Thursday, May 31, 2012

Israel's immigrant problem

Whoever thought Israel would have too many immigrants? Israel has about 60,000 illegal African immigrants. That doesn't seem many in a US or a British context, but in a small country like Israel it is a huge proportion of the population. Also, these African immigrants have settled mostly in Eilat, near where they cross the border from Egypt, at teh rate of ca. 100 a day, and in South Tel Aviv, where they have recently become a serious crime problem. Apart from the increase in crime and prositution there have been an increasing number of assaults. In a recent case three black men beat an Israeli couple in a car park at night in Tel Aviv and raped the girl. This and other cases led last week to riots against the blacks in S. Tel Aviv that required police intervention. This past weekend the police were present in force and there was no violence.

The Government, after ignoring the problem for several years, is now trying to solve this problem in two ways, first by deporting as many illegal aliens as they can and also by trying to cut down on their entry into the country by building a barrier along the Egyptian-Israeli border between the Sinai and Negev deserts, much like the barrier between the US and Mexico. Recently there was a shooting on the border between a special Israeli unit established to patrol the border called the Ramon unit, and a group of illegals consisting of 3 Chinese and a Beduin smuggler. Migrants are attracted to Israel because it is affluent, tolerant and is the only country that has a border with Africa. To get to Europe they have to cross dangerous seas, to get to Israel they have to cross a desert, where the Egyptian guards shoot at them and the Beduin enslave them, kill them and take their organs for trafficking. This is not to say that all immigrants are not deserving, some came from South Sudan as refugees. But, now that South Sudan is independent there is pressure for them to be returned. One solution suggested by the Chief of Police is that the immigrants be allowed to work here, that would cut down on crime. But, PM Netanyahu has rejected this approach since it would only attract more immigrants.

There was a Committee meeting in the Knesset a few days ago that considered this issue. It was very emotional, with "bleeding heart" liberals reminding everyone that Jews were once immigrants fleeing oppression. And a resident of South Tel Aviv cried out because of the situation they are in, afraid to go out a night. And several Likud MKs, including Danny Danon and Miri Regev claimed that all Western countries (UK, US, France, etc.) have the same problem and deport illegal aliens and this Government must do the same. Miri Regev was lampooned as a Nazi on a web-site and the culprits are being sought. There is no doubt that a serious issue exists in South Tel Aviv, and the Government must take steps to resolve it, including deportation of illegals. Hopefully the completion of the barrier on the border with Egypt will cut down on the infiltration of further illegals.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Secret Jews (Anusim) today

In her final lecture on the Secret Jews (Anusim) Gloria Mound summarized the status of their communties today. Stanley Hordes in the 1980s did pioneering work on the Anusim living in New Mexico. He had first researched the activities of the Inquisition in New Mexico and from there came to realize that there were many Secret Jews still living there. His book "To the end of the earth" is a classic of its kind. He also founded the American Society of Crypto-Jews.

In St. Augustine, Florida there are many indications that the ca. 2,000 Minorcans who fled there from the Inquisition in the 1640s were also crypto-Jews and their descendents are still a large proportion of the propulation there. In New Orleans there is a center and museum of an organization called Los Islenos, which is a code name used by some Secret Jews to describe themselves. It refers to their origin from Spain and the Balaeric Islands thru the Canary Islands to Florida and to other parts of the Americas from Brazil to Quebec and Newfoundland. They are very cautious about contacts with outsiders, and unfortunately all their papers and exhibits were destroyed during hurricane Katrina. A wooden sign-post was saved that indicates the hundreds of secret Jews who were passengers on specific ships that sailed from Cuba to Louisiana.

In Puerto Rico there are Secret Jews who had moved up into the hills to escape the scrutiny of the Church. Some of them are now re-discovering their roots. Ruth Reyes is an example, one of her Grandmothers initially denied that they were Jews, but her aunt had a cupboard full of old Jewish artifacts. Ruth came to Israel after research by Gloria traced her family back 300 years. Many Caribbean Islands have residual communities of Secret Jews, including Jamaica, Barbados and Curacao. Curacao was a magnet for Anusim because it was governed by the Dutch who were much more tolerant to Jews, and it was apopular place for secret Jews to go to for circumcision. There are ancient Sephardic synagogues in most of these Islands and I have visited the one on Barbados. They characteristically have a sandy floor, and one was transferred to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem from Surinam.

There is renewed interest in the descendents of the Secret Jews of Europe, not including those that were hidden during the Holocaust and did not find out that they were Jewish after the war ended. There are large communties of Secret Jews in Italy, particularly southern Italy where they are mainly poor farmers and fishermen. There are also residual groups in places as far apart as Ireland and Hungary. In Ireland, there was an influx of Huguenots from France, but from their names on tombstones it is clear that some of them weren't normal Protestants they were descendents of converso Jews.

Some of the largest Anusim communities are in former Portuguese and Spanish colonies. Many Jewish orphans were forcibly converted and sent to Sao Tome. The Ambassador of the Cape Verde Islands to Israel broke down when he presented his credentials to the Israeli President and admitted that he was from a family of Secret Jews. The former President Sampao of Portugal was from the Azores and likewise admitted that he was of Jewish origin.

Gerona and Majorca in Spain and Belmonte in Portugal are not the only places where Jewish culture still persists in the Iberian pensinsula. There are whole obscure villages in the borderland between Spain and Portugal that consist of Secret Jews, whose ancestors would cross the border to avoid danger and then return later. They are even today very suspicious of strangers and do not readily admit their practices. Even in the Portuguese colonies in India, particularly Goa, there are indications of Secret Jews.

The existence of Secret Jews is a world-wide phenomenon that one can only guess consists of possibly millions of people. One of the main reasons for their persistance is not only their practise is not to inter-marry with other Catholcs, but also the aversion of other Catholics to inter-marry with them, for example with the Chuetas in Majorca. There is a great need to study this amazing subject and help to bring education and information about their history and Judaism to those who are interested in returning to their roots. For this reason the International Institute for the Study of Secret Jews that was based on the Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies (Casa Shalom) was established in Netanya Academic College and it now has a new web-site providing information about the expansion plans to establish a Columbus Center (see

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Makhtesh Ramon

Most tourists or visitors to Israel, Christians and Jews alike, come to see the Biblical sights. Many tour the north and center, going to the main cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, and many archeological sites. But, relatively few venture to the south and even fewer come to see the natural wonders that exist in our little country of Israel.

One such is the Ramon Crater, or Makhtesh, found in the south of Israel, an hour’s drive south of Beersheva. This is such an amazing and unique natural wonder that it is surprising that it is so little known. It is to Israel what the Grand Canyon is to the USA. It is in fact a unique geological feature that is so large it can be seen from space. It is a natural crater 40 km long and 10 km wide, with cliffs 400 m high, and is the major feature of the south of Israel. Actually it is not a crater, not left by the impact of an asteroid or by subsidence, but was formed by erosion.

Many millions of years ago a sea covered the area, and there was a mountain in the central Negev, the top of which formed an island. The island was eroded by rain and the sea receded and left a mountain with an inverted top. Further erosion deepened the crater, then 5 million years ago the Syrian African rift that runs from the Golan Heights thru the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, the Arava Valley and the Red Sea to Ethiopia, fell several thousand feet, and tilted this Negev mountain. Gradually the sand and silt in the core of the mountain washed down into the Arava, leaving what is known as a Makhtesh. It is indeed a spectacular sight to behold, looking like something from the moon’s surface.

We stayed in the new Beresheet (Beginning) Hotel, now one year old, part of the Isrotel chain It is a unique collection of stone built units each with two or fours rooms, spread out on the crater’s edge just north of the small town of Mitzpe Ramon (View of Ramon) with ca. 7,000 inhabitants. There are electric carts to take people and luggage around, and of course one can walk, although this is not for those with walking difficulties. When we arrived at our unit there was a large ibex waiting for us at the entrance, as if standing guard motionless. The driver said he had never seen anything like it before, and we must be special people, I agreed.. It was not afraid of us and only ran away when we came really close. The Hotel has a beautifully designed central lobby and dining areas. There is a separate Visitor’s Center nearby which is unfortunately temporarily closed. There is also a smaller and less expensive hotel in the town called the Ramon Inn.

We took a guided jeep drive through the crater that was quite spectacular. The jeep managed the bumpy tracks that criss-cross the crater’s bottom. Each of these is marked by lines of stones, since it is illegal to go outside the established trails, because it would damage the delicate ecosystem and could be dangerous. The Makhtesh is so dry that it qualifies as a super-desert, and people can die without enough water in a short period of time. The whole area looks completely desolate, but there are plants and animals that survive without external water. The plants have large root systems and some exude salt. We saw two glimpses of gazelles that get their water entirely from plants and we saw footprints of asses that were reintroduced into the wild only a few years ago. The guide took us to see various sights, including cliffs with multi-colored layers, yellow, red, and purple, and several high points with amazing views. One of the mountains in the Makhtesh is a small flat topped conical structure called Har Marpeh (Elbow Mountain) that is used by the elite paratroop group in the IDF for training.

We went into town one day to have lunch and when we returned to the hotel my wife discovered that she had lost her handbag. We searched the room and the car, but no luck, so I drove back to the restaurant, and the manager was holding it for us. We were lucky that he was honest. For the rest of our time we relaxed and swam and ate and visited some other sights, including the Alpaca Farm and the Bio-center that contains a small zoo with desert animals.

So if you ever get an opportunity on your visit to Israel to see the Makhtesh Ramon, please take it, you won’t regret it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Baseless hatred

Last week at the AACI we had a lecture by Prof. Rene Levy about his book "Baseless Hatred," which has been published in three languages, English, French and Hebrew. The Israeli opening of his book was addressed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who spoke very highly of the book, and the French edition has a preface by the Chief Rabbi of France. Prof. Levy is from Paris but has taught at the Univ. of Washington, Seattle, for many years and his research specializes in antiepilepsy drugs. His interest and understanding of brain function led him to the unusual subject of "baseless hatred." This is my summary of his talk.

First, "baseless hatred" is to be distinguished from ordinary hatred, that is a natural human reaction to certain kinds of stimuli, such as response to injury. Baseless hatred is a deeper more primitive and longer-lived emotion. Baseless hatred is a purely Jewish concept, it is not found in other cultures, but is referred to in the Jewish literature as "sinat hinam," an irrational hatred that is considered to be responsible for the many terrible disasters that have overtaken the Jews, particularly the destruction of the Second Temple, the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans and the dispersion of the Jewish people.

The concept of baseless hatred arises from the treatment of Joseph by his brothers in the Biblical story. They sell him into slavery because they are jealous of him as the favorite of his father. Joseph himself has not done any direct harm to them, but nevertheless they have a baseless hatred of him. The Torah says "you shall not hate your brother in your heart" and when the issue is resolved you must not bear a grudge or take revenge, but you must "love your brother as yourself."

The brain consists of two main divisions, the lower or primitive brain, that is thought to have reptilian origin, and the higher brain that distinguishes humans. Baseless hatred is thought to be a response in the former brain or amygdala, that dictates basic responses and retains perfect memory of the event or trigger. This is why it is so hard to overcome it, whereas the higher brain functions are more subject to rational thought. Baseless hatred represents an unjust, unfair and excessive response and it can destroy the bond of mutual responsibility between people. This can happen between siblings, in-laws, neighbors, colleagues or friends.

This leads to the concept of "arevut" or brotherhood in Judaism. After the sons of Jacob return from Egypt and tell their father that the powerful ruler (who is in fact Joseph) has taken their brother Simeon hostage and will keep him in jail unless he (Jacob) allows Benjamin to go back with them, he initially says no. But, the older brother Judah intervenes and agrees to be a guarantor for his brother's life, he will give his life for him. That is the concept of arevut, not love, but personal responsibility, one for the other. This is when the Jewish people was born and the concept of peoplehood is that all Jews are responsible for each other. Thus, the sages believed that arevut was a kind of national glue that could keep the people together even without a common geographical base.But when disaster befell the Jewish people while they were in the land of Israel, it was because of baseless hatred.

Nowadays we might not believe this depending on whether we consider Jews in Israel or in the diaspora. After all, the German Nazis, could not be defeated by the Jews irrespective of the amount of arevut or baseless hatred that there was between Jews. But, there is no doubt that the lack of unity between many different groups within the Jewish people (religious and secular, socialist and Zionist and so on) contributed to the disunity of the people in response to external challenges. For example, in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising there were two completely separate Jewish military groups, one socialist the other nationalist, that had no coordination with each other. Whether one can apply the concept of baseless hatred to the irrational and deep hatred that other peoples and religions have harbored against the Jewish people is another issue.

For further information see

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jewish continuity

Reading two recent books on Jewish history, I was struck by the degree of connection and continuity that there was between the Jews in Europe and in Palestine/Israel despite the devastation caused by the Holocaust. The two books are: "Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto" by Moshe Arens, former Israeli Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, and "Out of the Depths" by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel. These two books complement each other in that they describe respectively the political and religious connections between European (mainly Polish) Jewry and the Jews of Mandatory Palestine, later Israel.

In Poland there were several distinct major groups of Jewish political organizations, each with its own youth movement. They were divided into Zionist and non-Zionist. The Zionists could be further divided into national Zionist (e.g. Betar of the Revisionists), general Zionist (e.g. Hanoar Hazioni), and socialist Zionist (e.g. Hashomer Hatzair, Dror, Hechalutz, Poalei Zion). Each of these had a parallel organization in Palestine. The non-Zionist organizations in Poland could be divided into religious (e.g. Agudat Yisrael), or anti-Zionist (the Bund and the Communists).

During the British Mandate period in Palestine, there were two major policies within the Jewish community, those that decided to cooperate with the British during WWII, mainly the Jewish Agency and the Labor Party (then Mapai) under David Ben Gurion, and those that decided to continue to oppose the British, even while they were fighting the Germans, namely Zeev Jabotinski of the Revisionists, who were regarded as "fascists" by the left. Because of this animosity, in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising there were two completely separate and uncoordinated armed groups, the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) consisting of all the socialist organizations (including the socialist Zionists allied with the anti-Zionist Bund) and the Jewish Military Organization (ZZW) of the Betar Revisionists. The antagonism that existed between the Zionist groups in Palestine overflowed into Poland and the Zionist socialists preferred to align themselves with the other leftists rather than with their fellow Zionists. This lack of unity certainly reduced the Jewish capability to fight the Germans, even though they had no chance to survive anyway.

From Rabbi Lau's book we learn how he, as a boy of 5, managed to survive under the unimaginable conditions of the Holocaust. Luckily one elder brother also survived and looked after him. He even carried him into Buchenwald concentration camp in his backpack and he survived inside the camp because he was looked after by foreigners, not in the Jewish camp where it was impossible for him to survive. But, when he eventually came to Israel he was looked after by a series of Rabbis, each of whom knew his father or his father's reputation as a Torah scholar. Passing thru the Rabbinate as he did inside Israel soon after its founding, we see through his eyes how the structure of the Rabbinical sects that existed in Europe were reconstituted in Israel, thru the acts of Rabbis who restarted yeshivas, and thru the benefactors who assisted in supporting them. One example is the Gur dynasty and its thriving yeshiva in Jerusalem.

After the terrible destruction and rupture caused in Jewish life by the Holocaust, Jewish political and religious organizations in Europe restructured themselves in parallel in Israel with an emphasis on Jewish continuity. Only the anti-Zionist Jewish organization of the Bund was, of course, eradicated. The genius of Ben Gurion was that after Independence he forged all the party militias into one national Israel Defence Force.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Balfour Declaration Redux

Sunday evening we went to hear Jonathan Schneer talk about his new book "The Balfour Declaration: the origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict." Prof. Schneer is a historian at the Georgia Tech. His presentation was extremely well-balanced and coherent. He illuminated some aspects of history that were new and novel.

To Zionists, the Balfour Declaration seems cut-and-dried. The British Government in Nov 1917, in the midst of WWI, stated its intention, under the signature of the Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, "to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine." But, the path to the issuance of this statement and the intentions of the British Government were far from clear-cut or straightforward. Here is my summary of Prof. Schneer's lecture.

In researching the history of the Balfour Declaration one realizes that it was far from a foregone conclusion that it would be approved by the British Government and further, while the British Government was making promises to the Jews, they were also making contradictory promises to the Arabs (this is known) and they were also making approaches to the Turks for a separate peace, although these never came to fruition. It is a misunderstanding of the situation to attrribute the Balfoud Declaration to the Christian Zionism of the British principlas, although this may have played a role.

The first step in this convoluted story came in the early period of the war. In 1915 Sir Henry McMahon was appointed British High Commissioner to Egypt. By then Egypt was virtually a self-governing suzerainty, nominally within the Ottoman Empire, but actually under British control. The Turks had allied themselves with Germany. At this point, the British were desperate to break the stalemate on the western front, and were looking for a way to open up the "eastern door," in other words to either attack Turkey or draw Turkey away from Germany. McMahon's predecessor Sir Ronald Storrs had met with the Emir Hussein of Mecca, nominally the second highest authority in Islam after the Turkish Caliph in Constantinople. Hussein had indicated that he was being pressured by the Turks to raise an army to attack the British, but he and his people were prepared to attack the Turks in Arabia if the British would give them guns and would agree to establish an Arab State in place of the Ottoman Empire. This had initially been rejected, but now McMahon proceeded to establish communications with Hussein and the so-called "McMahon-Hussein" letters were exchanged. As a result of these letters, Hussein believed he had been given a commitment by the British that if they won the war against Turkey, then they would establish a large independent Arab State that would encompass all of Arabia and include Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine. However, the borders of such a state were deliberately left vague and Palestine was never actually mentioned in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence. Nevertheless, Hussein then initiated the Arab revolt and was given British guns and support, with Col. TE. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as his liason.

Of course, at roughly the same time the British Government was flirting with the Jewish establishment in Britain, to gain support for the British war effrort and to try to bring the US in on its side. The Chief Zionist negotiator on the Jewish Side was Chaim Weizmann, who had charmed his way into the upper echelons of the British Government, after having helped greatly in the British war effort (by developing a simple production method for acetone). Weizmann found that most of the British were anti-Semites, but when they said that the Jews were too powerful, he agreed with them and when they said the Jews controlled the US Government, he agreed with them. The logical conclusion was that to obtain US support the British needed the Jews, and to get their support Weizmann told them they needed to publicly support the rights of the Jewish people to Palestine. Thus the idea of the Balfour Declaration was broached. The US entered the war in June, 1917, however, Balfour would not release his letter until he received the tacit approval of US Pres. Wilson. When this was obtained the letter was sent to Lord Rothschild in Nov 1917.

While these essentially contradictory agreements were being made by the British, their representative, Sir Mark Sykes, was engaged in negotiations with the British ally in the war the French, whose diplomatic representative was Francois Picot. This led to the infamous secret protocol known as the Sykes-Picot Treaty, that essentially divided the Middle East between the two imperial powers, with scant concern for the commitments made to either the Arabs or the Jews. In the map drawn by Sykes and Picot there were two large spheres of influence, the northern tier consisting largely of Syria and Lebanon which would be under French rule and the southern tier streching from Palestine thru to Mesopotamia (Iraq) that would be under British rule. Although Arabia was intended to be given to the Arabs, in this map provision was made for both Syria and Iraq to be under Arabian rule, but with actual control by the colonial powers. It was envisioned that both these kingdoms would be allotted to the sons of Hussein, Feisal and Abdullah. On the Sykes-Picot map, Palestine itself was to be made a separate entity under direct British control.

As well as these double-crosses, the British Government, particularly PM Lloyd George, was trying at the same time to make a back channel agreement with the military rulers of Turkey, known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the Head of which was Jemal Pasha (the Caliph was merely a figurehead). Without going into details, Lloyd George and his colleagues tried through three routes to contact and make a deal with the CUP heads. The British Govt. were prepared to offer enormous bribes and to allow the Turks to remain in control of most of the Middle East. So they were promising the same land (which they did not yet control) to three groups. Luckily for the Jews these transactions foundered, and the British invaded Palestine from Egypt and conquered it in 1917. Based on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British were given a Mandate by the League of Nations (the precursor to the UN) in 1922 to administer Palestine until it could be transformed into a Jewish State. Britain unilaterally (and illegally) divided the Palestine Mandate in 1922 and split off the Arab State of Transjordan (now Jordan). This was done to reward Adbullah with a Kingdom, since the French reneged on their commitement to allow Syria to become an Arab Kingdom. Iraq was cobbled together by the British and given to Feisal as his Kingdom, under British "influence."

While these machinations were on-going, under pressure from the terrible conditions which the Jews suffered in Europe, the immigration of Jews into Palestine increased. This displeased the Arabs, and there was the Arab revolt of 1936, that was put down by the British Army. But, from then on the British Government did all it could to counter Zionist aspirations, from the "White Paper" of 1939 to the curtailment of visas that condemned hundreds of thousands of Jews to death in Nazi occupied Europe. Only when the Jews were prepared to fight the British and obtain the vote of the majority of the UN members for independence and then fight the Arabs, only then could the State of Israel be firmly established in 1948. From the Balfour Declaration until the establishment of the Jeiwsh State took 31 years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The National Unity Government

Ninety four, yes 94 votes is the size of the new Likud Government Coalition that includes Kadima under its new Chairman Shaul Mofaz. This is the largest Coalition ever in Israeli history, 94 out of 120 seats represents the largest majority of any Israeli Government. While many on the left are finding excuses to criticize Netanyahu and Mofaz, in fact this will probably be the stablest Government in Israeli history. And with the addition of Kadima, the Coalition is now more centrist in its politics, so that the favorite epithet of the media, namely "right-wing," can no longer accurately be applied to this Government.

There are four major subjects that the Coalition must now grapple with in the year and a half that the Government will still be in office. But, some of these items have earlier time limits:
1. The Tal Law. The current Tal Law on miltiary service runs out on July 1 and the Supreme Court has ruled that it must be replaced with a Law that is more equitable, so that not only the secular part of the population, but the Haredi (Ultra-orthodox) and Arab sectors will also be required to serve. Strictly it covers not only military service but a whole range of civil, social and educational services that are optional. Also, the exemptions for religious scholars must be reduced from the current level of ca. 40,000 to say 4,000 as a limit. This is something that will be negotiated within the Coalition between the secular parties (Kadima, Yisrael Beitanu) and the religious parties (Shas, United Torah Judaism), with PM Netanyahu playing the role of intermediary.
2. Electoral reform. Many Israeli Governments and parties have promised Electoral Reform but never delivered. The main problem with the Israeli system is that it is pure proportional representation, so that political parties control the Knesset and there is no direct representation of citizens. Some proportion of seats need to be assigned to constituency representation. This is one item in the Coalition agreement between Kadima and Likud, and it has been agreed that such reforms must be in place for the next election, one and a half years from now.
3. Social Justice. The "social justice" demonstrations that were a big feature of last summer and that caused the Government to establish the Trachtenberg Committee and to implement some of its proposals, are beginning again. The first small demonstrations were held last Sat evening, and we can expect more. What annoys me about these demonstrations is that this seems to be the left trying to circumvent the normal electoral process. The Government was elected; I and many other voters don't want to see a rabble of favorite leftist causes (remove poverty, more food for everyone, more jobs, more of everything) be implemented, as that will increase Government spending and put us in the same boat as Greece and other failing states. Let the Government rule, not the mob.
4. Iran. Noone knows for sure what will happen with Iran. Two things are fairly certain, Iran will not give up its weapons development program and the so-called negotiations that are currently underway between Iran and the US and its allies will fail as before. Also, the other certainty is that Israel cannot live with an Iran with a nuclear weapon. Many think that the Israeli Governent is bluffing, is only trying to convince the western nations and Iran that is is serious about attacking, but is really doing this only to get tougher sanctions. But, I think that Israel is deadly serious. There are predictions about when Israel might act, nominally when Iran reaches the critical point of producing a nuclear bomb. There are many guesses when that might happen, but it is most likely to be this Fall. Some have predicted that Israel will attack Iran after the results of the US election, especially if Barack Obama is reelected and the Israeli expectation is that he will not put more pressure on Iran and certainly will not attack Iran. Then Israel will be essentially forced to go it alone. Having Shaul Mofaz in the Cabinet, being a former Commander-in-Chief of the IDF, will expand the range of the Coalition and make it easier to come to such a momentous decision. That's why we have a Government of National Unity.

All these things portend great changes in the near future. If the Coalition Government does not deliver on these important issues then the subsequent political map of Israel cannot be predicted.

Note that there is no mention of the Palestinians or the peace process above. While the state of the Arab world around Israel is in flux, with Presidential elections in Egypt, a civil war in Syria, unrest in Lebanon and uncertainty in Iraq, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are ready for any kind of peace agreement. The recent exchange of letters between Israel and the PA is merely for time-saving and the optimistic comments of the Quartet representatives have nothing to do with reality.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Practices of Secret Jews: The Suffocators

In the third lecture in the series on the on the lives of the Secret Jews (Anusim) at Netanya College, Gloria Mound shared her wide knowledge of the subject with the audience. She covered many interesting aspects of birth, marriage and death, but one item that was particularly unusual stuck in my mind. In a journal in the Hebrew University library she found an article entitled "The Jews in Portugal from 1773 to 1902," by Cardozo de Bethencourt (The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol, 15, 1903 pp. 251-274) about the death of Anusim (Marranos) that described the practise of "suffocators" (abafadores).

These were men who as part of an organized group carried out the act of suffocation of Anusim when they were on their death-bed. When the family were sure that the person was dying, and before the priest arrived to administer the last rites of of the Church, they suffocated the person! This was not only to prevent them refusing the Sacraments or but in case they inadvertently said something that might have raised the priest's suspicion that they were unrepentent Jews, then the whole family could have been arrested by the Inquisition and been tortured until they confessed and then hung or burnt at the stake. So scared were they of the possibility of this terrible fate that dying Anusim were suffocated!

Similarly young children were never informed of their background until they were old enough to keep their mouths shut. Telling the priest or anyone about any custom of the family, such as lighting candles in the cellar, or not eating pork, or hiding special books written in Hebrew, could result in torture and death. Often it was servant girls who noticed some such customs and gave the family away. Such were the conditions under which the descendents of Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism lived. It was the same as Nazism, a Jew-hatred that attempted to extirpate all vestiges of Jews from Spain, Portugal and their colonies. It is not widely known that the Inquisition tortured and murdered thousands of Secret Jews in Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas. According to records many were deported back to higher Official Courts of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal for trial and sentencing.

Evidence that families of ostensibly devout Catholics were in fact Anusim hiding their Jewish origins are to be found on grave stones in Catholic cemetaries from Spain and Mallorca to New Mexico. They used flowers in which they had a hidden magen David (six-pointed star). Some grave-stones had Hebrew letters obscured in the design and others had two candlesticks or a covering resembling the tallit. Once dead, the Anusim held a shiva for seven days, but tried to appear normal during that period although they did not eat meat nor cook, but others brought them food.

Anusim often wrote the family events of births, marriages and deaths in their family bibles, in this way they could maintain and document their family heritage. Marriages were arranged when the children were infants, so that inter-marriage could be prevented and the family heritage could be preserved. In this way the family could fend off offers of marriage from others by saying that their children were betrothed and their marriage was already arranged. One way to tell Anusim from other Catholics is that they usually named their children after their grandparents, which is a Jewish custom, that Christians did not do. Also, although children were routinely baptized on the third day after birth, children of Ansim were also given a party on the eighth day that was called Hadas or Fadas and if discovered by the Inquisition was always seen as a positive sign of Jewish practice. Often the circumcision of a male child was performed far away from the birthplace to avoid discovery. Similarly there was a celebration of "the night of the bride" that corresponded to Jewish custom.

In these ways, over hundreds of years even unto today, the descendents of the Anusim or Secret Jews managed to retain their family customs, that many of them did not realize marked them as Jews.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Israeli crime

Israelis were shocked when last Sat night a young father in Beersheva, Gadi Vichman, called down to a group of very noisy teenagers to be quiet. His wife had called the police twice to complain as had other neighbors, but no police came. Finally since his baby daughter could not sleep he went down at 2 am to remonstrate with them. They were drunk and had been smashing bottles. They got into an argument with him and one of them stabbed him to death.

The police then came and during their investigation they found a woman's shoe. They manged to trace it to a girl who confessed to having been present and reenacted the crime for them. They got the names of most of the youths involved and arrested eight. FInally the stabber, Eden Ohion, 22, confessed and also reenacted the attack for them. A policewoman and an inspector, who had lied that they had responded to the earlier calls and had not found anything, have been suspended from the force. Israeli Police Chief Yochanan Danino said that they will all be treated very severely.

In general in Israel there are good laws, but lax enforcement. The police cannot be bothered to leave their cozy offices to respond to citizens' complaints. There was a similar situation in Netanya when a large group of youths gathered at a particular spot on Rehov Nitza on the cliff top and were rowdy and noisy. The police said they couldn't do anything unless they broke the law and they could make as much noise as they liked until 11 pm. This caused constant friction between the locals and the police, until the police started sending cruisers there every weekend night, until the group got the message.

Rami Saban, called the largest pimp in Israel, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for trafficking in women. He and four associates were found guilty of forcing women into prostitution, as well as slavery and mistreatment. Most of the young women came from Eastern Europe and were trafficked thru Turkey and Egypt. This has now become more difficult with the loss of control of the Sinai area by the Egyptian authorities and the building of a security fence along most of the Egypt-Israeli border.

In another case of sexual crimes, Moti Malka, the Mayor of a small town in the south, Kiryat Malachi (city of the angles or Los Angeles) and 8 others, have been arrested for forcing women to have sex with them at a private apartment. One of the women was a municipal worker and another was a single mother who received reduction in her city rates. By taking videos of the sex acts the group blackmailed the woment to continue. Further, the owner of the apartment was blackmailing the Mayor and others. Once the police found out about the illegal activities they recorded the ring in their acts and arrested the whole group. It is noteworthy that disgraced Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape, had previously been the Mayor of Kiryat Malachi.

One should point out that the situation in the Palestine Authority is far worse. The Governor of Jenin was just fired when he criticized the governance by Fatah and scores of Fatah activists were arrrested on charges of extortion, kidnapping, armed robbery, murder and rape. The above are only some of the prominent crimes in the news media in Israel now. What would the early Zionists have to say about these activities in Israel? Some of them would say we got what we wanted, Israel is a "normal" country.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hitler's mistakes

During Yom Hashoah there were many movies about the WWII period, including "Valkyrie," "Downfall," "The Wannsee Conference," etc. This set me to thinking about Hitler's early successes. I remember when I was a schooloboy arguing with my friends over whether or not Hitler was a military genius. Yes, we all judged him to be irretrievably evil, but were his military successes early in the war a sign of his military genius. Certainly he took advantage of the naievete and unpreparedness for war of the western democracies. But, given that he never rose above the level of corporal during WWI, was it expecting too much that he could also be a natural military commander?

What in fact were Hitler's mistakes that led to his ultimate defeat, notwithstanding the fact that he had a huge army, excellent weapons and great generals at his disposal?

1. His major mistake was to attack Russia on the eastern front in June, 1941 in Operation Barbarossa. This was due to his arrogance, the kind of arrogance that leads someone to believe that he is invincible, that he can overrule his generals time after time and always be right. After suffering a defeat by the RAF in the "Battle of Britain" and not being able to invade Britain, he turned his attention to Soviet Russia. But, Germany did not have the industrial and military capability to wage all out war on two major fronts. Stalin was taken by surprise, partly because no serious military analyst would have advised this attack and he disbelieved his intelligence sources warning him of the attack. Also, by delaying the attack and being held up by Russian resistance, Hitler's forces were completely ill-equipped to fight a winter campaign in the Russian hinterland. The Russians had plenty of space into which to withdraw, leading Hitler's armies into a trap. Ultimately, the attack on Russia more than anything else spelled doom for the Third Reich.

2. In the Battle of Britain, the fact that the German fighters did not have the capability to protect their bombers all the way to Britain and back spelled defeat for the German bombing campaign. The RAF spitfires were excellent and maneuverable and their pilots were brave and resourceful. Leaving this Battle in the hands of Field Marshall Goering was a huge error, he was incapable and incompetent. Goering allowed the bulk of the British and French armies to escape Dunkirk in May, 1940 to fight another day. Losing the Battle of Britain from July-October, 1940, was indeed the beginning of the end for Hitler, although at the time few realized that. When the Luftwaffe transferred its attention from airfields and military installations to civilian targets, including the major cities of Britain, this was a major mistake. Instead of crippling the RAF who were on the point of collapse, this gave them breathing space to recover and although civilians were killed, the morale of the British people was not broken, on the contrary they rallied to the cause. (Similarly, when the Allies bombed German cities, although the massive destruction undoubtedly led to the fall of Germany, industrial production under Albert Speer, Min. of Armaments, actually increased during the bombing campaign.)

3. The major success of the German "blitzkreig" was the traversal of the Ardenne forests in 1939 to outflank the Maginot Line that defended France. Although Hitler claimed that this was his idea, actually it was proposed by tank commander Gen. Guderian. Hitler's order to stop Guderian's panzer divisions before they reached Dunkirk, and also the order to stop his tanks when they had taken Smolensk and were poised to continue to Moscow, were major errors.

4. The distraction during the war of using perhaps a million men involved in the campaign to eradicate the Jews of Europe undoubtedly reduced the capacity of the German forces to wage war. After the Wannsee Conference of Jan, 1942, huge resources were put into construction of the camps, rounding up the Jews of Europe, transporting them to the camps and guarding them. Although this campaign was a major war aim of the Nazis, if they had used Jewish labor more efficiently and then won the war, they could then have totally eliminated the Jews at their leisure.

5. The Germans were perhaps not aware of the Japanese secret attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. This was a major mistake in that it gave Pres. Roosevelt the excuse to declare war not only on Japan, but also on Germany. Once fresh American troops began flooding into Britain and then into the European theater of war, the end for Hitler was in sight. Also, no German strength could have defeated the revived industrial power and manpower of the Russians.

6. In the battle for Stalingrad, 1942-3, Hitler showed characteristic disdain for the lives of his soldiers. He ordered Gen. Paulus to remain in position and fight to the last man, when a strategic withdrawal could have saved many German soldier's lives to fight again. As it was, Paulus was forced to surrender and his remaining forces were taken captive as POWs and many of them perished in Siberia.

7. The main tank battle of WWII, the Kursk salient in July 1943, was won by the Russians because the Germans failed to realize that they were being surrounded in a huge pincer movement by Russian tank forces. This loss led to the ultimate defeat of the Germans on the eastern front.
(Note: these are my list of Hitler's mistakes, anyone can come up with a completely different listing.)

Although in retrospect the defeat of Germany now seems inevitable, Hitler's victory seemed very close in 1941-2. He occupied most of Europe, his military had not received any major defeats, and he was in an expansionist mode. It was only the loss in the Battle of Britain in 1940 that stymied his plans in the west, followed by the American-led invasion of D-Day in 1944 and the defeat of his Panzer divisions in the east, culminating in the battle of Kursk in 1943, that doomed his campaign for German domination.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Political bombshell

In a bombshell surprise about-face, PM Netanyahu cancelled the planned Israeli elections and instead announced in a joint press conference a new coalition with the Kadima Party. Shaul Mofaz, former C-in-C of the IDF and the recently elected Head of the Party in place of Tzipi Livni, is a politician who loves power. He did what most party leaders want to do, he formed an alliance with Netanyahu's government in order to become Deputy PM and share some of the power. Although Livni remained aloof from previous offers by Netanyahu, preferring to be the leader of the opposition, her party members became increasingly disillusioned with her passive and detached approach.

Why did Netanyahu decide on this step? Because he was faced with the breakdown of his current coalition, which includes both secular and religious parties. He could see that the matters that were forcing the election, namely the Tal Law on military deferment and the treatment of already constructed settlement outposts, would cause great dissension during the election campaign. The Supreme Court has ruled on both issues and required the Government to take steps to resolve the issues very soon. By making his coalition wider by including actually the largest Knesset Party, Kadima (28 seats), Netanyahu can now ensure that his policies and bills will be approved by the Knesset, irrespective of what the religious parties decide, either to vote against and/or to leave his coalition. A major policy for Kadima is also electoral reform and the new coalition partners have made that a plank in their agreement. This decision also avoids what many see as an unnecessary and financially wasteful election campaign.

The biggest winner in this situation is Netanyahu, who strengthens his hold on power without needing to go to the electorate. Clearly Mofaz is also a winner, because without an election, in which Kadima was expected to lose many seats, he quickly becomes Deputy PM. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also a winner because he retains his position for another year and a half, while if there had been an election his Independence Party was expected to lose all representation in the Knesset. FM Liberman is a winner because Netanyahu is expected to propose policies that have the support of his right-wing Israel Beitanu Party. The main losers are Shelly Yachimovich, the recently elected head of the Labor Party, who will become the lonely leader of the opposition, and Yair Lapid, who launched his new "Yesh Atid" (there is a future) Party, expecting to gain support in the now-postponed election (he should change the name of his party to "maybe no future"). The right wing of Likud, led by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, are also losers because they now cannot challenge Netanyahu in the Likud.

Although this new coalition is not a wall-to-wall coalition it is has been called a National Unity Government and comes at a time when feasibility plans are definitely under consideration for attacking the nuclear facilties in Iran. Such an epic attack would require general agreement across the political spectrum, and in effect Netanyahu has maneuvered himself into a position to obtain this. Quite a brilliant political move.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Crossing the Rubicon

I recently finished watching a TV series entitled "Rubicon," that made an impression on me. It was oringally released by AMC and shown in the US in 2010 and is modelled on 1970 conspiracy films such as "Three Days of the Condor" and "All the President's Men." While many people might think it slow and cerebral, I found it fascinating.

The Rubicon is a river outside Rome. The armies of Rome were always kept marshalled on the other side of the Rubicon from Rome by order of the Senate for fear they might be used to usurp power from the Republic. The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" means making an irreparable decision, since once a general took his army across the Rubicon it meant that he was attacking Rome, as Julius Caesar did in 49 bce.

The series focuses on an organization with the ambigious name American Policy Institute (API) housed in an unobtrusive building in Manhattan and the lives and work of some of its employees. API is in fact a secret US Government intelligence branch whose job is to analyze information from many sources and to track enemies of the USA, particularly terrorists. When the series starts, one of the analysts named Will Travers notices the unusual fact that several major newspapers had the same clues in their crossword puzzles that day. He considers this to be a deliberate signal, but he does not know for what. He shares this information with his boss and father-in-law David, who talks to others about it without letting on that it was Will who brought this to his attention and the next day David is killed, supposedly in an accident.

Will does not consider this a coincidence. Will is promoted to David's job and follows this clue up secretly. In doing so he reveals that there is a major manipulation of secret information going on for financial gain by a group of men who have formed a commercial consortium. Whenever there is a terrorist incident they gain financially by knowing in advance what will happen, for example if there is an attack on a gasoline refinery, the price of oil will go up, and they will gain significantly. They move from gaining from events to manipulating events.

It takes Will some time to realize that the information his group is being fed is deliberately slanted to make them come to certain conclusions, usually the wrong conclusions. In this way his group of analysts are kept busy tracking a terrorist named Khateb, who it turns out is not at all what they think he is. How Khateb and the crossword puzzle clues and the deaths and suicides of several people link together is the main thread of the story. In the last few episodes the threat of terrorism in the US becomes very real. Let's hope the US intelligence analysts are not being manipulated for real as they are in this well constructed plot.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Alien washing

Our washing machine is making an unusual noise, something between a hum and a rhythmic undulation. It sounds like men sawing wood in a forest. My wife thinks its unnatural. I think the washing machine is signaling to aliens. I began to be concerned when a group of people gathered below our window and began looking skyward. Some of them knelt and they were muttering or maybe praying.

I decided to end this situation, so I went to pull the plug on it, but I could not pull it out. Instead I received a mild shock, as if to tell me to leave well alone but not enough to hurt me. I am sure the clothes inside are very clean by now, so why won't the machine quit. Is it sending messages and attracting aliens from a distant galaxy, or is it signaling that it is in distress? Will they come in peace or attack? "Honestly (I'm practicing my speech) I had nothing to do with it, I always give it the best care and called the best servicemen." Then I had an idea, why not call one now, since this is indeed an emergency.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that I went to the dentist the day before. He drilled so far into my upper tooth that I think he hit my brain. I asked him politely to avoid the corpus callosum, that's where higher decision making takes place, but he ignored my pleas and put in an even longer drill. He promised it wouldn't hurt, and it didn't, because the brain itself does not have nerves. But, I could tell he had hit the brain because the charge was large enough to include brain surgery.

I am telling you this to liven up the very serious atmosphere in Israel. Mind you, the aliens, when they arrived were not at all threatening, although they transported the washing machine technician. And my ability to use higher order logic has not been impaired as you can tell by my other blogs. Also, I have some very clean clothes.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Israel, good and bad

Israel is a democracy, an open society, where everything is discussed and commented on. Two items in the news caught my attention that exemplify the degree of openness of our society.

At a performance of the play "Ghetto" by Joshua Sobol at the Cameri Theater last week, a group of high school students not only disrupted the performance, but were cheering the Nazis! Yes, these were Israeli youths at a performance of a play about the Shoah in Israel. Now it must be said that this play has been performed dozens of times for schools and no such reaction occured. But, in this case the situation was so extreme that several pupils were removed from the audience by teachers, but many more were not. In the end, one of the actors came on stage representing the cast and told the audience that they were ashamed of their reaction and insulted by their insensitivity and ignorance. Several of the actors who are children of Holocaust survivors were brought to tears by this incident. The Minister of Education, Gideon Sa'ar, issued a statement saying that we have much further to go to educate our children to the meaning of the Shoah. Many comments have been made in the Israeli media about this shocking incident.

An Israeli Arab politician, Sarhan Bader, from a village in Israel, has announced that he has decided to form a new party called the Arab-Israeli Nationalist Party to specifically represent the interests of the Israeli Arabs. The Party will not concern itself with the interests of the Palestinian Arabs, who are not Israeli citizens. He stated what is well known, that up until now all Arab MKs have been highly politicized and have been anti-Israel in their views and actions. He pointed out that most Arab MKs have been pro-Qaddafi, pro-Assad and have been more involved with promoting a Palestinian State than representing the interests of their constituents in Israel. He believes that he can get more support for Israeli Arabs and can improve relations between Israeli Arabs and Jews by forming this Party. He hopes to represent those Arabs who want to have peaceful coexistence with their Jewish neighbors. True Arab involvement in Israel's democracy has never really happened so far. This may represent a watershed in Israeli politics, if the Arabs begin to use the coalition Government system in Israel as the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews have done. PM Netanyahu called this a positive development.

Events like these that don't fall into the standard view that most westerners have of Israel can confound the politics of the Israel haters.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Dagan and Diskin - double trouble

Who are the terrible twins of Israeli politics? Dagan and Diskin! Meir Dagan was Head of Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, until he was forced to resign last year. Yuval Diskin was Head of Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, until he was also terminated. Now both of them are publicly criticizing PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who were their bosses until a few months ago.

Israeli law prohibits them from taking jobs in any capacity for a year that could jeopardize their former access to state secrets. But, apparently it does not prevent them from making inflammatory statements that not only disparage the two leaders of Israel's government, but are also calculated to undermine Israel's primary policies regarding Iran and the Palestinians. It is utterly amazing that these two former Israeli heads of the secret services would be so cavalier in their statements that they could put Israel's future in danger.

Dagan has gone on record questioning the sanity of Netanyahu and Barak threatening to attack Iran over its nuclear weapons program. Most commentators agree that Iran does have such a program and that it is unacceptable to Israel and the US for Iran to bring that program to a successful completion. If Iran had nuclear weapons then the fundamentalist regime in Iran could use them to wipe out Israel. But, Netanyahu (and Obama) has been at pains to stress the need for "crippling" sanctions on Iran, although "all possibilities are on the table." Last Friday Diskin stated that Netanyahu and Barak are guided by "messianic" impulses that call into question their commitment to Israel's real interests. In other words they are merely scare-mongers and war-mongers deliberately manipulating the situation to their own political ends. But, how could these two apparatchiks, who served these same political bosses for years, have suddenly discovered that they are not pursuing policies that are in Israel's interests. Why didn't they resign years ago?

It is evident that these two pseudo-politicians, who are both upset at having been fired by Netanyahu, are trying to get even. It is they who appear to be on the verge of insanity and self-delusion. What they have done in undermining the Governments policies towards Iran especially is not merely freedom of speech, it is tantamount to treason. Why were they given a forum by the Jerusalem Post at its jamboree in New York, why were they allowed to spew this political garbage. They should be arrested on their return to Israel and be tried for treason.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Course on the Anusim

Gloria Mound, Senior Adviser to the Intl. Inst. for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) at Netanya Academic College (NAC) and Exec. Dir. of Casa Shalom is giving a series of four lectures in a series entitled "Undercover Jews, how the customs of the Anusim helped them retain a Jewish identity." The lectures were given in the new Leslie (z"l) and Gloria Mound Library in the NAC. This is an interim summary of her lectures after session 2.

Session 1 was a general session referring to the basic background of the Anusim, identifyung Jewish names and specific family customs. The name "Anusim" in Hebrew means "forced" and indeed nearly all the secret Jews (or Marranos) were forced to convert to Catholic Christianity. The edict of expulsion was signed on April 31, 1492 and three months after that date no Jews were allowed to live in Spain. It is estimated that there were ca. 350,000 Jews then living in Spain of which approximately half were expelled and remained as Sephardic (Spanish) Jews who spoke mainly Ladino (a dialect of old Spanish) and spread all around the Mediterranean to N. Africa, Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, the Holy Land and Holland. Ca. 80,000 Jews also went to Portugal, where most of them were expelled or forcibly converted after the massacre in Lisbon in 1505. The Ladino languasge went with them to places like the Caribbean and S. America and is stll widely used today. It was one of the most important clues to show a family’s Jewish origin.

The other half were forced to convert and were spread around Spain, but were still discriminated against and known as "conversos" or "New Christians." Those that continued secretly to practise the Jewish religion did so at the risk of their lives, for it was a capital offense to practise Judaism or to "Judaize", i.e. to say anything positive about Judaism. Further, possession of Hebrew books or manuscripts was a capital offense. Although the Inquisition tried to stamp out all traces of Judaism, and enrich the Church and the State of Spain by murdering former Jews and their descendents and confiscating their wealth, nevertheless they were not completely successful. Many still adhered to family customs that in time had little meaning for them, such as lighting candles in the cellar, or brushing the dirt away from the door (to avoid the mezuzah, that they did not have on their door) or fasting on certain days of the year. But, in some families the reasons for the origins of these customs was remembered and furthermore, in some cases, Jewish families only intermarried with other Jewish families, even over 500 years!

The depredations of the Inquisition caused many "New Christians" to scatter throughout the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world, to such places as the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera), Recife in Brazil, the Caribbean Islands, northern Mexico and New Mexico. In the Iberian Peninsula there were a few places where forcibly converted Jews still managed to practice Judaism such as in the mountainous north of Portugal in Belmonte, where they now openly have a synagogue.

Gloria and her husband Leslie lived for three years In Ibiza and Majorca researching the subject of the secret Jews. One of her most interesting findings was that there are only ca. 15 families in Majorca that have inter-married throughout the centuries. Since they speak Catalan there they call the conversos "Chuetas" and the "old" Christians will still not inter-marry with them for fear of being tainted by their blood. In 1693 a group of "converso" descendents were arrested in Majorca for celebrating a Jewish festival, and three of them were burnt at the Stake. These were among the hundreds who were similarly torutured and executed over a period of hundreds of years. The whole situation is very parallel with the treatment of the Jews under Nazi Germany. In fact, 12,000 Spaniards died in Matthausen concentration camp, and many of them were Anusim.

In session 2, Gloria played some of the songs sung by the Anusim, all of which were devoid of religious content, but can be read as metaphors for God's love. The specific form of the Romanceros, love songs, is now thought to have largely originated from Jewish sources (see the work of Frank Talmage, British author of the 19th century). It is striking that Anusim and Sephardim throughout the world often know the same songs and poems. In one case Gloria found that the first inkling that a family from Brazil was of Jewish origin was that they knew a certain song. It was only after much coaxing that the grandmothers both admitted their Jewish origins. By tracing their families back for 300 years, Gloria was able to confirm their Jewish identity and the granddaughter was accepted as Jewish by the Israeli Rabbinate and was able to marry and live in Israel.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Tal Law and its consequences

The Tal law is named after Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal, who was the Chairman of a Committee established in 1999 to investigate the situation of unequal enlistment in the IDF for Haredi (ultra-orthodox) and Arab citizens of Israel. This situation arose because at the beginning of the State, many Haredim and Arabs were declared exempt from military service. But, this had grown into a clear distinction between those two groups and other societal groups. The recommendations of the Tal Committee were enshrined in law by the Knesset in 2002.

But, the law failed to result in increased induction of either exempt group. SInce the law had to be reviewed after 5 years, it has come up for reconsideration. Several groups, particularly secular organizations have appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds of discrimination and indeed the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Tal Law as it stands is unconstitutional. Therefore, the Government is faced with the need to promulgate a substitute law that in order to adhere to the Supreme Court's ruling, must be non-discriminatory. In other words, all groups secular, Haredi and Arabs must be treated equally in relation to induction into the IDF.

This is a problematical issue, since the Haredi parties in the Government coalition, including Shas and Torah Judaism, are against extending compulsory induction to the religious. They threaten to bolt the coalition and bring down the Government if their constitutency is not protected. They believe that religious young men should be in the yeshiva, not in the military. There are some on the right who also oppose the equal inclusion of the Arab sector because they fear their capacity for sabotage and refusal to fight against their Arab brethren. It should be noted that Druze and Beduin Arabs have been exemplary citizens in their service in the IDF. Also, the Arabs and others can participate in medical, administrative and educational service.

Since the introduction of a Tal Law replacement is so divisive and controversial, it is thought that Benjamin Netanyahu may make this an issue in his future platform of the Likud Party. In order to do so he will have to call for early elections. A possible date for an early election has been given as Sept. 4, this year. There are several other issues that might make this likely; Shaul Mofaz has just taken over as head of the Kadima Party from Tzipi Livni, and he is far more inclined to join a colation with Likud rather than remain in opposition. Also, the Labor Party has chosen a new head Shelly Yachimovich, and Netanyahu would probably like to show that he can beat her.

The results of a recent poll carried out for the Jerusalem Post indicate that if an election were to be held today, Likud under Netanyahu would double its representation to 31 seats, Labor would gain a few at 15, Kadima would lose a few and Yisrael Beitanu under FM Lieberman would gain a few. The big losers would be the Independence (Atzmaut) Party of Ehud Barak, that split from Labor, that would gain no seats, and the far left Meretz that would receive only 3 seats. The religious (Haredi) parties would also lose votes. If these results stand after an election then Netanyahu might be able to form a new coalition with Kadima instead of Shas, and hence be able to introduce a new law that would equalize compulsory miltiary service for all citizens. This would be a revolutionary step in Israel.