afghanistan and supporting the Taliban?
There is a rumor now going around that Bishara is about to defect to an Arab country. He is currently visiting relatives in Jordan and the story is that he intends not to return but to take up residence in a Gulf State where he will become a commentator on Arab affairs for one of the Arab networks. Many Jewish Israelis will say 'good riddance' and even many Arabs are shocked that he will leave his own people in the lurch. On the other hand he will no doubt argue that by taking this position he will expand his audience and enable himself to make even more effective attacks on Israel.
Ironically, any Arab state that he goes to live in will not have anywhere near as much freedom of expression as he had in Israel. Here he can say practically anything he likes, and was well known for whipping up crowds of Israeli Arabs with anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-terrorist rhetoric. He will no doubt be able to do the same in Qatar or whereever he chooses to reside. But, he will certainly not be able to criticize the Royal family there or in any Gulf State, and he dare not criticize the Arabs in the same way that he dared criticize the Jews in our Jewish State.
Many Arabs think we Jews are crazy for allowing this, in fact they can't understand us. They think we are weak for allowing such criticism, and for allowing people like Bishara to get away with radicalizing the new generation of Israeli Arabs. But, on the other hand there is no doubt that they see the virtue of Israeli freedom of expression in our democracy. For example, the kidnapping of Allen Johnston, the BBC commentator in Gaza, who was well known for his pro-Palestinian bias (both his father and the BCC representative made the point that he supports the Palestinians, so why did they kidnap him?) and was the last free journalist able to report from Gaza. Now there are no more, they all report from Israel, where they can say what they like about Gaza and Israel, but they must be careful if they ever intend going back there. The truth is that Gaza is in chaos and is run by violent gangs. All the international welfare agencies, that are usually critical of Israel, have asked the Israeli Govt. to grant their reps in Gaza access to Israel in case they need to escape.
With Bishara's move to the international Arab media, the irony is that he has been allowed freedom of expression in the one country in the Middle East that he can criticize.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


The production of biofuels, particularly ethanol from corn, has become commercially competitive since oil prices have risen (a barrel of crude is now selling at ca. $65 per barrel). Political events have largely been responsible for this increase in oil prices, such as the uncertainty of supplies from Iraq, Iranian adventurism in the Persian Gulf, and instability in the oil producing region of Nigeria.
As ethanol has become a competitive fuel to gasoline, since it is both less polluting and an alternative energy source, so the diversion of corn to ethanol production as opposed to its use as a major food crop, has increased. In Brazil this process has been going on for years, and now most public transport in Brazil runs on ethanol. Fortunately, Brazil has enough domestic corn production to allow this smooth transition. In the US, the world's major producer of corn, only ca. 8% of corn is currently diverted to ethanol production. But, as US car manufacturers switch to ethanol use, this proportion will definitely rise.
As a result, there will be less corn available for cheap sales to poor countries that do not have enough domestic production of their own or which rely on food supplies from international aid agencies (that usually buy it through governments at lower prices). For example, Mexico, Egypt and Nigeria are heavily dependent on US imported corn supplies, and there have already been so called "tortilla" riots in Mexico, since due to the increase in corn prices, the price of the basic staple tortillas has doubled in the past year. If this trend continues one can expect food riots in Egypt. Other countries that will be affected include those in Africa that are dependent on free grain supplies, including Sudan and Sierra Leone.
In the recent past the selection of more efficient food crops, the so-called 'green revolution,' has been dependent on the discovery of improved crops by agricultural research, such as the improved rice grains. But, this method of manual selection has reached its limits. Now the only way forward is to use genetic modification (GM) in order to genetically select crops with improved characteristics. These would include not only increased food content, but also adaptation to drier climates by transferring genes for water retention from some crops to others. In doing this research it has been found that such adaptations are not always simple, i.e. they are not single gene adaptations but involve multiple gene groups.
One major problem in this area is that the EU has banned GM products because of a misplaced conservatism. It seems ironic that liberals in the EU see the introduction of GM seeds as a plot principally by the US food companies to "take over" the food production of the world and force poor people to eat these "experimental" grains. This is a lot of hogwash. Not only is GM simply a form of selection that has been practised by farmers since time immemorial (that's how we have the highly efficient grains we currently have), but it is also available in the US and there is no limit on its sale as long as it has been tested and has passed certain criteria. The unbelievable stupidity of European liberals in attacking fields where this kind of improved grain is being grown, shows that they care not that their actions will in the longer run cause massive shortfalls of grain supplies and the inevitable famine and deaths of millions of starving people around the world who live on a very fine margin.

The price for a captive?

I am against exchanging as many as 1,400 or even 450 Palestinian prisoners for Cpl. Shalit. But, it is not only the number, since we can afford to give up large numbers of prisoners if they represent no future danger to Israeli civilians. But, unfortunately that cannot be guaranteed. What I am definitely against is giving up major terrorist leaders, murderers with "blood on their hands" and organizers of terrorism in exchange for one soldier.
It is unfortunate that Cpl. Shalit was captured by a terrorist group in Gaza, but the fault is that of the IDF that allowed soldiers to sleep so close to the border and did not have extra guards and did not employ detectors that would have detected the digging that was going on so close to the border for months! Of course, the parents want their son back, but how many other sons will die as a result of freeing so many dangerous prisoners. In the negotiations that go on thru intermediaties, such as the Egyptians and the Germans, Israel must forcefully express its interests, just as the terrorists do. We can afford not to have our captive back if it means paying too high a price!
In order to get their prisoners back the PA Govt. has made a strong PR campaign, basically saying that the ball is now in Israel's court and if they want to get Shalit back they must do this, that and the if the PA has any influence on the situation. Neither the Government spokesman Mustafa Barghouti nor President Abbas have any influence whatsoever on the terrorists holding Shalit. However, it is clear to them that the PA Hamas dominated Govt. cannot be accepted as legitimate by the international community until Shalit is released. There is no doubt that a deal can be made, it just musn't be so costly as far as Israel is concerned. Also, we must remember that Hizbollah hold two of our soldiers captive, and the price for them will be at least twice as high as we pay for Shalit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Terrorism and prisoners

Two weeks ago to celebrate the Arab League meeting in Riyadh, the Palestinian terrorist groups shot 17 rockets into southern Israel in a three day period. There is supposed to be a ceasefire, but it has only been one-sided. This attack caused the Israeli Govt. to shake itself out of its inertia and announce a more active policy. Defense Minister Peretz announced that from now on the IDF will return to its policy of attempting to interdict the teams of rocket launchers. On Saturday they caught a team of three in the act and using a missile strike killed one terrorist and injured the other two.
At the same time there was a shoot-out in Jenin between an Israel team attempting to arrest wanted terrorists and a gang of gunmen. One of them was injured and it turned out to be Zakaria Zubeidi, the leader of the terrorists in Jenin. Unfortunately he was only wounded in the shoulder and was reported to be receiving treatment. Two IDF soldiers were also injured in this incident.
A 17-yr old Palestinain boy stabbed two border guards at a checkpoint in Hebron and he was shot in the leg, and a Palestinian woman was arrested at a check point in Ramallah carrying two knives that she confessed she intended to use to stab Israeli guards. She had recently been released from prison for a prior similar offense. A car bomb with Israeli license plates was discovered on Friday in Kalkilya near Petach Tikva, after it had been driven into Israel and then returned to the PA. Police do not know why the car bomb was not exploded while it was in Israel, but it allowed them to uncover a cell and find several other car bombs in advanced stages of preparation. All members of the cell were arrested.
These incidents indicate that terrorism is still continuing, whatever they say about peace. At the same time the newly elected PA Unity Govt. was holding a crisis meeting in Gaza because of the admitted chaos there that they are unable to control. The PA Govt. and particularly Pres. Abbas is talking about the release of the Israeli hostage Cpl. Shalit and the kidnapped BBC newsman Allen Johnston. But the fact is that Abbas has neither the influence nor power to release them. They are held by gangs that are barely influenced by the Hamas Govt.
It is all very well for the PA Govt. to give Israel a list of 450 Palestinian prisoners and to dictate to Israel that they must be released. But, in fact it doesn't work that way. The Israel Govt. insisted that Shalit must be released first and then it will release those prisoners it considers acceptable, i.e. those who do not have Israeli blood on their hands. We now await and see whether or not the Govt. will stick to its conditions or will cave into the terrorist demands.
The way that the British Navy and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, have been dealing with the terrorist states of Iran and Syria respectively, does not give good examples of standing firm in the face of extremism.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


In thinking about "The Exodus" from Egypt at Pesach/Passover one is reminded that the Jews have had many exoduses (or is it exodi). In fact our history is replete with them. There were numerous expulsions from various European countries, from Britain in 1290, from Spain in 1492, Lithuania in 1496, and from much of Russia in the 1870s, and so on. Such were the forced migrations of those Jews who survived these expulsions. But, the original Exodus was voluntary.
There are two exoduses that have greatly influenced our current situation, that of the Jewish refugees from Tsarist and then Bolshevik Russia in the years from 1880 until the 1920's. Among them were included about 2.5 million Jews who emigrated to the US and about 500,000 who emigrated to Western Europe (Britain, France, Holland, etc.) and Palestine. My father's family was among those who fled Ukraine/Russia in 1905 to escape pogroms and landed in London. I'm very grateful for that, but it was quite random, any safe port in a storm.
Then there was the exodus from the Nazis in the 1930s, that involved Jews migrating all over Europe and beyond. Jews who escaped Germany or Poland went to France or Holland and from there the lucky ones, including Naomi's grandparents, managed to get into Britain before WWII actually started. The rest were trapped because they had no visas, not enough money to bribe the necessary guards, or trusted their fellow Hungarians, Czechs, French, etc. not to harm them - vain hope.
We don't commemorate these exoduses, only the "original" one that brought us to our land. And here some of us have returned, never to leave again. Perhaps it shouldn't be called Exodus at all, but rather in contrast to these other historical Jewish movements, it should be called "Intrata," the Latin original of Entry. That would take the focus away from the country of exit and to that of entry, from Egypt to Israel, the promised land.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Freed Brits press conference

The two officers of the 15 British servicemen released by Iran, Marine Capt. Chris Air and Naval Lieut. Felix Carman, who gave the press conference Friday, did a good job in justifying their lack of action when confronted by "aggressive" and "unstable" Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway on March 23. They had been abandoned by their helicopter air cover and their mother ship HMS Cornwall was 8 miles away and could not come to their rescue. In a split second they made their decision not to resist. To do so would have been suicidal, and many of them could have been killed. It might also have started a war between Britain and Iran. Under the circimstances who could fault them. What followed was a natural set of consequences, except that after taking advantage of the PR, showing the humbling of the British forces, Ahmedinejad unexpectedly released them.
The press conference was carried out without higher officers and without any politicians present (this could not have happened in the US), and was persuasive. If they had coaching it was not obvious, they said they admitted the least they could in order to satisfy the Iranians. They were told that if they did not do so they would be tried and spend 7 years in prison. Who would have chosen to do otherwise? Yes, it seemed that they were used for propaganda, but it did in the end ensure their release unharmed. The best possible outcome. It was interesting that the Iranians used the anti-British propaganda mostly on Arab channels rather than Farsi ones. This is part of their program to gain the sympathy of the Arab "street" from the Arab regimes that are both incompetent (in pursuing their anti-Israel agenda as they see it) and less aggressive.
There are still some unanswered questions. Why were such unprotected boats allowed to go so close to the Iranian border, why did they have no helicopter protection when surrounded, why did the Cornwall not detect the Iranian boats with its radar and send out helicopter, naval or fighter protection, were they basically intimidated by Iranian incursions, was the Cornwall in contact with the British military hierarchy or the Coalition forces while the incident was happening?
Even though from a Western viewpoint the outcome was satisfactory, in that none were killed and all forces were returned unharmed, nevertheless it was a victory for Iranian PR. But, it was a short term victory, because the coalition forces will make necessary adjustments to make sure it doesn't happen again, and the West has once again been warned by how aggressive and destabilizing the Iranians currently are.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ahmedinejad's gamble

Opinion is divided over whether or not the Iranians, and specifically Pres. Ahmedinejad, gained from the sudden and unexpected release of the 15 British naval servicemen.
Many commentators see it as a positive gain for Iran, showing its magnanimous and humane side, and emphasizing the humanitarian aspect of Islam. It can also be seen as a gain for the British and in particular Tony Blair, who claims he made no deals and combined forceful diplomacy with lack of confrontation. But, this focuses on the superficial and PR aspects of the release of the captives.
On the other hand, many commentators point out that there are two major forces within Iran, battling it out for supremacy. There are the leading clerical extremists controlling the Revolutionary Guards, who are virulently anti-Western and anti-Israel, and Pres. Ahmedinejad himself, who was chosen by them as the candidate for President. So far he has not disappointed them in terms of his strong denunciations of Israel and America are concerned. These were the people talking about a trial of the British hostages.
But, on the other side are the so-called "moderates," Hatami, Rafsanjani, many members of the Parliament (Majlis) and many students. They see Ahmedinejad's actions, including the taking of the hostages in the first place, as foreign adventurism that is putting Iran and its economy in jeopardy. It was their pressure on the supreme Ayatollah, Khamenei, that apparently won out.
Ahmedinejad was forced to climb down, release the hostages and act nice. Even though his rhetoric was the usual anti-Western cant, he was forced to reverse himself. So this is considered a big defeat for Ahmedinejad and the forces of extremism within Iran. Some experts have stated that this is the beginning of the end for Ahmedinejad. In the face of British and American threats he was forced to cave in. They particularly point out that Europe is the main trading partner of Iran, and EU and UN support for Britain was growing. To avoid complete isolation and economic meltdown, Ahmedinejad had to admit defeat, although he covered it in a clever PR effort.
Now he has one more year or so to rule. We will see if his kind of anti-Western brinkmanship will survive his term in office.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Moby Dick

"Moby Dick" by Herman Melville is one of the most famous American novels. It is also the name of the villain of the piece, the "great white whale"! Like most of you I assumed that "Moby Dick" was wholly a product of the author's imagination. Imagine my surprise to learn that it was in fact largely based on a true incident that happened in 1819 in the central Pacific Ocean, when for the first time it was recorded that a huge male sperm whale (ca. 85 ft long) charged a whaling ship and hit it not once but twice (evidence of true intent to harm it), and caused it to sink. The ship was the "Essex" from Nantucket Island, that was the whaling capital of the world in that era. I learnt about this story from a book entitled "In the Heart of the Sea: the tragedy of the whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick, a historian living in Nantucket.
At that time whale oil was one of the mainstays of the American industrial revolution, and ensuring a steady and cheap supply was the industry of Nantucket. In order to do so the whale ships had to pass through the south Atlantic, where most of the whales had already been depleted by then, and pass through Cape Horn at the tip of S. America, in order to enter the Pacific (before the Panama Canal had been built). Also, in order to ensure a large harvest of whales to make the voyage, that could last over 3 years, worthwhile, they had begun to venture over 3000 miles from the S. American mainland into new areas where there were large shoals of sperm whales.
On its journey the Essex was in the midst of a huge pod of whales, mostly females and calves. Two of its whale boats were out harpooning and the third boat had been damaged by a whale that rose up underneath it (this was not uncommon). So the third boat was being repaired on deck. This involved much hammering, and it was known that the sound made by male sperm whales is a similar hammering sound. Whether or not this had anything to do with it, out of the blue so to speak, this huge whale surfaced and deliberately rammed the Essex. Then it moved off in the opposite direction and turned and in about 10 mins repeated the attack. The ship was so damaged that it sank to its gunnels within about 10 mins.
These whales were named sperm whales because they contained a large amount of fine oil in their huge bulbous head. When the head was cut open it exuded the so-called sperm oil or spermaceti that was at first clear, but in the air took on the appearance of white sperm. The sperm whales are also toothed whales and have a large narrow jaw. They are the largest creatures known to exist on earth and are also formidable predators. Although the attack on the Essex was the first such incident known, later three other such attacks were recorded. It is possible that such an incident had happened before, but there had been no survivors.
In this case all 20 men aboard survived the attack and managed to get into the three whaling boats. They then undertook a journey that lasted 3 months. They did stop for a few days on a deserted atoll in the south Pacific called Henderson Island. Three of the men chose to stay there and were eventually rescued. Most of the men died from hunger, thirst and exposure, and there were only 5 survivors in two of the boats who made it to S. America.
Those who survived did so by cannibalism, eating their dead comrades. They covered over 4,000 miles, the second longest journey known, after that of Captain Bligh of the Bounty whose journey covered 4,500 miles. However, the Essex men's journey took twice as long because they chose to go east against the currents, while Bligh went west. Incidentally, Henderson Island was within a few days sailing of Pitcairn Island where the Bounty mutineers hid, but this island was not marked on any maps at that time. In fact, the Captain and his two mates made a major error in not heading for the islands of Polynesia and Micronesia closer to the west, rather than returning to S. America from whence they had come. Since they were unfamiliar with these islands, they assumed that they contained cannibals, and were afraid to venture further west. They also assumed that they had enough provisions, but that proved wrong.
The first mate of the ship, Owen Chase, wrote his account of the incident and the journey during which he kept a daily log, that was published as a book soon after, and caused a sensation at that time. Captain Pollard did the same later. Herman Melville shipped out on a similar whaler a few years later and met the youngest son of Owen Chase who was a cabin boy. Captain Ahab from the novel was based on Owen Chase not Captain Pollard. Pollard was "unlucky," his next whale ship also sank in a gale and he retired as a night watchman. Whereas Chase, a large hard man, made a long career as a whaling Captain. It was rumored that throughout his career he sought to find and kill the huge whale that had so injured him, his ship and his crew. He never succeeded, but it made a wonderful story. Somewhere along the way the whale became "white" although it was not in actuality. Thus are legends made.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Release of British hostages

In a surprising move the Iranian President Ahmedinejad personally released the British naval hostages today. The question is why, if they were indeed trespassing on Iranian waters as they claim, why would he release them? I think Ahmedinejad and his sponsors, the hard line Ayatollahs, feared a ratcheting up of the situation as warned by the British PM and the American President (with two aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf). I am sure that the British were telling them that "we can't control the Americans, you know that George Bush, he's a 'cowboy' and he'll start shooting, unlike us, we are gentlemen, so deal with us before it's too late."
The release was a brilliant PR operation by the Iranians. They undercut people like me who expected them to milk this situation for a long time and allow it to get worse before it was resolved. One of my correspondents predicted that the crisis would last two weeks, just enough time for the Iranians to get what they wanted, without further economic consequences and domestic opposition building up, and just enough time to help the public to forget the nuclear issue.
Apparently this story was greatly played down in the Iranian media, partly because of a national holiday (for Mohammed's birthday). But, public opinion in Tehran, what there is of it, was against this kind of adventurism. People are fed up with the regime's emphasis on foreign affairs and not on the poor domestic economic situation. In fact, Iran cannot afford much more stress on its economy, including the potential cutting off of refined gasoline supplies, since it receives ca. 40% from foreign sources. Although Iran has ample crude oil production, they lack the refinery capacity (as does the West), and won't have any more for the forseeable future.
So the sanctions are biting and they don't want even more problems that might lead to domestic unrest.
But, all this is guesswork. It may be that the Iranian Guards overstepped their responsiility in taking the hostages, or that the Mullahs decided that they had reached the point of diminishing returns on this incident.
Maybe we'll never know for sure, but it's good that Iran is releasing them now, alive and well. I wish the same were true of our hostages, one in Gaza and two in Lebanon, but being Israelis we can't expect such a good outcome.
Now the British Navy will have some explaining and learning to do, just as the IDF did after the Lebanon War. Perhaps the Navy did not fight back because they were outmaneuvered by the Iranians. Perhaps they feared unnecessary casualties. But, in any case they are not supposed to sit passively by while their men are captured. I think they need to rethink their rules of engagement.
The IDF was found to be greatly deficient in training of reserves. It has been revealed that 20% of reserves did no training whatsoever for 5 years, and were unable to carry out the simplest of tasks. This is a very dangerous situation and hopefully is now being repaired. It may be that something like this, a complete breakdown of response happened in the British Navy case, and hopefully the Navy will be re-organized so that this type of situation will not arise again to embarrass the Government and put Britain in a dangerous and difficult situation.
Meanwhile everyone is asking who gained most from this situation, the British Govt. because it kept its cool and stood firm against blackmail and threats, not apologizing but not being confrontational either, or the Iranians, who took British military personnel hostage and then released them without any consequences. At present it is impossible to say, but a deal may have been done, and it may be that Iranians will now operate in Iraq without further fear of being arrested by Coalition forces.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Suite Francaise

"Suite Francaise" is an important novel written by Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian-born Jewess who moved to France with her family in 1919 at the age of 16, to escape the depradations of the Bolsheviks. Her father had been an extremely wealthy banker in Russia, who managed to survive in France on the remains of his fortune. Her novel, written in 1940, describes the Fall of France to the Germans, the flight of most of the population from Paris before it was captured, and the German occupation of a small village in central France. As such it is an intensely French and beautifully conceived account, as amazing for the manner in which the work was finally published as for the novel itself.
Irene was estranged from her mother, who seems not to have loved her. It is interesting how such terrible personal emotional suffering often produces such creativity. She was a precocious novelist and made a hit with her first major novel, "David Golder" in 1929 at the age of 26. Her writing showed surprising maturity and discipline. She married Michel Epstein, a banker, and they lived a comfortable and sophisticated existence. They identified fully as French and hardly considered themselves Jewish. They had two daughters.
In 1939, seeing the oncoming catastrophe, Irene and her two daughters converted to Catholicism and moved to a small village in central France. However, although the girls were born in France and were French citizens, neither of their parents adopted French citizenship, and remained stateless foreigners living in France. This proved to be their undoing, first Irene was arrested in July, 1942, by which time she had written (by hand) two books of an intended five on the situation in France. They were intended to include what happened subsequently, but she never lived to see it, she was murdered in Auschwitz within a month of her arrest.
Her husband and she appeared to be naieve about their fate. Her husband wrote many letters to French and German authorities pointing out her fame (which was why she was arrested), trying to get her released, he even offered to exchange himself for her. But, this campaign only hastened his arrest by drawing attention to himself and he was sent to the French Concentration camp at Drancy where he died.
The two daughters were saved by their non-Jewish governess, who was a friend of the family. She was given a stipend by Irene's publisher to support the girls, and she changed their name to her own. When the French police came to arrest them (yes, they arrested children too, even though they were French and Catholic), she hid them and moved them many times. During these moves the youngest daughter took her mother's notebooks in her case and shlapped them around France with her. She thought they contained a diary.
It was only well after the War that she re-discovered the notebooks, and before giving them to an archive she decided to transcribe them. On doing so she realized that they constituted an almost complete novel. It was finally published in France in 2004, 63 years after it had been written. The book consists of two sections, "Storm in June" telling of the exodus from Paris, and "Dolce" telling of the occupation, both as experienced by Irene herself. It is written in a classical style, with elaborate descriptions of trees, flowers, weather and people's appearance.
The novel has been a great success in France. But, even though there is no doubt that Irene Nemirovsky was an accomplished and mature novelist, there is something lacking in this work. We should not be so critical because of the conditions under which it was written and because she never had the opportunity to go back and revise it, but nevertheless in my opinion it lacks depth.
The characters she chooses are ciphers, typical poor, rich, or bourgeois. She wanted to show how the situation affected ordinary people, but by choosing ordinary people, who were basically shallow and worried about their own petty conditions, she loses the drama associated with deeper and more active people.
As an example, one villager who escaped from imprisonment as a French soldier by killing German guards, is upset that the German officer billeted in his home is showing too much attention to his wife. So when he is being arrested for illegally hiding a rifle he shoots the officer. But, this happens "off stage" and is decribed by someone else. It's as if the author deliberately wants to avoid any "cheap" action.
Another troublesome aspect of this work is that the German soldiers are shown in a very sympathetic light, as victims of circumstance. Yes, they fought, and defeated the French forces, but they don't brag about it. They treat the French in a civilized and reasonable manner. They engage in love affairs with the French girls, and all this is accepted as quite natural. No doubt this is actually how it was in the small French villages, the French rationalized their collaboration.
In showing the actual selfishness and corruption of all the French classes, Irene strips bare the concept of French opposition to the Germans. In this novel there are no brave French resistance fighters, and there is also nothing about Jews. There is no apparent concern for the fate of the Jews, that Irene herself was to share, even though she clearly thought of herself as more French than Jewish. In that respect she apparently lacked a hold on reality.
There is an interesting phenomenon that I'll call the "Zelig factor" after the 1983 movie "Zelig" by Woody Allen. Zelig is a character played by Allen who completely identifies with the people around him, he even begins to look like them. Although it is not explicitly stated that Zelig is Jewish, given Woody Allen's Jewish self-loathing, it's obvious. So Jews are nothing themselves, except when they adopt the culture and identity of their surroundings. That is precisely what Allen has done, what many German Jews did, and apparently what Nemirovsky did. Because she thought of herself as French she thought this would protect her, just as if she were in fact French. It allowed her to produce an intensely French novel, but it could not save her.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Now for something completely different, I don't think I've ever written about sports before. Israel is a quite a sports-loving country, but not usually thought of in the top leagues. Apart from basketball, in which Maccabi Tel-Aviv have won the European championship several times, few Israeli teams are considered top notch.
But, in the UEFA soccer qualifying cup matches, Israel has managed to achieve a repectable level. Last week the Israel national team managed to draw 0-0 with an admittedly below par England team. However this week in quite a strong performance Israel defeated Estonia 4-0. What a strange universe it is to think that the grandfathers of the current Estonian players were probably out killing Jews 62 years ago. The Estonian pro-German fascists were notoriously brutal. But, then the Estonians suffered similarly when about one third of their population was decimated by Stalin after WWII because of their support for the Germans. Ah well, let's try to forget the terrible past and focus on the fact that now the only aggressions are on the football field. My youngest grandson saw the game with his father at the Ramat Gan stadium. Nice.
In another sport, Shachar Pe'er, our national tennis phenom, is now ranked no. 15 in the world and reached the semi-finals of the Sony Classic tournament in Miami. She had a rather easy time of it until she played Serena Williams, who had also defeated her in the Australian open only a month or so ago. She will have to raise her play at least another level to make it into the top ten.
In Australia, the Israeli swimmer Michael Malul came sixth in the breast stroke finals of the World Swimming championships. So little Israel is producing sportsmen that are competing at the highest levels. So different from the prejudiced view of Jews in the diaspora who are supposed to all be nerds.
Chag Pesach sameach to all my loyal readers. I hope you all have a wonderful Seder and we will be together in spirit (and in spirits).
Note: I have posted a picture of my latest painting on my web-site:
Please check it out in the "Recent Paintings" section, and let me have your feedback (note that I could not crop the corners properly).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Iran war situation

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards consider themselves at war with the decadent Western imperialist infidels. So that as far as they are concerned, the taking of the British naval hostages is only one small part of this ongoing war. When they sent their boats to intercept the British naval vessels and to capture the sailors, they must have thought that there was a chance that this could lead to an actual gunfight. After all, not only were the British armed, but very close by was their home ship HMS Cornwall, with big guns and many British servicemen on board. But, in fact the British Navy did nothing!
Not only did the British sailors give up without a fight, but the Captain of HMS Cornwall also did not resist. Apparently the capture was well planned, and I don't know whether or not the Captain had time to contact his superiors at the Admiralty and whether or not he was ordered not to respond. But, instead of a possible small skirmish, we now have the situation of the Iranians holding the 15 servicemen, and the relationship between Britain and Iran deteriorating by the day. If you were an Iranian Guard and saw Britain with all its supposed naval power sitting right there and doing nothing, wouldn't you think that you could get away with a lot more. No wonder the Iranians apparently don't fear British retaliation.
The Iranians are experienced at hostage taking and holding. But, when they took the US Embassy hostages back in 1979 there was no significant US military nearby. However, Pres. Carter did try a rescue mission, that was so incompetent and even stupid, that any 5th grader could have planned it better (they know how to play computer games). This so-called rescue mission was typical of Carter, half-hearted and ill-planned.
So with this background its not surprising that the IRG do not seem to be concerned with retaliation by the British or Americans. In any case, they know the Coalition forces are pinned down in Iraq, partly because they themselves are playing a role in that conflict. The arrest of four supposed IRGs in Irbid in northern Iraq might have been the trigger that set off the action in the Shatt-al Arab waterway.
I have seen many correspondents and experts talking on the TV, and they astound me with their naievete. Christiane Amanpour of CNN said that she was surprised the crisis has lasted this long! Give me a break, the Iranians will milk it for as much as they can, and they will use it to take the focus away from their nuclear program and the UNSC sanctions against them.
It is possible that they will put the British servicemen on trial, and then the crisis will escalate. It is not coincidental that the US is keeping two battle groups close by in the Persian Gulf. Then I expect that there will follow an actual war situation between Britain, the US and Iran, and that this will be used as an excuse to take action against Iran for a host of reasons, including their support for anti-Coalition forces in Iraq, for taking the British hostages and for developing nuclear weapons against international treaties and UNSC resolutions.