Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Armenian genocide

There has been a controversy in the US over the designation by the Anti-Defamation League of the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks during WWI as a Genocide. This has angered the Turks as usual, since they do not acknowledge this massacre and refute the charge of genocide. As far as I am concerned there is no doubt that there was such a large-scale massacre, that it was deliberately and cold-bloodedly organized by the Turkish Army and people and that it was the first example of genocide in the 20th century.
However, as to the politics of the situation, since Turkey, as a Muslim State, is one of the few friends that Israel has in the region, it makes no sense to me to antagonize them by stirring up again a situation that is old history.
As to the facts, there are numerous eyewitness accounts, including the famous book "The forty days of Musa Dagh," by Franz Werfel that was published in Germany in 1934 and reignited interest in the subject. This book is a fictionalized account of the true events surrounding the defense of an Armenian town from the Turkish Army. There were also detailed accounts of the atrocities by British and American Ambassadors, Consuls and many individuals who were in Turkey at the time.
The "ethnic cleansing" of the Armenians represented the deliberate destruction of a Christian population in Muslim Turkey while the world was focussed on WWI, during which Turkey was allied with Germany. The orders to carry out the various actions are documented, including removing hundreds of thousands of Armenians to concentration camps and the deliberate expulsion of Armenians into the desert south of Turkey without food or water. The current small population of Armenians in Lebanon and Jerusalem are the remnants of this Genocide. Apart from that, hundreds of thousands were also killed by their Turkish neighbors and massacred in numerous actions by the Turkish Army. Hitler justified his Genocide of the Jews in part by stating that "nobody remembers the Armenians," and he adopted the same policies.
However, having established the fact of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, this does not mean that it is in Israel's or American Jew's interest to rehash this particular tragic and terrible event. Jews have a distinguished history of taking the part of other groups in order to help them attain equality. This includes the Civil Rights movement in the USA, and notably German Jews supported Germany during WWI, and Czech Jews and Jews in other countries in Europe identifiying with their country. However, it gained them nothing in the end, since in each and every country, with few exceptions (Denmark and Bulgaria), the local population rounded on them and killed them enthusiastically in complicity with the invading Germans. American Blacks have also expressed anti-Semitism and have violently attacked Jews in many cases.
The Armenian issue came to a head recently when the New England representative of the ADL criticized the organization's stance on the subject, and after some dispute, he was fired. However, Abe Foxman, Head of ADL then issued a statement basically endorsing the representative's position, that it was a "genocide." However, the ADL is against a Congressional investigation and/or statement on the subject, since Foxman (in cooperation with various historians, including Elie Wiesel) regards it as a matter for historians to investigate, not political organizations. Why should an American Jewish organization be focussed on the massacre of Armenians by Turks nearly 100 years ago, especially when that has the potential to severely undermine Israel's position in the Middle East. Israel and the Jews have few enough friends. We have our own Genocide to concern ourselves with, and the threats to Jewish existence still exist in Europe and the Middle East. And for whatever it means, relations between Jews and Turks have traditonally been good. The Sultans welcomed Jews to Turkey and the then Turkish province of Palestine when Jews were expelled from Spain (hence the former Sephardic populations in the Balkans and elsewhere). Basically, this is not our issue and why should we put our nose into it to our own detriment.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Terrorism and road deaths

Sunday night two Palestinian terrorists from Gaza climbed over the security wall (20 feet high) for the first time using a rope ladder, attacked an Israeli security facility with grenades and gunfire, and then went to attack an Israeli village, but were caught and killed before they could do so. They were from the Popular Resistance Committees sponsored by Hizbollah. Monday 6 youths followed their path, and were captured. Perhaps their handlers thought that the IDF would relax after the previous night's action. However, these youth were unarmed and claimed they had climbed the wall looking for work! It is part of the same pattern established by Hizbollah from Lebanon to send in (disposable) youths to act as spotters, to check the defenses and IDF readiness.
Prior to this, at least 9 terrorists have been killed in the past week, most of them near the Gaza border fence, or squads firing rockets or mortars into Israel. Although the IDF has been notably successful in countering these actions, there is no doubt that this represents a significant surge in terrorist activity from Gaza. Analysts are of the opinion that this surge represents the first wave of Hamas-organized actions against Israel since taking over Gaza and warn that these are probes for a much larger wave of terrorist infiltration into Israel in the near future. This includes a significant increase in the digging of large tunnels that have been used successfully before, for example to kidnap Cpl Shalit. This raises the question, for how long can Israel continue to rely purely on defensive actions, without taking offensive action to cut off the wave of terrorists before they attack.
As bad and as dangerous as the terrorist situation in Gaza is, the carnage on Israeli roads is much more lethal. This week 15 Israelis were killed in road accidents. Last night a family of 4 from Netanya were wiped out in a single car crash due to speeding at night while driving drunk and without seat belts. There have also been several head on collisions between cars and trucks. In 2007 so far 208 Israelis have been killed on the roads and nearly 1,000 injured! Unfortunately this is far more than the number of victims of terrorism, and the Cabinet discussed road safety today, and agreed on various actions, including the reinstatement of a previous budget cut of NIS 150 milllion and the establishment of a nation-wide speed-camera network, that has been discussed for a long time. Finally as the death toll mounts the Israeli Govt. may start to take this dreadful situation seriously.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The fourth force

In her series "God's warriors," Christiane Amanpour covered extremists of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. But, one group was conspicuous by its absence, namely secular "warriors."
As one interviewee mentioned "moderates" don't produce extremists because by definition they are "moderate." There are no secular terrorists, prepared to blow up and kill people in the name of ...what ...non-religion! (Of course, there once were "Godless Communists," but they have virtually gone from the scene)
Yet, extremists of all the three religions mentioned the secularization of society, the "degradation" of culture and the emphasis on sex and freedom of expression as a major basis for their renewed activitism. In fact, in the Christian segment it was the major source for all the activities of the religious right, the moral majority, the so-called "pro-life" movement and the youth groups such as Battlecry. Yet, noone was a spokesman for the good that secular Western civilization has done, the toleration, the freedom of expression, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the "pursuit of happiness," the economic independence, the scientific innovations, etc. It was the missing fourth force, absent by default.
So it is an omission not to include those who strongly support secular Western society in a series about extremism, and many of the religious extremists blame it for their actions, blowing up and beheading people, such as journalists who tell the unpalatable truth. The fact is that all religions are fighting a losing battle, a rearguard action, against the success of liberal, democratic secular society. And the "warriors" of this persuasion although not extremists are very powerful because they control the power of the state, the police, the army and they are supported by the majority of its citizens in most Western countries. That is why the Muslims are so activated, they fear the growth of the power of secular society, they fear the freedom and the loss of control over their women and their culture, that is why they fight so vociferously. Separation of Church and State is the most successful dogma, not religion, and civil society rules.
When the US Army and its allies overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, it was a success for secular society against religious extremism and totalitarian oppression. When the allies try to instal a democratic government in Iraq, this is a secular action, not that of a Christian force, that the Muslims confuse with the crusades, or do so deliberately in order to raise ignorant Muslim opposition. In fact, they don't really understand democracy, the idea of a loyal opposition and minority rights. As far as they are concerned any opposition is unacceptable to their rule and all minorities must be suppressed. They have not kept pace with the transformation of Western society from a Church-dominated culture to a "free" secular culture. The Pope now only controls the Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury is a figure of amusement, wrapped in purple cloth and unsure of his dogma, and in the US even though it is the most "religious" Western country, the patchwork of so many different religions makes it sure that no one of them can dominate.
In the Christian segment of her uneven series, Amanpour includes evolution as an "irritant" in the secular-religious war, with creationsists calling for equal time in schools for "intelligent design" with scientifically based evolution. However, a judge ruled that "intelligent design" is not scientific, it is purely based on subjective belief, and has no place in school science courses. I agree with him, the universe is millions of years old and has evolved, both physically and biologically, and most intelligent people accept that and move on. The fact is that religion is wrong about many things, and its adherents should stick to their personal belief system and leave politics alone and stop trying to impose their views on the rest of us.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

God's warriors II

Now that I have seen all three of the two hour specials by Christiane Amanpour on "God's warriors," I think I can give a more informed appraisal. I think this special was conceived as a way of tackling the newsworthy predominance of Muslim terrorism and violence in the world without appearing to be biased by concentrating only on that and throwing in equally long segments on Judaism and Christianity for balance. This is CNN's way of covering the subject, but without actually exposing the truth for what it is. Namely that Islam is a terribly violent and martyrdom-obsessed religion quite different from Judaism and Christianity, with a large minority of millions of adherents who are prepared to kill, behead and slosh through rivers of infidel blood in order to take over the world.
In the segment on Islam many of them came across as simply mad! And what would the world be like if they could achieve a universal Caliphate, it would be devoid of music and entertainment, women would be totally suppressed and it would be economically depressed like the Muslim world is today. That is if the Caliphate were achieveable, which it is not, for even in the Muslim world there are enough schisms to prevent the formation of a unified Caliphate. The Shia would never accept a Sunni-dominated Caliphate, and the more liberal Muslim areas of southeast Asia would not accept Arab domination. Also, the Arab regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. are not going to go quietly. This is apart from European and US opposition, although the Europeans are at present both passive and self-destructive.
The segments on Jewish and Christian "warriors" were lame by comparison to the Muslims. The Jewish one was an excuse for CNN and Amanpour to let out all the stops in their general anti-Israel bias. According to her analysis the Arab-Israel conflict is due to Israeli "settlements" and "occupation" (how simplistic and wrong), while the actual amount of Jewish terrorism was infinitesimal compared to that of the Muslims. She actually quoted five (!) cases of Jewish terrorism, two of which were unsuccessful, and all of these extremists were caught by the Israeli police, tried, convicted and jailed! Would that Islamic countries did the same to their terrorists.
The three Jewish actions that were "successful" were the blowing up of Bassam Shaka, the mayor of Nablus in 1980, the massacre of Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994 and the assassination of PM Rabin in 1995. In the 1970s I met Bassam Shaka in his office in Nablus with a delegation of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East. He was quite frank about his enmity for and hatred of Israel, and he was definitely not interested in a peaceful settlement.
Amanpour failed to point out that Judaism is different from Islam and Christianity in that it is non-proselytizing, and therefore in no way do Jews try to "force" their religious views and culture on anyone else. In the Christian segment all the people she interviewed were essentially nonviolent and were using the democratic process (which is their right). Nothing compared to the horrible and frightening segment covering the Muslims. If she had chosen to focus on the extreme right wing Christian fringe groups, such as the so-called Christian Identity Movement, the Ku Klux Klan and various Nazi groups in America they would have been more equivalent to the Muslims she interviewed. But, they are miniscule in number and influence compared to the Muslim extremists, and that's probably why she ignored them.
Thousands have been killed by Muslim terrorism around the world, from Bali to London, from New York to Casablanca, from Spain to Iraq. It is of a completely different order of magnitude compared to Jewish and Christian extremism, and in that respect Amanpour's series was a sham.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

God's warriors I

Christiane Amanpour's series on "God's warriors" on CNN is an attempt to describe the religiously motivated extremists in the Middle East who are prepared to use violence in God's name. The first part of the three-part series covering Jewish "warriors" aired tonite Aug 22. While she is not presenting a completely balanced viewpoint, it was an interesting and stimulating program. It is difficult to judge the true impact until the other programs focussing on Muslim and Christian extremists are shown.
Nevertheless I have three main criticisms of the thrust of the first program:
1. In focussing on Jewish terrorists she gives the impression that they are a major factor in Israeli politics and in the Middle East situation, while in fact they were a pitiful few compared to the many thousands of Arab terrorists. Perhaps there were 25 Jewish terrorists, and all of them were captured by the Israeli security forces and most of them were found guilty and sent to jail. Most of them never actually hurt anyone and except for Yigal Amir who assassinated PM Yitzhak Rabin they had no significant effect on the situation. Certainly the settler movement is much larger and more significant, but they officially oppose violence and for all the resistance no one has been killed in any of the disengagements (Gaza, Amonah, Hebron). Neither has this schism so far divided the Jewish people in Israel in any major or violent way.
2. She emphasized that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal under the Geneva Convention that forbids an occupying power from settling its citizens in "occupied land." But, although called "occupied land" the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are neither "Palestinian territory" as she described it nor is it "occupied." The territories comprising the West Bank were defined by the temporary ceasefire lines of 1948, and Israel has a legitimate claim over them as part of the territory of the Palestine Mandate given to Britain to establish a "Jewish homeland." They were illegally occupied by Jordan (then Transjordan) in 1948-67, an occupation that was recognized by only Britain and Pakistan, not by the UN or US. The fate of those territories can only be decided by mutual negotiations between Israel and a Palestinian partner. However, she failed to point out that no new settlements have been established for about 10 years under existing Israeli Govt. policies.
3. In relation to Hebron, Jews were living there not only before Mohammed, but throughout the Muslim/Arab occupation from the 7th century until 1929, when the remaining Jews were massacred and/or exiled by the Arabs. Jews came back after 1967 and have every right to live there. Also, Kfar Etzion was a Jewish owned kibbutz before 1948 and was one of the few Jewish settlements that were captured by the Arabs in the War of Independence. After its recapture by Israel in 1967 the Jews returned to the land that they owned and there is no law that can deny them the right to do so.
Apart from these points, I found the piece uncomfortable to watch as it focussed on the Jewish religious extremists. As a secular Jew/Israeli I do not identify with them. But, in order to appear balanced, Amanpour had to spend as much time covering Jewish extremists as the Muslim extremists. However as we all know the ratio of Muslim to Jewish extremists is about 1,000,000 to 1. So apart from over-emphasizing their impact the program was little more than a space filler.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gaza and Israel

For three days running the IDF managed to kill Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, one set of five of them were returning from a "successful" firing of several rockets and mortars into Israel. The rockets did not kill anyone, but one of them hit a kindergarten that was fortunately empty at the time. These terrorists in Gaza were from Hamas, and at their funeral processions the next day there were the usual extremist threats against Israel. Last night a leader of the military wing of Hamas was killed in a group near the Gaza border. Targeted killings are successful in preventing effective attacks on Israel.
Meanwhile part of Gaza was suffering without electricity in the sweltering heat. About 25% of the electricity supply of Gaza was cut off because the generating company had insufficient oil supply. But, this was suspicious because the money to buy the oil from Israel was being supplied by the EU office here, and they suspected that the money was instead being siphoned off by the Hamas Govt. to use for other purposes, such as buying arms. So the EU cut off the funds and the Israeli company supplying the oil stopped the shipments. While the Hamas spokeman denied misuse of the funds, the EU insisted on a guarantee that the funds would not be used by the Hamas Govt., which it does not recognize. Once the EU got this guarantee, for what its worth, they reinstituted the payments and after five days the oil started flowing again. Israel is committed to supplying humanitarian aid to Gaza throughout this conflict. But, the question is should Israel supply oil and electricity to Gaza while they are shooting rockets at us? I don't think so!
Meanwhile, the tentative agreement between Israel and the Fayyad PA Govt. in the West Bank to stop terrorism in exchange for an amnesty for al Aksa Brigade terrorists seems to have foundered. The IDF has still been going after and arresting some wanted terrorists who are not on the list of ca. 270 that the two sides agreed upon. Instead the al Aksa leadership claimed that all of their cadres were covered by the amnesty, but this was not true and is denied by the Israel Govt. Using this excuse, the al Aksa Brigades have issued pamphlets to their members telling those that put down their arms to take them up again. The IDF now predicts an increased terrorist wave against Israel from the West Bank. While the Fayyad Govt and Pres. Abbas have declared themselves against the use of terrorism, it seems that they can do nothing about the terrorists operating from their territory, in violation of the amnesty agreement and of the first requirment of the Road Map, that Abbas signed several years ago.
The lack of funds in Gaza is beginning to tell. The number of Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel is now at a fairly constant low level of 2-3 a day. Not acceptable, but at least not increasing. The IDF puts this down to the lack of funds to buy explosives to produce the rockets in Gaza. But, meanwhile the Olmert Govt. has not done its job in reinforcing the roofs of schools and kindergartens in Sderot and in the north of Israel, in case of a new war there. To a large extent they have been relying on donations (mainly from the US) and private organizations doing the job. This is unacceptable in a situation where children's lives are at stake and the Courts have issued injunctions requiring this work to be done. The Olmert Govt. can claim that there are limited funds and they have just agreed to increase the payments to Holocaust survivors in Israel, as well as a looming teacher's strike and a general agreement that the salaries of teachers are much too low and must be increased. Certainly funds are low in Israel too, but many will blame the Olmert Govt. for a lack of clear budgetary priorities.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

iPod generation

My son brought me an iPod from the US, and it is a brilliant piece of personal electronics.
I now feel that I have belatedly joined a new generation that walks around all the time with earphones affixed, and listens to music practically all the time anywhere and everywhere, from home, to street, to car, to work. It is amazing to be able to transfer gigabytes of music, practically all the music one has ever wanted to hear, from CDs into the iPod, and then hear whatever you want whenever you want. Talk about instant gratification. And its so clear and distinct, like having a full orchestra in your head.
This leads me to muse on the advance of technology and the instant obsolescence of previous equipment for doing the same thing, but on a much lower level. As I see it we first had the record (from 78s to 35s and then LPs), then the tape (reel-to-reel and then cartridges), then the CD (with portable as well as fixed CD players). Now we have the digital memory that is the basis of the iPod. Steve Jobs has already taken it to the next level by combining the cell phone with the iPod and the ubiquitous camera to make the iPhone. Whether or not this will become the next big thing is difficult to tell, but the iPod is definitely a success.
Interestingly, some technologies are completely replaced, but some remain and only gradually die out. For example, the record is gone, very few people have record players (gramophones) and LPs are now only collector's items. However, tapes are still around, and still quite widely used, although I doubt we will ever use them again ourselves. We have two Walkmen tape players in a bottom drawer and they will probably stay there. I also have a portable CD player, that I shlapped around with a container of CDs on flights for a year or so back in the 90's. Now it will be permanently retired. The iPod seems to be the apex of the development of sound technology, but who can predict what the human mind is capable of inventing next. The same progression of film has taken place from tape to DVDs to digital.
This reminds me of the "Music box" museum in Ein Hod, an artist's colony on the way to Haifa up in the Carmel Hills. A former US journalist collected music boxes during his career, and now exhibits his collection there. It turns out that mechanical music boxes were produced for only about 100 years, between 1850-1950, and were replaced by the record. In the museum are examples of working devices, for example one that was a coin operated machine that was on German railway platforms and could play a choice of three pieces of music. Its another surprising thing to find in Israel.
I expect in the not-too-distant future that the iPod will be exhibited in museums when it has already been replaced by who-knows-what. Meanwhile I'm enjoying it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Disengagement - two years later

Another scandal - and there are too many of them - in Israel today is the treatment of the evacuees (or expelees) from Gaza. The members of Gush Kativ were forced out by the IDF in 2005 with peaceful resistance (although later there was violence at several expulsions, for example at Homesh and Hebron recently). But, residents of several of the Gaza settlements signed agreements in advance to go quietly and did so. However, all of them, the 7,500 or so former Gaza residents are still mostly unresettled after 2 years since their removal.
How is it that after all the promises, all the money spent and all the demonstrations and agreements, that 2/3 of the former residents of Gaza are not settled in permanent homes, do not have jobs and are without compensation. After the intial false start the Govt. empowered an organization named Sela to deal with the settlers and to satisfy their needs. However, very little has been done, those who were moved temporarily to caravillas, being small houses about 1/4 the size of a regular house, are still in these little constructions, usually without a/c in the intense heat.
Most of the Gaza settlers were successful farmers. The Govt. undertook to find them equal or nearly farms and fields. However, last year the crop failed in most cases. In a settlement near Ashkelon, the Govt. forgot to instal drainage so the irrigation caused flooding and all the crops were killed. Many people have not been given compensation by the Govt. for the value of the homes and land they were forced off, mainly because of bureaucratic hurdles. But, you can never trust the Govt. either because of policy or incompetence.
Now I don't know about you, but if I were a supporter of "disengagement," as it was euphemistically called, I would have tried very hard to make sure that those who suffered the results of this policy would be kept happy, because from now on noone will agree to be moved for political reasons because they know they won't be compensated as they are promised. People bought land there and settled there under Govts. that encouraged them, Govts often led by such reliable people as Ariel Sharon. But, noone predicted his 180 degree turnaround, and for what, so that he could save his reputation from being the "butcher of Sabra and Shatilla," which was an unjustified calumny. Even though he was dismissed from his position as Defense Minister at the time since he was in charge of the area where the massacre occured in 1982, it was not carried out by Israeli troops but by Christian militiamen. It was the international media more that anything that in their bias against Israel made Sharon a figure of hatred. So the settlers of Gaza had to suffer so that he could try to redeem himself, and it worked. Noone calls him that anymore, since he showed that he could be as anti-Israel as any respected leftist. But, the people he and Olmert had forcibly removed are still suffering for his sins.
So what will happen to these poor people, living in temporary accomodations after 2 years, some without jobs and without incomes and with small children, because the Govt. of Israel decided that to accomodate the Palestinians we should forcibly remove these Israeli settlers. And what did we get for it, more terrorism and a constant barrage of rockets from the very land that was evacuated. Never again!
Note that I'll be on vacation again for a short time.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Good news, bad news

Yesterday we were assured by PM Olmert that there will be no war with Syria this summer. Hooray! The expectation has been that Iran will allow Hizbollah to rest and recoup its losses from last year's war and instead pressure its other proxy, Syria, into fulfilling the role of the initiator of hostilities with Israel, just as Hizbollah did in 2006. But, of course this is no guarantee.
But, at the same time the IDF yesterday expelled several families from a market in Hebron. What is most unsettling about this action is that the market was and is definitely Jewish-owned, until the Arabs massacred the Jews in Hebron in 1929, expelled those who managed to survive and took over the market and all other Jewish property. Also, the Kadima Government handled this like another "disengagement" (read expulsion of Jews), using the IDF for what is not a military situation instead of the civil police for a political action. As a result of the use of the Army several soldiers (ca. 22) refused to participate, regarding the orders as illegal, since the IDF is supposed to be defending the State and its citizens.
While I agree that soldiers in the IDF should obey orders without consideration of political opinions, it is stupid to order them to do this unpalatable exercise when they should be guarding our borders and stopping terrorism. The scenes of Jewish soldiers manhandling Jews and expelling them has nasty overtones of WWII. It is certainly not good for either the soldier's or the country's morale. It is also another killer for Olmert's political popularity and ensures once again that he is unelectable. There have been suggestions that Kadima will be decimated in future elections especially if Olmert remains its Head, although if FM Livni becomes the Head of Kadima they may have a better chance. A Prof. Weiss of Bar-Ilan University was photographed arguing with a high ranking Army officer in Hebron and calling him names. The Officer has now brought a civil law suit against this Professor. So the whole situation has become very bitter, and it could all have been avoided if Olmert was clever enough to include the question of the Jews in Hebron as part of the agreement that he is supposed to be making with Pres. Abbas.
Yesterday's Jerusalem Post had the headline "Fatah, Hamas said to be taking steps towards reconciliation." If this is true then it negates all the concessions that Olmert has made to Abbas. Of course, Abbas's office denied the report, but Kaled Mashall, the leader of Hamas in Syria, while visiting Yemen asked the leader of Yemen to be an intermediary, and several other Arab States are engaged in this role including Egypt and Qatar. PM Haniyeh in Gaza has also announced that he is prepared to step down if that would bring about a reconciliation. So Abbas may get as many concessions from Olmert that he can and then break his word and form a new Unity Government with Hamas. You cannot trust the Arabs, they break all their agreements.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


A "pakid" (pakidim plural) is a clerk in Hebrew.From vast experience I have a very bad opinion of Israeli clerks. They have that typical Jewish attitude, "why am I serving you, you should be serving me, so I'm going to make your life a misery." I well remember the clerk in the Jerusalem office of the Ministry of the Interior when I was sent by Hebrew University to extend my visa there in 1976, who said to me "I shouldn't do this for you, but I'm going to do you a favor."
Well, coincidentally today Naomi and I had to go to different offices and deal with clerks and lo and behold the world has changed.
I had to renew my Israeli passport, so I went to the Ministry of Interior office nearby in Netanya. Everything is very nice, you get a number at the door, there is an electronic number on the wall, and the waiting room is large, modern, bright and air conditioned. I remember what it was like when we made aliyah 11 years ago and you waited in a hot dark corridor without numbers, so you had to stand in line for hours. Now it is a pleasure. But, my number was well beyond the number on the indicator (717 vs 640) I thought "this is ridiculous, I'll be here for hours."
There was a pleasant young woman with a name tag walking around checking that people were in the right place and answering questions. She helped several women with babies, including some Arab families. When she came close to me I asked her if I was in the right place and how long it would take. She answered me helpfully and then went away. Soon she came back and slipped me a number tag that was much lower (657) than the one I had. When my new number came up and I got to one of the clerks at the desks she was very helpful and I was out of there in a total of 45 mins. Wow! And it didn't even hurt.
I also had to go to the car dealer (Toyota) to have a broken back light repaired and they did it in 10 mins - no charge!Naomi by chance had to renew her US passport, which had to be sent to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, and required a cashier's check. Would you believe that in the absence of her usual bank clerk (who is assigned to us and is very good) noone seemed to know how to prepare a cashier's check (or they didn't want to). So they said, why not send cash and they called the US Embassy to check that it would be acceptable (no checks). Then the young woman who was helping Naomi said "I'll go with you" and she took her to the Post Office nearby and checked with the Post Office clerk that it was Ok, and together they organized everything, and all Naomi had to do was to pay! What is the world coming to?
So I want to tell everyone, make aliyah now, its a unique experience being in Israel, and soon the Messiah will come!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Skeleton plan?

Monday PM Olmert met with Pres. Abbas in Jericho. This was the first time an Israeli PM has met on PA territory since 2000. They apparently discussed a "skeleton plan" on principles to bring about an agreement by next November for the planned international conference on the Middle East. This was to include the establishment of a Palestinian State, but before that can be possible many other difficult issues must be resolved, including refugees and Jerusalem. Frankly, most Israelis wish that it wasn't Olmert doing this negotiating. He showed himself incompetent to deal with these issues by still suggesting further unilateral Israeli withdrawals after the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War.
Until now Israel has made many gestures to the Palestinians, including releasing 255 Fatah prisoners, releasing tax funds to the PA, agreeing to stop attacking Fatah (al Aksa Brigades) terrorists in the West Bank (as long as they agree to stop terrorism) and has started regular security committee meetings with the PA in the WB. These and other activities are supposed to strengthen Abbas in relation to Hamas and to give the Palestinians some hope for an eventual peaceful compromise solution.
But, Abbas is far from durable in his position, he is definitely under pressure from Hamas, and he could be assassinated at any time, for as they see it becoming a "poodle" of the Israelis and Americans and giving concessions to Israel that he is not authorized to give. Remember that most Arab leaders who tried to make peace with Israel have been assassinated, from King Abdullah I of Jordan to Pres. Sadat of Egypt, and many Palestinian leaders (perhaps why Arafat was so cagey). Now Abbas is in the cross-hairs.
But, let's hope that in rushing to make concessions to him Olmert doesn't give away the store and its contents as his predecessor Barak nearly did.
Surprisingly absent from any of the recent meetings has been the super-diplomat to the Middle East, Tony Blair - where's Tony?

Monday, August 06, 2007

The survivor scandal

The current number one item of news in Israel is the "march of the living," a demonstration of holocaust survivors in Jerusalem opposite the Prime Minister's Office today. Now why on earth would Holocaust survivors be demonstrating in Israel? The answer is simple, it results from a terrible secret scandal, that in the Jewish State holocaust survivors have not been well treated. For many years many of them (ca. 2/3) have been denied any kind of special pension payments, and some were unable to obtain payments from the restitution funds paid to Israel on their behalf. Also, many were denied access to their own families assets and bank accounts because they did not have the necessary documentation, very similar to the way they were treated by the Swiss banks.
You could say that there were two origins for this situation, first the lack of empathy felt by Israelis for others who have suffered and who specifically were holocaust survivors. Israeli clerks in Govt. offices tend to be rude and insensitive anyway, but also Israelis tended to regard holocaust survivors as having been weak and an embarrassment to the ideal of Jewish independence. The general attitude may be summed up as, they had the possibility of coming to Palestine, we came and survived, they didn't come, and their subsequent suffering resulted from their own bad choice. But, the holocaust survivors exacerbated the situation by accepting this second class citizen status. They felt embarrassed to be asking for more when everybody was in a difficult situation, in the midst of wars.
So all Governments up to this one of PM Olmert essentially swept the problem under the rug, until the number of suffering and dying holocaust survivors became a national tragedy. How could such people, who have suffered so much in concentration camps and ghettoes, be living without enough money to pay for their rent, food and medication? There are now ca. 240,000 survivors left, and about 1/3 of them are estimated to be below the poverty level. Most do get pensions from the Israel Social Security agency and also get restitution checks from German funds, but in most cases that is no longer enough.
Remember that Israel until now was not an affluent state, and has large defense budgets (recently only half of the requested defense budget increase was agreed), education, health budgets, etc. So it was a question of priorities. But, now finally the situation of the holocaust survivors has made it to the top of the agenda, and this demonstration is a great embarrassment to the Government. To give him credit, Olmert did raise the issue and managed to obtain a few hundred million shekels for the survivors. But, when divided among them it came to 85 shekels ($20) a month. It was this insulting amount that stirred the survivors finally to action.
Now Olmert must come up with a reasonable amount to satisfy their needs or he will be subject to much greater embarrassment. It is a scandal, a "shandah," that the State of Israel has for so long ignored and mistreated its holocaust survivors. These people must finally be dealt with with sensitivity, sympathy and adequate funds.
On the same day, by coincidence, a group of several hundred wheel-chair bound invalids demonstrated by blocking the main road into Jerusalem to protest the lack of payment of an agreed upon Govt. stipend for them.
Note that this year's national budget is the largest ever in the history of the State.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Israeli innovation

In 1964, I remember standing with a fellow graduate student outside the Weizmann Insititute of Science in Rehovot, and talking about founding technically based companies there on the model of Boston, where the many universities had spawned a hi-tech industry. At that time, the first company had been launched by Prof. Joffe of the WI to develop infra-red (night vision) instruments that were sought by the IDF. The first biotech company was Biotechnology General, founded by Haim Aviv of the WI, and he sold it some 20 years later for millions of dollars. It is today one of the leading biotech companies in the world. Of course, it took many years for the Weizmann High-techology Park to grow there outside the WI, but now it is an impressive conglomeration of buildings and companies indeed.
This is symptomatic of the growth of innovative hi-tech companies in Israel. After the US, Israel with a mere 7 million people, has the second largest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world. It is an astounding fact that Israel has more such companies than the whole of Western Europe combined (including the UK, France, Germany and Holland, with ca. 200 million people). The question is why is this? How is it that little Israel can have developed as such a center for high-technology?
I think there are three factors chiefly responsible for this phenomenon:
1. Risk-taking: Jews like taking risks, while on the contrary Japanese and Germans are risk-averse. There is something deeply cultural about this distinction. Jews are prepared to back their efforts, and if it leads to failure - too bad. But, in Japanese and German culture, failure is unacceptable, Japanese have been known to commit suicide if their company fails. Japanese students are much more conformist and follow instructions rather than use their own inventiveness. Jews on the other hand, both in Israel and the US, are more prepared to back their own inventiveness with their own and borrowed money.
2. Industriousness: Connected to risk taking is the sense that every Jews wants to be his own boss. Starting a company and controlling it are part of the culture of Jews everywhere. I refer to the book "Tribes" by Joel Kotkin in which he points out that it is the "industriousness" of a tribe that tends to determine the outcome of their economic status. Jews are extremely industrious. So are foreign Chinese and Indians (outside their mainlands), and so are the Japanese, as long as they can have someone else take the risk.
3. Scientific capability: No nation today can afford not to have a scientific/technological infrastructure, and only those who have adequately supported such an initiative have flourished. The Jews have always been great leaders in scientific development, having received 220 Nobel Prizes while constituting only 0.5% of the world's population. Scientific capability is endemic in Israel and is one basis for the phenomenal development of the State in only 60 years, literally from nothing to being on a par with most well-off European countries (ca. $20,000 GDP/capita).
4. Entrepreneurial culture: There is another factor that is quite significant, since the US is the center for hi-tech start-ups and capital investment, it matters a lot that Israel has a similar culture to the US, where in both places Jews are predominant in both finance and science. This common culture tends to help Israeli hi-tech companies plug into the American market in a way that is more difficult for other countries, even the UK, where the language is the same but the culture is definitely different. It is for these reasons that companies like Intel and Motorola have based their major research components outside the US in Israel. And the Israeli Govt. is not passive in this respect, there are "incubators" for start-ups all over Israel. A large one exists in Beersheva for example, where premises of labs and offices can be rented at subsidized prices and advice is available. Also, the Ministry of Industry & Commerce gives grants of up to 50% of the capital costs for a new company.
Israeli innovations have lead to the development of the cell phone and the internet. Israel is a leader in computer/internet security and several companies have been bought by US leaders. Another example is the PillCam, a tiny swollowed camera that can be used for endoscopy without painful and invasive endoscopes. There is still a great deal that can be done in electronics, computers and healthcare, and Israeli companies are at the forefront in these areas.
(for more information about Israeli scientific innovation see and )
This article is based on a talk given at the AACI, Netanya 5/8/7

Friday, August 03, 2007

Political horizon

The term "political horizon" has been bandied around for the past year or so, since it was introduced by Israeli FM Tzipi Livni. She coined this term to imply an eventual solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem, as a way of supposedly giving the Palestinians hope that in the long term there would be a political agreement. In a way it was intended as a PR term ("spin") to oppose the high hopes that were invested in the Road Map and the Saudi Plans that emphasise immediate concessions from Israel. Israel is always the one to give "goodwill gestures" as a means to placate the Arabs. Ths idea of a "political horizon" was to take the pressure off Israel due to the fear that the schism between Hamas and Fatah would irretrievably delay any chance of an agreement.
But, now that Hamas is isolated in Gaza, and their cadres in the West Bank have been decimated, the idea of a political horizon for an agreement between Israel and the Fatah-dominated West Bank fiefdom of Pres. Abbas masquerading as the head of the PA, is more feasible. It does seem true that both Abbas and his PM, Salaam Fayyad, are committed to stopping terrorist attacks against Israel.
The term has also been used by Condoleeza Rice in relation to the planned Conference on the Middle East to be held in the Fall sponsored by the US. If there is a "political horizon" based on a two state solution, Palestine and Israel "living side-by-side in peace," then the initial concessions demanded of Israel by the Saudis and others do not seem as drastic as they really are. As long as a "process" exists and an eventual outcome is mutually acceptable, then it follows that the steps in that direction, without the pressure of Palestinian terroism and suicide bombings, will be more practicable. At the very least such a conference will draw attention away from the fiasco in Iraq, even if it does not affect that conflict in any significant way.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Peace Conference?

Condoleeza Rice is touring the Middle East, bolstering US allies by giving away millions of dollars worth of military aid and issuing tentative invitations to a "Peace Conference" to be organized by the US in the Fall. Seems like a good idea, why not "talk peace."
Her greatest success so far is that the FM of Saudi Arabia said that his country would accept an invitation when it is formally issued. If that happens, then this would be the first time that Israeli and Saudi diplomats actually meet publicly, even though there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. However, it falls far short of actual Saudi recognition of Israel.
Further, the conditions that the Saudis have placed on their participation are virtually preconditions to a peace agreement, i.e. Israel "must agree" to a "comprehensive solution", they must agree to a solution of the "issues of refugees and al Quds (Jerusalem)" and must "dismember Jewish colonies." On the contrary, Jerusalem believes these core issues should be resolved in bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA only, according to teh agreed formula of the so-called Road Map. Israel has always feared a multilateral peace conference in which it is outnumbered by all the Arab participants and they agree among themsleves what Israel must accept. This is a prescription for failure. Yet, according to Pres. Bush this was supposed to be a just friendly get-together of US allies opposing the Iranian axis of Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas in Gaza.
At the meeting last night with Condy, FM Tzipi Livni of Israel stated that Israel must not miss this "opportunity." But it takes a strong leader of Israel to go to such a meeting and stand firm in the face of well-organized Arab diplomatic pressure and PR. Very few in Israel think PM Olmert is the man for this job.
The Conference is also meant to bolster Pres. Abbas as the leader of all the Palestinians. Yet, Hamas in Gaza are likely to let their opposition to this be known in various ways. Abbas is also a weak leader. So the combination of weak Palestinian and Israeli leaders is likely to allow the other Arab States more leeway to throw their weight around and decide issues themselves. The US will have to be very firm in the desired outcome to make sure that this Conference doesn't split up in more discord than was the case before the Conference was convened.