Friday, July 31, 2009

Dirty little secret

NGOs are non-governmental organizations that have become more and more
important in the current era of emphasis on human rights and governmental
transparency. Some NGOs are well known and play important roles in
relation to supragovernmental organizations, such as the EU and UN. For
example, there is Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International
(AI). Then there are also more politically active NGOs, such as the
International Solidarity Movement (ISM), that recruits students on
campuses in the West and sends them to participate in anti-Israel
demonstrations in Israel. Also the plethora of such organizations
include B'tselem, 'the Israel Committee against house demolitions'
and 'Machsom (checkpoint)watch.'
Since most of these NGOs are left-oriented, as they take the cause
of the downtrodden and powerless, it is not surprising that they also
tend to be anti-Israel. What is surprising is the extent to which they
are prepared to go to undermine the Jewish State and act against it in
all possible spheres. In doing so they take an institutional pro-
Palestinian position that has them going to great lengths to carry out
propaganda and collect funds in order to support their organized campaign
against Israel.
An example came to light as reported on the front page of the Jerusalem
Post on Thursday, entitled "British official boasts: we finance projects
aimed at halting settlement activity." In an interview on Al-Arabiya TV
British spokesman Martin Day stated openly that the British Government
was taking "practical steps towards freezing settlement activities,"
referring of course to the policy of trying to persuade the current
Israeli Government to freeze all building on the West Bank. He also said
specifically that they "finance organizations that monitor settlement
activities." No doubt in revealing this he hoped to obtain the sympathy
of his Arab audience and curry favor with their Governments.
But, wait a minute, these organizations are supposed to be NGOs, non-
governemntal organizations. So now the dirty little secret is out,
certain governments are using NGOs, supporting them financially and
influencing their activities, as an extension of their own policies.
Furthermore, leaders of HRW visited Saudi Arabia – one of the major
violators of the norms that HRW claims to promote – to raise funds for
the organization. HRW’s anti-Israel activities were stated as the major
reason for holding this Saudi fundraiser.
Left-wing Israeli NGOs also receive funding from foreign NGOs and
governmental sources. For example, the group "Breaking the silence" that
purported to be giving information about IDF human rights abuses during
Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, is funded by the European Union (€43,514),
the British government (NIS 226,589), the US New Israel Fund (NIF --
$68,833 in 2008), the Netherlands (€19,999), the Spanish government
(€80,000 in 2009), Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Moriah Fund, ICCO (Dutch
church group) and SIVMO (Dutch). According to reports in Ha’aretz, the
Dutch government “will reevaluate its funding” of this NGO.
So anyone who believes that these groups are motivated by purely
humanitarian aims is incredibly naieve. To obtain more information about
these nefarious organized efforts against Israel go to the web-site of
NGO Monitor ( and also check out the 50-page report
published by them entitled "Europe's hidden hand: EU funding for
political NGOs in the Arab-Israel conflict," written by Gerald
Steinberg. These revelations must be exposed and opposed.
The main headline in Friday's JP is "Israel aims to outlaw foreign gov't
funding for local NGOs that 'delegitimize the state.'"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Diplomatic maneuvers

The influx of high level US diplomats to Israel in the past few days has produced several headlines. The most significant, by Secty of Defense Gates, was a clarification of Secty of State Clinton's statement last week that seemed to accept a future Iranian nuclear weapon by stating that all US allies would be covered by the US nuclear umbrella. Now Gates has reiterated that the US will not accept an Iranian nuclear weapon and has specified that Obama's invitation to Iran to start a dialog is not open-ended and will expire in "the fall". Furthermore, the US will not engage in meaningless time-wasting, the kind that Iran used to string along the Europeans for the last 5 years. Well, we shall see, but at least this clarification puts Israel and the US more or less back on the same page. Defense Minister Barak for his part stated that all options regarding Iran are on the table, but Israel prefers tough sanctions.
Meanwhile Israel's sending warships thru the Suez Canal to the Persian Gulf has caused a reaction from Tehran, namely that should Israel attack Iran then they will attack all nuclear sites in Israel. Also, Hizbollah issued a warning that an attack on Iran would be considered an attack on them and they will hit Tel Aviv.
By complete contrast, in the Jerusalem Post today there is a feature article written by the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad al Khalif, entitled "Arabs need to talk to the Israelis." In this article the Shaikh not only suggests that the Saudi Plan could be modified in negotiations (contrary to the Saudis themselves), but he manifests a pragmatic approach towards peace, emphasizing economic cooperation. Maybe this is a good thing for small Kingdoms in the Gulf, but it does represent a potential schism between the moderate, mostly Sunni, and the extremist, mostly Shia or Shia-supported, Arabs.
In other news, the split between the US and Israel on the freeze of settlement building was papered over by both sides saying how they are good friends and fellow democracies. But, currently Gates is negotiating/ pressuring Netanyahu to come up with an agreed freeze, as the first step in a comprehensive peace agreement. Notably already US allies Britain and France have come out publicly in favor of such a freeze. Since the Saudis refused to cooperate with the US in any form of compromise, then of course the US turns around and pressures Israel, that's the way it always goes. It may be that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said, "first let the Israelis adopt a freeze on all settlement building, then we'll see". But, what will Israel get from the Arabs should it accede to this pressure, the answer based on previous experience is nothing. However, according to today's paper the US and Israel are waiting for responses from several Arab States to Obama's initiatives.
But, Obama nevertheless is pursuing a comprehensive agreement, something that has been tried before, remember Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, but with no success. The argument against a comprehensive agreement, including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians, is that several of them are unable to make agreements at all. Lebanon is stymied by Hizbollah and the PA by Hamas in Gaza. You cannot leave Iran out of the equation, and in my opinion, Iran must be dealt with first, before there is the possibility of any Palestinian or Lebanese agreement. A comprehensive agreement is well nigh impossible when you consider how many players must be in line for it to occur. The alignment of the planets occurs only once in a blue moon. Trust a novice to attempt the impossible. As Kissinger discovered, a step-wise approach, one pair of adversaries at a time, is the only practicable approach.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The ILA fiasco

The Netanyahu Government suffered its first defeat in the Knesset last week when the Israel Lands Authority Reform Bill had to be withdrawn before it was voted down. This came about because the Likud whip who was supposed to guide the bill thru the Knesset failed to ensure that it had sufficient coalition support, and because several Government Ministers from coalition parties failed to support the bill. Once the bill was withdrawn, PM Netanyahu warned Ministers that they would be fired if they did not support the bill when it was re-introduced and then he met with several of them to try to re-tailor the bill to fit their criticisms.
The ILA is the organization set up by the Israeli Government following independence to administer lands that were not of clear ownership. In time this became a massive bureaucracy and also conflicted with other parts of the Government, such as the Housing Ministry. The bill was intended to transfer ownership to those who had been holding land for 60 years where no clear prior private ownership exists, to open up the ILA holdings for private use and to delineate the role of the ILA relative to other Government Ministries. What precisely is so controversial about this reform bill is unclear, although it caught Netanyahu by surprise and he is now trying to mend the situation.
Meanwhile, pending the re-submission of this (amended) bill to the Knesset, the Likud has other legislative problems. The so-called "Mofaz bill" that would allow a group of 7 or more MKs to break off and form their own party was submitted today. Although it was supposed to have been submitted to allow former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to leave Kadima and join the Likud Coalition, he denied authorship of the eponymous bill. There are also groups of disaffected MKs who might like to leave the Labor Party and/or the Likud coalition, so this bill could result in political turmoil in the Knesset. How the results of this bill will affect the political situation in Israel is unknown.
There are other bills pending, for example the Gafni bill that proposes public support for haredi schools, that so far have not been supported because they do not follow the state-mandated curriculum of the Education Ministry. This political season is loaded with danger for Netanyahu, how far does he go to placate the many different groups represented in his bloated coalition, while at the same time the US is breathing down his neck.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Healthcare in Israel

The health system in Israel has been touted as a model for the US to follow given the political war now being fought by Pres. Obama and the Democrats against Republican opposition in the US for health care reform.
What is the system in Israel? First, let me say that we are very satisfied with this system here and so it seems are most of our friends and acquaintences. This could not be said about the situation in England, where the British health care system seems to be floundering, and has been for many years. In Israel there are a number of so-called health (or literally "sick") funds (in Hebrew, Kupat Holim) to which every person in the country belongs. The first and largest of these, the so-called General Sick Fund (Kupat Holim Clalit) must take any citizen who applies for health care. All the sick funds are subsidized by the Government, and the Government also plays a role in deciding how much they charge each member, and the cost it taken from their salaries at source or (by agreement) from their bank account.
Nevertheless, each fund is independent and can set its own programs and priorities. For example, our fund Kupat Holim Maccabi, tends to be more modern and somewhat more expensive than Clalit. We have GPs who are part of Kupat Holim Maccabi and we pay them about $1 for each visit (in addition to our basic charge). If we need to see a specialist we get a referral from our doctor and then its usually easy to make an appointment (sometimes the wait is a few weeks). At every doctor's or nurse's station in the Maccabi clinics there are computerized screens that have the names of the patients and their appointment times. Since the Maccabi clinic near us is so crowded and heavily used they are completing the construction of a new larger more modern center about another 5 mins walk away. Clalit owns many hospitals and generally is very crowded and requires longer waits for doctors. The other main fund is the smaller Kupat Holim Meuhedet, or special fund, although I don't know much about this.
Far be it for me to recommend that the US adopt this system, of independent but Government subsidized health funds. I believe it developed in Israel as a result of the strength of the trade unions and the early control of the Labor Party. However, it is clear that a fully Government run system as in England is not a good model to copy.
Although I oppose Obama on foreign policy, I support the general position that all Americans need to be covered by some kind of health care insurance. No modern country can or should function without it. And the problem is that this is going to cost mucho bucks, given the cost of modern health care and the millions who are not covered in the US. How to do this without bankrupting the US is indeed a problem. So I support the principle of universal health coverage, but how this can be accomplished in America is indeed a difficult problem. I hope that Obama spends more of his time trying to accomplish this, than wasting his time trying to control Israeli building on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. In the long run it will be far more important for him.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Righteous war

The number of deaths and injuries of US and British allied forces from fighting in Afghanistan is increasing, almost every day there are reports of soldiers shot dead in ambushes and on patrols. This only proves that the Taliban enemy is out there and getting stronger.
The main justification for continuing and extending this war is that if the Taliban are getting stronger and are fighting back, it is crucial that the Western forces prevent them from again taking over the country and establishing a Taliban regime. If they were able to do this then, the thinking goes, we would be fighting them in the US and Britain, rather than in Afghanistan. So the continued war in Afghanistan is essentially a defensive war to deny the Taliban and al Qaeda a sovereign refuge from where they could continue and expand their war against the West.
Pres. Obama, when he was running for President, proclaimed the anti-Bush policy, that Iraq was the "wrong" war, that the US should not be in Iraq, but instead should be fighting more strongly to defeat the al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, because it was they that had attacked us and they were our enemy. In a way, luckily for him, the "troop surge" in Iraq managed to defeat the bulk of the insurgency in Iraq by the time that he took office and recently it was possible for the US and Iraq to agree on a deal that all US forces have been withdrawn from all towns and cities in Iraq to pre-selected bases, where they are sitting in readiness if they are needed.
Now that Iraq is more or less quiescent, the focus shifts back to Afghanistan, which according to Obama is the "right" or "righteous" war. Soon there will be elections again in Afghanistan, and it will be important to see if the Western forces can guarantee those elections and keep Afghanistan on a democratic path, just as they did in Iraq.
But, the main problem in Afghanistan, and why the Taliban are resurgent, is that there is essentially no Government control in northern Pakistan. That is where the Taliban are recruiting and training their cadres for the fighting in Afghanistan. It is also well known that training schools for suicide bombers as young as 10-12 are active there and that such children are now being sold (average price $100) to various insurgent groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to target Pakistani and Afghani targets. This partly accounts for the resurgence of explosions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as the markets that were bombed in Kabul and Peshawar a few days ago killing many people.
In response, the Pakistani army were let loose on the Swat Vally in the center of the northern area of Pakistan, that had essentially become an Islamist stronghold. After Pres. Zadari had agreed to allow them to establish sharia law there, he and the West were alarmed when they moved their forces to within 100 miles of Islamabad, where the Pakistani A-bombs are located. In finally fighting back, the Pakistan army, although they caused ca. 1 million refugees from the Swat Valley, have seemingly defeated the Islamist forces there, and hopefully have reestablished Governent control over that area. The refugees are now returning.
But, there are many such areas of Islamist control in northern Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan cannot be won without a similar extensive war in Pakistan. Although the Pakistan Government has shown its ability and willingness to tackle these forces in Swat, whether or not they can do so throughout the whole of the north where the Taliban enclaves are situated is questionable. But, the Pakistan Government will not allow Western forces to enter their territory, so whether or not they are up to this task is questionable.
What is clear is that Obama, as a good liberal, must continue to sell this war to the people of the US as a just and righteous war for the US to be in.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Partly in response to a letter from a correspondent who proposes that it should be scientifically possible to revive people who have had heart attacks and/or are brain dead (such as Ariel Sharon), I write the following.
There are three processes that lead to what we call aging. The first and most fundamental is at the cellular and molecular level and is known as apoptosis or programmed cell death. This process was discovered in the 1950s by a British cellular biologist, but was ignored for many years. If you think about it it makes sense, since cells are dividing, the organs would continue to grow to enormous sizes unless cells were also dying and being replaced at a more or less comparable rate. When cells are damaged or get "old" (i.e. after a limited number of divisions) they tend to self-destruct, they produce enzymes that degrade their own cellular structures. Then there are mutations within the cells that over a long period of time accumulate and cause genetic diseases that can be fatal, such as cancer, that is more prevalent as people live to older age. One of the features of cancer cells is that although they are aberrant, they evade apoptosis and continue to live, i.e. in effect they become immortalized.
One should not forget that all of our tissues are turning over, being degraded and re-synthesized (blood takes about 5 days to be replaced). This raises serious questions, such as are we the same person we were before all our systems were regenerated. But, the only tissue that does not do this is nerve tissue, the brain and nerve cells are more or less unchanging throughout our life, hence we can retain memories from an early age, which otherwise would be lost if the tissues that retain the memories were being replaced (although they are when damage occurs).
A major cause of aging is the physical breakdown of macroscopic structures, such as muscles (heart), collagen (e.g. spinal disks), joints (arthritis) and so on. This might be called "wear and tear" and particularly affects the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems. The effect of carrying around a lot of extra weight as people become fatter and less fit cannot be ignored. At a certain age most women stop producing estrogen and men testosterone. The loss of these hormones, even though one can have hormone replacement therapy (HRT), causes irreversible changes in the body (such as osteoporosis). Another result is greying of the hair and hair loss, which are perfectly natural processes. There can also be dementia due to localized damage to the brain or strokes, that are micro-embolisms in the brain, or Alzheimer's disease.
Finally, at advanced age or as a result of advanced disease, there is a process called cachexia that mimics the process of apoptosis, but on a macroscopic level. All the body's organs begin to break down, including the brain, and so mental and physical well-being and quality of life are impaired.
So to those of us who exercise and go to the gym to keep active and healthy, keep trying, but don't expect it to evade eventual aging.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Legal victories?

The European Court for Human Rights of the Council of Europe upheld a French court decision that a specifically anti-Israel boycott is discriminatory and illegal. This opens the way for any Jewish organizations in the EU to bring a case against any anti-Israel boycott of academics or goods and is a victory for the pro-Israel forces.
At last the anti-Israel movements, which have been trying to use trade union boycotts and academic boycotts as a front for their nefarious activities, will now have to think twice before proceeding. They could find themselves sued out of existence. The court ruled that taking such a stand does not constitute interference with anyone's freedom of expression, in this specific case that of the Communist Mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products. Local Jewish organizations brought the case against him that was unsucessful at the local court, but was reversed on appeal at the higher French Court, and was upheld at the European level.
Apart from anti-Israel boycotts, the left's agenda in the West is to delegitimize Israel by trying to smear it with negative stereotypes, such as "apartheid" and "occupier." Another favorite stratagem is to bring one-sided accusations against the IDF, and this was done this week by an Israeli left wing organization called "Breaking the silence." Already the name of the group gives a clue to it's intentions, as if there were any limit on freedom of expression in Israel. This group claims that ca. 30 soldiers have claimed that there were human rights abuses carried out by IDF soldiers under orders from senior officers during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. However, first the soldiers were un-named, second their accusations were undocumented, third they failed to bring any actual complaints to the IDF thru normal channels and fourth they are only 30 out of thousands. So this is a totally unjustified complaint that would have been ignored in most cases, except that the media around the world was primed to pass it off as real case of deliberate IDF brutality. (Of course, nothing was said about the real human rights abuses of Hamas deliberately targeting civilians for 8 years in Sderot and using civilians as human shields).
As Secty of Defense Ehud Barak observed, he is the person to whom any complaint should be addressed by any soldier who sees an illegal act or is given an illegal order, and there exists a whole apparatus (an ombudsman) to take care of any complaints that any soldier has, including mistreatment of the enemy. Since no such complaints were made and no such complaints have been documented, this whole media claim is concocted. One of the complainants is a former soldier, who it was found was never actually in combat, so there is no way that he could have witnessed the events that he claimed had taken place.
Unfortunately the damage is done and millions of people around the world will have their anti-Israel stereotypes reinforced by these false accusations by traitorous left-wing Israelis supported by outside forces, including EU NGOs. Finally the Knesset is considering a bill to outlaw foreign contributions being made to Israeli organizations for anti-Israel purposes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad deal?

I am worried that given the tendency for Pres. Obama to want to show the other side that he is not really their enemy, Obama will try to force Israel to make a deal: "We'll support you if you feel the need to attack Iran, as long as you give us the freeze on all construction in the West Bank including Jerusalem."
This deal might be attractive to Netanyahu, or any Israeli PM, given that going it alone on Iran is a well-nigh impossible task for the IDF, and if Israel is isolated in the international community, even for doing something that many of them want, then that could lead to dire consequences for Israel. Not only an Iranian retaliation, but the cooperation of other forces, such as the Arab States. They may feel, in their usual antagonistic response to anything that Israel does, that throwing their weight behind Iran is the lesser of two evils. And the absence of any support from the EU or US and possible condemnation at the UN, could have unpredictable but likely untenable consequences for Israel.
On the other hand, Israel has never received the full support of any state, not even the US. On several occasions when the situation has been dire, the US has failed to come through. I think of the failure of Pres. LB Johnson to live up to his commitment of sending an "armada" of ships to open the Gulf of Eilat when it was illegally closed by Pres. Nasser of Egypt in 1967. I remember how Pres. Nixon and Secty of State Kissinger blackmailed Israel in order to get concessions before they would resupply Israel with needed arms in 1973. And how the US reacted with the rest of the world against Israel's legitimate bombing of the Osirak reactor in Baghdad in 1981. Anyone, including the Arabs, who think that the US is an "automatic" supporter of Israel, does not know history. Now Obama is using the "settlement issue" to browbeat Israel. And they are callously assuming that Israel will give in because the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel is a matter of life or death.
I hope that Netanyahu does not make any deal like this, for two reasons; first, even if the US and by extension the EU promise to give support to Israel if we do actually attack the Iranian facilities, there is no guarantee that they won't succumb to international pressure and renege on their commitment of support as before. Second, Israel is a sovereign country that is entitled to act in its own defense and interests; by subjugating this freedom of action to US blackmail we endanger our sovereignty and the whole ethos of Zionism, to be a free people in our own land.
Next week it is announced that four (!) representatives of the Obama Administration will be visiting Israel, special envoy George Mitchell, Secty of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, and another well-known name Dennis Ross. Remember Ross was the Jewish representative of Pres. Clinton to the Middle East, who wrote a book about his experiences in which he admitted that the Clinton Administration (including himself) put extreme pressure on Israel while allowing Yasir Arafat to get away with almost everything, because they knew he was a liar and a cheat and could not trust him anyway. The US under Clinton gave him millions of dollars paid into his personal bank accounts knowing that he was stealing it (US taxpayer's money). Now Ross wants to go back to that situation, the status quo ante, ignoring everything that has happened during the Bush Administration in between. That is why they deny the Bush commitment to Israel, both written and oral, that there could be adjusments to the 1967 lines for Israeli retention of densely Jewish populated areas in the p[rocess of establishing a Palestianin State. At the same time they claim they are "friends" of Israel. With such friends who needs enemies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Publication party

Last night Naomi and I went to a party to celebrate the publication of the book "All of our lives: an anthology of contemporary Jewish writing" by Targum Press (in English), at the home of the editor, Sarah Shapiro, in Jerusalem. Apart from the obvious pleasure of seeing one's name in print, with my story "The East End of London," this event was quite unique for me, because Sarah lives in an ultra-orthodox (haredi) neighborhood of Jerusalem, and to my surprise, I was the only man at the gathering, and not only that, all the other other participants (ca. 25) were haredi women! I was certainly the odd man out, and it was unusual to be the minority in a room-full of women from another culture.
Nevertheless, we are all Jewish and my memoir fits in well with the themes of the book. Sarah Shapiro is an experienced editor who has produced four such books previously with the titles, "Our lives," 'More of our lives," etc., that had been entirely devoted to the writing of Jewish women (I had bought two of them for my daughter when she was a student). Now they have added some men (ca. 10%) to the contributors, including me. In reading the works one would not be aware of the tremendous cultural difference between me and most of the other contributors.
Nevertheless, I found the ladies charming and interesting. I was surprised that several of them seemed to have read my story and complimented me on it. I realized that the mere act of writing was for most of them a means of expression and escape from the reality of their lives, not very different from my own motivations. But, two things stood out for me, the tremendous change where women now come to dominate certain areas of writing and publishing, and the use by many of them of pseudonyms. Why this need to avoid personal responsibility for their work? Perhaps the reasons are obvious.
It was clear to me that Sarah Shapiro, in her creative writing classes and in her editing, has catalyzed a means of expression for an otherwise stifled and little known group, and I am proud to be included with them. I don't suggest that you run out and buy this book, but I think it would be quite an eye-opener for many of you to read the stories contained within.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hands off Jerusalem

The demand of the Obama Administration that Israel should not build in Jerusalem goes far beyond the previous stance taken by any US Administration. The new Israeli Ambassador to Washington was summoned to the State Dept. on Monday and was told that the US expects Israel to stop renovation of the Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, that was originally the home of the Mufti of Jerusalem, but when he was no longer around it was turned into a Hotel and expanded. Then it was abandoned and was bought in 1985 by Irv Moskowitz, the American developer, who has waited all these years for Government permission to modernize and expand it for Jewish habitation.
Jerusalem is not a "settlement," neither is it an "outpost," Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, and East Jerusalem has been incorporated into Israel since soon after it was captured during the 1967 Six-day war. If Obama chooses not to recognize this fact, too bad, then he is adopting a pro-Palestinian position, and Israel will not cooperate in that.
If there are supposed to be negotiations with the Palestinians on all issues including Jerusalem, how can the US try to pressure Israel into taking a position that it cannot legally take according to its own laws. Further, the whole population (apart from a few extremists) including the Kadima opposition is united in opposing the redivision of Jerusalem. There are some conceivable compromises that can be reached (such as giving the putative Palestinian State some areas on the border of Jerusalem such as Abu Dis), but this cannot be done as a pre-condition to talks.
Now, the PA has no need to talk. They issued a statement (no doubt coordinated with the State Department) that they will not renew negotiations with Israel until Israel accepts the US preconditions of a freeze on all settlement building including East Jerusalem. This is totally unacceptable and PM Netanyahu dismissed it out of hand, "We cannot accept the notion that Jews will not have the right to buy apartments specifically in Jerusalem. I can only imagine what would happen if they were forbidden from purchasing apartments in New York or London; there would be an international outcry. This has always been Israel's policy and this is the policy of the current government," the prime minister added. By applying pressure only on Israel and taking a Palestinian position Obama has effectively destroyed any chance of negotiations in the near future.
At the same time the State Dept. praised Israel for removing 150 checkpoints and aiding the development of the West Bank economy. So what do we get in exchange, a slap in the face. Maybe the majority of American Jews who supported Obama can now see how the chickens are coming home to roost. Many of us predicted this and now Obama's predilection for left-wing causes is coming to the fore.
He is under the illusion that by pushing for a solution of the Palestinian problem, by enforcing an American plan, this will somehow persuade the extremist Arabs (al Qaeda) and the Iranians, that the US is their friend. But, any sensible person knows that it will not have the slighest effect on these forces. Al Qaeda will still consider itself the enemy of the US, Iran will still continue to develop its nuclear weapon, and Hamas and Hizbollah will still remain terrorist organizations opposed to the existence of Israel. Unfortunately by adopting a "third world" agenda Obama (identifying with the Muslims, the Africans and the Palestinians) will only drive the US into the arms of its enemies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

West Bank politics

Here's a headline you never thought you'd see, "PA suspends Al Jazeera in West Bank." Read it again, it's not Israel that is suspending Al Jazeera, even though AJ is virulently anti-Israel (in Arabic - it's a bit more muted in English) and is in fact dominated by a pro-Islamist agenda supported by its Bahraini owners. So why is the PA suspending AJ?
The answer is complex. Within the PLO there are many political strands, one of them is the "old guard" who were in exile from Lebanon in Tunisia, most of whom came back with Yasir Arafat (under an agreement with PM Yitzhak Rabin), and this includes Arafat's successor Pres. Abbas of the PA and most of his followers. But, some PLO officials chose to stay in Tunisia, rather than be co-opted as they saw it by Israel. One of the chief of these was the PLO Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddumi. Since he was isolated from the leadership that has taken over the PA, Kaddumi has often criticized their actions and policies, and has stated that he considers himself senior to the Foreign Minister of the PA.
Now, Kaddumi dropped a bombshell when interviewed recently in Amman, he announced that Arafat had revealed to him before he died that there was a plot to assassinate him by Abbas in league with PM Sharon of Israel and unnamed CIA co-conspirators. And Kaddumi accuses Abbas of having assassinated Arafat in order to replace him.
Needless to say, this caused a storm of reaction in the West Bank, this is a criticism emanating not from Israel, nor from Hamas in Gaza, but from within the PLO and Fatah itself. Since this accusation was broadcast in the PA by Al Jazeera, Abbas has taken the extreme action of supending the right of AJ to broadcast there. Among the reactions, many PA leaders have accused Kaddumi of being "deranged" and "senile," including the head of the PA security forces Mohammed Dahlan. This kind of rhetoric within the PLO is usually heard prior to an assassination. I presume Kaddumi has a safe place to hide for a while.
Meanwhile, the economic situation in the PA is improving, with a ca. 6% GDP/capita increase in the past year, notwithstanding the world economic downturn, compared to negative growth in previous years. This has been attributed to the current Israeli Government's policies of removing 150 checkpoints in PA territory and assisting the economic development of the PA, together with funds being pumped in by the EU and the activities of Tony Blair, the Quartet's representative, who is focusing on economic development. Apparently while the standard of living in the West Bank is rising, and there is a new middle class emerging in places such as Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, the situation in Gaza is steadily worsening. As far as we in Israel are concerned these trends are going in the right directions.
(See: Signs of Hope emerge in the West Bank, Matthew Bronner, NYT:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Alphabet of life

Some years ago I received a book to review in which the author proposed that the sequence of bases in DNA, the gene code, was actually a musical code, and that by finding the correct musical correlation one would produce the "music of the spheres." I decided not to review the book because my review would have been so scathing that I feared I might do the author damage and be sued as a result. Here is another example of the fanciful misuse of the DNA code for inappropriate purposes.

The following letter appeared in the letters column of the Jerusalem Post, 14/7/09.

Flight of DNA fancy

Sir, - In "The alphabet of life" (July 8), David Klinghoffer starts out by describing the origin of our understanding of DNA, the molecule of life, but soon reveals his intention: to find support for "creationism," namely, that God was responsible for choosing the sequence of bases in DNA that code for specific genes and biological functions.

In doing so, he reverts to the status quo ante, bringing up the "directed" evolution proposed by Cuvier before Darwin, now long since rejected, and selecting one gene (the Hox gene), the function of which is not entirely proven.

His most outrageous jump in subjectivity is to compare the base sequence of DNA to that of the Hebrew letters in the Kabbala - a totally unsupported fancy.

His main target, and that of all creationists, is that "imagining existence as a purely material affair, without purpose, as Darwinian evolution still portrays the matter," is wrong.

However, evolution as Darwin described it is a process, and long after Darwin we now know that DNA is the "engine" of that process, and that evolution is not purposeless; it adapts species to their environment by the survival of the fittest. Further, using DNA sequences, the path of evolution can be derived by molecular genetics.

What about getting a real scientist to describe how DNA really works instead of allowing free rein to imaginative creationists with an agenda?

Visiting Professor
Hebrew University
The writer is author (with F. Portugal) of "A Century of DNA" (1977)

The original article is at:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Haredi rioting

Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men continued rioting in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim quarter last night. Last week they rioted over the opening on shabbat of a private parking lot, this week they are rioting over the arrest of a haredi woman for mistreating her child.
The parking lot clash arose when the Jerusalem municipality decided to open a city-owned parking lot on shabbat in order to accomodate the many tourists and visitors to Jerusalem who are not religious Jews and who travel there on shabbat. Until now there has been insufficient parking for them. This lead to the haredi riots that closed the main thoroughfare of Bar Ilan Street. In order to placate the rioters, Jerusalem Mayor Barkat changed the venue to the private Carta lot, that had been used in the past until it was closed. However, this change did not satisfy the rioters, and so the trash container burning and the throwing of stones, even on shabbat itself, continued.
This has resulted in a huge negative reaction, even by orthodox Jews, who see the hypocrisy in trying to prevent secular Jews from breaking the shabbat by rioting and throwing stones on shabbat. If this doesn't break the rules and tranquility of shabbat, what does? Also, why should these haredim be concerned to control what secular Jews do on shabbat. If anything it will make the non-religious even more antagonistic to the Jewish religion if is supposedly allows this kind of violence. It should be noted that the rioters obtain the permission of their Rabbis for their actions before they proceed.
Now the rioting is over the arrest of a haredi woman for deliberately starving her 5 year old child. She is the mother of 7 children, and her youngest was suspected of having cancer because he was extremely malnourished. But, the doctors could find no actual cancer, so they filmed the mother when she was alone with the child and saw her deliberately disconnect his feeding tube. It appears that she has been deliberately starving the child for ca. 3 years. The doctors diagnose "Munchhausen by proxy" syndrome, a mental condition where the mother deliberately harms her child in order to draw attention and sympathy to herself. This is a well known syndrome and there is no reason to believe that haredim are less prone to it than other people.
One would think that people motivated by moral teachings would be more concerned with the safety and recovery of the child, who has been so cruelly treated, than with the mother. But, the haredim are acting politically, because many of them oppose the Jewish State of Israel, and are against any interference of the State in what they see as their own affairs, such as breaking of shabbat and arrest of their members. It should also be noted that not all haredi groups are involved in this rioting, some groups, particular the Edit Haredim, that includes the notorious Neturei Karta, who are virulently anti-Zionist, are the leaders in many of these anti-Israel riots.
These riots are not small affairs, due to the solidarity of the haredim they can call 10,000 men onto the streets (women generally are not allowed to riot), and they engage in direct violence against secular onlookers and the police. Last night 20 of them were arrested, and the Mayor declared that City services, including the payment of welfare at City offices in Mea Shearim, would be discontinued. Today the news is that the boy is recovering physically from his starvation, although his mental condition is not known, and the mother is still under arrest and will not be released immediately as the rioters demand. However, she will likely be released soon once she is charged pending a trial. If that ever happens there will likely be even more violent disturbances by the haredi.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Computer slave

You may have noticed a slight delay in receiving my latest message. That's because this morning, Tuesday, my computer failed to boot-up. Each time I tried, it came back to a page of instructions and whatever option I chose it returned to the same place and never opened Windows XP. Maybe it was coincidence that my grandaughter and her cousin had been playing on it the night before for several hours watching "Friends" and other reruns on U-tube.
I called the company from where I received the computer, which is in Jerusalem, and they said bring it in, not realizing that we live in Netanya. Still, I decided it was worth the drive (1.5 hrs each way) rather than give it to someone I don't know or who doesn't know the computer. So we drove to Jerusalem to have the computer fixed. Another way of looking at this is that the computer would not boot correctly because it wanted to visit its original home, and I was the agent of its outing.
The company, EFI Computers, is situated in a large Technology Development area (or Hi-Tech Industrial Park) at Har Hotzvim near the entrance to Jerusalem. But, it is very difficult to find and actually get to. Nevertheless with the help of a map and some directions I managed to find the place. The company is located in a huge building that looks a bit like a cathedral, with a large cupola on top and reproduction sculptures of Rodin (the three "furies" from the gates of hell, lifesize) in the lobby.
The technical head of the small company was very nice and friendly, he worked on the computer for 2 hours, getting it working and checking everything, especially looking for viruses or trojans. Then he didn't charge me, he said it was free. Also, during the wait we had lunch at the cafe in the lobby, not realizing that there was a whole dining room behind there. When we found it the manager of both places was there and we happened to see fruit salad and Naomi said " Oh, I wish I had seen that before," whereupon the Manager gave us both a fruit salad free.
These gestures go a long way to balance out the bad treatment I had at the stationary store in Netanya last week over the printer cartridges. "What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts" (don't worry it's an old English proverb).
So it seems that now we go up to Jerusalem not for spiritual enlightenment, but to have our computer repaired. There is probably something deeply significant about this, although I'm not sure what it is. Anyway it shows that I am nothing without my computer!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pro-Palestinian bias

At the Sunday Israeli Cabinet meeting PM Netanyahu reiterated that he is ready to meet with Pres. Abbas of the PA as soon as possible to begin negotiations without any preconditions. In response, Pres. Abbas said that he is not prepared to meet with Netanyahu until he accepts the American precondition of a freeze on all settlement construction, including "natural growth." Since when has the US been so pro-Palestinian that the head of the PA defers to the precondition set by the American President, Obama.
Perhaps Netanyahu should say that he is not prepared to meet with Abbas until he meets the Road Map condition that he stop all violence, terrorism and incitement against Israel. But, the US has not made that a comparable precondition for the Palestinians. They always get off easy, even though Obama avers that he is putting pressure on the Arab States, we never hear about that in the media.
Then the Foreign Policy Chief of the EU Javier Solana, who is retiring at last, said that if Israel does not recognize a Palestinian State in 6 months, the UN Security Council should establish one unilaterally. Apart from the fact that this would be a new policy of the EU, never before has the UN Security Council established a state de novo. In fact a Palestinian State could not be founded without Israeli cooperation as required by previous international agreements, as welklas deciding who would govern such an entity. But, once again the fact that he would even say this shows a clear pro-Palestinian bias.
Pres. Obama met with a group of representatives of American Jewry in the Oval Office on Monday. But, this group was carefully pre-selected to give it a left-wing bias. Americans for Peace Now and Avenue J were present while the ZOA, the Lubavich Movement and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) were excluded. This was no doubt intended to result in a friendlier attitude of the liberal Jewish organizations towards Obama, rather than the traditional pro-Israel and Zionist organizations. But even this liberal crowd suggested that Obama should visit Israel, after his visits to Cairo, Russia and Ghana, and before he decides to visit Syria or Iran. They felt that he needs to visit here to show that he is not in fact Israel's "enemy". I doubt that he will get an enthusiastic welcome here. We are not stupid, and at the last count only 6% of Israelis thought that Obama is a "friend" of Israel, compared to 78% of US Jews who support him. It will be interesting to see how such a visit will be responded to in Israel.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Caveat emptor!

Israel has a long way to go to reach the American level of "the customer is always right." Here is an example:
I bought four cartridges for my HP Laser color printer from the store "Hamadrich" (Rehov Smilansky 2, Netanya) on special order eight months ago costing NIS 1052 ($250). After a few months they started to streak red and then blue dye onto all pages that were printed. I found that I could get around this by cleaning the rollers, but it returned after a few pages and gradually got worse. I called HP service (there is a center in Netanya) and they told me that nothing could be done as long as the printer worked properly, it was the fault of the cartridges and they should be replaced. So I went back to the store and showed them a page and asked what could be done, and I was told "don't worry, we are responsible."
Hearing that, I was pleased, so the next day I brought back the two cartridges in question. However, now they were very uncooperative, first they told me that I had waited too long, then they told me that the cartridges were empty (although the printer showed that they were ca. 60% full, one of the clerks even took the cartridge outside the store and said he had weighed it), then they called the dealer and he said that he didn't supply such cartridges, and then the woman in the store told me that I hadn't bought them there, even though I had the receipt to prove it, she denied that it was authentic. All I was hoping for was some form of exchange, but this extent of lying was incredible. So I warn anyone, do not buy printer cartridges at "Hamadrich" they will not help you if you have a problem.
That said, it is the law in Israel that anyone not satisfied with a purchase is entitled to return the goods and get their money back. Precisely what is wrong and how long the delay in returning the item is unclear. But, try to get your money back from any store in Israel, they will argue with you, they will be uncooperative, and finally if you insist they may give you a credit.
My sister-in -law Barbara, when she was here last visit, bought a pair of sandals. The first time she wore them they started to come apart. She went back to the store the next day and asked for her money back and they laughed at her. So she went berserk (maybe that's what I should have done), she started shouting, throwing shoes off the shelves, and when they threw her out of the store she stood outside shouting to frighten customers away. In a few minutes the owner called her back in and gave her her money back. It's a shame that one has to accept insults or resort to such actions in order to receive what is one's right by law. Remember, in Israel, caveat emptor!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Davis cup

Incredibly Israel beat Russia at tennis in the Davis cup match that took place this weekend at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. I watched on TV as the two singles matches and the doubles were won by Israeli players and it was exciting and amazing. No doubt the noisy Israeli crowd at the arena fired up the Israeli players.
In the first singels match Harel Levy (ranked 210) beat Igor Andreev (24) 6:4 6:2 4:6 6:2, and in the second Dudi Sela (33, up from 54 after his his fourth round match at Wimbledon) beat Mikhail Youzhny (44) 3:6 6:1 6:0 7:5. Needless to say both results were upsets. In the first match Andreev never seemed to reach his form and looked downcast throughout the match. Youzhny on the other hand started strong, won the first set and and looked in good form throughout, but Dudi out-played him.
The doubles were expected to be an easier match for Andy Ram and Yoni Ehrlich (ranked 10 for doubles) , who had established themseslves as a winning pair on the international circuit until Yoni was out for 10 months with a bad back. This was one of their first tournaments playing together again, and they did very well. They played Marat Safin (60 for singles but 168 for doubles) and Igor Kunitzyn (39/71) and although the Israelis won the first two sets, they lost the next two and only clinched the win in the fifth set, the score was 6:3 6:4 6:7 4:6 6:4.
With three wins out of 5 matches that means Israel has won and will go into the semi-finals of the world championship for the first time, making Israel one of the top four teams in the world! There are the two reverse singles still to play, but the results will not affect the outcome of the rubber. Israel will then play the winner of the Germany-Spain contest.
While this is on the 18th Maccabia Games are also starting at the Ramat Gan stadium and other sites around Israel, and there are a larger number of athletes participating than ever before from around the world, now up to ca. 7,500. By size this is the third largest athletics meet in the world and Israel hosts it every 4 years. This year the Olympic Gold Medal American swimmer Jason Lezak will lead the American team. He chose to come here rather than compete in the world swimming championships.
The first Israeli to be signed by an American NBA team Omri Caspi started at the Sacramento Kings this season. He represents the outcome of the interest in basketball in Israel, including the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team that has won many European championship titles in the past.
There used to be an anti-Semitic prejudice that Jews were not good sportsmen. This was similar to the common belief that Jews could not fight, but the IDF put an end to that myth. As far as sports were concerned there was Sandy Koufax in baseball, Max Baer in boxing, Mark Spitz the swimmer (who won 8 Gold medals) and so on. With Israel's win against Russia in the Davis cup, let's put that canard finally to rest.

Friday, July 10, 2009


On Wednesday we drove into Tel Aviv for a meeting, and as we entered Tel Aviv from the north I was struck by the fact that there were five new high rise buildings that I had not seen before. Concrete evidence of development and progress. Some of the new buildings looked very modern and architecturally interesting.
On the way back we decided to stop in Herzliya for a meal. We walked down a main street in Herzliya Pituach, the part of the town that is nearer the sea and that is the Israeli equivalent of "silicon valley," often called "silican wadi," although of course much smaller than the original. People were leaving work and the streets were filled with new model cars, and there was a wide choice of restaurants, including a kosher grill where we ate. It was very nice and reminded me of California, apart from the Americans who were eating there.
In our building in Netanya they are doing "shipputzim" or renovations remaking the whole entrance, with marble-style tiles and everything replaced (of course its costing us a fortune). Somehow the combination of these experiences made me feel good about our country, we can see progress and improvements in people's lives.
No doubt there are many negative things about Israel too. In one of the most weird cases, Dudu Topaz is on trial. Dudu is one of the top entertainers in Israel, a famous singer and personality, who has been implicated in a plot to attack some of his former associates. Three TV producers or executives were beaten up at different times, and the police tracked down the culprits that led them to a man who worked for Dudu, who confessed that he had organized the attacks on his orders. It was Dudu's way of getting back at people who he considered his enemies for not having continued to support him or who rejected his proposals.
Meanwhile we have the whole "sordid" situation of the US pressuring Israel to freeze all building in the so-called settlements that is making many people depressed, as well as the situation regarding Iran in which VP Biden and Pres. Obama are contradicting each other over Israel's possible attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Also, one day Pres. Mubarak of Egypt says Cpl Schalit is alive and well and the next day Hamas deny that he knows anything about the situation of Schalit. Some things are best left unconsidered. I prefer at this moment to go back to the theme I started with, the feeling of a modern, thriving Israel projecting into the future.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Uighur uprising

China's population consists mainly of Han people, but, there are ca. 8% of minorities in China belonging to various ethnic groups and sects. Although 8% may seem a small proportion, this amounts in China to ca. 100 million people! The largest minority groups are Zhuang, Hui, Uighur (or Uygur pronounced weegur), Mongols and Tibetans. Several of these groups are of Turkic origin and are Muslims, including the Uygur who mainly inhabit the north western province of Xinjiang, where they have an autonomous region of ca. 10 million people.
The reason why the Uygur are in the news is that there has been rioting, the worst riots in China since the Tiananmen Square uprising back in 1989. According to reports ca. 150 people have been killed and 800 wounded, mostly in the capital city of Urumqi. This is only the latest in an ongoing Uygur insurrection against the central Government. The significance of this rioting is not only that this group is challenging the central Communist government in Beijing, but that the Government allowed reports of this violence to be shown on Chinese TV. In a page out of "1984," the TV announcer said that the rioting is against the stability and security of the people and must be stamped out. The authorities are appealing to the Chinese yearning for stability and the fact that most of the victims of the rioting were Han Chinese, who have been deliberately settled in Urumqi. The fact that the Uygurs are Muslims and want their own Muslim State means that there can be no compromise between them and the central Government.
In this clash, there is a difficult choice for the West, including Israel. While we support the rights of individuals and groups for autonomy within China, for example the Tibetans, we also do not want to see China torn apart by internal wars. Also, we are not keen on seeing the emergence of more Muslim-dominated states within the region bordering central Asia.
Some of the existing Muslim states in central Asia, such as Kyrgystan and Kazakhstan, that border the Uygur region of China and have a Uygur minority, are friendly to Israel, as the recent visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan by Pres. Shimon Peres made clear. He was accompanied by ca. 60 officials and businessmen, who made good contacts and deals while there. But, a violent uprising of the Uygur people to form a new Muslim State, that would likely not be as moderate and open as the current states that arose out of the former Soviet Union, is not in the West's interests.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Is it merely coincidence that the four finalists in the women's competition at Wimbledon were the first four seeds, i.e. no.1 Dinara Safina, no. 2 Serena Williams, no. 3 Venus Williams and no. 4 Elena Dementieva? A cynic might say, why bother to have the whole tournament at all, if you know who is going to be in the finals, why not just skip directly to them?
Was there any doubt that that the final would be an all-Williams affair again? It's true that Serena nearly muffed it with a lackluster performance in the semifinal against Dementieva, who had a match point against Serena but failed to capitalize on it and went down after a close third set. By contrast, Venus blew away Safina with a 6-1 6-0 performance of undoubted mastery. Yet, it was Serena who prevailed as the champion. The question must be asked, why is it that Venus, who lost not one set in the whole tournament, lost two to her sister in the final?
You might say, well the men's result shows that the outcome cannot be predicted, except that 3 of the top seeds were also in the men's tournament. In the absence of no. 1 Raphael Nadal, Roger Federer at no. 2, Andy Murray at no. 3 and Andy Roddick at no. 6 were in the semis. The missing players were no. 4 Djokovic and no. 5 Del Potro, who were beaten by Tommy Haas no. 24 and Lleyton Hewitt no. 56, respectively. But, Haas was duly beaten in the semis by Federer and Hewitt was in turn defeated by Roddick. So it is mainly Tommy Haas, the German veteran (aged 31), who we have to thank for making the competition less predictable.
Nevertheless, Roddick (6) beat Murray (3) in the semis. All England, and not only the All England Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club, were watching. Murray said that he was beaten by the "narrowest of margins," and that's true, Murray had more winners than Roddick (76 to 64) and fewer unforced errors (20 to 24), yet Roddick won only a few more points than Murray (143 to 141) (by contrast Federer won 112 points to Hass' 81). Ah well, maybe next year!
Then Roddick went down to Federer in a close-fought final, in which neither could easily penetrate the other's service game. Nevertheless, Federer was patient and consistent and out-waited Roddick in the last set and won it 16-14! It is interesting to note that a year ago, both Federer and Roddick were thought to be on their way out. Federer was fading relative to Nadal and had a bad back and lost several matches, and Roddick was considered to be a has-been. But, Federer started fighting back and then won the French Open before Wimbledon and Roddick started with a new coach and re-dedicated himself to lose weight and improve his game. Both succeeded. Now Federer on the basis of this win can be considered the greatest tennis player ever, having won 15 Grand Slams and 6 Wimbledon finals and has now recaptured the no. 1 spot.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Risks for peace?

Last week Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL), a friend of Israel and a supporter of Pres. Obama, was in Jerusalem dispensing advice to the Israeli Government. He met with several officials, including PM Netanyahu. His advice, as presented to the Jerusalem Post, was basically that Israel must take the step of freezing settlements and then see what happens.
"I want to call their bluff," Wexler told the Jerusalem Post, referring to the Arab countries. "I want to see, if Israel makes substantial movement toward a credible peace process, whether they are willing to do it. And if they are not, better that we should find out five or six months into the process, before Israel is actually asked to compromise any significant position." Wexler added: "And if the Arab world fails to deliver, you can rightly say that all bets are off."
It's rather easy for Wexler, who doesn't live here, to say "I want to call their bluff," putting Israel and its citizens in the status of guinea pigs, we do the experiment, we take the risks for peace, and then we'll see what happens. We've heard that refrain before.
At the same time, Dov Weisglas, the former advisor and Bureau Chief of PM Ariel Sharon, also spoke to the Post and strongly supported Sharon's former policies, of disengagement from Gaza and accepting the Road Map peace plan of Pres. Bush. Although he sees both of these as victories, the fact is that the Israeli public rejected Kadima in favor of the right and we now have a Likud-led coalition. It is clear that this Government is taking a new look at the situation as is the Obama Administration. It seems that there is no going back.
Intense negotiations are continuing between Israeli Defense Minister Barak and US Special Envoy Mitchell in various locations. Perhaps as a result of these talks and in order to establish some actual Arab responses to Israel's concessions there have been several reports in the media, to wit: 1. Pres. Obama sent a letter to King Abdullah III of Morocco urging him to play the role of intermediary between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. In this letter he mentioned as a matter of fact that Israel would have a freeze on settlement activity; 2. The Israeli Foreign Ministry leaked a report that Saudi Arabia would not interfere if Israeli planes over-flew their territory to make an attack on Iranian nuclear sites (understandably the Saudis denied this report). Apparently this agreement resulted from an Israeli delegation meeting Saudi representatives, a unique occurrence (if it happened). 3. Pres. Assad of Syria invited Pres. Obama to visit Syria in a friendly gesture for July 4, following the appointment of a new US Ambassador to Syria after a 4 year hiatus.
These items gleaned from the media, show that there are activities under way between the US and the Arab world that are presumably a response to Israeli Government concerns that it is being asked to take a major step and make a major concession, while there are no concrete concessions from the other side. At the same time PM Netanyahu once agian commited Israel to "two states for two peoples" at the public opening of Sunday's Israeli Cabinet meeting.
It is easy to be confident of the responses of the Arab world while sitting in Washington or Florida, but not so easy from Jerusalem. Before PM Netanyahu makes any change in Israeli policy there must be definite and concrete commitments from Arab States, and the pressure on the Arabs to make such concessions should be as public as the US pressure on Israel.
On Sunday, when asked on ABC's This Week about Israel's right to preemptively attack Iran should it develop a nuclear weapon, VP Joe Biden said "Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in it's interests and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else." So it seems that Israel can act against Iran ("you're on your own buddy") but cannot act independently vis-a-vis the Palestinians, in that case Israel must be told by the US and the world what to do.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sad Man

Among the outpouring of media attention on the death of Michael Jackson there is little comment about his desire to be white. In fact his ideal was a white version of Diana Ross, and he set about becoming that with the aid of cosmetic plastic surgery and skin de-pigmentation. That he had psychological problems, that manifested themselves in his change in appearance and his sexual proclivities, is well known.
It is widely reported that when he was a child his father beat him and forced him to work many hours a day at rehearsing and performing. This abuse apparently robbed him of a normal childhood and subsequently his manhood, and resulted in a very low self-esteem, surprising for one of the world's great entertainers. Once he was free of his father's control he descended into a dream-world, where his gradual transformation from a handsome black boy into an ugly white woman was clear for all to see. The changes to his appearance, with a smaller "white" nose, his long feminine hair and the white skin tone were obvious outer manifestations of his internal suffering.
Why did he want to be white, and why a woman? This gets into areas of psychological subtlety beyond my understanding, but one can speculate that the son of an abusive father may be sexually damaged, possibly impotent, and seeks an alternative identity. Michael knew Diana Ross, and apparently she became his "idol," a strong woman compared to his mother, who did not or could not stop his father's abuse of him. Having white skin was also supposed to confer the advantages of the power that whites are supposed to have relative to blacks.
His abuse of young boys was undoubtedly an outcome of his own abuse. His sister Latoya once publicly acknowledged this tendency in an interview and said that by exposing it she hoped that it might stop Michael from doing it. But, apparently it did not. The whole "Neverland" thing was an escape into fantasy, as it was for Peter Pan, and a trap for the young boys he longed to befriend.
Yes, he was a great entertainer, but he was a sad, sad man.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Pressure and interference

It seems that everyone thinks they can tell us Jews what to do. A leak from the Israeli Foreign Ministry states that Pres Sarkozy of France gave advice to PM Netanyahu when he was visiting there last week, that he should fire FM Lieberman and replace him with Tzipi Livni, the Head of Kadima. Apart from the fact that this is crass interference in the internal affairs of Israel, it shows a definite political bias in order to push Israeli policy towards what France and the Quartet (Russia, US, UN and EU) want. They have all come out in support of the US position of Pres Obama that Israel must (!) enforce a complete freeze on all settlement building in the West Bank.
According to media reports after the recent meeting between US special representative Sen. Mitchell and Israeli Defense Minister Barak in Washington, Netanyahu is considering a temporary freeze, say for 3 months, because the US has supposedly put pressure on the "moderate" countries in the Arab world (including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and others) to recognize Israel. But, they won't do it unless Israel first freezes all settlement activity. However, according to a report in today's Jerusalem Post, Saudi Arabia is the key country that all others will follow, and so far Obama has not been able to get the Saudi's commitment, although he is "hopeful."
Now, tell me, what do you think are the chances that any of these Arabs States would keep their word and actually recognize Israel if Israel instituted this precondition? As far as I am concerned they are nil. And why is it that Israel is always the side that has to take risks for peace. As has been pointed out by the Israeli Govt. the question of the settlements will be settled in negotiations between Israel and the PA. Why should Israel accept a precondition for such talks when the PA is not ready to make any equivalent concessions to Israel, such as stopping incitement to violence and actually stopping terrorism. Forget it, they never will!
Last week on PA TV Pres. Abbas chided Hamas by saying that Fatah has carried out more deadly attacks against Israel than Hamas has, and in a related program Hamas was teased by saying that they are now scared to fire missiles into Israel. The current quiet on the southern border is due to a temporary but unofficial ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after Operation Cast Lead. Israel has said that it will not make any official arrangement with Hamas thru Egypt until Cpl. Gilad Schalit is released. And Fatah are supposed to be the 'moderates' we can make peace with.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The boy who spoke music

Idea for a story:

If an alien came down to earth and found a piece of music, he/she/or it could be pardoned for thinking it was our language, and in fact music is a language. But, not that the notes, quavers and semi-quavers, spell out words with specific meanings, but rather it is a different kind of language conveying feelings and emotions from sounds. As far as we know the aliens have been working on deciphering the meaning of music for a thousand years and so far have not yet succeeded.

Mrs. Jeanette Cauliflower was obsessed by music from her childhood, and when she was pregnant she played her piano all day long. Then after the birth she kept her baby, whom she named Amadeus, sitting in his baby-chair on the piano. When he was a toddler, in order for her to practice, she kept him tethered to the leg of the piano. So it was not a great surprise to her that when he reached the age of 3 and she tried to communicate with him, he didn’t reply in words, he replied in music. That is to say, at first not mature coherent music, but the music of a child, incoherent and incomprehensible. But, as he grew older his music became more coherent and more harmonious.

It was about this time, at the age of 5, that her pediatrician advised her to seek specialist help. After all, it was quite unusual for a boy to speak music, and he confessed that he had never heard of such a case and he was not qualified to deal with it.

Jeanette took Amadeus to a specialist in pediatric speech, and told him the problem. When Amadeus opened his mouth to speak, music issued forth, not always easy to follow, but clearly a musical composition. The specialist was quite taken aback. After he had recovered his composure he asked the child to open his mouth so he could check his vocal cords, and what he saw amazed him. Instead of having just two sets of vocal cords that vibrate when air is passed thru them, Amadeus had a whole orchestra of cords, like a harp.

First, he asked the child to speak and of course, was astonished when musical chords burst forth. Then he asked the child to speak in a composition, and the child brought forth an amazing cacophony of sounds that included what sounded like trumpets and violins. It was astounding, he had never heard of such a thing before, this was clearly a unique mutation, a result of cause and effect, nature and nurture combining in an amazing way.

After they had left he browsed the literature in his computer, but could not find a precedent. There were children who had made musical sounds, but never anything so comprehensive as this. The boy was a veritable orchestra. It occurred to him that this child could not only be a musical genius, he could be an absolute money-maker, a fount of funds. He could eclipse Michael Jackson.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Obama in wonderland

The Obama Administration's amateurish policies in relation to five distinct areas of foreign policy have been exposed in a consistent manner, showing that Obama, for all his smarts, is not up to the task.
First, take Iraq, yesterday was a historic day in which the US turned security in all of Iraq over to the Iraqi Government armed forces. There is no doubt that this eventuality could not have been achieved without the "surge" policy of Gen. Petraeus, that was implemented by the Bush Administration, but was opposed at the time by Obama. Yet, in acknowledging the historic event Obama appeared to take credit rather than giving credit where it was due. His lack of foresight and his readiness to ignore the actual foreign policy that led to this success shows an amateurish quality, when everybody knows the facts.
Then on Iran, as pointed out in an article by Bret Stephens, "Obama's Obsolete Iran Policy: The audacity of hope gives way to the timidity of realism," Obama and his spokesmen have fumbled the ball, delaying forceful response until it was too late, and then essentially saying to the Iranian people "good luck." Obama's policy was timid, after the dramatic events in Teheran and now with reports that followers of Mousavi have been hanged in Mashhad, his main response was effectively "oh well, we'll have to rethink our intention to dialog with Iran."
On Israel and the Middle East conflict he seems to have two diametrically opposed policies, one is to expand the scope of the peace process to include all of the Arab or Muslim world, the other is to focus exclusively on the detail of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. While PM Bibi Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to restart negotiations with Pres Abbas of the PA as soon as possible with no preconditions, Abbas is hesitating, for two reasons. First, he knows that no negotiations can progress while there is no agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and these negotiations in Cairo failed again to come to any conclusion. Second, why should he negotiate when the US is essentially representing him in bringing pressure on Israel to change its settlement policy as a precondition to talks. Everyone knows that merely allowing "natural growth" in the settlements would affect less than 1% of the land of the Wes Bank, that can easily be taken into account during negotiations. Yet this is the issue that the US is obsessing on, it is impractical and amateurish.
On N. Korea, once again the policy of engagement and dialog has been dealt a fatal blow by the actual actions of the the "dear leader." It is clear that N. Korea is in a stage of aggressive confrontation with the world, and the US response of deciding on a naval blockade would be an appropriate response if it were being implemented. Yet, following the N. Korean threat that it will consider any boarding of its ships to search for contraband weapons as an act of war, the US has contented itself with merely monitoring these ships. What would have happened with the world if Kennedy had done the same thing in Cuba in 1962. That was also a deliberate test of a new President, but Kennedy stood firm while Obama bends.
Finally, the current crisis in Honduras, where Pres. Manuel Zelaya, a definite enemy of the US and an ally of Pres. Chavez of Venezuela, has been ousted by the military for trying to illegally extend his term in office. The military and many others feared that he would follow Chavez in eventually declaring himself essentially President for life. In response, even after the Honduran Parliament elected an interim President until scheduled elections are held, Obama declared that the elected President should be returned to power, an act that shows a lack of realism and concern for US interests in the region.
In all these five conflicts the Obama Administration has acted as a bumbling naieve learner, unprepared for dealing with the reality of the situation and responding without the larger interests of the US taken into account. His policies of appeasement rather than expediency are destined to fail.


Sunday evening we went to a benefit concert for the Sanz Medical Center-Laniado Hospital in Netanya at a private home on the sea-front given by pianist Ronald Jacobowitz. Since the hostess is herself a concert pianist she has a grand piano in her living room, the piano is black and the room is all white, quite a contrast.
Ronald Jacobowitz was a child prodigy, playing the piano from a very early age at his home in the Bronx, New York. He studied mathematics and music at Princeton and became a Professor of Mathematics at MIT. But, his real love was musicology and he is now retired and living in Phoenix, Arizona. He comes to Israel regularly to visit his family living in Jerusalem.
His topic was "Sources of Chopin's style." Jacobowitz illustrated his talk with examples of the work of Chopin (1810-1849) and several other composers. It was a stirring performance, especially with the sea breeze coming through the wide open balcony and the sun setting over the Mediterranean in the backgound, a wonderful experience.
The Mazurka was a folk dance of central Poland that Chopin started writing variations on when he was a child. During his short career he wrote more than 50 of them. He then graduated to a more dignified form, the Polonaise. Contrary to common perception, the Poloniase was not exclusively used by Chopin, but was a well known dance form, used by both Bach and Schubert. Chopin also wrote many nocturnes, meant for evening performance, a form that was invented by John Field (1781-1837) an Irish composer, whose nocturne no. 1 sounded just like Chopin. Also, a composer named Hummel (1778-1837) who had been a pupil of Mozart, was a significant influence on Chopin's style.
The Sanz Medical Center was started in the 1950s by the Sanz Klausenberger Rebbe, who survived the Holocaust, barely. His family was killed around him, his 11 brothers and sisters and his parents. He had a knife wound to the arm, but covered it with leaves in order to staunch the bleeding. But, he could not go to a hospital, and he made an oath that if he survived he would found a hospital that would cater to people like himself. He did survive and emigrated to Israel and founded the Sanz Medical Center in Netanya, that developed into the Laniado Hospital, the largest private hospital in Israel. It prides itself on its compassionate staff, and caters to all comers. Because it is a religious Jewish institution, it employs many local Arabs (doctors and nurses) to work on Shabbat, as well as at other times.