Saturday, May 31, 2008

Olmert's dilemma

The big news story in Israel Thursday was the press conference given by Defense Minister and Labor Party Chief Ehud Barak regarding the legal situation of PM Ehud Olmert. Barak essentially advised Olmert to resign or take a leave-of-absence as PM while his legal case is pending. Although his rhetoric was strong and his advice critical, the significant point that all the reporters noted was that Barak did not say that HE would resign or take Labor out of the coalition unless Olmert resigned. In other words, Barak, for all his verbiage, shrank from taking any action that would precipitate Olmert's resignation.
He said that whether or not Olmert decided to resign or to hand over leadership in Kadima was up to Olmert and Kadima members. So just like Tzipi Livni after the Winograd Report, he stopped short of actually demanding Olmert resign or he/she would do something about it. This lack of either nerve or political interest results form two things. First, Barak and Livni, know that to go to new elections would mean taking a risk of losing their jobs, because the polls show that Likud with Netanyahu are way ahead of Kadima and Labor. Barak is not popular and only Livni has been given a chance of beating Netanyahu in a head-to-head contest in the polls. So Barak wants to stop short of an election, and if he causes the coalition to collapse he's afraid that's what might happen.
Eli Yishai, Head of Shas, has also asked his Torah sages to decide whether or not Shas should continue to support the coalition. This is exactly the kind of situation that Shas likes, when they are needed most, they can squeeze the greatest amount out of Olmert.
Olmert is standing tough. He immediately rejected Barack's advice and met with members of Kadima and told them that he was innocent and that he would not resign! Now the problem is that although Talansky's testimony before the court is damning, he was not cross-examined by Olmert's defense. That is scheduled to take place on July 16, after Talansky returns to the US and then comes back to Israel, and the lawyers can prepare the case based on his testimony. The prosecution also meanwhile are seeking to find out who were the other donors for whom Talansky played the role of delivery man. So Olmert can legitimately claim that so far there are only Talansky's assertions, no actual criminal case has been brought against him.
The Police also announced under pressure from Atty. Gen. Mazuz that they are speeding up their investigation of Olmert and plan to bring charges on at least one charge as soon as possible. Meanwhile Livni and other Kadima leaders are trying to organize a nw party primary preparatory to new elections to choose a leader in plce of Olmert should he decide or be forced to resign after all.
But, certainly in other western countries any hint of such a level of corruption, of receiving wads of tens of thousands of dollars, when he was Mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Trade, that puts his reputation into serious question, would be enough to trigger a resignation (VP Agnew in teh US resigned after a similar case of receiving wads of cash while in office). In Israel this has not been the tendency, politicians stay on for as long as they can, and to hell with the country. Instead of attending to the country's affairs they attend to their own criminal cases, and they may even be suspected of mainipulating the country's situation for their own ends, for example, of announcing negotiations with Syria just at the time that the case is pending.
One can never know, but certainly a large majority of Israelis are fed up with Olmert, his popularity is around 10%, but the determining factor is what support he can retain in the Knesset, and that depends on how many MKs are prepared to give up their seats. Nevertheless, the political situation is now much more fluid and the optimists hope to see an election by next November.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dan Diker on Iran

Dan Diker is a familiar face to Anglos in Israel, since he was a newsreader on the IBA English News for several years. More recently he has become the Head of the Inst. for Contemporary Affairs in Israel, and is a foreign policy analyst associated with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He often appears as a Middle East expert on CNN, BBC, Fox and al Jazeera TV News stations.
On Tues night Dan Diker spoke to our Likud Anglos group on the topic "Iran's 'unfriendly' takeover of the Middle East: implications for Israeli Palestinian diplomacy" (he is the editor of a forthcoming book on this subject). His main thesis was that there has been a change in paradigm in the Middle East. The real culprit in the Middle East now is Iran, but the Israeli Govt, is still operating under the former paradigm that making territorial concessions to the Palestinian Arabs is the way to bring peace. Those who believe that "solving" the Israel-Palestine conflict can lead to a solution of the Iranian problem are deluded, its the other way around now. Its like arguing over a sandcastle on the beach while a tsunami is fast approaching.
Iran under Pres. Ahmedinejad is now implementing the original policy of the Revolutionary Islamic movement established by Ayatollah Khomenei from the time he was installed in Tehran in 1979, that seeks to take over the whole Middle East, as a stage in its drive to destroy the West.
This drive was temporarily delayed by two things, first the defeat by Saddam Hussein of the Iranian regime's attempt to overtake Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. During this first phase of the campaign, the strategy of Iran was evident in the posters that appeared in Tehran and elsewhere that "The road to Jerusalem goes thru Baghdad." So the defeat of Iraq, was preliminary to the eventual attack on Jerusalem and the defeat of the "Zionist regime." However, this did not occur because of Iraqi resistance, and the cost to Iran in men and materiel was devastating, so that it took them years to recover from this military adventure.
The second reason for the delay was the development of a significant reform movement in Iran that brought Hatami to the fore as President of Iran. However, he eventually disappointed the reformers and the Supreme Revolutionary Council re-established its control by simply disallowing all reform candidates for electoral office.
Whether the drive for Iranian dominance comes from its unique Shia version of Islam or its desire to re-establish a Persian empire, or both, is immaterial. The fact is that, as King Abdullah II of Jordan noted in 2004, Iran is attempting to establish a "Shia arc" stretching from Iran thru Iraq (with 60% Shia ), Syria, and the Shia area of Southern Lebanon. Since then they have been successful in essentially making Hamas in Gaza (although Sunni they have a common goal with Iran in destroying Israel), Hizbollah in Lebanon and Syria into their proxies and colonies in this campaign for dominance.
It is true that Iran does not control all of the Shia in Iraq, but nevertheless they have their agents, such as Moqtada al Sadr, who has the largest Shia militia in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, that is funded and supplied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG). As time has gone on, as the insurrection in Iraq has been partially overcome by US forces, a greater proportion of US casualties can be attributable to the bombs (IEDs) that have been introduced into Iraq by the IRG. IRG operatives have been captured in Iraq by the US.
Syria is currently in the news as a potential peace partner of Israel. But, for Israel to expect that Syria will cut its ties with Iran and Hizbollah in exchange for the Golan is illusory. The readiness of the Olmert Govt. to engage in serious negotiations with Syria (against the wishes of the Bush Administration) involving the return of the Golan Heights (against the wishes of the vast majority of Israelis) only strengthens the Assad regime (and maybe Olmert hopes it will take focus away from his legal problems). The Assads who control Syria are part of the Awalekite minority (17%) that are affiliated with the Shia, and their alliance is deep-seated. Also, Syria considers Lebanon part of its own territory (much as Iraq considered Kuwait) and will never give up its attempt to control Lebanese politics thru assassination (by car bombs) and thru Hizbollah. Last year's Arab League meeting failed because only 10 out of the 22 Arab countries attended (and those that did at low diplomatic levels) as an unprecendented protest against Syria and Iran's meddling in Lebanon. The Sunni Arab States see themselves losing ground in Gaza and Lebanon to Iranian proxies.
A recent editorial in a Kuwaiti newspaper expressed the opinion that Israel would be better served by opposing Iran than by worrying about the Palestinians. Indeed the Kuwaitis have a very low opinion of the Palestinians, since those living in Kuwait collaborated with the Iraqi forces when they invaded in 1990. After the first Gulf war most of the Palestinians were either summarily killed or expelled to Jordan. The Sunni Arabs from the Gulf to Egypt now feel more threatened by Iran than Israel. The Arab regimes wouldn't mind seeing Iran destroy Israel, but they know that should this happen (which it won't) then they would be next for Iranian domination. They would prefer to see Israel destroy Iran, especially in relation to the rapidly developing Iranian nuclear threat! In essence the Arab States represent a power vacuum that the Iranians are seeking to fill, while Israel is ignoring the overall strategic situation and focussing on tactical details (I once asked Nathan Sharansky when he was in the Sharon Cabinet if Israel had any long-term strategy and he laughed).
The blowing up of the Gaza-Egyptian border by Hamas at Iran's behest consitutes a serious threat to Mubarak's regime, threatened as it is already by the Muslim Brotherhood, that is also allied with Hamas. Recent Israeli Govt. policies of territorial concessions to its neighbors and expecting this to bring peace are futile. As found in the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and from Lebanon in 2000, that lead to the Second Lebanon war of 2006 (when over 4200 rockets hit northern Israel), such approaches are self-defeating. Also, a "shelf agreement" with the Palestinians will weaken Israel in committing it to future concessions that might be extremely dangerous. What if as a result of such agreements with Syria or the PA, the IRG were soon stationed on the Golan Heights or overlooking Ben Gurion airport? For Israel's survival this is a situation not to be envisaged and that cannot be allowed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The woman, the black and the senior

It used to be "the good, the bad and the ugly," but now the three characters in the nation's eye are "the woman, the black and the senior" (not necessarily in the same order). Hillary, Obama and McCain, what a choice! It couldn't be clearer, no young white males in this lot. Question, why has the primary process produced this particular crop of fruits?
It could be argued that eventually the Democratic Party, true to its liberal traditions, would throw up a woman or a black man, but both at the same time is embarrassing. You could say "an embarrassment of riches," but you can get sick on a very rich diet. Most people would probably agree that if one of them had clearly predominated from the beginning that would have been preferable. But, the fact is that they are running neck-and-neck, and although Obama has more delegates (ca. 2000), he has not yet reached the magic figure (2065) that gives them the nomination. Furthermore, Hillary, according to reports, has a larger proportion of the popular vote, because she won in more of the bigger states. The fact that she won in most of the large "blue" states (Ohio, New York, etc., that generally go Democratic) and Obama won in many "red" states, has been taken to mean that Hillary would be a better candidate to face McCain in the General Election.
But, why McCain? Presumably because he was the best of the bunch, and you don't expect the Republicans to put up a black or a woman, yet! As the oldest man to stand for election as President at age 72, McCain might seem a bit doddery, especially for the increased number of young people that have been attracted into the voting booths by the Obama phenomenon. Obama clearly speaks to youth (and women) with his emphasis on "change." But precisely what kind of change is not clear. In foreign policy it seems very risky.
Of course, facing a divided Democratic party is an advantage for McCain. There has been talk of Clinton as Obama's VP, but don't expect this to happen, since it would make nonsense of Obama's claim of "change."
McCain is a moderate or liberal Republican. That's why at first the right wing conservative Republicans would not endorse him. He has been running a careful campaign, maintaining his centrist positions while also trying to show conservatives that they have nothing to fear from him. However, McCain is definitely not Bush III. Apart from being on the liberal side of the Republican Party and not having the automatic support of the religious right, he has a long record of supporting liberal causes as a Republican. There is one thing that distinguishes McCain over Obama, McCain has a long record of electoral service that can be checked, while Obama has essentially none.
If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, as seems likely, then one can then predict that McCain will win the election for President. This is because either extreme, to left or right has never been popular in the US. When George McGovern ran in 1972 he lost in a landslide to Nixon, because he was too liberal for the American electorate. Things have changed, but not that much. This indicates that Hillary Clinton would be a better candidate against McCain, but don't expect that to stop the bright-eyed Democrats from committing electoral suicide.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


"Britz" is a 2007 presentation of Channel 4 TV in Britain, that was shown in two parts. One seen from the point of view (pov) of a young British Muslim and the other from that of his sister. Here is the official story summary:

"Sohail is an ambitious law undergraduate who signs up with MI5 and, eager to play a part in protecting British security, begins an investigation into a terrorist cell. His sister Nasima is a medical student in Leeds who becomes increasingly alienated and angered by Britain's foreign and domestic policy after witnessing at first hand the relentless targeting of her Muslim neighbours and peers. With action set in Pakistan, Eastern Europe, London and Leeds, both feature-length episodes detail a tragic sequence of events from two distinct perspectives. At the heart of this thought-provoking drama is a revealing examination of British Muslim life under current anti-terror legislation. Britz ultimately asks whether the laws we think are making us safer, are actually putting us in greater danger."

It is a challenging and gritty story, showing how someone can be easily radicalized, come to accept everything that they previously opposed, and be prepared to kill many others for their cause. The depiction of the sister's terrorist training in Pakistan is completely convincing. Although the two povs are supposed to counter-balance each other, the pov of the author, Peter Kosminsky, is clearly a leftist anti-establishment position, that allows both of the siblings to experience almost entirely negative aspects of British life. The fact that they draw opposite conclusions from their experiences is both fundamental to the story and problematic. But, while the story is supposed to challenge the use in Blair's Britain of anti-terrorism laws, the path taken by the sister, Nasima, only goes to prove the necessity of those laws, and even in some cases their leniency.

I recommend seeing this in order to recognize the true danger that comes from native born "domestic" Islamist terrorism.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Jewish mother of fascism

It is not widely known that one of the founders of Italian fascism was a Jewish woman, Margherita Sarfatti, who was a long-time mistress and confidante of Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator.
Margherita was born in 1880 to a wealthy Jewish family named Grassini living in Venice. She became a convinced socialist at an early age and at 18 married Cesare Sarfatti (meaning "from France" in Hebrew), a Jewish lawyer from Padua. They moved to Milan, where in 1911 she met the impoverished teacher and socialist Mussolini, and became his mistress. She recognizing his innate ability and drive, and over time she helped to educate him in politics and in fact she supposedly wrote and revised most of his articles thru the 1920s when he was editor of the Italian socialist party's magazine. The 1922 "March on Rome" which enabled Mussolini to seize power, was devised in her living room. She helped him to develop his revolutionary theory, played a significant role in the rise of fascism and wrote Mussolini's first offical biography. She particularly sponsored modern Italian art and sculpture and helped Mussolini with his international contacts, meeting many famous people on his behalf.
Italian fascism was not inherently anti-Semitic, although is was racist in other respects. But, problems began for Margherita when, as she became older, she was replaced by a succession of younger mistresses, the last being Clara Petracci (who was murdered by anti-fascists with Mussolini in Milan in 1944). Nevertheless the complex relationship between Mussolini and Margherita continued, with her advising and ghost writing for him. In 1938, Mussolini decided to form an alliance, the "Axis," with Adolf Hitler, which she opposed. As a part of this alliance he introduced anti-Semitic legislation in Italy, and so Margherita was forced to flee. She was unable to enter the US (where she had visited before) so instead she moved to Argentina. Her sister perished in Auschwitz, but her daughters remained safe (her son was killed in WWI), presumably as an agreement with Mussolini. One daughter converted to Catholicism in 1930 and married a Christian. Her daughters and their offspring today are in fact quite wealthy, but are also left-wing in their views and are identified with support for the Palestinians.
In exile she never spoke against Mussolini or fascism and even though she returned to Italy in 1947, where she died in 1961, she never published the thousands of letters and papers that it is known she kept that describe her intimate relationship with el Duce. A movie entitled "Cradle will rock" was made in 1999 that included Margherita played by Susan Sarandon. For more information see the recent articles in Ha'aretz:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crewe and Nantwich

The Brits among you will know what I am writing about. Crewe (and let's not forget Nantwich) is a city in central England, where a bye-election took place recently. The results issued on Friday gave a massive victory to the Conservatives (also called Tories) over Labor, and the reason this is historic is that Crewe has been a safe Labor seat for many years. In fact, as the media and the Tory leader David Cameron have pointed out, this is the first time that a Labor seat has been won by a Tory in a bye-election in 30 years!
Edward Timpson, a local barrister and millionaire, won 50% of the vote with an 18% swing from Labor, representing a huge change in the voting pattern, against the daughter of the late Labor MP Gwyneth Dunwoody who died last year. The result indicates that many former Labor supporters deserted the party and voted for the Tories for the first time. The Liberal Democrats won 15% of the vote.
With the recent wins in local elections for municipalities in England and the London mayoral election, won by the Tory candidate Boris Johnson against the Labor incumbent "Red" Ken Livingstone, it seems that the Conservatives have finally hit on a viable leader while New Labor is going downhill rapidly under Gordon Brown.
Now we all knew that Gordon Brown was not Tony Blair! But since Blair was under increasing pressure from the left wing of the Labor Party to go, mainly because of his support for the Iraq war and his close relationship with Pres. Bush (generally loathed by liberal Britain), Gordon Brown was the obvious choice as his successor. Brown was a colleague and rival of Blair for many years in New Labor and was considered a success as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister). But, now it seems that Brown can't put a foot right. He comes over as dour and stodgy in the media, he has made mistakes in financial policy which has upset everyone, and he has selected young and unknown people as his ministers. As a consequence his popularity has been going downhill, while David Cameron, the new young leader of the Tories, has been garnering positive reviews for his leadership style.
Note that most countries in Western Europe have moved to the right recently, Sarkozy in France, Merkel in Germany and Berlusconi in Italy (although Spain retained a socialist Govt. with a reduced majority). It may be that at the next election England will return the first Tory Govt. in 12 years, possibly with a landslide. It has not escaped our notice that all of this is good for relationships with Israel.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Truck bomb at Erez

The past week has been very active militarily in Gaza, even though you don't read or see anything about this in your local or international media. On Thursday, a truck loaded with explosives was driven to the Erez junction under cover of fog. Whenever there is fog in the area the IDF goes on high alert because the Palestinian terrorist groups use this for cover to carry out attacks. An alert IDF soldier saw the truck driving fast towards the gate through the fog and fired on it. It exploded in a massive explosion because it was carrying 5 tons of explosives and left a huge crater in the road. Only the suicide bomber driver was killed. The IDF likes to help suicide bombers achieve their goal of blowing themselves up, as long as they don't take others with them. The explosion was felt up to 30 km away.
The suicide bomber's name was revealed when they played his "suicide video" on TV. Islamic Jihad stated that the reason for the attack was because Israel had rejected the proposed hudna (temporary ceasefire) being discussed through Egypt. Hamas also criticized the Egyptians for acting neutrally and not supporting their side. The goal was to drive this truck into Israel and kill as many Israelis as possible. A jeep was seen driving behind the truck, and this was fired on too and a terrorist was killed. The intention was to enter Israel after the truck and kidnap one or two IDF soldiers. Fortunately this scheme was totally defeated. The Erez cossing had to be closed, so that materiel could not be transferred into Gaza and 30 sick Gazans were unable to cross into Israel for treatment.
The only item about Gaza on the news (on Sky) was the death of a Palestinian cameraman working for Reuters. He supposedly set up to film an ambulance driving along a road next to the border within observation distance of IDF guards, but he and others were killed when a tank shell was fired at them. There are serious questions about this incident, particularly why he was so close to the border and whether or not he was filming an ambulance or terrorists preparing to attack the IDF guards. The IDF says that none of their men saw any TV crew and they are investigating the incident. Note that Reuters was founded by a Jew as the first press service, but is now blantantly pro-Palestinian.
Rockets are fired at the Negev from Gaza every day, but on Friday the IDF caught a team of terrorists setting up a launcher in a school yard and killed four of them in a missile strike. A boy of thirteen standing nearby was also killed. This often happens because children like to watch the terrorists in action. Another terrorist was killed trying to attack the border fence. So in two days 6 terrorists were killed and no Israelis, but they keep trying and sometimes they succeed. Clearly, targeted killings work, but do not suffice to stop rocket and mortar fire into Israel. After the rocket that hit a mall in Ashkelon a few weeks ago, PM Olmert said that this situation was "intolerable," but so far nothing has been done effectively to stop it.
Meanwhile PM Olmert is being questioned by police in his latest corruption probe, charging that he illegally received up to $500,000, although what it was used for is unkown. Morris Talansky, who is supposed to have given the money to Olmert's attorney, will be interrogated this coming week. This case is capable of causing Olmert to resign and could trigger a political upheaval in Israel. The media in Israel is full of the recently revealed negotiations with Syria thru Turkey, but many believe that this is intended as a cover for Olmert's legal problems. Many leading politicians, including opposition Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu, have rejected these talks as a political maneuver by Olmert.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

When I was in College in England I had an American friend who was an enthusiast of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This was slightly unusual, but as a result I learnt a lot about it (I had another friend who was interested in premature burials, but that's another story).
In 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion was the first to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics using the famous Rosetta stone. This stone was found by French sailors near the port of Rosetta during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt in 1798, and was crated to be shipped to Paris. But the British navy under Horatio Nelson defeated the French at the Battle of the Nile that year, and so the stone was captured and shipped to London instead, where it resides in the British Museum. The unique property of the Rosetta Stone, that dates from 196 bce, is that it contains the same proclamation in three languages, hieroglyphics, demotic (a simplified form of hieroglyphics) and Greek. Since the Greek could be read, Champollion was able after two years of work to show that the hieroglyphics represented a spoken language similar to modern Coptic.
In 1888, Desmond Budge, an Egyptologist working for the British Museum, discovered a long papyrus in Thebes that was a collection of stories in hieroglyphics that constituted the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This had been written by a scribe named Ani in 240 bce to guide the "souls" of people after death. The Egyptians believed that the spirit of a person after death went on a journey full of challenges, and the Book of the Dead was a guide to the spirit how to overcome these challenges and eventually to arrive at the Hall of Judgement (so the book had to be buried with the dead). Budge stole the papyrus (supposedly to protect it) and took it to London, where it also resides in the British Museum. Although other versions of this funerary story were known, this was the most complete version discovered, and Budge published his translation of it in 1895. (For more information see: )
One interesting feature of the Book is that in the Hall of Judgement, Ani (representing the dead spirit) is required to surrender his heart (in which all emotions lie) in the form of a sacred scarab stone that will be weighed on a balance against the white feather of truth. If the heart is too heavy or too light (hence the term lighthearted and heavyhearted), then he will be eaten by a terrible monster which is half crocodile and half jackal, and in this case he will be finally and irrevocably dead. However, if he or she has lead a righteous life, his or her heart will balance exactly and so the spirit will be lead into the "abode of reeds," where it will live forever in harmony.
How does one ensure that the heart will balance exactly? By carrying out virtuous deeds in life, such as not killing, not stealing, and honoring thy father and mother. Note that Moses, who we believe was given the tablets of the Ten Commandments in Sinai, was of Egyptian origin.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Three agreements?

There are three sets of negotiations currently underway in the Middle East:
1. It was announced on Weds by the PM's office that Israel is engaging in negotiations with Syria thru the intermediacy of Turkey. Turkey has been talking to both sides in this dispute for a long time, and as both a Muslim state and a secular state, and a good friend of Israel, Turkey is in a good position to mediate. It is fairly clear that the US does not particularly support Israel talking to Syria right now, because it sends terrorists into Iraq to fight US forces, and because it is an ally of Iran, that is certainly an enemy of Israel and the US. However, one argument goes that Syria is an Iranian ally because it has no other friends, and one of Israel's goals is to wean Syria away form extrmism and support of terrorist organizations, including Hmas and Hizbollah. While this is a quite unrealistic goal, nevertheless Israel has what Syria wants, the Golan Heights. The majority of Israelis are against returning the Golan Heights to Syria, knowing what they did when they controlled the Heights previously, they showered the Israeli settlements below with shells. Many fear that PM Olmert is sponsoring these negotiations becsue of his current legal problems. Previously Syria was making a return to negotiations contingent upon the negotiations taking up again where they left off last time under PM Barak, who was prepared to give almost everything. But, Damascus has apparently dropped that precondition, so we will see if anything really comes of these talks. The leftist/liberals who are always criticizing Israel over not talking to its extremist neighbors should admit that their criticism is unfounded.
2, In Doha, the Qatari FM acted as intermediuary between the Lebanese Govt. and Hizbollah. Hizbollah was criticized in the Arab world because they turned their guns on other Lebanese factions and killed at least 67 people. On the other hand, they withdrew their forces after taking over East Beirut and agreed to negotiations. The most pressing need was the appointment of a new President, a position that has been vacant for 6 months since Pres. Lahoud (who was pro-Syrian) resigned. The sides had agreed on Michel Suleiman, the current Lebanese Army Chief, as a compromise candidate, but Hizbollah had blocked that vote. Now Hizbollah have backed down and have agreed to his appoinment, as well as agreeing to remove its arms from Beirut and not turn them again on Lebanese civilians and to remove its protest tent in E. Beirut. The Qatari FM was quoted as saying that the value of this agreement is that both sides win. But, Hizbollah gained a victory because they have been given veto power over all decisions of the Lebanese Govt. So much for Lebanese Indpendence, now they are effectively controlled by Iran.
3. There is a ceasefire agreement in the offing between Hamas and Israel, thru the mediation of Pres. Mubarak of Egypt and his Security Chief Omar Suleiman. Israel has said that no ceasefire was possible without the release of the kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Hamas at first rejected this, but now have apparently accepted this condition. Israel has said that if all offensive acts stop, including all rocket attacks, then it will stop all military attacks in Gaza. We wait to see whether or not this ceasefire will actually go into effect. If it does, that will mean that Hamas is feeling the pressure of the IDF attacks and the blockade enough to want a breather. But, the last news is that Hamas in Gaza announced that the ceasefire agreement has failed.
One common aspect of these three negotiations is that the US was not the intermediary in any of them. Maybe the Arabs have grown a little tired of the US under Bush being so pro-Israel. But, these negotiations correspond to Israel's preferences, namely that Israel likes to deal with its enemies thru local intermediaries.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Olmert and Gaza

PM Olmert has agreed to be interrogated by the police next Friday for the second time regarding the hundreds of thousands of dollars that an American businessman, Morris Talansky, is alleged to have paid him while he was Mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Industry and Trade. Meanwhile, the legal matter of whether or not Talansky, who is currently in Israel, can be interrogated by the court, has been settled. Olmert's attorneys argued that he should not be, but the State's prosecutors argued that he might return to the US and not return to Israel for questioning, particularly since he may also face charges, so the Supreme Court ruled that he can be interrogated now, even before the case against Olmert is presented. Talansky will be interrogated soon.
The imminence and seriousness of this case against Olmert has caused a ripple of political maneuverings. The general view is that even though there may be a new election by next spring, the likelihood is that FM Livni will replace Olmert if he is actually charged. She may be able to hold his coalition together. If not the election will come sooner. There is little doubt that most of the country and certainly the opposition is in favor of an election and a change in the political situation.
During his Knesset speech when Pres. Bush was here, Olmert stated that the Grad rocket attack on the Mall in Ashkelon was "intolerable." Yet, he has managed to tolerate it! The excuse is that there are indirect talks being conducted with Hamas thru Egypt, although the Govt. does not openly admit this. They say that Egypt is trying to arrange a ceasefire and that if Hamas stops firing rockets, the IDF will stop raids. Supposedly the fear that the IDF is ready to make a massive attack on Gaza has persuaded them to agree to this Egyptian proposal. But, Israel insisted that the case of Cpl. Schalit must be resolved in conjunction with any ceasefire. While Israel will not address the question of the ceasefire, Hamas insists that it will only be a temporary cessation of attacks (hudna).
At least a ceasefire, however temporary, will give the inhabitants of Sderot, Ashkelon and the surrounding settlements a breather. Meanwhile Hamas will improve their military situation, although they are not supposed to smuggle more arms into Gaza, but how will Israel ensure this? The ceasefire, if it goes into effect, will only delay a future conflagration,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nakba and more

There are some successes of PR that have no basis in reality. For example, some people devoutly believe that UFOs exist, although no evidence actually proves it. Similarly, many want to believe in the "Nakba," the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians when they were defeated by Israel in 1948.
But, this Nakba is a myth, since the Palestinians and their Arab supporters, started out on a war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 to destroy Israel and murder its Jewish inhabitants. For example, Arab League Secretary General Abd-al Rahman Azzam said "this will be a war of extermination and a tremendous massacre.." But, it didn't turn out that way, and Egypt's King Farouk and Transjordan's King Abdallah, failed to achieve their objectives of occupying Palestine, not for the Palestinians, but for themselves. The Jews survived, and since the Palestinians couldn't turn back history by warfare, although they are still trying with rockets and terrorism, they hope to do so with false propaganda. As far as I am concerned they are poor losers, who keep knocking their heads against a brick wall without learning that it doesn't accomplish anything except cause pain.
(see "Self-made Nakba" by Barry Rubin in Jerusalem Post, 19/5/08: )

In another matter, Israel has filed a complaint with the United Nations' education, science and cultural organization (UNESCO) after Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told the Egyptian Parliament last week that "I would burn Israeli books myself if found in Egyptian libraries."
Hosni is a favorite to be appointed the next UNESCO secretary-general (!), and Israel says it would be a sad day for UNESCO if he gets the job.
Today, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to leave for Sharm al-Sheikh in order to participate in a summit with U.S. President Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She said she is likely to raise the issue in her discussions with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Hosni also said he would oppose an initiative presented by the American Jewish Committee to establish a museum of Jewish antiquity and culture in Cairo. Jews had a long and rich history in Egypt until they were forced out following the creation of Israel. (From Tom Gross at : )

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kudos to Israel

Every Friday morning I patrol with the Tourist Police unit of the Civil Guard in Netanya. We're not a very formidable group, most of the members are elderly and we merely patrol, we don't have the right to arrest. We are really extra pairs of eyes and also we are there to deter crime and terrorism, not that we could do much, but experience shows that terrorists avoid uniforms, not knowing whether we have guns or not.
Last Friday morning we walked along the cliff top and then went out on the bridge that connects to the elevator down to the beach. The weather was perfect, the waves were rushing white onto the beach as far as the eye could see in both directions, north to the power station at Caesarea and south to the Reading Power Station at Tel Aviv. It was a wonderful sight, and we said spontaneously, "isn't it wonderful to be here in Israel on the 60th Anniversary." In all the tributes to Israel that have been written and proclaimed in the past week, nothing compares with the feeling of actually being here, of being part of it.
Two main points have been emphasized, first Israel's accomplishments in science and technology. Certainly it is true, that with such a tiny population of 7.5 million, Israel has more start-up companies than the EU (450 million) and Japan (130 million). This is an incredible fact, and speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Jews and the readiness to take risks (which the Japanese and the Germans are reluctant to do). Israel is second only to the US in the world in this respect.
But not all is fine in the scientific and educational establishments in Israel. First with regard to science, Israel invests only ca. 2-3% in scientific infrastructure, while most western countries spend more than twice that much. When I was Chief Scientist at Sheba Medical Center, this was one of the main problems, not enough funds to support research and salaries. Also, when scientist or medical immigrants come to work in Israel, they receive support for one year from the Jewish Agency (Sochnut) but once that is over they are usually fired by the Hospitals, Medical Schools and Universities, which they are not supposed to do. If they are kept for a year the organization is supposed to then take over paying their salary, but they don't want to do that, so they fire and then hire a new immigrant. This is a scam that leaves a lot of technically qualified people with no jobs, and many in my experience return to their home countries.
High school education in Israel has been going downhill for years. Class sizes have become bigger, and teachers don't want to teach because the salaries and conditions are lousy and the children are all but uncontrollable. There is increasing violence in the schools and teachers have been attacked. A recent strike improved working conditions, but the standard of education has slipped badly and Israel is no longer in the first tier of school systems worldwide.
The second point that is often emphasized is how small Israel is, but that is somewhat misleading, since Israel is around the middle in the world for both size of country and population. For example, Denmark, Ireland, Qatar and New Zealand all have smaller populations than Israel. When comparing Israel, it is often compared to the US or the UK, and both comparisons are inappropriate given the huge differences in size. The annual increase in GDP per capita in Israel has been hovering around 6-7% per year compared to ca. 3% for the US and UK (but 10% for China). Also, Israel has a much larger defense budget (ca. 20%) compared to ca. 3-5% for most western countries. So if one compares Israel to medium sized countries it comes off even better. And Israel has the best Army in the world (at least we hope so).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obama and Bush

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama reacted strongly to Pres. Bush's speech at the Knesset the other day. He characterized it as an attack on him. What Bush actually said was: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is, the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Bush's spokesman stated that this statement was not specifically directed at Obama, but as far as I am concerned "if the shoes fits, wear it." I believe that Obama can be covered by these words and that he is an appeaser, but really a potential appeaser, since he has no experience with foreign policy and we have only his statements during the campaign to rely on. He certainly did say that he would meet with America's enemies and try to establish direct communication with them with no preconditions! If that doesn't smack of appeasement when the enemies include Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbollah, then I don't know what would. What would he say to Ahmedinejad of Iran, Nasrullah of Hizbollah, or Haniyeh of Hamas? This is grade school naievete!
Now why did Obama react so strongly to this statement by Bush, when he had no real need to do so? For two reasons, firstly because he has adopted the most anti-Bush rhetoric, such as calling for "immediate" withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and that has garnered him many votes from liberal Democrats. Also, because by attacking Bush and Sen. McCain, which he specifically did, he thought he would project himself into the national debate over the head of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But, he may have miscalculated, since this area of foreign policy and national security is definitely his weak point, while McCain, who is a military man and a genuine American hero, can certainly out-class him in this area.
So Obama should stick to the black-white issue and the cost of shoes in Nicaragua, which is what he is qualified for.

Ashkelon and Bush

You don't need to know your "A, B, C's" to know that the direct hit of a Grad Missile on an Ashkelon shopping center, wounding 15 women and children, will undermine all attempts by Pres. Bush and PM Olmert to concoct a false peace agreement with Pres. Abbas of the PA. According to Olmert in his press conference on Bush's arrival, significant progress has been made by the two sides towards producing a "shelf" agreement of principles related to settlements, right of return and borders (the situation of Jerusalem would be delayed for a later additional agreement). While all this may seem to be useless in light of the rockets fired at civilians in Israel, it may represent fixed positions that future Israeli Govts may find hard to avoid.
The real weakness of any such shelf agreement is that those who have negotiated it have no credibity to do so, after all, its mainly to satisfy Bush (the "lame duck President" syndrome), Olmert, (who is under investigation for corruption) and Abbas (who refuses to compromise on any issue anyway, because he has no power to do so). So aside from all the celebrating for Israel's 60th Birthday, and the festivity of Pres. Peres' conference "Facing tomorrow," nothing of substance is expected to come from this last visit by Pres. Bush to Israel.
The real conflict is between Iran and the West, with Hamas acting as an Iranian proxy in firing rockets into Israel when Bush is visiting, just as Hizbollah is acting as an Iranian proxy when it undermines the sovereignty of Lebanon. The fact is that the only remaining militia in Lebanon that is not disarmed and that does not respond to the orders of the central Govt. is Hizbollah, and this is a Shi'ite militia that responds only to the orders of Iran and Syria. Since the so-called Annapolis process does not address anything to do with Iran it is futile.
There are many of liberal persuasion who see this fault in the process and argue that Israel must negotiate with Hamas and Hizbollah. These include Nadine Gordimer, the S. African Jewish writer currently visiting Israel, who made this a central argument in her article yesterday in the Jerusalem Post, also the well-known Jewish American professionals, Dennis Ross, former Middle East expert of Pres. Clinton (who admitted biasing the US position towards Arafat) and Dan Kurzer, former US Ambassador to Israel (who now advises Sen. Obama). To use the common phrase echoed by Gordimer in her article "peace is made with enemies, not with friends." While that may be true it is simplistic, those who tried to negotiate with Ghengis Khan were annihilated. Should the Jews have tried to negotiate with the Nazis, should the Allies have tried to negotiate with Hitler? Actually, Chamberlain did, and look where it got him! Some people/groups cannot be negotiated with, they are evil and murderous, and so this simplistic liberal cant breaks down when faced with reality, just as Bush's and Olmert's pathetic attempts at peace-making break down when faced with the reality of women and children riddled with shrapnel.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Disproportionate force

In tennis, if your opponent is injured, for example has blisters on his feet, do you limp as well to keep things even. In boxing, if your opponent has a cut eye, what do you do, you punch him in the eye to make it worse. In war, if your enemy has bows and arrows do you give up using guns. If this had happened the history of the world would be very different.
The Romans built their Empire because they had a very efficient army that was highly disciplined and marched forward in formation, with large shields protecting them and with short sharp dagger swords that could kill an enemy with one blow from below. Brutal and efficient. The British conquered their Empire because their army was also highly disciplined and brave. Their aim was to win wars and to do so they killed as many of the enemy as possible. When the Americans suspect that an al Quaeda leader is holed up in a remote villa, do they make sure that no civilains are in there too. Maybe they try to do so, but that doesn't stop them blanket bombing the area so that nothing remains alive for miles around. That's the way to defeat terrorism, wipe them out!
Only now, when most European powers have exhaused themselves in blood-letting, not to forget the Germans and the Russians and two world wars, is pressure put on Israel not to use "disproportionate force." I write this now because I suspect and hope that Israel will finally unleash the IDF to invade the Gaza strip and deal a crushing blow to the Hamas forces there. PM Olmert has warned this will happen about 6 times "Israel will know when and how to respond, etc..." But, finally after the Grad missile hit on a shopping mall in Ashkelon, with mainly women and children as casualties, maybe finally he means it now. Certainly Pres. Bush in his address before the Knesset, which I thought was an excellent speech, did not shrink from supporting such responses to terrorism.
Hamas has been building its forces since it took power, using both funds from Iran and training from Iranian revolutionary guards and arms smuggled over the Egyptian-Gaza border. With time things can only get worse for Israel, as they amass long range rockets and form a better trained, larger army. The time is to strike now, before they are too strong and before they expand their control over the West Bank, where Fatah under Pres. Abbas has a tenuous hold. If the aim of the US and Israel is to empower Abbas, this is the best way to do that, defeat Hamas in Gaza. And when I say defeat, I don't mean only militarily. The extremist positions of Hamas and the Iranians must be shown to be hollow, without force and power. The first way to attack Iran is not through sanctions, but by defeating their proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. And the best way to do this is to use disproportionate force!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lower Galilee

Tuesday we took a tour of lower Galilee with our shool's social group. We drove from Netanya by way of Hadera, Zichron Yaakov and Yokneam. This area was largely bought in the 1890s by Joshua (Yehoshua) Hankin from a rich absent landlord named Sursuk in Beirut. The land was mainly swamp and considered to be worthless, but nevertheless to reclaim this crucial area for the Jewish people Hankin paid 400,000 pound sterling, a princely sum in those days. The Jews struggled against malaria and many setbacks. Up to 50% of the settlers died, but eventually it became one of the most fertile areas in Israel. This history makes nonsense of the claims by enemies of Israel that the Jews have no rights to this country! To the south of the road is a settlement named Kfar Yehoshua in Hankin's honor.
On a hill to the north of the road is a statue of a man on a horse, this was Alexander Zaid, who was the organizer of the first Watchmen or Hashomer groups in the area. From 1921 he protected the Jewish settlements until the Arab riots of 1929, when he was killed in an ambush (later his killers were murdered by Jews). After climbing through the hills of eastern lower Galilee we passed several Jewish villages, such as Hanaton which is supported by the Conservative movement in the US and Moreshet which is Orthodox, and arrived to the Arab village of Kaukab, which means star in Arabic (kochav in Hebrew). We would never have found this place without an experienced guide, and we drove through the narrow streets of this Arab village in a large bus. But, the guide explained that this village is a Druse one, and every family has at least one member in the IDF, so it is safe. This is because the Druse are a military sect and regard it as necessary for their men to be in an armed force. They are loyal to Israel because the Muslims are their enemies, considering them to be heretical. There is a scenic overlook there called Mitzpe Kochav that gives a magnificent view of the lower Galilee all the way to Haifa, although the haze (pollution) prevented us from seeing the Mediterranean Sea.
Each village in the area has its own character and history. But, everywhere there are large mansions, some in the process of being built, which house all the generations of an extended family, and testify to the affluence of the area. Nearby Arab villages are Muslim and oppose Israel. One of them contains one tribe that emigrated there from Medina ca. 200 years ago. Of the 1.2 million Arabs living in Israel, about 900,000 of them live in lower Galilee, with only ca. 90,000 Jews in the area. The Arabs live mainly in the city of Nazareth and the towns of Sakhnin (45,000 inhabitants), Arrabe (25,000), Kfar Manda (10,000) and Shfaram. We visited two Moshavim in the area, Manof, where there is a beautiful small modern industrial park, with computer companies, and Shchenia with a small manufacturing area, where we met an entrepreneur who is making special soaps and cosmetics.
From there we drove to another moshav Avtalion which has the only Jewish-owned modern olive press in the area. It turns out that the main industry in lower Galilee is olive oil production, and this is totally controlled by the Arabs, who plant olive trees all over the area. In their culture it is considered that wherever a man plants an olive tree the land belongs to him 5 years later, so they claim large tracts of land that are owned by the State of Israel, but which cannot be retrieved without violence. Also, during the initfada that gripped the Palestinian areas in 2000, the nearby town of Arrabe erupted in violence and a crowd of ca. 5,000 young men from there converged on the crossroads leading to the Jewish settlements and would have destroyed them and killed their inhabitants. Luckily a small contingent of Israeli police, although outnumbered, managed to hold them off with live ammunition. Four Arab youths were killed, and when we drove thru Arrabe we saw two of them memorialized as martyrs. However, for the moment all is quiet there, since the moderate leaders of the town signed a truce with the extremists.
We stopped for lunch in an authentic Lebanese restaurant, called the "Twins of Lebanon." The story behind this place is that an Israeli officer in the IDF in south Lebanon in 1982, was told by a local that the best food was cooked by a pair of old ladies, twins, who lived alone. He visited them and they cooked him a meal and when he asked why they never married they confided in him it was because they were Jewish. So he helped them to move to Israel and set up this restaurant, and although they are now dead, the restaurant still retains their name and their recipes.
It should be poined out that what are now Arab towns were mentioned by Josephus and the Talmud as Jewish villages, for example Shfaram. Its amazing how the names have been retained. Also, some of the Muslims living in the area retain what for them is strange customs, such as lighting candles, that indicates that their ancestors were converted from Judaism centuries ago.
Finally we drove through the Jewish town of Carmiel (27,000 inhabitants) and then up to the height of Kamon, which is the highest point in the area at 2,000 feet and gives a magnificent view of the whole of lower Galilee.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death to dictators

Currently there are two states in the news that have loathsome dictators. The first is Zimbabwe, whose dictator Robert Mugabe is in the process of stealing another election already won by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change candidate Morgan Tzangurai. Apart from previously beating up Tzangurai and other leaders of the MDC, Mugabe is currently forcing a re-election that Tzangurai would win, but which he is making sure by hook or by crook, he will steal again. Zimbabwe has the highest inflation rate of its currency in the world, now up to ca. 1 million %. The people are starving, but Mugabe doesn't care, as long as he clings to power.
The other country is Myanmar, whose people have suffered a catastrophic cyclone that has destroyed practically everything in the densely populated Irrawaddy River Delta. But, because of their isolation and suspicion, the military dictators of Myanmar are preventing food and medical supplies from being flown into the country and being distributed in the south. Already it is estimated that 100,000 people were killed by the cyclone, but as a result of lack of food and water supplies it is now estimated that approximately 1 milllion people are in danger. The fact is that the military junta care nothing about the lives of the people, they are expendable, as long as they maintain their control and power. They stole the last election from Aung san Suchi, who they keep under house arrest.
They follow in a glorious tradition, of Hitler (who ordered the subways of Berlin to be flooded to drown his own people sheltering there in 1945, but his orders were not obeyed), Stalin (who is estimated to have killed 70 million of his own people, but who died in bed), Ceaucescu (who built a huge palace while his people were starving and dying of AIDS), Idi Amin (who had a school full of girls murdered and indulged in cannibalism), Kim Ill Sung (who watches American movies while his people starve) and so on. The stages of development of these megalomaniacs is well known, at first they seek control by elections, and then they fix elections and then they take complete power and use violence to stifle all opposition and kill their opponents. Such is the nature of dictators. Mugabe is drawing near to the end of this process, but since Pres. Thabo Mbeki of S. Africa apparently will do nothing, he is likely to get away with it.
There are other examples extant, and there are failed states where random violence is the order of the day. This includes Somalia, where factions fight each other to the death every day, Congo, where noone knows what will happen tomorrow, and locally there are Syria, Iran and Gaza. In Syria, the same gang of thugs have maintained control for 30 years, a regime without any constraints and morality.
In Iran, the Mullahs that control it like to give a facade of elections, but in fact they pick the candidates. Since the Supreme Islamic Revolutionary Council has the final say in everything, they do not allow any liberal candidates to stand for office, for example in the last election about 50% of those who applied to stand were disqualified. So they limit and control the condidates to those they want elected, and Ahmedinejad was chosen in this way. While Iran spends its riches on nuclear weapons development, training terrorists and a huge military, the economy is going downhill fast, and the people are suffering.
In Gaza, Hamas was elected, but soon thereafter they executed a military coup, in which they killed hundreds of Fatah loyalists and took complete military control. Do not expect there ever to be any elections in Gaza again, because as far as Hamas are concerned God preordained their victory and anyway there is no opposition. The only way they can be removed from power is if a superior force goes in and defeats them, and certainly Fatah is not capable of doing that.
These dictators display one of the classic symptoms of their kind, they need the threat of an external enemy to keep their people under control.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Truce or consequences

In Lebanon, Hizbollah showed its muscle by responding to the Govt. of PM Seniora banning their private telecommunications network and firing the chief of security at Beirut Airport who cooperated with them, by attacking and for a few days occupying East Beirut. They killed some Sunni fighters, but did not venture into the Christian areas, except in Tripoli where they are still fighting and in the southern Druse area where they were repulsed. After 3 days, with the Arab League meeting today to discuss the matter, Hizbollah withdrew from its conquests.
Although this saved a renewal of the civil war in Lebanon, and although Hizbollah showed its strength, overall it was a loss for Sheikh Nasrullah. His backing down and withdrawing the militia fighters shows that he is unable to confront the other groups in Lebanon. The Lebanese Army remained more or less neutral, but that is because it is 60% Shi'ite and fears that it will split along ethnic lines as it did during the civil war. The Lebanese Army cancelled the decisions to ban Hizbollah's telecommunciations network and fire the security chief at Beirut airport. So after another spasm of violence things are more or less back to where they were.
Many commentators see this event as an attempt by Syria and Iran to interfere in Lebanese affairs again. But, within Lebanon they lack the firepower to take over the Government. Lebanon still has no President and no resolution is in sight. Also, in Gaza the activation of Hamas can be seen as a result of financial and logistic support by Iran for their attacks on Israel.
Last weekend Hamas fired about 20 rockets and mortars into Israel and one Israeli was killed in kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the border, and several others were injured. Once again PM Olmert warned Hamas of the consequences of its actions, but nothing much is expected to happen. Tomorrow the Egyptian security chief Omar Suleiman is due to arrive in Israel to propose a temporary truce (hudna) to Israel that has been negotiated by Hamas and Egypt, and also Pres. Bush is coming. Nothing much is expected to happen in Gaza until after he leaves. Then there will either be a truce or Israel will counterattack in force.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yom Ha'atzmaut

What did we do for the celebration of the 60th anniverary of the State of Israel? On the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut we went to a charity dinner held every year by "The Forgotten People's Fund" that is organized by a couple named Silverman from England. The money they collect goes towards helping Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, who often live in poverty. They organize barmitzvahs and academic training for Ethiopian youths, and so on. It is a very worthy cause. We enjoyed the evening which was held at a local restaurant on the cliff-top by the sea so that we got an excellent view of the fireworks that are put on by the municipality.
On the day of Yom Ha'aztmaut we walked along the cliff top going south from where we live, where they are developing a nice garden and walkways. We waited for the fly-over given by the IAF to celebrate the 60th anniversary. First came several flights of different kinds of helicopters, then some propeller jets and a large plane giving a re-fill to some smaller ones, and finally the type, but it was incredibly impressive and gave us a feeling of pride, given that our little country has one of the best air forces in the world that hopefully can protect us from those who intend to destroy us.
A series of aerial demonstrations took place off the shore of Tel Aviv, including frogmen jumping from helicopters and "mock" aerial combat. Some planes also wrote a big 60 in the sky in blue and white exhaust. On the TV we saw a video about the development of the IAF and this included a segment in English describing the aerial combat that took place during the Six-day war of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973. In that case, four Israeli jets followed two Egyptian jets into an ambush by 11 other Egyptian jets, and during the combat one Israeli pilot downed 5 of the Egyptian jets, and the rest of them escaped. However, the day of aerial dog-fights is probably over because of the speed and the predominance of the IAF.
The Sunday after the actual Independence day, the AACI had a "Felafel Party". We listened to comments sent in my members who had funny and typical experiences when mking aliyah to Israel over the years. Then we dined on felafel (sent over from the little falefel stand across the street) and then we watched an Israeli movie, "The Band" a bittersweet story of an Egyptian Band that gets lost in Israel, ending up in a small deserted village called Beit Tikvah instead of the city of Petach Tikvah. It was very nice, if a little sentimental and slow. Altogether a pleasant holiday.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Corruption in high places

PM Olmert is again under suspicion of having engaged in corrupt practices several years before he became PM. The Justice Dept. placed a gag order on publishing details of this case until yesterday, but that is now lifted. Previously four cases of corruption were investigated against Olmert, one involved the purchase of his house in Jerusalem for an unusally low price, another involved the privatization of Bank Leumi. However, in none of these cases was there enough independent evidence, so (as far as I know) all the cases were dropped.
However, the latest case is different because there are two potential witnesses that may be persuaded to give evidence. First there is the American Jewish millionaire, Morris Talansky, who comes from Long Island. Apparently, if any American Jew is willing to donate a few hundred thousand dollars he can influence our political system. The funds Olmert was given by Talansky were donated while he was running for Jerusalem Mayor in 1993 through a dummy organization set up for the purpose named "The New Jerusalem Fund". This kind of situation is not unique, one should remember that Omri Sharon is serving a jail sentence for carrying our a similar scheme on behalf of his father, when American money was laundered thru a phoney organization in order to aid his election.
The other potential witness is Olmert's longtime lawyer and friend, Uri Messer, to whom Olmert says Talansky actually gave the money. There is also a third potential witness, Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, who may be charged in the case, but who so far, after extensive police questioning, has kept quiet. The police are investigating and must decide if they have enough evidence to turn the file over to Atty. Gen. Meni Mazuz for him to actually charge Olmert. Unfortunately the delay while Mazuz considers whether or not to bring the case will be very detrimental to the State. Olmert has already said that if he is indicted then he will resign, but that may be some months away.
Obviously Olmert's political enemies, such as Bibi Netanyahu of Likud, want him to resign immediately and call a new election, but he is not about to do that. Others in his own coalition want him to hand over power (temporarily) to a trusted aide, and the name of FM Tzipi Livni is most often mentioned in this respect. If he can be persuaded to do this and if she can maintain the coalition, then this would avoid a new election, which the incumbents in the Knesset prefer because they fear that they would lose their seats in a new election. Livni would ensure maximal continuity in the negotiations with the Palestinians because she is in charge of them.
The timing of this legal case is unfortunate (and perhaps deliberate) since Pres. George Bush is due to visit Israel next week to celebrate the Israel's 60th Anniversary and to try to push the peace process forward. However, this is not likely to be successful, not only becasue there is really no progress, but both Pres. Abbas of the PA and Olmert are so weak that neither of them can afford to make any significant concessions to the other (and Bush is a "lame duck").
When asked how Olmert's precarious political situation will affect his visit and the negotiations, Bush replied that it is an internal Israeli matter and he was not not going to comment on that aspect of the situation. So we all know what that means, as most experts predicted, there is no real progress in the Annapolis talks, and there is really nothing concrete for him to say. Expect him to mouth the usual platitudes, while the Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Gaza are getting stronger by the day.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Black or woman?

The competition between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pits a woman against a black man. Well, Obama is actually half-white (his mother was white), so maybe that makes him more palatable to the white liberal elite that is apparently supporting him. According to recent results, for example in the primary in N. Carolina, 92% of blacks voted for Obama. Assuming that includes black women, that means that they chose by 46% to 3% to vote for a black man over a white woman. What does that tell us about gender and race relationships?
It tells us that race trumps gender. Notwithstanding the very real issues that raise questions about Obama's suitability to become President (including his lack of experience, his lack of previous contributions, his Rev. Wright connection and his remarks about poor white voters being "bitter") he nevertheless can count on these two groups to vote for him, namely blacks and white liberals. That leaves Hillary with the white seniors and blue-collar white workers.
So assuming Obama wins the Democratic nomination, as he seems to be in a position to do, then it is quite likely that he could also win the Presidency. That's because those two groups, blacks and affluent white liberals, are likely to remain loyal to him whatever happens. The number of white conservatives and senior citizens probably cannot overcome them.
What is it about Obama that attracts these groups of voters, including the young vote. The blacks will vote for him whatever happens, they want to have a black man in the White House. Affluent whites liberals will vote for him because they want to assuage their feelings of having been the oppressors of blacks, and so feel a need to vote for a black man to prove how liberal they are. Also, many women will vote for him because he has charisma, unlike McCain. And many young white voters will vote for him because he is young(er) and represents "change", something they will support at all costs (as I probably would have done when I was their age). Only the white conservative middle and upper class haven't so far been engaged in the Democratic primaries.
On the issues (that seem to matter less than superficials like charisma, race and gender) there will be many liberals who will support him because he is the supposed bearer of the anti-war (Iraq) mantle. He is the most liberal candidate that will have been nominated for a long time, and also the youngest and least encumbered by a political past in Washington.
By contrast, McCain represents the old politics, experience, long years in Washington, support for war when necessary, and he's an old white man, neither black nor a woman. How retro can you get? But, from my jaded perspective he's the only real man running.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Israel's 60th B-day

Tonite, Wednesday May 7, starts Israel's Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day. On the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israel, it is fitting that we acknowledge a fearsome fact, that we are here because of the evolutionary theory that applies to organisms and human societies alike, "the survival of the fittest." Darwin was the first human being to realize that in our own past we had evolved from lower forms of species, and that this evolution took place over long periods of time by a more-or-less random process. A creator may exist (intelligent or otherwise), but it is not necessary to invoke him/her or it in this process, it proceeds without external intervention.
Likewise, human societies have evolved, from hunter-gatherers, to settled farmers, to the development of towns and cities, to monarchs supposedly with a divine right to rule (does anyone believe in that anymore), to constitutional monarchies, to republics and democracies. During this process there have, as in all evolutions, been periods of rapid change and reversions, in this case called wars or revolutions. The history of this evolution describes the victory of one civilization over another (as in the Americas) or of one competing power over another (as in the English defeat of the Spanish Armada). But, in other situations the struggle for survival has pitted the powerful against the powerless. This happened many times in history, for example the ruthless destruction of cities by Ghenghis Khan, who had all inhabitants of cities that opposed him killed, down to the last child and dog.
We can view the Holocaust in this light, the destruction of a powerless and dependent group by a powerful and centralized dictatorship. This is not the first time in history nor the last that such a process has occured, for example, the massacres of the French Huguenots (Protestants) by the Catholics in 1572 (the St. Bartholomews's Day massacre), or the reverse massacres of the Irish Catholics by the British Black & Tans in the 1920s, and more recently the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus or the Darfurians by the Sudanese. One can view these events as part of the unforgiving process of the "evolution of human societies." One might hope that by now this process could be carried out in a more civilized way, but apparently not.
Note that the end of these processes is not predictable, in some cases the powerful aggressor is eventually overcome. For example, Franco won the civil war in Spain, but today Spain is a democratic constitutional monarchy. For example, the Tutsis invaded Rwanda with an external army and defeated the offending Hutus. This much can be said, the outcome is unpredictable, depending on unforeseen details.
For example, the Teutonic hordes were able to invade Europe and establish themselves in the remains of the weakened Roman Empire because of the invention of the stirrups (according to the Oxford historian Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper). Similarly the Muslims were able to explode out of Arabia and overcome the sickly Byzantine Empire with their fast horse cavalry. The Nazis were unable to overcome Britain in 1940 because of the superiority of the Spitfire and the Russians/Soviets were able to overcome the Nazis because of their huge size, huge population and terrible winters.
It is in this light that one can try to understand the Holocaust. Morality, merit or divine presence (fortunately or unfortunately) has nothing to do with it. The Jews of Europe were a powerless minority subject to the whims of the powerful tribes/countries surrounding them. However, those Jews that survived, especially those already in Palestine, saw the writing on the wall. Death and defeat is the fate of the powerless, to survive one must compete in the struggle. Thus, the nascent State acquired arms, airplanes and intelligence. And we have survived these 60 years because we have switched sides, from the powerless to the powerful. Does anyone have any doubt that Israel's existence today and the presence of peace treaties between us and the Egyptians and the Jordanians results from our readiness to fight for our existence and our ability to win. Likewise in the future, only if we are prepared and able to fight the Palestinian terrorists and the Iranian mullahs, will we be able to survive into the future.
Now Europe, that was once embroiled in cataclysmic conflicts, is peaceful and united in the EU. Who could have predicted or foreseen that? However, all the nations that make up the EU have in the past fought and struggled for their independent survival. Similarly, Pres. Sadat of Egypt's unpredicted visit to Jerusalem in 1977 was prompted because he saw that in the struggle for survival his country could not defeat us militarily. Israel has until now demonstrated its fitness to survive in this dangerous corner of the world, and after 60 years may it continue to do so.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Yom Hazikaron

Tuesday evening starts Memorial Day for the fallen in Israel's wars (Yom Hazikaron), always the day before Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut). This year Naomi and I were asked to go to the ceremony at the local branch of Yad l'banim, the memorial to the sons/daughters (this is not to be confused with labanim, which means white) to represent the Netanya AACI (Assoc. of Americans & Canadians in Israel). These memorial branches are to be found in every town and location in Israel, and they contain information about those from that locality who died in the wars.
The ceremony was held in an amphitheater in the open and the audience was about 1,000 people. A siren sounded at 8 pm and everybody stood to attention. There were soldiers there at attention all the time during the ceremony. While the ceremony was going on a screen on the roof of the building flashed the names and information of those from Netanya killed in the wars. The ages varied from 17 to 60, and included women and some black Ethiopians.
This past year 132 Israelis were killed in service to the country. The total number of soldiers killed defending the country since 1860 (the year Jews left the Old City of Jerusalem to establish other settlements) until today is 22,437! This number is known quite accurately, and is a huge number for such a small country. But it pales in comparison to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust of WWII. So apparently it is better to have arms and an army to protect the civilian population from determined enemies. Since 1948 1,634 civilians have been killed in Israel. There is no doubt that the PLO and its more extreme rival Hamas, would slaughter Jewish civilians if they could. Their use of terrorism and random rockets fired into civilian areas is but a small manifestation of their desire to destroy the State of Israel and its inhabitants.
The Mayor of Netanya and the son of a soldier who was killed gave speeches. A small orchestra played and torches were lit. Wreaths were laid, and we laid a wreath on behalf of AACI, the major English-speaking organization in Netanya. It was a well organized and very moving ceremony.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Black liberation theology

What is most upsetting about the whole Barack Obama - Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy is something that has hardly been commented on, namely the fact that their Church's teachings are based not on standard Christianity, but on "Black liberation theology." This view of the world states among other things that White men are still deliberately suppressing Black people and their culture, that the White man as represented by America is oppressing Blacks and other peoples around the world, that Jews are economically and otherwise exploiting poor Black people, that the CIA invented AIDS in order to kill Black people, and that the US Govt. deliberately causes Blacks to be addicted to drugs. In other words, none of these things are due to the Blacks' faults themselves, but Whites and Jews can be conveniently identified as scapegoats for all Black ills. This type of thinking sounds familiar.
Now Jeremiah Wright, in his latest statements, has repeated his views, that America deserves terrorist attacks in revenge for its own "terrorist attacks" on other peoples around the world, including the Germans and Japanese at the end of WWII (that's why he said "God damn America"). So Sen. Obama cannot believably say that during his 20 years at the Trinity Church of Christ, and where he had a personal relationship with Rev. Wright, he knew nothing about this political slant even though the Rev. has always been preaching Black liberation theology there.
Now if any White Pastor or Priest, or any Jewish Rabbi, preached the reciprocal view, he would be labelled a racist and forced from his pulpit. However, it seems to be acceptable over many years that a Black pastor can be an anti-White and anti-Semitic racist. This is outrageous, and the fact that it is so calmly accepted by so many Americans as routine, shows how bad the situation really is. One wonders how many other Churches there are where this political worldview is preached and believed.
It reminds me of the Watergate Affaiur, when it was clear at the outset that Nixon was in it up to his eyebrows, and yet the majority of Americans voted for him as President for a second term. I was amazed that they did that after the revelations of the sordid details of the Watergate affair had been publicized. Now we have a similar thing, Sen. Obama has been caught with his pants down, he has been personally involved with a Black racist for many years, he has sat in a pew listening to Black libertation theology for 20 years, and now he finally decides to disassociate himself from the Rev, who declares Black Muslim Louis Farrakhan, a great Black leader.
It is certainly too little, too late, yet American liberals are lining up to vote for Obama. It is crazy, it is suicidal, and it is stupid. One of the first visitors to the White House if Obama were to be elected President would be the Rev. Wright. And the second would be Louis Farrakhan. Is that what you want?

The Kovno Ghetto

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year Rabbi Birnbaum (retd.) organizes a meaningful ceremony to commemorate Yom Hashoah at the Conservative Synagogue. This year he focussed on the Kovno Ghetto, mainly because one of the few survivors of the Kovno Ghetto was a member of the Shool, and he died a few months ago, so this was also in his memory.
What distinguished the Kovno Ghetto from the other Ghettos was that there the Judenrat and the Jewish leadership cooperated with the Jewish underground in attempting to resist the Nazis. From the day after the German Army swept into Lithuania in 1940, the killing of Jews began. The local Lithuanian population was enthusiastic in cooperating with the Germans and on the first day 3,000 Jews were murdered in the streets, many were beaten to death with iron bars.
At first there were ca. 50,000 Jews in the Ghetto. By 1944, when the Germans razed the Ghetto, there were ca. 8,000 Jews left, and of these only 82 survived until the end of the war. The Kovno Ghetto was also different in that the killing took place right there in the Ghetto and in the nearby Fort 9, one of the forts built by the Russian Czars to defend Kovno. The Germans converted Fort 9 into a killing place, they dug 14 deep pits, into which Jews were thrown, dead and alive.
In the Ghetto, a series of German actions were organized, each one focused on a specialized item, such as collecting of furs (anyone found with a fur not given up would be killed), the collection of books (for burning), the assembly of academics who were marched away and killed, and the collection of children - 1,500 were taken and killed - this is beyond my comprehension! The resistance dug bunkers underneath the Ghetto and hid children and others there. The Jewish Ghetto police cooperated with the resistance, but there were traitors in the Ghetto that gave them away and they were arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, although they divulged nothing.
Near the end of the war a group of 64 Jews were taken to dig up the 100,000 bodies buried in Fort 9, including Jews from as far away as Berlin and Prague. The Germans hoped to destroy the evidence of their crimes against humanity, and this shows they were well aware of the evil of their deeds. This group of prisoners found a small door at the back of their cell and were able to open it and dig a hole under the wall. On Xmas Day, while the guards were celebrating they all escaped. |Several of them returned to the Ghetto and signed a statement and this is how we know of this event.
During the presentation, several congregants read aloud and our friend Batya Fonda sang Yiddish partisan songs. Then six survivors lit candles, one each for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis. The number 6 million is abstract and distant, but when one focuses on a specific place and what actually happened there, it brings into focus the terrible cruelty of the Germans and their collaborators and the suffering the Jews experienced.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Snooker is chess with balls! By that I mean that in snooker, unlike other non-contact sports, the player has to think several steps ahead (and be aggressive). The game is slower and more contemplative than tennis, although like tennis, how you hit the ball, with the racket or cue, is crucial. The game of snooker was invented by British Army officers during long boring evenings in India. Forget about billiards, there is no comparison.
I am currently watching the World Championship of snooker on TV (Eurosport) being played at the Crucible Center in Sheffield, England. For two days running a maximum was scored, by Ronnie O'Sullivan, second in the world, and by Ali Carter, the first time in history this has been accomplished at the championships.
In snooker, you hit the white ball with the cue which in turn hits another ball which it is your object to sink into a pot (there are 6 around the table). First you down a red ball (there are 15 of them with numerical value of 1) and then alternately a ball of another color (yellow, green, brown, pink, blue and black, with numerical values of 2-7 respectively) of which there are only one of each. The other colors are replaced on their designated spots on the table until all the reds are removed. That means that if you alternately down 15 reds and 15 blacks, the maximum scored can be 120 points. But, after all the reds are removed, the other colors are potted in sequence and not replaced, giving another 27 points, so the maximum possible is 147, which is what O'Sullivan and Carter achieved (they will share the prize of 147,000 pounds sterling for achieving this). That means that they downed 36 balls consecutively without a miss!
There are two important aspects to snooker aside from potting balls and scoring points. How the white (cue) ball is positioned on the table to pot the next desired ball is crucial. I have seen balls hit with such dexterity that they spin around the table and land up just where the player wants them. Also, I have seen amazing shots where one ball struck by the cue ball then hits a third or fourth ball that goes into the pot.
The other important aspect is that the player seeks to send the cue ball down to the other end of the table to make it difficult for his opponent to hit a red ball, and this is is called a "safety shot." If the cue ball is nested behind another ball, so that the opponent cannot "see" or hit the balls he must pot, then this is called being "snookered." By snookering your opponent you make it very difficult for him to continue playing, he must hit the cue ball off one, two or three cushions in order to hit a red ball. If he misses then the opponent gets 4 points, or if he inadvertently pots the cue ball he also gives his opponent 4 points. So it is a very complex and interesting game, a metaphor for the game of life.