Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai massacres

We express our condolences and our indignation at the brutal, tragic, deaths of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah in the Chabad House in Mumbai, along with 4 other Jews. At least their baby son Moshe was rescued. Although the Indian anti-terrorist forces stormed the house as well as the two main hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident, they were of course not able to stop the killing by well-armed, well-organized and ruthless Islamist terrorists. Altogether ca. 200 people were killed, mostly Indians, but the terrorists targeted British, Americans, Jews and Israelis.
When did it start, this targeting of Jews and Israelis? Of course, in a larger sense it has been going on since time immemorial, but in my lifetime I remember the hijackings of three planes to Jordan in 1970, the Munich massacre of 1972, the Ma'alot school massacre in 1974, the coastal road bus massacre of 1978, the blowing up of a Swissair plane bound for Tel Aviv in 1980, and so on and so on it goes! But, what is diferent now, is that the Islamist terrorists also target British, Americans and other Westerners, as they did in Mumbai, not only Jews and Israelis. So although we are still being targeted, we are not alone as the targets, and hopefully we are not alone as the protagonists in the war against Islamic terrorism.
Now Mumbai 11/27/08 will take its place with New York 9/11/01, London 7/7, Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, and so on. Clearly this carefully planned and coordinated attack in Mumbai on two hotels, the Jewish Center, a station and a restaurant, was targeted at tourists and travelers, and in a larger sense was an attack on the economy of India. Every year India earns several billion dollars from its tourist industry, and now that will be greatly reduced. In response I plan to go out and buy some Indian goods, just a small gesture. Although I am not a supporter of the Lubavitch movement, I plan to make a contribution to the Chabad organization in memory of the Holtzbergs. How else can we register our outrage?
One of the terrorists' aims was to terrorize, and in this they have succeeded. Clearly this is a warning, that no place in the world is safe from their murderous reach, and in future I hope that all Chabad houses and all Jewish organizations worldwide will put much more emphasis on security. I hope that the Indian and other Governments will provide armed guards at all major tourist centers too. A few armed guards at the entrance of the Taj Mahal Hotel might have delayed the terrorist's progress and allowed more victims to escape.
Another of their aims was to deal a blow at the cooperation between India and Pakistan and at Hindu-Muslim relations within India. Hopefully in neither case will they be successful. Pakistan has officially denied any involvement, but the fact is that they allow Muslim terrorist groups to organize and train on their territory.
Current reports are that there were 10 terrorists, of whom nine are dead and one captured. Frankly I don't believe this, there must have been more terrorists since they attacked at least 5 targets, and it was also reported that there were 3-6 of them in the Taj Hotel alone and three in the Chabad House. The finding of one or more dinghies indicated that they came ashore from a boat, but there were also reports that some of the terrorists were living in Mumbai, either as tourists or workers at the hotel. Also, there are reports that some of them were British from their accents. This would be most useful in terms of traveling around in India. A lot of confusion remains to be clarified, but definitely behind these attacks stands an organization with resources, training and funds. In hope that the Indian Govt. can find that organization and can deal it a severe blow in return.
For contributions to Chabad for the victims of the Mumbai massacre go to:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Attacks in Mumbai

At this writing, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai are still ongoing. It seems that there were seven attacks on tourist sites, particularly two major hotels, a major train station, a hospital and the Chabad House. 100 people are said to be dead, including the antiterrorist force's chief, and 4 terrorists killed and 9 captured. Latest reports say that the Taj Hotel has been recaptured and hostages released there, but the other Hotel is still under attack by the Indian Army/police and so is the Chabad House. Apparently the nanny managed to escape from there with the Rabbi's baby, but the Rabbi and his wife were last seen unconscious. It is not known if there are Israeli casualties, but it is very likely that there will be.
I once stayed in the Taj Hotel and it is really a beautiful period piece straight out of the Raj. What a shame that it is partly burnt and destroyed. The Taj is right next to the famous Gate of India. Apparently the terrorists came ashore in dinghies and were able to just walk into the Hotel heavily armed. They gradually collected hostages mostly British and American and took them to the top floor where they started a fire. There is a report that the Indian Navy has intercepted a ship that may have been the mother ship that dropped the terrorists off to go ashore.
These highly coordinated and extensive attacks are characteristic of al Qaeda, but they are being claimed by the "Deccan Mujahidin" or freedom fighters. Mumbai is situated on the Deccan plateau that covers most of India. Although Muslims are ca. 20% of the Indian population, many of them want to go back to the time before the British conquest when the Muslims controlled most of India in the Mughal Empire. They are not concerned that they are a minority, they don't believe in democracy and will apply strict Muslim rules as in the past, i.e. convert or die. Their aim is to reconquer what they consider as former Muslim lands, i.e. India, Spain, Palestine, and join them into a new Caliphate.
The Indian Army is a formidable force, very large, but not so efficient. India has been caught several times by terrorist outrages, including a series of bombings in Mumbai in 2006, and the infamous attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi in 2001. In the past the Indian authorites have blamed Pakistan for supporting the Muslim terrorists, but this time it may be a quite indpendent group of Islamists that has also been waging war on the new Govt. in Pakistan. One of the main problems is the poor intelligence that the Indians have, although they cooperate with other countries including Israel in trying to combat the international Islamist terrorist threat.
These attacks were clearly aimed at harming the Indian tourist industry. India will now need to improve its antiterrorist intelligence capabilties as well as improve its coastal security forces.

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra

I probably should be writing about the Treasury's bailout scheme for rescuing the Israeli economy, or the situation in Gaza. But, instead I am writing about Bela Bartok, the great composer, who died in 1945. The reason being that we went to an excellent lecture last night given by our favorite musicologist Brenda Miller.
I must say that I skipped the lectures on Haydn and Mahler, having heard about them before. But, she had never discussed Bartok, one of my favorite composers. I was introduced to him by my musician friend Andrew Read in Cambridge many years ago, and I have loved his music every since, in a way that is more visceral than my love of other traditional composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven and even Stravinsky or Shostakovitch. Perhaps only now, after listening to her lecture, that specifically analyzed movements from his brilliant Concerto for Orchestra, composed in 1943, can I understand why.
In order to understand Bartok, one must start with the fact that he was a Hungarian nationalist, not in the extreme political sense, but in the sense of having pride in his country, and as a musician decided in 1905, with his friend Zoltan Kodaly, to go out into the countryside and collect Hungarian folk music. In doing so, they were part of a nascent movement throughout Europe that sought inspiration in the music of the people. Although they had only a small early tape recorder, they persevered and over a period of ca. 30 years collected 13,000 recordings of genuine folk music! In doing so, Bartok emphasized the common origins and overlap of many other local music traditions, including Romanian, Bulgarian, Turkish, etc. In doing so he was also attempting to develop a modern Hungarian music based on Hungarian themes and not centered on the German classical tradition based in Vienna, during a time when the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed and Hungary was dominated by Austria.
One of the differences he noted between Hungarian folk music and classical German music is that it's themes are often not symmetrical. In other words, whereas in German classical music each bar of music is the same length and the themes are often repeated or inverted, in Hungarian music they were often of different lengths, with a long bar followed by a short bar. This is what gave Hungarian music it's characteristic energy and verve.
What's more Bartok noted that the lengths of the long and short bars were related to each other by what is known as the "Golden section." This is the ratio of lengths that humans find particularly pleasing, such as in the ratio of the sides of a book, or of a windoiw or a doorway. This ratio was discovered by the ancient Greeks when making such perfect statues of the human form, and was later rediscovered by the renaissance painters and allowed them to develop correct perspective. In other words this "Golden" ratio of 1 to 0.618 is found in nature and can be shown to be a constant by geometry, much like pi is the ratio of the circumferance to the radius of a circle. Further, an Italian mathematician of the 13th century named Fibonacci found that a series of numbers related to each other, namely 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89... obtained by adding the previous two numbers together, gave approximately the same ratios in their higher terms as the Golden ratio.
So Bartok used this ratio in his compositions, rather than adhere to the classical German symmetrical form, and as such was an innovator. But, his innovation was not based on using different chords as for example Schoenberg's twelve tone music, but rather in the compositional relationship of the bars. As far as I know Bartok was the only serious musician to do this.
Because of his anti-Fascist views, Bartok was forced to leave Hungary that was then controlled by the pro-Nazi Horthy regime. When his mother died in 1939 he managed to escape to the US and arrived in NY with his family, unknown and penniless, and just before the US became embroiled in WWII. He was in dire poverty and became very ill, and was virtually on his death bed in 1942 with leukemia when visited by his Hungarian friend Serge Koussevitsky, who offered him $1,000, a huge sum, to write a major piece of music. Somehow this stirred Bartok, and he wrote most of the Concerto for Orchestra while still in the hospital. He recovered for a time and died in 1945 after hearing the first performance of his masterpiece.
What makes this composition so unique is that Bartok used the "golden section" as the basis of most of the composition in a thoroughly modern piece. He did compose other pieces of music, such as the startling "Sonata for two pianos and percussion" and the beautiful "Music for strings, percussion and celeste," but none of the magnitude of the Concerto for Orchestra. One further note about this Concerto, that consists of five movements, is that in the fourth movement he has a section that reproduces exactly the famous theme from Shostakovitch's Seventh ("Leningrad") symphony. But, in doing so he interjects a jocular theme after it, as if poking fun at a rival, or at the kind of "monumental" theme music that is so common a feature of Russian and European music.
Overall, I found Brenda Miller's lecture outstanding in that it definitely gave me new insight into a piece of music that I have listened to many times over the years.
Brenda Miller's web site is

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Clever little bastards"

"Clever little bastards" was the description that one of our non-Jewish teachers applied to us Jewish boys at high school. We went to an excellent school called "Central Foundation Boys' School" in Cowper St. in the City of London near Old Street underground station. In the school as a whole there were about 30% Jews, and the relationships, although often friendly, were also often strained. In the Sixth Form, for those who were intending to go for academic or professional careers, the percentage of Jews leapt up to ca. 80-90%. Of course, this was when Jews lived in the East End of London nearby, but most have long since moved away, so we were a special group.
In my batch of friends there were six of us, two of whom went into business and are retired millionaires, one was a lawyer, one a pharmacist and psychologist, myself a Professor of science, and one a contributor to "Gray's Anatomy." Not bad considering our relatively humble origins. We Jews stood out as scholastically superior (there is no politically correct way of saying this), hence the teacher's description, containing a hint of respect.
I thought of this situation when I heard that Israel has so far avoided the world-wide financial meltdown. There are two reasons for this, first when he was Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu reorganized the Israeli economic system, and freed it from the suffocating grip of earlier Bolshevist regulations. In effect he took it from the 19th century into the 21st century as a modern market economy.
The second reason is that the Banks and other institutions in Israel avoided anything like the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US by being conservative in giving loans. They insisted on 20-30% down payment and true evidence of ability to pay. No easy credit, no mortgages of 100% or more, no credit without collateral. This is very simple really, but protected us from the large scale economic downturn and "toxic" debt. As a result of this the Israeli shekel is now one of the strongest currencies in the world.
Now however, the "tsunami" of the world economic crisis is approaching our shores. Israel is after all a tiny market compared to the US, EU, Asia, etc. and cannot exist without close economic ties with them. Globalization means that Israel will have to suffer too. There are already layoffs and concern for pensions, and the Histadrut Labor Union is threatening a national strike to force the Govt. to protect workers pensions, that the Treasury says the Govt. cannot afford.
Nevertheless, there is an increase in investment in Israel, because in a storm capital looks for any secure place. And there are many start-up companies in Israel that have products that could make a lot of money in future markets (e.g. see So I accept the appellation with pride. Let's hope our "little bastards" are clever enough to weather this storm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Secty Hillary Clinton?

According to the Mafia, "keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer." That advice may explain the reason why Pres.-elect Obama has selected Hillary Clinton to be his Secty. of State.
Normally, as in the VP choice, he would tend not to trust the Clintons (they come as a package), but he has to keep an eye on them, and how better than to give her a PR job, travelling the world, representing the USA, and doing what they do best, kibbitzing.
Whether or not Hillary will have an impact on foreign policy, as Condoleeza Rice did, with her comparatively low-key Pres. George W. Bush, is uncertain. But, I'm sure she/they will try. After all, Obama has no foreign policy experience, so there is a vacuum to fill. In terms of the Middle East, I suspect we will be back to the former Clinton policy, pushing the "two-state solution" for all its worth, except that things have changed. Unlike when Bill was Pres., we no longer have Arafat to push us around any more, and now Gaza is in the hands of the pro-Iranian terrorists of Hamas. So there will be a need to make appropriate adjustments. The Clintons have been regarded as pro-Israel, especially since Hillary was NY Senator, but anything can change, especially in politics, and probably will.
A harbinger of change is the meeting of the two "lame-ducks" Olmert and Bush, meeting in the White House now. The ostensible reason for the meeting is for Olmert to ensure that all the commitments that Bush gave to him regarding Israel, including the all-important letter that excludes some regions of West Bank Israeli population centers (Maale Adumim, Etzion, Ariel, etc.) that will be exempt from transfer to the PA, will be honored by the Obama Administration.
Even though Bill/Hillary will be eager to follow up on his lost opportunity after the election of Bush, nevertheless the Obama Administration in its first days will initially be focussed on the financial crisis, so we may have a breather before the US focuses on our region. Before then hopefully we will have our own elections in Feb, and we'll see where that takes us. With new Govts. in both the USA and Israel, Abbas gradually losing power in the PA areas (although still talking big), and Iran coming more to the fore, we may enter an entirely new situation.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peace moves?

Some things do change. For example, for the first time the PA took out ads in four Israeli newspapers (three in Hebrew and one in English) describing the Saudi/Arab peace plan. This is clearly an attempt to persuade Israeli public opinion that the "moderate" Palestinians of the PLO and PA really want peace, and to try to influence the outcome of the coming election. Whether or not this will have any effect remains to be seen, but it is certainly a new approach, much better than using terrorists and gunfire to persuade us.
But, have no illusions, this Saudi-Arab plan is not generally in Israel's interests, since it requires Israel to return to the 1949 ceasefire lines (what Abba Eban called "Auschwitz borders"), give up all the areas mainly on the West Bank that were "occupied", and accept the return of millions of Palestinian so-called "refugees." But, it has one very positive aspect, that all Arab countries would make peace with Israel if the Palestinian problem were solved. However, once again it requires Israel to make real on the ground concessions for unenforceable steps with enemies who can hardly be trusted. FM Tzipi Livni criticized it as a "take it or leave it deal."
Also, it does not include Hamas in Gaza, Hizbollah in Lebanon, and of course Iran. So we can go on making peace with Abbas and the PA and the others for as long as we like, while still coming under rocket fire from Gaza and possible destruction from Lebanon and Iran.
In a related move, PM Olmert and FM Livni went to Amman secretly to meet with King Abdullah. Of course, the King asked them to stop the blockade of Gaza to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe there and not to invade Gaza. So did the UN Secty. General, Ban-ky Mun. But, Israel has pointed out that there is no "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza because they are freely importing goods thru thousands of tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border, and we are not supplying goods thru the border gates with Gaza because they are bombarding us with rockets and mortars and trying to kill our people. However, since noone has so far been killed, Defense Min. Barak has issued threats, but has not followed up on them. This is the usual pattern, we take their rockets, their breaking of the so-called ceasefire, and issue threats and do nothing. As a consequence they don't fear our threats and continue to hit Sderot and Ashkelon on a daily basis. They have made us (or at least the Kadima Govt.) used to this situation.
Meanwhile in London, Pres. Shimon Peres was given an honor by the Queen and made a member of the Order of St. George. He gave speeches at the House of Commons and the London Town Hall, and weathered the storm of the debating society at Balliol College Oxford, where he was constantly interrupted and heckled by members of the audience. Nevertheless the vast majority gave him a rousing reception.
Since the Govt. is actually a lame-duck caretaker Govt., that is not supposed to make any major steps, it is not suprising that Pres. Peres (who is not supposed to set policy) gave a strong endorsement of the Saudi Plan, and the visit to Jordan and the continuing meetings with the PA seem to also endorse this. We hope that Olmert (who is still not yet under indictment) will not try to carry out a major "peace move", before the elections which are scheduled for Febrary 10, 2009.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freedom of speech

I find myself in the unenviable position of being a lightning rod in the clash between extreme religious belief and open and free expression. Here's how this situation came about.
Having read the books "Who wrote Shakespeare?" by John Michell, and "Who wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman, both well known experts in their respective fields, it occured to me that they would make an interesting pair of book reviews. I have been invited many times to review books for the AACI Library Club, and when Rachel Rubin-Hirsch, Exective Director of the AACI, called and asked me to give one or two book reviews I sent her a blurb and she agreed and we arranged the dates and she put the blurb into the AACI Bulletin for November.
Here is the actual blurb:
"Who wrote the two most important books in the world, the Bible and Shakespeare? Actually no-one really knows! Consider this, William Shakespeare had no formal education, no example of his hand-written texts have ever been found, when he died there was no ceremony (contrasted with many contempories), and 18 of the plays published in the First Folio in 1623 (7 years after his death) had never been seen before. There are many other candidates for the writer of "Shakespeare," including Christopher Marlowe, and each will be considered.
If you accept that God himself did not actually write the Bible, then who did? Biblical exegesis has been going on for over 100 years, and it is now pretty much accepted that 5 main hands wrote the Five Books of Moses (not one for each book). The presence of duplication in the Bible is a common feature, find out why. The identity of some of the authors of the Bible will be considered.
There will be two lectures by Prof. Jack Cohen, one based on "Who wrote Shakespeare" by John Michell and one on "Who wrote the Bible?" by Richard Friedman, each acknowledged experts in the field."

At first sight this seems quite innocuous. However, soon the AACI received calls and e-mails threatening to resign if I was allowed to give the talk on the Bible! One woman in particular organized this and gave them an ultimatum and threatened disruption if I was allowed to go ahead with the talk. So I had a meeting with the President, Arthur Opolion, and Rachel and I was told about these objections and I was asked if maybe it would be better not to deliver this lecture. I refused, I said that the two talks were conceived as a pair, and that to give in to this kind of religious coercion would amount to censorship. Since the AACI is not a religious organization, it is perfectly permissible to present these kind of educational lectures and if anyone disagreed they simply could stay away, or come and civilly ask questions or resign. I said that if I was forced not to give this talk I would give neither and I would resign as VP and I was sure that many more secular people would resign than ultra-orthodox. Well, we agreed that I should go ahead and give the talks and later the Board was presented with the situation (I was away) and voted overwhelmingly to support my right to speak.
Later someone sent me a copy of the letter this woman had distributed, and I add it here with my reply:
"Dear Friends,
As a life member of AACI, I am requesting a few minutes of your time. Most of you are also members, I believe. If you read the November AACI bulletin, you may have seen that there was an annoucement of Prof. Jack Cohen who is going to give two lectures, one in November and one in December. The subject of the December lecture is total APIKORSIS. He is going to speak about how our holy Torah was written by different people, which is a huge "CHILLUL HASHEM". The exact writeup was as follows:
"If you accept that G-d himself did not actually write the Bible, then who did? Biblical exegesis has been going on for over 100 years and it is now pretty much accepted that 5 main hands wrote the Five Books of Moses (one for each book). Duplication in the Bible is a common feature and we will find out why. The identity of some of the authors of the Bible will also be considered."
This is the height of aetheism and has no place in a public forum in Eretz Yisrael. It's like a missionary speaking, "l'havdil". Chas V'Shalom someone not religious should hear this and believe the garbage, and many of AACI's members are not religious and very susceptible to be persuaded.
Please write an e-mail or call AACI to the attention of Mr. Arthur Opolion, the chairman of AACI, and ask him to call off the lecture. I called him and also Rachel last week, and after giving them 10 days to do that, Arthur told me tonight that Cohen WILL speak on that subject. I told him I will make trouble if he does that. And he as a religious man will also have to answer to Hashem for doing it.
The Dec. bulletin is almost ready for printing, and I am pleading with you to side with me and have him "uninvite" Prof. Cohen to give that lecture by telling him that it's a huge Chillul Hashem, and there's a big protest, and everyone involved will have their "cheshbon" with Hashem, if it takes place. Freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to "overthrow" G-d.
I have also asked Rabbi Leff to call him, and will have other rabbis do the same, if needed, or appear there to refute him and make him look like a fool.
Opolion's e-mail is: AACI's e-mail is:
If indeed, the Prof. does go ahead and speak on that subject, I ask all of you to appear at AACI on that morning (Thursday Dec. 18th) and disrupt his speech.
Please tell your friends and neighbors to protest as well.
Please do not write me and tell me everyone can say whatever he wants. No he can't!!! There are limits. Doubting that G-d wrote the holy Torah, with which the world was created, is the height of being a "boor and am ha'aretz". If the professor would learn what the Torah is all about, he wouldn't talk that way.
Thanks so much. "Tizku L'mitzvot"
Sandy Portnoy"

Here is my distributed reply:
Dear Mrs. Portnoy:
I am in receipt of the letter that you are circulating that is both inflammatory and insulting.
First, let me inform you of some facts of which you are apparently ignorant:
1. The two book reviews that I suggested to Rachel are the latest in a series of reviews that I have been asked to give at AACI and I suggested them to her as a related pair for their educational content. The titles of the talks are merely the titles of the two books, one on Shakespeare and the other on the Bible.
2. The book "Who wrote the Bible?" is authored by an eminent expert, Prof. Richard Elliott Friedman, Prof. of Judaic Studies at the University of Georgia (formerly at UCSD), and himself an Orthodox Jew. You can look him up, he is well known in the field. He published this book in 1987 as a popular account of his more scholarly works. This book has sold perhaps a million copies since then and is widely known and available (this is what you call "garbage" without ever having seen it).
3. I in no way will discuss the question of the existence of God (i.e. I am not trying to "overthrow God,"), nor will I analyze the content of the Bible as such, only what is Friedman's analysis based on 100 years of Biblical exegesis.
4. I think it is objectionable and arrogant for you to start a campaign to censor my talk and to give AACI "ten days" to accept your ultimatum, when you are evidently ignorant of the actual situation.
As a VP of AACI, which is not a religious organization, I would resign and leave AACI, perhaps with many other secular people, who reject this kind of crude religious coercion, if your campaign succeeds.
What is needed is reasoned discussion, not threats of disruption. Instead of strengthening klal yisrael, your letter is an example of division and is reprehensible.
Yours etc.
Jack Cohen

The first lecture on Shakespeare is to be given tomorrow, let's hope that doesn't arouse too much controversy!

Obama and the Arabs

There have been a spate of reports about President-elect Obama's contacts with the Arab world. A report was published in the London Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, by Hamas operative Ahmed Youssef, that Obama and Hamas have had secret contacts throughout the election campaign. Both the Obama team and Hamas in Gaza have denied this, but the denials are routine. It is unlikely that Youssef would have published this without Hamas permission, although it may merely be a smokescreen.
There are other reports, published in the Times of London and elsewhere, that Obama recently sent Robert Malley as an emissary to Pres. Assad of Syria to discuss bilateral relations. Malley was a junior advisor on the Middle East to the Clinton Administration. He is deeply antagonistic to Israel, and his view, similar to that of Zbignew Bryzinski, is that US foreign policy is too closely related to Israeli interests. Both Malley and Bryzinski were "informal" advisors to the Obama election campaign.
While these stories have not been confirmed and may only be straws in the wind, nevertheless there is some concern in pro-Israel circles that once again a US President bent on "solving" the Middle East situation, will be tempted to do so by currying favor with the Arabs and pressuring Israel to make concessions to them. Instead of having a "new" foreign policy, the make-up of the Obama Middle East expert team, including Rahm Emanuel, David Ross, and two former US Ambassadors to Israel, Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, looks suspiciously like the Clinton crew, and in addition this time we may have Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State. None of these people are anti-Israel, but like many American Jews they tend to the liberal view that peace is possible only if Israel were more prepared to talk to the Arabs and give them what they want. The problem is that each time Israel has done that, for example the Oslo Accords, the Lebanon withdrawal, and the Gaza disengagement, our situation got worse, with the intifada, Hizbollah attacks and missiles onto the Negev, respectively. This accumulated experience has made Israelis punch drunk, we don't want any more counter-punches, so we the majority prefer to wait until the Arabs themselves are prepared to make some concessions.
Recently the UN held an interfaith convention in NY that was proposed by Saudi King Fahd. That he would do this is in itself extraordinary, and indicates some change in the situation. He also shook hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres and none of the Arabs walked out when Peres spoke. May I be cynical and suggest that this change in attitude has been engendered by the Iranian thrust for hegemony in the Middle East and particularly their race to develop nuclear weapons. Even if Israel were not on the scene this would be a deep threat to the Sunni Muslim Arab majority, who are in no position to counter the Iranian Shia threat themselves.
Both the Bush Administration and the Obama team have indicated their tacit support for the so-called Saudi Peace Plan, which is nothing more than the Arab plan for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders, or put another way, to the "borders" that resulted from the 1949 armistice agreement. Not only were they not borders but ceasefire lines, but that would also represent a deep show of weakness by Israel that is a sign to them that their policies are working, without direct military confrontation with Israel. If anyone needed a sure sign that this policy is working you had only to listen to PM Olmert's speech at the Rabin memorial ceremony recently, when he said that Israel must be preapared for deep withdrawals on all fronts and the division of Jerusalem. In other words the plan is "give them what they want and they'll be satisfied"! This will undoubtedly empower them to subsequently demand more, as they always do. What will they then demand for recognition?
The irony is that this process results from the threat of Iranian Shia Islam that forces them into a more pro-American stance, depending on US protection, for which they demand in return the price of Israel's surrender. And finally the irony is compounded by the fact that while the Arabs and the US will be trying to weaken Israel, at present Israel is the only power in the Middle East capable of countering Iran.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beyond the seventh step

Wednesday we went on a trip to Hebron, the city that was once the cradle of the Jewish people and the center of Judea, before Jerusalem was captured by King David and outshone it.
Most people know that the forefather of the Jews, Abraham, first went to Hebron and bought the cave of Machpela for a large sum of silver in order to bury his wife, Sarah, there and for himself when he died. Later according to tradition this cave became the burial site of his sons who were the Jewish patriachs, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, Rebecca and Leah. It is not surprising therefore that Hebron was considered to be one of the four holy cities in Israel, and that Jews lived there and in the nearby city of Kiryat Arba. Arba means four and it is supposed that this was named for the four couples, including Adam and Eve.
If we fast forward, after the Arab conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century, Jews were gradually expelled from Hebron and Kiryat Arba disappeared. There were still several hundred Jews living in Hebron in the 1920s when the Arab riots began. In 1929, the Arabs, fomented with anti-Semitic propaganda by the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, revolted, and while British police stood by, attacked the Jewish quarter, killing, raping and maiming. 67 Jews were killed, including the two Rabbis who were the doctor and pharmacist at the Beth Hadassah Hospital, built 1893, who had given free treatment to Jews and Arabs without discrimination. They and their families were murdered and their offices and homes were desecrated and Beth Hadassah was destroyed. In a small museum in the Beth Hadassah, rebuilt in 1985, that is now an apartment block, there are photos of the survivors whose fingers and hands were hacked off. The Arabs in Hebron have always been known for their vicious hatred of Jews. When they wanted the riot to cease the British stepped in and fired a few shots and it stopped, but by then it was too late. The British then removed the remaining Jews to Jerusalem and there were no Jews in Hebron, after millenia, until the area was recaptured by the IDF in 1967 and Jews began to return to Hebron in the 1970s and Kiryat Arba was reestablished.
When Herod was King of Israel, he had an edifice complex and built cities, such as Caesarea, he expanded the Temple in Jerusalem, built Palaces at Masada and Herodion, and also built an edifice over the cave of Machpela in Hebron. This was similar in appearance, but much smaller than the Temple in Jerusalem. Later rulers expanded the building, particularly the Turks, and then the Arabs took over the complex, ousted all Jewish connection and turned it into a Mosque, since they regard Abraham as their forefather (copycats). The entrance stairway was on the right of the Herodian building, and there was gate with a guard on the seventh step. Jews were not allowed to go beyond the seventh step for a period of 700 years! As a result they prayed at the outside of the building nearby, and that area is still used by Orthodox Jews today and is stained black by the use of candles for centuries.
When I learned about this indignity visited upon our people by the cruel Arabs when I was a teenager, I was personally affronted, and I vowed that one day I would go beyond that seventh step. Today I realized that ambition. The steps, being so old are now very worn and the Israelis have moved the entrance to the other side of the building and put in new steps. But, going beyond that seventh step was a psychological experience.
When the IDF captured the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Caves of Machpela in Hebron, Moshe Dayan did an incredible thing, he handed control of them over to the Muslim religious organization, the Waqf. I suppose he thought they would show their gratitude by being magnanimous. The outcome was of course that Jews were restricted from entering and praying at both sites. Eventually pressure prevailed and the Jews claimed nearly half of the building in Hebron, and we were able to go inside and visit several synagogues as well as the sites revered as the burial places of the patriarchs, although they are actually believed to be in the caves beneath the structure, but are not accessible because noone is allowed down there. The Mosque is also closed off to Jews.
The precise relationship of Jews and Arabs in Hebron was negotiated at Wye Plantation, Maryland, in 1998 by PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasir Arafat, according to which Israel received ca. 15% of the divided city. There have been numerous terrorist acts by the Palestinians, such as the shooting of 7 month old Shalhevet Pass who was sitting in her wheelchair and was deliberately shot by a sniper, and the muder of 9 Israelis. Baruch Goldstein also carried out a massacre of Arabs praying in the Machpela mosque in 1994.
We visited the two small areas of Jewish resettlement, where ca. 500 Jews reside in a population of ca. 135,000 Arabs. They are guarded by a contingent of IDF soldiers and police. We saw a small group of people dressed in blue uniforms with red insignia reading TIPH, or Temporary International Presence in Hebron. They come from 6 countries, three Scandinavian, Turkey, France and Switzerland, all great friends of Israel (?). Although unarmed, their job is to monitor the agreement and make sure that there are no violations. It seemed to me that their presence there was essentially useless.
While we were transiting Hebron in our bus we saw a small crowd of well-dressed gentleman and some Israeli police cars nearby. From the newspaper this morning we learn that it was a delegation of diplomats including the Chilean FM who were touring with a PA guide, but this had not been cleared with the IDF, and the tour was consequently stopped.
Clearly the Jews who live in Hebron are religious fundamentalists and the Arabs hate them. But, the Israeli Govt. has just allowed two groups of 350 armed Palestinian police under PA control to enter Hebron and start to patrol the Arab areas. They are supposedly there to maintain law and order and particularly to remove any Hamas extremists. This may seem positive, but one wonders how long it will be before their guns will be used against the Jewish minority.
Visiting Hebron was not exactly pleasant, the bus we used was armoured and had double bulletproof windows, through which you could hardly see anything. The feeling in most places was grim and there were hardly any people on the streets, Jews or Arabs. This is a very unsettled area, and one feels that the instability can erupt into violence at any moment. Still I'm very glad that I went to finally go beyond the seventh step.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local elections results

The local elections in Israel had two important results. In Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, the secular businessman, won by 52% to 43% over the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) candidate, Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism. This represents a welcome break with the recent past, when the combined population of haredim managed to get one of their own, Uri Lupoliansky, elected 5 years ago. It is noteworthy that because of internal divisions, Barkat managed to attract a portion of the haredi and Orthodox vote, indicating that it is not monolithic and has become more sophisticated. Although he was not a terrible mayor, many people felt that Lupoliansky neglected quite a few areas, such as trying to develop businesses and jobs to keep young people in Jerusalem. Now, with Nir Barkat that problem should be tackled seriously.
In Tel Aviv, the result was the reelection of the incumbent Ron Huldai who beat the challenger MK Dov Henin, of the Hadash (Communist) party for a third term by 51% to 34%. Huldai was going to retire, but the possibility that a hard-left candidate would become mayor of Israel's main business center was too much, so he ran again and fortunately won. In other cities incumbents were reelected, such as in Haifa and Netanya. But, in Beersheva the ailing mayor Yaakov Terner (76) was beaten by a much younger candidate, Rubik Danilowitz (37), who had been his deputy. This effect happened in several races, including Ashdod, where the former mayor had been in office for 25 years, and this was called by some "the Obama effect."
One difference between Israel and the US is that local elections here are not indicators for the results of general elections, the next one being in three months. The major political parties, Kadima, Likud and Labor, are quite weak in local election races, and many of the candidates run for small and independent parties that specialize in specific areas of local concern, such as the greens on the environment, or educational or social welfare parties. That's why there are so many small parties in local races (there were 25 in Netanya). Nevertheless, the mayors often align themselves with one of the major parties because they too have national ambitions. But, another interpretation is that people are fed up with the large national parties and so choose to vote "against" them as a protest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Christian violence

Sunday there was a melee at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, in which Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians battled each other for control of access to a structure believed to be the tomb of Jesus. Israeli police were on the spot and tried to separate the two groups of monks, but there were not enough of them and reinforcements had to be brought in. Two monks, one of each group was arrested and several monks were injured and had to be treated. Apparently the Armenians were having a traditional parade and one of their number transgressed over the line of the Greek Orthodox area, which resulted in a scuffle that grew into an all out brawl.

This might come as a surprise to many of you who think of Christianity as a peaceful religion (apart from the fact that they killed Jews for nearly 2,000 years). The Church of the Holy Sepuchre is one of the holiest shrines in Christianity and not surprisingly several of the distinct sects of Christianity claim control over specific areas of it. These are mostly the earlier Churches, not only the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian, but also the Coptic, Ethiopian, Eastern Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox. Over the centuries there have been many disputes, that have resulted today in a patchwork of control of different jealously guarded areas of control. On a hot summer day in 2002 a Coptic monk guarding the Coptic region of the roof moved his chair into the shade and this trigggered a fracas with the Ethiopians in which 11 monks were injured. In another dispute, sometime in the 19th century someone put a ladder up against a window of the Holy Sepulchre to investigate the decay there. Unfortunately, the two sects that control that part of the building, the Ethiopians and the Copts, cannot agree who should remove the ladder, and so it sits there to this day (I kid you not), and no work can be done because of it. According to the Israeli authorities the roof is now in a dangerous condition and may collapse, but the sects will not agree to the repairs. According to Israeli law, there should be a fire safety exit to the Church apart from the small entrance that everybody uses. But, the various sects cannot agree where it should be located. So remember, if you enter the Holy Sepuchre it is at your own risk. If there is a fire, there is only one small exit for all monks and tourists. Incidentally the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also identified as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, called Golgotha, the place of the skull, and "golgolet" means skull in Hebrew.

Since there is no undisputed evidence for the Holy Sepulchre Church to contain the actual tomb of Jesus, Protestants generally prefer to identify the so-called "Garden Tomb" outside the walls of the Old City as his tomb, although likewise there is no clear evidence for that location either. Aside from this famous Church, many of the denominations, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, as well as Ethiopian, have separate Churches in Jerusalem, many of which are worth a visit. In addition there is the Church of All Nations, where the guides tell you that all the sects of Christianity pray there together in harmony.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crystal skulls

When I was a teenager I had a vacation job working near Tottenham Court Road in London. In my lunch breaks I used to go and visit the British Museum nearby, entering by the back entrance to avoid the crowds. Near that entrance was a special exhibit, highlighting a crystal skull reportedly from one of the ancient Central American civilizations, Aztec or Maya. This was a magnificent object, made of a single piece of quartz, that was totally transparent, that brightly reflected the lights shone upon it, and it was polished to a fine smooth sheen. For many years I imagined how these ancient savage civilizations had held such an object in religious awe.
Recently the lastest Indiana Jones movie, entitled "Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skulls" was based on the myth that there are 13 such skulls and that when they are returned to their place in a specific Mayan site, they will exhibit magical properties, like an ancient computer. Balderdash!
Now I saw a program on National Geographic in which several researchers put these skulls to the test. There are such skulls in the Museum of Enthnography in Paris, one the British Museum and one in the Smithsonian. However, there is one particular skull, called the "skull of doom," that was supposedly discovered by the daughter, Anna, of a well known adventurer and amateur archeologist, upon whom the role of Indiana Jones is based, namely Frederick Mitchell Hedges. According to her account, they were excavating at a Mayan site in 1924 when she was 16, when she decided to climb to the top of a pyramid, where she discovered a hole. When her father and others let her down on ropes through the hole, when she reached the bottom she saw something shining and when she picked it up she discovered that it was a crystal skull.
There are a few things that don't quite jibe in this account. First, the expedition notes of Frederick Mitchell Hedges make no mention of the discovery of any such hole nor of the crystal skull. Second, in various accounts dating from the mid-1930s, Anna uses different dates, ranging from 1924-1929 for the discovery. Further, a little known article was discovered in the British Museum archives in which two crystal skulls were compared in the 1930's, and although one of the skulls was clearly identical to the "skull of doom", it had been borrowed from a London dealer, who later sold it in a private sale, registered by Sothebys, to none other than (you guessed it) Frederick Mitchell Hedges.
Now that the provenance of the "skull of doom" was in doubt, the question was where in fact did the four skulls extant actually come from. Scientists used three methods of analysis, first surface electron microscopy to detect minute marks made by tools on the surface, second, chemical analysis of minute particles in tiny holes on the surface, and third minute inclusions of other minerals in the quartz that are characteristic of the original source of the quartz. They compared a small quartz crystal goblet that had been discovered in an excavation that was definitely authentic Mayan. They found three things, first, the marks on the surface of the goblet and of the skulls were entirely different, while those on the goblet were shallow and random in direction, those on the skulls were deeper and parallel, and this was consistent with the use of a mechanical wheel that had not been introduced until the mid 18th century. A chemical agent found on the surface was silicon carbide (carborundum), that was not used until the same period, and the inclusions were not consistent with quartz from Central America, but rather from Madagascar!
Two of the skulls, those in the British and French museums, were traced to a specific French antiquities dealer named Bonan in the mid 18th century and it was also found that Madagascar began exporting large quartz crystals to France at about that time. The one in the Smithsoniam was apparently made much later and shows signs of laser marks. So the crystal skulls are definitely forgeries!
Nevertheless, some still claim that the skulls give off emanations and when touched provide psychics with esoteric knowledge of the spirit world. But, as far as I am concerned that's another case of cherished illusions shattered by careful scientifc analysis.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Prospects for Obama

Obama proposes "change," but there are two changes that he will have to deal with that will be quite difficult for him, first the economy and second foreign policy.
When Bush introduced the b$700 bail-out of Wall Street, it was against his general conservative philosophy, but he did it because he was persuaded that it was necessary. Obama's first priority is the economy, and what did the market do when he was elected, it continued to slide. Generally this is what always happens when a Democrat is elected because the market expects him to expand Govt. spending on social programs, that is bound to lead to less available credit and increased taxes. Now, Obama said that his program was to increase the tax only on the top 5% of earners, but this includes most large to middle size businesses, and what are they going to do in response, reduce their expenditures by firing employees. So this approach cannot improve the economy. Obama will have to adopt conservative programs, opposite to his liberal preferences, in order to rescue the market. If he doesn't then he will be responsible for any further deterioration of the market after he takes office.
Since Russia has amassed large amounts of cash from sales of its oil and gas, the Russian Govt. is flexing its muscles, as indicated by the recent conflict in Georgia, which can be expected in response to the expansion of the EU and NATO further and further eastwards. If the US is pressured by Russia, and Iran and N. Korea, it will need all the allies it can get. Of course, the first option is to send a carrier task force as an implied threat, as Bush has done in the Persian Gulf. Even though Obama's liberal sympathies may lie with discussing with potential enemies and with the poor Palestinians, when times are uncertain a President must look at the world chessboard and see what pieces he has. Israel is the best and largest "aircraft carrier" that the US has. If push comes to shove, Israel is there to cooperate with the US under any circumstances. The more the Russians threaten and Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons, the more the US will need a strong Israel. No President can ignore this!
It is also true that although Obama has largely adopted the Clinton approach to the Middle East by coopting most of Clinton's former Middle East experts, such as David Ross, Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, all of whom are Jewish, all of whom cooperated with Arafat and none of whom are fully trusted by the Israeli foreign service. But, since their tenure, Israel withdrew from Gaza, which came under the complete control of Hamas. Notwithstanding endless negotiations between Fatah and Hamas, there is very little likelihood of an accomodation between them, about as much as between Israel and the Palestinians. Before the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be resolved, the intra-Palestinian conflict must be resolved, and it is unlikely that either can be without some major outbreak of violence. Also, Iran is not arming and training its proxies, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, for nothing. Obama wants to withdraw from Iraq and to avoid all foreign conflicts, but reality is a harsh taskmaster and he may find he has no choice.

Note: The above was written before Obama's first press conference on Friday, in which he spoke firmly about Iran. Also, both Ahmedinejad of Iran and Khaled Maashal of Hamas (in Damascus) have since requested direct talks with Obama, that's what you get when your approach is so naieve.

Friday, November 07, 2008

On being Black

Now that Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the USA, we may try to understand why. In doing so it is important to remember that he was selected and elected by a majority of the white population of the USA. It is also important to note that whites actually no longer constitute a majority in comparison to all other minorities, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. in the USA.
Some years ago, I remember seeing an article in Time magazine about what the ideal American will look like in the next century, and that person was a light tanned color, neither Black nor White, but something in between, maybe with a hint of Hispanic and Asian added in. This assumed not only a post-racist, multi-cultural society, but also one in which race mixing will be common. Barack Obama is the predictor of that. Obama's mother was from Kansas, the white heartland of America, and she married a Black student from Africa, Obama's father, and after divorcing him, then an Indonesian Muslim. Not typical I would say, but nevertheless an increasingly common occurence. My wife's niece married a man of Bangladeshi origin in the UK, and such couplings are now no longer frowned upon in society. From my perspective that is good, showing a more liberal, tolerant attitude of Western society. But, as a Jew it also has some problems, because as a small minority in a huge population, intermarriage is a formula for extinction.
Obama is the epitome of the ascendence of Blacks to many roles in American society, for example, Colin Powell was Chief of Staff of the US forces, Condoleeza Rice is Secretary of State, NY State has a Black (and blind) Governor, David Patterson, and in sports of course many Blacks have reached the highest levels, for example the Williams sisters in tennis, Tiger Woods in golf, Lewis Hamilton is the first black (and British) racing car champion for 2008, and of course many Blacks dominate American football and basketball. This indicates a total opening of society to blacks and others and contrary to the prejudices of the European left and other movements around the world, that the US is a racist, fascist society, it is anything but, and is in fact more liberal in that respect than they are (noone expects a Black PM of Britain any time soon).
The gracious and immediate acknowledgement of Obama's victory by his opponent, John McCain, and by his predecessor, George Bush, are a model of democratic practise. There are very few countries in the world where such a monumental societal change could take place without any disruption whatsoever. I note that although George W. Bush is vilified by a large segment of society, that is largely unjustified. The state of the economy cannot be ascribed to him or to his actions, it developed over a period of many years (at least ten) due to the political decisions of Democrats to provide easier credit and of Republicans to deregulate the market. Also, the Iraq war, although it seems to have been a mistake to many, was in fact a very important event, for two reasons, first it prevented Islamism from taking root in the center of the Arab world (with US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan they have been essentially defeated in both) and second it showed the long reach of America's arm. Under Obama there will likely be a retraction of that reach, but too much, too quickly will result in a vacuum that will be filled by our enemies and will likely be to our detriment.
Another aspect of the current situation warrants comment. Around much of the world, including the Muslim world, there is a rumor that "the Jews" are behind the economic crisis. There are of course many Jews on Wall Street, and the US economy has been tended by Charimen of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan. In Europe, not so long ago, this would have caused anti-Jewish riots, but in the US, apart from some comments on the air waves, there has been no overt manifestation. Further, this morning's paper has a prominent photograph of Obama and his newly appointed Jewish White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who has been his friend and supporter for many years. This position is crucial and influential regarding access to and operations of the President, but does not itself set policy, that is reserved for the respective Secretaries of Departments, such as State, Defense and Treasury.
It has been pointed out that Rahm in Hebrew means thunder and Barack means lightning, so we may be in for a stormy period.

The day after

Are they starting already? The day after Barack Obama was elected President of the USA, in fact he is now officially President-elect, there were two major happenings.
The IDFdiscovered a large tunnel that was imminently going to be used by Hamas to try to capture more IDF hostages form the Israeli side. But, the IDF went in and blew it up and interdicted the terrorists. In response the western Negev was bombarded with 40 rockets by Palestinian terrorists in violation of the ceassefire agreemnet. In the gunfight that ensued 6 IDF soldiers were injured and 6 Hamas gunmen were killed. This action was probably not timed deliberately, since both sides prefer to have a ceasefire at present.
Russian President Medvedev gave a strong speech in the Kremlin in which he lambasted the USA, and particularly the building of anti-missile radar systems in Poland and the Czech Republic and threatened that if they become operational the Russians would install blocking devices in the enclave of Kaliningrad. This could lead to a clash between the two countries, although Russia is no longer the superpowoer that the USSR once was. The timing of this speech was almost certainly deliberate.
It was rumored that the Russian President will want to meet with Pres-elect Obama, during the upcoming meeting of the G-8 powers in Washington to discuss the economic crisis. Maybe a "feeling out" like Khruschev did with Kennedy.
There was no move by Iran, probably because they have their own problems. The Interior Minister of Iran, Ali Kordan, was impeached by the Parliament (Majlis) yesterday since he was found to have lied in his applicaton for appointment, and the copy of the Oxford degree that he claimed to have was found to be forged, with even bad spelling mistakes. Pres. Ahmedinejad supported his friend and appointee, and so his position has been undermined. There was even an attempt to bribe members of Parliament not to vote against Kordan, and Ahmedinejad was also forced to fire the official who offered the bribes. The conservative Imams who chose Ahmedinejad have been embarrassed by these actions.
In the USA, after the celebrating, Obama announced his first appointment, that of Rahm Emanuel to the position of Chief of Staff, in other words head of his office in the White House. This is great news since Emanuel is well-known to be a pro-Israel Congressman from Illinois, whose mother is Israeli, and who has been a friend and supporter of Obama from the beginning.
I don't take back any of my concerns about Obama, but I do agree that a new day has dawned in the USA, that the promise of Martin Luther King has to a large extent been realised, and that Obama is certainly capable of carrying out his role as President with dignity and aplomb.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More elections

You are lucky your elections are over! Last night we had a Candidate's forum at the AACI, our local English-speaking association, for the upcoming local Israeli elections. There will be local/municipal elections on Nov 11 here. In Netanya there are 25 (yes, 25!) parties. There will be two votes, one for mayor (4 candidates) and one for City Council (25 parties). Last night only 8 of the parties came and made a presentation. They were very impressive, relatively young people who are truly commited to improvements in the City, focussing on environment, education, health and welfare.
Of those who spoke, I was particularly impressed by 4 candidates: A very tall, very attractive woman in a tight black dress, who nearly got my vote on looks alone. She is a Lieut. Col. in the IDF and is involved with a Party called "For Netanya" that is active in trying to ensure that the laws regarding health, welfare and education are implemented by the City. There was a young man representing the "Young Netanyaites" who spoke passionately about his commitment to improving the schools and the education of children in Netanya. Another was an immigrant from South Africa from a party called "Keshet" (rainbow) that seeks to help the most needy immigrants with little income and education. Also, there was a representative of a party called "Gal" (wave), who has been on the Council for several years, and is now the Head of the environment portfolio, and he is also a Doctor at the local Hospital. With representatives like these to choose between, it is surprising that the City is not already a shining star on the hill.
The Mayor spoke last, Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar (the "Ikar" is her second marriage and means "main" in Hebrew). She is very well known to Netanyaites and is likely to win in a landslide, and that's why so few are opposing her. She was a member of Likud, but this time she is running as an independent with her own party "One Netanya." She is a tall, blond haired woman with a strong impression, and blasted all the other parties for claiming credit for things that she had done and implemented. Everyone gives her credit for doing a lot for Netanya in the past few years. She brought some of her predominantly young representatives for the City Countil with her, and asked us to vote for them so that she can really get things done.
At that point reality intervened, and one of our friends who was sitting next to us and we had brought by car, started to have chest pains, so I rushed her off to the emergency room and missed the end of the show. Fortunately, it was not a heart attack, and she was kept in hospital overnight for tests.
A controversial speech was given last week by an ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) candidate, Meir Porush, for Mayor in Jerusalem, who said that in future all Mayors in Israel will be Haredi (because of their higher birth rate). Later under pressure he amended this to mean only cities with a Haredi majority would have Haredi Mayors (because they vote as a block). By the way, in Israel if you talk about someone being "black" you don't mean the color off his skin, but rather his adherence to the Haredi way of life, since they all wear predominantly black. The current Mayor of Jerusalem, Haim Lupoliansky, was elected in precisely that way, because of the burgeoning Haredi population in Jerusalem. Many secular people do not like this because the Haredi population are not particularly Zionist and are not very efficient either. In Jerusalem a secular Israeli, Nir Barkat, a local businessman, is running against the Haredi candidate.
So we have more elections, and after these local ones is the Israeli General Election that is due to take place on February 10. It seems never-ending.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thoughts on election day

Ok, so I'm biased, but if I offended anyone I'm sorry. Barack Obama is an amazing man, an excellent orator and a suitable candidate for President. He must be, he defeated all other comers for the Democratic primary, including the Clinton machine, and that was no mean feat. There is no doubt that if he is elected President, as expected, there will be major changes in America, and possibly the world. Obama will change the face of American politics, not only because he's Black, but because of his liberal views and attitudes. In many respects I will be happy if a Black man is elected President, because it does signify that the US is not as racist and bigoted a society as most of the world, especially the European left, think. It will make a mockery of the UN and the upcoming Durban II conference "against racism," that accuses the West of being inherently racist and anti-Muslim.
I can support many of Obama's domestic policies without any problem, including legalized freedom of choice for abortions, legalized gay marriage, taxing the very wealthy to ensure that others do not starve, affordable health insurance for all, affordable education for all, and cheap credit so the poor can buy houses (that got us into all the trouble in the first place). These are nice liberal policies that will cost a hell of a lot of money and in providing them and thus taxing the earners, as a good Democrat in the European liberal tradition, he will probably put the country in worse debt.
What worries me of course is his foreign policy. But, there have been several inexperienced Presidents who have risen to the occasion, Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bush and the Twin Towers. So even if tested Obama may do the right thing, but unfortunately we don't know that and it's taking a terrible risk if he doesn't respond effectively to a crisis. So far, since Israel's creation, no President, while in office, has been anything but supportive of Israel (although we had some close shaves with Nixon and Carter). But, it is worrying that Iran, Russia or N. Korea may be more tempted to either subvert the US or attack it's interest somewhere in the world, and it could be Israel.
McCain, I will admit, is old, uncharismatic and perhaps a little past it. He is crusty and is not as articulate as his opponent. But, in my opinion, as a genuine war hero with both military and congressional experience, he is just what we need in a President. The responsibility is a terrible burden and I can't help thinking Obama is too glib and flippant for the job. However, according to the polls he is likely to be our next President. So kudos to the Americans for picking great candidates, and whoever is elected, may the best man win!

Palestinian media distortion

Sunday evening we had an excellent talk by Daniel Seaman, the Head of the Israel Govt. Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem at our Netanya Likud Anglos group. Since he was a civil service employee his talk was deliberately non-partisan. As you know, the PR of the Israel Govt. has come under a lot of criticism, but the GPO is not responsible for that. What they do is register foreign journalists, provide official press releases and spokesmen and provide feedback to journalists and media organizations when they perceive that a mistake has been made, either deliberately or accidentally. Since Israel has the largest number of foreign journalists per capita in the world, usually about 1,000, going up to ca. 2,500 during a crisis, this can be a very time-consuming job.
About 8 years ago, at the start of the so-called intifada, they realized that the Palestinians were engaging in deliberate media distortions, trying to show Israel in a bad light, as a bully and evil occupier and killer of Palestinian women and children. Since they could not beat us on the battlefield they chose another more convenient battlefield for them.
There were three reasons why they were successful, first there had developed a strong negative attitude towards the "militaristic" Israelis, especially in the UK and Europe, which they exploited and fed; second, the various media organizations, press and TV, were dependent on their Palestinian "stringers" (helpers, translators, cameramen), who all regard themselves as fighters in the war against Israel; and third, the Israel Govt. was never focussed or organized to deal with such a concerted program of media distortion.
With regard to the first reason, this resulted from a bias of editors and journalists themselves, so little could be done about this except complain. The basis of any feedback must always be that the journalist or media organization is not adhering to their own code of journalistic ethics, and Daniel said he always quotes from the code of international journalist ethics. The effect of this was marginal, but it did put them on the defensive.
With regard to the second reason, depending on Palestinians themselves, the media organizations were either naieve or deliberately ignored Israeli warnings about Palestinian media distortions and manipulations. There were a slew of them, the "massacre" in Jenin that never was, the explosion on the beach in Gaza that killed a family that had nothing to do with the IDF. But, the prime example is that of Mohammed al-Dura, in which the boy was sheltered behind his father while being shot at, supposedly for 45 mins and supposedly by IDF soldiers, at a junction in Gaza in 2004. The boy was supposedly killed and his father injured. The video and stills of this went all around the world and became a cause celebre in the Arab world, with streets and squares named after the boy. In actuality only one cameraman, for France-2 TV station, caught the action on film, and the narrative was supplied by a leftist Israeli journalist who worked for France-2 in Jerusalem. However, he was not present at the time, so he narrated according to the instructions of the cameraman, who himself was a member of Hamas.
We now know that this incident was entirely faked. The IDF carried out an investigation and within three days reported that the IDF guards had not fired at the boy and in fact could not have done so, since they were all in a guard post that was blocked from their location by a wall. Examination of the shots hitting the wall (and there were many of them) show clearly that the shots came from where the cameraman was standing, not perpendicular as they would have had to if it had been the IDF soldiers firing. But, although the IDF issued a correction, this was entirely discounted by the media, because of course they would not believe anything from that brutal militaristic organization.
Finally, when independent organizations examined the incident in detail they all concluded that it was a fake. The boy was never shot dead and his body was not taken to any hospital in Gaza, only one cameraman present (and there were many) actually recorded this incident, and finally France-2 refused to release the full tape of the incident. When Philip Karsenty claimed in print that France-2 was knowingly lying, they sued him, and were forced to release the rest of the tape (although not all of it), enough to show the boy sitting up at the end of the incident, by which time he had already been declared dead by the narrator. It was all a hoax and Karsenty won the law suit against France-2. Questions arose about why the Israel Govt. did not actively pursue this matter for several years, but left it to private individuals.
There is little the GPO can do about such distortions, they occur under battle conditions, and when a journalist is killed it is usually in a declared battle zone, where they do not have permission of the IDF to be. This has happened several times, but the IDF is always charged by the press with human rights abuses.
Taking up individual incidents and pressing the criticism, especially with public support, has had good results, with CNN, ABC, BBC and even Al Jazeera. When Al Jazeera had a party for the release of the terrorist who had murdered an Israeli child, the GPO threatened to revoke their press credentials in Isael, and although they could have appealed this to the courts, it would taken a long time, so they did an internal investigation, and promise such a thing won't happen again.
As a result of lessons from the Second Lebanon war, the Govt. finally made an organizational response to the situation, by establishing a coordinator of all press in the PM's Office, so that the IDF and other agencies will not be responding alone, but the response can truly be labelled that of the offical Israeli Govt. If this had happened immediately after the al-Dura case it would never have gone so far. So the GPO can do little, and probably too late, but the cumulative effect over time is to let the media organizations know that they are being watched, that they cannot rely on their biased Palestinian stringers and that they should uphold their own stated journalistic code of ethics.

Monday, November 03, 2008

They won't come!

The Messiah complex has a lot to answer for. In all three major western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (as opposed to the eastern religions of Buddhism, Confuscism, Hinduism and Shintoism) the Messiah complex plays a very important and influential role.
The concept of the coming of a perfect individual or God, that would usher in a perfect time upon the earth, has very ancient origins. Of course, Judaism did not originate this belief, but it is an element of Judaism that the Messiah will come, and then the earth will be perfect, the dead will arise and all sorts of miracles will occur. For people living in poverty and misery, such a future is always a vision to be prayed for.
Christianity took this Messiah complex from Judaism and extended it even further, endowing their central figure with God-like qualities, who died for their sins (?) and will be resurrected in the second coming, when the world will be perfect, etc. etc.
Islam is a little different. In Sunni Islam, Mohammed is strictly the prophet (and indeed the last prophet) of Allah. However, his followers now, in order to perfect the world, are willing to kill everyone who will not accept their program to make the world like that of Mohammed, in other word we must all go back to the 7th century! That is why they are killing people in the US (9/11), London (7/7), Madrid, Morocco, Iraq, India and so on. This seems absurd, but is horribly true.
However, there is another cult of the Messiah, that of the hidden Iman in Shia Islam, that warrants further consideration and concern. I refer to an article in Friday's J'sam Post magazine about Shia Islam ("The reality of Karbala" by Eli Kavon), that warrants reading by anyone interested in the current most critical issue of our times, Iran. Particularly, the most extreme version of Shi'ism followed by Pres. Ahmedinejad and the Mullahs that run Iran, represents a specific threat because they believe in the coming of their own "messiah" and they must prepare the groundwork by waging a catastrophic war against Israel and the West.
All this trouble, disaster and human suffering for an ideal of the messiah. I have a word of advice for these fanatics - he ain't coming! So stop all this nonsense and let's enjoy life instead while we can (if that isn't a Jewish view what is?)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election Q & A

With only 3 more days to go to the 2008 Presidential election, here are some questions to help you make up your mind:

Suppose Obama were white and McCain were black, would you switch your vote?
If you said yes, you are a racist!
Suppose McCain had raised m$600 (he actually raised only m$85), would you say it was from Republican "fat cats"?
Then why don't you say Obama raised that amount from Democratic "fat cats" (maybe the Saudis)?
If a newspaper had an embarrassing video of McCain addressing a dinner, wouldn't you want it released?
So why don't you want the LATimes to release the video of Obama addressing a dinner in honor of Ahmed Kahlidi, then a representative of the PLO and a close collegue of Obama at the Univ. of Chicago?
McCain released his birth certificate and all his health records.
So why won't Obama release a copy of his birth certificate, to prove that he is US-born?
If Obama said he would reduce Govt. spending (as McCain has done), would you not vote for him?
So why would you vote for him when he says that he intends to increase taxes, but only on the rich, which includes millions of small business owners (a very bad idea during an economic crisis)?
If McCain said the same about poor people as Obama said about the rich ("some of them are good"), would that be acceptable?
If Obama wants only to increase taxes on the rich (which will lead to people losing their jobs) and to "redistribute wealth" (instead of increasing wealth) does that make him a social engineer or a socialist?
Do you want a more intrusive Government?
Then vote for Obama, if you want a less instrusive Govt. then vote McCain.
If Obama had voted for the surge of troops to Iraq (that was successful) and said he would keep troops there as long as needed, would you still vote for him?
But, McCain voted for the surge and wants to keep troops there only as long as the Iraqi Govt. needs them, so why not vote for him?
If Sarah Palin were black, not a "hockey mom," was an intellectual and was Governor of a big State, would you still vote against her? (Oh, I forgot Alaska is a "big" State).
If Joseph Biden made no gaffes while speaking (and had never had a brain operation) would you still vote for him?
If you answered correctly to all of these questions, then why the hell are you voting for Obama, the least experienced candidate ever to run for President? Is it because he's black, young, liberal and articulate?
Who said that the American electorate is superficial!