Friday, June 29, 2012

Inside Israel

I saw the documentary film "Israel Inside," subtitled "how a small nation makes a big difference," produced by Jerusalem Online and  narrated by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a very engaging personality, who was previously a lecturer at Harvard University on subjects such as positive psychology.  This is a very positive view of Israel, without any mention of politics or conflict. For those who are interested in or who are supportive of Israel this is a great movie, because it shows the many important contributions of Israelis and their positive attitudes towards life and innovation.  In other words it is preaching to the converted. 
For those who oppose or are wary of Israel this kind of "soft" propaganda (hasbara) will have little or no effect.  For example, I wrote to a Jewish (left-wing) friend of mine in England about the IDF medical corps contribution in Haiti after the earthquake there, that was mentioned in the film and that saved many lives.  His comment was "they did if for political reasons."  There is no persuading these type of people with this kind of information, because by default they discount any such data with their preconceived views and for them this is all pro-Israel propaganda that is selected so as to avoid the truly terrible aspects of Israel that includes mistreatment and occupation of the Palestinians. 
The film is truly an excellent description of Israelis and why they are so productive.  It covers all the good subjects, the electric cars of Better Place, drip irrigation, the mechanical legs that allow paraplegics to walk, etc. And it describes the so-called chutzpah and engagement in controversy of Israelis and their reduced fear of failure, that paralyzes such nations as Germany and Japan.  But, no emphasis on positive contributions "to humanity" nor the persuasive talking heads of Allen Dershowitz or Nir Barkat will make any difference to those who we need to reach.  I suggest that in order to do that we need an entirely different approach.  It is easy to pontificate, but here is an example.  Take a quote from Jesus or the Bible such as "the lame shall walk", make a 60 second video entitled with this quote.  Show people who are bed-ridden and in wheel-chairs, then show one of them standing and walking and running in the London marathon, and then write in big letters, "product of Israel."  No talking heads, no persuasion that we are right or that we are real humanitarians, just the visceral impact of the fact.  And I bet you could make ten of these for a fraction of the cost of the movie.  What we need is for one of these to go "viral" on the internet.  That's the way to do it! 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shuffle concert and sherbert

There are many different ways one can take one's music. One new way is a "shuffle concert."  We had the experience of a shuffle concert at the final performance of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra concert series, which unfortunately was really the last one, since the Herzliya municipality has decided to close it down.  We said goodbye to Harvey Bordowitz, who was the life and soul of this musical adventure that lasted 31 years.

So what is a shuffle concert?  Each member of the audience is given a number and the slogan is "you choose, they play."  There is an ensemble on stage and the emcee reads out a number and then the lucky person whose number is called gets to choose a piece of music from a list of ca. 40 pieces.  To prevent everyone choosing the same kind of music the list is broken down into categories, such as Classical, Jazz, Broadway, Baroque, Pop, Romantic, etc.  There are three entries in each category and once a piece has been chosen from a category, no other piece can be selected from the same category.  This led to a lively and entertaining concert, put on by the 6 musicians of the Shuffle Ensemble, an American group with some Israeli members (for further information see

Examples of what was played were: Piazzola's Libertango (an exciting piece); Bach, concerto for oboe and violin; Schumann, romance for oboe and piano; Mozart, trio for violin, cello and piano; Gershwin, Porgy & Bess; Chicago, "when you're good to Mama" (an excellent "torch song"); Prokofieff, Sonata for cello and piano; Puccini, La Boheme; Sting, "the shape of my heart," for a total of 12 pieces, plus a jazzy encore.  Some people who like to hear long symphonies or who like to know in advance what they are going to hear, would not appreciate this type of concert, because the pieces are relatively short and the content is unpredictable.  Yet, there was a good mix of genres and the excellent musical capabilities of the members of the ensemble made it a very enjoyable experience.  The four female members of the ensemble were all attractive and wore brightly colored dresses, each a different color, and the soprano Mary McKenzie was great.  The emcee who was Israeli, Eliran Avni, was also an outstanding pianist. 

Ironically, even though the Herliya municipality is closing down their chamber orchestra, the Netanya municipality last year started a new concert series in Netanya's concert hall in agreement with the Kibbutz chamber orchestra.  So we have switched to that for next year. It will be even less distance to travel, so that makes it worthwhile, and I am told that their standard is also very high.

Last week we also went to a "Sherbert with Schubert" piano recital given by the gifted piantist Dr. Jacobowitz, who visits Israel every year from Texas and gives charity concerts for Laniado Hospital.  This time he chose Schubert and played and discussed four Schubert sonatas. They are beautiful gems of music.  In the interval we had unlimited amounts of sherbert, and of course, truth be told, I went for that. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Out of the box

This letter appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 20 June, 2012:
I have a modest proposal for the Israeli Government that could kill two birds with one stone.  Instead of the African immigrants settling in Tel Aviv, which is so grossly overcrowded that we don't want more Jewish immigrants to settle there, why not instead settle the Africans on the West Bank.  Israel has the legitimate right to build there and who could complain about allowing Black immigrants, most of whom are refugees fleeing war and poverty, from settling there.  This way they could have their own communities, yet benefit Israel by being on the West Bank.  Why would the Palestinians complain about this, they would be helping suffering humanity and most of the Africans are Muslims anyway.  Why not have the UN support this, surely UNRWA could afford to do so from the billions of dollars it gets in aid, to provide some support for these African refugees. By thinking out of the box we could solve two problems in one go.
Jack Cohen
I offer this idea as one that is "out of the box" and therefore not likely to be taken up by any Government agency of official. Here is another idea, instead of demolishing buildings built on private Arab land, why not offer them at a discounted price to Arab residents.  This would build goodwill and compensate the owner of the land.  It is considered illegal for Israel to build on private Arab land without agreement or payment.  But, most of the land on the West Bank was government-controlled land during the British Mandate and passed to Israel when it became the sovereign (although some do not recognize that transfer).  Therefore, Israel can build on the large tracts of government-owned land, where all the major settlements are located.  The six buildings to be demolished in the Ulpana outpost, will be rebuilt at the adjacent settlement of Beit El and all the families will be relocated there.  They have accepted this deal and no conflict is expected when they are required to move.
Another idea is for Israel to subsidize the development of solar farms to produce electricity that can be fed into the national grid after local uses are satisfied.  These solar farms will be needed to reduce dependence on imports of carbon dioxide-producing fuels such as coal and oil.  There is no end of out-of-the-box ideas if one puts one's mind to it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Demonstration against Putin

Pres, Putin of Russia visited Israel for 2 days.  He came for scheduled meetings with Israeli Government officials and to emphasize Russian influence, but he also came to Netanya today (Monday) to dedicate a memorial to the 13 million fighters of the Red Army in WWII, of whom ca. 500,000 were Jeiwsh.  This memorial consists of two huge white sculpted marble dove wings that rise together towards the sky just near the cliff top overlooking the sea.  Of course, Putin has been given all due honor and consideration as befits the head of a friendly State.  But, I attended a small demonstration against Putin.
This demo was organized by Jonathan Friedler, who obtained a legal permit from the Netanya Municipality.  When I arrived there were only a few people and altogether we were only about 12-15 demonstraters.  We were sent by the police into the middle of a field  behind a building and behind the memorial, and so could not see it, and certainly could not be seen by Putin.  I carried a sign with the slogan "Putin = Assad".  Others carried signs pointing out Putin's own bad acts, including the murder by radioactivity in London of his Russian opponent Alexander Litvinenko and imprisonment and murder of several journalists. 
My motivation in opposing Putin is that he is the major supporter of Pres. Assad of Syria, and as such is responsible not only for thousands of Syrian deaths, but also for preventing concerted international action against the Assad regime and for the continuing death and destruction in Syria.  While I am not a proponent of the Syrian opposition, I would like to see Assad toppled, for that would be a clear defeat for Iran, our mortal enemy, since Syria is Iran's main ally and the conduit for their arms shipments to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  Now with the election of a Muslim Brotherhood President in Egypt, it is quite likely that Hamas will switch its connections from the Iran-Syria Shia axis to the Egyptian Sunni one.  But, nevertheless, a removal of Syria from the Iranian camp would be a major defeat for Iran and Putin is the main player standing in the way of this outcome.  I hope Putin leaves Israel with that word of advice ringing in his ears, let Assad fall!  It may be a defeat for Russia in that its influence in Syria and the Mediterranean area would be reduced and it would lose its only warm water port in Latakia, but it would also come into confluence with the rest of the international community.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Islam and democracy

We are used to saying that there is no democracy in the Arab world.  Among Muslims as a whole there is Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia that are more-or-less democratic.  Pakistan plays at democracy, but doesn't usually succeed.  After the so-called Arab spring, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have had democratic elections, but none of them have yet developed really democratic and transparent institutions.  Now in Egypt, after a long process of voting, the first apparently democratic election has taken place and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi has been elected President of Egypt by a slim majority (3.4%).  He is the first President elected in Egyptian history.
There are two potential drawbacks to this apparent advance: First, Mursi represents the Muslim Brotherhood and is likely to follow a strong Islamic course.  This means that women will have to be covered in public, etc., etc.  However, he has pledged in his speeches so far to represent all Egyptians, so maybe he won't be so severe, we'll see.  Second, the military still controls the power in Egypt and by abrogating the previous parliamentary election and arrogating to themselves the right to promulgate laws, they have to some extent stripped power from the President.  So now we may see either a tussle between the two forces or a rapprochement between them.  The military will continue to control the Defense and Finance Ministries, while other social areas will come under civilian control.  This may be good for Israel and the West since it will allow the military to modulate the Islamist's power and prevent any major change in the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty.  But, that may be wishful thinking.  A lot depends on whether or not the Egyptian military chooses to try to take control of Sinai or leaves it in a state of chaos, with terrorists freely able to attack Israel.  If this is the case, eventually Israel will be forced to strike back.
Beyond the fact that an Islamist was elected as the first Preisdent of Egypt, the question arises "is Arab Islam compatible with true democracy?"  By "true democracy" I mean transparent institutions, freedom of speech and of the press, an independent judiciary, protection of civil rights including women and protection of minorities (in Egypt that principally means the Coptic Christians).  Until now most people would have answered "no" to that question, but now we must wait and see.  Perhaps it will take more than a generation to find out the answer.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grimace and bear it

The incredible number of 130 missiles were fired into Israel last week.  Over the weekend another 23 were fired, and five were intercepted by the Iron-dome anti-missile system.  Many were fired by Hamas and by other groups, including Islamic Jihad and another smaller pro-Al Qaeda group.  So far miraculously noone was killed, but there was much property damage and several people were injured or shocked.  As Ron Prosor the Israeli UN Ambassador said when he lodged a formal complaint with the UN, these rockets are making life impossible for over a million Israelis.  What is the reason for this sudden upsurge?  Some think it was because Hamas was celebrating the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the Egyptian presidential election.  But, so far the election result has not been announced and anything can happen there.  Meanwhile, as if to show the nature of their attack, Hamas announced that they are ready to restore the ceasefire with Israel under Egyptian sponsorship.
The IDF went into readiness mode and although they launched some counter-attacks that killed five active rocket firers in Gaza, there is no expectation that Israel will seek to expand the response.  This is because of the delicate situation in Egypt.  Even though Israel is also being attacked from Sinai, Israel does not want to retaliate in strength because of the delicate balance in Egypt.  It appears as if the military are finessing the election results in order to retain ultimate power.  Israel does not want to do anything that might be seen as strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood, such as a large miltiary reaction in Gaza that might result in an upsurge of anti-Israel feelings in Egypt.  So Israel must grimace and bear it for the time being.  IDF Chief Benny Gantz met with his staff and discussed the situation, but very likely his military response will be determined by the political situation.  The general Israeli policy is violence will be met with vioence but quiet with quiet.
Meanwhile a Turkish fighter jet was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire over the Mediterranean sea.  Both Turkey and Syria confirm this incident, but so far the Turkish Government has been non-commital about their response.  They want to investigate the circumstances of what happened, where the plane was located when it was downed, before they make an irrevocable dangerous decision.  They could decide to counter-attack and/or declare war of Syria or they could just admit that their plane was in the wrong place and should not have been there.  But, national pride being what it is, they take a dim view of this incident, particularly because they have very hostile relations with the Assad regime in Syria, that until now has killed ca. 15,000 civilians in over a year.  Perhaps Bashar Assad is going for the record to beat his father, Hafez Assad's total of over 20,000 killed in Homs in 1985. Like father, like son.  All the killing has angered Turkey that now has an estimated 500,000 Syrian refugees along its 500 mile border with Syria, as well as a further 150,000 in Jordan.  Turkey may take into account the fact that that the UN initiative under Ban ki-Moon to monitor the situation has totally floundered.  If Turkey were to undertake military action it might try to bring in NATO, of which it is a member, but it also would take the risk of angering its bigger neighbor Russia that is an ally of the Syrian dictator.  Together with the Iranian situation, the Middle East teeters once again on the cusp of a complex unpredictable mess.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Carmel Fire Report

The Israeli State Comptroller, Micha Lidenstrauss, has issued his special Report on the Carmel Forest Fire of 2010 that killed 44 people.  That it was a national tragedy is unquestionable, that the fire services of Israel were totally unprepared for such an emergency is accepted.  However, who was really responsible for that sorry state of affairs?
According to this Report, those principally responsible were the Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.  This is a very serious accusation and has resulted in major headlines throughout Israel.  The Report distinguishes between operational responsibility and political responsibility.  As far as the operational aspects are concerned, it is clear that the fire-fighting establishment was not "integrated" so that communications were difficult if not impossible.  Further, safety precautions were not followed, so that a Commander of the Haifa district was driven into the heart of the fire following a bus full of cadets and they were cut-off and surrounded by the fire and all perished.  This was a brave but doomed attempt to reach other cut-off facilities, including the local prison. 
Certainly one of the issues that was revealed by the response to the fire was a lack of equipment.  Israel then had no planes to drop water or retardent on the fires and lacked essential communications equipment.  But, that was not the main problem, the main problem was lack of foresight and planning for such dangerous eventualities.  Noone was prepared, and this fault is laid at the feet of the main political appointees responsible, namely the Ministers.  It is concluded that Eli Yishai in his role of Interior Minister failed to take any actions to ensure that the fire-fighting services under his jurisdiction were capable of responding effectively to such emergencies in order to protect Israel and its citizens.  Yuval Steinitz as Finance Minister was responsible for preventing the fire-fighting services from receiving sufficient funding that could have allowed it to plan for and have appropriate equipment for fighting such serious fires.  PM Netanyahu also comes in for his share of criticism.
However, political appointees such as these can always state, as they have done, that such a situatioin was not foreseeable and that there is insufficient funds to support the IDF, the Homeland Security forces, and so on and so on.  Since the fire, and followng Knesset investigations and recommendations, many things have been changed.  Funding for the fire services has been increased, communications have been improved, Israel now has several fire-fighting planes and the fire-fighters themselves have learned valuable lessons, but at great cost .  In a way, the typical flippant Israeli response to such emergencies, "yihiye b'seder" or "everything will be alright," has been shown to be fatally flawed.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Israel's legitimacy

During this era of attempts to delegitimize Israel, one wonders how many people know of the modern history that gave rise to the legitimate Jewish state of Israel.  The founding event is considered to be the Balfour Declaration, a statement issued in 1917 by British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour indicating that the British Government would aid in the formation of a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine.
In reading "The Balfour Declaration," an excellent new detailed analysis by Jonathan Schneer, one realizes that the crux of the Balfour Declaration was not so much that the Zionists received a written guarantee from the British Government, but that the Arabs did not, they received no such written document.  Yes, they received vaguely worded commitments from British officials in Cairo, notably in letters from the Consul General Sir Henry McMahon to Sherif Hussein of Mecca and oral commitments from such luminaries as TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), but they never actually obtained a specific written document from the British Government regarding the disposition of Ottoman territories to the Arabs after WWI, as the Zionists did. 
In any case, the commitments of the British Government were hardly worth the paper they were written on.  Successive British Governments made contradictory commitments to three groups to obtain their support during the difficult days of trench warfare on the western front during WWI, including attempts to make a separate peace with the Turks behind the backs of the Zionists and Arabs which would have left the Turkish flag flying in what they considered their territories.  But, the British also intended to keep those lands for themselves as part of their Empire. 
However, no such separate British-Turkish peace was achieved, and British forces occupied Palestine, most of northern Arabia and Mesopotamia (Iraq). The British Liberal party under Lloyd George was against expanding the British Empire and Pres. Wilson of the US was against any further subjugation of native peoples (although his influence was limited since the US did not declare war on Turkey and there were no American forces in the Middle East then).  So the Mandate concept was thought up by a minor French official at the post-war Versailles Conference to allow Britain and France to occupy large swathes of formerly Ottoman territory (in line with their then secret Sykes-Picot Treaty), but with a view to making the local peoples eventually independent although under British and/or French influence.  
Thus, Britain received Mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia and France for Syria.  The Balfour Declaration became valid under international law when it was incorporated into the San Remo Treaty of 1920, when the former Ottoman colonies were carved up by the Allies, and when the League of Nations granted the Mandate over Palestine to Britain in 1922.  Each imperial power then made their own decisions and carved out separate countries, France separated Lebanon from Syria in order to protect its Christian inhibitants; Britain separated Transjordan from Palestine and established Iraq in order to satisfy their commitments to the Hashemite rulers of Arabia. The legitimacy of the Zionist claim to the whole of Palestine has never been altered or negated by subsequent events, including the UN Partition Plan of 1948 that became invalid when rejected by the Arab side.  Only a negotiated agreement can define the eastern border of the Jewish State.
I came across this quotation (Schneer, p. 372), from a telegram dispatched by the Syrian leadership to Lord Balfour, opposing his famous Declaration:  With reference to the recent publication of your Excellency's declaration to Lord Rothschild regarding the Jews in Palestine, we respectfully take the liberty to invite your Excellency's attention to the fact that Palestine forms a vital part of Syria - as the heart to the body - admitting no separation politically or sociologically....  This certainly supports those who say that the Palestinian people are a recently invented people and even though they now think of themselves as separate, there is no distinction culturally and sociologically between the Syrian and the Palestinian Arabs.  Given how the Syrians currently treat each other, Israelis can hardly be faulted for not trusting the Palestinians as legitimate peace partners for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The current instability of the Arab world swirling around Israel is symptomatic of a negative trend in Arab culture and society, namely a turn backward to old familiar values.  Most notably, having tried pan-Arabism, Arab socialism  and Arab nationalism, all of which have failed to enable them to modernize and defeat Israel, the Arabs are going back to what they think will work, namely Islam.  In other words they are retrogressing.  (I am pleased to say that Henry Kissinger, in his remarks when receiving an award yesterday from Pres. Peres, made the smae point).  That is why they have apparently elected a Muslim Brotherhood candidate as President of Egypt.  Although the results are not out yet and it is not clear that the Egyptian Army is about to give up power so readily.
Of course, they are wrong, Islam cannot work effectively in the modern world (no religion can), but in effect it is a victory for Israel and the West.  Not being able to adapt or modernize, this backward turn will only result in a larger gap between Israel and the Arabs.  Sharia law, that is the religious law of Islam, is particularly unsuitable for a modern state.  For example, the treatment of women, who are guaranteed equality and civil rights under international law, cannot be treated equally under Sharia law.  This removes one of the most efficient elements of society from productive work, not to mention the mistreatment that ensues.  As a humanitarian I am against this turn towards Islam, but as an Israel I am quite happy if the Egyptians choose to go backwards instead of forwards.  Even they know that they cannot dare to attack Israel, even if they would like to do so. 
A serious example of this going backward is that Egypt, that was the first Arab country that signed a peace treaty with Israel, can no longer control the Sinai peninsula.  Or maybe they don't want to.  Yesterday there was a deadly attack by terrorists from the Sinai into Israel, the third such attack.  Last April, eight  people were killed by an attack on the southern border road.  Now Israel is building a security barrier, but yesterday the terrorists attacked a convoy of workers going to work on the barrier.  One israeli Arab, a father of four, was killed.  But, an IDF unit nearby counter-attacked and killed two terrorists.  It is not clear what happened to the other two terrorists, if they were captured.  It is unclear if these terrorists were sent from Gaza or were Sinai Beduin.  In any case, the current instability in Egypt has allowed the Sinai border to return to anarchy, and yet it is difficult if not impossible for Israel to counter-attack into Egyptian territory without engendering a larger reaction.  This is one of the costs of Egyptian retrogression.
Similarly in Syria, at present the two sides, Assad's regime and the Free Syrian Army, are fighting each other.  Once this reaches a stalemate or a conclusion, the security situation in Syria will have deteriorated.  From a humanitarian viewpoint it would be better if the killing stopped, but the longer they fight each other the better it is from an Israeli perspective.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Licking our wounds

So much of Jewish culture consists of our licking our wounds.  I always choose articles and books about the Holocaust, the Inquisition, the Secret Jews (who were forcibly converted to Christianity in Spain), anti-Semitism in Europe, and the rantings of our Arab and Iranian enemies.  Only the past exploits of the IDF provide some relief.   Why this fascination with Jewish suffering? Because that is our culture.  Hard to get away from it when it was such a predominant feature throughout history.
The worst crime in the history of mankind, the Holocaust, was inflicted upon us with such a degree of hatred and cruelty that it still beggars belief.  I have just been reading "Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto," a revised history of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 written by Moshe Arens, former Israeli Defense Minister.  One of the features of Jewish culture at the time was that almost none of the organizations of Jewish youth, and there were many, prepared themselves for self-defence, even knowing the hostitlity of their neighbors, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, etc.  The only ones that actually practised self-defence and warfare were the Revisionists, but the mainly socialist Jewish youth groups frowned upon this as somehow inappropriate.  They would rather depend on the brotherhood of man and help from their fellow proletarians, which was predictably absent. 
A Rabbi I once knew (yes I do know some Rabbis) said to me that the Jewish people are a "sick" people.  I found that remark disquieting and worried about it for some time.  But, I think what he meant was that because of the way we have been treated we are not "normal," like an abused child often grows up with personality problems.  
I have also been reading "The Balfour Declaration" by Jonathan Schneer, an excellent detailed history of how that famous document came into being.  One of the most striking aspects of that story is that it was mainly Jews who were against the support of the British Government for Zionism.  Not only was the organized Jewish community against Zionism, and strove mightily to prevent the Declaration being issued, but within the British Government there were such people as Herbert (Lord) Samuel who opposed the idea of a Jewish State, and his cousin Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, who vehemently opposed Zionism on the grounds that he was an Englishman of Jewish belief, rather that a Jew who happened to be born in England (as his Cabinet colleagues viewed him) and opposed the very concept of a Jewish nation.  Luckily Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, the two principal figures in the Zionist movement in Britain, out-maneuvered them, and persuaded PM Lloyd George and FM Arthur Balfour that it was in Britain's interest to issue such a pro-Zionist statement. Sometimes we did succeed.                               

Monday, June 18, 2012

Opera without music

I have written an Opera without music. There are many operas without words, but this is different.  Some people have asked, why not call it a play?  The answer is simple, that it is an Opera, in fact it is a libretto.  It proceeds in scenes intended to be dramatic and coloful that need operatic staging and music.  The primary reason why I haven't written the music is that I am unable to do so, although I have a good idea of how I would like it to sound. 
I appreciate Boito's "Mefistofele" which is a rather obscure Opera, the only full Opera written by Arrigo Boito, a 19th century Italian librettist.  I love his whistling aria, that is quite distinct in Opera. I also love Verdi and Rossini and all sorts of dramatic operatic flourishes.  I also appreciate modern stagings, for example of "Nixon in China" by John Adams and the work of Phillip Glass.  My Opera without Music is based on the three most dramatic events for me of the 19th century, the Russian revolution of 1917, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis in 1943 and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.  I have one Jew who participates in all of them, and he is red-haired so that he can be readily identified throughout the action.  If he were 17 at the time of the revolution he would be 48 at the founding of the State, quite feasible. 
I am interested in hearing from any musicians and/or composers out there who might also be prepared to work on a score with me.  Of course, this is not an immediately remunerative project, in other words I am not prepared to pay for this.  But, in the long-term one never knows what will happen.  Short term there is the opportunity to participate in a unique project, the possibility that once completed such a project could be appreciated, and also might then bring in some payment.  Meanwhile I am guarding my libretto until someone who seems serious comes along and can send me an example of his or her musical accompaniment.  Until then I will have time to devise a suitable title, any suggestions?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happenings in Israel

I leave Israel for a week and everything falls apart.  Must I take care of everything?  I was shocked by the defacing of the Yad Vashem memorial with anti-Zionist slogans, apparently written by one or more haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men.  Aren't these places guarded, the most sacred places of the Jewish people? Don't they have cameras to record everything that happens there?  Given the extent of the anti-Zionist fervor in the world, don't they prepare for such acts?  Do I have to think of everything? 
The Immigration police rounded up 300 African migrants from South Sudan in south Tel Aviv to be repatriated to their new country.  Since S. Sudan is now a recognized state there is no longer any reason for them to be here.  Some 150 are being flown out today.  Another ca. 300 voluntarily agreed to return home.  But, there are an estimated 60-80,000 African immigrants in Israel, most of them illegal.  And since the Government has not yet built a sufficiently large facility to house new immigrants that cross the Egyptian border near Eilat, the immigration authority are putting African migrants onto buses to the north just to get rid of them.  So while 600 may be sent back to S. Sudan another 1000 a week are flooding in.  This problem must be solved.  Just yesterday I had my car washed and the boy (yes, he was a teenager) who dried it was from...Nigeria! 
I was disappointed that PM Netanyahu decided to go along with the Supreme Court decision that the buildings at the outpost of Ulpana are built on private Arab land and must be destroyed.  This is an unfortunate decision since the buildings have been inhabited for up to six years by 30 families.  Such a decision will result not only in internal strife in Israel, but will be seen as the Israeli Government doing the Palestinian's work for them.  Surely a sovereign Israeli Government could have reached a less drastic compromise, such as compensation for the owners.  The plan is to move the settlers from Ulpana to the nearby settlement of Beit El, and then to build ten times the number of apartments elsewhere in the West Bank.  Even though these moves appear to be a filip to the settler movement, there will still be scenes of conflict when the IDF attempts to force these people out of their homes on July 1.  And it will in no way improve relations with the Palestinians.  In order to avoid such mistakes in the future the PM has established a new "Settlement Committee" that will investigate all cases of settlements before they reach this stage of disruption.
The State Comptroller's Special Report strongly criticizes the Government for bad decision making in relation to the Mavi Mamara incident.  It does not question the right of Israel to stop the Mavi Mamara or other ships trying to break the legal blockade of Gaza, but it points out that the decision-making process in response to the raid was flawed.  Processes set-down for the PM and the Government to consult with the National Security Council were ignored and decisions were made without consultation.  Further, some of these decisions were bad ones, such as sending paratroopers aboard the ship when it was unknown what the circumstances were, without adequate protection, i,e, with guns filled with paint-balls and not bullets (the Turks killed were shot with the soldier's revolvers).  Also, delaying for three days the release of the IDF videos of the fighting showing the commandos being attacked with iron bars.  Such consultations might not have made any difference to the eventual outcome, but what is the point of having security experts if they are not consulted.  These findings raise questions about the decision-making process in relation to the current Iranian situation.
Whle we were away the situation in Egypt deteriorated even more, with the Elections Commission declaring only two candidates valid for the Presidency, including the last PM under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafik, and the Moslem Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.   The Commission also declared the previously elected, MB-dominated parliament unconsititutional.  This has raised severe issues in Egypt regarding the extent of military junta involvement in such decisions.  Whether the MB will foment violent demonstrations against these decisions remains to be seen.  But, while Egypt heads for more turmoil, Israel is not a factor in the situation.  Meanwhile Syria has entered a new extreme phase of its civil war, with more massacres of civilians, including children, by Assad's military and more actions by the Syrian Free Army.   For all its faults Israel by comparison is an island of stability and peace surrounded by an Arab world in disarray.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Croatia trip (contd.)

After Shabbat in Zagreb, eating at the Jewish Community Center, we drove north on Sunday across the Slovenian border. We had to show our passports since Slovenia is a member of the EU and uses the euro, while Croatia is not and uses its own currency, the kuna.

We visited the Postojna caverns, one of the largest underground cave systems in the world. We took the small electric train that shuttles visitors into the center of the cave system, and then walked for several kilometers through narrow tunnels and huge caverns, full of stalactites and stalagmites. It was cold and moist down there and reminded me of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree, where Alph the sacred River ran, in caverns measureless to man."

From there we drove to the small town of Bohinj through terrain that was distinctly alpine, with much higher mountains than we saw in Croatia. In fact Slovenia contains the foothills of the Swiss Alps. In Bohinj is the largest lake in Slovenia and we took a boat ride across it in quite overcast weather. On the other side of the lake we went to the cable car up to the Vogel mountain, and rode up 1,000 m. It was quite a dizzying ride, and from the top you could see the whole of the lake spread out below. After a nice drink we descended and drove to Bled, also with a picturesque lake with an island and a church on it. Dominating the scene next to the lake is Bled Castle, perched on a seemingly vertical craggy outcrop. We drove around the back and climbed the stairs and slopes to visit the Castle, not for those with walking or climbing difficulties. We drove from there to nearby Kranjska Goro and stayed overnight in the Hotel Lek, the staff of which were very friendly and helpful, as they were throughout our trip.

From there in the morning we drove to the Vintgar Canyon where the fast-running Radovna River has gouged a deep gorge out of the rock. We walked along the narrow paths and across narrow wooden bridges for an hour past many water-falls, and returned by the same route. Along the way we were surprised to find a large contingent of Israelis and we had a conversation with them as they tried to understand that we were Israeli but English-speaking. After a rest we continued to Trakoscan Castle, another large castle perched on a hill, requiring many steps and slopes to reach the top. This was a much more lavishly furnished castle, having been in the Draskovic family for ten generations. It is now owned by the Slovenian state and has been extensively renovated and refurbished (it also has good toilets).

We then drove south again and crossed back into Croatia and visited the city of Varazdin, where a group visited the building that once housed the only synagogue in the region, now abandoned. We returned to Zagreb to the same Hotel as before and ate our last supper in the Jewish Center. There we had a small party to celebrate our trip together and amid some hilarity thanked our two leaders, Michael and Miriam, and our excellent driver, for their wonderful demenour and guidance. We flew home after only a week that seemed like a lifetime. At the present time both Slovenia and Croatia seem stable and quite prosperous. No one can predict for how long this situation will last. Ironically these countries are friendly to Israel, while they are not fertile ground for Jewish life.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Trip to Croatia and Slovenia

We have just returned from a great tour of Croatia and Slovenia that was arranged by Ophir tours for AACI. The tour guide was Michael Tuchfeld and the AACI representative accompanying the tour was Miriam Green (who just happens to be our daughter, what a coincidence). All of the tour participants were English-speaking Israelis and a few visitors to Israel. Most of the participants were religious and kosher food was supplied, including delicious local fish, trout, cooked in silver foil.

We flew to Zagreb and immediately went into tour mode, travelling south by coach, stopping for lunch at a beauty spot Slunj where there was a plethora of waterfalls. Then on to the beautiful Plitvice Lakes, which are a series of lakes that are connected by small waterfalls. Very well worth a visit but quite strenuous. We climbed up for about an hour through stairs and slopes until we took a boat across the largest lake and then rejoined our coach for the trip further south. Overnight we stayed at a luxurious hotel in Solin, then in the morning we drove to the nearby old town of Trogir, that has a beautiful small square.

It was here that I went to change a 100 Euro traveller's check in a Bank. The clerk asked for my passport and checked the photo and then asked me to sign the traveller's check. She compared my signature to that already on the traveller's check and it was the same, but then she compared it to the signature in the passport and she said that they were different. She then took the items to her manager and came back and said they could not cash the check because my signature on the traveller's check did not match that in the passport. I protested, I said that I had signed that several years ago and because it had to be signed inside a small rectangle I had evidently made my signature smaller. But, she would not change the check, so I said I wanted to complain to the manager, but then she started copying my passport, so I said "forget it" and I tore up the copy and left. A few minutes later I went into a different bank, and lo and behold no problem, they changed it for me with a smile. So I used the Israeli solution, if you don't like what a clerk tells you, go to another clerk. Also, it taught me that traveller's checks are not worth the amount printed on them.

We drove on to the port city of Split that was originally founded around the huge palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian when he retired in 305 ce, yes that's right, he actually retired from being Emperor, but made sure that he built his palace in a remote and defendable location. After he died the palace fell into ruins and hundreds of years later people built their houses inside the walls. There are still some original features standing, including a magnificent archway, the hexagonal mausoleum where he was buried (now a church) and the extensive basement that he had built as the foundation of the palace. In the basement there are several menorot carved into the stone, giving evidence of the presence of Jews. We visited the synagogue, that is the third oldest in Europe and met the President of the Jewish community, although there are very few Jews left there (perhaps a dozen).

In the coastal region of Dalmatia we then drove to the Krka National Park (note the absence of vowels, a characteristic of the Croatian language) in a large valley with a series of waterfalls. We embarked on a boat through the river to a lake and visited the island of Visovac and the Monastery there amid very beautiful scenery, not bad being a monk. On the way north we stopped at the port city of Zadar, where we saw the Roman wall and forum and had a tea-toilet stop. Michael took us along the coast to the sea organ, a place where the lapping of the waves causes musical sounds in pipes. From there we drove back several hours to Zagreb and stayed in the Best Western Astoria Hotel. We visited the synagogue in Zagreb and ate a kosher meal there prepared by the volunteers. There are about 100 Jews living in Zagreb.

The next morning we visited the main cemetary in Zagreb at Mirogoj, that has a large arcade built in 1876. Notably in this cemetary there are Jewish and Catholic family graves side by side, an unusual feature showing tolerance. Also there were memorials to the dead of WWI and WWII. We then drove east towards the Bosnian border to Jasenovac, which was the main concentration camp built in 1941 by the Ustashe Regime that ruled Croatia in alliance with the German Nazis during WWII. In the camp they rounded up Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croats who opposed them and worked them to death and murdered them in the most primitive and grisly ways. They also built crematoria according to German specifications. But, nothing remains of the actual camp since the Ustashe destroyed it in 1945 before it could be captured. It is now a green and peaceful area dominated by a huge concrete memorial flower. We lit a memorial candle there and said a prayer (el moleh rahamim). Then we visited the small museum with exhibits regarding the camp.

It should be noted that Croatia is predominantly Catholic and uses the Roman alphabet, while Serbia is predominantly Orthodox and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. At this camp ca. 90,000 people are known to have been murdered, maybe many more, approximately half of them were Serbians and the rest divided between Jews, Gypsies and Croats. Before the war there were about 12,000 Jews in Zagreb, of whom ca. 8,000 were murdered in Jasenovac, 2,000 fought in the partisans and another 2,000 escaped. Jasenovac had several subsidiary camps, Gradiska now in Bosnia was for women and children, and thousands of children were murdered there. This camp was reused by the Serbians to house Croation prisoners during the Croatian-Serbian war of 1991-5 that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia into the separate states of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. (to be continued)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Whose list?

I was preparing a shopping list with my wife: "bread, milk, wine, poison..." when my mind wandered and I thought of PM Netanyahu doing a similar chore. Only his list would be a bit different, "coalition, submarines, Iran, Hamas..." I thought, what would it be like to be involved in really important issues, life or death issues, things for which you could go down in history.

But then I remembered that in revisionist history it is the lives of ordinary men that count, not the supposedly great leaders or the chronicles of wars. Those who continue to live their lives under difficult circumstances should be the object of scrutiny. I could be another Isaac Leibowitz as in "A canticle for Leibowitz" by WIlliam Miller (what, you've never heard of that sci-fi classic - read it immediately) in which Leibowitz's list ("pastrami on rye") becomes an object of intense study for the survivors of an atomic war. What would they make of my list, and why is "poison" on it?

Those of you who read my blog will know that aliens were summoned by my Maytag washing machine because it felt it was not being treated properly (this is an optional feature). At first these aliens were no bother, but after a while, since they had found a comfortable haven, they started to get on my nerves. So I decided I would get rid of them. I tried being unpleasant to them, but they bared their sting ray probosces at me. So now I'm going to try poison. However, there is a problem, most human poisons are based on interfering with our metabolic system, for example cyanide blocks the respiratory process. However, I have no idea if these aliens have the same biochemical make-up as us. I don't even know if they have DNA. Anyway I've decided to use rat poison on them, mainly because you can buy this over the counter. So I spread it around on the floor near the washing machine.

Now, it's somewhat later and I can report that the rat poion did not kill the aliens, although it turned them a bright purple color, but it did kill a mouse I didn't know I had here. Why doesn't PM Netanyahu have these kind of problems? Maybe he can send the IDF over to get rid of the aliens. I've decided that the revisionist view of history is a load of crap.

Please note that I will be on vacation for a while. Yes, I need to get away from the aliens.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Souvlaki Party

Greeks are voting again in a national election on June 15 after the first election last month failed to result in any party being able to form a government. The problem is that the Greeks are against the austerity measures proposed by the current government and agreed with the EU, but are also against leaving the Eurozone. In other words they want it both ways, they are against putting up with austerity, but don't want to change their monetary policy. But, the lesson of life is that you can't have it both ways. So now, given the fiasco of all the small protest parties getting larger votes and the major parties getting less than usual, the Greeks are having second thoughts and may vote more for the Pasok party and the like that got them into this mess in the first place, but now represent austerity.

That's where I come in, I am going to establish the Souvlaki Party. My platform is simple, give every Greek a free lunch of souvlaki, then after that they are on their own. Its about time, as Christine Lagard, the Head of the IMF said, if the Greeks started paying their taxes that could solve the problem. For 20 years and more they have been cosseted by a socialist party that had given them every entitlement, so that expenses were increasing, while Goivernment income was decreasing as the Greeks failed to pay their taxes and there was no pressure to make them pay. Now, as they say, is time to pay the piper (where did that phrase come from?) The EU austerity plan is essential, otherwise the Greek Government will default and will be forced to leave the Eurozone and return to the drachma. If that happens then the whole Eurozone will be in doubt and the value of the euro could plummet, leaving Europe and indeed the world with an economic disaster.

That's what happens when countries knowingly pursue economic policies that they can't possibly achieve. The EU established economic criteria requiring member countries to achieve specific levels of GDP per capita relative to their national debt. What happened with countries that could not actually achieve this level but wanted to join the EU, like Greece, they lied! They made up figures to get into the Eurozone and then surprise, after a certain number of years their true economic situation became unavoidable. This is what has happened to Ireland and Greece, and is happening to Italy, Spain and France. So it was a good policy by Britain not to join the Eurozone, but even then Britain has a large deficit that it cannot maintain. Who will come out of this mess in a stable economic position is anybody's guess.

So Greeks, vote for the Souvlaki Party, its you best bet for at least one solid meal.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Reading the book about the tortuous path to "The Balfour Declaration" written by Jonathan Schneer, one is struck by the duplicity of the British, who made contradictory promises to the Zionists, the Arabs, the French and even tried to make a separate peace with the Turks. At any rate, PM David Lloyd George, who was always one of my heroes, comes out looking less than a statesman. But, then I re-evaluated the situation and realized that that was expediency. He was prepared to double deal and double-cross as long as it got him what he wanted, namely a way to win WWI war as soon as possible, in order to reduce the terrible toll of lives lost in the trenches. What happened after the war to the Zionists and Arabs was of very secondary importance to him, it was just a question of which gambit in the east would help to win the war on the western front. So he made promises to both the Jews and the Arabs to get their temporary support.

Israel and its politicians are often accused of being less than honest, but in my opinion they show little consideration for expedience. For example, Israel has never made its case for the Jewish claim to the West Bank, what is oftern mistakenly called "Palestinian Land." There are two meanings for "illegal settlements" and Israel never tries to clarify this. As far as the Palestinians are concerned all Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the River Jordan are "illegal," and their supporters state this as if it is accepted dogma. But, in fact Israel has an excellent claim under international law, based on the San Remo Treaty of 1922 that carved up the Ottoman Empire after WWI, and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain in 1922, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration into international law for the establishment of a "homeland" for the Jewish people in Palestine, and nothing more, no Arab State and certainly no "Palestinian State." In fact, Britain intended to keep the land for itself as part of its Empire, but was unable to do so. Events change and affect the situation, but the law remains unchanged. Even the UN Partition Plan of 1948 that projected Jewish and Arab States in Palestine, did not supersede the San Remo Treaty because the Arabs rejected that Plan. Israel was recognized independently after that rejection but without agreed borders.

Acoording to Israeli law the only "illegal" settlements are those not approved by the Israeli Government. In other words it is a matter of State policy when and where settlements are build on this "disputed" territory. If someone comes along and starts to build an outpost without any Israeli Government approval, that is considered "illegal" under Israeli law. But, those settlements that were approved and established by the Israeli Government are legal under Israeli and international law. It was the establishment of an Arab State by the British on the East Bank of the River Jordan that was illegal. So we should call Jordan "the East Bank." Fortunately the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan that was put in place by the British has remained "friendly" towards Israel and this has resulted in its continuation and stability. But, the Hashemites were established there only thru the colonial and imperialistic interference of the British. Jordan is a completely artificial State, with a majority of Palestinians. It would be an expedient policy for the Israeli Government to stake its claim to Jordanian territory, but agree to negotiate a further peace treaty with Jordan for the transfer of the rest of the Palestinian people from the West Bank to the East Bank.

One reason why there is so much conflict in the Middle East is because the British and French unilaterally divided the area into states of their own making, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Arabs don't need any excuse to kill each other as one can see in Syria. But, it would be expedient for Israel to provide arms (secretly) to the Free SyrianArmy, even if they are Sunni, so that they can overthrow the yoke of the Assad Alawite dynasty. Let Syria be split into three regions (Sunni, Alawi and Kurd) and then let Iraq be split similarly (Sunni, Shia, Kurd). Yes, let us interfere in Arab politics for our own expedience.