Monday, March 30, 2009

The Sinaloa cowboys

The north-west region of Mexico has become one of the most dangerous places in the world, on a par with Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a war going on there between three major drug cartels, fighting for control of the lucrative drug trade into the USA. A Federation of the Sinoloa Cowboys are fighting the Tijuana and the Juarez Cartels that control the area for a share in the trade. Sinoloa is a region of Mexico along the Pacific coast which is both remote and dangerous, and those who grow up there have a reputation for being ruthless and hard to infiltrate.
The epicenter of the fight is Cuidad Juarez, which is across the border made by the Rio Grande river from El Paso. The Sinoloans already control the drug trade thru Nogales and they are trying to expand. As a result there have been daily shootings in Cuidad Juarez that has virtually brought life in that town to a halt. It is estimated that ca. 2,000 people have been killed in the past year, including innocent bystanders, and the local police have either been unable to cope or are involved in the shootings as hired hands of various drug lords. Around Mexico about 500 anti-drug enforcement agents have been assassinated in the past year by the various drug gangs. Anyone who saw the movie "Traffic" with Michael Douglas will know what I'm talking about. It has been said that Mexico is in danger of becoming a "failed" State.
In order to try to bring control back to the area the Mexican President Felipe Calderon has ordered the Mexican Army to take over the city. The Army is considered to be one of the few institutions in Mexico that are not controlled by the criminal gangs that feed off the drug trade. Now ca. 7,500 soldiers are patrolling Cuidad Juarez. The situation has become so serious that the US is building a Security fence along the border, that in some places is a wall, and they are following Israel's example (so if anyone in the US criticizes Israel's Security fence tell them to complain to their own Government). This fence will be about 500 miles long.
But, because the situation is getting out of control, Secty of State Hillary Clinton met with Pres. Calderon last week near the border to discuss how to deal with the situation. The US is giving Mexico m$114 to buy Blackhawk helicopters to make the Mexican Army more mobile and able to handle the situation.
It is not only drugs and illegal immigrants who are crossing the border into the US, but gangsters and drug dealers, and they are murderous and ruthless. In many US cities they are taking over from local drug gangs, so that they can control both the import and local supply of the drugs, mainly cocaine.
So if you see a Sinoloa Cowboy in your neighborhood, "Hasta la vista!"

War crimes?

The level of accusations at Israel for so-called "war crimes" carried out during Operation Cast Lead has risen to a fever pitch, with the Guardian printing several articles day after day. Unfortunately, Israeli journalists, like their Western counterparts, also have their own biases and journalistic lapses. Such is the case of a recent Ha'aretz story alleging "war crimes" and serious ethical failures on the part of the IDF in Gaza. Predictably, many international media outlets, including the New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Australian, and Toronto Globe & Mail to name but a few, repeated the allegations without bothering to do any rudimentary checks.
The IDF has categorically rejected these stories, so let's analyze them. First the stories were told to a sympathetic left-wing journalist by someone named Danny Zamir, who had been drafted into the IDF, but had claimed concientious objector status in order to avoid going to fight in Gaza. He was the source of stories supposedly told to him by two cadets at the Rabin pre-military academy that he heads (where did they get these stories and how did he get this job?). So at the base of this story are two unconfirmed stories reported at least second-hand.
The brigade commander's findings were reported in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, in a story entitled "IDF Investigation Refutes the Testimonies About Gaza Killings." According to the story two central incidents that came up in the testimony, which Danny Zamir presented to Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi, focus on one infantry brigade. Regarding the incident in which it was claimed that a sniper fired at a Palestinian woman and her two daughters, the brigade commander's investigation cites the sniper himself: "I saw the woman and her daughters and I shot warning shots. The section commander came up to the roof and shouted at me, 'Why did you shoot at them?' I explained that I did not shoot at them, but I fired warning shots." Officers from the brigade surmise that fighters that stayed in the bottom floor of the Palestinian house thought that he hit them, and from here the rumor that a sniper killed a mother and her two daughters spread.
The other alleged incident, the killing by a sniper of an elderly woman, also seems not to have taken place. Regarding the second incident, in which it was claimed that soldiers went up to the roof to entertain themselves with firing and killed an elderly Palestinian woman, the brigade commander investigation found that there was no such incident. So both incidents were categorically false!
In addition to these incidents The Guardian devoted a front page article, two inside pages, three separate videos, a commentary by Suemas Milne and an editorial to what it claims is evidence from a special investigation by Clancy Chassay that the IDF committed 'war crimes’ in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead by deliberately targeting civilians, using young boys as human shields and deliberately targeting ambulances and medical personnel and hospitals. Melanie Phillips does a detailed analysis of these charges and shows that they are all also completely false (See ). She also points out that there is no criticism of Hamas whatsoever in these extensive articles, notwithstanding clear evidence that they did deliberately use human shields. The extent of anti-Israel bias is such that every convention of journalistic practice is broken and it can only be concluded that The Guardian is carrying out a systematic and malicious demonization of Israel!
Then we have the numbers game. With time, the number of civilians reportedly killed in Gaza from Hamas sources goes up, now reaching over 900, while the number of terrorists (combatants) killed goes down, now down to 58! These numbers are jaw-droppingly false. The IDF carried out its own long careful analysis, and has now released it's numbers, namely there were 1,166 named individuals killed and of them 709 were combatants (mostly young men as Hamas gunmen) and 295 were uninvolved civilians of which 89 were under the age of 16 and 49 were women; the rest (112) cannot be categorized (for details see ). This should finally end discussions of the numbers, but it probably won't.
After every war there is a spate of memoirs, that sometimes include confessions of shooting of civilians usually by accident. There was the great book entitled "The Seventh Day" after the Six Day war of 1967, that I highly recommend to all who are interested in the reality and the chaos or "fog" of war. There was the movie "Beaufort" based on the book by Ron Leshem, that characterized Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. There was also recently the artistically animated movie "Waltz with Bashir," by Ari Folman that was a memoir of the 1982 Lebanon War. Naturally, all such memoirs, and there are many, are to a greater or lesser extent anti-war, but that doesn't mean that prior to the war in question their authors did not have a clear idea that it was necessary to fight. All wars that Israel has prosecuted have been fought for survival, and being a democracy, no Government or leaders go to war without very extensive consideration for the consequences. That is our problem, as the only democracy in a region of undemocratic militaristic regimes. The test is that nowhere will you find comparable anti-war memoirs on the Arab side!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March in Umm-al-Fahm

Last week on Tuesday a march took place in Umm-al-Fahm, one of the biggest Arab towns in central Israel. Actually the march did not occur in the town center, but on its outskirts as a compromise to avoid conflict, because this march was by a group of Israeli nationalists, or Zionists, who wanted to march with the Israeli national flag. Now since Umm-al-Fahm is in Israel, you'd think that this would not be a problem, but it is known as a center of the Islamic League and is a hot-bed of radical Palestinian politics. There they march with the Palestinian flag.
The idea for the march started during the national election campaign several months ago, when Baruch Marzel, the leader of a small right wing group, advertized that he and some of his followers would go to Umm-al-Fahm to canvass for his party. The local Arab organizations, the Muslim League and others, brought a case that went to the Supreme Court trying to bar his doing this. The Supreme Court ruled that he did have the right to march in Umm-al-Fahm, since it is a part of the State of Israel and there is freedom of assembly. But, in order to avoid a provocation they would be limited to the outskirts of the town and to only 100 people. Marzel accepted this compromise and so the march finally took place.
There were about 500 Arab demonstraters trying to prevent the march, but the police outnumbered the demonstrators about 5 to 1, and they protected the marchers who went ahead with Israeli flags flying. Most of the demonstrators were young men wearing masks and throwing stones. When they started to throw Molotov cocktails, the police swept in, there was a violent mini-riot and about 30 people were arrested. The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, but apparently noone was killed or injured, so the police seem to have learned some lessons from previous Arab riots. About 10 of those arrested were charged with various offences, and the day after the place was cleared up and Umm-al-Fahm returned to normal. The local Arab authorities (Mayor, etc.) were kept informed of the situation and things were worked out smoothly.
This march in Umm-al Fahm has been compared to the march of the Nazis in Skokie, Illinois in the 1960s, since there were a lot of Jews living there, including Holocaust survivors. Although they also took a case to the Supreme Court, it was ruled that the march could go ahead. In the East End of London in the 1930's the Blackshirts also held marches that went through Jewish neighborhoods and were protected by the police.
The main difference in this situation is that the marchers wanted to carry the Israeli flag, the national State emblem, that should be allowed in any part of the State, even where Arabs dwell, and this flag should not be a provocation to any of its citizens. In fact, if you take a poll of Israeli Arabs, as has been done, the vast majority of them (ca. 70%) say that they prefer to remain Israeli citizens even if a Palestinian State is founded. They are realistic, they know that they are much better off economically in Israel, and they are safe from being murdered or arrested by one political faction or another (as Fatah and Hamas are currently doing to each other). Now if the Arabs in Umm-al-Fahm marched with Israeli flags that would negate the need for a group of Zionist Jews doing so.
Avigdor Lieberman has been called a "racist" because he proposed a loyalty oath that all citizens should take swearing allegience to the State (very much as done in the USA). That is the minimum that the State should expect of any of its citizens. Further, Lieberman and his Party, Israel Beitanu (Israel our homeland), has proposed that any region of Arab majority should be transferred to a future Palestinian State, since that is their ethnic identification and everyone knows that they are not loyal to Israel, the Jewish State. So far such a proposal cannot be tested because there is no negotiation between Israel and the PA over borders, but it is a conceivable solution (not involving "transfer of populations" but transfer of areas). As I noted Israeli Arabs don't want to be part of a Palestinian State, but they are also not overtly loyal to Israel. They can't continue to have it both ways.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Secret millionaire"

I have watched several episodes of a British TV reality series called "Secret Millionaire," which I found very touching. In each episode a genuine millionaire agrees to go back to his/her roots in a poor neighborhoood and to live on a small allowance and pretend to be poor. They usually get a poorly paying job (waitress, shopkeeper) and have to manage to make ends meet for a week or two. They are encouraged to go around in the neighborhood and meet people, but the people they meet have no idea that they are rich and that they might be helped by this apparently poor person that they have befriended. If they meet people who are trying to help others and need financial help to do so, the millionaires are encouraged to give a them a donation and to follow up later if they want to. In several cases this worked out very well, and the scenes where the millionaires donated tens of thousands of pounds to the poor unsuspecting person were truly moving.
In one episode, a man who made millions as a contractor, but came from very poor beginnings, went back to an economically deprived area in Salford, and met the local people. At the end of his time he donated money and building help to expand a local community kitchen and to renovate a 100-year old youth center. Another man, an Indian who grew up in the north, went back to where he started and then helped local people who befriended and helped him thinking that he was an unemployed laborer.
It should be emphasized that the millionaires are not required to make any donations and what they choose to donate and to whom is entirely up to them. Also, the people they meet, although often poor, are not necessarily unhappy, and most of them are actually donating their time and limited resources to helping others.
One case in point, a woman who runs a dance school in the heart of the East End. She has been unable to obtain Government or local funds and has been subsidizing it herself from her own pocket for years. This has become such a burden that they might have to vacate their premises, and she and her husband might lose their house. The lady millionaire (worth 15 million pounds) who just came across their club by chance, volunteered there, and was so struck by their genuine enthusiasm and dedication, that at the end of the week/show, she donated a considerable sum to ensure that they could retain their own premises and she helped the Director and her husband to buy a new house for themselves. She also took a liking to one of the most talented dancers, and decided to support her career until the age of 16 by a series of grants that could pay her fees so she could study professionally. It was great to see their reactions to these totally unexpected outcomes.
Another example was a young black woman who by herself started a self-help group for impoverished young people who needed help. She provided them with minimal practical aid, such as painting equipment or courses, often out of her own pocket, and she was certainly not well-off. Because of threats from drug dealers, she was forced to leave the neighborhood where she worked and move back into her mother's house, with husband and three kids. The lady millionaire, who encountered her working from a table in the restaurant where she was a waitress, then bought her a lap-top, gave her a donation towards her work, and helped her buy her own home. What a great outcome. As she said, coming from the East End herself, she felt she needed to give something back! A lesson for us all.

PS. I understand that there is now a US version of "Secret Milliaonaire" but they have turned it into a TV show, and lost a lot of the personal aspects.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thirty years of peace

This year is the Thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, perhaps one of the most important achievements of the Jewish State. Overall the Treaty has achieved it's main objective, since there has been no war or conflict between Egypt and Israel since the signing, it has stood the test of time. However, it has been called a "cold peace" that emphasizes that a large proportion of the Egyptian population still consider Israel an enemy. In Israel there was a public Symposium discussing the Treaty and its implications, at which the Egyptian Ambassador spoke, but refused to answer any questions. In Egypt there was no commemoration or celebration of the anniversary at all, and in Al Ahram, the Government-controlled main newspaper, the editorial today was avidly anti-Israel. If the current regime were ever overthrown by a pro-Muslim Brotherhood coup then there is little doubt that they would rescind the Treaty.
It was reported on CBS news yesterday that the IAF attacked a convoy of trucks in Sudan carrying weapons from Iran to Gaza. Sudan is governed by an Islamist regime that allows Iran to ship arms to their ports and then they are trucked to Gaza. It was reported to have destroyed 17 trucks and resulted in the death of 39 people. Note that Israel probably decided that it was better to interdict and destroy this convoy in Sudan rather than en route in Egypt. Although Egypt has signed agreements to stop the smuggling of arms thru their border with Gaza, this has hardly helped. Several countries agreed to help the Egyptians stop the flow, by giving them advanced equipment, such as tunnel detecting technology and training their personnel. But, this does not seem to have worked. In order not to embarrass the "friendly" Egyptian Government, the Israeli Govt. decided to attack the convoy in Sudan rather than Egypt. Although the Israel Govt. has not confirmed this attack, PM OLmert noted that the IAF has a long-enough reach to defend the State where ever necessary.
Meanwhile Egypt has been playing the role of intermediary both between Israel and Hamas and Hamas and Fatah. So far neither of these negotiations have resulted in an agreement. But, this weekend, before the Olmert Government is replaced, there are reports that a breakthrough in the negotiations over the prisoner exhange for Cpl. Schalit may have been reached. This may result from the fact that all negotiations will probably return to square one with the new Netanyahu-led Government. At least at this point Hamas can be fairly certain of obtaining about 400 of the prisoners they wanted, if they are willing to compromise.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Pres. Barack Obama's long awaited opening of his dialog with Iran came last week in the form of a direct appeal to the Iranian people on the occasion of their New Year (Nowruz). While commending the Iranians on their rich history, culture and heritage, he criticized their leaders for taking the path of violence and hatred. He said that he wished to improve relations with Iran, and thought Iran could rejoin the community of nations, but this could only happen if Iran took the path of peace and international cooperation.
In response, the Supreme Iranian Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, gave a sermon that in effect rejected Obama's speech as empty words. Only if the US changes it's policies of opposing Iran's legitimate development of peaceful nuclear energy and stops supporting Israel, would Iran then consider improving relations with the US.
In other words, the US must change its policies to those dictated by Iran, but the US cannot dictate policy changes to Iran. This all reminds us of the situation before WWII, when PM Neville Chamberlain went to visit Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, in 1938, and came back waving a piece of paper and telling the world that "Herr Hitler is an honorable man." This was the policy of appeasement, when the Western allies (in this case Britain) assumed the best, while the other side lied and prepared for war. We are in much the same situation now with regard to Iran, but now it's Obama who is metaphorically waving a rolled umbrella and saying how nice the Iranians really are.
It hasn't got quite as bad as that yet, the official US policy is still that Iran is illegally developing nuclear weapons and is threatening to destroy Israel, as well as threatening US interests in the Gulf region (US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the wider region. Among those not happy with this attempted opening to Iran are not only Israel, but also the major Sunni Muslim States, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Guilf States (Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, etc.) The hegemonic expansionism of Shi'ite Iran in the region threatens not only their stability, but the very nature of their religious culture.
On the other hand, the Obama Adminsistration has gone on record as renewing the current economic sanctions against Iran, and has criticized the British Government for apparently agreeing to meet with the "political wing" of Hizbollah. Everyone knows that Hizbollah is a fully owned proxy of Iran and there is no distinction between its political and military wings, it's not another version of the IRA, which did have such wings.
It is estimated variously that Iran has another 1-3 years to develop a nuclear bomb and the means to deliver it. They are continually celebrating their advancements, and increasing the number of centrifuges they have to separate fissile uranium. However, Pres. Ahmedinejad faces a new election this year in June 2009 and is currently quite unpopular, mainly due to the economic slump in Iran, while he is busy spending money on arms and weapons development. However, the opposition reform elements have managed to put up a consensus candidate against him, former PM Mousavi (former PM Khatami dropped out to avoid splitting the vote). However, he is not thought to have much chance mainly because the Revolutionary Guard supports Ahmedinejad, and they have a fgat deal of money to throw around to support his campaign. The best outcome would be if Mousavi were elected by a landslide, but don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Labor's pangs

Last night the Labor Party Central Committee met to discuss and vote on the agreement that had been reached in record time between Likud and Labor regarding the latter's joining the new Govt. Coalition. The Labor Party was split between those supporting it's leader Ehud Barak, who wants to join the Coalition so that he could retain his position as Defense Minister, and those who are against Labor joining a right-wing Coalition. It should be said that Labor's options were quite reduced due to the agreements already reached between Likud and the other parties already included in the Coalition, although Netanyahu was quite generous to Labor in order to entice them to join. He gave Labor four other Ministers (including Agriculture and Infrastructure) and he agreed to freeze Govt. worker's salaries and to ensure that any worker fired from his/her job would receive generous benefits and retraining programs. In addition, Netanyahu gave Barak a commitment that his Govt. would honor all past agreements, inclouding the Road Map and the Annapolis Agreement, in oewther words a "two-state solution."
In the event, the Labor Party voted by a slim majority of 58 to 42% to join the Likud Coalition. This is good news all around. It is good for Netanyahu and Likud, since they will not be seen as forming a purely right wing government, it is good for Barak, because he gets to remain Defense Minister and it is good for Labor because even though it split, now that the vote is in the losers will probably go along with the majority (although it might yet split), and it's good for Israel, because we need a Government as soon as possible and with the widest scope possible.
As of now Kadima is in the Opposition, but since Labor has now voted to join the Coalition, Kadima might feel left out, and might in time reverse Livni's decision and decide to join too. This remains to be seen, but hopefully we will soon have a new Government, that will not be hostage to a small right wing or religious party.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Paradigm shift"

Last Thurs I gave a talk at the AACI, a review of the book "The Bielsky Brothers," by Peter Duffy, "the true story of three men who defied the Nazis, built a village in the forest and saved 1,200 Jews." This story has been made into the movie "Defiance" starring Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond.
After the talk there was a discussion, and the natural question arose, why were they able to resist and why so many other Jews were not, and we agreed that it was because they were familiar with the dense forest (their father owned a lumber mill) and it gave them a place to separate themselves from the Nazis and survive. But we also agreed that it was largely cultural. In other words, the Bielskis were tough, they knew how to survive in the forest, they took no anti-Semitic insults and they were ruthless. If a peasant gave their men away to the Germans or the Byelorussian police, they came back later and murdered him and his whole family, and they let it be known that this is what would happen to anyone who informed on them.
Also, although Tuvia Bielski joined his group to the Soviet partisan organization, in order to obtain arms and logistical support, his main aim unlike them was not killing Germans,. His main aim was to ensure the survival of the Jews . So while other partisan groups prevented the accretion of civilians, especially Jews,who could not fight, Bielski did the opposite, he took in any Jews who came, old, lame children, anybody. He knew that for the Jews it was a matter of survival. At one point, when a group of Jewish Communists were trying to undermine his control, he arrested then executed the leader.
Most Jews were culturally disinclined to fight for their survival, partly because of the effects of hundreds of years of persecution, and partly because they thought in abstractions and intellectualized every question, rather than facing the facts for what they were. It's easy for me to say this in much later hindsight, but that is probably the crux of the matter.
Although Zionism had existed for many years, since the 1880's, and Jews had been making aliyah to form a Jewish State for decades, this was still a minority view among Jews. Most Jews were prepared to continue to live where they did and accept the hatred as a fact of life, just as Negroes lived in the Southern US and had no choice but to accept their mistreatement by whites. But, in both cases it took a sudden change in the situation to being about a change in the general viewpoint of the group. In the case of the Blacks it was the development and actions of the Civil Right's movement during the 1950s and for the Jews it was the Holocaust and the realization that Jewish existence was no longer possible as a minority among others. The catastrophe of the Holocaust awoke the surviving Jews up to the fact that a "paradigm shift" had occurred in Jewish history, and henceforth most Jews became Zionists, in fact or in principle. Today nearly half the world's Jews live in Israel.
The term "paradigm shift" was popularized by Thomas Kuhn in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," written in 1962. The classic case he describes was the change in our view of the world from a mechanistic Newtonian structure to a probability Einsteinian universe. Another example is the change in perception from belief in divine creationism to evolution by natural selection produced by the publication of "The origin of species" by Charles Darwin in 1859.
So the experience of the Holocaust, even to those Jews who were distant from it, produced a paradigm shift, in thought that caused them to support the formation of a Jewish State that would be sovereign and independent, and would have an armed force to defend itself. There is a straight line from the fight of the Jewish partisans in the forests of Eastern Europe to Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. Those Jews who have become very sophisticated and think in abstractions and who are very ready to criticize the actions of the Jewish State might bear this history in mind. The resurgence of anti-Semitism is not a consequence of the existence of Israel, nor the actions of the IDF (actions that are ignored for the rest of the world), but are engendered by a deep and abiding cultural antagonism to Jews and anything Jewish that continues to exist in Western (and Islamic) culture.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Car bomb in Haifa mall

You probably won't read about this car bomb in your newspapers because luckily it did not go off. If it had there would have been mass destruction and huge casualties, since the mall was full of thousands of shoppers on Friday, and the car was filled with 100 kg of explosives mixed with ball bearings to mutilate!. People heard a small explosion in the mall, the police were called and investigated and found that a car parked near the entrance had gone off, but it was a minor explosion, probably only the detonator, but the 4 main bombs did not explode.
The question is why did the outside mall parking lot not have any security. Fortunately, this time noone was hurt, but the terrorists keep trying. Hopefully the crime lab will find finger prints and will be able to identify the perpetrators. All that's been released so far is that the car is owned by a woman in Jerusalem, but was stolen.
Since this attempt was in northern Israel, it certainly came from the West Bank not Gaza, and since Hamas is quite weak now in the West Bank, due to actions of the PA police and the IDF, it is most likely that this terrorist attempt was carried out by Fatah activits, such as the Aksa Martyr's Brigades. Now these are in the same organization as Pres. Abbas, who is supposed to be our partner for peace. So, no wonder many Israelis are sceptical about the "two state solution" or any "peace process." Let them show their desire for peace by simply stopping the terrorism, as required by the Quartet's three condiditons, none of which they have actually embraced, i.e. recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements and stopping violence and terrorism.
The fact that this car bomb did not go off should not be taken as a sign that peace is at hand. The religious believe, of course, that it was the hand of God, the secular believe that is was the incompetence of the terrorists, and the terrorists believe that Allah works in mysterious ways, but they'll get us next time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two weeks

PM-designate Netanyahu has asked Pres. Peres for two more weeks according to the law to form his coalition government. Ostensibly he needs the time to clinch deals with some of the smaller right wing and religious parties that are balking at certain conditions of his main coalition partners. However, he also needs time to determine whether or not Labor will also join his coalition. This would make a big difference to Netanyahu, so that then his government could not be labeled “far-right” since Labor is on the left.

But, Labor is split, between its leader Ehud Barak, who wants to remain Defense Minister more than anything else, and some of the Labor Knesset faction who believe that joining a predominantly right wing coalition would mean the end of Labor as an effective party of the left. The question is, is Barak putting his own personal ambitions before the interests of the Party or is his contention that being in office means that Labor would be able to do things that they would not be able to do in the opposition with Kadima. The Labor Knesset faction is split and is due to vote on Tuesday on whether or not to join the coalition.

This delay means that Olmert gets to remain PM for a further two weeks. During this time people are still hoping that he will do a deal with Hamas, thru the Egyptians, to release Cpl. Schalit from captivity. Hamas had demanded 450 named terrorists be released in exchange for Schalit. Olmert and his Cabinet had gone thru the list and had decided that they could release 390 of them, but the rest were murderers who could not be released and they balked at that. Then Olmert made the statement, unusual for him, that Israel had “red lines” and that they would not breach them.

Of course, then Hamas rejected the Israeli counter-offer and blamed Israel for the break-down in negotiations. But, it is Hamas’ intransigence that is responsible over and over again for such breakdowns, since they will never compromise and are always the one that demands more. Many Israelis think that Olmert and his Cabinet should give in to the Hamas demands in order to get Schalit back. But, many more Israelis, and especially those who have lost loved ones to terrorism, are against such a deal, since it is known that ca. 70% of released terrorists go back to terrorism and many Israelis have been killed by such men.

Although the situation was in deadlock, now there are two weeks left again and many hope that during that time the Egyptians will be able to persuade Hamas to accept a compromise with Israel for Schalit’s release. After the two weeks, when Netanyahu takes office, it is known that the prospects for any such deal are greatly reduced. Neither Likud nor Lieberman’s Israel Beitanu Party are in favor of exchanging large numbers of terrorists for captured Israeli soldiers. They are more in favor of bringing pressure on Hamas, by reducing food and other supplies, by worsening the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, for example by stopping family visits (note that no-one not even the Red Cross has been allowed to visit Schalit) and by military action. So many think Hamas would be foolish not to make a deal with Olmert now, at the last moment, rather than lose the opportunity of such a deal altogether. On Friday the Schalit family held a rally in Jerusalem commemorating 1,000 days that Schalit has been held hostage in Gaza and then they will go home and wait.

While Israel is in transition, the other side, notably the PA, have taken this opportunity to bring pressure on Israel. First, Mohammed Dahlan Head of PA Security made a public statement in Egypt that since the PA had not recognized Israel’s right to exist there was no reason why Hamas should be forced to. This makes a mockery of the presumption that the Quartet’s conditions are supposed to have been accepted by the PA. Also, the PA is trying to hold an Arab Cultural Festival declaring Jerusalem the Arab Capital of Culture, as if they controlled Jerusalem. They are planning activities in Jerusalem that are illegal under Israeli law, so the Israeli security services are going to have to stop them. Is this kind of provocative activity what one expects from an organization that is supposed to be in the process of making peace with Israel?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Afternoon in Zichron

On Tues, Naomi and I and a couple we know, the Golds, who are Americans returning to the US in a few days, drove up the coast for lunch in Zichron Yaa'kov. It was an absolutely beautiful day, warm, with a breeze and cloudless sky, like summer (in England). It's only 30 mins to Zichron, and soon we were sitting in a cafe in the old part of town eating a tasty meal out in the sunshine.
Zichron Ya'akov sits on the heights of the Carmel Range south of Haifa. It overlooks the sea and the coastal plain that is quite narrow there. It's name means "memorial to Yaakov," and Baron Edmond de Rothschild who gave the funds to found the colony named it in memory of his dear father.
Zichron Yaakov was founded in 1882, and there are several buildings that date from that period, including a synagogue that was one of the largest built in that time, in then Turkish Syria. In the first wave of immigration to Israel that lasted from 1882-1900, known as the First Aliya, thousands of Jews arrived in the Holy Land and founded colonies, mostly funded by Rothschild, such as Gedera, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Ness Ziona, Rosh Pinna, etc. These colonies were originally small farming villages, that each eventually grew into towns that formed the backbone of the Jewish State.
In Zichron Ya'akov there is a Museum of the First Aliayh that provides interesting historical background to a visit there. Things were not always rosy, especially as the new immigrants fought to begin farming in barren lands and also fought the Arabs who constantly attacked them. This lead in the early 1900's to the founding of the first Jewish Defense force, known as Haganah.
While Los Angeles was a village and Australia hardly existed, Jews were returning in numbers and re-settling the land. Although the later waves of Jews that came were mostly socilaist and irreligious, the First Aliyah was mostly made up of religious Jews from Russia, Roumania and Poland, escaping violent anti-Semitic pogroms in their lands of birth. Of course, at the same time many hundreds of thousands of Jews escaped to France, Britain and the US.
Since the Baron, known as Hanadiv, the Benefactor, gave the money for the building of these settlements, he required the immigrants to sign agreements to follow the instructions of his agents. In many villages the agents lived as middle class governors, and controlled the farming and the lives of the immigrants. After some years they rebelled, and since the Baron had the funds and supported his agents many were forced to leave the settlements. But, in a way this lead to a greater spread of settlement, because those that left were then on their own to found independent settlements or move to towns (or return to Russia).
The area where we were consists of beautifully renovated buildings that formed the first streets of the town, and they are now mainly boutiques and restaurants, very picturesque.
Nearby is the Aaronsohn House (that we didn't visit this time) that tells the story of the Nili, the group of Jews that spied for the British during WWI, and some of them were executed by the Turks. These patriots believed that once Turkish rule was removed the British would be more sympathetic to the founding of the nascent Jewish State, and this turned out to be true at first.
Anyway, apart from the history, we had a lovely time, something that we should do with all our visitors.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Arabs in Israel

I was asked to clarify the complex situation of Arabs in Israel/Palestine. Israeli Arabs constitute 20% of the population of Israel (ca. 1.2 million). They have full citizen rights, voting, paying taxes and receiving welfare, passports, etc. Their schools are taught in the Arabic language, although they also have to learn Hebrew. They have full and complete freedom of religion.
Amongst the Israeli Arabs there are three main groups: 1. Muslims, who are 83% of the Arabs in Israel and are all Sunni Muslims; 2. Christians, 8.5% of various sects, and they vary tremendously in their attitudes towards Israel, some are very anti and some are pro. 3. Druze, 8.3% are a heretical Muslim sect, that are generally very loyal to Israel, since they have never been persecuted by the Jews. Even among Muslim Arabs there is a tremendous range of attitude, from the anti-Israel Muslim League, and some members of the Knesset that actively oppose Israel, to individuals who volunteer for service in the IDF. Druze are found in all levels of the IDF and in Israeli Government positions.
Among the Muslim Arabs in Israel are the Beduin (ca. 240,000) most of whom live in the Negev desert. They have until now been less poltically radicalized than their fellow Israeli Arabs and have long been tough and reliable trackers and border guards. There are two streams of thought regarding the Beduin in Israel, one is that they have lost a lot of their ancestral land and many live in poverty, not supported enough by Govt. welfare. Another is that they were landless nomads with little contact with the outside world until the Israel Govt. came and settled them in villages and gave them schools and training. It's probably a bit of both.
Arabs have full rights of assembly and demonstration as in any democracy. During the intifada in 2001 there were violent Arab riots, with Molotov cocktails thrown at gas stations and closing off roads and clashes with armed police, as a result of which 13 teenagers were killed and many policemen injured. Since then the responsible members of the Arab community have tried to ensure that all demonstrations are peaceful.
This should be distinguished from relations with the Palestinian Arabs, ca. 2.4 million on the West Bank and ca. 1.5 million in Gaza, who are "citizens" of the Palestine Authority (PA) which is not an internationally recognized State. Those in Gaza are controlled by Hamas, which is a radical Islamist Party that seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic State. The Government of the PA under Pres. Abbas is affiliated with the Fatah group of the PLO and seeks to establish a Palestinian State. All the clashes with the IDF in Gaza and the West Bank are with Palestinians and NOT Israeli Arabs. The Security Fence (that in some places is a wall) is being built to separate Israel from access by Palestinian Arabs to prevent terrorism, and it has largely worked, together with targeted killings by the IDF.
Although in principle the situation of Arabs in Israel, with full democratic rights and economic development, is better than that in any Arab country, nevertheless there are problems. The amount spent per child on education and other amenities is generally less for Arabs than Jews. But, on the other hand Arabs often do not pay their rates (either because of economic or political reasons), and so many Arab municipalities are bankrupt, and the Israel Govt. has declared a moratorium on rescuing them.
The Arabs of East Jerusalem (270,000) are a somewhat different category. Since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967 they have been given Israel identity cards (green cards) but have not been made citizens of Israel. They can travel freely in Israel, but cannot vote. They are in a sort of intermediate position compared to the full rights of the Israeli Arabs and no Israeli rights of the Palestinian Arabs.
If you count, there are 6 distinct groups of Arabs in Israel/Palestine: Israeli Arab Muslims; Israeli Arab Christians; Israeli Arab Druze; East Jerusalem Arabs; West Bank PA Palestinian Arabs and Gaza Hamas-controlled Arabs. It does make for a confusing situation, and anyone who tells you that this situation can be resolved simply is obviously fooling you. There are also some other smaller minority groups in Israel, including Armenians and Circassians.
The greatest barrier to peace at the moment is the schism between the Islamist Arabs of Gaza and the nationalist Arabs of the PA on the West Bank. They are currently meeting in Egypt to try to resolve their differences and form a Unity Government for the PA. But, as I predicted, this has become impossible, because in order to receive funds the PA must accept the conditions of the international Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) to recognize Israel, stop using violence and terrorism and accept previous agreements, and Hamas have announced that they will never do this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

News in Israel

There are three items in the news in Israel right now. First, the end of the Olmert era is pending. In one of his last statements as PM, Olmert blamed Pres. Abbas of the PA for the failure of the peace process. He said that Abbas was "weak" and "indecisive," and so no deal could be made with him. Olmert inferred that Abbas was afraid to come to any actual conclusion with Israel, because it might cause an uprising in the West Bank that might result in his assassination and a take-over by Hamas. He was unable to move without taking all the Palestinians with him, and to do so would play into the hands of the extremist Hamas opposition. Of course, the PA spokesman Nabil abu Rudeinah dismissed these charges as "baseless." Maybe it was just a case of Olmert passing the blame, but in view of the fruitless, never-ending talks it has the ring of truth.
Another item dominating the news is the on-going negotiations with the Egyptians over the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, still held hostage in Gaza for nearly 1,000 days. After Operation Cast Lead there were parallel negotiations with the Egyptians as intermediaries over the conditions of a ceasefire with Hamas. These went on for several months and appeard to be nearing a conclusion, when suddenly Olmert apparently changed his mind and insisted that no ceasefire could be agreed with Hamas without Schalit's release being included. This was something that Hamas refused, so all the negotiations ground to a halt, and Pres. Mubarak of Egypt was embarrassed by the sudden turnaround. However, after making it clear that Hamas could expect to get a better deal from Olmert than from any future Govt. of PM-designate Netanyahu, negotiations resumed, with figures of possible Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged from 400 to 1,400 being touted. No-one knows precisely the current status of the numbers game, and whether or not it might include prisoners "with blood on their hands." But, until now no break-through has been reported in these last-ditch efforts.
The third subject has, of course, been the question of the upcoming coalition government, with rumors of renewed contacts between Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni of Kadima for a unity government resurfacing. But, after all has been said and done, and with agreemetns now in place between Likud and Israel Beitanu and some of the other smaller right wing and religious parties, it looks as if we shall have a narrow right-wing government after all. Noone can foresee how Avigdor Lieberman will be as Foreign Minister, some of us cringe at the thought. But, he won the votes in a democratic way, fair and square, and he is entitled to one of the top appointments in the next Administration.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nazi movies

There has recently been a spate of movies about WWII and especially the Nazis, over 60 years after WWII ended. None of them say that the Nazis were good, but some of them definitely tend towards a revisionist attitude about the Nazis, i.e. that some were basically misguided, or they were the victims of circumstances, or that they had little choice but to take the path of serving the Nazis even though they really didn't support them. This is of course all nonsense! The Nazis themselves were a small, select proportion of the German people, who followed Hitler faithfully, and the SS were an even smaller group who were vetted for absolute devotion to the Fuehrer and his aims, which included removing all Jews from the earth.
To my knowledge there has only been one SS officer identified who definitely tried to oppose the Nazi genocide scheme for killing the Jews and that was Kurt Gerlach, a religious Catholic who was responsible for the development of the Cyklon B (cyanide) gas that were used in the death camps. He had originally developed this method for disinfection of large quantities of materials, and was transferred to the SS as a special consultant. His case was the subject of the play "The Deputy," by Rolf Hochhuth that caused a lot of controversy when it was published in 1963, since it criticized Pope Pius XII for not taking action after Gerlach delivered a description of the extermination camps into his hands.
In the Jerusalem Post Magazine Section this Friday, March 13, is an article by their film critic Hannah Brown comparing and contrasting these recent movies, entitled "And now a few words from the Nazis". The movies are: Valkyrie, The Reader, Good, The boy in the striped pyjamas, Adam Resurrected, Spring 1941 and Defiance. The first 4 of these are seen from the point of view of a German/Nazi/SS and the last 3 are seen from the pov of a Jewish protagonist. Of course, Valkyrie being a kind of true action thriller, that must show its "hero" Klaus van Stauffenberg in a positive light, is in a sense the most dangerous, since there is no doubt that those who attempted to assassinate Hitler had been loyal SS officers and were only doing so because they regarded him as an incompetent loser (which he was). They can be regarded as super German patriots, but not good liberals who wanted the Allies to win.
The Reader is an excellent movie from the pov of drama and acting, but lacks any kind of credibility as far as I am concerned. How can we sympathize with a woman who is more ashamed of being illiterate than of killing hundreds of Jewish women? Maybe this corresponds to Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil." Spring 1941, includes an affair between a Jewish man and the German woman who hides him and his family. While situations like this might have happened during WWII, they are in particularly bad taste and really, who wants to know about them?
The least said about the three movies The boy in the striped pyjamas, Good and Adam Resurrected the better, they are all based on falsity and special pleading, having no intrinsic value or redeeming features.
Finally Defiance, which I have written about before is a true life drama seen from the pov of a Jewish partisan leader, Tuvia Bielsky, and as such is almost unique in the annals of WWII movie dramas. While it is a good movie, there is unfortunately the well-known fact that the villain is always more attractive than the hero, and this may explain the continued fascination with the Nazis, the SS and the whole WWII scenario. Maybe they are far enough away from us now for film producers and directors to begin to "humanize" them.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"About face"

"About face" is the apt title of a documentary movie about German Jewish refugees who returned to Germany as soldiers in the British and American Armies. It includes interviews with surviving British and American former German Jewish refugees who enlisted in their host country's army when the war was declared and were sent back to Europe to fight as ordinary soldiers, as special commandos and as military interpreters. They faced a peculiar dilemma, they wanted to fight the Nazis and to defeat Germany, even though as former Germans they had a certain nostaligia for their country of origin.
At first, in both America and Britain, these refugees were looked on with sympathy, but were also often lumped in with non-Jewish Germans as "enemy aliens." Some of them were the "kindertransport" children, now grown up. When the war came, at first in Britain in 1939 and later in America in 1941, these Jewish refugees volunteered for active service and many were accepted, in fact up to ca. 40,000 of them fought in the two armies, not a small number.
In Britain, they were first put into the unarmed "Pioneer corps" doing scut work. The first serious attempt to utilize them was a program in which about 100 of them were formed into a German-speaking commando corps called Group X that received special training in Scotland and were sent in to do especially dangerous work in Europe. One of them, Peter Masters (not his original name) has written a book about his experiences called "Fighting back." Little is known about their actual activities, but because of the danger they were required to change their "Jewish-sounding" names and adopt British names and since they were not actual citizens they were required to sign a statement that if captured they would not expect any help from the British Government. Not a bad deal for the British, since these men were committed to the defeat of the Nazis. Most of them had seen their parents murdered or being taken away or did not know the fate of their parents and family.
In the US Army, many were incorporated into different units and it was a learning experience for them to mix with "ordinary" Americans. They mostly found them very friendly. In many cases the US Army facilitated their becoming US citizens. Some were later selected to be translators for special units assigned to intelligence work for unit commanders and Generals. As the war progressed and they entered Germany some found themselves in charge of whole towns and villages. One man from Aachen, the first German city captured, was put in charge and given the task of finding the Nazis there, and he knew them all personally. In other cases, German Jews, who had been reduced to being poor refugees by the Nazis, found themselves interrogating German Generals and Nazi Party officials. They were often asked how they knew such perfect German. One of these was Henry Kissinger, who had lived in poverty as a refugee in New York, but was to reach great heights as a US foreign policy expert.
In most cases, at the end of the war they found that their parents had been killed, but in one extraordinary case, a Czech Jewish refugee-soldier found his parents still alive in the Thereisenstadt camp. But, this was the exception. Altogether they did a great service to the Allies in helping them to obtain intelligence about the activities and structure of the German Army and the Nazi Party. They played an important role in the Allied victory, although this was not revealed for a long time.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Apartheid nonsense

"Israel Apartheid week" has become somewhat of a regular event on University campuses world-wide. But, it is based on such a ridiculous premise that one hopes very few, apart from the convinced enemies of Israel, will take it seriously.
First of all, as to the charge of "apartheid," Israel is a democracy in which Arabs (supposedly in place of the blacks in S. Africa) are completely free to travel wherever they like in the country, to form political parties as long as they are not advocating violence, to vote in elections, and to have representatives in the Parliament (Knesset). In the last election with 20% of the population they elected 10 MKs. An attempt by Israel Beitanu to prevent one party (Balad) from standing in the election was overturned by the Israel Election Commission. Also, both Israeli and Palestinian Arabs have the right to go to the courts and take cases as high as the Supreme Court and in many cases have won, for example in having the route of the Security Fence moved (although not stopped).
In relation to the supposed "apartheid," one must distinguish sharply between Israeli Arabs who are Israeli citizens and Palestinian Arabs who are not Israeli citizens. Israeli Arabs have all the rights of every other Israeli, including a passport, welfare, voting, etc. By contrast, the Palestinian Arabs are not citizens of Israel, they are citizens of the Palestine Authority, and of course, do not have Israeli rights. Therefore, when Israel puts up a security fence to stop Arabs from entering Israel and carrying out suicide bombing attacks, it is against Palestinian Arabs and not Israeli Arabs. So the fence has nothing to do with "apartheid" since there are Arabs on both sides of it.
In Israel the Arabs have all rights, including higher education, and there are many attending Universities in Israel, as well as Arab teachers. In the Pharmacy School of Hebrew University ca. 50% of the students are Arabs (it is a good profession for them) and it is common to hear Arabic being spoken around the School. Also, Arabs move around in Israel without any problem, they shop and work in Netanya. One of the pharmacists in our Maccabi Health Fund is an Arab. A group of workmen upgrading the sewers in the center of Netanya were all Arabs, and the men refacing our building (where my studio is) were all Arabs, including their manager.
Also, the Arabs in Israel are divided into three main groups, the Muslims (about 70%) the Christians (ca. 15%) and the Druse (ca. 15%). By and large the Christian Arabs and the Druse are quite to very supportive of Israel. Druse, who are considered a heretical sect by the Muslims and have been greatly persecuted by them, are generally very patriotic to Israel (although they are patriotic to each country they reside in, including Syria). Druse have been in high Government positions, such as the current Minister of Science and Sport Ghaleb Majadle, and are high officers in the IDF and represent Israel abroad. Yet, they are Arabs by any definition, they speak Arabic and consider themselves to be Arabs. This makes nonsense of any kind of "apartheid." Israel is a democratic State based on laws and there is no "separation" whatsoever under the law into racial or ethnic groups.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The opposable thumb

One of the great steps in evolution that lead to man was the development of the opposable thumb. This allowed monkeys in trees to grasp onto branches and move rapidly through the forest.
When man's antecedents took to the land their hands became indispensible for clasping weapons and using computers. Without the opposable thumb none of this would have been possible.
I have learnt thru personal experience how important an opposable thumb is, since I injured my right thumb. This is how it happened, at the gym I was trying to change the device, correctly known as a thinga-me-jigabob, that is on the end of a pulling machine, used to improve your arm muscles. I removed the piece that was there that I didn't want, and went to grasp the one that I wanted to replace it with, and while doing this I held the hook at the end of the wire in my right opposable thumb. But, I had forgotten to release the weights on the end of the wire, and since someone a lot stronger than me had used it before, the weight was considerable, and it pulled my thumb up with great rapidity. Needless to say I experienced a moment of surprise and terror. What happened next is that my thumb became, to use the technical expression, "hyper-extended." The result is that now it is no longer opposable.
All the joints in my thumb became somehow damaged, and the top one especially can no longer be bent effectively, it became a "trigger" joint, and at first it was a bit of a joke, but after some time the humor wore off and now I can't bend it and it is painful (no more laughing).
So I went to the doc, got some x-rays, and then the orthopod, who he told me it wasn't broken, and now physio, which means having my hand held by a nice young woman, who, to teach me a lesson, puts my hand in hot wax, and I have to show her that I can stand pain.
In some ways I have regressed in evolutionary terms, I can no longer open a can with a can-opener, unless its electric, and I have to have my wife carry out many minor functions that before I, as the man of the house, used to consider my right, such as opening the door with the key. While an opposable thumb is admittedly a useful attribute, nevertheless, with a helper one can live quite effectively. But, the moral of this story is protect your opposable thumb or it will oppose you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fayad's resignation

The resignation of PA PM Salam Fayad, effective at the end of the month, brings to an end a stormy period in the history of the PA. Fayed is not a member of Fatah or Hamas, but of a small independent party the Third Way, that could not have been elected on its own, but he was appointed by Pres. Abbas of the PA as a trustworthy economist. Fayad was originally appointed as Finance Minister of the PA by Yasir Arafat, but when he pointed out that Arafat was misusing aid money and demanded more transparency, he was fired (many thought that he would be assassinated). But, then Arafat died, and Abbas appointed Fayad as PM with American support.
Now that Fatah and Hamas are in serious negotiations in Egypt about forming a unity government for the PA as the only way to obtain the reconstruction funds of around b$4 that have been promised by the international community, Fayad must go. To Hamas he is unacceptable, since he is too moderate, and to Fatah he is a problem because he is too honest and might reveal their plans to siphon off large amounts of the money.
Fayad represents that rare species, a responsible Palestinian politician who is both honest and pragmatic. Clearly he is too moderate and pro-Western for Hamas and so he had to go to make room for them. The formation of a PA Unity Government between Fatah and Hamas would be an unacceptable move for Israel, and would make it impossible for Israel to have any more dealings with the whole PA Government. This would immediately stop any peace process.
The US has opposed Fayad's resignation and has asked Pres. Abbas to reappoint him, something that Fayad himself has ruled out. So it would leave the US hanging, just as Pres. Obama wants to show how ready he is to dialog, the inclusion of Hamas in a PA Government might also make it impossible for the US to deal with it too, since the US defines Hamas as as terrorist organization (so does the EU but it wouldn't stop them). An alternative would be for the US to change it's designation of Hamas, and this is not impossible.
There are several potential outcomes. Either a PA Unity Govt. will be formed between Hamas and Fatah, and then all Western and Israeli contacts are off, until further elections might clarify the issue. This might give Hamas even more power, including in the West Bank, which would definitely terminate any peace process. Or, Fatah could come out the winners thus renewing Western contacts. Alternatively, Fatah and Hamas might not be able to form a Unity Government and then we are back to square one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trip to Galilee

Sunday we went on a tiyul of our Hebrew Ulpan with our dynamic teacher Tzipi Kaufman along the Galilee coast, stopping at several places. Our first stop was a hill very close to Kibbutz Galed, where Naomi lived as a child. The hill is famous for being covered by beautiful pink cyclamen flowers, in Hebrew kalaniot. It is a well known beauty spot, and I was surprised that the hill is not open but quite thickly forested. I wondered how our lives would have turned out if Naomi's parents had decided to stay in the kibbutz rather than leave for a town near Haifa and then back to England when her father was ill. Such are the chances that determine our lives.
From there we drove to Acco (Acre) where we visited a Tunisian synagogue that is completely covered inside, floor, walls and ceilings by mosaics, showing the history of the Bible, of Israel and everything Jewish. It is quite remarkable and one wonders why. It is a small building down a narrow side street, otherwise quite unremarkable.
North of Acco is the kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, the Ghetto Fighter's kibbutz, where we visited the museum. As well as the ususal museum exhibits showing the history of the Holocaust (Shoah) and the Warsaw Ghetto, they have some modern exhibits, including one that displays letters (in Hebrew and Roman script) on a wall that randomly form the names of Jewish communities that were destroyed by the Germans during the Shoah. Another is a separate wing about the one and a half million Jewish children who were deliberately murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe during the Shoah. Words fail me.
Finally we drove to the northermost point along the coast at Rosh Hanikra, at the border with Lebanon, where we had a Purim sing-song and a snack and then drove back home.
It was a pleasant trip, and we had been in most of those places at one time or another in the past, but it is something that Israelis like to do, go out and see our Land. We are the lucky generation to have redeemed our precious Land and we want to go about in it as well as inhabit it.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tennis anyone?

What is the sound of no hands clapping? The answer is, of course (like the sound of one hand clapping) silence. But while there was comparative silence inside the stadium in Malmo, Sweden, for the Israel-Sweden Davis cup tennis match, there was a lot of noise and violence outside. Around 7,000 protesters attacked the police and security at the stadium and tried very hard to break through. If they had been able to do so there is no doubt that the lives of the Israeli tennis players would have been at stake. At least 100 of the most violent were arrested. Is this the way Sweden welcomes players of a visiting team?
Before the match, various views were given about the decision not to allow the audience to attend. The reason given by the Malmo City Council was that they could not guarantee the lives of the players if the stadium were open to the audience. Few gave that answer credence, preferring to believe that the Malmo City Council were either themselves biased against Israel, or giving in to intimidation, but in the event it was probably a wise decision. A Swedish lady who lives here told me that in Malmo about 25% of the population are already Muslim as a result of liberal immigration policies, including many Gazans, because the Swedish Govt. gives them preference since they regard them as coming from a politically dangerous area. I hope they are satisfied with the problem they have caused themselves.
While the attack on the stadium in Malmo was not as deadly as the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan last week, it was of a similar nature. They are using sport as a soft target, to score points in the war of Islam against the West. Now many might conclude that the protesters in Sweden were not Islamists, but whether they were the most liberal of Swedes or not, the effect of their violent protest was the same, to single out Israel for attack. The result of these attacks is that no cricket (or any other) team can now visit Pakistan for a match and no Israeli team can play anywhere in the world without extensive security.
What has come of the sporting gesture, the world of innocence that we knew before the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Olymic Games in Munich in 1972. Only a concerted effort by the international sports organizations and the major sports countries can once again fill the stadiums and allow people to clap for a good passing shot.
By the way, Israel won the Davis cup match 3-2 and now go on to the next stage where they are drawn against Russia, last year's winners.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Centenary of Tel Aviv

In 1909, a group of 60 Jews got together and decided to found a Jewish town next to Jaffa. Jaffa was an ancient city that was predominantly Arab, and the Jews living there in crowded and sometimes squalid conditions wanted something better. They founded a cooperative to build houses in the dunes north of Jaffa called Ahuzat Bayit ("spacious home"). At the time noone knew if this little "settlement" would succeed, and certainly noone would have believed that their puny effort would grow into the city of Tel Aviv ("hill of spring") with ca. 500,000 people, the greatest Jewish city in the world.
There were a few other initiatives to settle Jews outside Jaffa, for example, Neveh Tzedek ("abode of justice"), that was founded in 1887 as the first Jewish suburb of Jaffa. It was largely developed by cosmopolitan immigrants and eventually became a fashionable and arty neighborhood of Tel Aviv. There was also the Shalom quarter that was founded as a farm by a non-Jewish American immigrant who wanted to help the Jews return to their land.
Gradually the city grew until during the British period in the 1930s it became the center for Bauhaus architecture ("international style") that was imported by Jewish architects from Germany. Since these buildings were usually painted white because of the heat, that gave rise to the nickname for Tel Aviv, "The White City." Many of these buildings fell into disrepair during later years, but now many have been restored and Tel Aviv has the biggest concentration of "modernist" Bauhaus style buildings in the world.
Ultimately Tel Aviv swallowed up Jaffa and it is still known as Tel Aviv-Jaffa. As the city developed northwards, some of the more modern and more affluent neighborhoods are in North Tel Aviv, such as Ramat Aviv, where the University of Tel Aviv is found.
For its centenary year, Tel Aviv is holding many celebrations, including shows, exhibits, parades, etc. It is a thriving city, with a reputation for secularism (quite contrasted to Jerusalem) and a 24 hour lifestyle. Many foreigners who come from abroad are struck by the fact that Tel Aviv does not seem to be typical of Israel, with its bars, clubs and nightlife In fact it is far more left-wing/liberal and less religious and has a reputation for being more fun-loving than any other city in Israel. Yet, Tel Aviv is the quintessential Hebrew-speaking city where the Zionist motto, a country like all others, came true.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Those of us who are aware of the great economic crisis ravaging our world are amazed at the largesse being donated to the Palestinians at the Congress held in Egypt last Monday. How can the Western nations (mostly) justify spending billions of dollars on a relatively unimportant, even insignificant people, when their own peoples are increasingly out of work and in need.
This money is supposed to be largely for the reconstruction of Gaza in the wake of the Israeli Operation, but the Conference agreed that the money cannot be given to Hamas, which was not even invited to the Conference, even though they control Gaza. The money is being largely donated to the Palestine Authority of Pres. Abbas. and to UNWRA. But, it is well known that like his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, Abbas and his henchmen are veterans at siphoning off money from foreign donors. Arafat absconded with at least 1 billion dollars, and it is anybody's guess how much of the 4 billion will go missing. An expert on the PA, Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, has already described the setting up of dummy companies to take the money. Isn't it dumb to send billions of dollars into a crooked organization such as the PA when they have no control over Gaza where the money is supposed to be spent. Worse, still, some of the money given to UNWRA will undoubtedly fall into Hamas hands and will be used to continue attacking Israel, where rockets continue to fall every day (a school was destroyed by one on Shabbat, but no pupils were there).
Given the fact that the Palestinians are the world's largest recipients of foreign aid of all so-called "refugees," isn't it time after 60 years to stop treating them as a basket case and let them learn to stand on their own feet. Perhaps someone can explain why the world is so generous to them; is it because they are the enemy of the Jewish nation?
Jack Cohen
Netanya, Israel

The Israeli people voted for a right wing Government and they should get it. Most were fed up with the incompetence and corruption of Kadima. It is no secret that many deserted the left-wing to vote for Kadima and gave it a one seat advantage over Likud because Kadima used election ads that warned people to vote for Livni to prevent Netanyahu from winning. But, it wasn't enough, and so Labor and Kadima are in the opposition, where they belong.
I for one hope that Netanyahu can form a right wing coalition that will reverse the unilateral retreats of the past and will give the country a sense of pride again. Yes, there are problems of civil marriage and conversions, but these must take second priority compared to the need to confront the continued firing of rockets into Israeli territory, even after Operation Cast Lead, and the threat of Iran. We need a unified Government not a unity Government to tackle these fundamental problems with determination and competence.
Jack Cohen

Friday, March 06, 2009

Iran first

As Secty of State Clinton has been going around the Middle East she has been hearing complaints from many sources about one topic - Iran. While she was in Egypt for the Donor's Conference on Gaza, the main topic she was confronted with was not Hamas in Gaza, but Iran that stands behind Hamas and funds it and supplies it with arms.
Iran uses hatred of Israel as a propaganda tool to stir up support for itself in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but its proximal aim is not the destruction of Israel, it has its proxies Hamas and Hizbollah to do that, but it seeks to extend its hegemonic control over it's local region, the Persian Gulf. As a consequence the Arab Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are all very concerned about being threatened by an Iranian nuclear bomb. They and US forces in the Gulf are the true immediate targets of Iranian expansionism.
Since Hamas is the spoiler in the Palestinian situtation, the progress towards a peace process is stymied in effect by Iran. Whether or not Hamas can be destroyed or disabled from firing rockets into Israel, the fact remains that Iran will continue to supply it and other terrorist groups, such as Islamic Jihad, which is a full-fledged extension of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, with the necessary means to attack Israel. Therefore, the only way to resolve the Palestinian conflict is to neutralize Iran first. This is the logic of the current situation and it is unavoidable. There is no "two state solution" possible while Hamas and Hizbollah are being supported by Iran in order to bring about a "one state solution," i.e. the destruction of Israel.
It seems that the hand of negotiation if not friendship that Pres. Obama proferred to Iran's leaders has been summarily rejected by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who in very insulting language gave a public speech in which he called Israel a "cancer" and blamed the US for Israel's existence. If dialog with Iran, as with Hamas, is impossible, then a ratcheting up of the sanctions regime is needed. Apparently Pres. Obama has tried to do this by offering a deal to Russia - we won't deploy our missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, if you stop supporting Iran's nuclear development and instead support further sanctions against Iran. So far Pres. Medvedev has responded with a luke warm speech repeating Russia's right to trade with Iran. But this seems like a good deal for Russia, since its main foreign policy objective has been to stop the eastward creep of NATO and US influence. In this situation there might be a good deal for all concerned, Russia, the US, the Arabs and Israel.
Overall it is clear that before any progress can be made in the Israel-Palestine conflict the problem of an expansionist, nuclear armed Iran must be dealt with first.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's not cricket!

In England, playing cricket is a kind of national rite and the rules are expected to be followed in a gentlemanly manner. So when a team of terrorists attack a cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan, it's simply unimaginable to most people. Why attack a cricket team, the Sri Lankan team, that volunteered to go to Pakistan in place of the India team because they felt it was too ? Not only is Pakistan a Muslim country, and a serious if not fanatical Muslim country, but it probably contains more Islamist fanatics per population than any other country in the world. Most of the terrorist attacks in Britain can be traced directly back to Pakistan.
The attack on the cricket team was very similar in organization and practice to the attacks in Mumbai two months ago, and exhibit all the signs of al Qaeda. Several well-armed groups of 2-3 individuals coordinated their attack from different directions, they carried grenades, supplies and ammunition in their backpacks and they melted back into the crowd as soon as the shooting was over.
There are three reasons why Pakistan is to be feared and why foreigners should not venture there: 1. The Pakistan security apparatus, the ISI, used to support the Taliban and the resurgence of the Taliban can be related to the overthrow of the dictator Gen. Musharraf, who was cooperating with the West, and the election of the weak and incompetent Govt. of Pres. Asif Ali Zardari, husband of assassinated Benazir Bhutto; 2. The Northwest territories are not under the control of the central Government, and recently the Pres. agreed to extend sharia law there in order to placate the extremists, although it is not likely to do this, but only be considered a sign of weakess; 3. Osama bin Ladin is most likely holed up there, beyond the reach of the Pakistan and US armed forces, and the raids in Lahore and Mumbai are characteristic of al Qaeda attacks that were almost certainly planned in the areas of Waziristan or nearby.
A line can be drawn between the attacks on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics and the Sri Lankan cricket team at Lahore, a complete and ruthless lack of concern for human life, taking advantage of a "soft" target like sportsmen, and the belief that killing people will accomplish the aims of Islam. The Western world will have to face the problem and bite the bullet. Its seems that Pres. Bush was right and the situation in Iraq has improved sufficiently that there is now no difference between his former policy and Pres. Obama's withdrawal. Actually it appears that the US has defeated al Qaeda and other insurgent groups in Iraq.
The current and real danger lies in the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan that is largely supplied and supported from Pakistan. This is where the US should focus its efforts to destroy the terrorist threat. There is no suggestion, even by Pres Obama, that the US should negotiate with these terrorists, and similarly there is no sense for Israel or any one else to recognize Hamas and deal with them. These people murder defenceless cricketers and anyone else.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

No Road Map, no Annapolis

Hillary Clinton's first visit to the Middle East as Secty. of State has been marked by a very positive interaction in Israel. After attending the Donor's Conference in Egypt, where she pledged m$900 on behalf of the US to Palestinian causes (m$300 towards Gaza reconstruction and m$600 investment in the PA in the West Bank), and where she reiterated the US's commitment to Israel and criticized Hamas for continuing to fire rockets into Israeli territory, she was poised for a positive visit to Israel. Since Clinton was Senator from NY and had a very Jewish constituency, she is familiar with Israel and with its problems, and has been very supportive in the past.
In Israel she met with Pres. Peres, PM Olmert, FM Livni and PM-designate Netanyahu. Her meeting with Netanyahu, that many thought might be less than stellar, was in fact very positive. It was very notable that nowhere in any meeting did she mention "the Road Map to peace" or "Annapolis," both of which were closely identified with former Pres. Bush. While she touted the "two state solution" as "inevitable" and "inescapable" she also admitted a desire for "new thinking" on behalf of the Obama Administration.
This went down well with Netanyahu, since he does not oppose a "two state solution", and in fact he was engaged in negotiations with the PA during his previous term ten years ago that led to the division of Hebron. But, he is currently reluctant to admit that publicly so as not to upset any of his right wing partners on whom he will depend to form a coalition, since neither Kadima nor Labor are interested in joining him. Netanyahu himself believes that the way to achieve peace, and eventually a "two state solution," will be through bottom up support for the PA, raising the economic and educational level of ordinary Palestinians in order to free them from the control of parties whose existence depends on portraying Israel as the enemy. The hope of this approach is that once the people themselves see that Israel is not interestd in "occupying" them and truly wants peace and they experience a higher standard of living, they will also reject the old political formulas of the past.
Even if this is a vain hope, it is an example of "new thinking" that the Obama Administration could embrace, and is consistent with the idea of providing development funds to the PA as well as avoiding prior political recipes. It also has the advantage from the point of view of Netanyahu's right wing political partners of holding off the rush to a political settlement involving a Palestinian State, but rather puts progress of the Palestinian people towards prosperity and peace first. Many would say this is the right order and that previous unsuccessful attempts were putting the cart before the horse!
Today Clinton is visiting Ramallah where she will meet with Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyad. She will try to persuade them to be transparent in their handling of the vast sums of money being poured on them by the US and the world, but ultimately she knows that this is a futile hope.

Hail Darwin!

This year we are celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Darwin, the author of the seminal work "The origin of species," published in 1859. In this book Darwin, after collecting material and considering the subject for 20 years, finally published his theories based on his experience as a young naturalist during the famous voyage of the Beagle (1831-6) and particularly his visit to the Galapagos Islands.
It is important to distinguish the process of biological evolution that Darwin described in great detail, from Darwin's theory of how that process occured. Note it is not his theory of whether or not evolution has occured, but rather his theory of how it occured. This should be a clarification for all those who dispute the fact of biological evolution when they refer to it as a "theory." Evolution is a process, that can occur in any context, for example an individual evolves in stages from a fertilized ovum, to a foetus, an embryo, a baby, a child and an adult. What needs to be explained is how this process of maturation occurs. Similarly, if you pick up a rounded stone on the beach, intuition immediately tells you that it has been smoothed by the action of the sea and the waves. It is obvious that it did not start as a smooth rounded stone, but very slowly has been rendered that way by natural processes. So with biological evolution.
Darwin postulated the "survival of the fittest," that over long periods of time, in fact millions of years, variation in individuals has produced the multiplicity of species that we see in the world today. The idea that they were all produced by God several thousand years ago and that they have remained essentially the same ever since is unsupportable by any intelligent, informed person. However, Darwin could not explain exactly how such evolution occured, since he knew nothing about genetics and of DNA that underlies it.
The discovery of the structure of DNA and it's crucial role in genetics was not to be revealed for another hundred years after his publication (in fact in 1953 by Watson and Crick). What is most important, and not realized by many, is that the discovery of DNA and the elucidation of its role in biological evolution has totally supported Darwin's view of evolution. The area of molecular genetics using DNA analysis (just as it is used for crime solving) is as important today in revealing the relationships of species as are the older methods of paelontology using bones.
Another often unremarked fact is that Darwin was not alone in describing biological evolution from observation of different species, but Alfred Russel Wallace, a botanist who had travelled extensively in the Amazon region and in Malaya had come to the same conclusions. In fact, it was a letter written by Wallace to Darwin in 1857 that finally caused Darwin to publish his book, for fear of being "scooped."
The importance of Charles Darwin was that his observations and description of biological evolution provided a scientific alternative to religious opinions based entirely on faith, and led to a revolution in secular thought that transformed Western civilization from being predominantly Christian to being predominantly secular.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Finish the job?

Since the end of Operation Cast Lead over 60 rockets have hit Israel. Over the weekend 16 rockets hit southern Israel from Gaza. Two of them were advanced Grads not seen before, with a longer range of 40 km and more explosive content. One hit a school in Ashkelon on Shabbat, and practically destroyed it, the walls were pockmarked from shrapnel and metal screws and bolts that they put in their rockets to cause human mutilation. Luckily there were no children there, but because the schools in Ashkelon have not been reinforced, as they have been in Sderot, the Ashkelon Parent's Association decided not to send their children to school and have announced a boycott.
Now you might ask, what happened? After Operation Cast Lead the security situation in the south was supposed to have changed significantly, and the damage in Gaza was supposed to have been a deterrent to further Hamas attacks. Of course, Hamas is now claiming that the rockets come from other groups, but noone believes that these could be fired without at least their permission. The Olmert Govt. warned once again of disastrous responses to any attacks, but so far they have only hit empty buildings and tunnels along the Philadelphi corridor.
The Israel Govt. can always find excuses not to attack, here are a few of them: 1. The negative international reaction to Operation Cast Lead was so great that the Govt. is inhibtied from acting again; 2. The Olmert Govt. is a caretaker one and doesn't want to take overt action, but would rather leave this to the next Netanyahu Govt.; 3. There is a donor's meeting being held in Egypt with many countries represented and it would be inappropriate for Israel to be causing more damage while they are falling over each other to donate money to repair the current damage; 5. Secty of State Clinton is due in Israel Tuesday to push for a renewal of the peace process with the PA, and it would be a bad sign for her to arrive while further action is proceeding.
However, consider the following, none in the international community seem particularly concerned about the continuation of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, they essentially ignore it, nor is there any funds being proposed for the damage that has been caused in the past 5 years in Israel. Israel cannot afford to lose all deterrent capability and it cannot allow Hamas to get away again with this kind of rocket barrage. The problem once again is that the IDF never finishes the job, they either stop voluntarily at Govt. order or as a result of international pressure. In order to actually stop the rockets, the IDF must destroy Hamas and occupy some areas of Gaza. This is not a popular scenario in Israel, but it must be done. Only a Government with the balls to do this can succeed in stopping the firing of rockets and stopping the range and effectiveness of the rockets from increasing. It seems that the Olmert Govt. is not able to carry this out, a pity since they were more than half-way there before they stopped Operation Cast Lead. Let's hope the Netanyahu Govt. will be able to finish the job.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Over the past month or so I've had the dubious pleasure of communicating/chatting with a group of Indian support personnel in order to render my computer safe from intrusions.
Like many others I have the Norton/Symantec Antivirus program to prevent bugs, viruses and worms being introduced into my computer via the internet. When the Antivirus program is working properly it has a green tick on the icon, but suddenly it changed to a red cross, indicating that it was no longer working. I found that I could use the "one click" link to have my Norton Antivirus program corrected on-line in real time.
It connected me to an Indian call center, where the personnel, with obviously Indian names, asked me politely if I would allow them to "take-over" my computer so they could rememdy the problem. I had to open a specific site with a "connectme" suffix, and then some programs automatically downloaded. Then they could investigate the status of the program in my computer and take any actions they deemed necessary while I looked on. All the time I could chat with them about the status of the computer:
These are the things they did:
1. I was given a program called "Intelligent updater" (on 18/12/08), but the AV program worked only for a short time after that.
2. Then on 18, 19 and 20/1/09 three people made changes, first removing my Antivirus 08 and replacing it with the 09 version, then removing my Webroot Spymaster program, because it was/might interfere with the Norton spyware program (although I had been using both for several years without apparent problem) and then completely removing Antivirus09 and reinstalling it anew.
3. Then on 5 occasions recently I received a message "Symantec service framework encountered a problem and needed to close," following which on re-booting Antivirus seemed to work OK, until it showed a big red cross and turned off completely ("your computer is at risk!) Once again I contacted "one click" and this time something was done to the "framework" and another large program (54 Mb) was downloaded.
6. Then when I ran a scan of my computer using the apparently much-repaired AV program, it failed to complete, but four times it suddenly stopped and the program icon disappeared from my computer. So I contacted the "one-click" chat again, and this time after the tech said it was fixed I asked him to wait while I did a scan (this takes time) but it failed again. So he finally did several more things, clicked a box to "automatic" and now it seems to work.
On the one hand this is a great service, since I had no idea what to do (nor apparently did some of them) and I would have been left without security protection without this support (which by the way I had to have paid for my subscription in order to have this service). So now I feel safe again (but for how long?)
The word "chat" is a Hindi word for a fast-food delicacy that you can buy off small carts along the roadside in Indian cities. It consists of various kinds of nuts and perfumed sweetmeats rolled in a leaf and eaten as a refreshment. Because people who stop to buy chat, stand and talk briefly, somehow the British picked up the word to mean a short conversation. I've had too many chats lately.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Good news, bad news

There is both good news and bad news. For example, the Durban II conference that is being planned by the UN in Geneva is turning out to be more biased against Israel than many had hoped. However, the good news is that the Obama Administration, on seeing this trend, has decided to join Israel and Canada in boycotting it. The idea is that the UN Human Rights Agency is so institutionally biased against Israel that nothing can be done about it. In effect, anti-Semitism has been removed from the list of racisms in the UN definitions and has become the main cause of racism. Remember the UN's "Zionism=racism" resolution that was eventually overturned, well we're back there again.
The bad news is that Pope Benedict XVI recognized Bishop Richard Williamson, who is overtly anti-Semitic, and welcomed him back into the Church. The good news is that the Pope then renounced Williamson's views to a Jewish group, and then Williamson was fired from his seminary job in Argentina and expelled from that country. Upon arriving in England, Williamson issued an apology for his embarrassment of the Church and the Jews, but did not renounce his own views, and the Vatican rejected his apology.
In London, there is another anti-Israel play, after the manipulated memoir "My name is Rachel Corrie", called "Seven Jewish children" by Caryl Churchill. It is inspired by the view that the IDF deliberately carried out massacres of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, which is a gross lie, and compares Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto, a truly anti-Semitic comparison. In this play, Jewish children are shown to be brought up and indoctrinated to hate Palestinians and treat them as "unter-menschen," just as the Jews were treated by the Nazis. This is so far from reality, note that there are Arabs recently elected to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) and that Israel continues to provide water, food and electricity to Gaza, even through the fighting, apart from the fact that the IDF is a well organized Army that has orders to avoid civilian casualties, that it follows. So this is another part of the leftist campaign to delegitimize Israel in order to gain a State for the Palestinians, that if it is anything like Hamas in Gaza, would kill any leftists, including Caryl Churchill, if they could get hold of her. I suppose the good news is that this propaganda piece is so extreme and devoid of reality that in the end it will fade into obscurity.
On the other hand, the movie "Defiance" that depicts the true story of the Bielsky borthers, who established a large Jewish partisan group in the Byelorussian forests, fought the Nazis and rescued 1,200 Jews, is a great antidote to all this Jew-hatred. Fortunately it will be seen by many more people than this sick anti-Semitic play.
The good news is that the US, EU and UN want a united Fatah-Hamas Palestinian Government in order to be able to continue peace negotiations and to dispense the more than 3 billion dollars that are being donated for the reconstruction of Gaza. The bad news is that a united Fatah-Hamas government will legitimize Hamas and allow them to access some of these funds, that they will no doubt use to fight Israel.
The bad news is that Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel, the good news is that they are a few a day, four on Saturday. The bad news is that a Grad rocket hit a school in Ashkelon, the good news is that no children were there at the time. But these rockets are enough to cause concern and trigger IAF counter-attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza.
Around the world there is the growth of anti-Semitism, in the wake of the war in Gaza, that results in attacks on Jews, who of course had nothing directly to do with this war. In Venzuela, there has been an attack by an armed group of men (including soldiers) on the main Synagogue and then a grenade attack on a Jewish center. The 30,000 Jews in Venezuela are concerned for their lives (sounds familiar). Also, the growth of right-wing anti-Semitic groups in Eastern Europe is linked to the world-wide economic crisis that they of course blame on "the Jews."
The campuses in the UK, US and elsewhere continue to be hot-beds of anti-Israel activity, that borders on anti-Semitism, and Jewish students now fear to walk on many campuses. The bad news was that Hampshire College appeared to have been forced by an extremist student group to divest its investments from Israel, but the good news is that the College Authorities clarified their position and will not divest from Israeli investments.
The British Unions are still trying to introduce selective boycotts of Israel academia. The good news is that a delegation of British Union leaders is expected in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza soon on a fact-finding mission, but the bad news is that unfortunately their minds are already made up.
In Israel, there is good news on the alternative energy front, the Tamar gas field find off the coast of Haifa is even larger than expected and will make Israel energy indpendent for many years. Also, the sun as a source of energy is being developed in Israel, both using reflectors and the heat in the Arava region. The bad news is that these projects will take years to realize.
Another piece of bad news is that last year, 2008, had the lowest rate of aliyah into Israel for 20 years, ca. 16,230. However, the good news is that the resurgence of anti-Semitism both in East and West is projected to cause a 20% or more increase in aliyah this year. Last week a family of 20 Jews from northern Yemen was spirited out of that country after numerous threats on their lives and a grenade was thrown at their house and they arrived safely in Israel. At least the Jews of the world, especially those in danger, know that they have a safe haven in Israel.
By the way, the bad news is that Israel has a drought, but the good news is that its been raining heavily for 2 days and is expected to continue!