Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 29

Today, 29th November ("caf-tet november"), is an important date in Jewish history, it is the date when the UN GA voted in 1947 for the partition of Palestine and the establishment for the first time in modern times of a sovereign Jewish State. The Jews of Palestine accepted and celebrated wildly, while the Arabs rejected the partition plan and in a fury attacked the fledgling Jewish entity. The following day six Arab armies invaded Palestine - Egypt, Syria, (Trans)Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia - as well as the Palestinian armed gangs. The vastly outnumbered Jews defeated them all and established the credibility of the Jewish State to everyone's astonishment. Let's not forget that all stood by and waited for the Arabs to massacre the Palestinian Jews, just as they had done a few years before during WWII when the Germans and most Europeans had massacred European Jews. Fortunately, this time the Jews were able to survive and defeat the invading enemies. But, they have not given up and continue trying to this day to destroy Israel, 63 years later!

Coincidentally, on the same day, Wikileaks released the first batch of 250,000 confidential cables from US ambassadors around the world over the last 10 years. It has not proved a disaster for Israel as most expected. On the contrary, it shows Israel as a moderate and peace-seeking country, and shows Iran as a major threat to the stability of the Middle East. The main revelation, although not unsurprising, is that the Saudi King and many other moderate Sunni leaders have been pressuring the US over the past few years more insistently than Israel to take military action agsinst Iran and "cut off the head of the snake." The Arabs feel at least as threatened as Israel by Iran's current regime, for two reasons, first Persia and the Arabs have always been rivals fighting for hegemony of the Persian Gulf region, and second the Sunni States fear the influence of the Shia extremists based in Iran. They specifically fear the influence of Iran on Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon. It is clear in the WIkileaks documents that no Arab country was prepared to come to the aid of Hamas in Gaza when Israel attacked in Operation Cast Lead in 2006. They were in fact hoping that Israel would totally destroy Hamas, and the Egyptians were not prepared to come forward and help Israel by offering to occupy Gaza. Even the PA Palestinians on the West Bank declined, preferring not to be seen as cooperating with Israel, even though it would have been massively in their interest. They will live to regret that particular piece of stupidity.

But, there is one incredible thing in these leaks that is conspicouous by its absence, at no time do the Sunni Arab States ask the US to help them against the threat from Israel. In effect they don't fear Israel, they don't refer to Israel in anything like the same way that they refer to Iran. Although on the surface Israel is their enemy and they use their Muslim majority in the UN to constantly delegitimize Israel, in truth when they are desperate for military protection it is not against Israel but Iran. For a long time I have argued that it should not be "Palestine first" but rather "Iran first." Many, apparently including Barack Obama, regard the solution of the so-called Palestine problem as the kingpin to settle all other conflicts in the region, when in reality it is the other way around, the Palestine problem can only be settled once Iran is taken care of, once Iran no longer threatens the stability of the whole region with its extremist philosophy, its Holcaust denial, its anti-Semitism and its nuclear weapons program. If anything is revealed in these leaks it is that Iran is the kingpin to resolving peace in the Middle East.

Monday, November 29, 2010

No, no and no!

Once again the Palestinians have exhibited their negative attitude towards peace with Israel, as the Revolutionary Council of Fatah met in Ramallah and supported Pres. Abbas by passing resolutions rejecting any recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, no agreement to land swaps to adjust borders and rejection of direct negotiations without a precondition of an Israeli building freeze in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. This represents their attitude towards so-called peace, so how could anyone take them seriously as peace partners. Especially since they use every opportunity to undermine the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and its sites. For example, they rejected the Jewish nature of the Western (wailing) wall, the Kotel, and the Temple Mount and they were behind the UNESCO Committee decision that Rachel's Tomb and the Machpela Cave in Hebron are both Moslem Mosques, which is neither historically nor factually correct. Meanwhile from Damascus, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, called on all Palestinains to resume active armed resistance against Israel. And Israel is the side that the liberal peaceniks in the west criticize??

One reason why the so-called moderates in Fatah reject recognizing Israel as a Jewish State is that according to their logic this would negate the "right of return" of the so-called Palestinian refugees to Israel, which is in any case a rhetorical device without basis in international law. Another reason why thyey adopt such a rejectionist position is that they don't feel that they need to negotiate with Israel, since the US under Pres. Barack Obama is doing the negotiating for them. Actually it is Israel and the US who are negotiating, with the Palestinians sitting on the sidelines throwing spanners into the works. So far the package of US inducements to PM Netanyahu to persuade him to extend the building freeze for another 3 months has not materialized from the State Department. Maybe they have problems in keeping the oral agreement made between Netanyahu and Secty of State Clinton. Alternatively it may be the Palestinian and other Arab opposition to the Israeli-US deal that is causing the delay. But, even if the agreement is made, it does not reach the minimum requirements of Israeli concessions for the Palestinians to engage in talks.

Another reason why Fatah is taking a hard line is that Hamas and the Syrians and Hizbollah and the Iranians are waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. Any attmept by Fatah to actually make any kind of deal with Israel would result in a potential civil war between Palestinian factions that could end in Abbas' assassination. So he treads very warily, hardly leaving the safety of Palestinian rejectionism.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dust and water

I was lying in bed and I noticed that behind the small fan that keeps us cool in the evenings, its container was caked with dust. When I examined it closely I saw that the dust was very thick after about 2 years of continuous use. I decided to take it apart and clean it. I took the front and back off, and used a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dust.

After cleaning that, I decided to clean the filter of the air conditioning. We have a central a/c system, so there is only one large filter, but since the a/c was not working at that time (that's another story), I decided to open up the vents and look inside the system. With a flashlight I saw what looked like a thick layer of dust inside the vents or ducts, which are cylinders about a foot in diameter of silver coated material around a wire. So I decided I wanted to clean the vents, but I figured that this was too big a job to do myself. However, I remember once about 10 years ago we had a company come in with large vacuum cleaners, that they covered over the vents and vacuumed them. However, when I looked up cleaning of a/c vents in the (English) yellow pages I found only one possible hit. I had the guy come over for a small fee and he looked at the vents and declared that it was not worth trying to clean them, "no one does that" he said, it was better to replace them, an idea that I rejected. Since I could find no company to do this, I decided I had to do it myself. So I got my ladder and I joined the flexible tubes of two vacuum cleaners together (including the old one that sits in my studio) and with this I was able to reach from the floor inside the vents. Then I tried to vacuum the dust. But to my surprise, I found that it was not soft free dust, but a layer of ingrained hard dirt that could not be vacuumed. I suppose over the years the dust that gets through the filter just coagulates into a thin solid layer, so maybe the expert was right. After a few attempts I gave up. So now the vents still have a layer of dirt, but I am confident that the air we breath flowing out of the vents is not full of floating dust.

We have had a record-breaking hot season that has lasted until now, with gorgeous weather with 25 deg C (about 80 deg F) daytime and 15 deg C (about 60 deg F) at night, with practically no rain (sorry about this Britain, that is shivering under a blanket of snow). This morning early was the first time we ran the heating system (without concerns of dust in the air) and a few evenings ago was the first time I wore a sweater. The problem is that with no rain, Israel faces the worst drought in about 35 years. Although warnings are dire, luckily some plans were made that have now borne fruit. About 40% of all potable water in Israel is produced by three large desalination plants along the coast (lucky we didn't make a deal with Turkey to supply water). This is much higher than any other country, the next one Denmark produces only about 14% from desalination. Another plant is due on-line in 2012 and another one is planned that will bring the total up to ca. 70% of needs. Also, Israel leads the world in recycling of used waste water, with about 70% being reused in agriculture and other uses. However, the water level in Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) is down to its lowest level ever, nearing the "black line" that is considered the line below which permanenet damage will result, mainly because it will be below the level that water can be pumped from the Lake into the National Water Carrier of the Mekorot water company. The Israeli Cabinet in its meeting Sunday will discuss emergency measures to finally face this dire water crisis.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Referendum Law

The Referendum Law that passed the Knesset on Wednesday is quite a revolutionary development in Israel. The origin of this law was the traumatic events that resulted in the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel under PM Sharon.

PM Sharon, after a lifetime of being a right wing hawk, changed his policy and decided to withdraw or disengage all Israeli settlements (22) and IDF positions in Gaza unilaterally. Not only was this a traumatic event for those forced out of Gaza, but it was a traumatic experience for the whole of Israeli society. The scene of IDF soldiers forcing settlers from their homes of 30 years was very unsettling to most Israelis. Further, the concept that after disengagement the Palestinians would be grateful and engage in peace negotiations was absolutely 180 degrees wrong. Not only did they destroy most of the property that the Jews left, including synagogues and hothouses that could have been used for growing vegetables, but they also started shooting rockets and mortars over the new Gaza border into Israel. This continued for a further 8 years until finally Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, that has largely resulted in a ceasefire, broken periodically by the Palestinians firing rockets into Israel. But, worse was the fact that after the elections that were supported by Pres. Bush, Hamas won and then proceeded to carry out a coup, murdering hundreds of Fatah operatives, some thrown from tall buildings. So the unilateral disengagement from Gaza proved to be a disaster for Israel. Also, when Ehud Barak was PM he was prepared to divide Jerusalem, even though this was not accepted Israeli policy, mainly because he wanted to please Pres. Clinton. Luckily at the time Yasir Arafat refused to accept this present.

When PM Netanyahu was elected it was on a Likud platform of no more unilateral disengagements. In other words, any Israeli withdrawal from "occupied territory" must be by mutual agreement with the Palestinians, Israel will not withdraw unless it gets something in exchange. However, the imposition of a 10 month building freeze on the West Bank under pressure from US Pres. Obama, made many Israelis nervous. Then Netanyahu said that there would be no further freezes, but now another one is being considered as a result of inducements by the US, in other words Netanyahu is being bribed. Israelis are always suspicious of these blandishments, hence the public support for the Referendum Law, that easily passed the Knesset with Netanyahu's support.

The Law requires that if the Government wants to give up any portion of Israeli land including the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem, then it is conditional on a referendum of the Israeli population, unless the Knesset vote is 80% in favor. This is a safety net that gives Israelis confidence that no Israeli Government, like that of Sharon's, after getting into office, will change its policies around and give up territory in exchange for whatever inducements might be offered. The Palestinians and their supporters have labelled this law a proof that Israelis are not interested in peace. That is not true, it merely limits the action that any politician can take in any particular circumstances and emphasizes that in this matter it is the people of Israel who are sovereign.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Traffic is one of the chief problems of our times, we suffer from too much of it, causing jams and pollution. Today we went on an AACI tiyul to Tel Aviv to get a glimpse of the future.

We visited the Traffic Management Control Center of the Israel National Roads Company at Beit Dagan, a large intersection outside Tel Aviv. The relatively small modern building built in 2004 houses the company and the police who work in the Control Center with them as a joint project. They are in charge of all the roads of Israel from Dan to Eilat. They have 84 TV cameras arrayed around central Israel, from Ashkelon to Nazareth, and they have banks of TV monitors which they can switch between, monitoring the status of the traffic flow and registering any hold-ups, breakdowns, accidents, etc. A lot of their information comes in from the national number *2120 that anyone can call to give or get traffic information. They also have direct liason with the IDF in case of an attack or security situation. Although quite modest by US standards, this Center nevertheless is very advanced. They are currently beginning testing in several sites of the computerized Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) that can automatically monitor traffic and predict problems either before or as they arise. For further information see their site at iroads.co.il, where you can view the traffic status in real time at any major intersection in Israel.

Our second stop was at "Better Place," located at Pi Glilot north of Tel Aviv, the site of the former oil storage facility, now the first electric vehicle (EV) company in the world. We were given a tour of the facility and watched an audio-visual presentation that was very persuasive. There are four major reasons why there needs to be a revolution in our transportation system: 1. Pollution, the number of cars in use around the world is now in the billions and the pollution caused by them is the greatest source of pollution in the world; 2. Economic: The cost of using gasoline with its inflated price is a major negative factor in western societies; Political, the transfer of huge sums of money from the west to the Arab/Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, etc.) has resulted in the empowerment of their regimes and the support of terrorism. 4. Quality of life: we need to get away from the noisy, polluting, expensive gas guzzlers and develop an entirely new people friendly method of transportation. According to Better Place that new means of transportation is the electric car. We took a spin in one of their prototypes on a road track inside Pi Glilot, and it was wonderful to drive without exhaust and without noise (I joked that I missed the noise of the internal combustion engine and the gear changes and they said they could instal an application through their computer system to generate whatever noise I wanted).

Better Place does not make the cars themselves, they are produced by Renault-Nissan, for about the same cost as a normal car. Better Place will provide the infrastructure to charge the battery, that can run for 100 miles (or 160 km), and if the driver needs to drive longer continuously they will provide switching stations where a new battery can be replaced in ca. 3 mins (as long as there is no queue). As part of their subscription they will instal a battery charging connection at your home and at your place of work. Since cars are not usually used at night that would be the optimal time during which the 6 hours required to recharge the battery would be taken, using electricity at off-peak rates.

This seems to be the wave of the future, and as well as Israel, the San Francisco Bay area, Denmark and several other countries are slated to be switched to electric vehicles starting in about 2012. Hopefully this will decrease the amount of pollution, noise and dependence on oil (for more information see www.betterplace.com ).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ghajar and Hariri

Ghajar is a village on the border between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. It has 500 inhibitants who are of the Alawite minority. Its situation is a microcosm of the complexities of the Middle East.

Originally it was in Syria, but it was captured in 1967 by the IDF and was incorporated as part of the Golan Heights into Israel. After the First Lebanon War in 1982 Syria transferred ownership of Ghajar to Lebanon. This enabled Hizbullah to claim that part of Lebanon was still occupied by Israel. Meahwhile Ghajar had grown and the section of northern Ghajar was ruled by the UN border commission to be beyond the border of the Golan Heights and therefore within Lebanon, even though the UN never formally recognized the transfer from Syria to Lebanon. After the Second Lebanon War of 2006, when the UN Commission finalized the border between Israel and Lebanon, the blue line went right through Ghajar. While all the inhabitants of Ghajar proclaim they are Syrian, nevertheless they have Israeli citizenship, and none of them want to be included in Lebanon. Last time the village was divided Hizbollah occupied the northern portion and there were clashes with the IDF in Ghajar. So after the Second Lebanon War, Israel occupied the whole village. But, under UN pressure, Israel agreed to vacate the northern portion, and since the UN does not recognize Lebanese sovereignty over it, it will be occupied by UNIFIL forces. However, the inhabitants of northern Ghajar do not trust UNIFIL to protect them, and prefer to be under IDF protection. This shows the stupidity of the UN, they are dividing the village and forcing some of the inhabitants inside Lebanese territory, even though they don't recognise Lebanese sovereignty over it.

It is quite possible that Hizbollah will use the situation of Ghajar as a flash point when the the UN Tribunal investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri finally publishes its conclusions. It is anticipated that they will point the finger directly at Hizbollah. CBC recently obtained and published secret information that it received illegally from the Tribunal that shows how they could come to their conclusion. It was found in interrogation of a top level Lebanese security official that he had discovered a large group of Hizbollah operatives communicating with cell phones immediately before and after the assassination. He was able to establish their numbers and identities. However, after he gave this information to the Tribunal he was murdered, presumably by Hizbollah. Although the PM of Lebanon Saad Hariri, the son of the slain leader, has been very cooperative with Syria lately, it is impossible for him to accept Hizbollah complicity in his father's murder. Once this is publicly acknowledged, Hizbollah will try to deflect attention from itself and will likely try to start a military clash with Israel. But, this will probably not work, since the moderate anti-Hizbollah forces in Lebanon will react to the Tribunal's findings and this will divide Lebanon and might once again lead to a Civil War. The fate of Lebanon hangs in the balance.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jewish armed resistance

While everyone now knows that ca. 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust during WWII, few know that a million and a half Jews fought in the armies arrayed against Nazi Germany and in the many resistance and underground groups, such as partisans and Ghetto fighters. In an article detailing this story in the Jerusalem Post Metro section, entitled "Let the Jewish people know we fought," by Joanna Paraszczuk, the focus is on specific members of the Red Army and the US Army. One of the cultural changes that occured in Israel after the immigration of ca. 1 million residents of the former Soviet Union, was the introduction of parades of men wearing their medals commemorating the "great patriotic war."

It is not generally realized that the French resistance, the Maquis, consisted of a majority of Jews, both French Jews and Jews who had fled to France from Eastern Europe in an attempt to escape the Nazis. Also, the Jewish Brigade was a fully active part of the British Army consisting of two groups, British and Commonwealth Jews recruited in Britain and Palestinian Jews recruited by the British in Mandatory Palestine. At one time is is estimated that the British Army defending Egypt consisted half of Jews. Although the British were at first reluctant to put the Jewish Brigades into the front line, when they did, in battle in central Italy, they fought bravely and captured Nazi positions. Later, as I have described elsewhere ("In our own hands," July 8, 2010) these Brigades acted as conduits for the illegal immigration ("bricha") of Jewish survivors after 1945 through Italy and Holland to Palestine. The Jewish Brigades formed the core of the professional Jewish Army that later became the IDF.

It is intended, with Israel Government support, to build a "Museum of the Jewish Soldier during WWII" near the Armoured Division Museum near Latrun. There is an active campaign of fund raising and political activity to accomplish this (see www.jwmww2.org), although it is not clear how it would deal with those in partisan and resistance groups who were irregulars.

While it would be an important educational tool and a needed balance to the focus on the Holocaust, we should bear in mind that the Jewish Ashkenazi Orthodox culture in Eastern Europe was mainly passive and in effect the majority of Jews were culturally powerless. They could not fight back, rather waiting for God to help them, and in effect they were a defeated people prior to the war starting. As a German once described to me, they were the prey waiting for the German wolf to attack, and in fact, by being defenceless they invited destruction. The mainly secular Jews who fought as members of large national armies or as members of organized resistance groups, redeemed Jewish dignity.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

War and peace process?

On a street in Gaza on Wednesday stood the front of a car, the rest of it having been totally obliterated by a precise Israeli missile strike either from a drone or a helicopter. Two occupants of the car, Islam Yassin, 35, a leader of the Army of Islam and his brother and aide, Muhammed, were killed. Four other people were lightly injured according to Palestinian sources. The IDF claimed that Yassin was planning an operation to capture Israelis in Sinai. In retaliation, the shooting of nine mortars and two long-range Grad missiles into southern Israel was claimed by the so-called Popular Resistance Committees on Friday. This is the nature of the conflict at the present time.

This is the second such accurate missile strike on Army of Islam leaders in two weeks, Faris Nemnan was killed last Wednesday. Since the Army of Islam is an al Qaeda-affiliated group, it is possible that Hamas, which controls Gaza and is a rival of the Army of Islam, gave away their location. Meanwhile on the West Bank, the Fatah-controlled PA police forces arrested a group of Hamas military wing Izzadin al Kassem terrorists who were planning to carry out the assassination of the Mayor of Nablus and to undermine stability in the northern West Bank as well as carrying out a bombing in Jerusalem using a booby-trapped car. Israeli security officials pronounced themselves satisfied by the effectiveness of the PA police forces against Hamas. At present the IDF has suspended all anti-terrorist raids in the West Bank due to the expanded role and effectiveness of the PA armed police forces. However, others point out that the large amounts of aid being pumped into the PA by the US and Europeans is producing a well-trained militia that would be used against the IDF should there be hostilities as a result of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State by the Pres. of the PA Mahmud Abbas. This seems to be their current plan in the UN.

The State Department announced Friday that it would be prepared to send PM Netanyahu a written list of commitments that had been made by Secty of State Clinton to PM Netanyahu. But, so far that list has been delayed, resulting in embarrassment for Netanyahu while he persuades his Cabinet to accept the unwritten conditions. To increase the likelihood of approval by the Cabinet Netanyahu has asked Obama to include the release of Pollard as part of the deal. Meanwhile, the PA leadership has already rejected the US concessions to Israel, principally because they do not include East Jerusalem in the building freeze extension. It seems that the whole process is hardly worthwhile, perhaps another Obama mistake, if it is known in advance that the Palestinians will reject the package. One must ask what the whole seemingly pointless process is for if the Palestinians have not been persuaded in advance to continue direct negotiations with Israel. Is this another political maneuver to give the appearance of progress while the Palestinians remain intransigent?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Porgy & Bess

Wednesday night we went to see a performance of Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess" staged by the Cape Town Opera Company at the Tel Aviv Opera House. Talk about mixed messages, here was a Black African group singing a Black American Opera written by an American Jew for an audience of Israeli Jews, including many American Jews. And they were singing about the "promised land" while we were in it! But, everything depends on the genius of the music and the story as well as the quality of the performers. As far as the latter is concerned the voices were excellent, especially the challenging role of Porgy that was sung by a superb strong bass.

We were very glad that the Opera Company had ignored calls by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others to boycott Israel and cancel their visit. Such calls based on false beliefs about Israeli so-called "racism" and "apartheid" are simply ridiculous. Any person, black, white or Arab, could buy a ticket and sit in the audience and enjoy the show. There is no separation, whatsover within Israeli society. Certainly there is a conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, who are not Israeli citizens, but that's another complex story with at least two sides.

It had never occurred to me before that in order to gain sympathy for a black man in the starring role of Porgy, Gershwin had to portray him as something less than a man, in other words a cripple. A strong black man, like Crown, would have been threatening to white audiences at that time when it was first performed in 1935. Everything depends of course on the pathos of the cripple who wishes to be treated like other men, a metaphor for Blacks wishing to be treated equally too, and why not? Most people don't realize that the lyrics were not written by Gershwin himself, but by Dubose Heyward, on whose novel the opera was closely based. Everything was done to ensure the accuracy of the language and culture of the actual people living in Charleston, South Carolina. By giving white people an insight into the lives of ordinary blacks in America this work certainly helped to change opinions and eventually change society.

This Opera could only have been written by a Jew! Most other white men would not have risked writing it, and no black man alone could have succeeded in having such an Opera produced. It was the genius of Gershwin, writing such classics as "Summertime" and "It ain't necessarily so," that raised the level of the Opera to that of a groundbreaking classic. How instrumental that a Jew whose parents fled from persecution in Russia would be there to perform this vital task. As Porgy rides off on his cart in the finale we know that his search for Bess represents metaphorically that "heavenly land" that he is seeking of acceptance and equality.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kibbutz nostalgia

Tuesday night we went to see an Israeli-made movie at our AACI club, a nostagic film entitled "The field of green peas," about kibbutz life as it was in the 1950s soon after the founding of the State. It included the recorded reminiscences of a group of nine Israelis who met in 2004 as they turned 60 and returned to their original kibbutzim, Dalia, Ein Hashofet and several others nearby. They all went to the same school back then, but now are scattered over Israel and the world. The film was conceived and directed by Yigal Tabon, and included a Netanya resident, Melik Shochat, who had been their gym instructor. Of the nine people featured, eight were Israeli-born, but one was a Holocaust survivor and of the nine, eight had stayed in Israel and one lived in Tucson, Arizona.

Since the kibbutz had been a Hashomer Hatzair ("Young guard") kibbutz, the children were expected to adhere to strictly socialist values. They lived as well as studied together, and their time spent with their parents, which was supposed to inculcate bourgeois values, was strictly limited. As a result they grew up with a sense of both arrogance (they were the new leaders of a new society) and loss, the absence of the warmth of their parents. Although the concept of boys and girls living together was supposed to free them from "old thinking," nevertheless there was a taboo on inter-personal relationships (that would show weakness), although what they spoke about mostly was how they pined for a certain "loved" one and how they missed the warmth of the human touch. The "field of green peas" was where they would sneak out to carry on illicit relationships.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first kibbutz, Degania, in the Galilee. These disciplined kibbutzniks were a great asset to the young State. They were very studious and serious and fought very well in the many battles that Israel faced. But, they tended to romanticize the Arab enemies, regarding them paternalistically as poor natives, much the same as the left today. Although many of those featured in the movie still live on kibbutzim, some were eventually disillusioned by the experience and moved in the opposite direction. Although the film was not overtly political, there is no doubt that this kind of way of life has been resoundly rejected by society at large, but obviously the participants showed great sentimentality for their past experiences.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Israel is 14th in the world for the frequency and intensity of terrorist incidents, according to a report released Monday by the risk assessment firm Maplecroft. The top countries on the list with "extreme risk" were not surprisingly Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The US was placed 33 with "medium risk" and France and Britain were at 44 and 46 respectively. Greece saw the sharpest rise from 57 last year to 24 this year. At the level of 14 one might think that Israel is beset by terrorism on a daily basis, but although there are incidents, for the past few years they have been few and quite contained.

This ranking in the terrorism listing for Israel does not seem to affect its standing in terms of its people's satisfaction living here. According to a list put our by Nationmaster.com, under "lifestyle satisfaction" Israel ranks 25 out of 69 countries, i.e. somewhat over half way and above the median. It is close to countries like Argentina and Portugal and above France (28) and Spain (28). On this list the Scandinavian countries predominate while the US is at 11 and Britain 16.

Of course, there doesn't seem to be any correlation of these two lists. One might expect the countries with the highest terrorism risk to have a much lower satisfaction index. But, although that's true to some extent, it isn't true for Israel. The conclusion might be that despite the terrorism risk here, people are quite satisfied with their lifetyle. Is it a case of living under the volcano or ignoring the volcano?

Such aspects of lifestyle as the health system might play a large role in a person's satisfaction in living in the country. A coincidental poll published today by the Health Ministry shows that 69% of those polled were 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' by the Israeli health system, which consists of various health funds subsidized by the Government. 90% of the public were 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' by the specific health fund that they are registered with. All the satisfaction indices showed a rise since last year. Nevertheless there are problems, Heads of the Meuhedit Health Fund are being investigated for taking over-payments for salaries and expenses. I am quite sure that levels of satisfaction of citizens with their health systems would be a lot less in the UK and USA (whatever system it is now).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Buying Israel

It is said that everyone has his price. In this case PM Netanyahu has a
price for extending the building moratorium on the West Bank (Judea and
Samaria). Pres. Obama wants the building freeze to continue so he is
prepared to provide a generous package to Netanyahu to sweeten the deal.
But, will it be enough to satisfy the Palestinians?

The package consists of the gift of an additional squadron of 20 F-35
planes, worth 1 billion dollars, and a commitment to veto any anti-Israel
resolutions that come before the UN Security Council by the US in exchange
for a continuation of the building moratorium from its previous Sept 26
deadline for 90 days. This freeze, like the previous one, will not include
East Jerusalem, that Israel has annexed to Jerusalem itself, but that the
Palestinians and the US consider still part of the West Bank territory. This
might be the sticking point, since the PA has announced that it will not
continue to talk to Israel unless the freeze is extended to Jerusalem. But,
the US has agreed that this will be the last such freeze that it will
request. If the Pals don't bite by then they never will.

Netanyahu, while still awaiting the final negotiated offer, has asked his
Cabinet to consider the deal. It appears that he might have a majority of
one in the 15-member security Cabinet. This is partly because Shas has
decided that its two members will abstain from the vote. However, there is
opposition building from the right wing of Likud and Israel Beitanu that
will try to bring down the coalition whatever happens, using other votes in
the future. So this might be a short-sighted move by Netanyahu. However,
he is partly doing this to satisfy Obama and Secty of State Clinton, with
whom he had a 7 hour meeting last Thursday where they hammered out the
agreement. Obama has now said this proves that Netanyahu is "serious" about

There are some dangers for Israel in this vote. First, since Netanyahu
stated categorically that he would not extend the moratorium, to accept this
deal now indicates that Israel can be bought by a US President, it's just a
question of the price. Second, the fact that the US will "protect" Israel
using its veto in the UN SC, means that if the deal is not struck, or after
the period of the deal is finished, the US will no longer be bound to
provide that protection. The way things are likely to work out is that the
deal will be made between Israel and the US, but the PA will not accept the
exclusion of Jerusalem, and so will not continue the direct negotiations, so
the whole agreement will be for nought, except that the US will temporarily
protect Israel against a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State.
However, after the period of the agreement the US will no longer be bound by
this US veto protection, and so the Palestinians will again come to the SC
to unilaterally declare a State and this time the US will not veto them.

So Israel will come out of it with a weakened coalition Government, a likely
unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State recognized by the UN SC and a
squadron of F-35's. But, Obama and Netanyahu can say they went the extra
mile to try to continue the direct negotiations, but they failed anyway. Is
it worth it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I am sick ands therfore anyhtign I write is under the influence of drugs. I have decided that I ma very liberal, I like all religions, it makes sense that there must be somethign good in all of them, and supposedly their common elements would be an appropriate satartign point. They all have one day of rest, so form today I am adopting all of them. Don't call me on Fri, Sat or Sunday, sicne it is now my days of rest. I do not work on those days. IF you happent o come across a religiont aht takes Monday as its day of rest (how odd) then let me know.

Since I cannpt work on thos edays I am having someoen who is not of my religion (I think I'll call it Coheism, oops missed an n) to do the nexcessacty work for me ont hose days, like flip electric switches, and flush toilets. Also, correct my smelling, I mean spellings.

I only made one small atart to my rel;igion and already people are mad. The Muslims say taht you cann ot ahve nay more religions becdure thier is the last and best one and theuir day of rest is Friday, and if I change theat they'll kill me. SO multi-cul;turalims doesn't woirk, even Chancellor Angela merkel of Germ,any siad so in a speech she made a frew weeks ago, that had an immediate impacet on me. The Germans should kn ow they've trtied everything to be popular, killing everyone, likign everyone, but nothign wortks, poeple still disliekt ehm.

The Baha'i are a case in point, a religion (or is ti a philosopyh) that tries to be syncretic, i.e. to com bine the best aspects of toehr relgigons. It startted in POersia, where they now ahv eanother religion called KHomeinism (some prople call it Islamism and toehrs simply Islma, but that's lazy thinking), and sicne they consider Baha'i as a dangerous heresy (I can't for the life of me figure out why) they kill them. Yes, in Persia or Iran as it now calls itself, it is a capital crimne to be a Baha'i. Und er my religion n othign that one thinks or does would eb a capital crime, except murder itself, and maybe certain forms odf sex.

Yes, in my religiont here would be sex, otherswsie noone would join it. B ut, sex would be banned between marriage partners, in other weords this would take the boredom out of marriage, wow wouldn't that be great not havignt o have sex only wiht oen woman, but isnt that what is done in America already.

Not only don't I beleve in God I don't beelvie in spelling, so the question is it god or dog (oops maybe I've gone too far this tiema dn soemone will get angry with me), but the question arises is the anme of god sacred in onley one language (Hebrew?) or any others, so what's with "G-d"? I don't know these questions are byond me, taht's why my religion will be the greatest. Parties every Fri, Sat and Sun ngiths!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blown up

Usually 'blown up' in relation to the Middle East refers to Arabs blowing up Israelis (or Americans). But, in this case "blown up" refers to the building of Jewish apartments in Jerusalem, the undivided and indivisible Capital of the State of Israel, and the news that Israel intends to build 1350 or so more apartments there. This "news" has been "blown up" out of all proportion by Pres. Obama and his Administration.

First consider this: 1) The freeze on building that was imposed for 10 months by PM Netanyahu did not include Jerusalem, since it is not part of the West Bank and has not been since 1967 when Jerusalem was unified; 2) The current building permission that has been granted was by a local planning authority, not an Israel Govt. authority; 3) This permission was routine and only means that the planned apartments will go forward for further planning permission; 4) The actual building, if the plans are approved after several more steps, would not be for 3-5 years. So, knowing all this, why are Pres. Obama and Secty of State Clinton making this an issue now at the highest level in relation to the direct talks with the Palestinians, that are supposed to be preceding without preconditions?! (and at the same time awarding them an extra m$150). The answer can only be that this is an issue that Pres. Obama has found which he can use to hit Israel/Netanyahu over the head with, and which allows the Palestinians to be let off the hook every time. If anyone thinks this is a real issue, remember that negotiations took place between Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas on the Palestinian side and several Israeli PMs (Rabin, Barak, Sharon, Olmert) for 18 years without there being any building moratorium!

So why the big change now? The only reason must be prior agreement between the Palestinians and the US, between Abbas and Obama. And why would the Palestinians at this point want to create a stalemate, because they want to carry out a unilateral declaration of Statehood, which is already in the works. PM Fayyad of the PA was already talking about this 2 years ago, and Abbas is clearly in support. And why would they want a unilateral declaration of Statehood? Because for them it means their State of Palestine would not be dependent on any agreement with Israel. Abbas could then portray himself as a great patriot, untainted by Israel, and he would not have to sign an "end of conflict" agreement, which would make him a traitor in the eyes of most Palestinians, including Hamas, and could conceivably save him from assassination. Also, it gives a potential way out for a rapprochment between Fatah and Hamas, since the State to be unilaterally declared by the UN includes the West Bank (all of it) and Gaza. I will take bets that THIS plan has all been worked out in advance with Obama, and he will drop the US veto on any plan for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State that comes before the Security Council. What else has he been discussing with all the Muslim leaders he has visited (most recently Indonesia) while never visiting Israel as President.

Of course, with all VP Biden's repetitions of how the US supports Israel at his recent speech at the GA of American Jewish organizations, this would be the final betrayal. If Israel can get through the next two years of Obama's anti-Israel conniving intact, apart from the Iranian threat, then we will be very lucky.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Columbus was a Jew?

For many years there has been a rumor that Christopher Columbus (Christobal Colom as he usually referred to himself) was of Jewish origin, i.e. from a marrano family. In many of his journals Columbus writes with deep fervor of his Christian faith and often reiterates his allegiance to the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, who partially financed his voyages. But, this is what you might expect from a "converso" who was trying to cover up his Jewish origins. My relationship to Casa Shalom has brought me into contact with more evidence related to this supposition.

It is generally believed that Columbus was of Italian origin, from Genoa, which would explain the many mistakes in his Spanish writing. But, several experts in Catalan, such as Nito Verdera from the Balaeric Islands, himself of marrano origin, have written that those mistakes are not those of an Italian, but of a Catalan. I learnt this from an article by Gloria Mound, the Director of Casa Shalom entitled, "The Jewish origins of Christopher Columbus" (Casa Shalom Journal vol 11, 2009, p. 7) and from an article by Leah Slote, "Spain rich in Jewish history" from the Jewish News. But, this interpretation in itself would not be conclusive. What is of more interest is the well-known strange sign that Columbus put on the top of letters that he wrote only to his family. These signs have puzzled his biographers for years. A graphologist who analyzed these signs concluded that they were in fact written from right to left. When copies of these signs were shown to two separate Professors of Jewish history at Hebrew University they independently confirmed, without knowing their origin, that these signs were the three Hebrew letters "bet" "hei" and "samech" that were used by Jews in the Middle Ages to communicate with each other, and that stand for the phrase "b'ezrat hashem," or "with God's help."

In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the edict of expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Spanish Monarch and Government formally revoked this edict. At the same time an exhibition was mounted in Madrid financed by prominent Israeli financier Elie Schalit, that subsequently toured Spain, on "Colon and the Jewish contribution to the voyages of discovery" (Colon is the Spanish version of Columbus' name). One must note that the expulsion order was signed on March 31, 1492 and Columbus embarked on his first voyage on August 2, 1492, barely 4 months later. Can this be merely coincidence? King Carlos of Spain toured this exhibition, and he himself was convinced of the prominent Jewish contribution to these voyages of discovery. For example, two of the main supporters of Columbus in the Royal household were the Royal Chancellor at the time, Luis de Santangel (born Azaria Ginzillo) and Gabriel Sanchez, the Royal Treasurer, both of whom were prominent conversos. The main mapmaker for the voyage, Abraham Zacuto, was himself a Jew, and a Jewish interpeter, Luis de Torres, converted just prior to sailing. He was the first man ashore when they landed in Cuba in November 2, 1492.

However, although all these Jewish connections, and more, do not prove the point, nevertheless, there is much to be made of the idea that Columbus was himself a Marrano, who embarked on these perilous voyages to secretly try to find a means of escape and a new beginning for the expelled Jews of Spain and for the conversos against whom the Inquisition was targeted. However, the Inquisition followed them to the Spanish areas of South and Central America, but many escaped and in north America the Jews eventually found a haven, and that is where the second largest community of Jews in the world now lives.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


For generations the argument about "nature vs. nurture" has swirled back and forth, often with significant consequences. In Victorian Britain and the USA the idea of eugenics resulted in the sterilization of hundreds of thousands of "inferior" girls to remove their genes from the gene pool. Under Nazism it was thought that the "perfect Aryan" could be produced by racist selection (i.e. murdering all others) and under Stalin, Lysenko's theories that man could be "moulded" into "Soviet man" were considered consistent with Communism, and people who disagreed, who studied genetics, were sent to the Gulag and murdered.

But, throughout these murderous competitions it was clear that both nature (i.e. genes) and nurture (i.e. environment) were important for human development. The question was how much of each. We now know from academic studies of twins (identical and non-identical) brought up apart, that the influence of genetics is dominant. In other words, even though brought up in different environments, twins still develop almost identically. But, we also know that twins brought up in the same home environment can also show differences, in personality etc. (e.g. one can be straight and one gay). A rough estimate of the relative value of nature vs. nurture is 70% to 30%. So both sides were right to a degree.

Now the question arises, if as we know that genes are predominant in determining all physical features of a person and their personality and behavior (the total called the phenotype), then how is it that the environment can play a role? This is what is called epigenetics, namely the way in which the environment, including long-term and chance events, can alter the expression of the genes. It must be remembered that the genes are not static, and although all cells in a body contain the same complement of genes in their DNA (the genotype), different combinations or casettes of genes are expressed in specific cells, so that even though kidney, liver and eye cells all have the same DNA sequences in one person, they function completely differently. This is called selective gene expression, namely certain genes are repressed, usually by the presence of specific proteins called repressors, that bind to that specific gene or sequence of DNA, while other genes are actively expressed, thus producing their gene product, often a protein or enzyme. It is clear that in some cases the degree of expression can be altered by affecting the status of the repression or expression of a given gene. For example, it is known that in early foetal development a surge of testosterone is produced by specific genes that determine that the foetus develops as a male. If for some reason durng the pregnancy, this burst of testosterone is delayed or weakened, the sex of the foetus may be affected. Then of course there are subtle effects other than physcial sexual factors, such as gender effects of early development that can change the personality of the child. These epigenetic effects are now considered to be responsible for the so-called nurture or environmental effects on human development.

Talmudic disputation

During the visit last weekend to our daughter's home in Beersheva we engaged in an interesting talmudic disputation. During the Friday night shabbat meal my grandson happened to press against a switch and inadvertently turned off the fans. However, noone could turn them back on because this is considered against halacha, the rules that govern Jewish religious behavior. So we had to suffer in the heat without the fan above the table. I offered to turn the switch back on, but my daughter would not allow this, even though I am not a believer.

At this point I should mention that once before I performed a similar task in our shool on Yom Kippur when suddenly during the service all the lights and air conditioners went out. The Chazan continued the service but everyone was sitting in the dark and it quickly became hot and stuffy. I went outside and found a group of men gathered around the fuse box. I asked what was the problem and I was told that one of the switches had turned off, but the (non-Jewish) janitor was coming. However, when I asked how soon he would come it was clear that they had no idea. So I asked which switch would turn the power back on, and suddenly all the men ran away. I saw that there were two switches that were down, so I first tried one and nothing happened, so then I tried the other and all the lights and a/c's came back on. From inside the congregation there was an audible sigh of relief and I heard someone whisper "God answered our prayers."

But, in the case of the fans at my daughter's house a different solution arose. Because they are run on timers and the timer turned off late at night and was not due to turn back on until the following afternoon, while the timer had turned the electricity off, my daughter turned the switch back on. She considered this halachically acceptable, because she was not actually activating any device when she turned the switch. But, I argued against this approach, since by turning the switch she did eventually activate the fans, and I used an analogy. Suppose a terrorist turns on a timer that blows up a bomb when he is distant and kills several people, is he not as guilty as if he activated the bomb in real time. This issue was discussed by a group of Jews far more informed on talmudic analysis than I am, and the conclusion was that I was right. The delay in the action makes no difference, since it is the intent when turning the switch to activate the event, whether it be a fan or a bomb, that is instrumental.

What is it that is halachically unacceptable in turning a switch? It does not involve "work" in the accepted sense of the word (i.e. no big effort); it does involve making a circuit, but circuits were unknown in Biblical times; and it does not involve making fire, since electricity and fire are completely different phenomena and furthermore fans do not emit light or heat (even though they may produce some heat locally as they spin). So there you have it. I believe that this is the first halachic argument I have ever won, although the reasoning behind it is entirely alien to my way of thinking.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Henderson Committee

I went to a lecture on President Truman by Raymond Cannon, a former lawyer from England in our AACI club, that was based on the book "A Safe Haven – Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel" by Allis and Ronald Radosh. Raymond had previously lectured on President Roosevelt and this was a continuation of the series. He particularly focused on the relationship of these two US Presidents to the Palestine issue, before, during and after WWII.

Both Roosevelt and Truman were in principle in favor of a Palestinian homeland for the Jews according to the Balfour Declaration, which the US had supported. However, when it came to it, neither was persuaded to support either large scale Jewish emigration from Europe into Palestine, nor the formal acceptance of a Jewish State in Palestine . This was largely because the Arabs had become more aggressive towards the end of, and after, the war, when both the US and Britain depended largely on Arab oil supplies.

Immediately after meeting the other two allies, Britain and Russia, in Yalta, Pres. Roosevelt met King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on a ship in the Atlantic in 1945 and in a secret written protocol he agreed to oppose large scale Jewish immigration into Palestine in exchange for future oil supplies. However, Roosevelt died a week later and Truman was appointed President. He admitted that he was unprepared and uninformed for this powerful position, but he proved to be more independent than many expected. The State Department supported the British position after the war opposing Jewish immigration into Palestine. The British hoped to maintain control over Palestine and therefore wanted to continue the drastic restriction on Jewish immigration that had been imposed under the White Paper of 1939. However, now there were approximately two million so-called Displaced Persons (DPs) in Europe and the Jews were no longer quiescent. Furthermore, Jewish and general opinion in the US was in favor of allowing the Jews to emigrate to Palestine (but not to the US) following the exposure of the terrible conditions that the Jews had experienced during the Holocaust. But, Gen. Patton, in charge of the concentration camps refused to allow Jews to leave them, and kept them there under appalling conditions, although they were supplied meager food and medical assistance. Nevertheless, in Dachau, 9,000 Jews died in the three months after the end of the war in August 1945. Patton himself regarded the Jewish survivors as little more than dangerous animals.

Coming into this situation, Truman would not accept the State Department's slavish support of the British, nor of the Arabs. He tried to arrange a compromise, he suggested that Britain allow 100,000 DPs to emigrate to Palestine, as a token. But, the British, with their own agreement with the Arabs, rejected this out-of-hand. In a way this was a mistake, by being intransigent, the Attlee Government, with Ernest Bevin, a true anti-Semite, as Foreign Secretary, put themselves on a collision course with the US. In order to resolve the situation, Truman suggested a Committee of Enquiry, the third such committee that had looked into the subject. The British reluctantly agreed. For Chairman of this Committee Truman selected Loy Henderson, a professional diplomat, Head of the Near East Agency of the State Department, who was known to be an opponent of Jewish Statehood. However, this Committee's mandate was narrow, they were supposed to consider only the question of the emigration of the displaced Jews from Europe and not the question of the Jewish State. By thus dividing the problem, Truman hoped it would be easier to solve the refugee situation.

The Committee had British members who were against Jewish emigration to Palestine. But, after visiting the DP camps in Europe and gathering testimony also in Palestine, the Committee was persuaded that there was in fact no other alternative than to allow the DPs to go where 90% of them wanted to go, namely to Palestine. In fact, no other country would accept mass immigration of Jews, and so the Committee in 1947 recommend large scale emigration of Jews from the DP camps to Palestine. King Ibn Saud immediately complained that he had been given an assurance by Pres. Roosevelt that the US would oppose such emigration, but noone had actually informed Truman of this secret letter, and so he publicly denied it.

At this point Britain found that it was unable to control the situation in Palestine, where the Jews were now wreaking havoc on the British forces, so they turned the problem over to the UN, that voted for partition in 1948. Once the British were gone and the State was founded emigration to Israel became legal and approximately 1 million former DPs immigrated to the new State. Their descendents now form the backbone of the country, and they know that, all other considerations aside, Israel is the only country in the world where Jews could find a haven.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Election results

The election results were basically as anticipated, the Republicans carried the House of Representatives with a 60 seat changeover, but the Democrats hung onto the Senate by a few seats. There have been many commentators pontificating on the meaning of these results. Far be it from me to join them, but the obvious conclusion is that this is a repudiation of President Obama's program. When Obama was elected it was with a huge surge of enthusiasm over something new, "change" was in the air. But after all, the change was not as dramatic as some hoped and some of it was definitely unpalatable to a large proportion of the voters. So we are back to change again, now we have the Republican tea party candidates and a return to pure conservatism. Unfortunately there is always this see-saw between Democratic liberal Government control and Republican conservative hands-off Government.

From the perspective of Israel the main conclusion is that Israel and the Middle East are not important as far as the US voters are concerned, it is way down the list after domestic issues, including the economy, healthcare reform, pensions, energy and so on. Given that, it might be concluded that Obama will now turn his attention to those issues and have a more hands-off policy towards the Middle East. The opposite may also be possible, for one main reason. If Obama sees that he is being blocked in his domestic policies by the Republicans, he might turn to foreign policy, where he has more freedom of action, as an alternate way to establish his legacy. Every President wants to be the one who brings peace to the Middle East, and Obama wants to try to do that on his less than pro-Israel terms and now he only has two years to do it.

Although there are somewhat fewer Jews in the Congress than before, the overall attitude of the Congress is now even more pro-Israel than it was before. Rep. Eric Cantor, who is a strong Israel supporter, will be Republican House Majority Leader, the highest ranking ever for a Jew in Congress, a position from which he can certainly influence policy towards Israel. The attitude of many Democrats is that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal consideration in bringing about a peaceful solution, while the attitude of many Republicans is that Israel is a great ally of the US and ought to be preferred over the Palestinians (what have they done for us lately?). It is this traditional US preference for Israel rather than the apparent Obama preference for the Muslim side that we are hoping for from this new situation.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Refuseniks and activists

On Tuesday Nov 2, I was privileged to attend a special commemoration held in the Knesset Auditorium entitled "Conference of Refuseniks and Activists from Around the World who Fought for their Freedom." It was organized by the Chair of the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, Lia Shemtov MK, who herself was a refusenik and who immigrated to Israel, and is now a successful politician. The Conference was under the sponsorship of the Speaker of the Knesset Ruby Rivlin, who officially opened the Conference with a short speech. This was followed by talks by Lia Shemtov and Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov and Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, both of whom were also refuseniks and who are now Ministers of the Israeli Government. There was also a videotaped greeting from Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Scharansky.

The main theme of the meeting was to bring together former refuseniks and the activists who worked on their behalf, mainly from the US and Britain, and to give the former refuseniks, now successful Israelis, the opportunity to thank the activists for their work on their behalf. About one third of the audience was visiting former activists from abroad, who were then going on a special tour of Israel. But, I was impressed at the large proportion of the former activists who themselves had joined the refuseniks and also made aliyah to Israel. I always felt, when I was working for the release of the Soviet Jews, mainly to go to Israel, that it was hypocritical for me to not also join them, and apparently many others felt the same.

One of the most touching talks was given by former US Ambassador to Israel Richard Schifter, who now 89 years old, shared some reminiscences of his time working with Pres. Ronald Reagan as Assistant Secretary of State. When Johnson met with Gorbachev in the White House at that time there had been major demonstrations around the world supporting Soviet Jewry. Schifter told how Reagan would not begin talks on the substantive agenda issues until Gorbachev has given him an undertaking to resolve this problem, Within two months the doors were open for Jewish emigration from the former USSR. Several speakers commented on how the human rights aspect of the fight for the Soviet Jews not only helped to breach that totalitarian state, but also helped found the subsequent emphasis on human rights in foreign affairs.

All the activists were given a certificate thanking us for our efforts. This piece of paper doesn't mean much, but the emotional bond that developed between us and the fate of the Soviet Jews themselves was a major factor in our activism. We felt that after the lack of action of the American Jewish community before and during the Holocaust, this time we were not going to be found wanting. Let history judge.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ludicrous, laughable and stupid!

The Hamas Minister of the Interior, Fatih Hammad, in an interview with Al Hayat newspaper, admitted today (Nov 1) that between 600-700 fighters, half of whom were Hamas members, were killed by the IDF in Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. This corresponds very closely with the IDF estimate at the time of ca. 750 fighters killed, while Hamas originally admitted only 50 killed. Since the overall number of dead was estimated at 1200, a figure more or less agreed by most commentators, this means that instead of the number of over 1000 civilians killed, actually only ca. 500 civilians were killed, but in fact the number was probably much less because many fighters dress in civilian clothes and the IDF estimated that the number of civilians actually killed was 250-300.

Compare this to the estimate of ca. 150,000 dead in Iraq and another ca. 15,000 listed as dead in Afghanistan in the 400,000 secret documents issued last week by Wiki-leaks. Most of these dead resulted from US military action, and most of them were civilians. Now compare the amount of negative publicity against Israel for the ca. 300 civilians killed in Gaza, the discrepancy is enormous. Israel received incredible amounts of negative publicity, millions of column inches for the 300 or so Palestinian civilians killed, including a full enquiry sponsored by the UN Human Rights Commission, resulting in the Goldstone Report, that cost millions of dollars to produce, while there was virtually no interest in the dead Iraqis and Afghanis. Why not? They were Muslims too. There can only be two reasons, first the Palestinians get more attention from all media and all international agencies, since they are the cause celebre of the left, irrespective of the facts. Second, anything that Israel does, including defending itself from rocket attacks by terrorists, is considered "disproportionate." It's ludicrous, laughable and stupid.

Every time the media is wrong by accepting Palestinian numbers and discounting the Israeli/IDF numbers. This goes all the way back to the Lebanon War in 1982, when the PLO said that 50,000 had been killed and 500,000 displaced, when there were only ca. 350,000 living in the whole of South Lebanon and the number actually killed was about 150. Then there was the "massacre" in Jenin in 2002, when it was claimed that 500 were killed by the IDF when only 54 fighters were actually killed. Also the killing of Mohammed al Dura in Gaza in 2000, that is enshrined in the Arab mind as an example of Israeli cruelty, but was actually faked. And so it goes. When is the media going to learn the lesson of history, that it is the Palestinian figures that should be discounted, they are merely propaganda, while IDF figures can be trusted! And for those left wing and liberal Jews who always jump on the anti-Israel band-wagon out of some misplaced sense of guilt, give me a break!

In other examples of recent anti-Israel propaganda, a Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome to consider the Middle East, came up with a typical conclusion, that the Jewish belief in the "Promised Land" could not be used to justify establishing the Jewish State. Sorry guys, you are 62 years too late, Israel was established and so this puerile attempt at de-legitimizing Israel is just a bit too late. Also, a UNESCO Committee voted to recognize two Jewish Holy sites as Mosques. The Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem has never been a Mosque and is undoubtedly a Jewish heritage site. Also, the Caves of Machpelah in Hebron was a Jewish shrine long before Islam existed. The Committee vote was dominated by Muslim countries, only the US voted against. This is a further attempt to deny the historical relationship of the Jews in the Land of Israel.

One victory for Israel's cause came about in a most unexpected place, the Cambridge Union Debating Society. They debated the proposition that "Israel is a rogue State," and despite a very hostile audience, at the end of the day the vote was 74% against. This shows that even in the most surprising of places, support for Israel persists.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Secret Jews

Sunday I drove down to Gan Yavne to visit Casa Shalom for an important Board Meeting. Casa Shalom is the organization established by Gloria Mound to research into and help the descendents of Marranos (called anusim in Hebrew) or New Christians (Conversos), Jews who were forced by the Inquisition to convert to Christianity, but who secretly maintained their Jewish identity. Many of these Jews spread around the world in Spanish and Portugese colonies in order to escape further persecution. Amazingly after 500 years, many groups of people and individuals still retain vestiges of Jewish practices, such as lighting candles secretly on Friday night and avoiding Church services, while often passing as Christians. There are groups of these secret or crypto-Jews in places as far apart as the Balaeric Islands, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, northern Portugal, northern Brazil, and so on. Gloria estimated that there were 68,000 cryto-Jews on the island of Ibiza alone, and the town of Belmonte in northern Portugal is almost entirely inhabited by crypto-Jews, many of whom have now "come out" as fully Jewish and have established their own Synagogue. It is estimated conservatively that there are around 20 million (!) such former Jews around the world.

I was accompanied on the trip by Gail (Nitza) Gutierrez, from Davis California, whose mother's family (Perez y Munoz) was from Mexico. She has traced her descent originally from the Don Luis de Carvajal expedition of 100 New Christian families in the 1570's to New Spain and to then settle the lands of Nuevo Reino de Leon in the North. But they were caught by the Inquisition and many of them were burnt to death in an auto-da-fe (a ritual burning of former Jews carried out by the Church). But, some of them escaped into the wilder parts of northern Mexico and what would later become the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where they continued to live as Jews for hundreds of years, although isolated from contact with other Jews. Gail's grandfather was converted to Methodism and became a Circuit Minister to small churches in Arizona and Texas, that also had the remnants of Jewish conversos living there. He incorporated much of his Jewish background into his services including fasting on Yom Kippur, Purim, emphasis on the Torah and Shabbat. The Perez y Munoz family moved to the USA in 1918. Gail finally decided that she wanted to be fully Jewish and converted and then made aliyah to Israel, and now lives in Netanya.

Gloria wished to move the Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies to a suitable academic institution, but the main universities in Israel, although very interested to receive her unique library, were not interested in fostering her continued activities on behalf of individuals wanting to establish their Jewishness and reconnecting with the Jewish people. I suggested Netanya Academic College, an up-and-coming institution that recently opened a Department of Judiac Studies. They were very interested in having the Institute move there and continue its research and activities, and an agreement has been made to do this. The Board meeting was to officially announce this pending move. In order to enable the move, Netanya College has established a fund to collect 1 million dollars and they have already collected one quarter of this amount, but much more is needed. Note that the Spanish Government is very interested in the phenomenon of the Sephardim (Spanish-speaking Jews) and may be prepared to make a donation to this fund. Former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon is President of the Casa Shalom Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies. If anyone can consider donating towards this unique development of great importance to the future of the Jewish people and of Israel please contact me. All donations are tax-deductible in Israel, the USA and Britain.