Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prior restraint?

The Goldstone Report and the periodic legal cases brought in several countries to use their courts to label Israeli soldiers and leaders as war criminals is an organized campaign by the pro-Palestinian forces to achieve in the realm of public opinion what they could not achieve on the battlefield. In other words it is another battlefield, this PR campaign, and it would be a serious mistake if anyone took these efforts at face value.
Take for example the Goldstone Report, it was requested by a majority of the UN Human Rights Council, made up of countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya, Venezuela and China, that are all well known abusers of human rights. According to reports the HRC has investigated 28 cases of war crimes and human rights abuses in the past year, of which 20 were against Israel. Can it be that the vast majority of such cases world wide are caused by little, democratic Israel. Not even the Darfur situation, where reports are that over 250,000 civilians have been killed, has been investigated by the HRC. So this makes a mockery of any such Report that is clearly policitically motivated and biased.
The complaint to a British court against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak of "war crimes" brought by a pro-Palestinian group in relation to Operation Cast Lead is a case in point. It was rejected by the court today after the British Government submitted a brief stating that Barak was a guest of the Government and as such was immune from prosecution. After similar cases were attempted in Belgium, Spain and Norway there is no doubt that these attempts will continue. The idea is that even if and when the cases are rejected, as they have all been so far, the effect is to tar the Israeli targets with the stigma of criminality.
Likewise the Goldstone Report, in which accusations of attacks by the IDF on supposedly civilian facilties have been made as fact, based on nothing more than the uncorroborated word of Palestinian civilians, some of whom may well be members of Hamas. Today even the well-known leftist human rights organization B'tselem ("in the picture"), that is regularly critical of any Israeli Government, and on whose previous Reports some of the Goldstone Report was based, came out with a statement that the Goldstone Report was wrong in its claim that Israel "deliberately targeted civilians" (that everybody knows is false) and in the "weak, hesitant way that the Report mentions Hamas's strategy of using civilians in combat."
Shame on Justice Goldstone for allowing his Jewish name to be used to sanctify a carefully calculated attack on Israel and the Jewish people. How can he be so blind not to see this? Even Mary Robinson, former Irish President and a constant critic of Israel, refused the position of Chairman of this HRC Commission, because she said it was "politically motivated." I submit that this is a peculiar kind of Jewish blindness, brought on by an over-anxious psychology to be "acceptable" to the goyim. History is replete with examples of Jews who helped the enemies of the Jews, during the Spanish inquisition, during WWII, to prove their own loyalty and to separate themselves from the truly "nasty" Jews.
The overall effect of this constant barrage of attacks subsequent to a justified anti-terrorist war on Hamas-controlled Gaza is to cause current and future Israeli Governments to think twice before launching another such attack. Never mind that Hamas bombarded Israeli territory for 8 years with rockets, never mind that Hizbollah is now equipped as a regular army with tens of thousands of rockets (after the UN resrolution was supposed to prevent this). I hope that any future Israeli PM and Defense Minister will not hesitate to order a defensive counter-attack (as all our wars have been) in case of real danger to the State and its people, and I include Iran in this category.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Merkel wins

Who would ever expect me to be rooting for the right-wing conservative leader of Germany, Angela Merkel. She is the leader of the Christian Democrats, who has tackled the economic crisis well, and although Germany has high unemployment and a recession, she has been chosen again by the German people to remain Chancellor. They clearly have more confidence in her than in the Socialist SDP leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier. And in fact, the FDP, the Free Democrats, who favor a market economy, also gained more seats than before, and will probably form a strong coalition with Merkel. The leader of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, who is openly gay and cares about human rights, will probably be the new German Foreign Minister, so that may give some surprises.
During the build-up to the take-over of Germany by Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930's, Pope Pius XII, who at that time effectively controlled the CDP, forced them to stop all their anti-Nazi activities and finally to disband as a condition of the Concordat he signed between the Vatican and the Nazi government. So the CDP has an honorable history, and not coincidentally they are also the most pro-Israel party in the German Parliament. Like many moderate right wing parties in Europe they see support for Israel as an anti-fascist, anti-communist, and anti-Muslim policy that fits their profile.
I am aware that many Jews in England, Europe and the US will disagree with Israeli Jews' support for right wing parties in Europe, just as most American Jews remain Democrats even when the most anti-Israel Democratic President of all time is in the White House. These liberal and left-wing Jews clearly have a different philosophy than Israeli Jews, they are more concerned with health plans and economics than with foreign policy, and even in foreign policy many agree that the US should pressure Israel to make concessions to the poor Palestinians, who have been suffering under the "occupation" of their Jewish cousins. Never mind that there is practically no "occupation" (Israel withdrew from Gaza and the PA controls 98% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank), nevertheless they accept a pro-Palestinian position as a sacred position of the left. To them Israel is the "colonialist, imperialist....etc.", never mind that Israel would have been destroyed in several wars if it had not fought back and won. They don't like to be associated with a winner, to them being Jews is synonymous with being powerless and liberal.
Well, this schism between Disapora and Israeli Jews won't matter much more, since first Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself, and it will, whatever the Jews in the Disapora think, and second, the Jews in Israel are now the majority of all Jews in the world. So if you want to be a proud Jew, follow us and vote for the Conservatives, the Republicans and the Christian Democrats.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Iran's duplicity

So Iran admitted that it has built a second secret nuclear entrichment plant. Of course the West knew about this, but kept quiet until Iran was forced out into the open by the upcoming meeting on Thurs Oct 1 with the seven countries. If they had not admitted this now before the meeting they would have been confronted at it then proving their duplicity. Not that this lessens the duplicity they have shown already. Anyway, Obama still keeps talking about diplomacy, he offers Iran "serious, meaningful dialog," but I hope he shows some spine and exerts his influence to get sanctions against Iran at the UN.
Even if Ahmedinejad agreed to further talks and allows the IAEA access to the new plant, would that be enough to actually trust him. I am afraid that Obama is too naieve in dealing with such an obvious liar and dissembler. The only approach is toughness, and if Iran is to be stopped short of actually developing nuclear weapons, then the sanctions must be implemented soon and must be strong. Only a degree of difficulty domestically that brings the future of the regime into doubt could do anything to deter them. Sanctions that include currency restrictions, reduced refined oil imports and crude oil exports as well as any other materiel of military use, can be expected to work.
In order for this the Russians must be on board, and it seems that they are, given that Obama cancelled the anti-missile system that was to have been deployed in Poland. At the UN Pres. Medvedev was friendly and positive and will probably cooperate on sanctions. Hopefully if Russia does then China will not want to be the odd man out and will also cooperate.
So it remains to be seen what happens next week. Will the west continue to allow Iran to string them along with minor concessions and a lot of talk, or will they grasp the nettle and finally take firm action. If they don't then the possibility of an Israeli air strike becomes more likely.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The UN speeches

The speeches at the UN GA meeting were carefully calibrated. First, that of Pres. Obama was balanced to give both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, both rewards and criticisms.
For the Palestinians, he once again berated Israel for its "continuous" building in the West Bank. This might be taken as a criticism of all settlements that he labelled as "illegitimate." Israeli spokemen noted that US policy since Pres. Carter has opposed Israeli settlements on the West Bank, so this was nothing new.
For the Israelis, he emphasized the US committment to Israel's security and the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State." Obama also called for renewal of negotiations without preconditions, contrary to Pres. Abbas. Overall, the Israelis, including PM Netanyahu, pronounced themselves satisfied by Obama's speech.
Pres. Abbas has already substituted another precondition for an Israeli building freeze before he will negotiate with Netanyahu, namely that Israel must withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders. This makes no sense, unless he wants to prevent peace negotitions from taking place. Khaled abu Toameh, the Jerusalem Post Palestinian correspondent, has written that the negative reaction from the PA and from Hamas to Abbas meeting with Netanyahu, even under pressure from Obama, has damaged Abbas politically. Maybe his new, even more extreme, precondition is calculated to resuscitate him politically in the Palestinian "street."
The less said about Muammar Kaddafi's speech, the better. It was long, rambling, incoherent and extreme. Not only that, it was buffoonish and irrelevant. Nuf said!
Netanyahu and Ahmedinejad gave complementary speeches. Netanyahu in an excellent speech criticized the moral failure of the UN and called for strong sanctions against Iran for developing nuclear weapons. Ahmedinejad, although muting his customary denial of the Holocaust, nevertheless managed to insult both Israel and the US, and confirmed for those listening the need for Israel and the West to take his threats seriously. Of course, many world leaders were not listening in the UN chamber because they walked out of Ahmedinejad's speech. Now the speaking is over, let's see what actions result.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

US and Iran

There are several interpretations of the reasons why Pres. Obama decided to cancel the anti-missile shield that was going to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic. The authorized version, as explained by Obama himself and Secty. of Defense Gates, was that the US military came up with an improved version of the radar system, that could be deployed elsewhere and yet could cover the area of Eastern Europe without any loss of efficacy.
Another interpretation is that in order to improve the strained US relations with Russia, Obama felt the need to cancel this deployment and show PM Putin and Pres Medvedev that the US really does not mean to target them. Although the justification of the Bush Administration for this anti-missile deployment was to protect Europe from Iran, that reason was not believed by Russia and its allies. If that was Obama's reason, then it bought two responses, first Russia is reportedly cancelling its own deployment of missiles in the Russian region of Kaliningrad, and second it may mean that Russia will be more cooperative with the US in the UN Security Council in its bid to apply stronger sanctions against Iran.
Yet another explanation is that it was another step in Obama's program of showing the Iranian regime itself that he does not mean to threaten them and that he wants to show them that he is indeed their friend. By cancelling the Bush system he hopes to allay the fears of the Iranians that he is as anti-Iran and as aggressive as Bush. No-one who is an expert on Iran thinks that such maneuvers will have any effect on Iran whatsoever. In fact, it may encourage them to regard the US as even less serious than the European countries that Iran has been stringing along for years, and lead to Iran ignoring all US threats.
A few months ago Obama and his spokesmen went to great lengths to emphasize that their warnings to Iran were not open-ended and that they would end in September. So September is here and nothing has been done. Iran boasts that it has installed even more centrifuges to enrich uranium and defies the international community and nothing is done. When will they get real? If not they can hardly blame Israel for not accepting this situation with equanimity. This will be in essence PM Netanyahu's message in his speech to the UN General Assembly today.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 'non-meeting' meeting

If the conflict between Israel and the Arabs could be considered a competition, then Israel won the latest round.
First, PM Netanyahu stood firm against the one-sided pressure of Pres. Obama to bring about a total freeze on all Israeli building in the West Bank, and Obama still invited him to the meeting in NY. Second, Pres. Abbas of the PA publicly declared that he would not meet with Netanyahu until such a total freeze was in place, and he caved. He accepted to attend the tripartite meeting with Netanyahu without the precondition of the total freeze. So in this instance Israel won!
To get Abbas off the hook and evade criticism by Hamas and Fatah activists, the Palestinians labelled the meeting a "non-meeting" and a photo-op. While Obama and Netanyahu suggested that the meeting might be the start of a new round of negotiations, at the same time both the American and Israeli sides were trying to lower expectations.
Notwithstanding all the previous meetings, for example between Olmert and Abbas, is seems that nothing in fact was achieved and they are back to square one. Israel will not make a major concession without evidence of Palestinian or Arab reciprocity, and Obama has not been able to deliver any.
Nevertheless, Obama was both strident and persuasive. He met with each side separately first, and castigated them for not getting on with it. Then he insisted that since previous progress had been made they must start negotiations from where they left off. Netanyahu agreed that there should be immediate negotiations with no preconditions. And although Abbas publicly agreed, later his office released a statement that reinstated his precondition that there must be a total Israeli freeze before negotiations could resume. So it's a very murky picture.
The Palestinians insist that since they have improved security in the PA territories of the West Bank, with US and EU support and Israeli approval, that they have therefore taken the first step of the Road Map and now it's up to Israel to take a step. But, improved security was a sine qua non for the PA to survive. The armed gangs of thugs roaming their city streets are now gone, Hamas terrorists have been driven out or forced underground, and there is real economic growth and improvement of Palestinian life, with a 6% growth rate this year, as opposed to negative growth in previous years. Obama noted this, and praised Netanyahu for removing many (ca. 150) IDF checkpoints from the West Bank. However, the Road Map also called for the Palestinians to stop all terrorism and incitement to violence. In that respect they still have a long way to go.
In essence, Obama endorsed the "plan" of PM Fayyad, who is regarded as a moderate, that the Palestinians should have a State in two years. But, Obama ignored several details of that Plan, that insists the State would be declared without Israeli agreement, that it would be based on sharia law, that it should have "Jerusalem" as it's capital and would not be demilitarized. If this "plan" is followed it is a prescription for war not for peace.
Detailed and serious negotiations between the two sides is essential if another war is to be averted.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Does God answer the prayers of an atheist?

Among the crazy ideas that float around in my head is the title of this blog. I suppose I was motivated to think of this because I was asked by someone if, as an atheist, I ever pray, as if that would negate my lack of belief. Who says that atheists cannot or must not pray? It is only natural to indulge in wishful thinking, and what is a prayer if not wishful thinking. Some such wishes are trivial ("I hope I get a Wii for my birthday") or serious ("let my son be safe in the army"). But, the difference between the wishful thinking of a believer and that of an atheist is that the former thinks that there is a fairy in the sky (called God) who will actually do something to see that his prayer is fulfilled, while the atheist knows that there is no such creature.
The leader of the Baptists in a speech some years ago stated that "God does not answer the prayers of a Jew." The idea that someone can know what prayers God does or does not answer was rather amusing to me. That a whole group of people could, as it were, be excommunicated, and especially the Jews who invented this God that the Baptists pray to, is a rather bizarre and arrogant concept.
Also, it raises the question, even if an atheist does not believe in God, and let's say that he/she/it actually exists, why would he not consider the sincere prayerful wish of an atheist as equal to that of any believer. After all, aren't we all "God's creatures," according to some interpretations. Or do you actually have to "prove" to God that you believe in him (and only your particular version of him) in order to have your prayer answered. This seems discriminatory to me.
Also, in what language does God hear prayers, or is he instantly multi-lingual, only thinking it is necessary? Muslims believe that you must pray in Arabic, hence most of the world's Muslims pray in a language they cannot understand (weird). Catholics removed the limitation of praying in Latin, just so that believers could speak to God in their own language, as if he no longer needed Latin. Of course, Jews pray in Hebrew, but can also say personal prayers in whatever language they like, since the Hebrew God is of course omniscient. How convenient.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The NY meeting

It has finally been announced that Pres. Obama, PM Netanyahu and Pres. Abbas will meet on the sidelines of the annual UN conference in NY this week.
The meeting was uncertain because Pres. Abbas was balking unless Netanyahu accepted as precondition that all Jewish construction on the West Bank and East Jerusalem be frozen. Abbas was depending on America to force a freeze on Israel, but Netanyahu resisted. He excepted East Jerusalem building from the freeze and also retained the need for "natural growth" in the large settlements of the West Bank, including Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Etzion.
These settlements are really towns with ca. 30,000 people each and you simply cannot stop their development, and Israel will not give them up in any agreement. Already there are 2,500 building projects in progress, including children's playgrounds, schools, shelters, roads, as well as apartments and houses. By initiating a further 250 projects, to satisfy his right wing coalition, Netanyahu was prepared to impose a temporary moratorium on building for 6-9 months, but agreement could not be reached with US envoy John Mitchell. However, since Obama wants the meeting, it will go ahead even without agreement between the US and Israel on the freeze and without a precondition for the Palestinians.
Pres. Obama is intending to announce his new plan for Middle East peace at the UN meeting, since every President must have such a plan. He is not deterred by the failure of all previous plans. His plan is supposed to include concessions by the Arab States towards Israel, but none have been announced so far. However, there are two things that are different this time. First, the parties have emphasized the economic aspects of the Palestinian's plight, and have helped to improve it. With PM Fayyed, who is an economist and a moderate and who is neither Fatah nor Hamas, in charge of the PA, their economy is improving. Israel this week removed a further 100 roadblocks, that was hardly noted in the media, but it was a measure to help improve Palestinian mobility and hence improve the economy. While there have been no reciprocal confidence building measures from the Palestinians, nevertheless the situation for ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank has improved, and there has been little terrorism from there for several years.
Second, the PA Government has announced that if there is no agreement between the PA and Israel under US auspices within two years, then they will unilaterally proclaim a Palestinian State on all of the West Bank. This presents a serious challenge to Israel, since Israel claims all the areas of dense Jewish population settlement on the West Bank, as well as demanding a demilitarized Palestinian State. Israel wants to be able to prevent the same kind of situation developing there as happened in Gaza, namely the takeover by a pro-Iranian militia such as Hamas and the turning of the West Bank into a terrorist enclave at the heart of Israel. Either mutual progress under Obama's mediation will be fast and fruitful, or in two years there is likely to be a very unstable situation, possibly leading to war.
The PA Government would be breaking international law, including UN resolutions that require the conflict to be settled mutually by agreement, by declaring a State unilaterally. However, international law has not bothered them before. Also, so far the West Bank and Gaza are split, and it would be an anomaly for the West Bank to be declared a Palestinian State without Gaza. How this is to be resolved after months of intense negotiations under Egyptian mediation, is still uncertain.
So the meeting in New York may be the start of a new era of progress towards peace, or it may simply be a meeting about meeting with continued stalemate, or it may presage a breakdown and an intensification of the conflict.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A novel idea

My story, "The East End of London," was published in an "Anthology of contemporary Jewish writing," entitled "All of our lives," published by Targum Press, Jerusalem (in English) in 2009, distributed in the US by Feldheim, NY. The Editor was Sarah Shapiro, and she chose excerpts of my work and put them together to make this story. However, I doubt that many of you will ever see this book or get to read my story.
So I decided to have my novel, entitled "Amanuensis," from which this story is excerpted, printed or self-published. The ease with which this can now be done means that you don't have to depend on conventional publishers to see your work in print. Of course, whether or not the work has any merit is independent of the means of publication. It is now relatively easy to prepare the text for printing in the computer and then work with a competent printer to process it. Of course, it is also possible to "publish" the work on-line, but I still prefer to have an actual book in my hands.
I now have the final printed version of my book. It is a kind of catharsis for me since I have been incubating this for many years. So I am sending the story as an indication of the writing in the book. However, I should say that the story does not even touch upon the main plot-line of the book, but, I won't reveal what that is here. As someone commented, the story is like a sandwich without the meat. I don't think anyone writes a book only for their own edification, it needs an audience. If anyone wants to receive a copy of the book let me know and I'll charge a small fee to cover my costs and shipping (Israel NIS 50; UK 10 pounds; US $15, shipping to the US costs more, send a check to me at Jacks' Studio, 2 Rehov Hamapilim, Netanya 42275, Israel, with a return address, and I'll send it). I am also interested in papers or publications that can review it. But, irrespective of reaction or reception it was a catharsis for me to finally get this out of my mind and into print.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Goldstone Commission Report

The Goldstone Commission is one a number of panels that were set up ostensibly to investigate what happened during the IDF's Operation Cast Lead (OCL) in Gaza last year. But, like Human Right's Watch (HRW), the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Israeli left-wing organization B'Tselem ("In the Image"), the Goldstone Commission had an inbuilt anti-Israel bias from its inception. Why there is such a need for these multiple over-lapping and unfair investigations of Israel is unclear. For example, there are no such detailed investigations of any other conflict around the world, including Sri Lanka and Darfur.
The Goldstone Commission was set up by the UN Human Rights Commitee to investigate the human rights abuses committed by the IDF in Gaza. It should be noted that the UN Human Rights Committee includes such leading human rights countries as Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China! Although the investigation was supposed to be impartial, there was no hint of balance or of objectivity in the Commission's terms of reference. Consequently the State of Israel refused to cooperate with the Commission.
After South African Jewish judge Richard Goldstone accepted to head the Commission, and he was roundly attacked for being the Jewish "front-man", in order to try to protect his credibility he stated that he would include Hamas rocket fire into Israel as a part of the Commission's prerogative. And they even interviewed several people from Sderot, including the father of Gilad Schalit, Noam Schalit. However, no change was made to the Commission's official mandate and although Judge Goldstone in his presentation of the Report on Tuesday stated that both sides committed human rights abuses, the bulk of the 575 page Report focuses on Israel and finds of course that the IDF committed "war crimes" and possible "crimes against humanity." As a result of the lack of factual basis and the inherent bias the Israeli Government has categorically rejected the Report.
The Commission itself has been criticized by a group of 50 eminent lawyers for its evident bias and one-sided approach. Of the four members of the Commission, three have previously been on record as being anti-Israel, and one member, LSE Professor Christine Chinkin, only recently signed a public letter criticizing Israel for human rights abuses, the very issue the Commission was set up to investigate, a direct contradiction of due process and impartiality.
It should also be noted that Judge Goldstone is a member of the board of HRW, which issued its own biased Report recently criticizing Israel for its human rights violations in Gaza against Palestinian civilians during OCL, although ignoring Hamas violations. In their Report, HRW concluded that of the ca. 1,300 Palestinian casualties in OCR, over half, ca. 750, were civilians, and the number of "gunmen" were a minority. This is directly contrary to the numbers reported by the IDF after extensive investigations soon after the war. According to the IDF Report the number of terrorists killed in the action were in fact ca. 750 and the minority (ca. 500) were classified as civilians. However since Palestinian gunmen dress as civilians, it is actually impossible to distinguish between them, and organizations that are biased against Israel usually accept that anyone not in uniform is a civilian, whereas clearly that is not the case. Also, the involvement of women and teenagers in actions against the IDF was documented, although HRW discounts these cases.
The bulk of the Goldstone Report is based on unverifiable Palestinian testimony, and we all know how reliable that is, for example the Jenin "massacre" that never was, was testifed to by many Palestinians. The Report is also heavily based on the earlier Reports, including HRW, PCHR and others, as if they were prepared to be the basis for the Goldstone Report.
Recent developments have demolished the credibility of all four investigators of the HRW Report. Joe Stork was previously implicated in the so-called "beach massacre" in Gaza, when a family was supposed to have been deliberately targeted by the IDF, but that was subsequently shown to be a fraud. Ken Roth is simply a Hamas apologist and Lois Whitman is a routine human rights critic of Israel. Most seriously, the other member, Marc Garlasco, was recently found to be a collector of Nazi memorabilia (his grandfather was a Nazi during WWII) and after first saying that this was just a "hobby" he was forced to resign. So much for the credibility of the members of this supposed impartial organization that is really out to get Israel.
The danger of the Goldstone Report is that the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court in the Hague could be motivated to pursue its preposterous recommendations. There is a whole list of them for Israel, including opening up Gaza and allowing free Palestinian access between Gaza and the West Bank, well beyond the scope of the Commission's prerogatives, while the Palestinian "armed groups" are recommended to obey international law! The main danger of accepting this Report at face value is the potential of UN sanctions against Israel and similar biased investigations of American human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. If accepted, it could be the opening shot of a new war against the Western democracies defending themselves against terrorism.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tennis upheaval

I watched the New York Open final between Federer and Del Potro until 2 am our time, and then seeing that Federer was two sets ahead I decided to go to bed. I was really surprised to wake up in the morning to find that Del Potro had in fact won, what an unexpected turnaround. Certainly Argentinian del Porto who is 20, played well, with his powerful groundstrokes, but mostly Federer beat himself. His first serve percentage was around 43% and he made more double faults than ever before. Del Potro previously beat Cilic, who had beaten Murray, and he defeated Nadal in the semifinal. Maybe there should be a law against such tall players, he is 6'6", but, it's good that there is "new blood" at the top of the game.
The women's game was even more topsy-turvy. Clijsters of Belgium, who had returned from a 2 year hiatus after having a baby, was not expected to be in the running, and the other top three finalists included Oudin, a 17 year old American and Wozniacki, a 19 year old Dane. The old order of the Russians, Safina, Dementieva, Sharapova, Petrova, Kuznetzova, is hopefully receding. Having Safina at no. 1 was an anomaly since she has never won a Grand Slam tournament.
Finally, the reign of the Williams sisters is also hopefully over, not that they haven't been great champions, but the time has come. Venus exited graciously, but Serena's display of bad temper and unsportsmanlike conduct in shouting abuse at the lines person who called a foot fault at game point was disgusting. She has been fined $10,000 and that's good, and let's hope she gets beaten more often so we don't have to see her antics again. She had begun to act as if she owned the top tournaments.
So the upheaval in tennis is another in the process of development and change as the old champions age and the new young blood comes up the ranks. It will make for more exciting tournaments.
I also watched Ronnie ('the Rocket') O'Sullivan win the Shanghai Master's snooker competition. I have been wondering why I love tennis and snooker, that are such different games in speed and temperament. I think it is because they are both individual games, no teams to depend on or to use as an excuse, only one player against another. And they both use a device to manipulate the ball, the tennis raquet and the snooker cue, intermediary between the hand and the ball. Of course, the balls are very different too, but that results from one being on a surface and the other being in the air, but both are great games.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blogger's convention

On Sunday I went to the second annual Jewish blogger's convention in Jerusalem. It was entitled "Uniting the Jewish community through social media," and was organized by Nefesh b'nefesh, the organization that has streamlined aliya to Israel from the US, Canada and Britain.
I can't say that I gained much from the meeting, but it was an interesting experience. I was probably the oldest blogger there, and one of the least known. The majority of the around 200 bloggers were young orthodox Jews, who obviously had a lot in common and who seem to be networked in a self-indulgent web.
There were many pro-Israel, pro-settler, right wing blogs represented. There were also quite a few women's blogs, mainly by Jewish women for Jewish women, how to cook, how to bring up baby, how to network. There was also the young woman from Los Angeles whose blog is about dating, but she admitted that it can be a mistake to find out too much about a potential partner on-line before the date. One problem pointed out is that we bloggers tend to preach to the converted or to each other. There were seemingly contradictory aims, first to improve the unity of Jews and also to increase outreach to non-Jews.
On one panel a spokesman for the Government (an aide to a deputy FM) asked that we use our influence to present a unified Israeli approach, such as on Iran. He pointed out that Iran is a threat to Europe as much as Israel, but Israel takes the brunt of Iran's invective and must be prepared to respond. It is not reported in the West that Iran already has long-range missiles capable of reaching Europe and is being supplied both by China and Russia. China is currently building new refineries in Iran and Venezuela has agreed to supply Iran with refined petroleum, that will allow them to circumvent sanctions.
David Horowitz, Editor of the Jerusalem Post spoke. Whether PM Netanyahu's rumored mysterious day-long trip to Moscow was related to the hijacking by Israel of a Russian freighter carrying rockets en route to Iran has not been confirmed, but it was well covered by the blogosphere. A useful quote is "if the printing press made us all readers, and the computer made us all writers, then the blog has made us all journalists." But, we should be careful not to try to reproduce a newspaper in our blog, it can't be done. And there was much talk about social networking. But, I'm glad that I'm an independent blogger who obeys no rules and calls things as I see them.
My blog address - Isblog:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harrow riot

I was surprised to see on the news that a significant riot had occurred in Harrow on Saturday. I lived in Harrow, northwest of London, for most of my teenage years. I went to College in London from there and then moved away when I got married.
When I lived there it was a very quiet middle class area, not prone to violence and demonstrations. Apparently a mosque was built there on the main road three years ago to accomodate the large Muslim population that now lives around the area. When I lived there there were no Muslims to speak of.
The reason for the riot was a demonstration by a few hundred right wing extremists, belonging to a group calling itself "Stop the Islamisation of Europe" and the fascist group "The English Defense League." The former group was started in Denmark in response to the Muslim riots against the cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper. The demonstration was organized to coincide with 9/11. There have been several previous such demonstrations in England, in Birmingham and Luton.
In response to this demonstration about 1,000 Muslim youths gathered to "protect" the Mosque. The riot police protected the lives of the right wing demonstrators and had to rescue some of them from a very dangerous situation. The Muslims rioted, attacked the police and threw stones and upended trash containers. Several were arrested and the police expect to arrest more.
This situation is an ongoing clash between English right wing groups and Muslim youths. When I lived in Harrow there were no pro- or anti-Jewish demonstrations, there were fewer of us and we were very quiet. Now the Jewish community is in a bind, they cannot support the demonstration of the right wing groups that also are anti-Semitic, but they also can't fully support the Muslim youths who are also anti-Semitic and are violent.
One Muslim spokesman called for police guards at all mosques in the UK to protect the worshippers, as there are outside all synagogues. The irony is that these guards are mainly there to protect the Jews against attacks by Muslims, that have been quite frequent in England.
I am glad that I live in Israel and have no role in this clash. Let them kill each other as far as I am concerned, they are both my enemies. Those Jews who live in England may be forced to choose sides, I don't have to. To avoid this bad situation, that is only likely to get worse, I suggest to all English Jews that they come and live in Israel. The weather is nicer and we don't have to pick sides, our self-interest is obvious.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


How does the pro-Syrian opposition in Lebanon send a message to the pro-Western parties that scored a majority in the recent election? They fire several rockets into Israel of course, as they did on Friday. This is their way of showing that they are serious about their political demands, and if they are not met they will instigate another war with Israel. The rockets landed in the western Galilee, but fortunately there were no casualties and Israel fired back.
Pres. Suleiman of Lebanon had asked Sa'ad Hariri, the son of the assassinated leader Rafik Hariri, to form a new Government as Prime Minister. Hizbollah, that received a minority of the vote, was given 10 places for Ministers in the new Government. This is far short of the 15 they would need to be able to block any legislation they dislike. It should be remembered that they had negotiated by force a veto in the previous government of PM Fuad Siniora. They don't want to lose that chokehold on politics in Lebanon, so they caused Hariri's attempts to form a new Government to fail. Without any alternative Suleiman has once again asked Hariri to form a Government. Lebanon has not had a working government for 3 months.
If this goes on there are two possibilites, either Lebanon will once again fall into crisis and civil war, or Hizbollah will cause another war with Israel. This serves its purpose because a war unites most factions in Lebanon behind Hizbollah as the leader of the "resistance" to Israel in Lebanon. The question is for how long will the Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druse allow the Shia of Hizbollah to control Lebanese politics and manipulate them? Since Hizbollah has the largest and best equipped army in Lebanon there is not much chance of changing the situation. Although Hariri is supposed to be pro-Western, he has stated that his Government (if it is ever formed) will side with Hizbollah if there is another war with Israel. That means that as far as Israel is concerned there is no clear distinction between Hizbollah and any likely Government in Lebanon. In any case, any sovereign government is responsible for all attacks frrm its territory.
Instead of focussing on Israel's building on the West Bank (that is a miniscule problem in the Middle East) and trying to cozy up to Pres. Assad of Syria, Pres. Obama should be trying to save democracy in Lebanon and to diminish Hizbollah's power there. This would also help to avoid another civil war and/or another war with Israel. But, no Obama has his eye on the wrong prize.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

War on terror?

On the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 disaster, in his first 9/11 in office, Pres. Obama intoned a solemn speech, and threatened to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and their extremist allies." Now can someone explain to me in rational terms how this is to be achieved without a "war on terror."
Every responsible person concedes that al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and even if al Qaeda is not directly responsible for many subsequent attacks they are definitely the instigators behind them. Their ideology is now out of the box and has been taken up by many Islamist groups around the world with loose links between them and back to al Qaeda. So a "war on terror" in the international arena is essential if the US is to rid the world of this threat and to defeat al Qaeda.
But, in order not to offend his Muslim allies and to separate himself from Pres. George W. Bush, Obama has ordered the term "war on terror" be dropped from Government statements. According to him it is old hat, it is no longer necessary, it is objected to by Muslims everywhere, and so we must appease them. Let's have a war on terror without calling it by that objectionable name. But the problem is that if you don't really call it what it is and gear up to effectively wage the (nonexistent) war on terror, how can you ever hope to win and prevent the continuation of international terrorism.
The Islamists declared war on the US, and they have no intention of stopping now. They don't make demands and they don't negotiate, they kill. If Obama really wants to protect the American people, as he says he does, then he must face reality. Afghanistan is only a side show to the real war, which is in fact the 'war on terror.'

Friday, September 11, 2009

On Brick Lane

I have just read a wonderful book entitled "On Brick Lane," by Rachel Lichtenstein (published by Penguin books). However, this book might not appeal to all tastes as it did to me, since I have a particular reason for being fascinated by this book, because I grew up on Brick Lane.
Brick Lane is a long meandering street that connects the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Whitechapel in the East End of London. It was named because there was a brick producing plant that supplied the growing area of Whitechapel through the lane that became known as Brick Lane. Eventually this street came to epitomise the immigrant groups who crowded into England from the 1700's onwards and settled in the areas close to the docks. First came the Huguenots, French Protestants seeking safety, then came the Jews, those who could not afford to go all the way to America, then the Caribbean Blacks and then the Bangladeshis, and finally many East Europeans (Poles, Albanians). This was also the area of Jack-the-Ripper and the infamous Kray brothers and many rackets and criminal activities thrived there.
This book is a compilation and record of many peoples' reminiscences about living in the Brick Lane area. As such it is a collection of historical cum sociological articles about many of the individuals who have lived there, both the old survivors and the new arty inhabitants.
I lived at 233 Brick Lane, above my father's woodworking shop, from the late 1940s to 1956, when we moved out to Harrow-on-the-Hill. When I lived there it was not something one boasted about, it was a poverty-stricken, violent and sometimes colorful and culturally mixed area. Some parts of Whitechapel became 100% Jewish and then during the 1950s Jewish emigration started and now there are very few Jews left. Their place has been taken by the Bangladeshis, so that part of Brick Lane is now known as 'Banglatown.'
One drawback of this book is that from a Jewish point-of-view it is too late. Since the Jews left so long ago only traces of them remain, and it is a kind of sad task that Lichtenstein has taken upon herself, because her grandparents owned a jewelery store on Brick Lane in the 1930s.
The area was also terribly destroyed by German bombing during WWII, so that when I was growing up after the War there were huge bomb-sites all over the place. Not only did many Jews not return to the destroyed East End after the War, but over the years reconstruction and development has changed the area significantly.
The huge Truman brewery on Brick Lane closed down after supplying beer to generations of Londoners, and is now replaced by a large complex of art galleries, restaurants and boutiques. The Jewish stores that used to line the street are now replaced by hundreds of small curry restaurants and Bangladeshi groceries. The Brick Lane market that stretched on Sundays (to accomodate the Jews) from Bethnal Green Road down to Cheshire Street and beyond is now a ghost of its former self.
This book is also repetitive, since it covers the same ground several times seen from different points of view. We learn many times that the famous Machzike Hadas synagogue had been a Huguenot Church, and then a mission, and then the synagogue and finally is now the East London Mosque. This sounds nice from a multi-cultural, liberal point of view, but having lived there, I know that there was very little cross-cultural mixing at the time.
In fact, the East End in general and Brick Lane in particular was quite a violent place, with plenty of racial antagonism. As in many American cities that consisted of diverse immigrant groups, there were specific areas that belonged to each. The southern Whitechapel end of Brick Lane was Jewish territory, where the fascist blackshirts used to go to cause trouble. The northern end of Brick Lane was white English territory, and unfortunately we lived just on the border between the two, in the wood working area.
It was my fervent wish growing up to get out of there and go to live in some civilized place, and so romantic rhapsodising about the area does not appeal to me. Let the artists draw inspiration from the place, but as far as I am concerned it is a false romanticism.
When I walk down the street in Netanya, I can hear many languages, French, Russian, Hebrew, English, Yiddish, Arabic and some Spanish. But, there are no antagonisms between the groups here (even the Arabs come and go peacefully at the moment). The sun shines and it is a lot nicer than the East End of London.
I have written about my experiences growing up on Brick Lane in my forthcoming novel "Amanuensis." For those interested I hope to have copies available soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Evil exists in the world, not as an independent entity but in the actions of some human beings.
For example, a woman in England stabs to death her two daughters, aged 17 and 13, because her husband left her for another woman. In Israel, a man murders his 3 year old child because he suspects his wife of having an affair with another man. In Netanya last night two yeshiva students murdered one of their classmates in a dispute over living space. In England, three youths were arrested for planning to blow up their school and kill their fellow students and teachers as a repetition of Columbine, USA. In Austria and Italy, fathers kept their own daughters imprisoned for years and raped them repeatedly. In the USA a man kidnapped a girl and kept her and her children by him imprisoned in a yard for years. How is one to understand this lack of human feeling and empathy?
One of the most heinous plans of mass murder ever was uncovered in time in England when a group of young Asians of British origin were arrested last year and were recently found guilty in court of planning to blow up seven airplanes in flight using liquid explosives. This was another "clever" plan of al Qaeda, in which liquid explosive was to be carried in innocuous looking bottles onto the plane, and would then be attached to a detonator in flight and exploded and thereby kill thousands of innocent people. This is why noone is now allowed to carry bottles of liquid thru the security into airports throughout the world.
And what was the reason for this intended massacre? As one of the guilty perpetrators said on his suicide video filmed in advance of the action, it was to show the world that Muslims will not allow themselves to be attacked by infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. The fact is that these Muslims had been born, grew up in and were quite comfortable in British society, and yet regarded their fellow-Brits as expendable infidels. They also hoped to kill many Americans since the airplanes were on trans-Atlantic flights from Heath Row. They specifically wanted to kill more than on 9/11, what is this some kind of macabre competition?
The fact is that this plot was invented and planned in Pakistan by al Qaeda leaders and these British Muslims were prepared to commit suicide in order to strike a blow for Islam against the hated West, from which they came. How is this possible? I grew up in London and experienced great anti-Semitism in my life, it affected me and alienated me (for more information on this see my upcoming book), but I and my fellow Jews would never have conceived of taking out vengeance on our fellow Brits in any way whatsoever. How can this "religion" of Islam and this limited degree of personal suffering be a justification for such mass murder. It is evil. May the guilty rot in prison.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The real issue!

"The real issue is not opposition to the “occupation”, but Arab-Islamic opposition to any Jewish right of presence in the West Bank."
For some time I have felt the need to review the legal aspects of Israel's claim to the so-called West Bank territory, otherwise known as Judea and Samaria, that was previously part of the Palestine Mandate handed to Britain as "Palestine" in 1922 by the League of Nations. Now, with the current battle over a building freeze/moratorium in the West Bank, seems like an appropriate time.
I think there is a need to review and establish this legal link for two reasons:
1. Many people have come to accept the Palestinian Arab contention that the land of the West Bank is "Arab territory" and that therefore Jews and the State of Israel by default have no legal, historical or other claim to any part of it.
2. From a propaganda viewpoint it is easy to point to the "occupation" of the territory by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War as the origin of the current continuing crisis (as a kind of 'colonial' or 'apartheid' situation), rather than look back at the situation before the "occupation" and before 1967 and to forget previous legal and military conditions.
In order to carry out a review of the legal situation in fact requires a lawyer familiar with international relations and treaties. Fortunately, I came across a long article written by Gerald Adler, who has specifically researched this issue. [Professor Gerald M Adler, LLM, JSD, (Yale) qualified as a barrister in Canada (Ontario), an advocate in Israel , and a solicitor in England & Wales . He taught law at the University of Western Ontario and the Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa . Inter alia, he also served as senior assistant to the Israeli Attorney General and as the Chief Legal Advisor to The Israel Electric Corp. Ltd. Now retired from active practice, Dr Adler has spent the last five years researching “Legal Aspects of the Arab-Israel Conflict Within a Historical and Political Context”, part of which can be accessed on the Internet]
Rather than place the whole article here, I have taken a long excerpt from it (slightly modified), that I think contains the core of the issue, and have attached it as a file. I will also summarize here several items from that article.
Britain did not receive the Palestine Mandate in a vacuum. The legal aspects of the situation were defined by a series of international meetings and treaties that were signed prior to the provision of the Mandate to Britain. Here are some of them:
1. The League of Nations Covenant 1920, that gave the LoN the legal right to decide how to administer the territories conquered by the Allies of the defeated enemies after WWI, notably Turkey.
2. The San Remo resolutions 1920, taken by the Allied powers in respect to the disposition of the conquered territories. This envisaged the establishment of Mandates until the final disposition of sovereignty could be decided.
3. The Treaty of Sevres 1920, was the peace treaty concluding WWI between the Allies and Turkey, in which the Mandates were legally assigned. However, this treaty was never officially ratified.
4. The Treaty of Lausanne 1923, which became the legal treaty ending WWI, but this does not mention Palestine, since the LoN had already assigned the Palestine Mandate to Britain.
5. The Palestine Mandate 1922, assigned by the LoN to Britain. While the articles of this Mandate allow significant powers to the Mandatory power, they do not allow the British Government to arbitrarily abrogate any claim to the whole of Palestine by the Jewish minority, as envisaged in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
6. UN GA Resolution 181, which recommended a two-state solution, did not change the legal situation of the "West Bank" of the Jordan river.
7. The Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement 1949, did not result in international recognition of the Jordanian occupation of the "West Bank" as specifically "Arab" territory.
While no doubt other expert international lawyers could come up with different interpretations, the fact is that an Israeli claim of sovereignty to the whole of the West Bank is certainly legally based. That, however, does not mean that at this stage of development it is politically feasible. That a solution to the Arab-Israel conflict requires major compromises on both sides had been stated many times, and one of the concessions expected of Israel is to give up its claim to sovereignty on the West Bank in order to allow the Palestinian Arabs to satisfy their need for autonomy. Several Israeli Governments have declared themselves willing to make such concessions. However, this does not mean that Israel should accept in a racially segregated way the condition that no Jews have any right to remain on the West Bank, whatever its final disposition.
What are the compromises that the Palestinian Arabs would be expected to make to arrive at a peaceful resolution:
1. That Israel be allowed to retain areas of the West Bank (ca. 3-5%) where there is dense Jewish settlement (as envisaged in the official letter written by Pres. Bush to PM Sharon in June 2006),
2. That any Palestine State that is established on the West Bank and Gaza must reciprocally recognize the existence of Israel as a sovereign Jewish State.
Whether or not the Arab side is ready to make these compromises, or whether or not the Palestine Arab schism over Gaza can ever be healed, are serious questions for anyone to face who wants to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
(For further legal information see: "Law and Morality in Israel's War with the PLO," William V. O'Brien, Routledge, 1991; "One Palestine Complete," Tom Segev, Owl Books, 1999).

Birthday day

Yesterday was my birthday, for those who must know I turned 71 (no need to send plaudits)! I don't seem to be of such an advanced age, it seems unreal.
The day started badly, as I was walking down the stairs in my apartment building, I slipped, my feet went forward from under me and I slid down a flight of stairs on my back! Someone had left a rag on the landing after obviously trying to clean something up. I don't know if it was water or something else, but there are workemen in the building renovating an apartment and maybe it was them,. But, I was lucky, I only bruised my right upper arm and elbow and my backside. Not a good start to the day.
Then I went to see the printer where I am having my book/novel printed. They are Russian speaking so we have to communicate in (poor) Hebrew. I had decided to print it myself since it's never going to be published and I don't want to pay the exorbitant price of a vanity printer (anyway more on the book in another blog). But he had not received the file by e-mail, my final version of the text. I was very perturbed by this, but later I discovered that when he writes to me his return address is his web site and when I reply it is listed as www... so it doesn't reach his e-mail address.
Finally, since all bad things seem to come in threes, when I got home I found that Naomi had by mistake replaced my id in the server thinking she was in yahoo, and it wouldn't work, so I had to call Bezeq and mess around for 30 mins (call 'customer services', you need to speak to 'technical services,' no you need to speak to 'customer services', oh sorry we've made a mistake, you'll have to hold while we sort this out...) At one time I had an English speaking girl from customer services translating for a Hebrew speaking girl from technical services to solve this apparently intractable problem. Anyway, we are back in business, and I was able to re-send my final text version to the printer.
Then by choice we went to our local Japanese restaurant, and then after that we went to a performance of 'the Stompers,' the local jazz band. They are excellent, I may have written about them before, the leader is trumpeter Stanley Ross from Glasgow, who is about 80 years old, but still going strong. He plays his final last concert about every six months and luckily for me it coincided with my birthday. He has a great team of musicians, including Jacques Santi from France who plays the soprano saxophone and is internationally known for playing at Sidney Bechet festivals. In the band there are French, Scottish, English, American, Russian and Israeli musicians, all harmonizing brilliantly. They played for 4 hours to an enthusiastic audience at one of the local English-speaking shool's hall. It was a great birthday event for me. Life in Israel is good.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Before the freeze

PM Netanyahu is under intense pressure from the Obama Adminstration as well as the EU and other countries to commit itself to a complete freeze on all building in the West Bank.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of Israel's claims to the West Bank, it has come down to this. Whether or not this policy was first adopted by the US and then became a condition for the PA President Mahmud Abbas to re-enter negotiations with Israel, or whether this was initially a Palestinian policy that was adopted by the US is now immaterial. The fact is that the Obama Administration and the Palestinians now have a consistent policy on these matters. Further, the Obama Administration appears to believe that there must be progress on the Palestine front in order to placate the Muslims, which seems to be Obama's number one strategic aim in foreign policy, before there can be progress on any other area of Middle East policy.
So PM Netanyahu has been trying to find a way to accommodate this freeze, in negotiations with US envoy Sen. Mitchell, while retaining his own independence (after all Israel is supposed to be a sovereign state) and keeping his Likud party and coalition government together. This is not an easy task. He apparently came up with a strategy, some would call it devious others clever, of having a building binge before instituting a temporary freeze. It is also understood that before declaring such a freeze Netanyahu wants to know that the US can deliver something tangible from both the Palestinians and the Arab world in return, and so far this resonse has not been forthcoming.
So the so-called "entry strategy" to the freeze would be to allow the 2,500 building permits for homes that have already been legally issued to go ahead, followed by another 500 permits that would "tide over" the "normal living conditions" in the West Bank settlements during the period of a temporary freeze (that would exclude Jerusalem in any case). This is a compromise apparently reached by Netanyahu in discussions with settler leaders in recent days in order that they not actively oppose his government on a freeze agreement with the US.
However, all the other parties who take upon themselves the right to advise Israel in its better interests, including of course the State Department, the White House, the Swedish Government, currently the Chair of the EU, and others, have now come out and opposed this "entry" policy of Netanyahu. The question arises, can Israel have any policy that would not be criticized by this bloc of pro-Palestinian sympathizers. In all these discussions it seems that Israeli rights and claims on the West Bank territory have been completely dismissed by default by these international actors.
The fact is that Israel has a very strong claim on the West Bank territory in international law. Apart from the Biblical claims and the historical claims (that the Palestinians are actively trying to undermine), there is of course the Balfour Declaration and many British Government policy statements issued during the early years of the Palestine Mandate. But, what is more compelling is the fact that Britain requested and was granted this Mandate by the League of Nations following several international conferences and meetings that unequivocally granted this Mandate to Britain in order to establish a Jewish political sovereignty (often called a "homeland") in all of what was then (before 1929) the whole of Palestine. I plan to write about this legitimate claim in more detail soon.
It is very hard for any Israeli Jew to understand why, according to this attitude, Muslims and Christians are allowed to build and expand in Jerusalem, under the current US policy, and Jews are not! If this isn't a racist biased policy what is? It smacks of pre-WWII German policies and other means of denying Jews rights to own land that have ancient medieval anti-Semitic roots. We Israeli Jews will not accept this type of prejudice being applied to our land and our birthright.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Divine right

Does anyone out there still believe in the "divine right" of kings? It used to be, a few hundred years ago, the article of faith upon which the civilization of the Western world depended. Then along came free thinkers, and skeptics and scientists and nonconfomrists, who questioned the ridiculous idea that Kings were appointed by almighty God himself to rule over others. Once this basic article of faith was undermined, monarchies were overthrown left and right, and France, the US, Russia and many others became republics. Now there are some remaining monarchies, Britain, Thailand, Holland, Sweden, Spain, quite a few, but they are constitutional manarchies, and the power of the Kings is severely curtailed.
I use this example to compare to the status of the views of various religions towards "divine right to rule." In Christianity there was always the notion of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesers and unto God that which is Gods." In other words, the separation between the secular and the "divine" was clearly delineated. Judaism, although originally a monarchical culture, followed Christianity, and when the Jewish State was refounded in modern times, it was as a Republic.
Of course, the point I am getting to is, what is the attitude of Islam towards the question of divine right. Actually it's quite complex. I suppose one could say that fundamentally Muslims believe that God has a divine right to rule. In other words, everything in and of the State must be determined by God's laws. In a sense there is no separation between the secular and the divine, or in effect there is no secular domain. When the Muslims divide the world into the "Harb al Islam" and the "Harb al Dar" they don't only mean the division of the world into the regions of Islam and other religions, b ut into the region of Islam and the regions where anything secular or pagan, as well as other infidel religions, are practised. So by definition Islam excludes the secular and asserts the divine right to rule.
However, there is also a strong tendency to oppose rulers who Muslims think are not carrying out God's wishes on earth. For example, the Shia believe that the Caliphs of Sunni Islam, apart from the first few "rightly guided Caliphs," were illegal and immoral. This includes the majority of the Turksih Caliphs who ruled the Arab world from Istanbul for over 500 years.
Also, many devout Muslims believe that the rulers of the Arab States, particularly those who are not devout enough and not guided by Islam alone, are unworthy to rule, and should be overthrown. This is not a belief based on more democracy or human rights but on the concept of the divine right of God's laws to rule. This is why the Islamists, those who are prepared to murder innocent people in the pursuit of God's rule on earth, are the new purveyors of "divine right." Beware of them and any who support them.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Muslim contributions?

This week Pres. Obama held a special dinner in the White House to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan. He spoke at the dinner and heaped praise on the Muslim world and it's contributions to civilization. He emphaized the many Muslim immigrants to America and praised their contributions to America.
I don't know about you, but I lived in America for 30 years and I was quite alert, but I never noticed any specifically Muslim contributions to America. Maybe it happened when I wasn't looking, but Barack Obama apparently noticed them. As if to rub it in, Obama invited the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who is an expert on American history, to the dinner. Oren has written an excellent book called "Power, fact and fantasy: America in the Middle East 1976 to the present." I have read this book and did not notice any specifically Muslim contributions in American history, maybe this comes under the rubric of "fantasy"?
Apart from his address to the Muslim world from Cairo last month and his evident bias toward the Muslims, Obama has for months been putting constant pressure on Israel to institute a settlement freeze, including all "natural growth," and East Jerusalem. This has resulted in Pres. Abbas of the PA refusing to enter into continuing negotiations with Israel until PM Netanyahu caves in to the US and implements such a freeze. As a consequence there are continuing meetings between US Middle East envoy Mitchell to pressure Israel to accept such a freeze. Previous Administrations always emphasized that they would never "pressure" Israel or impose their own solutions on the parties. Israel is of course demanding some quid pro quo for any such serious concession, but so far the Obama Administration has been unable to deliver any response from either the Palestinians or the Arab world that he so assiduously courts.
Israelis, who are not dumb, have seen this process going on and have drawn the appropriate conclusions, namely that Obama is pro-Arab and is not a friend of Israel. Only 4% in the latest J'sam Post poll thought Obama was pro-Israel. Yet, where are the American Jews in this whole process. They supported Obama to the extent of 78% in the election, but now they are quiescent. They keep quiet when their own interests are threatened, they are behaving like "good Germans." "Shush, don't rock the boat, it's good that Obama is a liberal and he's reaching out to the Muslims, maybe he'll be able to persuade them to be nice to Israel. It's good that he's pressuring Israel, maybe he'll force the right wing Netanyahu Government to accept a peace process." These may be the typical self-abnegating, disinterested attitudes of American Jews, but it may also be that they are being conned. What is most worrying is that there is a quid pro quo here on Iran, Israel must institute a freeze in order to get US support for serious sanctions against Iran. Since time has been going by and no Iranian response has been forthcoming it seems that Israel will be left to go it alone against this nefarious regime. Is that what American Jews want?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Public corruption

Tuesday, September 1, was a bad day for Israeli politics. On this day, two former Ministers started jail terms, a former PM was charged with various crimes and a former President's trial started.
The two Ministers were former Finance Minister Avraham Hirshson, who was convicted of stealing ca. m$1 from Union funds (small change compared to Madoff) that he controlled while he was Minister and he will serve over 5 years, and former Health & Welfare Minister Shlomo Benizri, who was convicted of accepting bribes and will serve 4 years. The former PM is of course Ehud Olmert, who is being tried on 3 charges, including misuse of his position and accepting bribes from an American businessman (2 other charges were dropped), and the President is Moshe Katsav, who is charged with sexual misconduct. In his trial, one of the women who claimed he had sexually abused her gave evidence for the first time today.
The case of Ben Izri is somewhat different because he is a member of Shas, the Sephardic religious party, and he is the fourth former Shas Minister to be jailed for misconduct. There appears to be a climate of corruption in Shas, so that giving and receiving money for the cause is not considered immoral. He was seen off by the usual group of Shas members and supporters who loudly proclaimed his innocence (even though he was convicted). Don't worry he will be able to study the Talmud with the other religious prisoners in jail.
The question arises, what does this coincidence say about the level of corru[tion in ISraeli political circles. It obviously points to a terrible lowering of standards since the great leaders of the early State. However, as Michael Partem, the head of the Movement for Quality Government pointed out in an interview on IBA News, the fact that all these politicians of the top ranks have been both indicted and convicted does give one hope that the legal system in Israel is actually working. If we assume that similar activities are happening in other countries but their leaders are immune from prosecution, it means that Israeli democracy is working.
To reduce the degree of corruption in the Israeli politcal system would require a complete overhaul and reorganization of the system, from a party-based proportional representational system to a constituency based system. Although many politicans agree with this sentiment, and there are bills before the Knesset to bring about such changes, the chance of the current crop of politicians actually reducing their own power and giving the citizens more say is highly unlikely. So we'll have to keep on fighting the political corruption and putting our leaders in jail.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ethiopian education

There is an absurd situation in Petach Tikva in Israel regarding the education of Ethiopian children. Some 60 Ethiopian girls are being denied an education because of ridiculous rules established by the Chief Rabbinate.
It seems that because the Jewish bona fides of the Ethiopians were not sure (they were separated from the main developments of Rabbinic Judaism for centuries) the Chief Rabbinate ruled that all Ethiopian children must go to religious schools. What is most disconcerting is that the Education Minister at the time accepted this dictate, and concurred that all Ethiopian children should be educated in religious schools and not public schools.
Now the religious schools, as you might imagine, are run by various religious organizations of varying degrees of orthodoxy. In Petach Tikva there happen to be three such schools that are private and independent (although subsidized by the state). There have been problems for some years over the entry of Ethiopian girls to these schools and this year the three schools decided not to allow entry of any Ethiopian girls because they have found them not to be up to the standards of education and adherence to Jewish orthodoxy that they require.
This has led understandably to an accusation of racism. Namely, the private religious schools are being accused of excluding the girls because they are black. Of course, the various pricipals deny this and refer to their different cultural background, but to many it smacks of the same exclusiveness that allowed private white clubs in the US to exclude blacks for a long time based on their cultural differences and not their color. This was ruled unacceptable by the US Supreme Court and all such private clubs were integrated. Now there is a similar move afoot to "integrate" these private Jewish religious schools.
But, the schools have struck back by pointing out that they do not discriminate against blacks as such, and they have had no such problems with Ethiopian boys who are much more orthodox in their culture. So now there is a standoff between the three schools and the Education Ministry. The Mayor of Petach Tikva worked out a compromise with the three schools to each take a number of the girls, but the Ministry rejected this as inadequate, and has threatened to remove the schools' subsidies, thus making them effectively bankrupt. Finally at the last moment the issue was resolved and the three schools will open with Ethiopian kids attending each one. A secular educational group has gone to court to overturn the original decision of the Ministry of Education denying Ethiopians education in secular public schools. This complex issue includes elements of religion, race, culture and education, that is perhaps typical of the complexity of Israeli society.