Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Palestinian dilemma

On the West Bank, the PA Security Forces are finally taking action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, so that the IDF does not have to do this job there. Now Israel has an agreement with the PA on the West Bank not to target Fatah extremists on its wanted list as long as they refrain from acts of terrorism against Israel, so the IDF has more time to focus on Hamas and IJ terrorists in Gaza. Last week Israel killed a leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza who was responsible for killing Israelis. He had narrowly escaped a targeted killing a few days earlier that missed his car and hit a nearby building under construction. Maybe he thought that he would not be targeted again so soon.
Now there is a strategic dilemma for Israel and the West. Should they consider the peace process unalterably disrupted by the separation of Gaza and the WB into "Hamastan" and "Fatahland," or should they simply ignore Hamas/Gaza as beyond the pale, for not accepting Israel's right to exist and not stopping terrorism, and negotiate only with Pres. Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian people.
For the West, notably the US and UK, the latter course has been decided upon. Everything will be done to bolster Abbas relative to Hamas, and this includes negotiating with him and excluding Hamas. Abbas most recently went to Moscow and persuaded Pres. Putin to change his policy of accepting Hamas, the only one of the Quartet to do so.
The Arab States are upset that Hamas, or rather the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza, are being left out of upcoming negotiations. They are also upset that Syria, that has been supporting Iran and acting violently in Lebanon, is also left out by the US. This puts Israel in a bind. On the one hand, in some respects they have to deal with Gaza, even though Hamas will not deal with Israel, for example by allowing thousands of Palestinians trapped in Egypt to return home and supplying humanitarian assistance. But, on the other hand, they cannot afford to oppose US decisions to deal with Abbas, who is a weak and unreliable leader, but the only one who will deal. So for the near future it looks like all the eggs are in the Abbas basket. Clearly if Abbas makes any kind of deal it will be rejected by Hamas and others as an American imposition. But, it might be the thin edge of the wedge. Better an American fostered deal than no deal at all.
Meanhwhile the US continues to try to develop an anti-Iran front, consisting of the so-called moderate Sunni Arab States (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) by giving them extensive weapons deals, and making the potential threat to Israel more palatable by expanding military assistance to Israel from b$2.3 to b$3 per year. These multi-billion dollar deals are intended to run for 5 years, during which time it is hoped that the Iranian threat will either have faded or will have to be faced militarily. So Secty. of State Condolezza Rice is now touring the region with a large entourage. Her progress is being carefully monitored.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Islamist II

Here are some further thoughts about "The Islamist" by Ed Husain.
People tend to lump all Muslims together as if they were one unified bloc. In fact there are vast differences between for example, the indigenous Islam of the Indian subcontinent, mostly found in Britain, that of Indonesia and Malaysia, and that of Saudi Arabia. Without going into details, while mainstream Islam venerates the Prophet Mohammed, the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia, that has spread around the world due to Saudi largesse, considers this idolatrous and emphasises that only God must be served. It is a very literal interpretation of Islam. On the other hand, Muslims tend to lump all Jews together, without taking account of the vast differences between for example, Haredi (Chassidic) Jews, mainstream Orthodox Jews, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews, for which there are no equivalent movements in Islam.
It is convenient to think of the difference between a genuine Muslim who follows the basic precepts of his religion and a politicized Islamist as the difference between an Orthodox Jew and a non-religious Zionist. Zionism is basically a political program for Jewish emancipation, while Islamism is a political program for Muslim dominance. But, one big difference between them is that Zionism does not include deliberately displacing and making the Palestinian Arabs suffer, while Islamism deliberately targets all infidels and especially Jews for death.
It so happens that Palestinian Arabs have been displaced and have suffered, but that was because they refused to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to Palestine/Israel and were defeated in numerous wars and uprisings. When they finally acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel, which they will have to do eventually, they will begin to enjoy a normal life, instead of being one of the poorest, most welfare-dependent, divided and pathetic groups of people in the world.
In considering Islamism, Husain eventually concludes that it is incredibly arrogant for the Mulsims to believe that they can foist thier interpretation of history and religion on the rest of the world. What he and others fail to recognize is the extent to which the Muslim world has fallen behind the West, they are the poorest least developed group of peoples after Africa. And this is not because of the deliberate fault of the West, it is rather their own fault for wasting their wealth and young people on trying to defeat the West, rather than copy its successful practices, that include the development of science and technology.

Friday, July 27, 2007

English usage

I have always been fascinated by the differences between British and American English. As George Bernard Shaw pronounced, "Britain and America are two countries separated by the same language."
I noticed something quite subtle, at airports in America the arrows point to "baggage claim, " but in Britain they point to "baggage reclaim." This is symptomatic of the differences between the two forms of English, British English is more pedantic but accurate, while American English is more general and informal.
Here are some usages that to me, having lived in both countries, are quite distinct. In America, everything is "great," a word that is hardly heard in Britain, but on the other hand Brits say everything is "brilliant," which in America has only one meaning, as applied to very clever people.
There are many well-known differences, such as boot/trunk or hood/bonnet in a car and queue/line or lorry/truck. But there are other less common differences, such as nought/zero and mac/raincoat. Two interesting differences are the word "yonks" that no American would know, meaning for a long time, as in "I haven't seen you for yonks." Another is "yob" meaning a tough guy, and comes from the backslang for "boy." Also, "chockers" coming form "chock full" or "chock-a -block" menaing really full. Another British usage is the verb "to sort out" meaning to beat up or "take care" of someone.
In America there are also usages that no Brit would understand, for example in New England, "an English" refers to muffins. But, Brits get more exposed to American usage through the movies, while Americans don't see so many British films. Still, now they can listen to David Beckham, and say to themselves, "wot's that bloke talking about, wot's soccer?"
PS. The strike was resolved in 1 day with as predicted a 5% raise in public sector salaries.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Islamist

"The Islamist" by Ed Husain (Penguin books) provides valuable insight into the belief system of an Islamist and in this case his return back to mainstream Islam.
Husain was born in Britain to Bangladeshi parents and grew up in the Whitechapel/Tower Hamlets area of East London. He describes his experiences going to various mosques, including the East London Mosque and that on Brick Lane. What stands out is how quickly as a teenager in the 1990's he was converted to Islamism, the political brand of Islam that is anti-Western, anti-British and anti-Semitic.
Some years ago I was introduced to the teachings of the Egyptian precursor of the Moslim Brotherhood, Syed Qutb, who became an inspiration for the young Muslims in the UK. I found his teachings superficial, violent and sophomoric. But, apparently they appealed to a large group of British-born Muslims, who made common cause with their mainly Arab co-religionists.
Two interesting distinctions arose; although brought up to a spiritual and Bangladeshi/Pakistani version of Islam, the young men gravitated to the more extreme political agenda of the Islamists of Hizb ut-Tahrir. This wave of extremism was aided by Saudi Arabian support for the literal strain of Islam, Wahhabism, that has lead to al Qaeda and other anti-Western organizations.
The foundation of their belief system is that all current Muslim regimes are corrupted by compromise with the West. They must be overthrown in order to bring about the establishment of the universal caliphate, that would then in the pursuance of God's work, use its Muslim army to overthrow and destroy the West. They hate Jews for wanting to "take over the world," while in fact hypocritically they are plotting precisely that themselves! In their hardcore views, noncooperation with the hated Western culture extends to murdering any kuffir (non-Muslim or infidel) who gets in their way. This includes any Muslims who do not agree with or accept their political agenda.
When one person was stabbed to death at a demonstration at his college, Husain realized that he was getting in too deep, and started to retract. In this respect he comes across as incredibly naieve, preaching death to their opponents, but not realising that this actually means spilling blood. His book provides an excellent blueprint of the planning and methods adopted by the extremist Islamists to take over and control most of the Universities, Mosques and Islamic organizations in the UK, and they still do!
One surprising aspect of this book is the superficial understanding of Islam itself displayed by the Islamists. Most of them did not speak or understand Arabic, even though they were trained from birth to repeat long tracts of the Koran. This lack of understanding made them very susceptible to the blandishments of the "politically motivated" Islamists. Also, they showed an incredibly superficial understanding of current events. For example, they used the war in Bosnia to project a cause of Muslim suffering in Europe, never mind that Britain, the US and NATO basically saved Muslim Bosnia from extinction.
Of course, the Iraq war fed directly into their anti-American and anti-British biases, as well as an oft-repeated and strong anti-Israel hatred. During the break between the attacks on the US on 9/11/01 and that on Britain on 7/7/05, the British intelligence services seem to have been asleep. In many cases Husain gives examples of how training for violent activities and contacts with foreign extremists were overlooked and ignored by the British authorities. As a result of this incompetence, almost all Muslim organizations in the UK are now controlled by (covert) Islamists seeking the overthrow of the democratic system and its replacement with an authoritarian Islamist system ("the flag of Allah will fly over 10 Downing Street"), and this includes those organizations with which the British Govt. regularly consults (including the Muslim Council of Britain).
Ironically, at the end Husain realizes that the Islamist political organizations that are so anti-Western have in fact copied the Communists and Socialists in their mode of cell structure and the Nazis and fascists in their anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda. Another irony is that the intensely anti-democratic Islamist organizations that have thrived in the democratic environment of Britain are exporting their extremism to the Middle East and Indian subcontinent and not vice versa. Clearly Britain has a big job to do in catching up and routing out the hundreds of extremist Islamist cells that exist there today. This is a very worrying and informative book, let's hope MI5 have been studying it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

General strike

Today Israel is under the throes of a general strike in the public sector. This has been called by the Histadrut Trade Union as a result of a breakdown in negotiations with the Finance Ministry. The Histadrut demand an overall 10% increase in wages, while the Ministry offers only 1%, saying that is the maximum the economy can stand. A compromise is not currently possible.
This happens every year and causes great hardship and suffering, mainly to ordinary working people. For example, the tourism industry is just recovering from last year's war. Tourism is up 15% and people are finally being employed in the airlines, the hotels, restaurants, etc. Now all that will be ruined, since BG airport will be closed down as of tomorrow. To avert some of the suffering the airport will stay open all night to allow people to leave on flights brought forward or that manage to land before the stike starts.
The airport will have an extra 24 hrs open beyond the other facilities. During that time two flights of 500 French immigrants will be able to land. All railways will be stopped, all post offices and Govt. offices closed, everything will come to a standstill. Private bus companies and banks will remain open. How long the Govt. can allow this to continue remains to be seen, but it usually lasts three days or so before the Govt. asks the Labor Court for a back to work order and a compromise amount is arrived at (say 5%).
There seems to be no civilized way to bridge this gap between the wages demanded and those offered. The right to strike is axiomatic in open democratic societies, but it does do great harm and injustice to many people. In this situation, the Manfacturer's Association plays a negotiating role, since they want to avoid a strike at all costs, since it is estimated that it will cost them ca. NIS b1 per day! How this particular strike will work out is unknown, but we all hope it won't drag on. Well, at least we don't have floods as they do in the UK right now, ours is a man-made disaster.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

London now

I grew up in London, first the East End and then the suburbs. My friend Barry took us on several trips around London last week. It has certainly changed!
It is much more affluent, cleaner and more lively and cosmopolitan. When I lived there we Jews were the minority in the East End, with a few West Indians and some Pakistanis. Now there are people from all over, and certainly lots of Muslims.
We went for a stroll around the Brick Lane area where I grew up. It is now known as Banglatown, filled with colorful Bangladeshis. The Huguenots, Protestants from France in the 1680s fleeing Catholic persecution, were the first immigrants that settled in the Spitalfields area. Now their houses are very expensive and sought after. But, the Bangladeshis generally live in poorer housing. The Huguenot Church on Brick Lane was converted into a large Synagogue (the Masik Hadas) by Lithuanian Jews, and it is now a Bangladeshi Mosque.
We stopped over in Hoxton, that was a no-go area for Jews when I was growing up and was a center for Moseley's blackshirts before WWII. Now it is full of Black people and is the current hip area of London, with good restaurants surrounding Hoxton Square, what a transformation.
In Shoreditch there is a Vietnamese area, with Vietnamese restaurants lining Kingsland Road. Then we passed through a Turkish area near Dalston, although these Turks are mainly from Cyprus. In Finsbury Park we saw the Mosque where there has been a lot of trouble. Everywhere there was a complete multicultural mixture of people.
Going north we came to the largely Jewish area of Stamford Hill, where Naomi grew up. There are many haredi Jews living there and their presence is evident. At no time did we see any sign of animosity or friction. However, I am sure that if you walked around carrying an Israeli flag you would soon be challenged. All Jewish sites are surrounded by high security fences.
We also took a spin around the West End. Buckingham Palace was crowded with tourists. When it was sunny everything looked pleasant, when it rained, as it tends to do there, it was gray and depressing as I remember it. London is certainly an exciting place to live, but perhaps not so conducive to Jewish life.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Perhaps the most important event during last week was a little noted agreement between the Israel Govt. security agency and the PA security services under the Govt. of Salam Fayyed in Ramallah, the West Bank. Under this agreement, the armed factions affiliated with Fatah (mostly the al Aksa Martyr Brigades) will stop attacks against Israel and Israeli civilians in exchange for the IDF not pursuing them and not shooting them. No doubt the toll of the terrorists in each locality has been high, since the IDF has been killing on average 2 or 3 a day in gun battles, as well as arresting hundreds over time.
It was a condition of Israel that before serious negotiations can be undertaken between Israel and the PA/WB, they had to take action to curb the terrorist gangs in their territory. Until now there has been no attempt by the PA under Pres. Abbas to do this, so that the PA has been in a state of chaos, with various gangs with different affiliations (Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) fighting for control of each locality. Now finally Abbas seems to be serious about "one gun, one law" and this was no doubt triggered by the growth of Hamas in Gaza, that enabled them to take over there. The danger that this could also happen on the West Bank prompted Abbas and Fayyad to institute the first security control of all armed factions. From now on it is illegal for gunman to roam the streets openly with guns. They may keep them, but at home.
This is a very important first step, since it accomplishes the first baby step that was laid out in the Road Map peace plan, namely that Abbas must stop all terrorist attacks and curb the terrorist organizations. Since there has been agreement (supposedly) by the al Aksa Brigades in the West Bank to this agreement, then there is a chance of success. Of course, since Hamas and IJ are enemies of Fatah and have not accepted this agreement, any "illegal" actions by them should be suppressed by the PA security forces, so the IDF should not have to intervene. However, the IDF is still allowed to actively attack or pursue any groups that break the agreement.
Although progress on the Road Map has been deeply mired in mud, this current agreement represents a minor detour around the problem, and should enable further progress between Israel and the PA/WB. The release of 250 Fatah prisoners by Olmert was a "good will gesture" by Israel towards Abbas. We don't expect any reciprocal gestures from the PA to Israel, but at least Israel now says it has a "partner" in the peace process. Tony Blair arrived today, and he couldn't have come at a more propitious time. However, the outstanding question is what will he do about Gaza and Hamas?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Oral cowardice

PM Gordon Brown, in his first comprehensive interview last week with a journalist, specifically avoided uttering the I-word - Islam. I will say it for him, just as all British people know, Islamic terrorism! There are no Jewish terrorists, or Christian terrorists, or Buddhist terrorists, or even atheist terrorists (that's a novel concept), but there are definitely Islamic terrorists, and so far they have deliberately killed ca. 60 British citizens on 7/7/05 and hundreds more have been saved by mere chance.
That doesn't mean that all Muslims are terrorists, of course not. But it is even sillier to deny that the terrorists with whom Britain and the West are engaged in a war, that the new UK Head of Security Admiral Stevens says will take another 10-15 years, are Islamic terrorists.
We are told that Islam is a religion of peace. I dispute that, based on the evidence all around us. No doubt there are peaceful elements within Islam, but all Islamic societies are beset with violence, for example, Bangladesh, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. For example, the sieges in Tripoli, Lebanon, at the Nahr el-Barad camp and in Islamabad, Pakistan, at the Red Mosque, are typical violent clashes that pit the forces of extremist Islam against the secular Governments of these countries. And wherever there is a border with other faiths, such as Christianity in Lebanon and the Phillipines, Judaism in Israel, and Hinduism in India, there are violent conflicts. The Islamic world is not only the most violent, it is also one of the most backward, poor and primitive areas in the world.
The worst war that is currently taking place in the world is the Sunni-Shia sectarian violence in Iraq, where ca. 100 civilians are blown up every day. This is quite independent of the American presence and the former Iraq war, and is a reversion to the ages old Shia-Sunni rift, that long predates such recent phenomena. It is next to impossible for these two groups to tolerate each other, and the best thing to do is for the US to withdraw and let them fight it out. The idea of a democracy in Iraq is pie in the sky and the elected Iraqi Govt. of Maliki is fast unraveling.
Gordon Brown is not the first to be stricken with this particular form of oral cowardice. But, Brown's failure to be accurate in his description of the terrorist threat to Britain does not herald well his ability to deal with that threat.

Friday, July 13, 2007

David Horowitz talks

David Horowitz is the Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post. He is from London, and took a course in journalism in Cardiff before moving to Israel and working at the Post. On Wednesday he came to talk at our synagogue, and gave an excellent summary of the current situation.
He finds Israelis are more relaxed than they were and he attributes this to the reduction in terrorism (ca. 95%) due to the building of the Security Fence and the checkpoints. He cannot understand the opposition to the Fence by those who support human rights, since the greatest human right is the right to life, and the fence has statistically saved ca. 2,000 Israeli lives. Certainly it does inconvenience some Palestinians, but not as much as expected, since the Israeli Supreme Court has heard many cases disputing the route of the Fence, and has forced the Govt. to change the route many times, hence the delay in its construction. The idea that the Fence was built as a "land grab" by Israel is nonsense, because whereas the original route included some 17% of the West Bank, the final route now includes only 7%.
Nevertheless, Israelis are also generally in a malaise about the current internal political situation. This is partly attributable to the many scandals, sexual and financial, that have plagued the current Government, from the President to the PM and on down. PM Olmert has essentially no public support, in polls he gets from 0-3%, within the margin of error. This is a result of the perceived failure of the Govt. to prosecute last year's war in Lebanon and the harsh criticism of the Govt. and the PM by the Winograd Committee interim Report for their failures to consider alternative approaches during the war.
He criticized FM Limor Livnat, who as Mrs. clean in the Cabinet, after the publication of the Report could have forced Olmert to resign, but instead in her press conference said that she had "advised" Olmert to resign, but would continue as FM if he chose not to. So she enabled Olmert to get off scott free. In failing to press her advantage she damaged her credibility and probably committed political suicide.
David said that the Israeli public is currently "wooable" since they have lost confidence in the traditional parties, Labor for choosing a failure like Amir Peretz, and Likud because its leader Sharon bolted it and formed Kadima. But now Kadima has no credibility, so the public can be attracted by any alternative, that's why the Pensioner's Party came from nowhere to win 7 seats in the last election. The younger voters felt that their grandfathers must be better than any known politicians.
He thinks that Israel has gone through a cycle, starting with Netanyahu as PM, when the policy was "hang tough" in face of the Arab's rejection. Since that didn't produce any positive results, Ehud Barak was elected PM in 2000 with the idea that since the Arabs won't deal, we'll do our thing unilaterally. But, the hasty withdrawal from Lebanon and the subsequent "disengagement" from Gaza, only lead to greater Arab hostility, from Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Now that approach has been discredited we are about to revert to the beginning of the cycle again, "hang tough" with Netanyahu.
There are good reasons for this change in Israeli attitudes, since the lack of Israeli readiness and effectiveness exhibited in the Second Lebanon War has reduced the IDF's deterrent capability, and has therefore emboldened our enemies. Whereas many Arabs had come to the conclusion that we were here to stay, the new situation has somewhat degraded that concept. They once again harbor dreams of defeating us. This is especially true of the Islamist camp including Iran, Hizbollah, Syria and Hamas.
While Syria is giving out contradictory signs of peace and war, it is clear that there is no possibility of compromise with Iran and the others. In this situation Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank seems like a moderate. But, we must be very careful for two reasons, first many factions within Fatah are outright terrorist organizations, such as the al Aksa Martyr's Brigades, over which Abbas has little control, and second Abbas has proven himself time and time again to be indecisive and weak. No Israeli Govt. can trust him.
The visit of the Arab League representatives, Egypt and Jordan, coming soon, should not be seen as a great breakthrough, since the Arab League, although more conciliatory perhaps due to the potential threat of Iran, is still viciously anti-Israel. They would love to weaken Israel by persuading a weak Israeli Govt. to accept some attractive compromise (such as the right of return for refugees or further withdrawals) to strengthen Abbas, only to find that we can never recover from this concession.
Iran is not like Iraq was in regard to its nuclear capability. Iraq had one facility when Begin attacked it, which was not heavily defended and Iraq had no ability to recover from that attack. Iran has many nucelar facilities, they are heavily defended and they have the capability not only to recover from an attack but to counter-attack with missiles. So most Israeli policy makers would prefer to see Iran change its policies due to sanctions and/or internal upheavals. But, failing that, it is not sure that an Israeli strike against nuclear targets in Iran would be a successful strategy.
Finally, since he has seen what Israel has gone through historically, and knowing the resilience of Israelis, one must be positive and enthusiastic that somehow or other Israel will find a way through this latest threat to our existence.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Politics in Israel

In a major political development on Monday, Silvan Shalom, former Foreign Minister under PM Sharon, announced that he would not run for the Likud leadership. In a bitter speech against Bibi Netanyahu, he accused Bibi of deliberately bringing the date of the Likud primary vote for the leadership forward to September, so that there wouldn't be enough time for opponents to organize their campaigns. Having forced Shalom from the competition, Bibi sensing no real opposition (only the right wing candidate Moshe Feiglin is in the race) has now moved the primary date forward to Aug 14, so that he can have more time to focus on the General Election.
The date of this isn't known yet, but could be decided soon, once the revelations in the final Winograd Committee Report on the 2nd Lebanon War are published in a few months. This is expected to trigger the abandonment of the Olmert coalition Govt. by the Labor Party under Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Govt. is then expected to collapse and new elections will be scheduled. In these elections it is expected that although Olmert will campaign for the Kadima Party, he will receive very little public support, and the Party will collapse. So Bibi regards Barak, the Head of Labor, as the major rival, and has already started to campaign against him.
One aspect of the campaign is that Barak, when he was PM in 2000, removed the IDF from Lebanon unilaterally in such a hasty manner, that it lead to Hizbollah moving up to the Israeli border and lead in time to the 2nd Lebanon War, which occured exactly a year ago. Barak also made major concessions in negotiations with Arafat, including dividing Jerusalem, that had not been approved by his Govt., and this lead to the second intifada. So Bibi has his campaign theme, everything bad that has occured to Israel in the past few years was the fault of Barak.
But, both Bibi and Barak were not exactly great successes as former PMs, so the campaigns are probably going to focus on their previous times in office and the mistakes that they made then. Who comes out of this with the least damage, and depending on how many votes Olmert can retain, will become PM again. So we are in for a rough campaign, its going to be Bibi or Barak, take your choice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nefesh b'nefesh

On Tuesday 220 US Jews immigrated to Israel and arrived on a flight from NY sponsored by the program Nefesh b'nefesh ("soul to soul"). One of the families included was that of Menachem Aloof, who was a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence and then moved to the US. These are the first of approximately 4,000 new immigrants from the US, Canada and Britain, the English-speaking world, to immigrate to Israel this year under their program.
The great thing about this program is that all the bureaucracy that normally drives people mad and often causes them to leave Israel, is done by the N b'N team. This is aliyah made easy. All aspects are considered in advance, where they will live, an apartment, where the kids will go to school, payment of local rates, customs privileges, etc. It may take a year for the necessary arrangements, but when the new immigrant (oleh) gets off the plane, everything is arranged. Of course, this is a private American-funded and organized program, done in cooperation with the Israeli Govt. It was founded by a Rabbi and a businessman in Florida, with Christian financial help. The new way makes everything simpler, and is a typically American way of doing business. They also arrange specific loans or awards for the new immigrants to cover the cost of aliyah.
This is a far cry from the way things used to be done. The immigrant was expected to arrange everything him/her self. This required going to the Ministry of Interior (to register as a citizen), the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption (to obtain immigrant's rights) and the Israeli Customs (to obtain exemptions from payments). Of course, this was all expected to be done in Hebrew, although they sometimes had English-speaking clerks. The savings for a new immigrant on taxes and import duties could be as much as $30,000, including lower mortgages and loans. One of the main problems before was that the clerks (pakidim) in these offices were officious, unpleasant and often rude. One explanation for this is that many Israelis and immigrants tried to cheat the system one way or another. Also, many of the clerks were, shall we say, typical Israelis, going off to smoke or have coffee or a chat, while people waited in line (in hot corridors) for hours. Now they have electronic numbers and air-conditioned waiting rooms and things have improved. But, not all immigrants get the N b'N service, and the clerks still treat the immigrants with suspicion if not downright antagonism.
Every older immigrant in Israel can tell horror stories about the way they were treated by these clerks (including me). As a result the return rate (yerida) was about 50%! In the N b'N program it is reported to be only 1%, ie. 99% of those who immigrate this way stay in Israel! What a success rate! Now you might ask why couldn't the State of Israel organize such a program, and the answer is, forget it! It is beyond the realm of possibility. Several years ago I suggested that the immigrants should have to go to only one address for all services (ha, ha). So complex is the situation that the computer systems at each of the Government offices that the immigrant has to go to are incompatible. Further the clerks at each of these offices will not communicate with each other directly, but will do so only through paperwork that the immigrant has to take from one to the other.
It is truly a miracle that the population of Israel has increased thru immigration. Today there is a huge increase in the number of French-speaking immigrants (many originally from N. Africa) and a similar program to N b'N is being organized there. Many of them are feeling increased anti-Semitism, particularly from the large Muslim population in France that outnumbers the Jews about 6:1. Somehow we manage to survive this world-wide hatred, and N b'N is playing its part.

Monday, July 09, 2007

African migrants in Israel

There are now estimated to be about 2,400 African refugees in Israel. Originally they started coming from Darfur, claiming that they were mistreated in Egypt. But, although the Government could not decide what to do with them, nevertheless one way or another, often by private charities, they were somehow fed and housed.
Word no doubt got around and soon more started to cross the border from Egypt. Most of them were clearly economic migrants looking for work. The Govt. imprisoned some and started to repatriate others across the Egyptian border. This of course was criticized by various do-gooders and left-wing organizations.
However, let's be clear about this, Israel has no responsibility for these migrants. They are illegal, and as with all illegal migrants, in the EU and the US, the international standard is to arrest them and return them across the border from where they came. Only a small minority of these Africans can be classified as true refugees, those from Darfur. Remember that they have traversed a Muslim country, Egypt, to enter a non-Muslim country, Israel. Israel therefore contacted Egypt officially and arranged for most of them to be returned. However, the Govt. as usual failed to carry out its humanitarian responsibilites and so some of them were bused from Beersheva to Jerusalem where they were housed and fed, and then turned up outside the Knesset demonstrating for their right to stay in Israel.
Finally, after the Police, Interior Ministry and Ministry of Health all passed the buck, the Govt. decided to set up a refugee camp for them in the Negev near a prison where facilities can be supplied to them. Some individuals and organizations have taken pity on these refugees and/or migrants and said that because of the history of the Jews as refugees, Israel has a special responsibility to care for them and to allow them to stay here. That may be a nice sentiment, but Africa is awash with millions of refugees and migrants, and as soon as word get's around that they will be accepted here, many of them will make a beeline for Israel, instead of Spain.
Some of the migrants in Israel come from as far away as Ghana in West Africa.
Israel is a small crowded country with lots of problems, not least of which is maintaining a Jewish majority. Let's make sure that noone starves, but also let's make sure that out of a misplaced sense of responsibility, thousands of African economic migrants do not end up flooding into Israel.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Journalism, history and propaganda

On the news today there were two separate reports that caught my attention. Israel was sharply criticized by the PA Journalist's Union in Gaza and the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels for the shooting of a "Hamas journalist," Imad Ghanem, a cameraman. According to the IDF a small force entered Gaza in order to stop the daily Kassam rocket attacks on southern Israel, and in fact they destroyed eight rocket launchers, one of which was set up ready to be fired. Probably as a consequence of this action no rockets fell on Israel yesterday.
Ghanem was not among the journalist's covering the action, but was apparently among the Hamas gunmen. This not only put his life in danger, but also meant that IDF soldiers could not readily distinguish between the rest of the Hamas gunmen and the so-called "Hamas journalist" whose camera could easily have been misinterpreted as a gun. It was also not clear who actually shot Ghanem. As a result of being shot in the legs, Ghanem's legs were amputated at a hospital in Gaza, and his life is in danger.
But, we should ask, what is a "Hamas journalist," can there be such a thing? In western parlance, a journalist is someone who reports the news, but does so in a neutral and apolitical way. Granted that everyone has their own political views, but it is precisely for this reason that the highest achievement among journalists is that readers will not know the author's political viewpoint. Being a member of a Union does not mean that the person is an actual journalist. A "Hamas journalist" is not equivalent to an "Israeli journalist" or even a "Palestinian journalist." Hamas is a terrorist organization with a specific political viewpoint, so a "Hamas journalist" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. He could be called a "Hamas operative" or a "Hamas employee" or a "Hamas hack," but a journalist - no!
Note that since the kidnapping of Alan Johnston there are no more "independent" journalists or photographers in Gaza, and most Western news organizations use local "stringers," all of whom can be guaranteed to be under Hamas scrutiny if not actually working for Hamas. So all news reported from Gaza should be viewed with a high degree of scepticism.
During the Soviet era there were numerous attempts to write independent stories about what was really going on in the Soviet Union. There were Communist "journalists," who reported the news as they were told to do so by the Government, and there were independent journalists who were suppressed (their work appeared in underground Samizdat). Today there is what passes for a "free press" in Russia, but if a journalist criticizes Pres. Putin or his Govt. too much, they are assassinated. It is a stain on the name of free journalism that anyone from Hamas should be given this appellation!
At the same time, it was reported that Tom Segev, an Israeli journalist and historian, who writes a column in "Ha'aretz," has published a book about the 6-Day war, entitled "1967." But, in his interview on IBA he said that his book is not about the war per se, but about the build-up to the war and the aftermath, how it changed Israeli society. Sounds interesting. But, he made a curious comment, he said that before the war Israel had no history, the history only became apparent when papers were released that enabled historians (such as himself) to interpret history. I entirely reject this assertion. Of course, Israel had a history before people like Segev interpreted it and gave us the benefit of their analysis. And further, since I was alive at the time and remember the period well, the history of the era was very clear-cut, and is presented in the excellent historical work of Michael Oren in "Six Days of War" that was published in 2002 (available as a Penguin book).
Oren has himself criticized Segev's account of the causes of the war and its aftermath. Particularly, Segev makes much of the fact that previous Israeli Governments specifically rejected going to war in order not to capture and occupy the West Bank and Gaza territories. However, this makes perfect sense, Israeli Governments and people did not want war, period! The 6-Day war was forced on them by the deliberate actions of Nasser's Egypt and the Syrian and Jordanian Governments, the latter of which made specific military agreements with Nasser to attack Israel when it was most propitious for them to do so. This is a matter of recorded fact. So any reinterpretation of the causes of the 1967 war as a result of Israeli "imperialism" or "colonialism" is so much nonsense, a figment of the imagination of a "new" historian with an axe to grind. So Tom Segev is to history as Imad Ghanem is to journalism!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Death at the Red Mosque

The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad, Pakistan, has become a center for Islamist activity. Thousands of extremist students, men and women, have been incited by their Imams and have ventured out in gangs and attacked people on the streets that they considered insufficiently pious. Women wearing western dress were attacked and beaten. The women doing this activity are of course covered from head to toe in black burkas and they carry long bamboo sticks to hit their victims. This came to a head last week when they captured three Chinese women from a massage parlor and beat them to death because they were accused of being prostitutes. The Pakistan Government was severely criticized for not reacting to these provocations for months, and the Chinese Govt. issued a complaint.
Finally, the Govt. sent in the police and the army and surrounded the Mosque and proclaimed a curfew. Firing has been exchanged and ca. 20 people were killed, including several policemen. In order to avoid further loss of life and not to allow the students, similar to the Taliban, to proclaim themselves martyrs, the Musharraf Govt. offered the equivalent of 60 euros to every student who would surrender. But, those with guns would be arrested and tried. Over 1,000 students surrendered, but there are still hundreds inside, with guns. The leading Imam and instigator of the situation was arrested when he tried to escape the Mosque dressed as a woman wearing a burka. Videos from inside show masked terrorists shooting at the army outside.
This situation is a typical and deliberate case of incitement by Muslim religious authorities against the legal power of the state. The Islamists want to bring down the "moderate" Muslim regimes that cooperate with the West as much as they want to destroy the West itself.
There may yet be large scale loss of life at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, but it won't be the last time a Mosque has been used as a center for violent and subversive military activities.
Note: Edgar Allen Poe's story "Masque of the Red Death" takes place in a Church and the Red Death is a plague.

Alan Johnston's release

The release of the BBC's correspondent Alan Johnston from captivity in Gaza after 114 days is a great relief. It has certain implications, notably because Hamas was responsible for his release.
Johnston was kidnapped by the Darmush clan, but was not held for any specific ransom. There have been around 30 such kidnappings of foreigners and journalists in Gaza in the past few years as it descended into chaos, and all of them were eventually released, but Johnston was the only correspondent in Gaza for the past 3 years. This raises the question as to why the BBC would risk his life there, and the answer, pure and simple, was that he was the mouthpiece of the Palestinian movement, both Fatah and Hamas. He was useful to them and therefore his situation looked safe.
The people who kidnapped him have called themselves the "Army of Islam," but this is a front for the Darmush clan or gang. They have been operating autonomously, just as other gangs have, within Gaza, since Pres. Abbas became head of Fatah, and PA Govt. control in Gaza became a fiction. Abbas was so weak in his role as Palestinian leader, that it let Hamas and other gangs of terrorists take over. So corrupt was the Fatah leadership that when Hamas decided to run for office, they received a strong endorsement from the population of Gaza. Being in the Govt. forced Hamas to clean up their act to some extent. Even though Fatah and Hamas supposedly joined together in the so-called Unity Govt., this was another fiction, and then Hamas took over Gaza by force.
It was not good for them that Johnston was held captive, since it showed that they could not control the Strip, and that forces were active beyond their control. This only confirmed the international community in their belief that Hamas is a terrorist organization and could not be trusted, and should not be funded. Therefore the pressure has been on Hamas to prove that they are both responsible and moderate. How better to do that than release Johnston and gain points with the UK and others. Seeing Johnston having breakfast with former PM Ismail Haniyeh, is worth many PR points for them.
So there were three aims of Hamas in releasing Johnston, first to show that they control "their turf ", second that they are trustworthy and can be dealt with by Western Govts, and third they can get good PR in the West for their responsible actions. No matter that they are merely a larger and stronger Islamist gang than the Darmush/Army of Islam.
Now that they have engineered the release of Johnston by applying miltiary force to the Darmush, by killing three of them and arresting ten more, the pressure should be on them to do the same for Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held in captivity for over a year! However, for that they will almost certainly want a reciprocal response from Israel, probably the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
In the internecine struggle between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas have scored valuable points. But, Pres. Abbas has obtained the release of 250 prisoners by agreement with PM Olmert. However, the Fatah leadership are at pains to point out that they had no choice over who was released and that they gave noone or nothing in return. This was a unilateral Israeli gesture to them. Now it will be up to Hamas to try to up the ante and obtain more Palestinain prisoners, in exchange for the release of Shalit.
Meanwhile Johnston escaped from Gaza by way of Israel. Once in Israel he was truly free, and he could relax and catch a flight to London, where Islamist terrorists are also active.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Around the world the process of desertification is proceeding apace. As the planet heats up, from natural and man-made causes, the glaciers melt, the seas rise, but also the deserts expand. There is currently a conference on "Desertification and how to oppose it" taking place in Israel. Why Israel?
Israel has excellent experience in countering desertification. When the State was founded in 1948 a large proportion of the land was desert and treeless. During Roman times the Middle East had been a fertile area, and was a granary feeding Rome itself. The absence of trees was due to two main factors, the use of goats by the Arabs, which eat young tree saplings (apparently sheep and cows do not), and the historical process of the Turks cutting down the trees throughout the region for buildings and for ties for the Damascus-Cairo and Damascus-Mecca railways and for burning in the engines of the trains on those lines. These activities denuded the Holy Land of most of its trees.
The new State established the Jewish National Fund to plant trees and forests to overcome this situation. Many of you will remember the little blue JNF money boxes to collect money for planting trees in Israel. Anyone who has driven up to Jerusalem will have seen the forests that line the route that have been planted by the JNF. By planting forests, the moisture produced by the trees changes the climate from desert to a more moderate environment. In the south of Israel the whole ecology has been changed by the forests.
The attendees at the conference, experts on climate, forestation and desertification from around the world, were taken to see the Yakir Forest in the Negev, which is among the driest forests in the world. They said they were impressed by how much attention was paid to what trees were planted and where. It is this attention to detail that has made the JNF's programs in Israel so successful.
An expert from Italy said that now 5% of the area of his country in the south is experiencing desertification for the first time in history, and the Israeli experience and success would be a model for them to follow.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Terrorism and subversion in Britain

Well, I was wrong, the perpetrators of the current wave of car bombs in the UK are not Pakistani immigrants or "home-grown" terrorists, but foreign-born Muslims. But does it make any practical difference? and the answer is no!
Of the hundreds of thousands of young men of Pakistani origin born in the UK, many go on trips to Pakistan. While there, some are recruited by al Qaeda and are taken to various training camps and given training in bomb preparation, military activities and subversion. This is almost identical to al Qaeda or other related groups training Muslim foreigners abroad and then sending them to the UK where they pass as innocent immigrants, often technically trained, such as medical doctors. It appears that the cell that carried out the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow were in fact doctors, at least one from Jordan and another from Iraq. From their point of view it makes no difference where a Muslim comes from, Baghdad or Bristol, it only matters that they have been radicalized and believe in the need for a violent jihad against the West. And the UK has been chosen as the best target, the soft-underbelly of the West (where is Cherie Blair when we need her, I presume she still believes that suicide bombers are "desperate, poor" Palestinians, and she sympathizes with them).
According to reports in the media the counter-terrorism forces in the UK are monitoring ca. 200 cells of both British-born and foreign Muslims, 30 of them of imminent danger, consisting of ca. 1,600 individuals. Just as in the US, these people were ignored until they first struck, in the UK on 7/7/05. Since then the net has been widening. Of course, these extremists represent only a small proportion of the total Muslim population in Britain. But, as in any underground group, they swim in a sea of sympathizers. A poll taken of Muslims in the UK after 7/7 found that 34% agreed that killing "infidels" was justified. Compare this to ca. 65% of Palestinians who believe that killing Israeli civilians by suicide bombers is justified. Also, when the Red Guards were terrorizing Italy in the 1970s (they murdered former PM Aldo Moro), although they were a tiny group, they had an organization of thousands of strong supporters and perhaps a million and half active sympathizers. This is the only way such an underground group of small cells can function. Of course, the Communists used this approach too in their attempt to bring down the West.
One of the consequences of this approach is that Muslim extremist organizations have targeted campuses and unions in the West as ideal breeding grounds for expanding their support and ideology. Do you think it is purely coincidence that right now there is an active movement to boycott (only) Israeli academics and universities in the UK, and that Unions are also voting for and considering anti-Israel boycotts? Their program over the past 20 years of pouring money and people into the West has been very successful. This was also the strategy of the Communists, but they were far less successful.
In this respect, we must distinguish between extremist Shia and Sunni Islam. The Shias are organized from Iran, and are focussed mainly on extending the Iranian revolution through Shia populations in Iraq and Lebanon and pro-Shia groups in Syria, as well as sympathetic Palestinians, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza. It is the extremist Sunni organization al Qaeda which believes in directly attacking the West by terrorism, and the Salafist/Wahhabi sponsors in Saudi Arabia that have bank-rolled the undermining of the West by subversion. They are the ones supporting the global jihad that is intended to overtake the West and the "moderate" pro-Western Arab regimes, and to substitute a world-wide Caliphate (note that the Shia oppose the idea of a Caliphate).
Just as with the Communists, it is the fellow-travellers of the left, and duped well-meaning liberals, who are taken in by the Muslim arguments. 'If only the West stopped supporting Israel, if only they withdrew from Iraq, if only they were more understanding of Muslim sensitivities, then none of these attacks would be necessary." Just give in and the terrorism will die away! This is the basis of the current anti-War movement in the UK.
But, as more attacks occur and as more people die (luckily none this time in the UK) the realization should dawn that this is all nonsense. That in fact the attacks would continue whatever the West does, whether or not they are accomodating to the Muslims. Who was seized in Gaza? Alan Johnston, of the BBC, the most pro-Palestinian journalist, the only one who could remain there, because he was so pro-Palestinian. They seek to murder Salman Rushdie, just as they did Theo van Gogh in Holland.
In fact, it makes no difference whether or not the Palestinians have a state or if there is by some miracle Israel-Palestinian peace, whatever Blair says. They would still claim that Israel is "occupying" their land. The fundamentalist Muslim war against the West began 1,000 years ago, and is driven by the strong resentment that Islamists feel that they are not predominant. They will fight until they are, or until they are completely defeated. Unfortunately the British are treating the current terrorist attacks as crimes, rather than as skirmishes in an on-going war.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lunch with Bibi

On Sunday we went to a fund-raiser lunch in Tel Aviv with Bibi Netanyahu for the Anglo Division of Likud. He was accompanied by his supporters Limor Livnat, former Min. of Education, and Yuval Steinitz, former Head of the Knesset Defense Committee.
Politics is said to be the art of the possible. Even though I could design my perfect candidate, you have to play the game with the pieces you have (or the cards you've been dealt). Bibi speaks very well, he is interesting and persuasive. Of those around he is the best available (of a bad bunch). Both Livnat and Steinitz spoke well. Steinitz of course emphasized the threat from Iran and indicated what Israel must be prepared for. He reminded us that it was Begin who attacked the nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981. Although at the time Israel was universally criticized for this action, it turned out to have been the correct thing to have done under the circumstances. Of course, a diplomatic solution or internal upheaval in Iran would be preferable, but Israel must be prepared for the worst.
Bibi said that we expect an election in Israel within 3-6 months. At present we have a coalition Govt consisting of Kadima and Labor. But, when the final report of the Winograd Committee is published in September, it is expected that it will severely criticize PM Olmert and his Govt., and in order to save Labor, Barak is expected to remove Labor from the coalition. In which case the Govt. is likely to fall and this will trigger the election. So we are preparing for that. The system will return to a strong Likud and Labor in the opposition and Kadima will probably die out.
Bibi spoke about being on the beach at night near Atlit when his son was taking a training course. He saw a house on the beach and examined it. It turned out to be the ruin of the house from which Aaron Aronsohn sent coded messages to the British warship offshore during WWI. This "Nili" group spied on the Turks for the British after Aronsohn on his own initiative approached British intelligence in Cairo. They were successful for a few years and then were captured. But, their information helped Britain to win the war against the Turks. Why did he do this? Because he calculated that while the Turks would never give the Jews independence, with the British it was possible. He made a gamble and although he and others paid with their lives, in the end he was right.
Bibi said that he wanted to do this, to see clearly the way ahead and to act as necessary. To do so Israel must persuade the leaders of the Western world that Iran is indeed the main factor in supporting fundamentalist Islam, that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah and Syria are now Iranian puppets. In order to face their threat Israel must significantly build up its forces, and stop all withdrawals from which the Iranian-backed forces have attacked a more vulnerable Israel, from Lebanon (a mistake of Barak) and Gaza (a mistake of Sharon).
In order to carry out this program and oppose militant Islam, Israel must significantly grow its economy. The current boom is based on the economic reforms that he (Bibi) made when he was Finance Minister. But, these were stopped in mid-stride. Now if Likud is elected he will finish the reforms and Israel, by taking advantage of globalization, will become one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Yes, this was an election speech, but a good one. After the malaise of Sharon and Olmert anything positive sounds good.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Terrorism in Britain

The discovery of the two car bombs in London last weekend and the terrorist attack by a car bomb on Glasgow airport clearly emphasize that Britain is under terrorist attack. It was very lucky that the bombs did not detonate and so there were no casualties this time.
If I were to suggest that these attacks are Jewish-inspired, for example because of the many attacks on Israel by British organizations, including academic and other unions, no doubt you would be aghast. Whereas in fact everyone knows that this is Islamist-inspired terrorism, spreading from the Middle East around the world.
Britain is in a difficult bind, because it has a large Muslim minority population, many of whom are poor and harbor both the usual minority as well as specifically Muslim antagonisms. Having been born in England to immigrant parents (although my mother was born in England three of my grandparents were immigrants) I can testify to the feelings of alienation that a poor immigrant can feel in a predominantly aloof society. However, balanced against this are the facts that it was and still is possible for British-born children of immigrants to be upwardly mobile and to fit into a mainly friendly society.
Further, the Jewish immigrants to Britain did not have the specifically Muslim response to Western society, namely that it is "immoral" and "decadent" and should be replaced by their own Sharia law. On the contrary, Jews were intent in one way or another of fitting into or integrating in British society, while a minority of the Muslims want to change it to suit their interests. This campaign of terrorism although seemingly amateurish and sporadic, definitely intends to change the world.
It is this sense of hatred for the society in which they have grown up or chosen to live that separates these Muslims from all other immigrants. They believe that their Islamic society is in fact superior to the Western model and this gives them the right no kill whomever they like (infidels) in order to achieve their goals. The fact that Britain allowed many hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Pakistan and India to settle there, puts Britain in a different situation than the other Western countries (e.g. France, Belgium, USA), whose Muslim populations are generally of Arabic origin. In a sense the Muslims in Britain are more integrated into British society than in these other countries and consequently it makes it harder to understand and more difficult to root out this kind of home-grown terrorism.
As the details of these incidents become clearer and the huge amount of forensic information becomes available, the new British Government will have to enact changes that might at first seem arduous. But, as we here in Israel can testify, these actions are both necessary and effective. If the new British Government needs advice in dealing with a dangerous Muslim minority I know a good address.