Friday, October 30, 2009

Katyusha firing

The Katyusha missile fired into Israel from Lebanon on Tuesday evening, and the four more ready to be launched that were subsequently found by the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL in the border village of Houla, represent an attempt by an extremist group to try to reignite combat between the IDF and Hizbollah. Although no damage was done Israel registered a complaint at the UN against Lebanon, as the sovereign in charge of the territory from where the rocket was fired. The IDF also responded with a salvo of artillery.
Later UN authorities issued a statement calling on Hizbollah and all other militias to be disarmed according to the UN resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The question is why does Lebanon need such a huge armed militia with reportedly ca. 12,000 missiles, when Israel represents no threat to it and has no territorial claim on it. The answer is that Hizbollah serves the military aims of Syria and Iran for hegemony in the region.
In the past, when Israel attacked Lebanon and occupied a sliver of its territory along the border, it was because the Palestinians in Lebanon were acting as a separte entity, a "state within a state" and were attacking Israel, and such counter-attacks by the IDF were the only effective defensive responses. However, it is important to point out, that as a result of the Lebanese civil war and the First Lebanon War of 1982, the PLO was expelled from Lebanon, and so they ceased to play a major role in the internal politics of Lebanon. The subsequent establishment of the PA on Palestine territory as a result of the Oslo Accords removed their need for an "external" base. Instead of making peace they attacked Israel from the PA and Gaza with terrorism, including suicide bombers.
But, the civil war also empowered the Shia Muslims in southern Lebanon and the Iranian revolution in Shia Iran provided a model and a support base for the development of Hizbollah. It is important to note this difference between the First and Second Lebanon wars, while both involved Israel, the First war was initiated by the (Sunni) Palestinians, while the Second was initiated by the Shia Hizbollah.
Although they use the Palestinian conflict as an excuse, the Shia are motivated more by a profound anti-Western, anti-Jewish hatred, that we have come to call "Islamism." As such the two wars were totally different in their motivation, although both had the same aim, the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. Even though Hizbollah maintains an armed force far larger than necessary for it's internal needs, contrary to UN resolutions, it's excuse of "defending Lebanon" is a superficial facade, behind which lurks the national aims of Syria and Shia Iran.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Water follies

Amnesty International, the left-wing, human rights organization, has published a glossy Report that criticizes Israel for essentially hogging the water in the area and preventing the Palestinians from getting their "fair" share. They point out that Israelis on average use ca. 3 liter of water a day while the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza use only a third to a quarter. They also claim that the 450,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank consume as much water as the 2.4 million Palestinians. Maybe they shower more?
These conclusions are absurd for several reasons: 1. Israel is a highly developed country with an intensive agriculture, while the Palestinian areas are underdeveloped and less affluent, so the proper comparison is of Israel say with Greece or another developed "western country," while the proper comparison of the Palestinians is with Syria or Egypt, where the amounts consumed are comparable. 2. Israel has, according to the PM's office, has equal consumption of water today as 30 years ago, when the population was half what it is now, so how can that be categorized as Israel taking more than it's fair share of water. 3. Israel discovered and initiated the use of the mountain aquifer, and accordingly has legitimate rights to its water, but it provides water to the Palestinians both on the West Bank and Gaza, in excess of the requirements under the Olslo Accords. 4. Israel has extensive water conservation efforts and also produces water by desalination, while the Palestinians have not spent a minute fraction of the b$10 that they have been given in aid since the founding of the PA on water conservation and improving pipes or facilities. 4. The Report fails to acknowledge that ca. 20% of the Israeli population is Arab, and an interesting comparison would be how the water consumption of Arabs in Nazareth compare with those in Ramallah.
Unfortunately this is another Report that starts out with a political bias and not surprisingly concludes that Israel is responsible for all evil. There will alwyas be problems with water availability in this arid area. The fact that the Palestinians have failed to do anything for water conservation and are responsible for their own water predicament is hardly considered.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Convoluted Palestinian politics

According to reports, Pres. Abbas of the PA warned Pres. Obama last week, when they spoke by telephone, that if Israel does not institute a full building freeze on the West Bank then he will not run in the upcoming January Palestinian elections. Apart from the fact that Obama was unsuccessful in persuading PM Netanyahu to asccept such a freeze in the past, Obama is on record as wanting negotiations to resume without preconditions. So the threat to Obama was a way of trying to force him to strong arm Netanyahu and deliver Israel on a platter. It didn't work and it won't work, even though the US wants Abbas to run again.
But, his popularity among his people is very low, after he initially failed to capitalize on the Goldstone Report and is seen as a puppet of America, that is hated among Palestinians. However, the situation in the West Bank has improved, with a 7% GDP increase this year and a new large mall built in the center of Ramallah. This results partly from the removal of ca. 160 IDF checkpoints from the West Bank as well as the development of the economy being the active policy of Netanyahu, Abbas and PM Fayyad and Obama.
Meanwhile conditions in Gaza worsen, the damage from Operation Cast Lead has not been repaired since Hamas would not give any assurances about control of terrorism. The economic situation there worsens, yet Hamas seems to be politically in the ascendency, such is the nature of Palestinian politics, the extreme always dominates.
Hamas has vowed not to cooperate with the PA elections in January, they will not run so that Fatah and some independents will run unopposed in the West Bank. But, they could also prevent not only voters in Gaza from participating, but also voters in the West Bank. They could try to disrupt the election (anyway they oppose democracy) and this could lead to further internal violence.
Ironically one view, of the Israeli right, is that if Abbas and Fayyad are reelected, then the US will be beholden to give them further support at Israel's expense, including the promise of a State in two years! So the thinking goes that, as far as the West Bank voting is concerned, Israel and Hamas have shared interests. However, there is no way that either side would cooperate or even acknowledge this situation. But, the mainstream in Israel would prefer that Abbas win and maintain calm in the West Bank for the foreseeable future. However, if the "young guard" of Fatah defeat Abbas then other outcomes are possible, including a period if instability and/or a rapprochement with Hamas.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Temple Mount

The riots on the Temple Mount are being deliberately incited by the Muslim League and local extremists. They are based on the usual lies and rumors spread by them that the Mosques on the Mount are under attack by the Jews and therefore Muslims are called upon to come and defend them. They have collections of stones and bottles, some filled with gasoline, prepared in caches ready for action. Before the State of Israel was founded this type of false rumor resulted in periodic attacks on Jews and Arab pogroms, such as in 1929. They also use these false stories to incite anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feeling throughout the Muslim world.
Of course, there is no basis for the rumors. A group of Jews petitioned to be allowed to enter the Temple Mount area and pray there, but their application was denied. Jews are not allowed to enter the Temple Mount area, especially not to pray. This is against the rulings of the Jewish religious authorities because the precise location of the Holy of Holies is not known, but also by order of the Government precisely to avoid unnecessary clashes and provocation. There was a meeting this week in Jerusalem sponsored by the Temple Mount Institute in which some right wing and religious Jews opposed the current religious proscription against praying on theTemple Mount and called for a permanent presence of Jews there. However, no Jews actually visited the site, as PM Sharon did in 2000, which was used as an excuse to launch the second intifada.
When such riots occur the Israeli authorities have no alternative but to restrict Muslim access to the area, and bring in riot police reinforcements to control the situation. But ironically it is religious Jews who are barred permanently from there. Only tourists, mostly Christian and some secular Jews, are allowed on the Temple Mount in tightly controlled groups, apart from the Muslims who go to pray undisturbed there if there is no violence.
In order to placate the Muslims and satisfy the Jewish and Christian faithful, why not allow all three faiths to have a specific building there where they can pray. The actual area of the compound on the Temple Mount, as prepared by Herod ca. 2000 years ago, is very large. It could easily accomodate a synagogue far from the location of the two Mosques and would not impinge directly on them. Also, there was a Byzantine/Greek Orthodox Church where the Temple once stood (built after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple) which was destroyed in turn by the Muslims when they built the Dome of the Rock. Let all three faiths share the use of the site, which nevertheless must remain under Israeli sovereignty.
As an atheist I could dismiss this obsession with the "holy" location as based on ancient myths, but I recognize the magnetism it has for the faithful of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions. If only their leaders could sit down and agree peacefully how to accomplish such an arrangement.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

PA elections?

After a year of fruitless negotiations mediated by Egypt and numerous attempts to plaster over their fundamental differences, Fatah PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has called PA elections at the end of January. Hamas immediately rejected this decision and announced that they will hold their own independent elections in Gaza. Thus, there will continue to be two PA entities, separate and mutually antagonistic.
It is reported that Abbas called Pres. Obama before making the final decision about the elections. This too would not endear him to Hamas because one difference between the two Palestines is that while Abbas is ready to use the Americans to bring pressure to bear on Israel, Hamas rejects all contact with the US and is loyal to Iran which supports and trains its terrorist cadres. While there is an effective ceasefire at present between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, without an actual agreement, nevertheless there are occasional rockets fired over the border and the IAF attacks weapons factories and tunnels in Gaza.
There are two Israeli views regarding the situation of the schism between the two Palestine entities, the right regard it as a good thing that the Palestinians are split and therefore there can be no agreement or formation of a Palestinian state without half of them. As long as Hamas is bottled up in Gaza and is unable to take over the whole of the PA including the West Bank, there can be no successsful peace negotiations. The left regard the fissure within Palestine society as a hindrance to peace and so wish that it could be healed.
If there are elections on the West Bank, and if Fatah/Abbas are duly re-elected, then the schism will become more institutionalized. However, if Abbas is defeated in the elections and Hamas is preferred, then there will be a period of instability, and it would be greatly in Israel's interest to ensure that Hamas does not take over the West Bank. If they did this could pose great danger to Israel, with its population centers within easy rocket range. Until the election results are resolved there can be no advance in any peace process, with Abbas clinging on to survival for dear life.
Meanwhile Israel is criticized by the left for two reasons, first the so-called "occupation" and second the "blockade of Gaza." Both of these polemics are untrue! Israel completely left Gaza and also withdrew from the PA, otherwise they could not have elections there. Also, Israel supplies Gaza with necessary humanitarian aid, including water, food, medicines and electricity, a situation which is almost unique in history. It is Egypt that completely blockades Gaza, only allowing entry of goods and arms illegally thru the tunnels under the Philadelphi corridor, the Egypt-Gaza border.
Israel is also facilitating the economic development of the West Bank and has removed most of the checkpoints that restricted Palestinian movement. The level of terrorism has been almost completely removed, partly because of the Security Fence and the activities of the Israel security services, and partly because the Abbas Government is not actively pursuing terrorism at the present time. However, the future is uncertain, and the Netanyahu Government would do well to be prepared for a sudden change in the current relatively quiet situation on both the Gaza and West Bank fronts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Domestic news stories

Two stories that have been in the Israeli press for several days are the worst murder in Israeli history and the treatment of children of illegal immigrants. I suppose these issues reflect the fact that Israel is a normal country like all others.
A few days ago a family of six Russian immigrants were found stabbed to death in Rishon-Lezion, a quiet and busy Israeli town. The grandparents, parents and two children were all stabbed multiple times and their apartment was set on fire. Since the father was involved in several successful businesses and because of the nature of the crime, commentators consider it likely that this was a murder carried out by the Russian mafia, that is active in Israel. If he had not paid them enough they might have done this cruel act as a warning to others. So far the police have no leads.
Approximately 1,200 children born in Israel to parents who are illegal aliens, are set to be deported back to their home country. However, the opponents of this Government decision say that in fact these children, many of Phillipine or African origin, don't know any other coutnry. They were born and brought up in Israel and speak Hebrew as their mother tongue. Many Israelis think that Israel, as a country of persecuted immigrants, cannot morally deport these children and their parents. Most of the parents came here legally to work and the women became pregant here, and according to law are not supposed to give birth here, but stayed illegally to do so.
Others see that the rising tide of illegal immigrants is threatening little Israel, and that we simply cannot afford to take this liberal approach.. Once we accept the 1,200, tens of thousand more will come. It is a dilemma that Britain and the West is also facing , and economic migrants will use any means to gain entry to developed countries, including getting pregnant. Since there is dissension even within the Government the authorities have delayed the decision until after the school holidays, but that may only make matters worse.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No new investigation!

After his Report was adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee, Justice Goldstone suggested that if Israel instituted a thorough State investigation of possible war crimes in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, then that would get Israel "off the hook" and the proposal to take Israelis to the International Criminal Court in the Hague would be dropped. This is about as naieve as his feigned "surprise" that Hamas was not blamed for war crimes in the resolution adopted by the UN HCR in Geneva when referring his Report to the UN in New York.
There is nothing now that Israel can do to prevent the corrosive effects of his Report and certainly a costly and extensive investigation would not have any impact on the majority of UN States who hate Israel. We can only depend on the US to veto the Report in the Security Council.
Even those countries hit by similar acts of terrorism that Israel has suffered all these years, such as Britain, France Pakistan, China, India and now Iran, are so hypocritical that they ignore the commonality of their fate. When they fight against their terrorists do they act with such kid gloves that they would be immune from similar claims of war crimes. But, in fact, after extensive IDF investigations of each and every claim by any soldier or civilian, the IDF found that there were no instances of deliberate war crimes and there is no basis, including Goldstone's flawed and biased Report, for believing otherwise. Another investigation of these events would only be futile and costly, and I hope the Ministers of the Israel Government will conclude the same and will not bow to external pressure to reinvestigate these events.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The explosion by a suicide bomber in southern Iran in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan highlights an ongoing regional conflict between the Shia Iranians and the Sunni Baluchis. After themselves being persecuted for centuries the Shia have been persecuting the Sunnis in Baluchistan. In the explosion 42 people were killed and many injured at a meeting between local tribal leaders and senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) leaders, including deputy commander of the IRG ground forces, Gen. Shooshtari, and local IRG leaders. This is the most successful action so far of the Baluchi insurrection, and was claimed by a Sunni organization called Jundallah (Army of God) and there is also a Baluchi Liberation Army.
The irony is that Iran, that supports terrorism by Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah (Party of God) in Lebanon against Israel, is now tasting it own medicine, so to speak. The Iranian Govt complained to the Pakistan Govt. about this Baluchi terrorist incident. But, it is unlikely that Pakistan would do anything, in view of the fact that there is a large Baluchi minority in Pakistan, and both the Baluchis and the Pakistanis are Sunni, while Iran is Shia. Also, Pakistan is engaged in a major strike against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in the northern region of Waziristan, after suffering nearly 200 casualties from a series of terrorist bombings recently throughout Pakistan.
Baluchistan in about 50% of the area of Pakistan and its population is about 25%. There has always been a low intensity movement for Baluchi independence, including their brothers over the Iranian border. Although the Baluchis are a Persian people they, like the Pashtuns, another large Iranian minority, would like to have their own independence. We can now expect the IRG to wreak vengeance on the Baluchis, which will only cause Jundallah and other Sunni organizations to fight back.
After blaming Pakistan, the US and UK for the terrorist incident Iran today called for the UN Security Council to take up the matter. I doubt there will be much sympathy for that.

Monday, October 19, 2009


MRSA is the "super-bug" that unfortunately kills many people due to infections they receive in hospitals, so that what was previously a haven for sick people has become the dreaded source of deadly infections. This is what happened to my mother, who was weakened by several illnesses while in hospital for some time, but eventually died of MRSA infection. What is MRSA? It is methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, a form of staphylococcus bacteria that has become multiply resistant, i.e resistant to most drugs.
How does ordinary staphylococcus make people ill and even kill them, for example when they get a throat infection? By producing toxins that cannot be handled effectively by the immune system, and that prevent the process of respiration from occuring at the molecular level in our cells, thus killing the cells. To prevent this happening we have developed various drugs that can kill the ordinary staphylococcus, drugs such as methicillin. But, even if the drug kills say 99% or even 99.9% of the SA, a minute remainder may survive the effect of the drug, because of genetic selection. Namely a minute proportion of the bacteria may have a genetic mutation that allows it to survive the toxic effect of the drug, and this drug resistant SA clone can then reproduce even in the presence of the drug and can go on to colonize the tissues and produce its toxins.
Well, what about using a different drug against the staphylococcal infection, such as oxacillin? But, what is often found is that once a clone of SA is resistant to one drug it becomes resistant to other drugs, presumably by the same mechanism, and is in fact multiply drug resistant. Therefore, none of the usual drugs can be used to fight it, and the infection cannot be stopped. This is similar to the process whereby a drug resistant cancer can develop from a clone of cancer cells that have become multiply drug resistant and these cells then go on to form a tumor and kill the patient.
What is the mechanism whereby the cells or bacteria become multiply resistant? One such mechanism is by efficiently exporting or excreting the drug, which must enter the cell or bacteria in order to have its pharmacological effect. If the cells/bacteria develop a mechanism that exports the drug faster than it can enter the cells and get to the bacteria and kill them, then they will survive and reproduce, thus eventually killing the cells. It is this fine balance between bacterial kill and survival that can be be tipped towards the negative side by a process of efficient drug exclusion.
These drugs may be quite different and work by different molecular mechanisms, but they may be sufficiently alike in their method of entering the cell or bacteria that they respond similarly to the process of drug exclusion. Of course, the aim of the pharmacologist is to find a drug that overcomes this resistance, but so far this search has been unsuccessful. Levofloxacin is a drug that has been used in these cases, but its effectiveness is limited, and there are other claims for various natural products that are completely unproven. Hence the best defense is to avoid infections by making sure that all operations are completely sterile and that all hospital interiors are cleaned with caustic materials that destroy bacteria. This is the ideal, although as we know it is unfortunately rarely achieved. For the foreseeable future MRSA will remain a scourge of patients everywhere.
(Note: the writer is neither a clincial pharmacologist nor a medical doctor and cannot answer medical queries).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

End of peace prospects

David Horovitz, the Editor of the Jerusalem Post, has written an interesting article entitled "Five years of dithering," analyzing the President of the PA, Mahmud Abbas. His assessment is very negative, the words he uses to describe Abbas's approach to decision making apart from "dithering" are "lacking in courage," and "crippling, paralyzing, hopeless ambivalence" (see ).
Recently Abbas characterized Hamas rule in Gaza as an "emirate of darkness," yet as leader of the Fatah party and the PA he has agreed to Egyptian sponsored unity with Hamas, in order to have a joint election in the PA. But, once again Hamas have backed out, not wanting to be seen making agreements with him.
As soon as the Goldstone Report was announced, Abbas supported it, since it criticized Israel and Hamas for "war crimes" during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, but did not mention Fatah and the PA. Then under American pressure, he backed off and agreed that the GR should not be brought before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva for a vote until March 2010. Then when criticism of this decision mounted, he backed down again, highly criticized Israel and asked for the GR to be brought before the HRC immediately.
The HRC, with an automatic majority (25) of Arab and Muslim States and other non-human rights countries such as China and Russia, voted to send the GR to the UN Security Council and General Assembly in New York. The covering preamble of course blamed only Israel for "war crimes" and Hamas was dropped from blame, even Goldstone himself complained about this. Only the US and a handful of others (Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia and the Ukraine) voted against it, claiming that it was "one-sided," and the UK, France and nine others abstained.
This situation signifies great danger for Israel, if the recommendations of the GR are implemented by the SC (the GA has no enforcement powers) or the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague decides to go ahead and indict Israeli leaders for "war crimes" or "crimes against humanity," then things could get very tough. The Palestinians and their Arab supporters hope to gain by diplomatic and legal means what they could not gain on the battlefield, the demonization, delegitimization and defeat of Israel.
PM Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will cease all negotiations and meetings with the PA and Abbas once this process is initiated. Why should Israel pretend to negotiate with Abbas, the so-called "moderate" and trustworthy leader of the Palestinians, when not only is he pursuing this campaign against Israel, but he is also hardly in control of the PA? He cannot deliver, his political capital among the Palestinians has sunk to a new low, and it is highly unlikely that he can survive much longer. Furthermore, every indication is that extremists in Fatah and Hamas will join against him, and topple him, either violently or in forthcoming elections.
The net outcome of this situation is that there is certainly no peace process, specifically at a time when Pres. Obama is talking up his intentions of pursuing such a process between Israel and the PA. Obama thought that by forcing Israel to deliver on the building freeze, he could then deliver a reciprocal response from Abbas and the Arabs, but he was wrong on both counts, and now the prospects are dire. Even the plan by PM Salam Fayad, who has little popular support, to announce a Palestinian State in two years without Israeli agreement, would be in abeyance.
If there is a unity Palestinian Goverment that includes Hamas, then not only will it be hostile to any compromise with Israel, and it will reject the four requirements of the Quartet (recognize Israel, accept previous agreements, stop violence and incitement, stop all terrorism), but Israel would certainly not deal with it. Then the situation is set for another inevitable round of war.
I, like most people, abhore war, it is a terrible and destructive process, yet one of the problems in the Arab-Israel conflict is that the Palestinians have never been comprehensively defeated by Israel, even OCR was only a partial defeat. Two of the major hostile Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, made peace with Israel only once they were definitively defeated. So if Abbas falls soon, and if Hamas is included in the PA Government, and if terrorism restarts, then if there is another round of war, lets hope for a definitive defeat of the Palestinians, so that they too will eventually sue for peace.
If there is another round of fighting, you can be sure that with the precedent of the GR, that Israel will once again be criticized for "war crime." But we must depend on our right to defend ourselves against attack and the high morality of our armed forces.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hippie wedding

Tuesday evening we went to a unique wedding held just north of here near Caesarea. This was the wedding of the daughter of friends of ours from Netanya. They are a conventional conservative religious couple, whose younger daughter, beautiful and bright, brought up in Israel, went off to Goa in India, as many young Israelis do, and there met a Dutch fellow. She lived with him there for many years, and had a daughter with him. They moved a few years ago to Crete, where he bought a house in a remote area, and then he returned to Goa, leaving her there.
She evidently didn't like this arrangement, so she returned to Israel, and it took her some time to find her way and to start earning her own living. She was married last night to a guy with three children of his own. Needless to say her parents are very happy.
The wedding was held on a farm literally in the middle of nowhere. We had to drive down an unpaved path for about a mile, twisting and turning through the countryside, until we found the place. Several people live on an abandoned farm and they have organized this wedding facility as a side-line. The place was very rural, most of it covered by open-sided tents. The food was vegetarian, and the band was very funky, playing a kind of fusion of Sephardic-klezmer-Arab and Jazz music, which was very Israeli. There were dozens of kids running around and the women and some of the men had long flowing hair and were dressed in flowing robes, and most of the kids and some of the adults had no shoes, generally giving a hippie atmosphere. We felt very square.
The actual wedding ceremony was conventional, but a kind of hippie-rabbi officiated. He was an old man with long gray hair wearing a beret and what appeared to be Indian clothes. This was not your average wedding, but nevertheless, it was very Israeli, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


On Monday evening we went to a charity dinner for the Laniado Hospital, which is a private religious-run hospital in Netanya. The dinner speaker was Prof. Robert Wistrich, Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Head of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. In his talk he referred back to his work on the "oldest hatred" (a phrase that he invented) and analyzed the causes of modern day anti-Semitism.
He focussed on the "chosenness" of the Jews as a basis for the antagonism of poor, ignorant populations that they lived amongst, that sparked envy and irrational hatred. In fact, there was a deliberate attempt by Christians, and Muslims in their turn, to replace the Jews as the "chosen" of God. This required of course, that Judaism and the Jews cease to exist, and the logical conclusion was the need to kill all those who did not or would not convert. Ironically the erosion of English chosenness in the UK has led to a loss of religious belief and tolerance there.
Can there be anti-Semitism without Jews? Of course there can and there has been. For example, Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and only allowed to return in the late 1600's by Oliver Cromwell, but during the period when there were officially no Jews in England, there was still rampant anti-Semitism, for example this is reflected in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." In Poland after the end of WWII the extent of anti-Semitism did not wane and there were attacks on Jews who returned from the Holocaust in Kielce for example. Anti-Semitism was also evident in fascist, communist and secular democratic countries, showing an amazing vitality and ubiquity independent of ruling system.
In a sense, "Zionism" has become a metaphor for the predicament of the Jews, explaining its resurgence in modern times. Whatever we do, especially if we are successful, there is no escaping the hatred and the rejection. If there are Jews there is bound to be anti-Semitism, a visceral hatred that is racist and not merely theological, and we must continue to deal with it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The poorest can be the richest

It is an irony that the poorest people in the world are in many cases the inheritors of the greatest potential for alternative energy production and hence for becoming the richest. Just as the discovery of oil transformed Saudi Arabia from one of the most desperately poor and backward countries into one of the richest and fastest developing countries, so exploitation of the sources of alternative energy in other backward parts of the world could potentially transform them as well.
For example, where does the sun shine the most, in deserts, where does the tide change the most, in large river deltas, where do rivers descend the most, in mountainous areas, where do winds blow the hardest, in vast open plains. All of these extreme areas constitute some of the poorest areas, because where the majority of affluent people live is in moderately watered, low level valleys, plains or ports where transportation is easy and large cities have developed.
In the future, as the world's population reduces its dependence on hydrocarbon based fuels (coal, oil), the use of solar power from deserts, tidal power from tidal estuaries, hydroelectric power from mountainous areas, and wind turbine power from windy plains, will gradually add up to a greater and increasing proportion of our energy production. For example, the estuary of the Ganges/Brahmaputra River in the Bay of Bengal causes flooding every year in Bangladesh; if this could be harnessed, a huge amount of electricity could be generated. This would not only save the local population from periodic floods but also greatly raise their standard of living. For example, the Sahara desert in north Africa is the home of a sparse, poor population, but having huge solar farms could transform this area to a major energy producer, providing energy not only for Africa but for Europe too. For example, at present there are waterfalls in South America and Africa that could produce enormous amounts of electricity just as have been produced in Niagara Falls for a hundred years. In Mongolia, one of the poorest countries in the world, there are vast plains that have some of the most constant winds in the world that could be harnessed for wind power generation from huge turbine farms. Not only would these projects raise the level of existence of the local populations, but by distributive networks could greatly ease the world's dependence on hydrocarbons, and particulary reduce and replace the world's need for oil. Also, cars could be powered by batteries using electricity generated by these alternative energy means to replace dependence on gasoline from the OPEC cartel and particularly from the Arab States.
As oil production reduces and the cost of oil products increases this transformation is inevitable. When oil is at ca. $65 per barrel, as it is now, the costs of these alternative energy sources becomes competitive. But, it also requires the local populations and countries to realize that they are living next to the world's future energy sources, and then for them to start of exploit their resources with investment capital from the developed world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goldstone repercussions

PA Pres. Abbas is in deep trouble with his people, because he agreed to a US request to defer action on the Goldstone Report in the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva until March 2010. The reaction from Palestinians in general as well as many in his own Fatah movement, not to mention the Hamas terrorist organization that controls Gaza, to allowing Israel "off the hook" as it were, was very negative and intense.
So now, Abbas is backtracking and calling for an immediate special meeting of the UNHRC in order to refer the Report to both the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court in the Hague for judicial follow up. Concurrently Libya has also asked the UNSC to consider the Report in order to decide what measures to take. Unless the US decides to veto this initiative, there might be sanctions voted against Israel.
Now how can you expect Israel to carry on peace negotiations with an partner such as the PA that is at the same time trying to get it pillioried before world opinion? The Israel Government made it clear to both the US and PA that it will not continue with the farce of negotiations as usual while being stabbed in the back by Abbas. At the same time that Israel is trying to support Abbas as the supposed moderate leader of the Palestinians, he is showing no moderation in attacking Israel. His main excuse could be that this is what his people want, and clearly public opinion among the Palestinian people does not favor making peace with Israel.
Maybe this is why Pres Obama is still waiting to make any progress on peace in the Middle East, even though he received the Nobel Prize for it prematurely. Israel was not prepared to be the "sucker" and make an important concession, freezing building on the West Bank, without some sign of compromise from the other side, and the PA is not prepared to compromise at all. Neither were the Arab States that Obama approached prepared to make any move towards easing the situation with Israel.
This situation has also caused Hamas to defer the expected meeting in Cairo to agree on a joint program with Fatah for possible new elections in the PA. So not only has Goldstone played havoc with Israel's good name in the world but he has also made the cause of peace much more difficult to achieve. While they are expecting to make short-term political gains from the Goldstone Report, the Arabs are giving up any chance of making peace with an Israeli Government that is willing to compromise with them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Turkey-Armenia agreement

The agreement signed between Turkey and Armenia in Zurich on Sunday is a significant reconciliation between two historic enemies. At the last minute some hitches came up that nearly prevented the signing, and if it were not for the gathering of many foreign ministers, including Secty Of State Clinton and the Russian and EU representatives, the signing might have been cancelled instead of just postponed for 3 hours. But, it was finally signed, although still requiring ratification by both parliaments.
The history is of course one of severe persecution of Armenians by Turks. Originally Armenia was a large country in the late Middle Ages stretching from Russia to the Mediterranean, but when the Turks, first the Seljuks and then the Ottomans, expanded from Asia, they conquered most of the Armenian empire. This resulted in a large Armenian minority within the Turkish Empire, and the Turks treated them especially badly, because they were Christian. Most of the other minorities, including the Kurds and Arabs were of course Muslim.
During WWI, there were rumors that the Armenians were preparing an insurrection to regain their independence. Whether this was true or not, the Turks acted viciously against the Armenians, essentially driving them off their lands and into the Syrian desert, where many of them perished. With many massacres, altogether it is estimated that between 1915-1922 ca.1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered.
One of the big problems is that the Turks have refused to accept responsibility for this "genocide," arguing that the new Turkey that was founded out of the ruins of the Turkish Empire under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, was not itself responsible for these slaughters. There has been a resolution pending before the US House of Representatives for some time initiated by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) blaming Turkey for the Armenian genocide, supported by Armenian Americans and many Jews. In view of the current Turkish refusal to cooperate with Israel in scheduled war games, that caused both the US and Italy also to withdraw from this annual event, Israel is currently re-thinking its selling of arms systems to Turkey and many Jews are considering supporting the resolution in Congress.
The agreement that was signed includes opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia for goods and people, that will help Armenia's economy, as well as the establishment of a commisssion to look into the history and come up with a definitive account. Both sides fear negative reaction from their nationalist extremes. Also, Azerbaijan is an ally of Turkey and has been at war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Since that dispute has not been resolved, Azerbaijan is angry with its ally for making peace with its Armenian enemy.
In the case of Armenia there is also a large Armenian diaspora that tends to be more nationalistic than the home country. This is quite different from the Jewish diaspora that tends to be much more liberal than the home country, Israel. The reasons for this difference might form the basis of an interesting essay. In any case, the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, as with the two Irelands, shows that apparently intractible problems can in fact be overcome. But, don't expect a similar change in the Palestinian-Israel situation any time soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Outrageous accusations

Sometimes I receive e-mails that purport to be true that contain the most outrageous and scurrilous asccusations. For example, that Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran, yes the one who denies the Holocaust, is partly Jewish! And that on Pres. Obama's official website there is an entry that equates Israelis with Nazis! What a world.

The story about Ahmedinejad is from the London Daily Telegraph, a very reputable paper, that reveals that one of his grandparents was named Sabourjian, a typically Jewish name in Iran that means "cloth weaver." The interesting thing is that in his earlier life this surname was included in his identity card, but in later years it seems to have disappeared. So, anyone wondering why Ahmedinejad is so much more anti-Semitic than the average Iranian now knows, that it is almost certainly that typcial form of Jewish over-compensation, to be more Catholic than the Pope, or in this case more Islamic than the Ayatollah. Such hatred and blindness to facts can only come from someone who is trying to hide something, forom someone who has a severe psychological problem. Unfortunately, even if this is true it hardly changes anything, since Ahmedinejad is clearly a pliant creature of the Imams and has been selected to be their representative, vote or no vote. (see: )

The other entry in these examples of outrageousness comes from the website "Obama for America" in which it is stated:

Nazi Israel … Indeed

Richard Falk, the professor of international law at Princeton University and the UN’s special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, had accused Israel of violating international law, international humanitarian laws, and the Geneva Convention. He described Israel’s policies against Palestinians and its siege of Gaza as “war crimes”, “genocidal tendencies”, “holocaust implications”, and “holocaust-in-the-making”. He urged the International Criminal Court to look into the possibility of indicting Israeli leaders for war crimes.

The fact is that Richard Falk was selected to fill this position because he is known to be anti-Israel (and a Jew, like Goldstone). But, to repeat this kind of slander against Israel in an official Obama web site is too much. After it was repeatedly criticized it was eventually removed from the site (see: ).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Premature Peace Prize

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Pres. Obama is ridiculous and inappropriate and indicates the completely political nature of this award. While Pres. Reagan did not receive the award for bringing about the end of the Cold War, Obama gets it for ...nothing. What has he done, nothing, what has he achieved, nothing, what does it look like he will achieve, nothing. At least wait and see what he might achieve.
The fact is that this award had a February 2009 deadline and so Obama was nominated only 12 weeks after he took office, and that is ridiculous. It clearly shows the leftist views of the Norwegian Committee who gave him the award simply for being elected and for his words not his deeds.
For the first time I agree with Hamas, who labelled the award to Obama as "premature." By contrast Pres. Abbas of the PA and Pres. Peres of Israel congratulated Obama for his award, while the region appears to be headed for increased violence and possibly war. By taking the Palestinian side over the building freeze, Obama has given the Palestinians hope that they can defeat Israel during his Administration without the usual strong support that America usually gives Israel. Even now there is rioting of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Muslim leaders are calling for Palestinian men to be prepared to die to defend the Al Aksa Mosque, when there has been no Israeli action against it at all. This is the usual way of stirring up Muslim hatred and action prior to a violent outbreak such as an intifada. If there is one, it will be traceable to Obama's bad policy decisions.
By the US not opposing Iran in a timely and tough manner, Israel may be forced to strike Iran's nuclear sites, and if they do it will be traceable to Obama's so-called engagement policy, that has been a total failure. While the President's advisers pronounce themselves pleased with the response of the Iranians to the Geneva Talks, actually nothing has been achieved so far and the Iranians can and will continue to enrich uranium. While receiving the Nobel Prize for peace Obama will be responsible for wars that may break out in the Middle East, as well as the continuing war in Afghanistan.
It is possible that in time Obama may deserve such a prize, but by giving it prematurely before he has actually completed any peace process it cheapens all Nobel Prizes. What a farce!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Israeli foreign policy

This letter appeared in the J. Post, Oct 8, 2009:

Foreign Minister Lieberman is right in trying to develop a new foreign policy for the State of Israel, based on less dependence on the USA ("Lieberman seeks to fashion..." Oct. 7). As the current situation with Pres. Obama demonstrates, the US can be an unreliable ally while seeking to placate and appease enemy nations. One avenue to consider is to try to forge an alliance of small countries, those with (say) less than 10 million people. This would include some current allies of Israel, such as Costa Rica, Fiji, New Zealand, as well as a host of smaller nations. What distinguishes these nations is that they each have a single vote at the UN - just as the US - and are fed up with being marginalized and pushed around by the great powers, such as Georgia by Russia.
Jack Cohen

The letter was written in response to the J. Post article (Oct. 7) about FM Lieberman's proposal to re-fashion Israeli foreign policy away from total dependence on the USA and total focus on the Palestinian issue. He believes that Israel would benefit by expanding its interests to many other issues with many other countries. Given it's scientific and technical advances, Israel could be a leader in helping poorer, smaller countries getting out of their difficulties and improving their situation with the typical Israeli hands-on aid, rather than just accepting food and money from the West (a lot of which is stolen anyway).

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Israeli Nobel Prize

It was announced Wednesday that Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot has won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, sharing it with two other colleagues, V. Ramakrishnan (MRC, Cambridge) and Thomas Steitz (MIT, Boston). They all worked on the X-ray crystallography of the ribosome.
It should be emphasized that Ada Yonath did extremely difficult pioneering work over a period of 40 years in order achieve this distinction. I met Ada when I was a graduate student at the Weizmann Institute, and I chose to work on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy while she chose crystallography. One major difference between these physico-chemical tools is that NMR is done in solution (generally) and crystallography in the solid state using crystals.
I also met Ada when I was at the Weizmann Insitute for a sabbatical in 1976-7, and I remember that then she had a research group and she invited me to attend one of her group research seminars. This was held on the beach at Palmahim, about 20 mins drive from Rehovot, with the students sitting around in a circle on the sand describing their research progress. I found this mildly disconcerting, especially when everyone stripped off to their bathing suits and then ran into the sea. Since the topics and style were far from my own I didn't attend again.
What Ada was doing was thought at the time to be impossible, namely to obtain crystals of ribosomal components and then to solve their structures. With NMR, we were able to study small proteins that had hundreds of atoms, but the ribsosomal complexes had hundreds of thousands of atoms, and it was thought impossible to both crystallize them, and if you could do that, then to solve their structures. Ada took a great chance to base her whole career on solving the structure of this macromolecular complex of many proteins and two RNA molecules on which the process of protein biosynthesis occurs in the cell.
How this happened in detail was a mystery. Many scientists showed that the process involved the synthesis of messenger RNA (mRNA, quite different from ribosomal RNA) from DNA, that contains the genetic code for a specific gene, and the transfer of that mRNA with its genetic information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, where it complexed with the ribosome and with other components containing amino acids, and synthesized specific proteins.
The work Ada and her colleagues did not only clarified these processes, but also showed where certain antibiotics bind to bacterial ribosomes to exert their pharmacological effects by disrupting this process. This work clearly has medical applications. Altogether a well deserved honor for a tremendous accomplishment. This brings to 9 the number of Nobel Prizes that tiny Israel has achieved.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New Torah scroll

On Tuesday evening a new Torah scroll was dedicated at the Park Hotel in Netanya. This was in memory of the 23 people killed in the Passover bombing at the Hotel seven years ago, and of others killed by terrorist incidents around Israel, totaling 35 people. The Torah scroll will be used in the Hotel synagogue for prayers. In the Jewish religion it is considered to be a mitzva, a good deed, to memorialize the dead with a living Torah scroll.
There was a festive meeting in the hall, now completely rebuilt, where the bomb went off. The former Chief Rabbi Meir Lau made a speech and then a band played and he carried the Torah scroll with its decorations out into the street, where a huppa on wheels was pushed along following a van festooned with lights, and a band played drums, brass instruments and shofars. There was a large crowd and it was altogether a very joyous occasion. We did not follow the parade thru the streets because just as it was leaving it started to rain. But, it was not a heavy rain and it soon ceased.
These parades can be seen in Israeli cities and elsewhere around the world when a Torah scroll is dedicated. Often they are scrolls that have been saved from the Holocaust and repaired, but in this case it was a new one. Since each letter is written by a scribe by hand and must be perfectly reproduced it can take a year or more to write a complete scroll of the Bible. So these scrolls are very expensive and the cost was underwritten by a wealthy American benefactor.
Of course, it's wonderful to have a new scroll and to memorialize the dead, but everyone wishes that the people did not have to die for the evil of the terrorists who hate Jews.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Report and the riots

There were riots in the Old City on Sunday amid rumors in the Palestinian community that Jews were taking over the Temple Mount. The fact that this was not happening did not prevent several hundred Palestinian men from invading the area and clashing with Israeli police. Stones and bottles were thrown and arrests were made. The police brought up reinforcements and closed the area from Sunday afternoon.
There was a large police presence there Monday, for the annual Birkat Hacohanim service, the annual priestly blessing that takes place at the Western Wall below the Temple Mount. Meanwhile riots continued in areas of East Jerusalem, and one policeman was stabbed in Shufat.
One reason for the Palestinian rioting and the rumors of a Jewish takeover of the holy site was the decision by the UN Human Rights Committee not to endorse the Goldstone Report that highly criticizes Israel, but rather to allow the Report to remain before the Committee until the next meeting in March 2010. This means that the Report will not be submitted to the Security Council for action for at least another three months. Many Arabs think that this was a mistake and a defeat for their side when the pressure was on against Israel for carrying out "war crimes" during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2006. How did this deferment come about?
Media reports are that the Israeli Government warned that if the Committee endorsed the Report, then Israel would withdraw from negotiations with the PA, and this would end current efforts by Pres. Obama to get the peace process going. Actually, the US also strongly criticized the Goldstone Report and were apparently not ready to deal with it in the Security Council, and may have pushed for a deferment of the vote for this reason. As a result, the US pressured the PA not to push the issue and other Arab Governments fell into line, allowing the Report vote to be postponed.
But, then there was a wave of indignation and criticism in the Arab world that Israel had been let off the hook, and questions were asked as to who was responsible for this mistake. The criticism of Pres. Abbas of the PA was so severe from all sides that he has established a Commission of enquiry to look into the matter to find out what really happened.
Some Palestinians say that this is the greatest failure of the PA since Pres. Abbas took over after Yasir Arafat died. The majority opinion seems to be that Pres. Abbas was himself responsible for this decision, but he is trying to deflect the criticism by establishing this Commission and by inciting the riots in Jerusalem. This is a time honored tactic by the Palestinians, whenever the Government wants to take attention away from their actions they incite the masses against the Jews by starting a rumor that the Haram al Sharif, the Temple Mount, is in danger.
This Palestinian scandal could have far-reaching consequences, at a time when Hamas is about to be rewarded by the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for Gilad Schalit, and before a meeting in Cairo in October to discuss a joint Fatah-Hamas agreement to allow PA elections to take place in six months.. If it is perceived that Abbas deliberately allowed the consequences of the Israeli attack on Hamas in Gaza to be temporarily buried at the UN, this could be a body-blow for Abbas and for Fatah credibility. The Palestinians will always choose the more extreme jihadist option, in other words Hamas over Fatah and Abbas. This does not augur well for future peace efforts.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Iran first

Once again the questions of Iran and Palestine are being considered by the international community. Many leaders, including US Pres. Obama and Quartet representative Tony Blair, put the solution of the Palestine problem first, they argue that once this conflict is resolved, the Muslims will become our friends and all other disputes can be resolved. This is nonsense, as any one familiar with the Muslim world and its violent culture will attest.
But, this attitude allows those who hold it to make two evasions, first they are taking the Arab line in pressing for a solution of the Palestine problem, thus reducing Arab pressure on them, and second they avoid dealing with the Iran situation head-on.
Since Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel and since it funds and supports the armies of Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, there is no possibility that there can be peace in "Palestine" until Iran is defeated. The current situation is a standoff, with the two armed forces poised north and south of Israel waiting for the next opportunity to pounce.. They both received a drubbing at Israel's hands, Hizbollah in the 2004 Second Lebanon war and Hamas in the 2006 Operation Cast Lead. But, in neither case were they decisively defeated, and in each case they have rebuilt their capability even more, Hizbollah by supplies from Syria, against UN SC resolution, and Hamas by smuggling thru tunnels from Egypt. What are they waiting for? They are waiting for a signal from Iran!
Unless Iran is fundamentally changed, either by severe sanctions, internal regime change or by military attack, there can be no change in the Palestine arena. Having negotiations between Israel and the PA is like fiddling while Rome burns, an exercise in futility. Nothing Abbas can agree to can change the basic equation while armies commited to the destruction of Israel are poised north and south to attack, and Iran is the key to this problem. Remove the Iranian threat first and only then can the Palestine conflict be tackled seriously.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Comic book Holocaust

The movie "Inglorious basterds," directed by Quentin Tarantino, is a comic book treatment of WWII France under the Nazis. It uses the Holocaust as a means to entertain and make points.
The machine gunning of a family of Jews hiding in a cellar is used as a story prop, the daughter named Shoshana escapes and they let her go (!) then a statement comes on the screen saying don't worry she'll appear later in our story.
Then we are introduced to the supposedly "inglorious basterds," a group of 8 American Jewish soldiers and their southern Colonel, who are to be dropped behind enemy lines in France, with orders to kill Nazis. But, although the parallel to "The dirty dozen" is clear (Tarantino likes to make cinematic gestures) the soldiers themselves are not introduced individually and so we make no connection with them. Since the Colonel is part Apache Indian, he insists that all the Germans they kill are scalped, so that the German soldiers will fear them.
There are several criticisms of this movie, first the scenes in which there are conversations between the Nazis and the "good guys" are too long, the interview between the Nazi "Jew hunter" and the French farmer is too slow, and the scene in which a group of Nazis and a group of British and Americans dressed as Nazis interact seems interminable. By the way, most of the dialog (about 90%) is in French and German, so don't go expecting English dialog, and in Israeli theaters the translation is in Hebrew, so I missed some of the details.
The best role and the best acting in this movie is by the actor playing the "Jew hunter," what a pity. The epic scene in which the leading Nazis, Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Bormann, get fried in a movie theater fire is ridiculous, and the gratuitous violence, even against Nazis, is unpleasant to watch. Would Hitler have only two guards, would he travel to Paris for a movie premiere? It's good that Jews killed Nazis, for real and in the movies, but this movie is neither to be taken seriously nor comically.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Geneva Talks

The Talks being held in Geneva by the five permanent UN Security Council members (Britain, France, Russia, China and the US) plus Germany with Iran over it's nuclear weapons program were described by Deputy Israeli FM Dan Meridor, who often speaks for his less articulate boss FM Lieberman, as "futile" and "a waste of time."
He is right. After stringing the EU countries (Britain, France and Germany) along for 8 years discussing this issue, it then transpires that Iran has during the talks been building a new nuclear enrichment plant in secret. Also, Pres. Ahmedinejad and other Iranian leaders have frequently insisted upon the right of Iran to develop its own nuclear program.
The difference now is that the US is involved, because of Pres. Obama's policy of "engaging" with Iran. But, although after the talks he gave Iran 2 weeks to allow the IAEA and its chief Mohammed El Baradei to visit Iran, and although this looks tough, in fact so far nothing has happened on the ground and nothing will. So the IAEA will visit, and then there will be more talks, and then there will be more talks in Geneva, and meanwhile Iran presses ahead with its nuclear program and let's not forget its missile program, which it demonstrated last week.
Secty of State Clinton has changed her tune again, having said that there needs to be "crippling" sanctions against Iran, after the talks she said cauitiously "let's see what happens." Also, Russia's representative said that allegations have been made about secret faciltities, but we need to have proof before any action is taken. Meanwhile China is even more reticent about acting, especially since they have just signed a b$25 trading deal with Iran, that includes supplying China with much needed crude oil. So it's back to the talking and the bluffing and the wasting time.