Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Peki'in riot

Last night there was a riot in the Galilee village of Peki'in (no nothing to do with China). This is a famous village because it is one of the few places where continuous Jewish settlement could be traced through the ages from ancient times until the founding of the State. Unfortunately the last Jewish family died out recently.
It is mainly a Druse village, and the riot was over the setting up of a cellular phone aerial in the village. A group of young men smashed the aerial and burnt it down. Police were called in, but they were met with violence. So in the middle of the night, around 3 am, 200 police descended on the village and opened fire with live ammunition on the rioters. Miraculously noone was killed, but there were several injuries.
Today there are recriminations about this incident. The question is why was such a large force sent into such a small and generally friendly village over such a trivial cause. In 2000, when the Arabs in Israel rioted in support of the Palestinians, and the Police were called in, they were generally unprepared and outnumbered. They opened fire then against very threatening crowds and 13 Arabs were killed. There was a large scale investigation into these incidents and many changes were supposedly made.
But, this time the rioting was over the health effects of the cellular antenna, not over an anti-Israel political event. Also, the police knew what had happened, where and why. So they seem to have grossly over-reacted. The Druse are generally pro-Israel and many fight in the IDF and are loyal citizens.
Also, there have been several mini-riots in Jewish towns in Israel over the cellular antennas, requiring the police to be called, but in no case would they have come in the middle of the night and/or used live ammunition!
There is a lot of ignorance and fear over the effects of these antennas, most of it unjustified (the actual power on the ground is minute). But, this is not the way to deal with such disturbances!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yuli Edelstein MK

As the Chair of the Likud Anglos of Netanya I started off our lecture series with an invitation to Yuli Edelstein MK to speak. His English is fluent and his presentation is always coherent and relevant.
Yuli was a former refusenik and prisoner of the Gulag for 3 years for teaching Hebrew and for applying to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel. He arrived in Israel in 1987 and became an educator. He was a co-founder with Natan Sharansky of the Israel b'aliya party that contested the previous elections and won several seats. In the Knesset, he became Minister of Immigrant Absorption in the Netanyahu Government and eventually Deputy speaker of the Knesset, a position which he holds again today on behalf of the Likud opposition.
Yuli made several important points, first that no peace agreement is likely to come from the current spate of meetings between Olmert and Abbas leading up to the Annapolis Conference. He compared the present situation with his experience with discussions over returning the Golan to Syria in Netanyahu's Administration. Although they discussed many options over a period of months, nothing came of it because the other side was basically unwilling to make a "final" deal with Israel. He thinks the same is true now of the PA and of Abbas on the West Bank.
Israel is sometimes its own worst enemy, pushing for an agreement when the other side is not really interested in peace. This also happened with the Oslo Accords that were initiated by Israel and that were a complete failure and with the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The Arabs are sure that Israel is a fragile State that cannot survive, mainly because they don't understand democracy, and they think that time is on their side, partly because we seem so eager to make concessions to them. This is true of the current Government's being prepared to re-divide Jerusalem. Even if they give up some Arab neighborhoods, the other side will demand more and gradually public opinion will come to accept the need to make more concessions for "peace." He concludes that sometimes it is better to hold fast to a position and not be in such a hurry to placate an implacable enemy. Put in other terms it is better to "manage" the conflict rather than continuously try to solve it, or no deal is better than a bad deal.
What has the Likud to offer? During the previous Netanyahu Administration in 1996-9 there were only 4 terrorist incidents, while before there were a string of terrible ones killing hundreds of people and afterwards the second intifada started in 2000. So the Likud seems to know better how to deal with this problem. Also the freeing of the Israeli economy from Government controls was a feature of Netanyahu and of the Likud in office that lead to the current booming economy.
When challenged that Bibi Netanyahu was not a good PM and failed to consult with his Ministers, he compared Rabin's first and second terms in office and said that he too started off badly but improved greatly in his second term due to what he had learnt and experienced, and he was sure this would be true of Netanyahu. From a practical point of view Bibi and the Likud are the only viable alternatives to the weak and corrupt leadership of Olmert and Kadima.
This was a successful meeting, with ca. 70 attendees, and there was animated discussion over refreshments at the end.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The academic boycott

Ronnie Fraser is the Head of the Academic Friends of Israel (AFI), a British group that was founded in part to counter anti-Israel academic boycott movements in Britain. He spoke yesterday at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).
Although he acknowledged that the decision by the British University and College Union (UCU) in September not to pursue an academic boycott against Israeli academics and institutions was in a sense a victory, he said that it was not exactly our victory. The decision was arrived at supposedly after the UCU took legal advice that according to reports told them that such a boycott would be prejudicial and illegal under exisiting legislation, and therefore could not be legally pursued or implemented. However, since they have refused to publish the legal opinion itself, it is impossible to know the actual details of the opinion. Notably, the Union paid for that advice (ca. $400,000) and decided to drop the boycott action as well as the planned meetings of UCU groups around the country to discuss and decide on the issue. The organizers of the boycott movement were particularly looking forward to these meetings as an opportunity to lambast Israel on most campuses throughout Britain (there are 100 universities and 600 colleges in Britain).
However, it seems that the UCU President and the Union itself were not swayed either by activities against the boycott itself or by various activities undertaken by international and Jewish groups. Particularly the campaign of the Jewish Board of Deputies in favor of inter-communal relations had no impact. One must remember that the UCU is a generally a left-wing organization, and its leadership bends over backwards not to be seen as caving into "Zionist" pressure.
It is possible that pressure from the British Government against an anti-Israel academic boycott may have had some influence, although this cannot be proven. But, Ronnie had heard rumors of the decision several months before it was published, and it is quite likely that the Union leadership had made their decision not to pursue the boycott and were looking for a suitable basis for that decision not based on the huge opposition that it had generated.
In fact, the boycott was not dropped because the UCU membership does not in principle support the idea of such a boycott. In that respect they are still committed to an anti-Israel boycott if they could find the means to carry it out legally and avoid legal costs. A poll conducted throughout Britain found that 20-25% support boycotts of Israel in one form or another (trade as well as academic), and there is no reason to believe that the UCU membership would be less supportive than this. Also, the hard-core few percent of anti-Israel activists, who oppose the existence of the State of Israel in principle, are no doubt now plotting their next move to get around this set-back. These activists are pushing for the release of the legal decision to help them get around it, and so Ronnie thought that we should not likewise push for its publication.
That does not mean that all the anti-boycott movements and activities were for nought. The anti-boycott movement had two positive results, it showed that many organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, Israeli and British, could work together towards a common goal. Also, it has prepared us for the next attempt to boycott Israel. Although it is likely that the general Union movement (the Trade Unions Council) does not want to get involved in issues such as this that are complex and potentially dangerous for them, the academic unions are likely to try again. We must be prepared! In the long run the only defense against this continuing threat is education. We must try to better inform the British public and academics that Israel is a liberal democracy!

For further background see: "The Academic Boycott: Why Britain?" by Ronnie Fraser, JCPA publication, viewed at

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Islam and the Jews

This is the second in a four part series based on the lectures of Robert Wolfe, a historian from NYC. I want to emphasize that the concepts and ideas described here are solely Robert's, I am merely the redactor for the purpose of transmitting these concepts.

Continuing from where he left off: after the Jewish Wars described by Josephus, together with other attacks around the Roman Empire, many Jews were killed and the Jews were reduced to a weak minority, that the Romans no longer considered a threat. When it was declared the official religion of the Greco-Roman Empire, Christianity continued in the tradition of the persecution of the Jews. All pagan religions throughout the Empire were suppressed and although Judaism was permitted it was a capital offense to convert to Judaism. Although the period from 135 ce to ca. 330 ce was a relatively quiet period, when Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, he instituted a program to Christianize the Holy Land. The Samaritans revolted but were defeated and the power of the Sanhedrin was gradually reduced so that by ca. 500 ce the Jews were a powerless minority within the Byzantine Empire and within their own land.

However, on the fringes of the Byzantine Empire, beyond its reach, there was a process occuring that has been little recognized. A circle of mass conversions to Judaism in an arc from north Africa to Iran becomes apparent.
1. North Africa: Conquerors, such as the Phoenecians came along the coast and established Carthage. But although they were defeated by the Romans, this area was never fully conquered and occupied by them and consequently Jews were able to move within the Berber region. Many Berbers in the hinterland of the Atlas Mountains converted to Judaism and adopted Jewish religion and culture. When the Arab Muslims came along the coast and forcibly converted them to Islam and to the use of Arabic, many Berbers resisted. Even to this day many inhibitants of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia do not regard themselves as Arabs, and ca. 25% of the population speak Berber languages. The majority of the Jews that immigrated from N. Africa to Israel when the State was founded were descended from these Judaized Berbers. Furthermore, Judaized Berbers fled across the Sahara desert and founded the first civilizations in west Africa, until they too were overcome by the Arabs.
2. Ethiopia: The story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is probably apocryphal. The Kingdom of Ethiopia started much later in the 2-3rd century ce, and at first the Kings may have been Jewish. The Jews were very numerous and wars were fought over hundreds of years between the Jews and Christians for supremacy in Ethiopia. With outside help the Christians managed to finally defeat the Jews and reduce them to penury. But, the Monarchy still emphasized its Jewish descent and many Jewish practices were continued. There is no doubt that the ca. 100,000 Ethiopian Jews today (including the Falash Mura who converted to Christianity) are decendents of these Jews.
3. Arabia: About 100,000 Yemeni Jews were transferred to Israel when the State was founded. They were the remnants of a huge Jewish population all over Arabia, that is described in the Koran. In the 3-4th century ce the Kingdom of Sabah was Jewish , but the Ethiopians crossed the Gulf and destroyed it.
4. Iraq: Under the Babylonian Empire the Jewish community was acknowledged as the most erudite in the Jewish world and one version of the Talmud was written there. Although many of the Jews returned to the Holy Land, many Jews remained in the area of what was to become Iraq for centuries until they were finally thrown out in the 1950s.
5. Iran: Cyrus, the King of the Persians (550-530 bce), was essentially pro-Jewish and assisted the re-settlement of Israel. The Persian religion was Zoroastrianism, and several of its elements were similar to Judaism, such as the concept of good and evil, heaven and earth and a day of judgement. Their common enemies were first the Greco-Roman and then the Byzantine Empires. In the 3rd century ce there was a revival of Zoroastrianism by the Sassanid Persians, and a Judeo-Zoroastrian confederacy was formed. With an army of both Persians and Jews they attacked Syria in 610 ce, and conquered Jerusalem in 614 ce and re-established a Jewish State! But, this was very short-lived, it lasted only 3 years! In response to Byzantine pressure, Kusras, King of the Sassanids reversed himself, and decided to Christianize the Holy Land, and the Greco-Syrians then reconquered the Land and took revenge on the Jews, and by 624 ce no Jews remained in Jerusalem.

One important aspect of these otherwise obscure events is that they happened to coincide with the advent of Islam. Mohammed started to preach in 610 ce and died in 630 ce. The official date of the beginning of Islam is the hegira (immigration) from Mecca to Medina that occured in 622 ce. Quiet coincidental! Mohammed must have known about the events occuring in the Persian Empire and they must have influenced his teachings. Coincidentally, much of his teachings in Arabic coincide with the basic elements of the Judeo-Zoroastrian religion. Especially in the Koran there is a great emphasis on the war between good and evil and the day of judgement. It is clear that Mohammed learnt a lot of these things from Jewish and Persian merchants as he toured Arabia.
Jewish aspects included in Islam are descent from Abraham (not only of the King as in Ethiopia, but of all Arabs), the equivalence of hallal to kashrut laws, circumscision (although at age 13), at first Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem (!) but then switched to Mecca, heaven and hell, the adoption of the Temple Mount as sacred, etc. These did not come about by chance, but reflect a determined effort by Mohammed to base Islam in the traditions of the ancient Jewish religion, just as Christianity did.
There had been a power vacuum created by the defeat of the Sassanids by the Byzantines, and the Arabs invigorated by their adoption of Islam exploded out of Arabia and overpowered both the remaining Greek (Jerusalem in 632 ce, Damascus in 635 ce) and Persian Empires (by 651 ce). It should be noted that the historic practice of the Arabs had been "raiding" and the word "raid" is of Arabic origin. However, there were two aspects in Islam that were distinct from previous religions, first the emphasis on the supremacy of the Arabs and second the use of the Arabic language.
Basically Mohammed and the Koran are anti-Jewish, although not as Jew-obsessed as the New Testament. When the Jewish clan in Medina refused to ally themselves with Mohammed in his war against Mecca, he made a truce with them, but after he had conquered Mecca he returned and eventually killed all of them. It is important to remember that within a few years Mohammed himself massacred most of the Jews of Arabia, including those in Mecca and Khaibar. It should also be noted that thereby the Arabs became wealthy by stealing Jewish property, not the last time this was done.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


There is at least one contradiction in the Palestinian position. On the one hand, the Palestinians complain about the "apartheid wall," namely the Israeli Security Barrier that keeps out their rampaging terrorists. But, on the other hand they insist that no Jews be allowed to live within their territories, i.e. they want apartheid! They oppose the separation of Jews and Arabs when it hurts them, but support the separation when it helps them. In other word they have no consistent moral position.
I believe in reciprocity, or in other words "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." There are 1 million (!) Arabs living in Israel, that is ca. 14% of the population. There are some 120,000 Jews living in "settlements" in the West Bank, which some call "Arab territory," among ca. 2.4 million Arabs, so that's ca. 5%. Now why can't the Arabs accept 5% Jews when the Jews accept 14% Arabs, why can't they tolerate any??
Many of the Arab settlements within Israel have grown tremendously over the past 60 years since the establishment of the State. And there has been no limitation of their growth and development. Such towns as Umm-al-Fahm in Wadi Ara, which started as villages 60 years ago, are now sizeable towns, with 20,000 inhabitants.
Similarly the Jewish towns in the West Bank, Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, and Etzion, are all large enough now that it would be impossible to remove them, and no Israeli is going to suggest or accept that. You saw how difficult it was to evacuate the ca. 8,000 Israelis living in Gaza during the so-called "disengagement." You may have seen the violence in the evacuation of the small settlement of Homa a year ago. So you can imagine that it would be physically impossible to remove the ca. 50,000 people living in these three towns, it ain't going to happen!
That leaves two possibilities, either the PA agrees to the continued presence of Israeli towns/settlements in their territory, or these towns shall remain part of Israel by the retention of ca 5% of theWest Bank territory. Since Israel's claim to the West Bank is at least as valid as that of the Palestinians, it is a matter of negotiation and agreement where the line should be drawn in the "two-state solution."
Most Israelis would not trust the PA to have major Jewish settlements on their territory, subject to their laws or rather lawlessness, so the former option is definitely closed, and Israel must find some way to "persuade" the Palestinians or compensate them for taking this territory. It has been suggested that, since Pres Abbas has insisted that he will take nothing less than the total area of the West Bank, that some sovereign Israeli territory be transferred to the PA in order to compensate them. I can tell you that I doubt if any other country in the world (and few Israeli PMs) would contemplate making such a deal. In effect, there have been wars, they lost, too bad!
However, I doubt that the international community (i.e. read the Arabs/Muslims) and their erstwhile supporters, the EU and Russia, together with the Bush Administration, that is hot to do a deal, would accept such a fait accompli. So while PM Olmert struggles to keep Abbas involved and at the same time tries to minimize the damage to Israel and to his reputation, the outcome of this little Palestinian contradiction will remain unresolved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Health care

Having experienced all three health systems I think Israel's is superior to that of the US and the UK. Here we belong to one of several private yet Government subsidized Kupat Holim (Sick Funds). The largest one is called Clalit (General) that has its own hospitals, then there is Maccabi, that we belong to, and there is the smallest one Meuhedet (Special).
This subject came up because at the ripe old age of 69 I finally decided to start exercising. I found a gym close to home, tucked away in a basement, but convenient and friendly. I went a couple of times to see if I liked it and had a trainer give me appropriate tests, treadmill and bicycle. But, the catch is that before you can do such exercise in a gym you have to provide a doctor's letter. So I called my GP and asked for a letter, but she said that I first had to have a batch of blood tests to check me out and go to a cardiologist.
So I went to a cardiologist, and he said that before he could give me such a letter I had to have a stress test, and instead of giving me one on the machine in his office, he sent me to Tel Aviv to have an extra-special test there. So the following week I went to Tel Aviv to the Basel Hotel where Maccabi has a suite of machines devoted to cardiology.
The tests took 4 h, not only 10 min on the treadmill all wired up, but a radioactive test to check the heart blood flow. The staff were very professional, dealing with about 10 patients at a time, running us in and out of the tests, and injecting and timing everything. There was one Arab woman in full regalia, with an embroidered black flowing dress and matching scarf, although not a face covering. She was treated exactly the same as the other patients (she had a young man with her).
None of this cost me anything! I am still waiting for the test results, but when they do come I hope that I am OK to actually begin to exercise. For my 70th birthday I want to be lean, tanned and handsome. Well one out of three would be good.
But, comparing this system to that in the UK, in an incredibly unscientific comparison,. British doctors will not order tests unless they are judged to be essential. This is based not only on my own experience but on that reported back by our family living there. Also, because everyone is covered you have to wait incredibly long times, 3-6 months, for operations that you would get here or in the US almost immediately,.
However, in the US, while we had excellent health care (Blue Cross, Blue Shield), it was very expensive - then a minimum of $100 for a doctor's visit and ca. $300 for a specialist, in addition to the fund's fees. And we were lucky, many people in the US, especially those without jobs, have no health care (ca. 20% of the population), and go mostly to the large municipal hospitals that are free for the poor and indigent. There they can have excellent health care but they are incredibly crowded and unpleasant.
So overall give me the Israeli system. It is a mixture of private/public and often inefficient, but it is responsive and provides excellent care.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Revolving door

Israel has been shocked (yes, shocked!) that when PM Olmert was going to visit Pres. Abbas in the PA in Jericho back in June, that there was a plan to assassinate him! But, this was not by Hamas, nor by some secret terrorist unit, this was going to be carried out by members of Fatah, but not only members of Fatah, but members of the PA security services!
What is more shocking is that Abbas and his intelligence people did not know about this plan (so they say), but were warned by Israeli intelligence, and so the meeting was moved to Jerusalem. Further, although two or three men were arrested, they were supposedly held for two months, interrogated and then...released!
This is what is known as the "revolving door policy." Namely the PA Govt. arrests terrorists, when it is politic to do so, and then releases them when the light is not shining on them. Pres. Arafat had such a policy and was definitely not trying to stamp out terrorism, in fact he was supporting many different terrorist groups so that no one of them could challenge him.
Now, Pres. Abbas is supposed to be fighting terrorism, and in fact the first step of the so-called Road Map to peace calls for the PA to stop terrorism. Now, everyone believes that Abbas is sincere when he says that he wants to do this. He has issued orders to disband all militias in PA territory three times (!), but noone has bothered to take any notice of him. So Arafat didn't want to stop terrorism and Abbas can't, either he is incompetent or incapable.
In the case of the security men who wanted to assassinate Olmert, now that the light is on again, the PA announced that the men responsible have been re-arrested and are undergoing further interrogation. But, how is it that Israeli intelligence knew about this plan and the PA for whom the men worked supposedly did not? Therein lies a mystery.
The Head of the Security forces of the PA (West Bank) has issued a statement that he is pursuing the matter, but does anyone really believe that he is acting seriously. Is he going to fire everyone in the Fatah security force who might have wanted to assassinate the Israeli PM. In fact, in August, when Olmert did visit Jericho, the quietist town in the PA, the Shin Bet warned him that he was taking an unnecessary risk.
When Secty. of State Rice was here recently she was informed of this attempt, and now that it has been announced, several members of the Knesset have urged Olmert to stop all negotiations with Abbas, on the grounds that he is obviously incapable of controlling the PA and so there is no point in making an agreement with him. Yuval Diskin, Head of the Security Services (Shin Bet) cancelled his meeting with his PA opposite number in protest over the incident. But, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik still met today with PA PM Salam Fayyed, who said that they are trying to "learn" from the incident.
Ominously Abbas has stated that if the result of the planned Annapolis Conference is not to his liking (i.e. if Israel does not make enough concessions) then he will resign. So people in the PA are preparing themselves for the natural outcome, the start of another intifada and the extension of the Palestinian civil war and the takeover of the West Bank by Hamas.
Israel is in a no-win situation, if the Govt. concedes in Annapolis what Abbas wants, then we shall be weakened and vulnerable and Hamas and Fatah could attack us more easily. If the Govt. stands firm and gives only a "statement of principles" then Abbas will declare it a loss, and will either resign or be swept away in another orgy of violence. Take your pick!

Sunday, October 21, 2007


The Israeli movie "Beaufort" (pronounced Beaufor in French and Hebrew) has been selected as the Israeli entry in the foreign movie category at the Oscars. The first choice was "The Band" about an Egyptian band that gets stranded over the weekend in a poor Israeli desert town, but greater than 50% of the dialog is in English, so the film was disqualified.
"Beaufort" is an intensely Israeli movie about war and indirectly about the politics of military action in Israel. Although it is a well directed move (director Joseph Cedar) based on the book by Ron Leshen, and has authenticity, it lacks the kind of action and pace that American audiences are used to. As a war movie it would be considered a flop in the US, since much of it is slow and predictable. As soon as the bomb disposal expert appears you know he is going to get killed, and then he is quickly and unceremoniously dispatched. One never has enough connection with the victims and the survivors to really build up any personal sympathy for them.
The main theme of this "leftist" oriented anti-war film is that the higher ups don't care if they sacrifice ordinary soldiers for unecessary actions. It raises the question why was it necessary for the IDF to capture the Crusader fortress of Beaufort on a mountain inside Lebanon in 1982 and then hold it, when the political echelons knew that it would eventually be relinquished. But, this is too self-serving, since in war one never knows for sure the outcome and taking and holding strategic heights is a constant in warfare, even if they have to be given up. But Beaufort was held for the whole 17 years (!) that IDF forces were in south Lebanon, and holding it was clearly a strategic military necessity. So the morose complaints of the soldiers at the end of the IDF presence in Lebanon (before the next war in 2005) were understandable, but hardly persuasive.
When another IDF soldier on Beaufort was killed by Hizbollah using a new missile and the Four Mother's campaign reached its climax in Israel in 2000, PM Barak ordered a peremptory withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in one day. This "retreat" by the IDF was declared a victory by Hizbollah and no doubt lead to the next round of fighting and subsequent casualties. If Nasrallah sees this movie he might well be convinced that most IDF soldiers are a sorry lot of defeatists.
The audience shares the relief of the IDF protagonists that they are able to return home to Israel. But the intense focus on the small unit in Beaufort, separate from all other considerations, apart from the usual soldier's hope that it will all be over soon, that he will survive and go home to his mother and girlfriend, is suffocating. Not exactly original material. Still, this type of movie, although politically motivated and determinedly anti-war, nevertheless represents an improvement on the past Israel cinema of superficial trivia.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Warning! Warning!

Recently I was almost caught by a computer scam. I was trolling the internet (I know most people use the term "surfing" but I'm not that athletic) when I noticed a small red shield with a cross in it flashing in the bar in the bottom rh corner of the screen.
Naturally I clicked on it, and out popped a message balloon saying: "Warning, your computer has been infected by Trojan-spy.win32@mx. To remove this, download the official security software by clicking on this message." I tried this and an internet site popped up, with a message that told me that I should download their security program that would solve my problem. At the same time other warning messages popped up saying that I had been infected by spyware Cyborgx and others. These warnings had little yellow shields and looked very official and were accompanied by various beeps and sounds.
I was of course somewhat panicked, but I knew that I had a spyware program, Spysweeper, and wondered why it hadn't been activated by such infections. So I resisted the temptation to open the supposed official security program that would save me and instead ran my own spysweeper program. However, while this detected a few nasty cookies etc, it did not detect the supposed trojan or others that had been announced. Whereupon I called my computer advisor, and he warned me not to open the security program, but instead to go to the internet and search for anti-trojan freeware, since my spysweeper might not be able to handle a "trojan," that is a spy program that allows others to enter your computer and steal information.
So I did this, I made a Google search and looked at a few websites. I also wrote to the company that sells Spysweeper to complain. Then I downloaded one program called Spy doctor. After I installed it and ran it, it found 7 malicious spy programs, not found by my own spysweeper, but then it said that I must register the program before it would delete them, and then it said that in order to register I must purchase a copy online. So once more it was a scam. I was so annoyed that I uninstalled the program, and then had to reboot the computer, and lo and behold, the whole nightmare vanished, all the flashing shields and messages and beeping gone! Inadvertently I had solved the problem.
Apart from the fact that everytime I open the internet browser I get this same security site and a warning message (that I delete) my computer seems to be running fine. The fact that the computer seems to be OK makes me think that the whole thing was a scam to get me to buy their security program. I don't think there was any trojan infection and all the messages and shields were an elaborate show to panic me and get me to buy their program, at what cost I don't know. It is also possible that had I downloaded their program it may have contained a malicious trojan or malware. However, the following day I did have a trojan spy program (Zlob.BHI) that was detected and deleted by my anti-virus program, so there may actually have been an infection from this incident. So I am now doing a report for the company of my spysweeper program, the question is why did it not detect these infections? So beware the internet, my son, like the jabberwock it may be gyred...!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Jim Watson is a very distinguished scientist. He has recently created a storm of controversy by stating that "Africans are less intelligent than Westerners." Whether he is right about this issue, that different racial groups have different levels of intelligence, is difficult to say (see for example the report in "the Independent":
Consider the following, all top ten fastest runners in the world are black - no whites! You notice this at the top international level, all the runners from different countries are black. This is far beyond statistics (there are more white people in the world than black), so there must be a rational explanation for it! John Entine wrote a book called "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It" in which he analyzed this situation. The topic was so controversial that he was at first unable to find a publisher for his book. He found that blacks who originate from west Africa have two advantages over others, first their leg musculature is more developed for running, and second they contain more mitochondria in their muscle cells than whites. This is also true among S. American Indians (who are not known for running) but this is because they live at high altitude with less oxygen. So the higher proportion of mitochondria allow the muscles of black w Africans to work more efficiently.
Similarly with the question of intelligence. This is clearly a multi-gene complex characteristic (phenotype). We might pose the question, since there are observable differences between races, such as skin color, hair type, eye formation (Asians have an extra skin fold on the eye, the epicanthic fold), there might equally well be non-observable differences in other inherited characteristics, there may be "linked" genes. There is no a priori reason why all races should have the same identical "average" intelligence .
A well-known Black comedian in the US, Bill Cosby, who also has a PhD in education, often points our that "Asian get A's and Blacks get B's." This is a known fact, that in US schools, Jews and Asians excel and Blacks are usually at the bottom. However, there might be an environmental explanation for this rather than a genetic one, namely that Blacks were slaves and were not allowed to be educated. Their family life was also destroyed by slavery and they may not yet have recovered from it. However, in general, the more we learn about humans the more we find that genetics is the basis of behavior and phenotype and environment is less so. When I was at the NIH I looked for Black students, but none applied, even though during the 1960s-80s they were given preferential treatment! It has been said that there are more Black men in jail than in university! I cannot vouch for these statistics.
Consider the case of the Soviet attempt to engineer a "Soviet man" by indoctrination. But it has been found that in the "nature vs. nurture" debate, nature is more important, or in other words Vavilov wins over Lysenko! Nikolai Vavilov was a pioneer of plant genetics in the Soviet Union in the 1920s-30s, but was arrested and imprisoned by Stalin under the influence of Lysenko, who opposed genetics. Vavilov died in prison in 1943, but today the Plant Genetics Inst. in St. Petersburg is named after him..

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Domestic violations

Israelis are distracted by two domestic topics these days, first the corruption charges against PM Olmert and second the secondary school teacher's strike.
There are now three charges of corruption against Olmert! The first was in relation to the privatization of Bank Leumi when he was Minister of Industry & Commerce. He is supposed to have tried to arrange a preferential sale to his friend Loewe, a S. African industrialist. The fact that Loewe did not eventually buy the shares does not change the fact that Olmert interfered in the sale process. The second charge is that he bought his house in Rehov Cremieux in Jerusalem for a preferentially low price, far below the market value, and this is suspicious. The third charge is that when he was in the Transportation Ministry, he arranged positions for friends and Likud Party members contrary to legal policies. While none of these items are individually of great significance, they indicate a general level of low integrity and honesty of PM Olmert. He is the fifth PM to be investigated on such charges, but the first to have three different sets of charges ongoing simultaneously. Apart from his political opportunism (following Sharon to Kadima) Olmert is seen as weak and untrustworthy, not the kind of image a PM of Israel should project. Of course, Olmert and his aides say that he is innocent and that the charges are politically motivated. However, the greatest test for his credibility will be when the Winograd Committee issues its Report into the Second Lebanon war.
The secondary school teachers strike has so far lasted only 5 days, but is expected to last as much as 1-2 months! Why should this happen? Most analysts attribute it to two factors, (i) the neglect by all previous Israeli Govts of the gradual lowering of high school educational standards in Israel, without any serious response; and (ii) the relatively rapid replecement of Ministers of Education, each of whom have different priorities and who usually cancel the decisions of previous committees set up by their predecessors. The net result is that nothing is reformed and nothing gets done. Now the teachers, who are among the lowest paid compared to the EU countries, have decided to change the system once and for all. They demand a huge pay increase, but that is only part of their demands, they also want far-reaching reforms of the system itself. In the end a compromise will certainly be arrived at, but for the moment it is stalemate, with high school kids not receiving any education, except for those in religious schools, whose teachers are in a separate union.
While important decisions loom in the field of foreign policy, particularly regarding compromises in relation to the PA and the Annapolis Conference, these domestic issues definitely divert the attention of many Israelis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tempered yet timid

In some mysterious way tempering steel, subjecting it to repeated heating and hammering, strengthens it. So similarly the Jewish people have been tempered by history. But, having lost so many people we are loathe to be aggressive or militaristic.
The Arabs/Muslims on the contrary are perversely persistant at aggressively pursuing their goals. They have many people, and they are quite prepared to be killed or commit suicide in order to attain their goals. The surrounding Arab countries (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) kept the Palestinians suffering in "refugee camps" for 60 years in appalling conditions, rather than assimilate them as every other country has done to their own refugees, in order to ensure the persistance of the problem. And the Palestinians have accepted this role and are still prepared to suffer and die for the cause. This is the result of religious/cultural indoctrination.
The Arabs/Muslims are very sensitive to perceived insults to their communal dignity. They regard all land ever controlled by Muslims as given to them by God and can never accept its loss. This applies to Israel (to them Palestine) as well as to Spain, Chechnya, Phillippines, Bali, etc. This is a problem for other claimants, since you can defeat the Muslims over and over again, as Israel has done, and they keep coming back with their terrorism and sense of victimhood.
We Jews can resist their attacks, but we are not good at offensive moves. Maybe this is a leanred response. We were caught completely off-guard by the Egyptian attack on Yom Kippur 1973, we were completely unprepared for the attacks of Hizbollah in 2005 that lead to the Second Lebanon War. It's as if wishful thinking sets in and we sit back and say, "Ah well, at least now we can enjoy some peace and quiet." We have been most successful when we have turned the tables on them. When the Egyptians under Nasser were preparing for an attack for weeks in 1967, we finally struck them and it was all over in 6 days. When Syria was secretly preparing a nuclear option with the N. Koreans recently, our air force struck and the danger was over.
But, we are not so good at negotiations, witness the fiasco of PM Barak at Taba, where he personally nearly gave away everything to Arafat, who luckily wanted more (now Barak is in the US as Min. of Defense). Of course, now the Palestinians (Fatah) want to start where Taba left off. They state their maximal positions and they will not budge from them, while by contrast our PM states over and over again what he is prepared to concede. There is no clear Israeli position stated as to what is our maximal position, what are our red lines. No Israeli Govt. spokesman has said that we will not allow the Palestinians to control the heights overlooking the coastal plain, including Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport. That would be suicidal for Israel, yet no Govt. spokesman is emphatically stating that publicly!
So while the Israeli people have been tempered by history to withstand any onslaught, we have a Govt. that is apparently prepared to give in to all Palestinian demands, forgetting the struggles and losses that brought us the defensive positions that we have.
But even this conciliation will not help us, for in the wings are the "other" Palestinians of Hamas, who will immediately reject any such agreement and if we ever do implement further withdrawals, they will then occupy that land and attack us from it, as they have done from Gaza and Hizbollah has done from Lebanon. Israel cannot make any agreement with Abbas unless it includes all Palestinians, which he manifestly does not represent.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christianity and the Jews

Robert Wolfe, a Harvard graduate, former teacher at SUNY, and author of The Origins of the Messianic Ideal is giving a series of lectures at AACI on the history of the Jews. I went to his first lecture on "Christianity and the Jews" and found it very illuminating. Here is my edited version of his presentation. He pointed out two main elements, namely that (I) the Greco-Roman Empire was in conflict with the Jews long before Christianity developed, and (II) that Christianity was largely a product of Hellenistic (assimilated) Jews designed for a Greek audience.

I. The Romans regarded the Jews as a subversive element in the Empire, in that they opposed many basic aspects of Greco-Roman culture. For example, while the Romans became increasingly dependent on slavery to run the Empire and its industries, the Jews became more opposed to slavery. Jews believed in the sabbath, but Romans found this wasteful. Romans used crucifixion routinely to punish people, but Jews regarded it as cruel. Romans expected all citizens of the Empire to worship idols of the Caesars, while Jews refused to do so. Jews practised circumscision, while Greeks regarded this as cruel and primitive. In general, Jewish culture was less violent and more humanistic than Greco-Roman culture. These differences led to a culture clash that lasted for hundreds of years before Christianity itself became a major factor.
For several hundred years there was warfare between the Jews and the Seleucids, who were a Greek Macedonian dynasty that inherited part of Alexander the Great's Empire in what is now Syria, with capital Antioch. They were conquered by the Romans in 63 bce, although the eastern Roman Empire remained Greek in culture and language. The Romans also conquered the Jews in 63 bce with the defeat of the Maccabees (Hasmoneans), the last authentic Jewish sovereigns. The last Maccabee King, Antipater, was crucified by the Romans in 40 bce, and then Herod was placed on the throne of Judea and remained a Roman puppet king until he died in 4 bce. The Temple was destroyed in 70 ce. In 132 ce, Emperor Hadrian banned circumscision. Jewish independence came to an end in 135 ce in the so-called Second Jewish War when the revolt of Simon bar Kochba was crushed. As described by Josephus in "The Jewish Wars" ca. 1 million Jews were killed during these campaigns. This may be an exaggeration, but a Roman historian put the figure killed in the Second Jewish War at 580,000, still a large number.
In 43 ce it was estimated that the Jewish population of the Roman Empire was ca. 7 million, ca. 10% of the total population of the Empire of ca. 60 million. There were an additional ca. 1 million Jews in Babylonia (now Iraq) outside the Empire. The Emperor Trajan attacked Babylonia and crushed Jewish revolts throughout the Empire, in what is now Libya, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. By the end of the bar Kochba revolt in 135 ce approximately one third of all Jews had been killed. This is a much more severe conflict than usually acknowledged, and was devastating to the Jews. They lost their sovereignty, they lost one third of their people and they were dispersed and enslaved.

II. The early Christians were Hellenized Jews or Greeks and all their writings were in Greek, not in Aramaic, that was the language of the Jews of the Levant. A characteristic feature of Christianity is the Eucharist, the eating of the flesh and the drinking of the blood of a (Jewish) man - Jesus! This distasteful ritual was anathema to Jews, but was firmly within the Greco-Roman tradition. Ironically, Jesus himself was probably an Essene and against ritual slaughter of animals in the Temple in Jerusalem.
The most important sacred and secret Greek rituals, the Eleusian mysteries were devoted to such a myth. They focussed on Orpheus and on Dionysius/Bacchus, the God of wine, who was supposedly devoured by the mythical Titans to prevent him becoming "King of the Universe." During these mysteries it is believed that the adherents ate the flesh of a human baby representing Dionysius. By 100 bce this "Orphic cult" included a "magic baby" that was considered to be half-God and half-human. There were several other cults that included "cannibalism" such as the Adonic cult of Rome and the Isis-Osiris cult of Egypt, in which "Osiris" was torn apart and eaten by the adherents in order to be reborn. The eating of bread and drinking wine as the flesh and blood of Christ was also a ritual of the Gnostics, a spiritual religion in which Christ was considered to be God. So it was no great stretch for the eastern Greco-Roman Empire to transform itself into the Byzantine (Orthodox) Christian Empire.
The precise formulation of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity as we know them today were decided upon by the Emperor Constantine, the first Emperor to convert to Christianity. Both his mother and wife were Christians, but at that time with the Empire in disarray and Judaism decentralized, there were many Christian and other cults for Romans to choose between, including the worship of Mithras (of Persian origin) that was a male only religion, and the worship of Isis that was a female-dominated religion. Others included the Ebionites, who were a Jewish sect of Aramaic speaking Jews who worshipped Christ as a man, but had no Eucharist. Then there were the Marcianites, who wanted to rid Christianity of all Jewish elements.
In 325 ce Constantine convened the Council of Niceae, and with 318 out of 1800 bishops, chose between these options to decide what Christianity would actually be. Between those who considered Christ to be divine and those who thought him to be just a man, Constantine chose a compromise and decided that Christ was "the son of God". This Nicene creed was adopted by the Bishops and henceforth anyone believing otherwise (such as the Arians who opposed this formulation), was a heretic and subject to being killed. Then Constantine declared this version of Christianity the official religion of the Empire, with himself as its Head, and all other religions were banned.
So Christianity became a jumble of Jewish elements (the Old Testament, the ten commandments, Messianism, the ethical and humane side, etc.) and Greek elements (no circumscision, the Eucharist, crucifixion, the focus on the devil/ underworld, eating of pork, etc.). But, the Greek antagonism towards Jews (i.e. anti-Semitism) continued within Christianity.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Annapolis is a little gem of a town and is the capital of Maryland. It is a historic place, which was founded in 1649 as the first port on the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore, which is further north, subsequently became more prominent. It was named in honor of Princess (later Queen) Anne of Britain. The Maryland Capitol or State House in Annapolis has the last remaining wooden dome of a Capitol in the USA (built 1772-1780). It was in this building before the Continental Congress that George Washington resigned as General of the Continental Army in 1783, thus avoiding making the USA a military dictatorship and paving the way for democracy. It was also here that the Treaty of Paris ending the War of Independence was signed in 1784.
The US Naval Academy is in Annapolis and was founded in response to the need for the US to have its own navy when it became independent and was no longer protected by the British Navy. In fact, the first reason for this was the capture by Barbary pirates from Algiers, Tunis and Morrocco of three US merchant ships and the treatment of their crews as slaves. Since the US could not afford to pay the huge ransom demanded, Congress authorized the formation of a navy to go and release them and to prevent further depredations. That's why it says in the US marine's anthem, "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."
Since we lived in Maryland, we often enjoyed visiting Annapolis and taking a spin around the Bay. Who could predict that the fate of Israel might one day be decided there, so improbable. As to the Conference, some 35 nations might attend, including several Arab nations, as well as the Quartet of the US, UN, EU and Russia. When it comes to the Middle East everyone wants to get in on the act, and to take as much credit as they can for achieving "Muddle East peace."
Since Israel will be so outnumbered, PM Olmert is trying to play it safe, first emphasizing that only a non-binding Declaration of Principles will be signed by Israel at the Conference. On the other hand, this is the first time that Israel has serious and anti-terrorist Palestinian leaders, in Pres Abbas and PM Fayyad, who are intent on reaching some kind of mutual agreement. For Israel, the price may be too high, including ceding some land to make up for any part of the West Bank retained, and dividing Jerusalem into Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The upside of this is that the Palestinian side will be required to explicitly recognize Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and elsewhere. It will be difficult for other Arab nations to be more demanding than the Palestinians themselves, although Hamas in Gaza and its sponsors, Iran and Syria, will play the spoilers, remaining outside the process. So in a few weeks Annapolis will become the focus of the world's attention and our fate may well be determined there.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Korean peace?

The prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula look good, at least on paper. For the first time, N. Korea, i.e. dictator Kim Jong-Il, has agreed under the auspices of the 6-nation discussions (US, China, Japan, Russia, N. and S. Korea) to stop development of nuclear weapons and rockets in a verifiable manner. In exchange for this they will receive munificent supplies of goods, food and electrical energy.
Also, Kim Jong-Il met last week with the President of S. Korea for the second time, and they signed a protocol envisaging reunification and peaceful relations in the future. It is likely that a conference will be called of all the signatories to the Korean War ceasefire in order to ratify a peaceful conclusion of the hostilities of 50 years ago. This is a major step in the right direction.
This may be another example, after that of Libya, in which another member of Pres. Bush's so-called "axis of evil" will be brought under control. Three out of five ain't bad, with Taliban Afghanistan and Saddam's Iraq out of the running. But there are still a lot of problems.
First, as to N. Korea itself, its attempt to transfer its nuclear facilities to Syria were apparently interdicted by the IAF attack in northeastern Syria a few weeks ago, when nuclear facilties and materials, as well as some N. Korean personnel, were destroyed. It was not only the apparent accuracy of this attack, and the phenomenal means of avoiding the Iranian-supplied Russian defensive radar shield, but the spot-on intelligence, that was impressive. It apparently convinced the highest levels of the US Govt. of the credibility of the information.
However that might affect the Korean situation, the fact remains that two members of the original axis of evil, namely Syria and Iran, remain very much a threat to Western civilization.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I know it should be called Myanmar, but I just can't get used to it. Anyway, the situation in Burma is dire, with not only the military junta controlling the streets, but the ominous disappearance of thousands of monks. What happened to the thousands of monks who were marching peacefully and unarmed through the streets and were supported by unarmed civilians? The military junta has once again put down a major movement towards democracy, as they did in 1988, when an estimated 3,000 people were killed. Only that time, the monks were not so involved and the uprising was more violent. This time it was really a case of unarmed monks and civilians going up against the security forces and the army, and many were killed and beaten.
The leader of the democratic opposition, Aung San Suu-Kyi, is in military custody, but the UN envoy sent by the Secty. General, was able to apparently persuade the Chief of the military junta to meet with her for discussions. So far that has not happened. The UN Security Council has met to discuss sanctions, but they have little effect, since Burma is already so isolated, and in any case China, which has the most dealings with Burma is blocking sanctions.
However, with the Olympics in Beijing (now that I got used to) in the offing, China is in a dilemma. If they appear to support the crackdown of the junta in Burma, that may have a negative reaction at the Olympics (fewer visitors and maybe some demonstrations). On the other hand, if they go along with the Western desire to punish Burma with sanctions, they may lose some of their economic clout there.
An unusual Jewish connection in Burma was revealed, namely that Gen. David Abel, second in command of the Burmese junta, has Jewish antecedents, and has a cousin living near Tel Aviv. In an interview he admitted that he has close connections with Israel, and is a supporter of the State. However, one should not take this kind of thing too seriously, since he is a strong Burmese nationalist and has served the Burmese military in many positions over the years, including Minister of Industry and Finance. One can note that Ronnie Kasrils, the S. African Minister of Intelligence Services, is Jewish, and is strongly pro-Palestinian.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rockets red glare

Sunday a Katyusha rocket fired by Islamic Jihad from Gaza crashed near the Negev town of Netivot, 11 km within Israel. Noone was hurt, but that is pure luck. It is predictable that the Palestinian terrorist organizations in Gaza will vie with each other to extend the range of their rockets to fire deeper into Israel. So far the response of the Olmert Government to stop such rocket launchings has been ineffectual.
The usual Kassam rockets, which are home-made in Gaza, have a range of ca. 10 km. The one fired today was a Russian manufactured (or copied) Katyusha-Grad rocket that has a range of up to 30 km. The immediate danger is if the terrorists start to fire such rockets from the West Bank, and in that case almost all of the populated center of Israel, including Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport, and Jerusalem, will be within their range. There was a report last week that the Fatah authorities found two rockets in the West Bank near Jerusalem, but when it was investigated by the IDF it seems that this was a hoax, and that the rockets were made of cardboard, and it may have been an attempt by Fatah to gain points over Hamas by showing their willingness to prevent these "rockets" being fired.
What would happen if Israel makes concessions to Fatah at the Annapolics Conference and a Palestinian State is established which includes all or almost all of the West Bank, and then as in Gaza it is taken over by Hamas. Then Iranian revolutionary guards and Hizbollah will be stationed there, and the rockets will pour in. Life in Israel can be made impossible by such an outcome. What would you do? It seems nice to make peace with the Fatah Palestinians, but for how long would such a peace last? Can Israel really take that chance, its not just an academic question, but many lives are at stake!
At the same time hundreds of mortar rounds have been fired at Israeli settlements nearer to Gaza. Today a house was hit, but once again noone was killed. There is a rumor that Hamas wants to sign a "temporary ceasefire" or hudna deal with Israel, and that in fact the the number of terrorist rockets and mortars fired into Israel have decreased by half. However, this sounds unlikely given that first Hamas refuses to talk to Israel altogether, and second that they have been warning Fatah not to continue to talk to Israel and not to attend the Annapolis Conference. In fact, Sunday a Hamas spokeman essentially threatened the life of Pres. Abbas if he continues on this path. The Annapolis Conference now looms large as a factor in the internal dissensions within Israel and between the Palestinian camps, as much as it is a potential peace Conference between Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Secular society

Whenever I see Muslims being interviewed on TV, one thing they always say is that Islam protects women's modesty, and they are against the exploitation of women in secular society. They only emphasize the negative aspects of secular society, which they consider depraved. So that it becomes acceptable for young Muslim men and women to commit murder and suicide to destroy secular society in order to protect their women's modesty and prevent their society becoming corrupt!
But, there are of course many positive features of secular society that they would destroy and throw out, while taking society back to medieval times or even earlier to the time of Mohammed. The important thing about modern liberal secular democracy is that it allows everyone the freedom to choose their own path. If a Muslim woman wants to wear a headscarf, that's acceptable, or if a Jewish woman wants to wear a hat and a long dress, that's up to her. But, there should be no coercion, if they change their minds, that too is acceptable. This is the only way that different ethnic groups can live together in harmony, if they respect each others preferences without the use of force or violence both between groups and within groups. There must be an overall secular legal system that is unbiased as to any one religious or ethnic group. But, there must be limits, noone is allwoed to shout "fire" in a corded hall when there is no fire, and covering one's complete face and body is definitely a step backwards for women's equality.
The problem is that within Muslim society it is considered an honor to be a martyr for the cause, to blow up infidels if it brings the demise of secular society and the imposition of Sharia law closer. It is also considered acceptable to murder young women if they don't obey the strict rules of Muslim society and bring "dishonor" on their family. Isn't it a terrible inversion of ethics that killing your own daughter or sister is less dishonorable than what your neighbors think about your family?
There was the terrible case in northern Iraq which was captured on video (that the Fatah secret police tried to pass off as an event in Hamas-controlled Gaza) when a 14 year old girl was beaten, stomped and murdered by a mob of men of the Yazidi minority because her family said that she had dishonored them by meeting a Sunni boy. There have been murders of Muslim girls in the USA, UK, Holland, Germany as well as Pakistan, Gaza and Afghanistan, by their own brothers and fathers, over the flimsiest of excuses. Several family members have been tried on murder charges in these cases of so-called "honor killings." In Iran, a young woman was beaten to death on the street because she walked arm in arm with a man who was not her betrothed or husband (the boy received no punishment). And this kind of treatment was upheld as legitimate by the religious authorities in Iran!
Those of us who support secular society are not in favor of the exploitation of women, and we have laws against that. You also don't have to like the way Hollywood starlets dress, nobody forces you to watch it, but that doesn't make secular society immoral. These are trivial tests, what is important is that everyone is equal before the law, that is a much better test of the value of secular society.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Extraordinary rendition

In its ordinary meaning, "rendition" means to perform, translate or interpret, but it can also mean to transform, as in the rendering of meat or of graphic images. "Rendition" is also the term given to the process of arresting someone (usually illegally) and torturing them in order to gather information. "Extraordinary rendition" has come to mean the process of arresting someone illegally in one country and transporting them to another country where they can be tortured without apparently breaking laws or eliciting attention.
Thus, it has been asserted that the CIA has arrested possible terrorist suspects in various countries, and has flown them to other countries where the legal situation is such that torturing them to obtain information does not present a problem. Examples are given of Muslims suspected of involvement with al Qaeda being arrested in European countries and then being flown to Pakistan or Afghanistan to be imprisoned and tortured there. Whether or not this process has actually been carried out is controversial.
A program like this was first discussed during the Clinton Administration. But, the CIA and the US Government denies that such a program exists. Condoleeza Rice in 2006 stated categorically that the CIA does not arrest people and transport them to places where they could be tortured. But nevertheless there have been reports of people being "snatched," and of mysterious flights touching down in European capitals and then flying off to unknown destinations. That these flights have been secret CIA prison flights has been denied at the highest levels of several countries, including Tony Blair adamantly denying that he or the Bristish Government would ever allow such a thing to occur.
Nevertheless, several people have come forward to testify that they were arrested in this way and transported to the far east where they were imprisoned and tortured. The question then arises, why if someone has carried out such an illegal action would they then release the prisoner and allow him to tell his story. Even if it transpired that the person was innocent, as they of course claim to be, why would anyone involved in such activities free them to report to the world on their experiences. That indeed is a mystery.
The subject has been the topic of intense scrutiny since the Bush Administration started "the war on terror" after the 9/11 attacks. In 2005, Swiss Senator Dick Marty carried out detailed hearings and concluded that roughly 100 people had been arrested illegally within Europe by the CIA and had been transferred to Pakistan or Afghanistan where they were tortured. However, he could only come up with two well documented cases, that of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric who was arrested in Milan in 2003 for recruiting for al Qaeda and who was supposedly flown to Egypt, where he disappeared for two years. An Italian investigation ensued and warrants have been issued for some 20 US citizens in relation to this case. Also, the case of Khalid al-Masri, a Kuwaiti-German citizen, who was arrested in 2003 in Macedonia, and was supposedly taken to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured and when his captors realized their mistake that he was in fact innocent of any connection to terrorism, he was released. This case has been widely reported and has been termed a case of "erroneous rendition." Al-Masri is now suing the US Government for false imprisonment. There have also been UN and US investigations into these "extralegal imprisonments."
Whether or not this program actually took place and how many suspected terrorists were arrested in this way is unknown. But, I for one am glad that the terrorists out there know that they could be snatched at any moment and whisked away to a place of torture. Torture, as long as it does no permanent damage to the detainee, has been approved by both the US and Israeli Supreme Courts in cases of "ticking time bombs" when there is imminent fear for the lives of innocent civilians. There is no doubt that democracies have a hard time fighting back against ruthless terrorists, and this is one way in which they are apparently doing it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Abbas and Annapolis

In his interview with Lally Weymouth, while visiting the US for the UN meeting, Pres. Abbas of the PA-West Bank, stated quite categorically "we will not accept anything less than 100%" of the West Bank and Gaza, i.e. Israel must return to the pre-June 1967 borders! Now that's what I call chutzpah.
The trouble is that the Olmert Govt. doesn't seem to have any "red lines" and seems to be trying to "strengthen" Abbas by making gestures (releasing prisoners) and concessions. This includes the possible division of Jerusalem, as floated by Vice PM Ramon, and the transfer of Israeli territory to make up for any West Bank land not included in the agreement (since Israel wants to retain the areas of Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, and Etzion).
Until now Olmert has talked about agreeing on "principles" only. But in their meeting on Tuesday in Jerusalem, Abbas made it clear that he was not interested in principles only, and teams of aides are working on the actual wording of an agreement to be unveiled at the International Conference in Annapolis. The problem is that if you agree in principle to 100%, then you can't go back and say "no, I meant 99%."
Also, Israel has made it clear that they will not continue to negotiate with Abbas if he makes a deal with Hamas, and in effect reinstates their PA Unity Govt. So Abbas chose Tuesday to specifically announce that he is re-entering negotiations with Hamas thru Egyptian intermediaries. This is putting his finger in Israel's eye. Where is the indication of a peaceful intent, where is any sign of compromise. In the J'sam Post on Tuesday it was reported that Abbas' spokesman thratened that if there is no agreement at the Conference (i.e. insufficient Israeli concessions), then we can expect another intifada! That is how they negotiate, with threats, there is no making peace with these people.
In his speech at the UN, Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran quoted his version of history, stating that since WWII the US and its allies have controlled the world, but now Iran and others are opposing that control. Pres. Abbas seems to have taken a leaf from this book, because he said in his speech that before the establishment of Israel, Palestine was 100% theirs. This is a fiction, Palestine was then controlled by the British, with a Mandate to establish a "Jewish homeland." When the UN became involved this became the partition plan for two states Jewish and Arab. But, since Jordan was also established out of the Palestine Mandate, that should have been sufficient for them.
Now the Palestinians claim the whole of Palestine, but are willing to let us keep part as our sovereign State (as recognised by the UN in 1948). It makes one wonder at the chutzpah. We were attacked, we won all the wars, and now we have to make all the concessions so that the International Conference can be a success. And it is a trap, with everyone there, except perhaps the US, being anti-Israel. If there was a hope that the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, would recognize Israel, well think again. I am afraid of a solid anti-Israel phalanx, after this Israeli Government has given everything up "in principle."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lost in Tel Aviv

This is for those who want to know what it's like living/driving in Israel. One of my deepest fears is to be lost in the wilds of Tel Aviv, and this happened to me today. I went for a meeting at Likud Party headquarters, where I have been before, so I thought I knew the way. My appointment was changed from 10.30 to 11.30 am, so I had lots of time. I left home at around 10.20 am, leaving myself well over an hour for a 35 min drive. I arrived in Tel Aviv and took the turn off the main route (Namir Road) at the appropriate place (Shaul Hamelech) . But, when I got to the bottom of this to a major intersection things didn't look all that familiar. I turned left onto Ibn Gavirol, but soon realized that this was a major mistake.
Since I did not recognize the building I was looking for, I asked a policeman and he said it was back the way I had come. Since I could not turn right I turned left and after going thru a few side streets I ended up on Rehov Lincoln. This I recognized, and a quick look at my map told me this was generally the right direction, so I took Lincoln into the center of town and turned onto Rehov Allenby. However, this is a major busy road and the turn took me 10 mins! Someone told me that Likud HQ was on King George Street. I saw from the map that King George was at the end of Allenby. So I drove as fast as I dared onto the main road at the end of Allenby, only to find it was Ben Yehuda, and I had passed King George. Both the map and bystanders told me to turn right and I went thru a maze of narrow lanes (stuck behind a truck!) and finally reached King George Street. Then I turned left (illegally) and saw the building right ahead of me. It was 11.25 am. I drove into the sidestreet next to the building, parked illegally on a red-and-white kerb (after all I am now an Israeli) and took the elevator to the 12th floor, arriving at exactly 11.30 am. The meeting started 10 minutes later.
When I left it was easy, and I found that going there I had turned off two blocks before I was supposed to, I should have simply continued until King George and not turned left on Ibn Gavirol. So let this be a lesson to you, never drive in Tel Aviv unless you really know the way!
PS. I am now Chairman of Likud Anglos in Netanya (whoopee!)
PPS. I did not get a ticket!

The Golden Egg

Israel has a GDP per capita of ca. $30,000 pa and is #22 in the world (depending on whose list you use, I prefer the IMF). There are 4 Arab States (out of 22) that are comparable: Qatar ($33,000 #15), the UAE ($29,000, #24), Bahrain ($23,000, #32) and Kuwait ($20,000, #38). Other lists put Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain considerably higher. And the interesting thing about them is that none of them has a lot of oil. They have managed in a comparatively short period of time to build thriving capitalist centers with large immigrant (non-citizen) populations.
But, they haven't had wars and don't spend ca. 25% of their Govt. expenditures on military expenses like Israel does. It is certain that any hint of a war in their area would cause great financial loss to their precarious positions. They are poised like little jewels between Saudi Arabia, the foremost Sunni Muslim country, and Iran, the foremost Shia Muslim country. Certainly Muslim politics is complex and unpredictable, but the possibility of a major clash between Shia and Sunni cannot be dismissed, especially given the sectarian insurgencies in Iraq and the violence in other parts of the Muslim world, including Lebanon, Syria and Sudan.
Note that the surrounding Arab countries are quite different from Israel, with GDP per capita in Jordan of $5,500 (#100), Egypt of $4,800 (#111), and Syria $4,100 (#116). This certainly amplifies the differences. For comparison, Iran is at #74 with $8,600 pa.
In her visit to the UN, Israeli FM Livni met with her Qatari and other counterparts. It is obvious that Israel and Qatar have a lot in common, apart from their obvious differences. The worst thing for Qatar and the UAE would be any kind of war, particularly any that involves Sunni against Shia. They also fear Iranian expansionism, as expressed by Iranian influence among the Shia population n Lebanon, and in Gaza with Hamas (which although Sunni is supported by Iran).
Although it is not explicitly stated, the Kingdom of Jordan depends on Israeli protection for its existence, particularly in relation to Syria. As time passes, the Saudis and others realize that Iran is more of a threat to them than Israel. Exceptionally, Bahrain, also a small, relatively wealthy Arab Gulf State, is however predominantly (98%) Shia. Nevertheless, although there is a pro-Iranian minority, the ruling Arab family of Bahrain do not want to be dominated by Iran, nor taken over by extremist elements. That is why Bahrain and Qatar have been notably helpful to American forces in the Gulf, including allowing them use of their territories and military cooperation. It seems that the small Arab Gulf States would be natural allies for Israel.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Resolution in art

I am a serious amateur artist. I suppose I could call myself a professional, having sold one painting, but let's not get carried away.
During my years of interest in art, I was never fond of abstract art, finding it unsatisfactory, unfocussed and arbitrary. I found representational art more acceptable, more satisfying, after all you could tell what it was about, not just a "pattern" of dots, dashes or color, trying to send a message without the necessary code to interpret it.
But, then I became interested in painting ephemeral things, like shadows and patterns of light through slats and criss-crossed structures, like pergolas. In a sense, this is very similar to abstract art, because the picture being painted is not a concrete object, but a changing image that cannot be photographed easily, because it often requires a flash that changes the picture itself (the "uncertainty principle"). In a sense these ephemeral images, like moving shadows or light reflected on the sea, are both real and abstract, or somewhere in between.
It occurred to me that to a great extent the definition of these fashions of painting, abstract or representational, are arbitrary. If you reduce the resolution of a picture, it becomes more unfocussed, more difficult to interpret and can be reduced to a mere collection of splotches of color. For example, take pointillism, the resolution of the picture is reduced from a pure analog painting (with continuous strokes of paint), but the picture remains the same. But, now suppose you reduce the number of points of paint from say 50 per sq cm to 5 filling each sq cm, then the coherence of the picture is changed because the resolution is much less. If each sq cm is reduced to one splotch of color then the picture will become essentially "abstract." In that case a human can be reduced to a few splotches of color. So the change over from represenatational art to abstract is then seen to be merely a matter of resolution. This can be seen very easily using your computer and changing the resolution of a picture on the screen or to be printed. It is also common in movies, say at the beginning when a series of splotches of color gradually is focussed to become a clear picture of a city or a living room. In this definition, high resolution art is representational and low resolution art is abstract.
I never "understood" Jackson Pollack's drip paintings, but I liked them, and some are definitely great. But, they resemble the idea I have of the chaos inside a cell, a kind of organized chaos, where chance and predictability are both operative. And some color paintings can be thought of as a close-up of the petals of a flower, or just a pleasing pattern evoking emotive feelings. Whatever, the idea at least allows us to see the evolution of art as a progress from high resolution to low resolution. I prefer the intermediate stage, where one focuses on the representational forms, but not with the classic format that gives every detail. Rather, the impressionistic approach is nuanced, with enough detail but also some fluidity and room for individual interpretation.
To see my art go to: