Monday, February 28, 2011

Peace treaties

There is an argument over the value of peace treaties that goes like this: negotiations and agreements with Arab States are worthless because in time reactionary Arab regimes will be replaced or overthrown, as is happening in Egypt, and so the Egyptian-Israel Peace treaty is only worth the paper that it is written on. The counter-argument goes this way: we have had 40 years of peace with Egypt since the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in 1969, and the most important aspect is not the peace itself, but the safeguards that were written into the treaty, namely a demilitarized Sinai buffer zone with an international guard force. The conclusion is that the security arrangements that are built into any treaty are more important than the actual cessation of warfare between the two sides.

Looked at from this standpoint, it matters less what regime replaces that of Mubarak, or his National Democratic Party, whether it be a truly democratic one or a Muslim Brotherhood dominated one, or even a continuation of an Army dominated regime, as long as the basic parameters of the Peace agreement are adhered to. This specifically includes an international force that sits in the middle of Sinai and monitors troop movements, to ensure that neither side can mount a sudden attack, as happened during the Six-Day war of 1967 from Israel and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 from Egypt.

Of course, Israel and most Israelis would be very happy if there were a "happy ending" in Egypt and it becomes truly democratic. Ultimately, as Sharansky has argued, only a democratic regime can ensure true peace between Egypt and Israel, because a truly democratic country, where the will of the people is sovereign, is the only one that does not want war, or at least that is the theory. But, a military dictatorship might also not want war, as Sadat and Mubarak have shown, while a democratic (or apparently democratic) system dominated by Islamic parties might indeed want war, as Iran exemplifies. Given the uncertainties and the inability of the Western nations, particularly the USA, to actually influence the outcome, we Israelis would rather have peace than democracy. Some left-wingers have criticized this choice, but for us it is more a necessity than a choice (a "Hobson's choice") and we are not the ones determining the outcome. The Egyptian people now have a chance, either they opt for truly representative Government or they pursue a course that takes them back to autocracy, but in either case we fervently hope that they retain the path of peace. If not the safeguards built into the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty may then be rendered worthless.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Death to tyrants

I look forward to the time when Col. Qaddafi, a murdering, vicious thug, will be strung up, shot or otherwise removed from the earth by a rebellious Libyan mob. I hope he shares the fate of his former colleague Saddam Hussein, who hid alone in a small hole for weeks, like the rat he was, and then he was hung. Hitler commited suicide, Mussolini was strung up by his feet, Ceacescu was shot, Milosevic died in captivity. Death to all tyrants!

These people deliberately controlled their nations and murdered individuals at will, while preaching to the rest of the world how they should behave. There is no doubt that the Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Qaddafi, nothing happened in Libya without his orders. Libya was on the UN Human Rights Countil until yesterday, when even the other members recognized the utter stupidity of that, and voted Libya off, the first time that has ever been done. Will they actually establish sane rules for who can be represented on the UNHRC. Probably not, since that would require some States to vote against themselves. Of 85 resolutions that the UNCHR have passed 53 of them have been targeted against Israel!

Qaddafi has chosen to go down fighting, and this will result in hundreds if not thousands of casualties in a Libyan civil war, that noone is in a position to prevent. The UN Security Council is busy voting sanctions against Libya, but it's too little, too late, as usual for the UN. They missed the Rwanda massacres, the Algerian uprisings, the the Bosnian and Kossovo crises and now the Libyan civil war. The question is what will replace the tyrants in Libya and other Arab countries, such as Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt.

Although there have been revolutions that have stopped at a middle way, resulting in democracy, such as the British Civil War, that Cromwell and his fundamentalist Protestants lost, and the American Revolution, most revolutions have descended into worse autocracy than they replaced. This includes the French, Russian, German and Iranian revolutions. This is partly because a revolution leaves a power vacuum, that the most ruthless and well-roganized extremists take advantage of. The Bolsheviks, to rationalize and justify their taking over the democratic forces in Russia, and then killing them, claimed that they were "the vanguard" of the revolution. In other words, they knew better what to do in order to establish a so-called "people's republic." All such forces use similar euphemisms to justify their arrest, torture and killing of their potential rivals. This will no doubt happen also in Libya as well as elsewhere in the Arab world, before any uprisings lead to a democratic system. Expect the worst, but hope for the best.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rocket attack

Here is a note from my son-in-law Jeff who lives in Beer Sheva. A request from me to all you well-meaning liberal Jews in the Diaspora, including J-Street in the US and Mick Davis and his Jewish Leadership Council in the UK, all of whom seem to exist solely to criticize Israel (as if we don't have enough enemies). Please don't judge us too harshly until you are in our situation. My children and grandchildren are in harm's way. When yours are also you can choose for yourself what you would do, run, hide or support the enemies of Israel. For myself I am glad that the IAF is now hitting the Gaza strip hard so that the rulers there get the message, we will not tolerate rockets fired into our civilian communties.

Since you may hear about this, you may as well hear about it from us. At around 21:40 the warning alarms in the city went off. So we gathered in our "safe" area and then there was a loud explosion. The Palestinians in Gaza had fired a grad rocket that landed in Beer Sheva. Nobody was injured, thank G-d, but there was significant damage to some houses and cars.
--Jeff and Miriam and kids


Grad rocket hits Beersheba

Gaza Strip terror reaches Negev capital for first time since Operation Cast Lead. Damage caused to several houses, vehicles after rocket exploded in backyard. No injuries reported

Ilana Curiel Published: 02.23.11, 22:17 / Israel News

A Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a backyard in Beersheba Wednesday. Damage was caused to several nearby houses and vehicles. Magen David Adom emergency services said they are unaware of injuries. It remains unclear how many rockets exploded.
An alarm was sounded in the area at around 9:40 pm accompanied by explosion sounds.
The MDA director ordered the alertness level be raised in the Southern District. Police forces are at the scene.
Beerheba Mayor Rubik Danilovitch said one house was hit. "No one was hurt thanks to the fact that everyone entered fortified areas and the rocket landed outdoors."
One of the residents said he heard the alarm while in his backyard. "As the alarm went off I stepped inside and told the whole family to enter the fortified room. We then heard a loud blast and one of the doors fell inside the living room. Luckily no one was hurt. "
Salit, a Ramat Gan resident whose parents reside in Beesheba told Ynet that the windows at her parents' house had shattered but that her parents have not been injured.
Noa Raz, a Beersheba resident told Ynet she heard two loud blasts.
The Negev police said they received reports from residents who heard explosions. "We have yet to detect a hit at this point," one officer said.
Earlier on Wednesday, three mortar bombs exploded in the Shaar Henegev Regional Council. No injuries were reported. One of the bombs exploded near a soccer field, another near a pool and the third near a kibbutz outside the border fence. Also Wednesday, 11 Palestinians were hurt by mortars fired by the IDF in the eastern Gaza Strip.
The Islamic Jihad's military wing, Al-QudsBrigades, claimed its people fired two mortars at IDF forces which crossed the fence, causing the tanks to fire shells back at them. According to the Islamic Jihad, three of their men were injured, one was severely injured.
Last Saturday, a rocket landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. No alarm was sounded. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Tova Dadon contributed to this report

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The US veto

The US veto of an anti-Israel resolution introduced by the Palestinians in the UN Security Council last week was an important step by President Obama. In the sense that Israel is the main ally of the US in the Middle East, and if the US had abandoned support for Israel that would have been a signal to all enemies of Israel (and there are plenty of them even though some are otherwise occupied right now) that the US is an unreliable ally and Israel is fair game. But, at the same time the US went to great lengths to curry favor with the sponsors of this resolution, which asked for the SC to condemn Israeli building in the West Bank and label it "illegal," by having the US representative to the UN, Susan Rice, herself label the Israeli settlements as "illegitimate." To anyone listening to her diatribe one would have expected her to vote for the resolution. In effect the US was saying to Israel's enemies, "yes, you are right, we agree with you, but we are voting against the resolution anyway." This is not a solid position to hold, one that lacks credibility and commitment, and as Caroline Glick called it in her column (Tues, Feb 22) "Obama's devastatingly mixed signals."

Apparently before the vote, Pres. Obama himself spent 90 mins on the phone trying to persuade Pres. Abbas of the PA not to introduce the resolution, yet Abbas defied him, and went ahead anyway. This tells us two things, first Abbas has nothing to fear from Obama, after all his "engagement" policy and being nice to the Arabs, he has no influence whatsoever, and it tells us that Abbas must have had a very good reason to want to defy the US. The most obvious one is to show the Palestinian "street" that he is in fact a Palestinian patriot, not a US "puppet," and that even though the stories of his being prepared to compromise with Israel that were published in Al Jazeera were true, nevertheless he is still to be trusted. But, Abbas is not standing anyway in the future PA elections. The PA has now announced that it will "boycott" the US Government, calling Obama "despicable" for vetoing their resolution, and PM Fayyad said that the PA would be prepared to give up US aid worth m$223 last year, although he did not say how the PA would cover its more than b$1 deficit.

What was most disturbing about this vote is that the other 14 members of the SC voted for the resolution. Not only was this the usual anti-Israel majority, but the UK and France voted for the resolution. This is disgusting given that the UK was responsible under the Palestine Mandate for assuring that Jews could settle anywhere in Palestine in order to establish the Jewish "homeland." At no point in history has this legal postion been reversed, even if a lot of Arabs happen to live there. The UK Government might issue a statement saying that they favor the estblishment of an Arab State in Palestine (apart form Jordan), but they cannot argue that the Jewish settlements are "illegal." The US itself is trying to get around this problem by referring to the settlements as "illegitimate." This subtle difference has been used by Obama himself and Secty, of State Clinton. What it means is that the US understands that the settlements are not "illegal" but opposes their presence anyway. But, Israel's enemies are not going to be put off by this subtlety.

Let's see where the Arab countries are when they stop killing each other. Can they put their own houses in order before trying to tell Israel what it should do? Meanwhile the UN SC voted unanimously to condemn Muammar Qaddafi and his supporters for killing hundreds of protesters indiscriminantly in Libya. At least they got that one right.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Causes of Arab unrest

What are the origins of the current wave of fundamental unrest ripping through the Arab/Muslim world?

1. The most obvious reason is the backwardness of the region, its lack of economic and cultural development. Almost the only product that the West wants from the Arab region is oil, and that comes from the ground. In terms of culture, in most Arab countries women are uneducated and subject to female mutilation and male control. Even a UN panel set up to assess the status of the Arab world a few years ago confirmed that the causes of their backwardness were internal.
2. The political system in the majority of Arab countries is military dictatorship. This is or was true of Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan (the King appoints half of the "Parliament"), Bahrein, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, and the unrest has spread to Morocco, Djibouti and Iran. Only Iraq, for obvious reasons, and some of the Gulf States have shown some degree of liberal development. Given the homogeneity of these repressive dictators it has been questioned whether democracy is possible at all in Arab or Muslim States. The exceptions are Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, which had its own revolution in 1999 against Suharto, the military dictator for 32 years.
3. An aversion to the West and to modernization by the Muslim religious authorities. They are afriad that if they allow Western influence they will lose their control. Ironically, most of the dictators adopted a pro-Western approach in their policies once the Soviet Union collapsed (vide the turn-around in Egypt) in order to benefit from US largesse.

Note that conspicuous by its absence is any reference to Israel. Those who argue that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the root cause of Arab unrest and antagonism to the West (as Pres. Obama has done and UK Foreign Secretary Hague did pathetically last week) are absolutely wrong. For the most part, the support that the other Arab countries give to the Palestinians is purely symbolic. They give them very little money, much less than the EU, US or even Japan, and some of them even ban the Palestinians, such as Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Most of the "political" support that the Arab dictators have given against Israel is a way of distracting their populations from their real internal issues, something that dictators always do, by focussing on external threats or the Jews. This worked very well for the Nazis and the Soviets. While Israel has been blamed by the usual leftist anti-Israel ideologues for Gaza's situation, note that the official Egyptian blockade of Gaza has been far more strict than that of Israel, that allows thousands of trucks carrying food and medical supplies into Gaza every week, as well as supplying oil, water and electricity. But, the Egyptians allow illegal transfer of goods via tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, and no doubt make a handsome profit from this.

Whether or not the current ferment and uprisings in the Arab world can actually lead to democracy and/or pro-Western governments remains to be seen. As Qaddafi's son said in a broadcast last night, they will fight to the last Libyan. But, in fact, cynically this situation is in Israel's interest. Let the Arabs fight each other, they desperately need a modernization revolution and it is their internal problem. Meanwhile Israel can sit back, continue it amazing 7.5% estimated GDP growth rate, and prepare itself in case any of the regimes that come to power once again try to distract their people from their lack of development by feeding them the old "Israel is the cause of all our problems" nonsense. Maybe they have short memories and will want to try their luck again at trying to destroy Israel. But, on the other hand saner heads may prevail and the futility of such a dangerous repetition and the advent of true democracy may lead to an improved situation. We can but hope!

In relation to my previous blog "But at the UN they are condemning Israel," see also:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chemistry and life

Life would be impossible without chemistry! The study of the chemistry of life is called biochemistry, but it is not merely a dry chemical subject. All the reactions that go on inside our bodies are normal chemical reactions, usually speeded up by enzymes that are specific proteins.

Apart from the study of the main biological components: proteins, carbohydrates, fats and nucleic acids, biochemistry has some fascinating stories to tell. The red color of blood results from hemoglobin, made up of a protein globin component and a red heme group.

The first genetic disease that was explained was sickle cell anemia by Linus Pauling, that results from a single mutation in the synthesis of the globin portion of hemoglobin. The madness of King George III, that partly resulted in the independence of the USA, was a case of porphyria, a genetic disease in which one gene in the pathway of the heme (porphyrin) component of hemoglobin goes awry due to a single mutation in DNA.

Few people know that peanut butter, fed to millions of children, contains one of the most toxic substances known to man, aflatoxin. Dr. Cohen will explain how this was discovered and other fascinating stories of the chemistry of life.

To see the powerpoint presentation of my recent lecture on "Chemistry and life" at the AACI Netanya (6/2/11) - click on the attachment (use the arrows on your computer to advance or reverse, use Esc to exit)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Muddle East

The uprisings throughout the Middle East have led to a very muddled situation. In Tunisia and Egypt the uprisings were focussed on removing old and decrepit dictators who had been in control for 23 and 30 years, respectively, and they were successful in that. A similar situation exists in Yemen, where the dictator, Abdullah Saleh, has been in office for 32 years and in Libya, where Col. Qaddafi has been in control for 40 years! But, in Libya, Qaddafi is pretending that there is already "democracy" because they have local "popular" committees, although it is a pyramid and he sits on top. In Bahrain it is more a question of the Shia majority trying to overthrow the Sunni rulers. There have been shootings in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain showing that the powers in charge have got the message that this is serious and they are suppressing the rioters with deadly force. But, Qaddafi is anti-American, while the Khalifa royal family in Bahrain is pro-American, and the US sixth fleet is stationed there. In Jordan, the situation is complicated by the fact that the majority of protesters are Palestinians and the majority of the King's supporters are Beduin.

But, one common feature in all these places is that the rioters are mainly anti-American and anti-Semitic. In Tunisia the synagogues have been surrounded by mobs calling for all Jews to be killed, a common feature of Muslim mobs. In Cairo's Tahrir Square CBS's chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was mobbed by a crowd of ca. 200 men shouting "Jew! Jew!" and she was separated from her crew and sexually assaulted for about 30 mins, before she was rescued by a group of women and policemen. She is now recovering in a hospital in NY. What is most disturbing about this incident, by no means the first such attack on a foreign reporter, is that CBS failed to report it for 4 days, and when they did they left out the small matter of the fact that the crowd was anti-Semitic, even though Logan of course is not Jewish. Such a mob doesn't wait to ask. Those who think that democracy, with its rational basis and protection of minorities, is soon going to arise in Egypt, or the whole "Muddle" East, should think again. The situation is somewhat akin to that in Christian Europe when the protection of the autocratic rulers who protected the Jews was removed to give greater freedom to the population. Ironically the populace turned on the Jews and there were anti-Semitic pogroms. History is repeating itself in the Muslim world.

The Arab world would like to repeat the peaceful "people power" revolutions that took place in the Philippines to replace the dictator Marcos and the so-called "velvet" revolution that enabled Slovakia to split off from the Czech Republic, as well as the "orange" revolution that resulted in elections in Ukraine. But, there were also violent clashes in Poland against the Solidarity movement and in Russia against Yeltsin's anti-Communist coup. Although one can predict that in the end the people will be victorious, it may take a long time before actual democracy ensues.

In Iran the situation is quite opposite. While the Arab dictators (except for Qaddafi) are seen as having been pro-American, and so the mobs that removed them are anti-American, in Iran the leaders are virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic and so the rioters are pro-American. Quite a distinction. Yet, I am sure that as they have their own rioters in Iran that oppose their regime, the leaders of Iran are busy helping the Muslim Brotherhood to take a more active role in trying to take over Egypt. At present the Army is in control there, and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty is being honored. But, for how long this will last is anybody's guess. All the major opposition groups, Ayman Nour, Mohammed El Baradei and the MB are calling at least for "changes" to the Treaty. Remember it was elements of the Army that assassinated Pres. Sadat of Egypt because he made peace with Israel. Don't expect the peoples of the "Muddle" East to do what is in their own rational interests, mobs by their nature are irrational.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Art spy

I watched a two-part TV series on National Geographic TV entitled "Nazi Art Thefts." This was based on a book entitled "The Rape of Europa" by Lynn H. Nicholas (note that this is also the title of a famous painting by Titian). There are many fascinating stories told in this narrative, but one that caught my attention, that to me was previously unknown, was the heroism of Rose Villand, the art spy.

Rose was an employee of the French National Museum working at the famous Jeu de Paume in Paris. She was a small, mousy looking woman with metal frame glasses, hardly noticeable. Many will remember the Jeu de Paume as the repository of the Impressionist paintings in Paris, an essential place to visit. But, before the war it had more space than most other institutions, so the Germans, when they occupied Paris in 1940, decided to use it as the transfer point for the art collections that they were stealing. The first people from whom art was stolen were of course the Jews. Paris was the center for art dealing, and there were many prominent Jewish art dealers there. Among the most prominent was Andre Seligman. Hermann Goering visited his gallery in 1938 and at great personal risk Seligman threw him out! Naturally, when The Germans occupied Paris, the first art dealer whose paintings they stole was Seligman's. He was shipped to Auschwitz and so his collection was declared under the ownership of the State. The next big collection was that of the Rothschilds. In all the Germans stole ca. 16,000 Jewish-owned art works in Paris and surroundings alone. The Germans of course kept a record of all this art theft, but unknown to them, Rose Valland spoke German and took note mentally of every item that came into the Jeu de Paumes and most importantly where it was shipped to. Every evening she wrote in a diary the details of each item, the date, a description of the painting, its origin and then the address for the shipping. She even managed in many cases to actually copy the shipping order. In this way Rose Villand kept a meticulous record of the theft of Jewish-owned art in Paris.

Sometimes a German officer would walk into the Jeu de Paume and simply choose an item to grace his home, and Rose hurried to help him. But, the best art was kept for the higher ups. To show the significance the Nazis ironically attributed to the value of this art, Goering visited the Jeu de Paume 20 times during the five years that the Germans occupied Paris. He transferred many items to his personal collection at the Karinhalle outside Berlin. A large collection was established at the Castle Neuschanstein in Germany, where it was found by the Allied troops after WWII. From there, 49 train car loads of Jewish-owned art was returned to France. But the owners had mostly been sent the other way in similar box cars and few returned to claim their property. Rose Valland's handwritten diary, still preser4ved in the archives of the National Museuem in Paris was the only record of the provenance of these treasures. Also, many art works (ca. 2,000) from Karinhalle were looted by US troops and local peasants, and much of it disappeared. Recently a single item by Bouchet was recovered from the art museum in Utah.

A similar process occured in Holland and Belgium. While the National Museums in France hid their most precious items in chateux throughout the country, the Nazis hunted them down and stole them. After the war, the US formed the Robert's Commission to decide what to do about looted art. From this came a group of individuals, the so-called "Monument's men" who moved with the US forces into Gerrnany and there in reverse hunted down the stolen artifacts, most of which were then returned to their country of origin.

In a completely separate initiative, after the war an effort was made by various groups to find stolen Jewish artifacts, much of it taken by German soldiers during the war. A German non-Jew Ralph Rasmeisel has dedicated himself to continuing this task. He has a collection of Jewish artifacts that he has acquired and tries to match with Jewish descendents, often from dedications inscribed on the object. He has also found genizahs where Hebrew documents were stored but overlooked by the Nazis. The process goes on, but the restitution can never be anywhere nearly complete.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Education in Israel

On Tuesday afternoon we went to a lecture given as part of the series sponsored by AACI Netanya at Netanya Academic College Judaic Studies Program. The idea of this series is to provide lectures in English on serious and interesting subjects using the academic personnel at Netanya College. This lecture was on "Challenges of national education" by former Ambassador Yitzhak Mayer, who was Israeli Ambassador to Brussels, Belgium and Berne, Switzerland, as well as having many other roles, including Director of the Yemin Orde Youth Village from 1961-79 and World Chairman of the education department of the Jewish Agency from 1982-91.

Amb. Mayer expressed the opinion that education is more important than mere physical survival for Israel. Without a raison d'etre a State such as Israel cannot continue to exist. He spoke of the fragmentation of Israeli society that manifested itself right from the beginning of the State. Originally Zionists were a very small minority among Jews, and Zionism was opposed by the majority of religious Jews. When the State was founded in 1948 it was necessary to establish a primary educational system that took into account all the Jewish streams, some of them mutually antagonistic. In order to overcome this fragmentation, some Zionists including Rabbi Meir Berlin of the Mizrahi movement proposed only "one stream", but as a matter of practical policy there had to be several. The influential kibbutz movement insisted that they have a stream that was not influenced by the Orthodox. David Ben Gurion decided on three streams, the secular (hiloni), religious (National Religious) and ultra-Orthodox (haredi). In 1960 the relative sizes of these three streams was secular 67%, religious 27% and haredi 7%. However today these percentages have changed drastically to secular 58%; religious 19% and haredi 28%. So there is a move towards the ultra-Orthodox by virtue of their large family size.

One of the greatest achievements of Zionism was the revival of the Hebrew language. At first, it was envisaged that all schools would be taught in Hebrew, but now schools are also taught in Yiddish (for the haredi) and Arabic for the 20% Arab minority. But, because of the large Arab families their children represent 28% of the 900,000 or so primary age children. Also, not originally envisaged was the development of non-State private schools. For example, today there are 600 private schools run by the Islamic movement in Israel that are not subject to Ministry of Education inspection! Yet, they still receive 50% of the cost of education paid to full State (Liba) schools, and there are many other private schools that are registered that receive 75% of their financial support. The whole system is therefore greatly fragmented, with the degree of solidarity in terms of Hebrew and knowledge of Israeli history being gradually diluted. This fragmentation is political, religious and economic, wealthy citizens avoiding public schooling for their children. The question is, how far can this go, when today there are ca. 50% of the youth population avoiding military service in the IDF.

The question of "who is a Jew?" is relevant to this discussion, since many Jews are educated outside Israel, where the emphasis is quite different. If a Reform Jews comes to Israel without being able to speak Hebrew and claims to be a Jew, to what extent can he/she be expected to fit into Israeli society. Ultimately it is the solidarity of the people that make the State and there can't be solidarity without a common basis in education.

In answering questions, Amb. Mayer accepted that there is a kind of malaise throughout the Western world, where in the USA and the UK there is a turn away from high standards in schooling and increased permissiveness and violence. He agreed, but pointed out that those other countries don't have enemies poised on their borders. In Israel solidarity counts for much more. He also agreed with another questioner that the booming Israeli economy and high tech sector contradicts the pessimism related to the primary school system. He quoted, "a pessimist is sure that what the optimist is afraid of is going to happen."

Amb. Mayer did not propose solutions to the problems he identified, but agreed that the pay of teachers, the standard of teaching, improved parenting, electoral reform and greater national concern could all have positive effects on these problems if they were addressed. Altogether a very interesting presentation by a natural lecturer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Since the weather in California was cold and rainy, Naomi and I both took raincoats with us, carried over our arms. We used them, but I left mine in SImon's house when we left for LA and the cruise to Mexico. Naomi took hers with, but it vanished somewhere along the way, probably after we left the ship, perhaps on a flight or in the airport. I forgot about my raincoat hanging in Simon's house and returned home without it. So now that its finally raining in Israel again, I'm waiting for Simon to send the coat back to me.

I was very nice, I bought a box of chocolates in the airport for my friends and one for the gym where I go every week. I attached them to my carry-on bag so that I would not forget them. But, the plastic handle got caught up in the pull out mechanism, so when we got aboard the plane I released it and put them separately in the overhead compartment. Needless to say, after a 10 hour flight, I was so anxious to get off the plane that I forgot them. I called later, but of course they were not found! This is my contribution towards feeding the poor and downtrodden.

I parked my car on a quiet suburban street across from my doctor. When I returned I had a parking ticket, NIS 100 (ca. $30). I was naturally upset and surprised. When I got in the car I looked for a place to put the ticket, instead of just stuffing it in my pocket and forgetting it. I thought there was a ledge under the steering column, and I felt for it. But, being a new car I was not sure. I thought I found something so I put the ticket in there. Then I investigated more and found that it was not a ledge, but merely a slit below the steering column and the ticket had disappeared into the innards of the car. I tried to retrieve it (honestly) but could not. This compartment is separated from the engine compartment and there is no access from inside the car. So if I tell the parking authority that I lost the ticket inside my car do you think they will believe me (they've heard that one before). I could go and pay it without the ticket, but I will wait until they claim the money and then pay. Why do these things happen to me?

A schlmiel in Yiddish is someone who is unfortunate, through no fault of his own. But there are many other words with slight and subtle variations, a schlmazel (somone who lacks luck or mazel), a schmagegge, a schmo, a schmock, a schmendrick and so on. In that respect Yiddish is much more expressive than most other languages. I think (I hope) I qualify for the least of these.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beware the undertow

There is a nervous undertow to the current situation of uprisings in the Arab world. While the US Congress and Natan Sharansky have no hesitation in labelling the demonstrators "democrats" there is another side to these protests. Remember that the chief focus of the demonstrations in Egypt was to bring down the dictator for 30 years Hosni Mubarak, and that Mubarak was seen as a "puppet" of the Americans. Further, he was responsible for maintaining the Peace Treaty with Israel. So it is natural that many of those who brought down Mubarak are anti-American and will now go one step further and try to abrogate the Peace Treaty. One of those is Ayman Nour, a leader of the opposition who was jailed and mistreated by Mubarak. In Cairo he is now calling for the Treaty to be re-evaluated (see "Egyptian opposition figure calls to rethink Camp David Accords" J'sam Post 14/2/11).

Those in Egypt who question the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty should be very careful for what they wish. Any treaty requires two sides to agree, and Egypt cannot renegotiate the treaty unilaterally. If Israel does not agree to such a re-evaluation, then the treaty would become nul and void and Egypt and Israel would be forced back into a state of war. In such a situation anything can happen, war could result from an unforeseen incident. Also, the international forces (MFO, including American forces) that man the truce line in the center of the Sinai protect both sides from invasion, if they are withdrawn Egypt would be in much greater danger from the IDF than vice versa, based on previous experience. As we say in English, "better to let sleeping dogs lie." Further, if Egypt under a new Government did decide to abrogate the Treaty, the US Congress would have no hesitation in cancelling all payments to Egypt, currently b$1.5, leaving them in a far worse financial state. Let, the potential new leaders of Egypt focus on improving the situation of the Egyptian people, not worsening it.

In Jordan, amid the general demonstrations and celbrations, there was one in which the new Minister of Justice called for the release of Cpl. Ahmed Daqamseh who murdered 7 Israeli schoolgirls who were on an outing to the so-called "Peace Island" in 1997. Daqamseh was sentenced to life imprisonment and received a 25 years sentence. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reacted with "revulsion and shock" to this proposal, calling for an explanation from the Jordanian Government. And in the PA there is renewed emphasis on a unilateral declaration of Palestinian Statehood, which some commentators call "desperate."

Those who engineered the successful revolution in Egypt organized themselves through Facebook and other electronic media. They constituted an "electronic brotherhood." But, there is another brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood, waiting in the wings. Although they claim with smiling faces that they are merely part of the democratic opposition, some think that the Army took power in Egypt as a supposedly temporary measure to prevent the MB from taking power. It is suggested that if the MB does become too powerful in Egypt, the Army may not then relinquish power, and a civil war may result. There is a balancing act going on thoughout the Muslim world, which is is tipping towards democracy in Egypt and in Iran there is another uprising against the Islamist regime, while in Lebanon and Gaza, Islamist parties continue to cement their control. It can go either way.

That's why we are very happy that Benny Gantz, son of a Holocaust survivor, has taken over the IDF as Chief of Staff sixty years after the Holocaust took place. Israel's only hope is to remain strong and stable while the winds of change sweep through the Arab/Muslim world.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bye-bye Saeb

Saeb Erakat, the long-time Palestinian negotiator and spokesman for the Palestine Authority, has resigned. He accepted responsibilityy for the so-called Pali-leaks that were published by Al Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper, that were apparently stolen/leaked from his office. At first the PA and Erakat denied that the leaks were true and claimed they were falsified by Al Jazeera to undermine the PA and they banned Al Jazeera altogether from the PA. But, then in an interview with the BBC, Erakat was forced to admit that at least some of the leaks were factually correct and finally he resigned.

The leaks covered the period around 2008 when the PA under Pres. Abbas were intensely negotiating with PM Olmert. During this time, in secret, the PA agreed to major compromises, unknown to the Israeli and Palestinian publics. It is noteworthy that these negotiations took place without any preconditions and proceeded while Israel was building on the West Bank. What was shocking to the Palestinians was that Abbas and Erakat agreed to greatly limit the number of Palestinian "refugees" that would be allowed into Israel, recognizing that to insist on all of them would be a deal breaker, and that they agreed that Israel should retain areas of the West Bank where there is dense Jewish settlement, in exchange for other parcels of land. Once these concessions were revealed the PA leadership took a quick step backwards and denied the veracity of these leaks. What was noteworthy was that instead of admitting their compromise positions and trying to prepare their public for peace, they denied the compromises and insisted that they never made and would never make such concessions. In the face of the Palestinian "street" they caved.

While this fiasco was on-going, the demonstrations and eventual resignation of Pres. Mubarak were taking place in Egypt. This put into sharp relief the fact that there has not been an election in the PA for more than 5 years since Abbas cancelled the elections that should have taken place in January 2009. In effect he is still serving illegally. With the ferment of uprisings for democracy on-going in the Arab world (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan) Abbas realized that he needed to forestall such demonstrations in the PA, and so he announced new elections in the coming months. However, he will not be running again. Most people give him little chance anyway once the concessions of the Pali-leaks were revealed. Of course, Hamas in Gaza immediately denounced the elections and refused to participate in them. Hamas will not allow any new elections in Gaza, having their consolidated power by force.

Now that Mubarak has gone, and he was the principal actor trying to bring Fatah of the PA and Hamas of Gaza together again, it is unlikely that this split can ever be healed. So talk of a "two state solution" is outdated, now there must be at least a "three state solution." The worst case scenario is that an election in the West Bank will return Hamas as the leadership of the PA. Then we will be back to a "one state solution" as desired by Hamas (i.e. the destruction of Israel) and this will be a much more dangerous situation for Israel. But, Fatah and the IDF have done a good job in removing the Hamas leadership from the PA, so such an outcome is unlikely although possible. It would be just like the Palestinians to take the opposite course to all the other Arabs, and vote for an autocratic extremist regime rather than opting for more democracy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Denouement in Egypt

Mubarak has gone after 30 years, replaced by a Committee of Army Officers, who promise that they will facilitate democratic elections and abide by all previous State agreements. In other words they will honor the peace treaty with Israel. This is a great relief for Israelis, as enunciated by PM Netanyahu, that the Israel-Egyptian Peace Treatry is the "cornerstone of stability in the Middle East." Meanwhile the protestors in Tahrir Square have elected a Committee to make sure that the military keep their commitment. It seems like a good outcome.

We in Israel as well as the US are caught in a fundamental dilemma. While we abhor dictators and authoritarian rule, we also fear the power of the rude mob. We are democratic, we have political parties and no one fears to express his opinions. That is why it is fatuous to suggest that Israel should fear the spread of the current uprisings in the Arab world to its internal Arab citizens, they can demonstrate any time they like (as long as they don't break the law and indulge in violence). The surge for democracy in Arab lands owes a lot to the example of Israel in their midst. Surprisingly the PA, that is supposed to be more radical than Israel's Arabs was supporting Mubarak, because they fear the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, that are allied to Hamas, their internal opposition. The Palestinians are usually wrong, they also supported Saddam Hussein!

Unlike Pres. Obama, who jumped right in and expressed support for the demonstrators in their aim to remove Mubarak immediately, and then backtracked, PM Netanyahu has been consistent in his neutrality. But, all Western leaders are faced with this dilemma. Natan Sharansky, who knows what an autocratic system means from up close, of course sympathizes with the democratic urges of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. But, Netanyahu cannot be so bold, he must assess the possibility that the largest and most powerful component of the Egyptian opposition, the MB, could take over the relatively weak democratic forces, and that the power vacuum in Egypt could be filled by the Islamists. That would be a disaster of the greatest order for Israel and the West, on a par with the loss of Iran by Pres. Jimmy Carter, who blindly supported the Iranian protesters in 1979, without realizing what anti-democratic forces were gathering.

So while it is time for encouragement that a major demonstration has taken place in Egypt that has succeeded in removing the dictator, and Israel is hardly mentioned, nevertheless it is also time for caution. Of all possible outcomes, a gradual transition from Mubarak to a new democratic system, with multi-party elections, would be the best outcome. Note that democracies rarely choose to fight other democracies. The question is how to get to this optimal outcome without dead-ending into another and maybe worse religious autocracy. Frankly, in this process, Israel and the West have very little leverage, only the power of persuasion and the example of what democracy can bring. Meanwhile, after the Iranian regime praised the Egyptian uprising, they are now worried that their own people may follow Egypt's example. All autocratic regimes in the Arab world will now come under threat, and of course it has nothing to do with the Palestinian situation

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Jewish Question

Amazingly the novel "The Finkler Question" by Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for 2010. It purports to be mainly a narrative by a non-Jew, Julian Treslove (get it, three loves) who admires Jews and wants to be a Jew himself because of his depressive, sensitive nature. His two best friends are Jews, Sam Finkler, a typical Jewish anti-Semite, who doesn't want to be associated with anything to do with Israel or religious Jews, and Libor Sevcik, an improbable Czech Holocast survivor, who was a success in Hollywood, yet ended up teaching Sam and Julian in school in suburban London. Treslove's girlfriend is Hephzibah, a Jewish earth mother with whom he pretends to actually be Jewish. Since Treslove substitutes the name "Finkler" for anything Jewish, so you have the title "The Finkler Question," because nobody would buy a book entitled "The Jewish Question."

The book is a ruminative treatise on what being Jewish means and consists of a series of cliches about Jews, how sensitive, contradictory and self-hating they are, written by a Jew posing as a non-Jew who wants to be a Jew. It is self-indulgent and in the end nothing much happens. There is a little drama, Sam becomes leader of an anti-Israel Jewish group in the wake of the Gaza "Operation Cast Lead" which is called "ASHamed Jews," but then repudiates them. Julian is mugged by a woman who takes him for a Jew. Libor, whose loving wife dies, can't take life anymore and commits suicide. That's about it. Ultimately the reader doesn't care much what happens to this small cast of shallow characters and in the end the book is inconsequential,

But, it does have redeeming features. It has a wry humor, but at least it is not vulgar, like some of Jacobson's earlier books. It is well written and does invoke a sense of style.
"Treslove was another in a long line of men who needed saving. Were they the only men who came to her - the lost, the floundering, the dispossessed? Or were there no other sort? Either way their demands worried her. Who did they think she was - America. Give me your tired, your poor ... the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. She looked strong and secure enough to house them, that was the problem. She looked capacious. She looked like safe harbor."

In part it is a satire on the self-denying Diaspora Jew, trying too hard to over-compensate for being a Jew in a non-Jewish world.
"By what sophisticated twisting of argument do you harry people with violence off your land and then think yourself entitled to make high-minded stipulations as to where they may go now you are rid of them and how they may provide for their future welfare? I am an Englishman who loves England, but do you suppose that it too is not a racist country? Do you know any country whose recent history is not blackened by prejudice and hate against somebody? So what empowers racists in their own right to sniff out racism in others? Only from a world in which Jews believe they have nothing to fear will they consent to learn lessons in humanity. Until then the Jewish State's offer of safety to Jews the world over - yes, Jews first - while it might not be equitable, cannot sanely be construed as racist. I can understand why a Palestinian might say it feels racist to him, though he too inherits a disdain for people other than himself, but not you madam, since you present yourself as a bleeding heart, conscience-pricked representative of the very Gentile world from which Jews, through no fault of their own, have been fleeing for centuries..."

But, the Jews in this book are all without actual Jewish content in their lives, they philosophize endlessly about Jewish characteristics but they lack any commitment themselves to Jewish life, except in the end when they say Kaddish for their dead friend. I suppose it is a sign of the times that this slight book on Jews and anti-Semitism in Britain was selected to win this prestigious prize.

This was the first book that I read on an e-book reader (a Barnes and Noble "Nook Color") so this might have altered my reading experience somewhat. First of all, since there is no physical book in one's hands it is difficult to judge how far one has gone and how much more there is to read. Although the page number and the total number of pages is written on the upper right corner of the screen/page, that is an abstract concept. So there is an irrational feeling that the book will go on forever. Also, I found myself touching the screen/page lightly without thinking and so turning pages before I had finished reading the end of that page, then having to find my place back. Nevertheless, it was a great experience, especially being able to change the format of the page with black background and white lettering to reduce the glare and read in the dark. On a recent cruise I was surrounded by people reading books on different e--readers. There is no doubt that this is the wave of the future or actually of the present.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The real story!

The PA strongly criticized the Quartet meeting in Munich early this week for not coming out in favor of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian Statehood. It was never going to happen, but the PA have crawled out so far on that particular branch that it is bending to breaking point and they had to say something. The Quartet, consisting of the US, EU, UN and Russia, would be breaking all their own rules if they agreed to unilateral action by either side. Suppose they agreed to Israel confiscating land on the West Bank, where there is dense Jewish settlement. Of course, they would not do that, they are committed to solving the problem thru bilateral negotiations, and that means that they cannot support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State, however many second rate countries (Venezuela?, Paraguay?) which have no direct interests in the Middle East say that they support it. After all, recognizing an entity that does not exist hardly does anything but make them feel virtuous.

While the UN and many other countries have been dickering around for years talking about the Palestinians, they have been neglecting what it has become clear is the real problem in the Middle East, the backwardness of the Arab countries. The military dictatorships in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and so on, have been oppressing their peoples and condemning them to a life without hope of work and progress. All this attention to the Palestinian problem, in fact a minor problem compared to the Egyptian situation, has played into the hands of the dictators, and all the good liberals in the West have been suckered into it. Why are the Palestinians the darlings of the left, because the left are too eaily duped by serious malefactors. That is why Saddam Hussein was able to oppress his own people and carry out major massacres, such as the Anfal campaign that murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurds, without nary a murmur from the good liberals who supposedly care about human rights. Except that the only human rights they were concerned about were those of the Palestinians. What a farce!

There is an interesting twist in the Palestinian story. The population of Jordan is about 70% Palestinian, with the rest being Beduin. The Beduin support the Hashemite monarchy, while the Muslim Brotherhood are the main opposition. King Abdullah II has been criticized for revoking the Jordanian citizenship of thousands of Palestinians, presumably to prevent them voting against him. Even the Beduin have come out in favor of political reform. Now it has been revealed that Pres. Abbas of the PA, his sons, and Mohammed Dahlan, the PA security chief, have all taken out Jordanian citizenship. What are they fearing?

Since the Pali-leaks revelations recently in Al Jazeera and the Guardian, Al Jazeera has been banned in the PA (and also in Egypt). The PA leaders are now on the defensive. PA spokesman and veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat, interviewd on BBC, turned himself in knots refuting the claims that he and others offered major concessions to Israel, while at the same time agreeing that some of the leaks are true. Why do he and others fear to confirm that they were prepared to compromise with Israel? Because the "Palestinian street" is not ready for any compromise and will not give up their maximal demands. There is a local election coming up in the West Bank after 4 years, that the Hamas leadership running Gaza have refused to cooperate with. However, if Fatah is rejected by the Palestinian people because of these revelations of their "liberal" tendencies, then the PA leaders will have to run and hide. I suppose Jordan will be a convenient bolt-hole.

In relation to Egypt, the US Administraion has twisted and turned on Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. An analysis of the MB's publications reveal that they are committed to transforming Egypt into a new Arab Caliphate, that all Arab/Muslim countries will be required to join. Once again they will go back into history where there was severe competition between Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo over which would be the capital of the Caliphate. Do we really want to have medieveal wars again in the Middle East? Been there, done that! The Muslim Brotherhood is not a democratic party, they will destroy any democracy that they are involved with, just as Hamas did in Gaza. Hamas won the first election held in Gaza under the "democracy" policy of George W. Bush, and that was the last election there. After a year, Hamas staged a coup, killed thousands of Fatah opponents and took power there. This is clearly the pattern that the MB will follow in Egypt. Beware the Muslim Brotherhood!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Reclaiming the narrative

Last month we went to a conference in Jerusalem entitled "Reclaiming the narrative" sponsored by the Honest Reporting organization, that was intended to provide us with the wherewithal to refute arguments against Israel's legitimacy and authenticity. The speakers were of a high order and although they were preaching largely to the converted, a perennial problem, it was a worthwhile experience.

The keynote speaker was Melanie Phillips from the UK, and her hard-hitting presentation was entitled "Useful idiots and fifth columnists: the media role in the war against the West." Although I greatly appreciate her contributions, unfortunately she was the first speaker at 9 am and since I had to drive to Jerusalem I missed half of her talk. However, I got a written version from the organizers, but I am not going to try to summarize it here, I am sure it is available on her web site. Danny Seaman, former head of the Israel Govt. Printing Office, gave a useful analysis of the foreign press in Israel (they are not all enemies!). Jonathan Rynhold of the BESA Center spoke about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and Neil Lazarus, who is very charismatic, advised how to answer anti-Israel rhetoric. Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch of the IDF spokesman's office, described the relationship between the press and the IDF. Since I had to leave early I also missed a presentation on "Are the Palestinians prepared for peace?" (probably not) by Khaled abu Toameh, the Arab correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.

In an era when all claims are considered equal and there is no such thing as factual history, only different narratives of what happened, learning the "truth" can be devastating to those who have preconceived notions of what is "right" and "just." Unfortunately, the "narrative" of the enemy is considered authentic by many well-meaning liberals and Jews, while our narrative is not. Whatever happened to our long struggle for freedom, to the suffering that Jews were forced to endure from the surrounding peoples throughout Europe, to the pioneering spirit that attracted and drove many to a worn-out, desolate land, to the building of that land as if from nothing, and to the wars that were forced upon us and the suffering and death that ensued. Was that all for nothing, not to mention the Holocaust, that some simply sneer at, when Jewish men, women and children were treated as less than animals, and the terrorism, when humans were maimed beyond description by suicide bombers at close range. Was all that not a "narrative," was all that not authentic enough for the good liberals for whom only one people in the world deserve their approbation and only one receives their contumely?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Was Darwin wrong?

Those who oppose the concept of biological evolution and Darwin's Theory of the origin of species thru natural selection often come up with specific objections. These were considered in a National Geographic special called "Was Darwin wrong?" (see below for the URL). The most common arguments against Darwin were:
1. There are many missing links in the fossil record
2. How could complex anatomical structures like the eye evolve?
3. How could a land animal that returned to the sea lose its hind legs as in the case of whales?
4. What are the underlying basic (molecular or genetic) processes involved (of which Darwin was unaware)?
I will consider these points in sequence

1. There were in fact many gaps in the fossil record at the time when Darwin published "The Origin of Species" in 1859. However, during the subsequent 150 years many, many more fossils have been discovered, and many gaps have been filled in. What were known as "the missing links" have been found, most notably the links between reptiles (dinosaurs) and birds and the links between early man (apes) and later man. In the case of birds, perfect examples of the intermediate species of archaeopteryx have been found, particularly in China, and there is now no doubt that birds evolved from earlier small reptiles. In the case of man, the findings of Louis Leakey and his followers in Olduvai Gorge in Kenya during the 1950-70s have established beyond doubt that human evolution has taken place through intermediate species.

2. The evolution of the eye has been studied in detail in recent years. What has been discoverd is that there exist in living animals as well as in the fossil record. intermediate states. The evolution of the eye is now known to have started with a light sensitive area of cells, that then evolved into a pit that developed a narrow entrance that concentrates the light. Following this, a piece of tissue grew across the aperture that became transparent and then formed a lens. Finally the whole eye was detached as a separate entity with small muscles that allow its movement. In these small stages of development, the evolution of the eye can be seen as a successful adaptation to the need for organisms to detect danger and to search for food.

3. Similarly, the skeletons of many kinds of underwater creatures have been found over the years. In the specific case of mammals that returned to the sea there are intermediate species that gradually lost the use of their hind limbs in favor of flippers and a powerful tail. When appendages have no useful function they tend to atrophy in succeeding generations, as is the case with the human tail, even though a vestige proves that it was once there.

4. Unknown to Darwin was the existence of DNA and the ability to use DNA sequencing. DNA was not discovered until 1869, its genetic significance was not shown until 1944 and its structure was not determined until 1953. Of course, DNA sequencing can only be done in fossils where there is sufficient stability of the DNA, such as in bone or teeth (that contain cells). This area of molecular genetics has added a major support for Darwin's theory that was completely inconceivable to him at the time of his publication of "The Origin of Species."

Altogether these responses to objections to Darwin's Theory have over the years strongly added support to his basic concept rather than refuting it.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Galant affair

Maj-Gen. Yoav Galant was being considered as the replacement for Chief of the General Staff of the IDF Lieut.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. Then it was discovered that Gen. Galant had taken some land in his settlement (moshav) of Amikam, without legal right or permission. The Green Party brought a case against him and he lied in court that he did indeed have the legal ownership of that land, upon which he had built a driveway. Subsequently he admitted that that was wrong and he agreed either to give the land back or buy it legally, but it was too late. Since the Chief of Staff must be beyond reproach, the State Comptroller ruled that Gen Galant could not be considered for the exalted position, and so Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was about to appoint him, was unable to do so.

The background to this situation is that Barak and Gen Ashkenazi have very strained relations, and not only did Barak decide not to extend Ashkanazi's appointment, but he also refused to allow him to continue for an interim period until a permanent replacement can be decided upon. This relationship was further damaged by the so-called "Harpaz affair." A document was circulated last year among the higher echelons of the IDF that purported to come from Gen. Galant's office and which denigrated various rivals of his who are contenders for the top post as well as Gen. Ashkenazi himself. Although this document was around for some time and was printed on the stationary of a PR firm, no-one investigated it. Finally, the Military Advocate General became involved and determined that the document was a forgery and had been authored by Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, in an attemtp to ensure that his boss Galant was appointed the next Chief of Staff. When Harpaz finally admitted his role in this affair, and Galant denied any knowledgte of the document's origin, Harpaz himself was punished, but Galant was found to be innocent. Now there is another twist to this story, Harpaz had applied to the Army to visit South America. Galant, his boss, gave him permission. But, Barak, decided that this was a scheme cooked up by Galant to allow Harpaz to flee the country.

So now you have the situation that in a few weeks there will be no Chief of Staff of the IDF. The name of Gen. Yair Naveh, Ashkenazi's deputy, has been raised as an interim appointment, but he has refused to be merely a temporary occupant of the post. There are also several other possible appointees, including Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Gen. Benny Gantz, all of whom were passed over previously when Galant was chosen for the post, but who now are being re-considered. It's a mess, particularly when the IDF is concerned over the repercussions of the situation in Egypt. There has been criticism of how Barak handled this situation, allowing personal considerations to intervene in his decisions, and the whole process has been criticized since it has been customary for the Minister of Defense to choose the Chief of Staff of the IDF himself, obviously not a satisfactory procedure. Now PM Netanyahu has become involved and has decided to bring the appointment of the next Chief of Staff of the IDF to a vote in the Cabinet, Gantz being the selected candidate. This may further politicize what should be a purely technical appointment based on merit.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Kerensky and Bakhtiar

Hands up those who remember Kerensky and Bakhtiar. They were the faces of the liberal democratic opposition during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979! What happened to them? Kerensky was swept away by the Bolsheviks and Bakhtiar was replaced by the Khomeinists. Kerensky lived in New York until 1970, but he was a shattered man and died in obscurity, even though Russia after the fall of Communism in 1991 segued into a supposedly liberal, democratic regime after 70 years. Bakhtiar was less lucky, he was assassinated by agents of Khomeini in Paris in 1991. Theirs is the role mapped out for El Baradei in the current Egyptian Revolution.

Today is Friday, the Muslim holy day, when most Egyptians will attend the Mosques, where the IMams will preach to them that the era of Mubarak is over, and they must go out and make sure that he steps down immediately. The National Democratic Party of Egypt that was established, like the Baath Party in Iraq and Syria, on the pattern of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of Germany in the 1930s, has represented the rule of the Army controlling the Sunni Arab States from after WWII until now. It is being replaced in a historic turnover by whoever can take power out of the turmoil of the current phase of the Revolution. That will be the most organized and determined and ruthless element. We all know who that is, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. People say that the MB is the leading "opposition party," but really they have been the enemy of the nationalist-socialist (and later capitalist) phase of Egyptian politics throughout the period of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.

El Baradei has no constituency in Egypt, he has no masses to support him, they regard him as a representative of the foreign elite. In fact, Pres. Obama is playing precisely into their hands by calling on Mubarak to resign immediately, thus pulling the rug out from under him, as Jimmy Carter did to the Shah of Iran in 1979. That was the greatest foreign policy loss for the USA since WWII. Now Obama is repeating that mistake. If El BAradei is chosen by the liberal, democratic West as their representative in Egypt, he will share the same fate as Kerensy and Bakhtiar. He will remain a figure head for a short period of time, and then be swept away by the ruthless, organized and anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood. The USA will have no power to prevent this.

Commentators say that the MB has no charismatic leader, like Khomeini. Doesn't matter, they have many leaders and from them will emerge their leadership. We do not know them because they have been suppressed and persecuted by Mubarak and his predecessors. They will want to get even. They will try to capture Mubarak and try him for "crimes against humanity" (murder is not strong enough) and they will then execute him, if they can. This will be great victory for Iranian Shi'ism in that the Sunnis will be following their revolutionary path and no doubt Iranian agents will be active in Egypt supporting the MB. Once this takeover happens, there can be no more "moderate" pro-Western Arab States. The Egyptian MB with the aid of Hamas and Iran will quickly replace the Monarchy in Jordan and the hated Assad regime in Syria, but there will be a major war and bloodshed there (remember Assad's father killed ca. 20,000 Brotherhood supporters in Homs in 1982). Then they will replace the PA with a Hamas substitute, unless Israel can prevent them.

If these predictions come true then the MB will abrogate the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty and will graduaslly move to a war situation against Israel (after consolidating their control of Egypt). Israel should either hit them before they can do that, or wait and prepare for another round of wars with the fundamentalist Sunni Arab enemies, supported by Iran. It is not a pleasant prospect.

(I am grateful to Prof. Hillel Frisch of Bar Ilan University for helping me to clarify my thinking on this matter).

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egyptian watershed

Like me, you are probably saturated with analysis of the Egyptian uprising. But, it seems that the situation has now reached a watershed. Under pressure from the demonstrators, US Pres. Obama and the Egyptian Army, Pres. Mubarak in a speech last night, announced that he will not stand for election again. After being in power for 30 years that's the least he could do. But, the demonstrators, including the roughly 250,000 who filled Tahrir Square last night, want him gone immediately, "Mubarak out!" is their cry. So the question is can Mubarak hang in for another 6 months and preside over an orderly transfer of power? Can democratic elections be held under those circumstances?

Forgive me if I am sceptical. A people who have never known democracy, in the midst of an intense power struggle, can hardly be expected to sit back and say, "alright we'll let him stay until then." Once loosed the forces of revolution cannot easily be controlled. The key factor is if the Army remains united and supports Mubarak's intentions. But, there are at least two other factors, the pressure for a democratic system, supported by the Western educated elite, with their supposed leader Mohammed El Baradei, who was former Head of the IAEA. Although they support democracy, they should not be confused with any pro-Israel faction. Baradei was never a friend of Israel and the US was anxious to replace him since he waffled and maybe even lied over the Iranian nuclear issue.

Then there is the Moslem Brotherhood, who as I write are plotting to take over the revolution and the transfer of power. They are the largest and best organized of the so-called "opposition" groups. Not only do they hate Mubarak for arresting, torturing and killing their members, but they have a plan of action, to make Egypt an Islamist State like Hamas in Gaza. There is no doubt that Hamas is aiding them in their plans, and that is why the Israeli Government agreed that Egypt should increase it's military presence near the Gaza border and Rafah crossing, in contravention of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The Brotherhood spokesman today referred to Baradei as "the donkey of the revolution." In other words they will use him to pull their cart, pretending to support democratic elections, but then they will dispense with him when they are strong enough.

The key issue is whether a faction of the Army will now break away and decide to remove Mubarak sooner than the elections that are due in September, and whether or not this faction would support the Brotherhood in its aim to take power. Meanwhile there are stirrings in Jordan, where King Abdullah dropped his whole Cabinet at the first demonstration, showing how confident he is against a majority of Palestinians in his country. And Pres. Assad of Syria predicted that there will be no uprising there, since after all he is a ruthless military dictator (he didn't say that). We are still at the beginnings of the changes sweeping the Arab world, because it has been kept under control for the last 50 years by military dictators who have prevented development, change and the provision of jobs for an increasingly young population. We can't yet see the end of the process, but it isn't likely to be good for Israel. A new Government in Egypt, whatever its composition, is likely to decide to have another go at Israel, after all anti-Israel slogans are a great rallying call for uniting the people, and they can blame the previous failures on their incompetent predecessors.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A test, three concerts and a funeral

Since coming home we have been exceptionally busy. A few days after returning I went to Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv to have a heart stress test with radioactive thallium. This is a standard test after suffering chest pain, but so far thankfully all previous tests were negative. This is a very modern hospital, fully computerized. The test lasts about 5 hours, so I had to hang around most of the day. What I discovered outside the hospital is a man-made brook, a small stream with waterfalls, stocked with hundreds of beautiful koi (Japanese multi-colored carp). Also there was typical Asian foliage, and nearby both Chinese and Japanese restaurants, very pleasant in the concrete jungle just adjacent to the major Ayalon Freeway.

A few days after returning there was also a free concert put on by Moshe and Judith Shamir, the organizers of the "This Land is mine" charity, that helps poor immigrants to achieve their goals. Two of the acts were notable, a beautiful young woman with a powerful soprano voice who sings for the Israel Opera, and who was helped in her initial stages by the Fund. Also, two young boys aged 17, who are both virtuosos, one on piano and the other on the cello, who played superbly, both of whom now work with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Of course, not all recipients of scholarships achieve such levels, but hundreds of young people have been helped in this way.

Then we had a special evening concert organized by Shearim, that puts on the weekly Monday noon concerts. This concert was a "Comic Opera and Operetta Festival" and featured the four usual singers we have seen before and it was organized by Nadia Friedkovsky, a brilliant pianist. It was an enjoyable evening and was very crowded (I estimated over 300 people in the Beit Israel Hall). My favorite singer Julia Masti participated, she has to be seen to be believed, she is gorgeous as well as having a great voice and personality. There were also balalaika, domra and piano solos.

On Friday we drove down to Gan Yavne near Ashdod for the memorial service for Leslie Mound, husband of Gloria Mound, the Director of Casa Shalom, the Center for Marrano-Anusim studies. He died suddnely last month while we were away. Luckily the weather was excellent, and it was so hot, about 80 deg F.

Then, yesterday, Monday, we had the usual Monday noon concert, but this time with Adrian Justus, the exceptional violinist, just back from a tour in Japan, who always comes to back to Shearim because he regards it as his home base. He was originally from Mexico before making aliyah with his wife and 5 children. He plays divinely, this time on a Guaneri violin.

We are too busy, not only with the above, but catching up with many chores. We need to go on another vacation!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Electronic tangle

The problem with travelling these days is not only the large number of ubiquitous electronic devices that have to be carried around, but also the charging connectors that have to be carried with them. Each one of these devices has a plug, a wire and a connector. With a laptop, a telephone (actually two kinds), an e-book reader, a camera, an i-Pod and a razor, that’s seven chargers all jumbled together. Not only do they look like a dangerous device to the untrained eye of the X-ray technician, but they also form an impossible tangle. Why can’t they all be the same, so you would only have to travel with one charger, although that might not be enough, given that most of these devices have to be charged every two minutes. Or why can't they all be different colors, candy striped, etc., to help distinguish them from each other? And why can't they have retractable wires to avoid tangles?

The tourist industry has not yet adapted to this new problem. They don’t allow extra weight of all these devices and their chargers. Why can’t passenger seats in airplanes have plugs that allow charging en route? And why don’t the cruise ships have a battery of plugs for all these devices in the cabins? Of course, then they might start charging for the extra electricity that is being used, not an inconsiderable amount of energy.

The worst problem with all these devices is that some have US plugs and some have Israeli or European plugs. These are often incompatible with the power points available. So of course I have a special adapter that changes Israeli to American bayonet style plug-ins. But, this small device is so valuable that I keep it in a special place in my luggage, where I can get to it on a moment’s notice. If anyone can remember where that place is located please contact me urgently. Meanwhile I am busy disentangling the electronic Gordian knot (Alexander, where are you when I need you?)