Friday, November 30, 2007

The "Clintonization" of Bush

The "Clintonization" of Bush is well underway. You could see from the gleam in his lame duck's eye, that he thinks he can redeem himself for Iraq at Israel's expense. As one PA official put it in an interview, the success of Annapolis depends on how much pressure Bush is prepared to put on Israel during the negotiations!
This is what happens to every President, particularly following Bill Clinton's example. Clinton tried to use the Camp David negotiations to take the attention away from his tryst with Monica Lewinsky (remember her). Suddenly they see the possibility of success in the Middle East peace talks, as the arbiter between the Palestinians and the Israelis, as their ticket to immortality. Although everyone agrees this will be a difficult process, it makes it a lot easier if one side stands firm and the other waivers. Let's face it, Israel is in the US pocket, although the Arabs for the benefit of their huddled masses pretend that its the other way around.
Of the speeches at Annapolis, Bush's speech could have been Bill Clinton's word-for-word from Camp David in 1999, full of superficial platitudes and hope. Abbas' speech was pushing his people's positions and interests, and Olmert's was a typical Israeli leader's speech, whining for peace, and accepting reponsibility for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. Did Abbas say one word in conciliation towards Israel's suffering, did he say he will put a stop to terrorism and improve security for Israel? Not at all!
If one examines the reasons for the elongation of this conflict beyond all others (not quite all, the Kashmir conflict is as longstanding), then one factor that has remained constant stands out, namely the fear of the Arabs/Muslims that their culture will be "westernised." From the beginning it was the introduction by the Israelis of western values of the individual and human rights that stuck in the craw of the Arabs. They cannot accept that women should have equal rights, nor that every person should have an equivalent vote. Democracy is foreign to them. They fight for their survival as a group, and against the infiltration of western values into their culture and social system.
This raises some difficult questions, for example, in order to progress along the Road Map to peace, Abbas is supposed to stop terrorism/violence from the PA. But, in order to do so the PA must make economic and social progress to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. But, this can only be brought about by democratization (a la Sharansky) and westernization, the very things the Arabs fear most! Within the heart of this contradiction lies the impossibility of progress, at least in the short term. We Jews are unlucky to have once again, just as in East Europe, landed in a sea of people who have no interest in democracy, are more interested in conquest than human rights and are motivated by religious and racial hatred.
But, since many others have now invested capital in the solution to the conflict "in all its aspects," then progress there must be! And who can give concessions to produce this progress? Well, according to the Saudis and others attending Annapolis, only Israel. So stand by for some unpopular concessions by Olmert to placate Clintonized-Bush and satisfy the ravening of the Arabs. Only when they see Israel making major concessions (removing the "occupation", stopping "settlements," allowing the "right of return", accepting the pre-1967 borders, redividing Jerusalem) will they feel that they have won this stage. Then they will up their demands and the violence. Am I being cynical, maybe, but I think I'm being realistic!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Oxford Union

The famed Oxford Union Debating Society (not a part of Oxford University) has got itself into hot water by inviting two fascists to speak, namely Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, and Holocaust denier David Irving.This has caused major criticism of the Union and its leaders, who claim that the invitations are for a debate on "freedom of speech" rather than for the invitees to express their "abhorrent" racial views.
As a result, a senior Conservative MP has resigned his membership of the Oxford Union and Julian Lewis, the shadow defence minister, turned in the membership he has held for 37 years following the Union's controversial invitations. He said he was "ashamed" of the students' decision. Others, including the Jewish community, attacked the invitations as a "juvenile provocation" and a "festival of anti-Semitism". The Defence Secretary Des Browne, June Sarpong, the television presenter, Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP, and other speakers have pulled out of engagements at the Union as a result of the invitations.
There was a demonstration at the Union on the night of the debate and 200 protesters, including both Jewish and Muslim students, broke into the debating chamber. It seems that a coalition was formed between Jewish and Muslim student groups to oppose this racism.
However, this raises an interesting question, since we all know that many if not most Muslims believe that the Holocaust never happened, and if it did the Jews have supposedly exaggerated it for political purposes. But, here are Muslim students in cooperation with Jewish students demonstrating against not only general racism, but specifically against Holocaust denial. Now, do they realize that they have broken the solid Muslim front on this subject, and made it more difficult for other Muslims to deny that the Holocaust actually happened.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Annapolis Conference

I listened to the honeyed words of Messrs. Bush, Abbas and Olmert from Annapolis. All very nice and comforting. But, when it comes down to "brass tacks," as they like to say in the North of England, it all hinges on Abbas being able to control his mini-state in the West Bank, to establish civil and military control, to take the guns away from the militants and terrorists (is there a distinction?) and to establish a stable civil society among Palestinians. They plan to conclude a peace agreement within a year, but how many hundreds of years do you think this process will take?
At least he has the help of Tony Blair to try to bring this miracle about. But, as far as I am concerned Israel should make no concessions, no withdrawals and definitely no territorial compromises on the West Bank and Jerusalem until this status has been established. In other words, no agreement (if arrived at) could be implemented on the ground for the forseeable future.
Yesterday there was a prayer meeting at the Kotel in Jerusalem by thousands of Orthodox Jews who prayed for the failure (!) of Annapolis. There was also a right wing secular demonstration in Jeruslaem that had as its theme opposition to Israel participating in the Annapolis Conference. I do not agree with these positions. If I believed in the efficacy of prayer I would pray that Annapolis succeed, and I see no way that Israel could be absent from Annapolis. However, that doesn't exempt me from being critical, sceptical and downright cynical. That is the right of every Israeli who knows history and the failed results of every previous agreement with the Arabs.
It makes sense that eventually even the Arabs must come to the conclusion that they can't destroy Israel, so they might as well end their own suffering and backwardness and take a step forward (at least this is the liberal mantra). But, this is too rational a proposition, and the likelihood that Palestinians as a whole and the assembled Arab and Islamic nations are actually preparing to follow a rational pragmatic path is too low to calculate.
Ask yourself the question, why does it take more than 40 nations apart from the belligerants to solve this problem? Why are they all there, what is their interest? According to Abbas they are there to show support for the position of the Palestinian people, but parenthetically really to show support for him as their representative. So this is an inter-Arab struggle, with Hamas in Gaza (and of course the Iranians) rejecting any conclusion of Annapolis in advance. So Israel is now a pawn in the inter-Arab, or rather inter-Muslim, power struggle, between the so-called Sunni moderates and the Shia-dominated rejectionists.
Only history can judge in the fulness of time whether or not this meeting at Annapolis will result in genuine compromise on both sides, or if it will be the same game of Israel giving everything and getting nothing except more terrorism in return. I don't even question Abbas' sincerity, I only question his ability to deliver.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Jerusalem

Sunday evening I went to a meeting in Jerusalem organized by "One Jerusalem", an organization that is against the division of the city. Or should I say re-division, since Jeruslaem was divided into the western Jewish and eastern Arab halves from 1948-1967. Do we want to go back to this?
I went to the meeting because I agree with them, I cannot see one good reason why any Israeli government should agree to such a re-division of the city. Apparently PM Olmert is considering giving the Arab suburbs to the putative PA ministate on the West Bank in the negotiations following the Annapolis Conference. This would give the Arabs in negotiations what they failed to win in wars. Many brave Israeli Jews died fighting to reunite Jerusalem and give us security. To give it back now would only empower the Arabs, they consider such concessions a sign of weakness on the part of Israel, which it is.
The argument that eastern Jerusalem should be given back because it is populated by Arabs is a stupid argument, noone gives up part of a city because it is inhomogeneous. All cities have ethnic neighborhoods, so what? Also, there must be a limit, red lines that cannot be breached to attain a so-called peace with these enemies (Barak breached all these red lines when he negotiated with Arafat, now he is Defense Minister). Abbas is so weak that he could not stop even Fatah terrorists from firing mortars from east Jeruslaem into west Jerusalem, let alone Hamas and al Qaeda. It would be suicidal madness to give up part of the city and it would not bring peace, but invite war.
Several speakers hammered these points home, including Natan Sharansky, former Israeli Minister for Jerusalem, Gen. Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, former Defense Minister (fired by Olmert), Congressman Erik Cantor, Dep. Republican whip, from the USA, and Yehiel Leiter, Likud MK and Chairman of One Jerusalem. The speakers were visible on large TV screens, and they also played videos of Olmert when he was Mayor of Jerusalem vowing that he would never allow the city to be divided again!
Following his speech, Leiter invited the audience of about 1,000 from all over Israel, sheltering in a heated tent on the Sherover promenade (tayelet) that provides the best overall view of the City, especially at night, to a light show. There were bright searchlights located at strategic points around the city, clearly visible from where we were standing. Then a green laser light showed the distance and trajectory from one point to another, particularly from the Arab suburbs into the heart of the city. This was quite spectacular to see. It is between 2-4 km only from the Arab suburb of Shuafat to the King David Hotel, the Ben Yehuda Mall, the Knesset, etc. But what is not obvious from maps is the topology, that Shuafat is higher in elevation than the rest of the city, so that anyone with a mortar could wreak havoc on the city and bring it to a standstill. And this they want to give back? I repeat it would be suicidal madness to give these suburbs to any Arab entity, since any peace agreement signed would have no effect on a large minority of Palestinian terrorists intent on destroying Israel and taking over all of Jerusalem. Give them an inch and they will absolutely try for all of it. It would be the "thin edge of the wedge."
When we arrived we were given gold ribbons to wear. From now on those against redividing Jerusalem should wear gold ribbons for "Jerusalem of Gold." As David Ben Gurion said, "Jerusalem is the soul of the Jewish people and the heart of the State of Israel." It must never be redivided!

Annapolis intifada?

If the Annapolis Conference is not a success we have been warned of a new intifada!
If the Annapolis Conference is a success then we have been warned of a new intifada!
It seems that nothing we do can avoid the threat of a new intifada, damned if we do and damned if we don't!
But, this is the way the Arabs always negotiate, with a threat hanging over our heads.
The mere fact that in Annapolis the US has managed to gather together almost all the Arab States, mostly represented at the FM level, is already considered a success. After all, when ever before in history have Saudi Arabian and Israel representatives been together in the same hall to talk about Middle East peace.
But, the problem is that this is largely symbolic. In fact, not only do the Saudis refuse to shake the hands of the Israelis, they insist on sitting at separate tables, and using different doors! If this isn't a form of racism, what is? And we are supposed to be happy with this situation.
The concepts of peace of the two sides are extremely different, and there is little chance of any success. Many years ago Yehoshafat Harkabi, former Head of Israeli intelligence, said that the conflict can only be resolved (not solved) when there is sufficient overlap in the two opposing positions. But, if there is no real committment to peace on the other side then how can any agreement possibly work. You cannot have a reliable working agreement with only a part of the other side. There is Hamas in Gaza, controlling one third of the Palestinian people that totally rejects any agreement at Annapolis, within Fatah probably the militants/terrorists reject any concessions to Israel (on refugees, Jerusalem, etc.) and if we make concessions from our side (possibly under pressure from the US, EU, etc.) then they will simply accept them and start the attacks again.
Of course, missing from all of this is Iran. Even if the Syrians do appear, the Iranian threat is on everyone's mind. In fact that's the main reason why the Saudis and the majority of Sunni States are there. When Hamas forces fired on Fatah crowds in Gaza last week, killing 7, the crowd shouted at them "Shia, Shia." In other words they see Iran's hand in everything that Hamas (and Hizbollah) does, and no doubt so do the Saudis. But, in order to placate the Saudis and their cohorts, should Israel be expected to commit suicide. On the contrary, a strong Israel is the only guarantee that Iran will not become too strong and attempt to dominate the Sunni Arabs.
Just as when we pulled out of Gaza, expecting some kind of positive response at least, what did we get -rockets and more rockets, still being fired today! And if we pull out of any area in the West Bank or Jerusalem, then it is as if we are inviting more rockets and a truly impossible situation as they rain down on our population in our main densely populated cities. This would be intolerable and would only lead to more war. We cannot take this risk.
Absent a completely unified, peace-committed Palestinian entity (dream on), there can be no peace agreement with the weak and incompetent Abbas. He cannot make peace and he cannot guarantee peace. So no agreement with him is worth more than the paper it is written on. But, the risk of dividing Jerusalem and giving autonomy to a terrorist state is far more dangerous than the risk of the threatened intifada. And in fact there is less likelihood of this than after the failed Camp David talks in 1999, since as far as we know Abbas has not now organized an intifada in advance, as Arafat had done then.
They says don't worry, no agreement is going to be signed at Annapolis, so what are they meeting there for? Amid the smiles and the handshakes, positions are being staked out, and as the "victim" in all of this we should fear for our lives! So I'm not against the meeting at Annapolis, or against gathering together to meet, or even against smiles and handshakes. But, lets beware of a no-win situation for Israel.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Israel and Vltava

What is the connection between the State of Israel and the Vltava River that transects the Czech Republic? Many of you will know the answer to this riddle, namely that the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva, is sung to the same tune that is the main theme in Smetana's composition "The Moldau," which is the German name for the Czech river Vltava.
How this came about is a bit uncertain, but it seems the tune came from an earlier European folk song, that Smetana remembered when he needed a rolling theme to characterize the mighty river, and he had heard it when he lived in Sweden. The same theme was used to fit to the Hebrew words of Naftali Herz Imber's poem "Hatikva," written in 1877, but published in 1886 in Jerusalem, that became our national anthem.
This point came up in the introduction to the piece "The Moldau" by Harvey Bordowitz, who is the Conductor of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra, that gave an excellent concert entitled "Fire and Water," for the start of their 27th season on Saturday night. The "Fire" was when they had indoor fireworks at the conclusion of Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" composed in 1749 for King George II of England. These were excellently choreographed to the music and brought the house down (figuratively not literally).
We also heard Manuel de Falla's short piece "The Fire Dance." Incidentally I believe that de Falla, considered one of the most authentic Spanish composers, was Jewish. And also Edward Elgar's "Sea Pictures," that was beautifully sung by an impressive Israeli mezzo named Edna Prochnik, who has been singing in Europe and the US. All in all an excellent concert.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bad news from Israel

There was some bad news in Israel this week, that shows that we have achieved the impossible, we have become a nation like all other nations:
In Nahariya a case was reported by the National police spokesman "going beyond all red lines," concerning a criminal gang, the Mors, and the local police who were involved in a war with them. Nahariya is superficially a nice quiet seaside town in the far north of Israel. The Mor gang controls vice in Nahariya and does not like to be challenged. The police decided to go after them, but they responsed with incredible violence, apparently 40 grenades (!) have been thrown at police stations, city buildings, and the homes of police and politicians, although none was killed (so far in Netanya in a similar fight only one grenade has been thrown at the house of the Mayor). They also fired a rocket (!) at the main police station.
In response, because the police felt they were hampered in this war by the limitations of what they could do under the law, the police officer in charge sought the help of a civilian bomb expert, and with four other policmen they rigged bombs under the car of the head mafia boss and in the bedroom window of his cousin, also a leading gang member. The former failed to go off, but the second one did, although noone was killed. The National Police Investigative squad was called in and solved the case and arrested the six men involved. There is now talk of forming an Israeli type of FBI that will deal with these organized crime cases. At present the six men and their families are under 24 hour police protection.
It was reported that an active duty IDF soldier was arrested for stealing weapons when a huge cache of arms was discovered in his home. He was also charged with aiding the enemy during the Second Lebanon war by dismantling bombs planted by IDF forces and collecting weapons off the battlefield. He was apparently intending to use these weapons and explosives to carry out bombings in Israel. The identity of the soldier was not revelaled, but he may face up to 10 years in a military prison.
In another case, a Major in the IDF reserves was arrested for attempting to sell classified information to the enemy. David Shamir (45), a pyschiatrist in the Medical Corps, apparently offered his services for money to the Iranians, the Russians and Hamas. He wrote two e-mails to the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran trying to offer his services, and also sent faxes to the Iranian Embassies in London and Turkey. He also approached the Russian secret service and the Hamas-controlled al-Khazar University in the Gaza Strip. He offered information on IDF emergency plans, military depots and hospitals, as well as his desire to obtain classifed information at their behest. Apparently no actual classified information was passed, but upon being arrested, Major Shamir confessed to the crimes. He was responsible for drug treatments, and may also be charged with drug offences.
This is all apart from the usual killings (shootings of wives and girlfriends), stabbings (by youth outside nightclubs) and road carnage (on average more than one person a day is killed on the roads). Well, after all, it seems that we're like everyone else, maybe more so!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Jews and secular democracy

This is a summary of the fourth and last lecture in the excellent series on Jewish history by Robert Wolfe PhD (Harvard), former lecturer at SUNY, based in part on his book, "The origins of the Messianic Ideal."
In the 19th and 20th century, what we have witnessed among Jews is the "secularization" of the messianic ideal. The messianic ideal has roots deep within ancient Judaism. In Rabbinic literature, this ideal included both "the ingathering of the exiles," and "the redemption of the Jewish people" usually taken to mean the refounding of the Jewish State, and a more general reign of worldwide peace and prosperity.
There developed two distinct forms of the messianic ideal, the established form of Jews doing mitzvot to bring it about, and the more activist form of acting to improve the conditions of the Jews. In fact there were many messianic movements of Jews in both Christian and Muslim regions, e.g. in the area of Iraq there were several Jewish uprisings that were defeated.
The Kabbala took up the mystical messianic ideal and many Jews moved to the Land of Israel in the hope of advancing the messianic age. Then there were many individuals who turned out to be false Messiahs, such as Shabbtai Zvi. These usually appeared during periods of extreme religious persecution. This situation recurred from the 16 - 19th centuries and was always expressed in religious terms, i.e. bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.
However, in the late 19th century things changed, and that was clearly due to the rise of secular democracies adopted by non-Jews in the West, i.e. USA, France, Britain, Holland, Switzerland. This was due to the development of a middle class in those countries, that lead to liberal ideals allowing universal suffrage, freedom of expression, of demonstration and of the press, which became a powerful influence. These ideals were tremendously attractive to the Jews, seeking as they were for a messianic age on earth (not in heaven) although democracy itself was of Greek not Jewish origin. These developments lead to a gradual change in western and central Europe, allowing Jewish emancipation and minority rights, although these were often extended in theory more than in practice (as in late 19th century Germany). The Jews adapted easily to this more egalitarian type of society, since unlike the other peoples around them they had no landed aristocracy.
However, the problem was that the liberal democracies were in the West and most of the Jews were in the East, governed by totalitarian Empires, such as the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian and Turkish Empires, that were hostile to social democracy. These were eventually replaced after WWI by totalitarian regimes, such as dictatorships and socialist/communist regimes, that were all totalitarian. In these areas, the middle class was weak, and attempts at social revolutions, such as 1848, failed. The people of Eastern Europe preferred a powerful ruler (of whatever form) and the ideal of conquest over those of liberal democracy. Also, much of the middle class in East and Central Europe was Jewish, which put them in direct competition with the rising indigenous middle class. So the Jews were trapped in a hostile anti-Semitic world, while the messianic ideal of liberal democracy was developing elsewhere, mostly without them. So there were only two solutions, either liberalize Eastern Europe (a hopeless task then) or move to the West, as millions of Jews did.
By the late 19th century there was a large Jewish working class in East Europe to which the ideals of socialism appealed. There was an explosion of radical ideas among E. European Jews, that took three forms.
1. Socialism: Karl Marx himself was a Jewish, anti-Semitic Messianist. In 1897 (the same year as Herzl founded the Zionist Movement), the Jewish Socialist Bund was founded. This spread to Jewish workers in Germany and the USA. But, the Bund was based on the ideals of democratic socialism, not communism, and they believed in the nationalization of essential industries and were against unnecessary competition. One of the few places in the world where this ideal was implemented was Israel, where in 1948 40% of industry was Govt. owned.
2. Territorialism: In E. Europe and Russia Jews could not own land, so they tended to become increasingly urbanized. But, a movement developed that said this weakened the Jewish people and they must return to working the land. This lead to the formation of agricultural collectives, and hundreds of thousands of Jews moved to where they could own land, such as Western Canada, south New Jersey and Argentina. These endevors were supported by Baron de Hirsch. In the 1920's many Jews re-settled the Pale of Settlement in Ukraine, and an independent "state" was even declared there, but it didn't last long.
3. Zionism: In the late 19th century political Zionism developed, a Jewish nationalist movement inspired by the nationalism sweeping Europe. In 1897 Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist Movement, but in fact Zionism had earlier roots. In the early 19th century there was a movement called Haskalah, or enlightenment, that tried to secularize the Hebrew language; books and novels were published and the Hovavei Zion (Lovers of Zion) established agricultural colonies in Eretz Yisrael. There was a secret society called Bnai Moshe that intended to establish a Jewish State in Israel, and for this purpose established Hebrew speaking schools. Ahad Ha'am, ("one of the people") the pen name of Asher Ginzburg (1856-1927), was a wealthy educated Jew who spoke and wrote in Hebrew (note that Herzl could not speak Hebrew) and believed in "cultural Zionism." In the then Turkish province of Southern Syria or Palestine, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi immigrants could communicate only in Hebrew, it became their lingua franca (with the "Sephardi accent"), long before Yehuda ben Eliezer began compiling the first modern Hebrew dictionary in 1910.
This secular Zionist movement split into Labor Zionism that was socialist and established the kibbutzim, and was the origin of the Israeli Labor Party, and General Zionism that was non (or anti) -socialist and that produced the Revisionist Party, today's Likud. Note that religion and religious Zionists played a very small part in the founding of the State of Israel.
The Jewish Bund played a significant role in the foundation of Communism, although they were against it! In 1903, at the founding conference of the Russian Social Democratic Party, held in the East End of London, there was a split between the majority (Bolsheviks) and the minority (Mensheviks) over the issue of whether or not there should be a "dictatorship of the proletariat" or "democratic socialism." The Mensheviks, made up of the Bund members present, were overwhelmingly Jewish, and with their leader Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein), they were expelled from the Party. At first, including during the 1905 revolution in St. Petersburg that Trotsky led, the Menshevisks were more popular. But, democracy was not popular and the Bolsheviks eventually took over the revolution in 1917. Their opponents fighting for control of Russia were the Whites, made up of former Czarist military and government officials. They were extremely anti-Semitic and during this war they massacred many tens of thousands of Jews. The Mensheviks then split, between those who wanted to remain democratic socialists, and those who saw victory for Bolshevism as the first step in the right direction.
In the early 1920's there was a significant Jewish element in the Communist Party. But, they were anti-religious and anti-Zionist. Since the Zionists preferred Hebrew and the Bund Yiddish, these Communists preferred Yiddish and they persuaded the Communist Party to support the Bund preferences. But, in the late 1920's as Stalin took over and strengthened his hand as the dictator of the USSR, he opposed the influence of these Jewish Communists. He was hostile towards anything Jewish (probably anti-Semitism he learnt at the seminary in Georgia), and in 1927, as a kind of joke, gave the Jews Birobidzhan, a mosquito infested swamp on the Russo-Chinese border, as their "national home." Although Yiddish was allowed there, luckily few Jews were persuaded to move there, thousands of miles from Europe.
In the 1930's, when Stalin purged the Communist Party, this was aimed largely at Jewish Communists, Mensheviks and Bundists. He had Trotsky murdered in Mexico and also murdered all his former followers in Russia. He de-Judaized the Party and suppressed Yiddish language and culture, and murdered most leading actors and writers of Yiddish. However, surprisingly he left ordinary (non-political) Jews alone and they managed to survive in the USSR, many with good jobs within the system, and when the Germans invaded in 1939, many of these Jews were able to move east and survive. Many of their descendents now live in Israel. Also, many Jews fought in the Red Army. Once again they chose the Communists as the lesser of two evils.
At the end of WWII, the only organized Jewish party that survived was the Zionist Movement. After 1947, with American and Western influence, liberal democratic movements thrived in the former Nazi and Communist Empires, but without the Jews. Under the influence of the tragedy of the Holocaust the UN gave the Jews their own sovereign State, Israel, a culmination of the Messianic ideal!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Electoral reform

On Weds night I went to a meeting in Ra'anana to hear Gidon Sa'ar, one of the up and coming men in the Likud Party, talk about Electoral Reform.
The meeting was held in a large American-style house. The living room was crowded so that there was only standing room at the back. Gidon S'aar is an impressive youngish man (early 40's), a lawyer by profession, who has held some responsible positions, including Cabinet Secretary. He spoke well and thoughtfully. He also answered questions with careful analysis.
He started out by saying "Israel is a difficult country to govern..." and no one disputed this. Also, everyone agrees that electoral reform is needed, but precisely how this should be brought about is unclear. While the Anglos in the audience have definite ideas about representative government, because they grew up in the US or Britain, most Israelis are not so sure, even though they are dissatisfied with the current system.
The attempt by Israel to introduce direct election of the Prime Minister separate from the Knesset elections (the so-called Presidential system) did not work. It caused fragmentation of the parties and after two elections all agreed that it didn't work and it was rescinded.
Sa'ar himself has authored three bills in the Knesset on the electoral system. He changed the threshold for parties to be elected from 1.5 to 2%. This helps to prevent too many small parties. He also authored a bill to have a maximum of 8 Ministers (each one of course requires a Ministry and an entourage and costs millions).
His third bill relates to representation in the electoral system. Since Israel currently has proportinal representation, all the power is in the hands of the parties and so it is a conflict of interest for them to actually change the system. No one will go for a complete changeover, but a partial changeover may be acceptable. He had proposed 30 (one quarter of the Knesset seats) be based on localities, but then he decided that half is preferable. So his bill now proposes that half of the Knesset be elected on the basis of local representation. Whether or not his bill has any chance of passing is not known, but Netanyahu has promised to support this electoral reform if he is elected PM at the next election.
Sa'ar is against the Norwegian system, in which Ministers when appointed resign their seats in Parliament in order to allow others to serve while they work as Ministers. Sa'ar thinks that Ministers need to be in the rough and tumble of politics and know what is going on. They also need to look after the interests of their Ministries and their constituencies in the Knesset.
He does not think Ministers should only be experts in their particular profession, because it is up to the PM to choose good Ministers, and if a PM appoints someone like Amir Peretz with no experience to head the Defense Ministry, that reflects on the PM more than on the Minister.
One of the problems with the current system is that the small parties demand large prices to join a coalition. This has to be reversed and the main party needs to demand more of the small parties. Whether or not the changes proposed in the electoral system away from pure proportional representation will achieve this is not really known.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

PA preconditions?

On Monday, the PA Cabinet announced 4 pre-conditions for its attendance at the Annapolis meeting, that is due to be held next week. The papers said that this was a "surprise" since these preconditions had not been mentioned before during many discussions. It reminds me of a story, of representatives of an American company arriving in Tokyo for a 3 day visit to negotiate a deal with their Japanese hosts. On the first day there were lavish dinners and toasts, and everyone drank too much. On the second day the Americans arrived at the Japanese Company offices ready for business, only to be told that they were scheduled to go on a tour. On the last day the Americans were desperate, and on the way to the airport they begged the Japanese to take care of business, whereupon the Japanese brought out an agreement, and said, "just sign here."
The Palestinians say that they will not attend unless: 1. Israel stops all settlement construction, 2. Israel dismantles all settlement outposts, 3. Israel removes all IDF checkpoints, and 4. Israel allows the reopening of PA offices in Jerusalem. Now, this is pure chutzpah, since these are items for future negotiations after the Annapolis conference, but also note that the Palestinian's favorite precondition, namely the freeing of prisoners from Israeli jails, is absent! Why? Because Olmert has already announced that he will free 441 Fatah prisoners who do not have Israeli blood on their hands. These so-called preconditions are designed to put pressure on Condy Rice to pressure the Israelis to at least give in to some of the Palestinian demands in order to help bolster Abbas. She should dismiss them out-of-hand, but this is always the way so-called Middle East peace negotiations take place.
So now we know the Palestinians pre-conditions, but what are the Israeli demands: recognition of Israel as a Jewish State (forget it), Jerusalem to remain unified (impossible), no "right of return" for so-called Palestinian refugees (no way), compensation for Jews from Arab lands (who?), etc. The fact is that Israel never does this kind of pressure diplomacy, we are always on the receiving end of outrageous demands, that the Palestinians use effectively in their PR, while they still allow terrorists to attack Israelis.
On Monday night Ido Zoldan, 28, an evacuee from Homesh in Gaza, was shot dead by terrorists in Shomron while driving home. He leaves a wife and child. There is nothing that Israel or the IDF apparently can or will do about this. Before Annapolis their hands are tied. However, 4 Palestinians were killed in two separate incidents when they tried to breach Israeli security. Even though the PA make these preconditions they have not even started their first requirement of the Road Map, that is a cessation of terrorism.
The Palestinians also made their attendance at Annapolis conditional on the presence of other Arab States. However, these may only be represented by their Foreign Ministers. After his meeting yesterday at Sharm el Sheikh, at which Olmert begged Mubarak to attend, at least some Egyptian attendance seems assured. Even though the official invitations were sent out, noone still knows whether or not the Saudis and/or the Syrians will be there. And noone knows if the Palestinians will stick to their "preconditions"!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mahler's Resurrection

This is based on a lecture given by our wonderful musicologist Brenda Miller, who is so amazingly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. This time she featured Mahler's 2nd Symphony, "The Resurrection," which not only was a musical tour de force, but engendered great stories about Mahler, his Jewish origins, and about Leonard Bernstein and Otto Klemperer, the famed conducters of Mahler.
It is well known that Mahler, although now considered a musical genius, had been largely ignored in the Germanic countries where he lived and worked in the nineteenth century. That this was due to anti-Semitism is clear, since he was one of the "Jewish" composers banned by Hitler, even though he had as a child been baptized a Catholic. During his life he was constantly criticized that his music and/or his conducting were "too Jewish," and he experienced constant anti-Semitism and was dismissed as a minor figure. It was Leonard Berstein who re-discovered him, and by constantly playing his symphonies and providing detailed musicological analysis of his work, showed the level of his genius.
It is true that Mahler's work is difficult and considered to be "heavy." That this was due to his depressive personality is understandable, as he was throughout his life torn between his Jewishness, although he had effectively no Jewish content in his life, and his suffering as a result of it. Mahler was obsessed with death and the mystery and meaning of life.
He was born in Moravia in 1867 and grew up in utter poverty. His father was a brutal man who constantly beat his children (shades of Beethoven). When Gustav was nine his father converted the whole family, and since they lived close to the Church, little Gustav was recruited to the choir and was given free music lessons. He also lived close to the Army barracks and all day long he could hear the sound of marching feet. These two early experiences definitely reoccur in his music.
From an early age Mahler became familiar with German folk-songs, and he used some of these and made up others of his own based on the themes familiar to him from his early childhood. In effect Mahler's music was coded auto-biography (this is similar to Shostakovich who was forced to dissimulate by Stalin, and who admired Mahler's music).Mahler's second Symphony, the Resurrection, written in 1893, was superficially thought to have a Christian theme, but actually as Bernstein has pointed out, there is no mention of Jesus in it, and the key to the "Resurrection" is in fact a very Jewish interpretation. It was as if Mahler wore a Christan coat on the outside, but inside remained Jewish.
In 1897 after much struggle he became artistic director of the Imperial Opera in Vienna. Mahler's music has been considered unapproachable due to its complexity, its heavy themes of death and the meaning of life, and the length of his Symphonies. In fact, the Resurrection Symphony starts with a 20 min funeral march, followed by a very complex alternation between "heaven" and "hell." But in fact Mahler was very sardonic, and although he loved the Christian concept of heaven (if only it could be), much of his music, including the whole final movement of the Resurrection Symphony, is meant be to humorous and even mocking (depending on how you interpret it). It was Leonard Bernstein's unlikely tenure as Conductor of the Vienna State Orchestra that enabled him to reacquaint this orchestra and the Viennese with one of their greatest musicians.
It is impossible here to even suggest the complexity of the music itself and bravo to Brenda for being able to explain it (with the aid of her wonderful charts, with arrows crossing each other every which way).
I want to end with this thought, all the following great German musicians were Jews who converted to Christianity: Mendelssohn, Mahler, Klemperer and Schoenberg. Of them the last two converted back, but all of them expressed their Jewish souls through their music, and the Germans could not forgive them for this.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Israel beats Russia!

I watched the soccer (football) game between Israel and Russia on Saturday night, and it was exciting. I now know why fans go crazy, I must admit I was cheering and shouting all by myself. In the second half the Russians were dominant and after scoring the equalizer seemed destined to win. They had three excellent chances that they failed to convert into goals, including the last one that hit the post. At this point it seemed unlikely that Israel could win. Yet they played well defensively and kept making scoring chances. Finally Omer Golan broke through and ran a long way beating two Russian defenders and kicked it past the Russian goalie, and there was bedlam! The whole stadium erupted, it was a great moment. Little Israel defeated giant Russia, it still seems improbable!
The main outcome of this victory has been positive PR for Israel in the British press for a change, because Israel's win saved England, on points, from being relegated out of the Euro 2008 tournament. England still have to beat Croatia, leader of the Red section of the playoffs, in a game this week to stay in the tournament. Many will be watching. But, for the moment headlines like "Israel Saves England" and "England's prayers answered as Israel triumphs," have done more for Israel's image than any well argued and factually correct serious article in the Times could have done.
Maybe the PR people are right, they say what needs to be advertized is Israel's positive features, like her sexy girls. It may do more for Israel's image than all the talk about the Holy Land ever could. But, don't worry I'll return to serious, factually correct articles soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


This is in response to questions from a high school girl in Putney, Vermont, passed on to me for comment by a friend in Brattleboro, Vermont. These questions exhibit a serious and searching approach to the situation.

Israel-Palestine Questions

1. In your opinion were the members of the UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) fully prepared to handle the task of dividing up Israel?
The Members of UNSCOP spent 3 months and travelled thousands of miles in order to complete their task. They interviewed hundreds of persons directly involved in this issue. I think they were very responsible and arrived at the only feasible solution available to them. Incidentally, they did not strictly “divide Israel” but divided the Palestine Mandate that had been handed over to the UN because the British could not arrive at a solution.
2. Did Communism and the Western Bloc influence the UNSCOP decision or the eventual outcome?
There was only one communist-controlled member of UNSCOP, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, which was nominally Communist, but independent of Moscow. There is no evidence that the Communist bloc had any influence on the outcome. The members of the Committee were deliberately mainly from then “neutral” countries, i.e. India, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay. So the West had limited influence. Note that the British were against giving up their control of Palestine, while the US was in favor of a UN-sponsored solution.
3. What were the main reasons that the UNSCOP came to the conclusion that the state of Israel should be created?
There were two main reasons, first they saw for themselves the suffering and the degradation of the Jewish refugees arriving in Haifa from Displaced Person’s Camps and Concentration Camps in Europe (the small portion of Jews that had survived), and second they experienced the utter rejection of any external solution to the problem by the Arabs. The Arabs (not only the Palestinians, but including Egypt, Jordan, Syria Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) all regarded the territory as theirs, despite the British Mandate and the UN decisions, and refused to cooperate. The UNSCOP members, like everyone else, assumed that if left alone, the Arabs would massacre the remaining Jews, as had just happened in Europe. They wanted to give the Jews a chance for survival. Also, the Jewish settlement in Palestine (the Yishuv) had established the organizations necessary for a working State, while the Arabs had not.
4. In hindsight do you believe this was the best course of action?
UNSCOP voted for partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish States. The Jews accepted this solution, but the Arabs rejected it and attacked the nascent State of Israel, expecting an easy victory (since they outnumbered the Jews ca. 5:1). But the Arabs were defeated, and were defeated in subsequent wars in every decade (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982). Eventually after 60 years some of them have come back belatedly to the two-State solution, although others (Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah) still reject that in favor of destruction of Israel (and killing of its Jewish inhabitants).
5. What factors might have influenced the UNSCOP’s decision in an unfair and biased way?
They might have been unfairly influenced by the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust in Europe during WWII. But, nowadays, since Israel has been successful in defending itself and surviving, the pendulum has swung the other way and many people feel sympathy for the “poor, suffering” Palestinians. However, some would argue that they brought this suffering on themselves by rejecting all negotiated solutions and on the Arab States for not settling the refugees, as refugees from other conflicts have been settled (including the 750,000 Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab countries).
6. Did the Arab’s unwelcoming behavior when the UNSCOP was in Palestine have a detrimental effect on their case?
Of course it did. But, this was not only a matter of influencing the UN Committee, but also showing total rejection of any outside or “balanced” solution. As far as the Muslim/Arabs were (and are) concerned they have a God-given right to this land and they intended to take it by force. Now that they have been unable to do so, some of them are prepared to deal with Israel under the auspices of the USA. Note that although the Jews also felt they had a God-given right to the land, their leadership was secular and they were prepared to compromise from the beginning.
7. How large of a part did the Holocaust play in the creation of Israel?
This is a difficult and controversial question. Clearly the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust did influence the members of the Committee and the world somewhat in their favor. But, I would maintain that the basis for a Jewish State already existed without the Holocaust. Before WWII there were ca. 650,000 Jews in Palestine and they had organized the basis of a nascent State. Further, when the Arabs armies (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) attacked in 1948, the Jews already there were able to defend themselves and in fact throw back the attackers. This happened before any significant numbers of immigrants from post-WWII Europe had arrived. So even without the Holocaust and even without UNSCOP, a Jewish State would almost certainly have arisen in Palestine.
8. What is your opinion on Mahatma Gandhi’s letter “The Jews in Palestine 1938?”
Mahatma Gandhi was undoubtedly a great man. But, just as he was opposed to partition of India into Muslim and Hindu States, so he was against partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab States. His idealistic views were divorced from reality His advice to Jews to adopt non-violence against the Germans in WWII was spurious, since first there was no possibility of large scale armed Jewish resistance (notwithstanding this the Jews resisted in the Warsaw Ghetto) and he did not have personal experience of the ruthless Nazis and Communists. His letter(s) are purely of historic interest and had no practical influence on the situation.
9. Are there any other religious states similar to Israel?
There are actually many, for example most of the Arab and Muslim States (Iran, Indonesia, etc.) have Islam as their established religion, and in Saudi Arabia no other religions are even allowed! Israel is similar to India that has a majority of one religion (Hindus) but is a practicing democracy that allows other religions (Islam, Sikhs, Jews, etc.). The UK is also a “religious state” with an established religion the Church of England or Anglican faith
10. If so did they have similar problems?
It’s not clear what “problems” you are referring to. India had a War of Independence also in 1948 when the British (this time without the UN) declared partition into a Hindu State (India) and a Muslim State (Pakistan). There were several subsequent wars between the two, and the main problem, that of Kashmir, has not been resolved, since it is divided into two occupied zones. In fact this is a far larger and more dangerous problem than the Israel-Palestine dispute. In Britain there was a protracted Civil War that finally decided that Britain would be predominantly Protestant and not Catholic.
11. Could the constant warring in Israel today have been avoided?
It is unlikely that it could have been avoided. Each of the Arab States had its own agenda and expected to be able to carve up Mandatory Palestine between them. When they did not succeed they did not strongly support the humanitarian needs of the displaced Palestinians, but let them rot in camps, keeping the conflict alive. Also, it is a tenet of the Muslim faith that no territory that has been occupied by Muslims should be given up. That is why they have the concept of “jihad,” of war against the infidels (some claim that this is a purely spiritual battle, but the facts belie this).
12. Do you feel that it is the U.N.’s place to make the decision of dividing up a region?
The Security Council of the UN is endowed with the legal right, by its founding agreement, to protect “security” throughout the world. By contrast, the General Assembly resolutions are purely advisory. If the UN is to exist and perform its functions then it is its place to decide such issues. But, it must be by unanimous decision of the five permanent members of the SC, although Russia and China do not often agree with the US, UK and France. However, the current situation is that both sides to the Israel-Palestine conflict prefer the US as an honest broker between them rather than the UN. This is partly because the UN has turned out to be virulently anti-Israel, some 2/3 of the decisions of the UN Human Rights Council are anti-Israel (ignoring other humanitarian issues), and it is dominated by the Muslim States (ca. 40) and other anti-Western States (African, Asian).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Protracted struggle?

Last Monday, on the third anniversary of the death of Yasir Arafat (remember him?), there was a major clash between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza. This occured while Pres. Abbas ceremoniously opened a white mausoleum in memory of Arafat in the Mukata compound in Ramallah on the West Bank. There was a simultaneous rally in Gaza, that attracted a huge crowd estimated at 120,000. This was taken to indicate that Fatah still has major popular support in Gaza.
However, clashes broke out between the two factions and 7 Fatah supporters were killed and many wounded when Hamas Executive guards fired on them. This was seen as a desecration of Arafat's memory by Fatah, and embittered the relationship between them. When asked whether or not Israel or Hamas was the greater enemy, followers of Fatah replied that Hamas was first, but, they still regard Israel as a great enemy. So "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" adage does not apply.
Meanwhile, as preparations proceed for the imminent Annapolis Meeting (downgraded from a Conference), Abbas is increasingly seen as weak and indecisive. He is really only the President of the Mukata in Ramallah. The military wing of Fatah, the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, acts essentially independently of him and his cronies. Abbas set up a police unit 300 strong in Nablus to extend his control, but all they control is the traffic, and that only during the day. At night they officially retire and the IDF takes over security.
Also, in Gaza, as the going gets tough, Hamas has split into three distinct groups, that which supports Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, followers of PM Ismail Haniyeh, and a splinter group supporting former FM Mahmud al-Zahar. There have already been clashes between these three groups, but this has been kept quiet to give the appearance of Hamas unity. The already planned major IDF incursion into Gaza to stop the rocketing of Israeli territory may not take place, and certainly not before the Annapolis Meeting. Hamas want the IDF to attack to enhance their image as the front-line against Israel, and to unify all factions.
However, if Israel reduced or stopped supplies of gasoline, electricity, water and food, they could bring Hamas to its knees in a short time and even exacerbate the clashes between the various groups. The Israeli Supreme Court and the Attorney General have both ruled that since Gaza is officially a "hostile entity" Israel can reduce these supplies as long as no humanitarian crisis occurs. It is unlikely that the Government will order water and food supplies reduced, but gasoline and electricity may well be cut. It must be unique in history that one side in a war supplies all essential supplies to the other side while being attacked by it! This must stop and Gaza must either generate its own electricity or import gasoline from elsewhere (e.g. Egypt!).
Since Abbas is afraid to appear too concilatory towards Israel and the US, he is trying to find a way of scuppering PA cooperation at Annapolis. One way is the current insistence that the PA cannot recognise Israel as a Jewish State. This even though the PA supposedly already recognized Israel and also has Islam as its established religion. This stand of Abbas is clearly designed to "get him off the hook." The chances of Annapolis being successful in bringing the parties together to enhance the "peace process" seem minimal. Post-Annapolis we may see a concerted effort of Hamas to take over from Abbas in the West Bank, and of Fatah to try to wrest Gaza from Hamas, and a protracted struggle may then occur.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Jewish State

The PA leadership have announced that although they are ready to recognize Israel (something that Arafat supposedly did three times before), they could not recognize it as a Jewish State. In other words, the idea of a specifically Jewish State is anathema to them. Some of them also mentioned that to define a State according to a religion is unacceptable, even though most of the Arab States are defined as Muslim States in their constitutions, and some even prevent the entry of any other religions, such as Saudi Arabia, where anything but Islam is unacceptable! This is the height of hyposcrisy and a good excuse, following Arafat's lead, to find any reason to avoid actual recognition of Israel. They expect us to recognize their right to a State while at the same time continuing to avoid recognizing our State, that is already in existence for 60 years and is recognized by the UN. What chutzpah!
However, this problem is not only found among Palestinians. A few years ago I went with a colleague originally from the former Soviet Union to the Ministry of Science in Tel Aviv to see the Adminstrative Assistant of the Minister, with a view to requesting some support or funding for the World Congress of Jewish Scientists. We had already visited once before, and we were told that some money had been set aside to help us organize a conference in Israel, but then there was delay and the Government changed and the Minister changed and all his administrators. So it was like starting from scratch.
We went in to meet this Assistant, and she was a very business-like youngish woman. We were aware that without her agreement we would not get anywhere. We had sent her some material, but obviously she had not looked at it. So now she read through the preamble of the description of our organization, and in it it stated something like, "Israel is the Jewish State, and there should be an organization of scientists here who identify as Jews and who can connect with their Jewish colleagues around the world." We thought this was very innocuous, but she immediately took offense. She said how can you say, "Israel is the Jewish State,'" what about all those citizens who are not Jewish? Well, we said this organization has nothing directly to do with them. But she insisted, and said no we can't have that in anything that the Ministry supports, and she crossed it out! We were very taken aback and didn't know how to respond. Maybe she was looking for an excuse, but if so she certainly had found one. Well, we said, it is generally recognized that Israel is the Jewish State, so why can't we say that. Oh, she said the Minister will never accept that! And she gave us back the material with the fact that "Israel is the Jewish State" crossed out.
We wanted to argue with her, but obviously it would have been pointless. Whether or not she was an extreme leftist herself, or whether or not that represented her Minister's viewpoint we'll never know. We were asked to call back, and of course we were told that the money that had been set aside had been diverted for other pusposes. End of story.
I found it shocking that a senior civil servant in the Israeli Government would deny that "Israel is the Jewish State." But, there are plenty of others out there, including many liberal/leftist Jews, who seek to undermine this fact. As far as I am concerned they can go to hell, in the same basket as the Palestinian leadership.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Road to Annapolis

You remember how you enjoyed the Road shows, "The Road to Morocco," "The Road to Singapore," "The Road to Bali," now sit back and enjoy the sequel, "The Road to Annapolis," in which our hapless duo of funny men, Olmert and Abbas, replay their old roles. You remember them in the less than successful, "The Road to Madrid" 1991, "The Road to Oslo," 1993, and the most recent, "Road to Camp David" 2000. Of course, all these roads lead nowhere, but that's the idea, and remember the fun we had going along just for the ride, watching the scenery go by and enjoying the antics of the "odd couple."
No need to worry about reality, leave that behind, this is where fun and fantasy take over. See them vie for the affections of the lovely Condy, as she seductively plays the role of the head mistress of love and romance. But, her true love is Bushy the Boss, and she'll always be true to him. And lurking in the undergrowth is the evil one, Ahmed the unpronounceable, always ready with a nasty quip or two, always menacing and dangerous.
You'll rolick at the fabulous cast of supporters, Abdullah, who plays the King, and if we're lucky even Fahd the Saudi will put in a cameo appearance, just to liven things up. Finally, the big question, will "Basher" the Syrian strong man appear and show off his muscles. He's been known to lift a country, but he's very temperamental and might prefer to have somebody blown up. Watch out for his cars, they always get somebody unsuspecting.
So sit back and enjoy, the most frivolous, most pointless and most amusing game in town, the Road to Annapolis, it leads nowhere, but that's part of the fun!

Monday, November 12, 2007

National suicide?

I heard a BBC interviewer get quite indignent with Michael Freund, the convenor of Shavei Tzion, the society that brings to Israel members of "lost" or secret Jewish sects, such as the Bnei Israel and the Bnei Menashe from India, the Ethiopians (Falasha) Jews, or the Bnei Anusim (Marranos) from Spain, Portugal and Latin America. He asked, "well if you bring them into Israel what about the Palestinians who still have deeds to land they owned in Israel, why can't they return?" And when Freund responded that our deed to the Land is the Bible and that the whole point of Israel is the ingathering of the exiles and that these are Jews who were persecuted and forced to give up their identity, the interviewer responded with a typical liberal response, "well, if you are so sympathetic to those people why don't you have sympathy for the poor suffering Palestinians, what about their rights?"
But, he fails to grasp, as do many liberals and leftists, including many young idealistic Jews, that this multicultural argument is not the appropriate one in this situation. All groups are not equivalent, we are particularist (!), and this goes against the grain of current Western liberal thinking. The Arabs have 22 States, the Jews have one. The Arab States are not in danger of being destroyed, ours is. Israel exists and has sovereignty for the very purpose of strengthening the Jewish people and ensuring our survival. The Palestinians may yet get their own State, alongside ours, but not at our expense.
Since there is no such thing as the "right of return" in international law, and since Israel is sovereign, we can choose to let in who we like. For example, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption has given the Bnei Menashe a hard time to enter, as they did previous "lost" groups, because they have little documentation of their claims to be part of the "lost tribes," and the authorities fear a huge economic influx. But, Freund and others argue (also a liberal position) that if they want to be Jews and convert and share our responsibilites (which includes serving in the IDF) then we must let them "return" to their land. Whether the fact that they are Asian, and look typically Asian, makes any difference, and the fact that now there are several hundred coming, but there are several thousand waiting, makes any difference to the Ministry is hard to determine.
But, the fact that Israel chooses to allow them to enter Israel and not the descendents of the Palestinian refugees is Israel's choice. They chose to fight us 60 years ago, they were defeated and lost their rights in a war of their own making, they remain implacably hostile (even if a few of them claim that they are not) and we say, as is our right and responsibility, "no entry." We may be sympathetic to African refugees from Darfur, and about 500 have been admitted, but to allow all Africans who now come from all over Africa (Nigeria, Somalia, etc.) to settle here would be national suicide, and we are not required to commit suicide to satisfy the moral equivalence of Western liberals!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


General Musharraf of Pakistan is a military dictator who refuses to wear mufti so that he can run for election as a simple civilian. In order to retain his position as Chief of the Army as well as President he has tried to subvert the Pakistani legal system and has declared martial law and suspended the constitution. Friday he had Benazir Bhutto, the populist leader of the Pakistan People's Party, detained temporarily. The excuse was that her life was in danger from suicide bombers, but we all know that, since they already tried to blow her up, killing 130 people, the day she returned to Pakistan. He also expelled another rival opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, whom he overthrew in a military coup in 1999. This all stinks of anti-democratic maneuvering, although Musharraf insists that he is merely postponing the election for President.
But, on the other hand, Gen. Musharraf is a hero of the war on terrorism, one of the best allies of the USA and of George Bush. After 9/11 when the chips were down, Musharraf read the tea leaves and decided to switch course and cooperate with the US. Since then he has been a staunch ally, and has pursued al Qaeda throughout Pakistan, even in the lawless tribal regions near the Afghani border.
Under his command a new Center for Anti-Terrorism was founded in Pakistan, separate from the suspect Pakistan secret intelligence service known as ISI. This CAT has arrested over 500 al Qaeda suspects, many of them high members of the organization, such as Faraj al Libi, who was third in al Qaeda, and Naim nur Khan, who has a Masters degree in computers and was their head of communications. Both of these terrorists were arrested with computers, lap tops and cell phones, and a great deal of information has been gleaned from their interrogations that has been shared with British and American allies. Both of these terrorists seem to have temporarily disappeared, Pakistan says that they were to be handed over to the US, and the US says it never received them. They were probably candidates for "extraordinary rendition."
Among those they also arrested were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the killer of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street journalist, whom he trapped, kidnapped and eventually beheaded. They also arrested Kelfand al Ghani who was the mastermind behind two unsuccessful plots to assassinate Musharraf, both of which narrowly missed, but killed others. Ghani was captured in a classic deception when he went to meet a mole who had infiltrated al Qaeda. Musharraf is an ally that the West desperately needs to retain.
So there is a dilemma, support Musharraf because he is a valued ally in the war on terror, or oppose him because he is an anti-democratic military dictator. This was the same dilemma the US faced during the cold war with the USSR.
In confronting this dilemma, while the US and the UN call for Musharraf to return to democratic norms, one must be realistic. Pakistan is a dangerous country, where the support for Islamist extremism runs deep and hatred of the USA is high. The only guarantor of Pakistan as an ally of the West in its struggle with Islamic terrorism is the Pakistan Army, that is large, tough and professional. It will likely follow Musharraf's orders, but if he is replaced in elections, and for example Bhutto was elected in his place, even though she is Westernized, the Army would probably ignore her, and the Islamists would eat her for breakfast.
Then there would likely be a civil war in Pakistan that would almost certainly result in the overthrow of democracy and the installation of an extremist Taliban style Islamic dictatorship.
Is this what we want? Ask yourself what happened when the do-gooders decided that the Shah of Iran was a cruel dictator and shouldn't be supported. Pres. Carter withdrew support for him and allowed Ayatollah Khomeini to take over in Iran, and it was the worst mistake in modern US history. When in a war, it pays to be expedient. We are in a war now, and Musharraf is our ally. Everything else is uncertain.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Protestants and the Jews

This is the third in the series of reports on the excellent presentations of Dr. Robert Wolfe, who incidentally speaks coherently for an hour without consulting any notes.
The Protestants were more favorable to the Jews than the Catholics and the Orthodox Christians. There were several reasons for this. The Protestants believed in going back to the original Biblical sources rather than relying on the established Catholic interpretations of the sacred literature, and many of them studied Hebrew in order to do so. The Protestant King James version of the "Old" Testament was checked with Rabbis for accuracy. Cromwell was responsible for re-admitting the Jews to England, even though his Bill to do so was at first rejected by Parliament, it was eventually adopted. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant reformation, was at first friendly to the Jews, expecting them to convert to the "true" version of Christianity, but when they didn't he became very hostile and anti-Semitic, similar to the pattern of Mohammed. Many Protestant practices were considered to be "Jewish" by the Catholics.
Here is an important example. In 1215, at the Lateran Council, the Catholic Church decided on the doctrine of "the real presence." This was the theological doctrine that during the Eucharist or Mass, the bread and wine consumed were miraculously transformed into the real body and blood of Christ. This process, known as "trans-substantiation," was and still is a central tenet of Catholicism. During the following 300 years or so until the Protestant Reformation, Jews were persecuted for many reasons, and one of the most prominent became the so-called "desecration of the host," the host being the wafers that were the body of Christ that were considered to have magical powers by the peasantry (although not so much by the Church itself). Wafers were found "weeping blood" as a result of having been touched or harmed by Jews, and this alone resulted in massacres of tens of thousands of Jews. It was another version of the "blood libel."
The Protestants rejected the concept of "the real presence" and some of them, including Luther, replaced it with the idea of "cons-substantiation" namely that the wafer and wine represented the body and blood of Christ, but were not actually it! To Catholics this put the Protestants and the Jews on the same side, but nevertheless once the Protestant revolt began, persecutions of Jews for desecration of the host stopped.
The beginning of the Protestant Reformation coincided with the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492. At that time Catholic Spain was the largest most powerful state in Europe, aligned as it was with the German Holy Roman Empire. In Muslim Spain the situation of the Jews had at first been good, the Muslim regime was tolerant, leading to the famous "Golden Age." Unfortunately however that lasted for only ca. 100 years. As the Christians became more powerful and successful in their war with the Muslims, the Muslim rulers were replaced with ever more extreme leaders from North Africa, the Almoravids and Almohades. In order to induce them to leave the Arab side, the Christians promised inducements to the Jews, that included the responsibility for "tax farming" namely collecting taxes from the peasants. This lead to anti-Jewish riots that the Christian monarchy used as an excuse to force Jews to convert to Catholicism, resulting in large numbers of so-called "conversos." The Inquisition that followed these conversions was not directed at the Jews, but at the conversos, who were regarded as insufficiently sincere in their conversions, and who were often imprisoned, tortured and murdered (thereby allowing the Church and the monarchy to steal their wealth and property). At the same time Ferdinand and Isabella decided to at last rid themselves of the "burden" and expelled the remaining Jews from Spain.
The Sephardic Jews took refuge in Portugal for a while (where they were cruely treated and forced to convert in 1505), and in North Africa, where they were tolerated. But, the two places where they were welcomed was in Protestant Holland (which had been a Spanish colony) and Muslim Turkey (and its colonies in the Balkans), on the grounds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, since both considered the Spanish their enemy. The Turks accepted the Jews also because although they are Muslim, they had long been more tolerant than their Arab enemies, most of whom they occupied (Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and Iraq).
Another factor that made the Protestants more sympathetic to the Jews was the idea that evolved that the Jews must be restored to their Land before the second coming of their Messiah, Jesus. In fact, a whole movement of so-called Christian Zionism developed in the nineteenth century based on this idea, that included Lord Balfour and Winston Churchill. This partly resulted from the Christian idea that the Muslims should not control the Holy Land (that lead to the Crusades) and since few Christians wanted to go and live there and the Jews (in principle) did, that would be better for Protestant Christianity. Now the largest group of pro-Zionists in the world (larger than the Jewish population) are the approximately 40 million fundamentalist Christians in the USA.
A curious role in this development was played by the book, the "Zohar" which was a kabbalistic work written in Aramaic and attributed to the teachings of the 2nd century Rabbi Simon Bar Yochai, but actually written in Spain by Moses de Leon in the 13th century. This book was authentic however in its Zionism, and was studied widely and influenced many Jewish and Christian philosophers with its messianic prophesies, that included the return of the Jews to Zion (kabbala later dropped this emphasis).
From the 1520's onwards, Sephardic Jews immigrated into the Holy Land, in what was then part of the Turkish Empire. The shulchan aruch was written by Joseph Caro in Tzvat and influenced Ashkenazi practices. Donna Gracia and her nephew Joseph Nasi (the Duke of Naxos) became friends with the Turkish Sultan (before Weizmann tried the same thing) and influenced him to allow Jews to settle there. A constant trickle of Jews contributed to the development of the Yishuv.
At the same time the Treaty of Westphalia divided Europe into Catholic and Protestant regions, with an agreement not to continue religious wars. But, the Jews in some areas were very vulnerable and in 1649 there was a rebellion of Ukrainian peasants lead by Chielmenicki against their Polish conquerors, and tens of thousands of Jews were massacred. This lead to an upsurge in Zionism (get us out of here!) and along came Shabbtai Zvi, a mystic and self-proclaimed messiah. Many thousands of Jews left from all over the Christian world to join him in Israel. But he was arrested and forced to convert to Islam. Nevertheless, the Christians in Europe had seen that Jews were ready to down everything and leave for Zion.
Although the Turks had allowed the first and second Aliyot, during WWI the Jews were pro-British (e.g. the Nili spy ring) and the Turks persecuted them. But, once the British defeated the Turks in WWI the way was open for the expression of Protestant Christian Zionism in the form of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to clear the way for a recognized return of the Jews to their Land.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Two State parameters

The "two State solution" is now the mantra of the international set and of the Annapolis bunch. What should be the parameters of such a solution?
There is much debate over who should get what, or where the lines should be drawn. Many Palestinian supporters think they should get "all" of Palestine, and this of course includes Hamas, Hizbollah and the rejectionists in Iran and Syria (that's their "one-State solution). But there are 7 million Israeli citizens (including 1 million Israeli Arabs) and ca. 2.4 million Palestinians on the West Bank and 1.4 million in Gaza. That's a ratio of almost exactly 2:1, so Israel should get at least 2/3 of the area of "Palestine" and the Palestinians only 1/3. That's roughly the ratio of the size of Israel to the West Bank plus Gaza, and does not consider what the populations were in the past or what they might be projected to become.
Of course, Israel is militarily far stronger than the Palestinians and any combination of Arab forces (not necessarily including Iran). Although the Palestinians are militarily a nuisance (lobbing rockets into the western Negev and continually trying to send suicide bombers) this does not constitute an existential threat to Israel. Nevertheless, this is sufficiently dangerous that although the IDF could "wipe them out" there is no doubt that it would be better for Israel to strike a mutually agreeable deal with them. However, since the Palestinians do not keep agreements and refuse to compromise, Israel should not be drawn into making further concessions without reciprocation.
If there is a Palestinian State, the so-called refugees should re-settle there. There is no way that Israel will take them! Since the Palestinians assure Israel that most of them would not want to return, so that should not be a big problem for the PA. If it is, too bad, let them decide who they will take.
Jerusalem is a big pie that both sides want. Dividing Jerusalem seems at first a reasonable solution. But, no divided city has ever worked, and the possibility that Palestinians could have free access to western Jerusalem is too horrible to contemplate, imagine the terrorism that would result (whatever Abbas says). The fact that there are Arabs in East Jerusalem is irrelevant. There are Blacks in most of Washington, where whites fear to tread, but the USA isn't going to give it up to a Black Nation, and there are Mexicans in East LA, but that isn't going to be divided. Israel has stated as a matter of principle that Jerusalem is its undivided, eternal capital. To back down from that and to allow Palestinian sovereignty over any of Jerusalem would be unacceptable to a large majority of Israelis. That does not preclude the possibility of re-defining what constitutes Jerusalem as far as Israel is concerned (i.e. the municipal boundaries have been re-drawn and could be again).
Mutual recognition assumes an "end of conflict" situation. But, the Palestinians have been unwilling to consider an end of conflict or "final status" agreement, because most of them still harbor the intention of coming back from any two State agreement in order to retry to get a one-State resolution, i.e. the destruction of Israel as a Jewish State (the so-called "winning by stages" plan of Arafat). This is where the "two-Staters" of Fatah merge into the "one-Staters of Hamas". Israel must be sure to get an end of conflict agreement, but not to rely on it alone. We will need out Security Barrier and checkpoints long after any putative peace treaty is signed. But, don't expect that such an agreement is near to realization.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Beethoven's Testament

Last night we went to one of our music appreciation classes given by Brenda Miller, an amazing and entertaining musicologist. It was devoted to Beethoven's Second Symphony and how it relates to his life and the Heiligenstadt Testament.
Heiligenstadt is a village near Vienna where Beethoven went to escape from the world on his doctor's advice. By the age of 28 Beethoven was stone deaf, and he suffered greatly because of it. He felt shame from the fact that he was a leading composer, and he was considered very anti-social because of this affliction that he had kept secret. But, he also suffered greatly from a number of other painful symptoms, which have been interpreted recently as being due to lead poisoning, a not uncommon occurence in that age (due to the use of lead water pipes and cooking utensils). However, there are relatively few reports of complete deafness as a result of lead poisoning, so this may be doubtful.
While there, isolated from the world and with few if any friends, Beethoven considered suicide. At a particularly bleak moment he started to write his suicide note, known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. He wrote this over two days. On the first day it is clear that he intends to commit suicide, but on the second day he gradually retracts from this decision and apparently decides to try to live with his disabilities, as long as he can continue to write music. The music he composed often required great effort, but sometimes it appeared as if by magic.
It was at this particularly difficult moment that Beethoven was inspired and wrote down his Second Symphony. This was a particularly original and novel musical composition, yet has been overshadowed by his later and more powerful odd-numbered Symphonies, 5, 7 and 9.
In this Symphony no. 2 we can see the two aspects of Beethoven's character striving with one another, his tendency to depression and suicide and his joy in life and music. Although some of the slow second movement may seem gloomy and depressive, in fact it is a majestic largo (slow) cadence that seems to be considering fate. The final fourth movement is very contradictory to this and consists of a series of musical jokes, with a particularly raucous beginning that was considered rude in his day and lead to the banning of this Symphony.
A group of Amricans have bought an authentic clump of Beethoven's hair and there has been talk of cloning him since some of the hair has root follicles and DNA has been isolated from it. However, in our modern age any cloned Beethoven could not be the same as the original, since he would be protected from his diasabilities and his deafness, and so could never become Beethoven as he really was.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The war in Gaza

The war in Gaza continues. On Thursday, Palestinian terrorists fired 9 rockets into Israel hitting several Israeli settlements, including a direct hit on a house in Sderot. Luckily noone was injured. Random mortar shells were also fired into Israel. Seven tunnels used for smuggling arms were also discovered by an Israeli specialist team operating along the Egyptian-Gaza border and were destroyed (the Egyptians never find these).
Last night an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a car in the southern Gaza strip and killed three Hamas operatives, including the head of the southern region. Since the beginning of the current campaign 220 Palestinians have been killed, and three Israelis. Each month for the past three months an IDF soldier was killed in close combat in Gaza. This upsurge in military activity is linked to the upcoming Annapolis conference that Hamas and its supporters oppose.
There are reports that Hamas is training an army of 15,000 men in Gaza, with support from Iran and Hizbollah. Iranian revolutionary guards, particularly the al Quds Brigade, that was recently declared a terrorist entity by the Bush Administration, are involved in this training. There was also a report that Fatah policemen in Gaza, now that it is controlled by Hamas, have transferred their allegiance to the Fatah al Islam extremist group that is affiliated with al Qaeda. Tis is the same group that was attacked by the Lebanese Army in the month's long siege at the Narh-el-Barad camp in Tripoli. So Gaza, nicknamed Hamastan, is now a terrorist mini-state right on our borders. So much for unilateral withdrawals!
The Israeli Cabinet and the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, have given permission for the IDF to plan a major ground offensive in Gaza. However, this will probably be delayed until after the Annapolis conference, so as not to give PA Pres. Abbas an excuse to cancel his attendance. It is quite likely that this Conference, instead of being the peace-parley that it is supposed to be, will be used by the Arab attendees, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as the EU and UN, to wring concessions thru US pressure on Israel. So Israel has it from both sides, the so-called "moderates" who seek to obtain concessions without giving anything, and the rejectionists who are attacking all the time. Once the Conference is over the IDF will have to take care of the growing strategic threat from Gaza.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Beersheva commemoration

October 31 marks the 90th anniversary of one of the most glorious yet obscure events in modern military history, the last successful horse charge by the 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment, in the Battle for Beersheva in 1917. This was commemorated yesterday in Beersheva by a re-enactment of the charge by a group of Australians and New Zealanders, including many descendents of the original horsemen, and in a ceremony near the old Turkish railway station attended by the Ambassadors of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Turkey and Israeli dignitaries.
Having been stymied by two unsuccessful direct attacks on the entrenched Turkish garrison in Gaza, Gen. Edmund Allenby, Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces in Egypt, accepted a plan devised by his staff to attack Beersheva and outflank the Turks. However, this was a very risky strategy because it required men to move rapidly across the hostile desert, take the Turkish garrison in Beersheva by surprise, and capture the water supplies intact. Without the water from the Beersheva wells, the men and their horses would die of thirst, and the whole plan would collapse.
In order to carry out this plan there were three indispensible elements: First, the men, the Australians and New Zealanders of the ANZAC regiment were no ordinary soldiers. Most of them were Australians who had volunteered to go to war, far away, and had done so with their own horses, largely at their own expense. But, the British Army tended to look down on them, and they saw little action at first. When their officers and 500 men were asked it they would take this terrible risk, to go across the unknown desert without sufficient water supplies and attack an entrenched garrison, they jumped at the chance to redeem themselves. It should be noted that the difference between cavalry and "lighthorsemen", is that the horsemen were infantry on horseback with light weapons that their horse take into battle and then they dismount to fight, while the cavalry fight from their horses.
Second, they would not have been able to make this attack without detailed maps of the desert. These were supplied to the British by a member of the "Nili" spy ring of Zichron Yaakov, Avshalom Feinberg. He was a colorful character, who had made friends with the Beduin, otherwise he would not have been able to make forays into the desert to obtain the information needed, and would not have been able to cross Turkish lines to pass the information to the British in Cairo. Unfortunately he disappeared on his return journey. It was rumored that he was the lover of the beautiful Sarah Aaronsohn, sister of the Nili ringleader Aaron Aaronsohn. She committed suicide soon after her arrest and torture by the Turks in 1917 (the restored house of the Nili spies can be visited in Zichron Yaakov). The maps given by Nili to the British enabled them to maintain the element of surprise, since the Turks had no idea that the British would try such a foolhardy scheme as to attempt to move enough men over the trackless desert to Beersheva to carry out such an attack.
Third, another element in the surprise was the deliberate dropping of a saddle bag carrying supposed plans of the next British attack on Gaza by Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, Allenby's Chief of Intelligence, and a very colorful character. This was found by the Turks and convinced them that they need not worry about Beersheva, which had a small garrison of ca. 2,000 Turkish soldiers with German advisors. Meinertzhagen was a proto-Zionist of German origin, who became the British representative of the Zionist delegation to the Peace Conference at Versailles after WWI, the opposite number to Col. T.E. Lawrence who represented the Arabs.
So the 500 lighthorsemen tracked across the desert undetected, but arrived too late for an early morning attack. Nevertheless, with the sun in their eyes they mounted the attack on the trenches of the Turks and catching them by surprise were able to capture the essential water sources, thus ensuring their survival (there is a 1988 movie entitled "The Lighhorsemen" that vividly recaptures this incident.)
This apparent sideshow in a huge war had enormous consequences, it caused the Turks to give up Gaza and lead to the capture by Allenby of Jerusalem. A few days after the capture of Beersheva, on Nov. 2, 1917, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, that envisaged the establishment of a "national home" for the Jews in Palestine. This is precisely what the Nili and other early Zionists had been fighting for, and they knew that it could only be achieved if the British defeated the Turks and captured the Holy Land. Subsequently this lead to the establishment of the State of Israel. We owe a lot to those ANZACs men who died in this Battle and who are buried in the Commonwealth cemetary in Beersheva.