Friday, October 31, 2008


On Thursday I went to a day-long creative writing retreat. One reason I went, apart from my interest in creative writing (is there any other kind?), was because the location is so close to home. It was held in a village called Biton Aharon, which is just outside Netanya. So the traveling was minimal, 20 mins at most. It was organized by Evan Fallenberg, author of a recent book ("Light Fell"), who is from Cleveland, Ohio, and who lives in a large house with a "studio" out back where the retreat took place. There were 46 attendees from all over the country, and two other lecturers, Joan Leegant (from NY) and Judy Labensohn (from Ohio), who teach in and run the creative writing program at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan (their web sites are ; and ).
A lot of the presentations were devoted to advising people how to write and persuading them to commit themselves to writing regularly. The vast majoity (90%) of the attendees were women, and so a lot of this content was focussed on their needs. I said that I didn't have these problems, I write with facility, but my problem is getting feeling and emotion into my work.
Apart from a lovely lunch at a rustic restaurant nearby, the chief interest was in the people you meet, briefly, in passing and by chance. I had a conversation with two women about family secrets. One of them, her father had left when she was small, and she had never found out what had happened to him until she was grown and had children of her own. Now she knows that he died a few years ago in the US and that she has a family of step-sisters there.
Another woman described how she had recently visited a small town in the German region of Franconia, where there are now no longer any Jews. She knew that her mother had come from this town, but her mother had died young in Israel when she was 12 and her other family members had perished in the Holocaust, so she had no connection. But, she and her husband were taken up by the locals and shown around. At one point they took her to meet an old lady in her 80's, who told her that her mother had been her best friend at school, and she produced a photo album with her mother's picture in it and an inscription on the back to her friend. This lady had kept that photo for 70 years and was still sad that after the war her friend, the woman's mother, had never contacted her again.
Such are the stories and such are the reasons for the drive to write. A retreat can lead to an advance.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Joe the plumber and Israel

In his first public meeting "Joe the plumber," alias Samuel Wurzelbacher, endorsed Sen. John McCain for President. When asked by a member of the audience if the election of Barack Obama as President would mean "the death of Israel," Joe replied after a moment's thought, "I'll...agree with you on that."
What I think they meant was that the election of Obama could result in a more immediate clash between Israel and Iran and/or its proxies, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Hamas in Gaza, for two reasons.
1. Because of his relative inexperience, as Joe Biden, his own VP has pointed out, it is likely that Obama will be "tested" in the foreign policy area. The most likely test is that Iran will flex its muscles. If you look at a map of the Middle East, it looks as if the US is comfortably bestride Iran, having forces both in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east. But, likewise, Iran has allied forces in Lebanon and Syria to the west of the US forces, and to the east of the US forces in Pakistan there are the Taliban and al Qaeda. Iran could seek to "test" the US either by a direct confrontation, or more likely by an attack on a US ally, namely Israel. So if Obama is elected expect Iran to make some move against Israel within the first 6 months. On the other hand, if McCain is elected there is much less likelihood of such an early and deliberate "test." First of all Biden's warning was specifically about the inexperienced Obama, not a general warning about all Presidents, and second MCain is so much more experienced than Obama that it is unlikely that any enemy would dare to risk his response.
2. Israel will feel less secure if Obama is elected President. With McCain they know him and trust him. Israel feels that he can be relied upon should there be an attack by or on Iran. But, Obama is an unknown quantity, his reactions, as with the Georgia situation, is to suggest sitting down with the enemy (in this case Russia) and discussing why they are behaving so badly. So the Israeli Govt, especially if Netanyahu is elected, will not sit by while Iran develops nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them, while Obama is busy cutting back the military and has no experience in dealing with determined evil enemies. So Israel will feel that it is on its own, and there will be greater likelihood that Israel will strike at Iran before it is too late. So ironically the likelihood that there will be a war will be greater if Obama is elected that if McCain is.
And since there is more likely to be a war between Israel and Iran if Obama is elected, then the chance of Israel being destroyed is that much greater. Of course, with Obama there could be a complete turnaround in US policy. We could see, instead of the US merely pouring b$1 into the PA, there could be a concerted attempt by an Obama Administration to recognize the PA and force Israel to accept a Palestinian State in the pre-1967 borders, according to the Saudi Plan. So Israel's future would be certainly more uncertain with an Obama Presidency.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Syrian rift

Syria is the object of media attention these days for two reasons. The most recent is the attack last Sunday by US forces from Iraq into Syria that destroyed a house in a village 8 kms inside the border. Four US helicopters were involved in the attack, two for defense and two on attack, and they completely destroyed the compound and reportedly killed 8 people. According to Syrian sources the people killed were a peaceful family with 4 children; according to US sources in the Pentagon this was the operations center of Abu Ghadiyeh, the most active al Qaeda supplier of men and materiel across the Syrian border into Iraq to attack American and Iraqi forces. US intelligence discovered that he was planning a raid and for the first time sought to interdict him within Syrian territory. According to US reports Abu Ghadiyeh and his men were killed. The funeral held Monday was of 8 men.
The Syrian FM visiting London strongly criticized the US for breaching its sovereignty and vowed that any further attacks would be met with strong resistance. As a reaction the Syrian Govt. announced the closure of the American School and the American cultural center in Damascus. While the US issued no formal statement on the attack it was considered to be a warning that now that most al Qaeda forces in Iraq have been defeated, the US will not tolerate such blatant breaches of international law that have been going on for years while Syria has lied time and time again that it does ntot allow terrorists to train on its territory and then cross the border to attack US and Iraqi forces.
One wonders what an Obama presidency would make of this raid. Is it Bush trying to implicate the US in a third war, or is it merely a long overdue extension of the Iraq war to protect US forces and the nascent Iraqi state from terrorist attacks from Syria? I have little doubt that a McCain presidency would understand and support it.
The other major move by Syria was a joint statement last week that Syria and Lebanon will mutually recogize each other, exchange ambassadors and define the border between their two countries. Many people were not aware that Syria never recognized the existence of the State of Lebanon, and regarded its setting up by France in the 1930's to protect the rights of the Christian minority as illegitimate. The Syrian attitude has been much like that of Saddam's Iraq regarding Kuwait, or of China regarding Taiwan, namely that it was a Syrian province with no legitimate sovereignty. However, in the case of Lebanon the country has existed for 70 years and is recognized by the UN and most of the world. This late recognition of Lebanese sovereignty comes as Syria continues to support Hizbollah by arming it and cooperating with its pro-Iranian leaders. Under the Doha agreement arrived at several months ago, Hizbollah now has a veto over any actions of the Lebanese Govt. So actually while Syria is recognizing Lebanese sovereignty with one hand it is taking it away with the other.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fairy tale

Americans love a fairy tale, such as that anyone can become President. The story of Barack Obama is such a fairy tale. Born in Hawaii (there has never been a President from Hawaii) to a white mother from Kansas and a black Kenyan father (there has never been a black or mixed race President); lived in Indonesia as a Muslim (there has never been a President who grew up a Muslim) when his mother married an Indonesian man (what was it with his mother?); brought up largely by his white grandmother; became a black community organizer in Chicago (there has never been a "community organizer" who became President); was a member of the New Party, a progressive socialist party in Chicago and mixed with well-known local "progressives" (there has never been a "socialist" who became President); received a law degree from Harvard (now we are getting into familiar territory) and was editor of the Harvard Law Review (a very prestigious position); went back to a Jewish "progressive" law firm in Chicago rather than take a high-paying legal position in Boston; was sponsored to make a run by the local Democratic party for the Illinois Senate (when the incumbent resigned) and won; after 9 years became a US Senator from Illinois and within two years was running for President; defeated all other candidates to become his party's nominee in 2008 for the Presidential election. If that isn't a fary tale, what is? The only cap on this fantasy would be if /when he is elected President.
If anyone quarrels with any of my characterizations, they have all been documented. Yes, Barack Obama was listed as a member of the socialist New Party in Chicago, but you can argue it was a long time ago, when he was young and innocent. What significance that and his Muslim background have for his becoming President are arguable, but as far as the Democrats are concerned they can be dismissed. But, there is no doubt that his current economic policies verge on the socialist, particularly his declared intention to "redistribute wealth." Of course, there are many who support this approach. Although it should be noted that the top 1% of income earners already pay 60% of the taxes.
What happened to Obama's main anti-Bush/anti-McCain argument - Iraq? The surge that McCain supported and Obama opposed worked, and even Bush is talking about US forces leaving Iraq in about two years, in agreement with the Iraqi Govt. So Obama actually lost that argument, but along came the economic crisis just in time, and Obama bounced back. It was just what the Democratic doctor ordered.
Finally, with 87% of the Black vote, 75% of the Jewish vote, all the youths and many of the women (because they don't like Sarah Palin, what an excuse!) the polls show that he can't go wrong. So if Obama is elected President, noone will be able to say that fairy tales don't come true. Or is it too good to actually be true?

For more fun see: "Mr. Obama's neighborhood" by Leila Krieger at

Monday, October 27, 2008

Silver linings?

"Every cloud must have a silver lining," goes the song. In the current economic crisis, when the Dow Jones has fallen 37% since the beginning of September, what could possibly be the silver lining?
There are three aspects. First, the fall in the price of gasoline (petrol). Since there is less money around, people are losing jobs and Banks are failing, so the demand for high-priced gasoline has greatly dropped. In order to keep up sales, OPEC, the oil cartel, has been forced to lower the price of a barrel of crude oil from a high of ca. $150 per barrel now down to ca. $65, less than half. Remember, that even though these prices seem exorbitant (a barrel used to cost $5) the actual value of a barrel of oil is only what the market will bear. The lowering of the cost of a barrel of oil has concomitantly reduced the price of gasoline at the pump from a high of nearly $5 a gallon in the US (its twice that in most of Europe) back to ca. $3 now.
In order to halt the slide in gasoline prices, some members of OPEC (including Saudi Arabia) have started to cut oil production. This is a typical response by a cartel to reduced product prices. But, there are enough members of OPEC and other oil producers that are hurting financially (because of cuts in sales as well as losses in their investments) that they won't be able to cut production without getting into severe financial difficulties, such as Russia, Nigeria and others. So cuts in oil production may not become a source of serious concern.
Among the countries that depend on selling oil is Iran. This means that the Iranian regime will be making half as much money on its crude oil sales. As a consequence they might not be able to support the tremendous costs of developing nuclear weapons, at the expense of food for their people. The economic situation in Iran is already so bad that this might help to tip the scales against their rapid development of nuclear weapons. Maybe that's why Ammedinejad is reported to be ill these days.
Another silver lining is the decreased value of the dollar. Here in Israel the dollar strengthened from last year when it was ca. 4.2 shekels to the dollar, down to 3.4 before the crisis hit in September. In the last two months it has risen to 3.8 to the dollar. So a weak dollar is an advantage for those of us who live on dollars, including those companies whose buying depend on the dollar exchange rate. This should have a world wide effect, especially when the Euro is hurting.
It is customary for the voting population to blame the party in power for any economic crisis, so that means the Republicans in the US and the Labor Party in England. I know it doesn't make much sense, but that is the usual case. However, in the US, the election of a Democrat usually presages a fall in the stock market, because the Republicans usually favor cutting Govt. spending and the Democrats usually increase it, with more extensive social programs. It could be argued that the electorate are subtle controllers of the economy, switching parties every few elections so that the average keeps the economy moderated. However, in this situation when the market is down so much already, to elect a Democrat (and one whose programs are likely to increase taxes) may not be such a great idea. We'll see, it may be that the electorate are asking for more Govt. spending on social programs now, until they see what a mess the Democrats will make of the economy, and then they'll revert to a Republican. The irony is that in the UK the trend is the opposite, they'll blame Labor, and revert to the Conservatives!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Israeli elections!

Shas has decided not to join Tzipi Livni's coalition government, and this has finally triggered a new election. Their reasons, as announced by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Joseph and its political head Eli Yishai, is that Livni failed to agree to replace the lost value of child allowances, and she would not guarantee not to divide Jerusalem in her negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Another unstated factor is that she is a woman, and it rankles with the ultra-orthodox Shas party to have to be dictated to by a woman (men obviously know better).
At the same time and in parallel, Shas leaders have been secretly in contact with Bibi Netanyahu of Likud, and they hope to receive a better deal from him should he be elected PM in a new election, as the polls seem to indicate he will be. Bibi welcomed Shas back into the "national fold."
Since Livni with Labor on board has been unable to form a stable coalition with the rump parties, Meretz, Pensioners and United Torah Judaism, then she will have to give up her attempts to form a new Govt. in the current Knesset and she will tell Pres Peres at her meeting with him this afternoon that the country must go to new elections. The earliest date for elections is Feb 17, 2009.
Meanwhile, until he is actually indicted, Ehud Olmert remains caretaker PM under these circumstances. If he is indicted before a new Govt. is elected, I do not know what the constitutional requirements are, who would replace him as caretaker PM. The workings of the bureaucracy are a mystery. Maybe Pres. Peres will decide. Anyway no caretaker Govt. can make major decisions about concessions to the PA.
But, at least we've seen the last of Kadima for a while, and let's hope they are decimated in the election. Only Livni of Kadima is given a chance against Netanyahu of Likud. But, neither is likely get an absolute majority, so a coalition agreement will have to be worked out again, taking time and the paying of extortion to the smaller parties in the coalition.
I don't know which is better the Israeli or US election system. In many respects the Israeli version is better, the election period of 3 months is much shorter and so the primaries and electioneering don't take years as they do in the US! But, the outcome is far less clear, because even if the party wins and its leader becomes PM, he still has to barter with the leaders of other parties to form a coalition. Sometimes these coalitions include strange political bedfellows. Oh, for an absolute majority! Anway at least the political deadlock has been breached and finally there can be progress towards a new Govt, and hopefully a Likud one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Violence in Israel

To those who think that I only write about the positive features of Israeli life, here are a few items that show some other aspects of the reality of life here.
Recently, in the wake of the widespread rioting that broke out in Acre (Akko), after an Arab drove his car with radio blaring into a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippr, the police were mobilized in large numbers. Even now, more than a week later there are reported to be over 1,000 police patrolling the streets to avoid any continuation of the violence. About 50 Arabs and 50 Jews were arrested and the search is continuing for persons who deliberately fomented the violence. However, significantly, noone was killed (not even the Arab driver) and the rioting did not spread to other cities in the country.
There were however two reported instances of rock throwing and of gasoline bottles being thrown at Arabs in the Tel Aviv area in the past few days. In both cases, the police immediately arrested the perpetrators, three Jewish youths in each case, and they are now in custody. Their targets were Arabs living in Jewish areas, and although one apartment was burnt down, it turned out to be that of a Jew. There were no casualties. In another incident people living in Holon heard loud explosions coming from an area of dunes. The police investigated and arrested two Jewish youth and a girl who were practising making pipe bombs. Searches of their homes produced further bomb-making equipment. (I remember when living in suburban Maryland that I used occasionally to hear loud explosions, and I was told by a colleague that where he lived further out into the country that during the summer months there were explosions of pipe bombs all the time.)
In other incidents, there have been a spate of hit and run road accidents that have left people dead or injured. The worst incident happened last weekend when a car was stopped among others exiting the Tel Aviv port, where there are many bars and dance halls. While the owner/driver of the car was being tested for alcohol, one of his friends took the keys and drove off at speed. Shortly after that he apparently ran a red light and hit two young women who were crossing the road, one of whom has since died. Later the two occupants of the car were found and arrested. Since then there have been no less than 5 hit and run incidents around the country, none of them connected. A four year old girl was injured by a car at a beach in north Tel Aviv, and two old people were injured while crossing the road at zebra crossings in central Israel.
A strange incident in central Israel yesterday, a young successful Police \Inspector, shot dead his beautiful blonde wife, also a deputy polcie inspector, and his two young children, and then committed suicide. There is no explanation so far for this tragic event.
Of course, all of this violence is regrettable, and at present it is much greater than the number of casualties due to terrorism; there also have been occasional firings of rockets into southern Israel, notwithstanding a supposed ceasefire agreement with Hamas. If anyone expects Hamas to compromise with Fatah over a unity government, they will be sorely disappointed, since Hamas is using the ceasefire to entrench itself further as the military authority in Gaza, while Fatah is clearing the West Bank of Hamas control.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whose gaffe?

Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin said at a campaign rally: "Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate..." Is that stupid or what?
Actually the words were not said by by Palin but by Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden, in one of his customary gaffes. Why would he intimate that his presidential running mate will be tested, is it that he knows that like John Kennedy he is inexperienced and therefore America's enemies are likely to deliberately test him, as Khruschev did with John Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis. Whatever the outcome, can we afford to put such an inexperienced President in office and have him learning on the job. And Joe Biden is supposed to be his foreign policy expert.
Several people have speculated on what the crisis might be that Biden foresees, and the most likely in my opinion is a move by Iran to consolidate its position as the local hegemon in the Middle East. Even if it does not have a nuclear bomb, Iran can still, like Saddam Hussein did, threaten its neighbors with destruction in order to control them. And in that case it is quite likely that Iran will attempt to undermine or attack Israel. What would a President Obama do, ask to talk to Pres. Ahmedinejad over coffee, without predonditions? And this crisis would be exacerbated by the continuing economic crisis, that if not handled carefully could cause a major worldwide crash. What we need is experience we can trust, as in President McCain.
When CCN interviewed Gov. Palin yesterday she asked the interviewer, "if I had said what Joe Biden said, wouldn't I be hounded by the press for such a statement, while your channel never even reported it," and he said, "Yes, you are right." That there is media bias in favor of the liberal candidate in the US and world media is no surprise.
Another example of this, do you know that Joe Biden suffered from not one but two serious brain aneurysms in 1988. He released his medical records (minus the MRI scans) recently, but no major media outlet picked up on this story, while McCain's medical records got a good airing in the press. Maybe that brain aneurysm explains some of Biden's mental gaffes. Who would you like to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency now?
In the US, "talk radio" is predominantly right wing, because the main media is itself predominantly liberal. But, if you were to listen to call-in shows on the BBC as I sometimes do, you would hear an extreme left-wing bias, that is openly anti-American. And many of the calls come from people such as Ahmed in Amsterdam, Mohammed in Birmingham, or Said in Madrid. It is a different world out there, and they all want Obama to be elected President of the USA.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The Mediterranean Union"

A seemingly innocuous and praiseworthy initiative by the EU to form a "Mediterranean Union" has a potentially dangerous outcome. A large meeting was held in Paris in July under the sponsorship of Pres. Sarkozy of 45 countries, most represented by Heads of State or Foreign Ministers, to bring together the EU and the Mediterranean region. Because of fears that he was intending to actually start a MU comparable to the EU, Pres. Sarkozy changed the title of the organization subtly to "The Union of the Mediterranean."
This was not a new concept, apart from the fact that France itself considered its "colonies" in North Africa as part of France, there have been previous attempts by the EU to expand its influence into the Mediterranean region, since many EU countries border on the Med. In 1997, Zbignew Brezinski noted France's tendency to bring the Med. countries into the EU's "sphere of influence," and Joscha Fischer, FM of Germany, also supported this trend. According to Sarkozy's initiative the Med. Union would include all EU member states, plus Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Israel. Israel was of course a sticking point for several of the Muslim/Arab members because they thought it might be tantamount to their recognizing Israel.
We are all aware that the number of Muslims in Europe has been increasing significantly over the past few years. The question arises, is this so-called Med. Union an attempt of France and other EU countries to exctend their influence over the North African region as a form of neo-colonialism (which was why Col. Qaddafi of Libya did not attend), or is this an attempt by the liberals in the EU to improve even further their ties with Muslim countries.
Recently Caroline Glick noted startling disclosures by former Italian president and Senator-for-life Francesco Cossiga that were contained in a letter to Italy's Corriere della Serra in August. Cossiga acknowledged that during the early 1970s, then Italian prime minister Aldo Moro signed an agreement with Yassir Arafat's PLO and affiliated organizations that enabled the Palestinians to field terrorists, operate bases and store weapons in Italy in exchange for immunity from attack for Italy and Italian interests worldwide. Cossiga also acknowledged that even when the Palestinians murdered Italians, the government still protected them. Indeed, he admitted for the first time that the largest terror attack ever to take place on Italian soil - the bombing of the Bologna train station in July 1980 which killed 85 people - was the work of PLO-affiliated terrorists from George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. So the connection of Arabs and Muslims with the EU began with a concerted and secret agreement that allowed Arab terrorism to operate on European soil.
Now to form such a Meditteranean Union could result in even more influence of the Islamic States in the EU. In a separate but related development, the EU has started an initative to try to regulate the influx of immigrants from African countries. They propose to open "employment exchanges" in selected African countries (such as Morocco, Senegal) where local inhibitants could apply for jobs in Europe, so that they would not be tempted to take the dangerous and illegal routes of boats from Africa to Spain and Italy. However, this approach may only increase the influx of immigrants by adding simpler and safer means for Africans/Muslims to enter the EU.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Would Obama pass a security test?

This is very serious (See Pipes' article below). How could anyone vote for a President with this background, who would fail the Federal Govt. security test. All that Pipes writes is substantitated with documentation (see the internet). Even if you are not sure, is this a risk worth taking, that you would vote on the same side as Louis Farrakhan, who calls Obama "the messiah." And this is without mentioning Obama's well-known ties to radical leftists such as William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn.
As far as Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama is concerned, it is a disgrace that a leading Republican, who was himself mentioned as a possible Presidential candidate, who served as Chief of Staff under George W. Bush in Iraq, the only reason he would vote for Obama is his race. This is a terrible form of racism! For President we need the most qualified man, not merely "the black man."
Also, VP Democratic candidate Joe Biden said in a speech that within 6 months of being elected Pres. Obama would be tested by a major crisis. Remember that Kruschev after he met Kennedy for the first time decided that he could win in any test against such an inexperienced President and so we had the Cuban missile crisis. Is that what we want, the most inexperienced President ever learning on the job, when we have a very highly qualified alternative, McCain.

Would Obama pass a standard security test?
Daniel Pipes, FrontPage magazine

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Over time I have become ambivalent in my attitude towards Judaism. On the one hand, I am a convinced atheist, having decided long ago, probably as early as 15, that there is no God and that the concept of God is a human invention to explain what humans did not understand in the past. Also, having received a strong scientific education helps me to explain most of the former mysteries in the real world.
However, interacting with my religious daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and their friends has opened to me a whole world of Jewish life that I have come to know intimately. While I do not and cannot share their belief system, I do respect not only their right to have it, but also I see how it sustains them and contributes to the continuation of the Jewish people. To me this is no small thing, because I became a Zionist and made aliyah to Israel precisely because I feel that it is impossible in the long run to maintain the continuation of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, the galut or exile, with the overwhelming intermarriage rate and the weakening of Jewish life there.
I do respect the Bible and its study as a legitimate way to focus attention on the amazing history of the Jewish people and I do see the weekly recitation of the Torah in the Synagogue as a means to ensure the vibrancy of that history and relationship to God in the lives of those believers. However, of course, I do not believe that the words of the Bible are divinely inspired and I cannot accept many of the practices required of an observant Jew.
Let me give a few examples:
1. A few years ago I was in shool, on one of my rare visits, and all the lights and the a/c suddenly went out. The whole congregation was left sitting in the dark and it became hot. I saw a gaggle of men mingling by the door, so I went out to see if I could help. Noone was doing anything except they were looking at the fuse box. One of them said that the automatic clock had been set wrongly and the main switch had tripped off. I asked which switch and he pointed at it, so I simply flicked the switch and all the lights came back on and the a/c started running. In the congregation I heard an appreciative murmur and some even said that God had intervened. I have never understood why it is not allowed to flick an electric switch when electricity was not discovered until long after the period of the Talmud and so the laws relating to it have been adapted from ancient doctrines, such as not working and/or not lighting a fire. First, flicking a switch is not "work", it requires minimal effort and is not an activity that is paid for, second, electricity is not fire, it has nothing whatsoever to do with fire, it is electrons moving in a circuit and the physical similarity of the electric light bulb turning on, that produces heat as a secondary effect, is not fire! I would rather commit such a "sin" than sit in the dark.
2. Every Shabbat my family and other Orthodox Jews tear the toilet paper before Shabbat so that they won't have to do this during shabbat. The idea that this would be a sin is ridiculous to me because they already did the tearing, so using the torn paper is tantamount to accepting the tearing that was done for this purpose.
3. This Succot I had a typical "talmudic experience," someone left the gas light on under a saucepan after the Chag had started. It was forbidden to turn it off, and they would not let me do it, so they put a small container of water on it, so that it could boil and every now and then they had to remember to add more water. There was a whole discussion about what could be done about this, and it was generally agreed that it could not be physically turned off as long as there was no imminent danger. But, if the water boiled over and caused the flame to go out, then the gas itself could be turned off, since then it was not dowsing a flame/fire. I regarded this as ridiculous nitpicking. Anyway, good sense prevailed and somehow someone contrived to turn it off.
4. I cannot accept the ceremony of "kapura" before Succot when a live chicken is twirled over the head of someone, usually a child, while a prayer is said, to take away their sins (a "scape chicken"), which are then removed when the chicken is killed and eaten, how primitive!
5. On Succot the ceremony of shaking the four species of plants in different directions is totally ridiculous.
6. My wife won't mix milk and meat plates in the dishwasher because my son-in-law argued that they have "meatoids" and milkoids" attached to them, even when clean, and so it is not allowed to let them mix together. But, I pointed out that in the dishwasher the temperatures produce superheated water, and all the milk and meat products are washed away to produce superclean crockery, and the idea of "milkoids" and "meatoids" is a product of his vivid imagination.
I would not expect any Orthodox Jew to change his practices as a result of my rational arguments, since religion by its very nature is irrational. But, I refuse to practice irrational acts based on the concept that there is a God to please or displease by such rituals. What really matters in life is whether or not a person is basically "good," and in my experience there is no correlation of that characteristic with being a believer. Thank goodness, to protect us against those who are not good, we have civil laws.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shas in the middle

It has been reported that Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor have concluded an agreement to continue a coalition government. There are few changes from the current one, the main difference is that the role of Barak is increased to "senior" deputy PM. Due to the financial crisis, Barak has agreed to drop Labor's insistence on increased Govt. spending on social issues. But, he demands that the Govt. Livni forms must last at least two years, until the next scheduled elections.
Now this puts Shas in the ideal position of being the deal breaker or maker of the coalition for the Livni Govt. Shas leader Eli Yishai says that the Kadima-Labor deal "distances us from a coalition." But, this is often the starting position in hard-bargaining that lies ahead. Since Livni only has another week to form a Govt. this puts pressure on her, although she could ask for two extra weeks from Pres. Peres to do this. Yishai has several considerations in deciding his response, one is that he also wants more social spending for his poor religious consitutency, particularly the child allowance reinstatements that Shas has promised, that were mostly reduced by Netanyahu when he was Finance Minister. Ironically, these were helping the Arab community in Israel, because they also have large families as well as the poor Jews. Yishai also wants to avoid an election in which Shas might lose seats. But, Shas' former leader Arieh Deri is now waiting in the wings after having left jail (for taking Govt. funds) and if Yishai fails to act, the still popular Deri could replace him. Last night Yishai cancelled his meeting with Livni, putting the situation in suspension, while Livni now has meetings with other potential coalition partners, the left-wing Meretz, the Pensioners and United Torah Judaism.
Leader of the opposition, Bibi Netanyahu, called on Yishai to reject a coalition with Livni and go to elections to determine the true popularity of Kadima. So Shas is now in the middle, and we wait to see which way Yishai will jump and whether or not Livni can form a coalition Govt. with or without him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The final debate

Obama probably won the third Presidential debate because he is eloquent, a "smooth talker," while McCain, although more aggressive and on the attack, failed to score any major hits on him. Obama deflected criticism with a shrug and a smile. Also, while McCain came over as more informed on various policy subjects, partly due to his vast experience in Congress, Obama came across as everybody's friend.
But, as someone said, "I don't want a great debater, I want a great President!" and in that respect the choice was clear to me. Obama's policies include "wealth redistribution," which means taxing the wealthy and giving the money to the poor in the form of tax rebates, a greater Federal Govt. role in education and guaranteed health care for all, that will cost the rest of the taxpayers. All of which means increased taxes and greater Govt. spending. By contrast, McCain, a fiscal conservative, said that he will freeze all but the most essential Govt. spending, reduce the size of Govt. (it has increased by 40% under Bush) and he will be a "good custodian" of our money. Now when the economy is the major issue, I feel that McCain, therefore, has the policies that are most relevant to the current situation and furthermore he is someone whose word you can trust. I don't say that Obama's word can't be trusted, but that it is impossible to know based on his limited record.
Now there are some who will vote against McCain because of abortion, or because of Palin, or because he is old, etc., but for me these issues are secondary. Keeping the eye on the ball means taking the two major issues, the economy and trust, as the deciding factors. As far as Obama's former associates are concerned he does not instil confidence, his long association with Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers and numerous other Chicago politicians and left wing organizations, such as ACORN/Project Vote, the Annenberg Educational Challenge, etc, are disturbing. McCain only touched on this topic without making a major issue of it. This was probably wise, although it allowed Obama to get "off the hook" easily.
McCain did not raise again the issue of Obama's Muslim background, although Obama's statements that he is a Christian have been accepted at face value. However, the fact is that he was definitely registered as a Muslim until age 11 in Indonesia (in Islam conversion to another religion is apostasy and is punishable by death!). Also, where does Obama get so much money (twice as much as McCain) without having to take public funds and hence without having to reveal his sources.
Yesterday, Jesse Jackson stated that if Obama is elected President he will reduce the influence of "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades." Needless to say, the Obama campaign denied this, but we all know that it's true. With the nuclearization of Iran looming and billions still flowing to the oil-rich Arabs, now is not the time to have a friend of Jesse Jackson in the White House. In fact if Obama is elected, the first State dinner will include Jesse Jackson, Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers and maybe even Ahmedinejad (OK, I'm joking). Americans have a clear choice between two eligible candidates, a young black liberal, Obama, and an old white conservative, McCain. But, if you admit to voting against Obama you can be labelled a racist, while if you vote against McCain noone will call you an "ageist." In my eyes only McCain has the demonstrated character to make an excellent President. But, if you are fed up with the two candidates, you can endorse "Joe the Plumber for President."

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I have just read "Infidel," the autobiography of Aayan Hirsi Ali, and I found it gripping. She writes about her experiences growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya and the way Islam is practiced in each. The reason she moved around so much was that her father was in one of the opposition groups to the Somali dictator Siad Barre, and after a stint in jail he left the country and helped run the armed opposition from outside.
Under Islam, which means "submission," she was taught to absolutely obey her father and other menfolk, and at the age of 5 was "excised," i.e. had her clitoris removed by a primitive operation with a scissors on the kitchen table, held down by several aunts, and then she was sewn up, all without anesthetic, so that when a scar formed, her vagina would be almost closed, so that they could tell when she was married that she was an intact virgin. Female genital mutilation is common in most of the Muslim world, particularly in Africa. Although it is strictly speaking not mandated by the Koran, it has been adoped as a religious practice by millions of Muslims.
Although her father started out as a "democrat," he was a clan elder, so that when Siad Barre was finally defeated in 1991, each of the major clans started fighting for control of Somalia, and that was why it descended into a vicious civil war that has left Somalia a failed state. As her father moved around from country to country under Islam he took another wife in each and had more children, and he largely abandoned the former wives and children. He had one wife in Somalia, one in Kenya and one in Ethiopia. While to us this seems absurd, under Islam it is quite acceptable. Aayan was the second child of his second wife. When law and order began to break down in Mogadishu he moved them first to Saudi Arabia, then to Ethiopia, where he was supported by the Government, but because her mother did not want to live in an "infidel" country, then to Kenya. Although the majority of the population is Christian, at least in Kenya there was a large minority of Somalis. For Aayan it was good to live in Nairobi because she learnt English, and later as a refugee she was able to gain experience in social work. But, although she became religious for a while, wearing a completely covering black burka and following the Muslim Brotherhood, eventually she became disillusioned with her teachers and her father. She asked too many difficult questions.
Things came to a head when her absent father visited and announced that at the age of 23 he had decided to marry her off to a distant cousin living in Canada, who was a complete stranger to her. She refused, but as a compromise it was agreed that she would travel to Toronto to see how wonderful it was there and then she would get married (there was no possibility that she could actually refuse, since that would mean her death). But, en route in Germany, although being carefully watched, she managed to slip away and take a train to Holland and there ask for political asylum. In order not to be traced she altered her surname from Magan to Ali, and although this might seem like a minor point, it had trememdous repercussions later.
In Holland, she was lucky because she spoke fluent English and was able to learn Dutch, which most of the Somali refugees from the civil war did not, and so she was able to get a job as an official translator and earn money. She was also able to interact with the Dutch and make good friends. She was granted asylum in Holland and became a Dutch citizen, but thru her experiences as a translator she learnt a lot about what was actually going on in the refugee camps and homes of refugees in Holland. Her family did trace her, but eventually they gave up trying to persuade her to return voluntarily.
She wrote, Holland "..was an infidel country, whose way of life we Muslims were supposed to oppose and reject. Why was it then, so much better run, better led, and made for such better lives than the places we came from? Shouldn't the places where Allah was worshipped and his laws obeyed have been at peace and wealthy, and the unbelievers' countries ignorant, poor and at war?" (p.222)
She took various courses, and was accepted at prestigious Leiden University to study political science. As she progressed she met many people and was offered a job as a researcher for the Dutch Labor Party. However, her experiences and opinions clashed with some of theirs. Particularly, she saw that giving Govt. funds to support Muslim schools in Holland, that was considered a multicultural approach, was only enabling the Muslims to remain in their own restricted world, and in those schools they were teaching against the values of the liberal, democratic Dutch society. In other words, a separate culture was fluourishing within the general society which had values and goals quite at odds with it, there was little integration.
Many politicans did not want to hear this kind of thing, and Aayan's articles and speeches became controversial. The Liberal Party, more conservative than Labor, offered her a position on their list in the next election, and she stood as a candidate and won. So she became a member of the Dutch Parliament after only 10 years in Holland. She made many good friends who had helped her and she was struck by the incongruity of quotes of Osama bin Laden from the Koran: "You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as friends, they are allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them." (p. 271)
Although bogged down in administrative issues and constrained by her party policies, she still became a controversial and famous figure in Holland, because, although she herself was a Muslim, she spoke out against the harsh treatment of Muslim women and children in Holland. At one point she insisted that "honor killings" of young women be listed separately by the police, and although opposed by her party, the police agreed to try to do this in two provinces, and when they found that 11 young women had been murdered in one year in two small provinces, the whole of Holland was shocked. Also, the women's shelters were swamped with beaten and battered Muslim women, who were automatically returned to their abusive husbands because they had no independent status as refugees. She campaigned that all women refugees be given separate status from their husbands so that if they did leave their husbands they could be treated as separate individuals, and again she won.
She wrote, "I am convinced that this is the largest and most important issue that our society and our planet will face in this century. Every society that is still in the rigid grip of Islam oppresses women and also lags behind in development. Most of these societies are poor; many are full of conflict and war. Societies that respect the rights of women and their freedom are wealthy and peaceful" (p. 296) and "what matters is that atrocities against women and children are being carried out in Europe. What matters is that governments and societies must stop hiding behind a hollow pretense of tolerance so that they can recognise and deal with this problem." (p. 310).
At this point she declared that she no longer considered herself a Muslim. As a result various Muslim groups threatened her life and she was given protection as an MP by the Dutch security services. One of the many people she met was Theo van Gogh, who was a left-wing film maker. They decided to make a short movie together about the treatment of women under Islam, and it was completed in 2004 and was called "Submission." Although it lasted only 10 mins it caused rioting in Holland and death threats were issued against her and Theo van Gogh. Unfortunately, he ignored the threats and on Nov. 2, 2004 he was stabbed and shot in broad daylight in Amsterdam by a Moroccan man, who was captured. This was a major event in Dutch history and resulted in major changes in Dutch society and attitudes.
Aayan herself was given major security protection and since Holland is such a small country, she was even flown to Massachusetts and kept almost like a prisoner in a motel in a small industrial town. She returned to Holland after a few weeks but was not allowed to attend the funeral of Theo van Gogh. She decided that she could not stand this treatment, and at the same time, because she had many enemies, questions were being asked about her background and it was discovered that she had lied on her asylum form, putting her name as "Ali" instead of "Magan." This was considered a breach of law, and her "friend" the Interior Minister revoked her Dutch citizenship. This caused a furore in Holland and Aayan admitted this "mistake" and announced her resignation from Parliament. However, she retained a lawyer, who argued that since in Somalia there are no such things as real surnames and people simply took the name of a famous clan ancestor, it so happened that she had substituted "Ali" which was the actual name of her great-great-grandfather, who was a famous fighter given the title Magan meaning "warrior" in Somali. So under Somali law it was quite legitimate for her to use this name, and the Dutch courts accepted her substitution. As a result the Minister of the Interior was forced to resign, and so was the PM, and so the Dutch Govt. fell because of Aayan Hirsi Ali/Magan.
She wrote, "Life is better in Europe than in the Muslim countries because human relations are better, and one reason why human relations are better is that in the West life on earth is valued in the here and now, and individuals enjoy rights that are recognized and protected by the state....When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance and freedom, I look at reality and I see that it simply isn't so. People in the West swallow this sort of thing because they have learned not to examine the religions or cultures of minorities too critically for fear of being called racist." (p. 348-9)
So Aayan received back her Dutch citizenship, but then quit Dutch politics and now works at a Think Tank in Washington DC dealing with issues of Islam and its impact on the West.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Election scenarios

There are several potential scenarios that may result from the upcoming elections in Israel and the USA, I consider four possibilities:
1. Obama wins in the US and Tzipi Livni of Kadima wins or remains in office here; when Iran announces it's successful accomplishment of a nuclear weapon, then nothing will be done. Both leaders will express their concern, but noone will have the guts to do anything, and it will be too late. When the bombs start falling here, Pres. Obama will issue a statement expressing his regret for the killing of millions of Israelis and the destruction of the State. This is what's at stake.
2. Obama wins and Bibi Netanyahu is elected PM here; he will give the order to the IAF to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and other sites just before they achieve that capability. Then, Pres. Obama will join the world-wide condemnation of Israel for "striking first," just as De Gaulle did in 1967.
3. McCain is elected US President and Tzipi Livni is PM here, then anything can happen, since neither will be prepared to take the initiative against Iran. Back to square one.
4. McCain wins and PM Netanyahu finds it necessary to strike Iran, then US forces will be ordered to support Israel in major respects, including a blockade of Iran, a resupply of Israel and support in the UN. Or am I dreaming?

Noone can foretell the future, but if I were to guess I would predict that scenario two will come about (note that I do not expect in any way that Iran will stop short of developing nuclear weapons). Namely, Obama will win the Presidential campaign and Netanyahu will win the Israeli election and a rift will develop in American-Israeli relations. So that when (not if) the IAF finds it necessary to strikes Iran it will be without US support and this will greatly exacerbate the situation. Let's hope I am wrong.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The market crash and the Jews?

In previous global financial crises, especially before WWII, the Jews were openly blamed, and this fitted in with popular anti-Semitic stereotypes. Today, while there is no doubt a lot of Jewish involvement in Wall Street, these accusations are not voiced openly in the USA, but are nevertheless present. When Lehman Brothers defaulted and was allowed to collapse by the US Govt. there were several comments about it being a Jewish firm. In fact, although founded by the Jewish Lehman Brothers of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1850, the firm was sold and has not been controlled by the Lehman family since 1969.
Similarly the companies largely responsible for the credit crunch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (both under quasi-Federal control) and American Insurance Group (AIG) are all non-Jewish owned. AIG was founded in Shanghai in 1919 by Cornelius vander Starr and was run for many years by Hank Greenberg, but he was replaced in 2005 by Robert Willumstad. Of course, these facts won't stop the anti-Semites from believing otherwise.
One person who has been the butt of much comment is Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, a Jew who was largely responsible for ensuring that these institutions opened their books to millions of low income people, who it turned out were ultimately unable to repay their mortgages, hence the huge number of defaults. A nice sentiment, but inappropriate in the capitalist world. Trying to make the capitalist market adapt to socialist sentiments has been the undoing of many financial systems.
When people call for the real culprits of the financial meltdown to be named and punished, as Sen. McCain said he would do in a speech yesterday, it sounds curiously like a call for anti-Semitic action. But, maybe I'm too sensitive. When asked if McCain could do this, an expert on Fox scoffed, since he said that there are several stages of the crisis, the subprime mortgage breakdown, the bank failures from giving too much easy credit, the stock market crash, and the lack of liquidity. He said that much of the latter part of this crisis has probably more to do with very wealthy traders in Dubai and Riyadh manipulating the stock market and making more millions on stocks by selling short (betting that stocks will decline). This tactic has been declared illegal by Pres. Bush and is being enforced by the SEC, but that is in the USA, not abroad. So the evil of stock market manipulation has more to do with Gulf Arabs than with American Jews. Only now that the G8 and G20 have met is there unanimity that no one country will seek to improve its situation at the expense of others (for how long will that last?).

Acre riots

On erev Yom Kippur Jamal Taufik drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood in Acre (Akko) with music blaring. Whether this was a deliberate provocation or merely a case of a foolish route decision, his car was soon surrounded by Jews going to prayer, and when he refused to turn around they angrily stoned his car and he was injured. Meanwhile a rumor spread in the Arab sections that Arabs were under attack and a gang of Arab youths surged into the Jewish section throwing stones and breaking store windows. This lead to a riot between Jews and Arabs.
Some reports say the police reacted too slowly, other reports say the police were mainly Arabs because of the holiday, and so did not respond appropriately to the situation. However, reinforcements were sent in, and by Yom Kippur day there were supposedly an additional 700 police in the city. However, the riots continued. Some say that the reason was that on the following day (it was Friday) the Imams in their Mosques incited their congregants to violence. Others say that Jewish youths continued their violence, torching the homes of several Arabs known to be living in Jewish neighborhoods. On Saturday the riots still continued despite further police reinforcements.
The irony of this is that Akko is one of the few cities that are mixed Jewish and Arab where there has been a history of good relations between the two communities. Whether or not it means much, after a meeting with the police, Arab community leaders agreed to issue a statement condemning Jamal Taufik for driving thru a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur. In other words, they accept the fact that it was an Arab action, whether deliberate or accidental, that provoked the initiation of the riots.
Now there is condemnation by community leaders on both sides of the violence and a call for the police to arrest and prosecute all those who broke the law, including any Imams who incited violence (there is no indication that any Rabbis are accused of inciting violence). Police were put on alert in other mixed Jewish-Arab cites including Jerusalem, but so far there is no evidence that rioting will spread.
However, the situation is always unpredictable since the Arabs often react to rumors of Jewish actions that are false, such as attempting to destroy the al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. The last time there was widespread Arab rioting, the leader of the northern branch of the Muslim league was arrested for incitement. He eventually agreed that there had actually been no Jewish attack, but he said that it was what he believed would happen.
Meanwhile, Hamas issued a statement in Gaza that "a day will come when we will purge the Zionists from Acre." Of course, all Arabs in Israel will hear this statement in Arabic.
Let's hope that tempers cool and those responsible for breaches of law and order will be arrested and punished.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


This morning when I woke up, with bleary eyes, I rolled out of bed and sat next to my bedside cupboard and lifted the glass of water to my lips to take a sip and there inside the glass, the length of the bottom, was a huge disgusting cockroach. I flipped out, and I nearly threw it out, but then seeing the nearby window I made a grab for the louver, flung it open and tossed the disgusting thing out of the window.

I looked around, but of course there was no evidence of any others. I swear this was the largest one I had ever seen in my life. How did it get into my water container, a plastic one with sides that flare outwards. Either it flew right in, or more likely it somehow smelled the water and scuttled in. There was just enough water in there to cover it. And where did it come from, did it just fly in through the slats or was it "domestic." They say that if you see one there are hundreds more, but we haven't seen one for ages. Now I am afraid to go to sleep. Maybe they have a nest under my bed, although I've looked and there's nothing there, where do they come from?

The worst thing is that I sip my water during the night when I wake up, and I know I sipped it last night, so the question is, was the monster in there when I sipped it or not? If it was in there, I could have swallowed it! Ugh, the thought makes me cringe! But, they do say its good protein.

Lesson to be learned, use a cover on your bedside water container, and always look in the glass before drinking!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The economy stupid!

The Israeli economy is strong, and in fact is probably the strongest in Europe. It has had greater than 5% growth rate for the past three years and greater growth rate over the last six years than any country in Europe. Although the Israeli stock market (miniscule compared to the US) fell 3.5% yesterday, it has not been afflicted by Bank failures and is unlikely to be. It seems that unlike many European and Asian Banks, who bought into the US market and became tainted with the "toxic" debts that some American Banks had, there were few such purchases by Israeli Banks. Bank Leumi (National) had the most, about m$45, but not significant enough to cause specific worry.
Nevertheless the Israeli economy, although relatively separate from others is tied into the US economy, and so share losses are expected. Already retirement funds here have lost ca. 100 million shekels (NIS), equivalent to ca. m$30. But this is chicken feed compared to the current situation elsewhere in the world, for example in the UK the Government has agreed to provide b$500 towards supporting a slew of Banks whose financial situation is precarious, including the Royal Bank of Scotland and several other well known British Banks such as Lloyds and HBOS. In little Iceland the biggest Banks have failed and the Govt. there has refused to bail them out, thus leading to b$2 additional losses in the UK. In Japan, the market is in melt-down, having lost ca. 10% of its value in one day, and in Russia the bourse has had to be closed twice to stop a sell-off of shares.
It seems that the b$700 rescue/bail-out of Banks and financial institutions in the US, although it has been passed by Congress and signed by Pres. Bush, is taking time to be implemented, and so the market has crashed another 8%. What do the traders expect, that it could be implemented in a day, it will takes weeks to months at least. In each case there have to be hearings and or decisions regarding how much of the debt the Govt. should buy-out and at what cost.
It is most notable that in the list of prospective hearings in Congress, on such private companies as AIG, there are no hearings scheduled on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two giants of the loan/mortgage industry, that have been administered by the Govt. and Congress and that have been heavily involved with the Democratic Party. It was their loans of millions of mortgages to people without sufficient credit that was largely responsible for causing this subprime crisis in the first place.
All the losses listed above must be multiplied several fold in the few days since I wrote that! The market is falling fast, and until the money voted comes on line it seems nothing can stop it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Voter fraud

Voter fraud is being investigated in about 10 states, most of them so-called "swing states" where a few votes could swing the outcome one way or another. The organization behind the voter fraud is ACORN or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a nationwide left-wing organization devoted to providing funding for groups and individuals (such as mortgages) and to register voters (usually poor, black voters who will likely vote Democratic) thru a program called "Project Vote". ACORN obtain their funds thru grants, usually from local or federal govt. agencies. Their record of giving unsecured mortgages to poor people to get them into the housing market is one of the factors that triggered the subprime mortgage crisis. Since they are anti-capitalist I suppose the leaders of ACORN don't mind this crisis.
Barack Obama was named Executive Director of Project Vote in Chicago in 1992 when William Ayers, a former "weatherman" and domestic terrorist (who admitted blowing up the Pentagon with pipe bombs in 1972) obtained an $800,000 federal grant to register voters there thru his academic position. Although Obama has admitted having connections with Ayers, he has called them casual, even though he is on record having had many meetings with Ayers, both professional and personal over a period of years. They served together on the Board of the Woods Foundation, an anti-poverty organization in Chicago, and several other organizations, including the Annenberg Foundation, which pumped millions of dollars into leftist-sponsored education projects. But, now the connection doesn't seem so casual. Previously Obama has stated that it was the founder of Project Vote, Sandy Newman, who invited him back to Chicago after he obtained his law degree, but now we know that it was Ayers who actually appointed him to be in charge of utilizing the funds that he had obtained. As a result Obama later claimed that he had registered 150,000 poor blacks. Wonder who they are voting for.
There is no suggestion here that Obama indulged in voter fraud during his time with Project Vote, but it is now clear that many of these organizations around the country have been doing so, in one case one person was found to be responsible for 80 fradulent registered voters. A good question is why has the FBI not investigated the wide-spread fraudulent actions of this organzation well before now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yom Kippur

Did you know that Kippur (כפר, atonement) as in Yom Kippur and Shofar (שפר, as in blowing of) are not Hebrew words originally, but derive probably from Babylonian, picked up during the 50 years that the Israelites spent in exile there. Of course, only a minority of them returned with Ezra and Nehemiah to re-found the independent Jewish state of Judea. Similarly, the months of the year, Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, etc... are not Hebrew names but are also derived from the Exile period. This is a common feature of languages, for example, the months in English are derived from Latin, but are mixed up, for example September is not the seventh month but the ninth, October is not the eighth month but the tenth, November is not the ninth month, but the eleventh, while December is not the tenth but the twelth.
While I was reading the siddur during the Kol Nidre service (the only time that I attend shool regularly each year), I noticed that the word to "trangress" comes up often (not surprisingly) and is written as "avarnu" or עברנו (we have transgressed or sinned). I was familiar with this word, not because I have sinned, but from soccer. When a player makes a "foul" in Hebrew that is called an "averah" עבירה or a sin/transgression.
Oddly enough this word is a derivation from a fundamental word in Hebrew, namely to cross-over or transfer, a word which was applied in the Bible to Abraham when he crossed-over the Euphrates river from the Land of Ur (in what is now Iraq) to the Land of Israel and became a Hebrew, and this word is עבר to cross-over So this word was applied to his descendents, those that crossed-over, or עברי (ivri) from which we derive the name for the Hebrew language עברית (ivrit).
I am beginning to sound like a rabbi, so I must quickly stop.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Muslim anti-Semitism

”The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner….This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small, acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will….Today the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters.”

This is from Pres. Ahmedinejad's recent speech before the UN, and the representatives of the world clapped enthusiastically. I quote it not to prove that he is anti-Semitic in the worst racial way (for "Zionist" substitute "Jew"), but that he and many others who think this way also conclude that Israel (the Zionist regime) "is on the definite slope to collapse." I think he knows otherwise and if not he might learn the truth soon enough.
In the past, the Arab countries also learnt to their cost, when they tried to wipe out the Jewish people in Palestine from 1948 to 1982 in every decade, that they had over-estimated their ability and they were defeated, sometimes drastically. Yet, by now some of these defeats have become transformed in the Arab mind to actual victories. This thinking no doubt has inflamed the hopes of the Iranians to become the leaders of the Muslim world in the fight against Israel and the hated Jews.
I am currently reading the book "Infidel" by Aayan Hirsi Ali, the young Somali woman who was a colleague of Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist, and who became a Dutch MP. She writes about her early years and that " in Saudi Arabia everything bad was the fault of the Jews...". In her Koran school in Nairobi, Kenya, the female Muslim teacher, Kenyan but trained in Saudi Arabia, "told us about the Jews. She described them in such a way that I imagined them as physically monstrous: they had horns on their heads and noses so large they stuck out of their faces like great beaks. Devils and djinns literally flew out of their heads to mislead Muslims and spread evil. Everything that went wrong was the fault of the Jews...the Jews controlled the world...Islam was under attack ...for only if all the Jews were destroyed would peace come to Islam." This is similar to what Irshad Manji was taught in Canada as described in her book, "The trouble with Islam," and similarly V.S. Naipaul describes the same being taught in a madrassa in Indonesia in his book, "Among the Believers."
There are two sources of Islamic anti-Semitism, the Koran itself and the basic teaching of Islam and European anti-Semitism as developed by the Nazis and passed on to the Arabs before and during WWII. Now it has reached epidemic proportions and unfortunately this only results in the Muslims believing their own propaganda. In order to bring peace to the world the Jews must be wiped out physically and this means destroying the Zionist entity, Israel. Now it's very clear.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Good reasons

Let me summarize my reasons for preferring McCain to Obama.
1. Obama is a first term Senator, he has no experience whatsoever as an executive in any organization and he has very limited Congressional experience (2 years). He has never served in the military and does not quailify to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Forces. For those who would immediately quote the level of experience of George W. Bush to me, I voted for Al Gore! By contrast, John McCain is a military man, spent 20 years in the US forces, and after his release from a Vietnamese prison camp, where he acted honorably and with distrinction, he was elected to Congress and has served 20 years, and has a long and distinguished record of legislative accomplishment. These are the undeniable facts. Note that I do not refer to any debates, interviews, or Vice-Presidential candidates in making this decision. The reason to me is straightforward and self-evident and McCain is a truly exceptional candidate for President.
2. Obama has had a series of unfortunate and unpleasant associations. The first that came to light was that with his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who is on record as being a Black nationalist with anti-American and anti-Semitic views. It is unbelievable that in 20 years Obama claims that he did not know of these views, and his attempt to first disassociate himself from Wright's views and then finally from Wright himself were disingenuous. Obama's rapid political rise was fostered and financed by a series of unpleasant characters, including Tony Rezko (a slum landlord with mob connections), Emil Jones (the Democratic Speaker of the Illinois Senate), Rick Davis and William Ayers (former leading leftist "weathermen") and Rashid Khalidi (a Chicago financier and supporter of Palestinian "resistance"). All of these associations have been documented and details are available on the internet. To my knowledge noone has brought to light any similar set of assocations of McCain. All politicians need to take funds from somewhere, but Obama seems to have been less scrupulous than most.
3. Israel and its survivial is the most significant issue on my political agenda. I judge politicians not mainly on what they say in prepared speeches, but on their actions. In this arena Obama, who may be superficially friendly to Israel, has no past accomplishments and being the most liberal Senator in the Senate has little to commend him. By contrast, McCain has overtly supported Israel for many years. Given the ongoing war on terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the potential threat from Iran, McCain is someone who can be trusted with this great responsibility.
4. The current economic crisis has to some extent influenced the Presidential campaign. Since a Republican is in office, more votes have flowed to the Democratic candidate, Obama. But, Democrats are traditionally the "tax and spend" crowd, while Republicans are generally the "lean Government" folks. Now it so happens that a Republican (Bush) has presented the "bail-out" package to Congress, but both parties were responsible for the current economic situation, and both have voted for this bail-out/rescue package, in fact more Democrats than Republicans. So it is not really easy to blame any one party, and certainly it is not rational to vote Democrat when we are in this economic situation just because a Republican is in office.
5. Obama received the second largest amount of money from the mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Bill Clinton tried to introduce legislation during his Administration to regulate these two huge financial organizations. He was opposed by the Democratic Congress, and one of his few allies was Sen. McCain. This is a matter of public record and was attested to by Clinton in a recent speech (at the Clinton Global Initiative). They saw this financial crisis coming, but the Democratic controlled Congress failed to support them.
6. One of the main reasons given by many Democrats to vote for Obama is that they are anti-Bush. While McCain has voted a lot with Bush, note that the Democrats controlled the Houses of Congress and so it was their support that allowed Bush's legislative program to be passed and implemented. But, McCain is about as far from Bush as it is possible to be and still call yourself a Republican. The antipathy between Bush and McCain is well-known and well documented. So being anti-Bush is not a good rational reason to vote for Obama.
7. Obama has not taken public funding for his campaign while McCain has. This means Obama does not have to disclose the sources of his contributions (he has more money than any other candidate in history), although it is illegal to take funds from non-US citizens. It is a matter of public record that George Soros is a big contributor to Obama's campaign, and his campaign recently lied when it said that they had returned $33,500 that came from Palestinian sources in Gaza. And you are not worried about this?
8. The VP candidates Palin and Biden are mere distractions from the main points listed above.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The most important election

Last night we went to our shool's General Meeting, and it was the largest turnout ever. There were about 200 people there, almost all of the membership. The reason that there was such a large turnout was because of the terrible time that our shool, the New Synagogue of Netanya, known as Macdonald's shool (because it is on McDonald Street, named after a British Governor General of Palestine not the Hamburger chain), has been going through. Notably this Orthodox synagogue does all its non-liturgical functions in English, which is one reason why we are members.
Several months ago a member of the board became fed up because a small group of old men who had been in the shool for many years were controlling it, and in effect ignoring the decisions of the elected Board. This group had called themselves Trustees and controlled the budget of the shool. When required to produce a financial statement, this group either did not or could not. This Board member (who shall be nameless) went to the organization that controls non-profit making organizations (known as amutot in Israel) such as Synagogues, and asked them for a legal ruling on whether these Trustees were legitimate. He received the answer he was seeking, that they are not. The ruling body of the amutah is the board that has been elected by the paid-up membership, there is no provision for Trustees. With this legal ruling and the help of a lawyer at the next General Meeting he engineered the ouster of the Trustees. Although the attempt to remove them was declared illegal at the meeting and it was ended aburptly, the legal document prevailed and the Trustees subsequently resigned and several of them left the shool. There is no claim or imputation that these Trustees did anything illegal financially, merely that they inappropriately over-rode the decisions of the elected Board.
As a result of this situation the newly elected Chairman of the Board and other Board members also resigned, leaving the shool with no actual leadership.
Someone agreed to be the informal leader of a General Meeting of the membership that would re-elect a new Chairman and Board and this was the meeting we went to last night. Given the divisions of opinions that had riven the shool over the past few months, this meeting was remarkably civil and a new Chairman and Board were duly elected. I should say that the new Chairman, Ernie Hirsch, is a charming man, and he will be a great leader for the shool under the present circumstances.
Why would I be so involved in this situation? Mainly because Naomi is a regular shool-goer and forced me to participate. However, I went along without any visible coercion.
So there are elections and elections, and it's important to know which ones are really important

Sunday, October 05, 2008

VP debate

So Sarah Palin won the VP debate because she didn't lose. She managed to stay perky, middle class and executive during the whole 90 mins, and so she won. On the other hand, Sen. Biden was senatorial, fact-filled and gaffe-free for the whole time too, so he didn't lose either. However, there is one catch, many of the facts that Sen. Biden gave with such conviction are just not true.
For example, he said that he and Sen. McCain voted against the Iraq war and it wasn't a war resolution anyway. Gov. Palin called him on that, she said not only was it a war resolution, but everybody knows that Sen. McCain voted for the war, and so did he. She said that was typical of Washington, where people say they opposed the war after they had supported it. However, McCain did vote later against a bill that included a timeline for troop withdrawal even though it included funding for the war.
In addition, Sen. Biden claimed that Obama did not say he was prepared to sit down with Ahmedinejad of Iran without any preconditions, when in fact he did say that and later backtracked. So Biden prevaricated in order to appear factual and authoritative, but instead he appeared pompous. Palin scored a big point when she said that Biden was always looking backwards to Bush, in order to say "gotcha," instead of looking forward to making real change.
Whatever you think about the VPs, I have a logical problem with those who say that Gov. Palin is too inexperienced to be a "heartbeat" away from the President, especially if he's old and infirm. I don't get it, because these same people are prepared to vote for someone who is more inexperienced and will be the President! Noone says that Obama is experienced, his only job before running for office was as a black Community organizer. I fear that that's how he views the job of President, take from the white rich to give to the black poor, a kind of Obama Hood.
Know a person by his friends, who were Obama's friends? Rev. Wright (no more need be said), Tony Rezko (a slum landlord with mob connections), Emil Jones (the Democratic Speaker of the Illinois Senate, no doubt the soul of honesty), Rick Davis and William Ayers (former leading leftist "weathermen") and Rashid Khalidi (a Chicago financier and supporter of Palestinian "resistance"). Who want Obama elected? The Bahrainis, the Saudis, the Lebanese and Hamas in Gaza, the French, and the anti-American Brits. Obama is ahead because he's a great orator and has charisma, but noone knows what he'll do with the immense power of President. McCain is old, white and crusty, but he has real courage, extensive experience and is reliable. OK, bring on the next debate.

Lost again in deepest Tel Aviv

This is true, I am not making this up. Naomi had an appointment with a gastroenterologist (nothing serious), and our doctor gave her a referral (hofnaya) with the names, tel nos and addresses of two possible doctors on it. Naomi called one of them and made an appointment for today, and because he was so busy she had to accept a time of 7.40 am. According to the address on the referral his office was at 56 Rothschild Blvd.,
Tel Aviv, which is one of the oldest streets in the city, tree-lined and with a pedestrian/cycling path down the middle.
We left early (6.15 am) expecting rush hour traffic and then remembered that it was Friday, so luckily the traffic was light. Because of this we arrived very early (40 mins to spare) and found the site, but unfortunately there was no no. 56 on Rothschild Blvd., it was an open car lot! We went into the Bank at no. 50 and asked them where it might be. An old lady looked at the Hofnaya, all in Hebrew of course, and said "oh! you made a mistake", we had gone to Tel Aviv but this address was at 56 Rothschild Blvd. in Kfar Saba, a town near Netanya! (note: cities in Israel are indicated by an abbreviation in Hebrew, so for example Tel Aviv is TA - taf aleph and Kfar Saba is KS - kuf samech - and we had not noticed the difference). We had about 40 mins to get there, having no idea where Rothschild Blvd. was in Kfar Saba. As I was driving fast retracing our route, Naomi said, "But I'm sure it was in Tel Aviv," and she pointed to where she had written the appt. time down on the hofnaya and there she had written "Tel Aviv." We had apparently been looking at the address of the wrong doctor!
We had tried to call the tel no. several times, but it was too early for them to be there. Finally they answered and the same curt lady came on the line, yes, she confirmed that Naomi had an appt. with them at 7.40 am, and it was in Tel Aviv, but on Rehov Yitzhak Levi. Once again we had been confused, between the name of the doctor and the name of the street. I screeched to a halt and consulted my map of Tel Aviv, but there was no Rehov Yitzhak Levi. But, she had mentioned that it was off Rehov Arlosoroff, which is a main thoroughfare, which coincidentally was just nearby. So I turned around again and we drove down Rehov Arlosoroff, but could see no Rehov Yitzhak Levi. So we called again and the lady said it was off Rehov Sokolow which is off Arlosoroff, turn right, then left and left again. Well, that was still confusing, but I found it in a few minutes and we got there, yes, at 7.35 am!
It was a tiny street with cars parked down one side. While I was finding parking (impossible) Naomi went in to see the doctor and found out why the lady answering the tel. was so curt, she was in the same small room as the doctor and was even helping him as well as answering the phone and making appts. Naomi was in there for about 5 mins, so my parking was in vain.
Moral of this story, check before leaving home.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Business as usual here

While all eyes are focused on the economic crisis in the US, on the Congressional votes and the Presidential campaign, things continue as usual here in Israel. PM Olmert (yes, he is still caretaker PM until there is a new Govt.) presided over a Cabinet meeting last Sunday, and made a statement that riled a lot of people. He said that Israelis must realize that in order to have peace we will have to give up most of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights to Syria. Apparently he has made this proposal to Pres. Abbas of the PA, but it was rejected out of hand, they always demand more.
But, Israelis remember that Olmert said the same thing about Gaza, and what peace did our withdrawal from there give us. It seems that since PM Sharon decided that he wanted to die "Mr. nice guy," instead of the "butcher of Beirut" he decided to give the Palestianians what they wanted, irrespective of how that affected the lives of Israelis and the State of Israel. He formed Kadima since Likud would not follow him, and then he had his stroke, and we are left with this sorry legacy. How many have suffered death and "removal" because of his senile change of direction.
At the Cabinet meeting the Atty. Gen. Meni Mazuz was present to advise the PM and Cabinet what they could and could not do as a caretaker Govt. One of the things they cannot do is take any except emergency action that would affect the future security and existence of the State. Thank goodness for that!
Another topic that Olmert discussed was the recent attempt to blow up Prof. Sternhall, a leading leftist ideologue and enemy of the Jewish "settlers." Sternhall, although an Israeli Jew, supports the Palestinians rather than the Jewish settlers, whom he characterizes as occupiers and enemies of peace. Nevertheless, the pipe bomb that blew up outside his apartment door was a rude awakening that the terrible schism within Israeli society, that was exemplified by the assassination of PM Rabin, is still very much alive. That Sternhall is an implacable enemy of the settlers and that there are hard left groups that promote hatred against settlers is well known, however, the existence of a right-wing underground group was unexpected. After Rabin's assassination the police and Mossad did a lot to destroy them. Any group in existence now is certainly a new one, and the police once again have stated that they will take steps to eradicate them.
Although I agree with Olmert as well as general Israeli opinion, that such attacks cannot be accepted within Israeli democracy, nevertheless do not underestimate the hatred that the left has for their fellow Jews who are driven by Jewish belief and Biblical prophecies. As a secular non-believer I cannot accept the hatred of both sides.
So far Tzipi Livni has not been able to form a new coalition govt. and she has another about 30 days to do so. If she cannot, then Pres. Peres will call for new elections and this will take several months. So PM Olmert will remain a caretaker until a new Govt. is in power, too bad!
Meanwhile the Presidential campaign in the US progresses towards its denouement. Today I watched speeches by McCain and Obama focussed on the economy, before both of them flew back to DC to vote for the "economic rescue package." In that respect there is not much to choose between them, but McCain's speech I thought was better, cooler and more serious, although it is clear that Obama is more of a demagogue and is likely to get more of the popular vote.