Friday, November 30, 2012

Martin Sherman

Billed as one of Israel's intellectual warriors, Martin Sherman indeed has impressive credentials. He was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971. He holds several university degrees: a BSc (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations.  He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books and numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29

Pres. Abbas of the PA chose November 29 to apply for "non-member state observer status" at the General Assembly of the United Nations  because November 29 is a historic day in the Jewish calendar.  It is the anniversary  65 years ago in 1947 when the UN GA voted for the Partition Plan to divide British Mandatory Palestine into two, and for the first time in 2,000 years agreed to the establishment of a Jewish sovereign state.  Of course, the Palestinians see the irony of trying to copy the Israelis on this date, but is it too late?  After trying to destroy the nascent Jewish State by invasion, war, terrorism and now missiles, the so-called more moderate Palestinian Fatah (PLO) which controls the PA, has now chosen the diplomatic route.  Does this represent progress?
In doing so they are flouting 65 years of UN resolutions, that the conflict must be resolved by negotiation and agreement between the two sides.  Even if the Palestinians get a majority in the UN GA, which they are sure to do, they do not have the agreement of Israel, and that is the crucial vote.  Without an agreement with Israel no viable Palestinian State can exist on the ground.  And if the PA takes unilateral action, so can Israel.  At present no drastic Israeli reaction is foreseen, the Israeli Government could take any of a number of unilateral moves that have been broached, from stopping tax payments and refusing to cooperate with the PA, to annexing parts of Judea and Samaria
Israel has been providing funds for the PA in order to keep it afloat as an alternative to Hamas, and economic conditions in the PA have been improving  The split between the two Palestinian sides is deep and not likely to end soon.  Clearly of the two, Israel prefers to deal with Fatah rather than the Islamist fundamentalist Hamas which it recently fought in Operation Pillar of Defense.  But, how long can Israel retain the illusion that Fatah represents a viable partner for peace?   Now that Abbas is taking this step, and vows not to use violence and terrorism to attain his goals, what will he actually do next.  Declaring a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders does not make it so, without Israeli agreement. 
UN GA votes are advisory, not legally binding, which means that although the GA may give enhanced status to the Palestinian representative at the UN, it does not change their legal status or the situation on the ground.  They do not have sovereignty, which is granted by the Security Council.  Also, since the Arabs did not accept the Partition Plan of 1947, that vote in the GA too did not become legally binding.  It was the recognition of the new Jewish State by the US, Russia and a host of other countries that conferred sovereignty on Israel.  Will Abbas now try to get other countries to recognise Palestinian independence? How wIll that change the relations between the PA and Israel?  If the putative Palestine State's borders conflict with Israeli interests how will Israel react?  A ball has been set rolling and no one knows where it will come to rest.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Election news

The first election news item in Israel was that Ehud Barak, Defense Minister and former Prime Minister, is retiring from politics.  When PM Netanyahu wanted to appoint him his Defense Minister for the second time, this went against the policy of the Labor Party in which Barak was a leading figure.  So, in order to retain the Defense portfolio, Barak bolted the Labor Party and founded his own mini-party, called Ha'atzmaut or Independence Party.  This is what leading politicians in Israel do when it suits their personal advantage rather than that of their Party.  But, now that we have a new election in the offing, it is expected that the Independence Party will do poorly and receive only 3 seats, not enough for a top politician like Barak to obtain an important post in any coalition.  So he has decided to resign now (effective Jan 1) rather than wait for the inevitable embarrassment, although he said it was for family reasons.
The second item in the news was that Tzipi Livni, former Minister in the Governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, has decided to rejoin the political fray and has announced the establishment of a new party, to be called Tzipi Livni's Movement.  What chutzpah, what effrontery, to believe that her name has enough cachet that she can call it after herself.  That is a new low in Israeli politics.  Not only does she fragment the left's opposition to Netanyahu, her dreaded enemy, but she has received so far no endorsement from any established party, neither Labor nor Yesh Atid.  If she gets to run in the general election she will hopefully be shown that her political life is over.  As opposition leader she was a failure motivated by personal considerations and this has not changed.
Another major item in the news was the Likud primary.  The clear result of this election was a shift to the right in the Likud, with the likes of such right wing notables as Moshe Feiglin.  Although this does not in any way challenge Netanyahu's position as no. 1 in the Party and the likely winner in the election campaign to be next PM, nevertheless it indicates a turn to the right in the Likud against the wishes of Netanyahu, several of whose supporters, such as Benny Begin and  Dan Meridor were defeated.  Some of the party favorites were re-elected, such as Gideon Sa'ar who came no.2 and now becomes Netanyahu's likely successor.   If the country also turns to the right, that will help Likud, but it is likely that the electorate will show a more centrist and liberal tendency and this could reduce Netanyahu's majority and his capability to form a new coalition.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MK Einat Wilf

Last Weds evening MK Einat Wilf spoke at a parlour meeting in the home of Ray Cannon at his invitation.  He asked her to address topics of specific interest to an Anglo audience (not the Gaza situation or the Palestinians) such as electoral reform, education, and the working of the Knesset.  Einat Wilf is an Israeli who speaks perfect English that she honed while living and studying in the US, where she obtained a BA at Harvard, and in Cambridge, England, where she obtained a PhD in political science.  She was a political advisor to Shimon Peres and is now  Chair of the Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sports and a member of many other Committees, including Foreign Affairs and Defense (see
She started by referring to her new book that is currently in press in which she addresses the issue of electoral reform.  Most Anglos (Americans, Canadians, Brits, S. Africans, Australians) tend to be very much in favor of electoral reform in Israel because the system here is a pure proportional representation one, with no constitutency representation as there is in England with local MPs or in the US with local Congressmen and Senators.   As a result Anglos tend to feel there is no address for them to turn to to express their concerns and frustrations.  On the contrary, Dr. Wilf is against electoral reform.  She did a study of the electoral systems in many other democratic countries, including Britain, US, France, Holland, etc. and came to the conclusion that all of them have defects, none of which are much better than the others.  For example, Holland has essentially the same system as Israel and it has worked there very well for many years.  There are also Dutch people who talk about reforming their system, but it has never been done.  She pointed out that MKs are very approachable, they respond to queries and many of them specialize in certain areas or topics, so it is quite easy to find one who covers any specific area of interest.  She has also found that Israeli MKs are no more corrupt than those of other countries, for example the expenses scandal in the UK Parliament.  Various attempts to "improve" the Israeli system, such as the election of a PM by the Presidential system, have been tried and have failed.  It is in the nature of democracy that people want to improve the system they have, but it probably is unnecessary.
She also addressed the issue of education in Israel, that she has a strong interest in.  As well as inviting the usual experts to testify before her committee she has invited actual teachers to give their opinions and advice, and she has found this most productive.  There is little doubt that the Israeli education system has fallen behind others and from where it was some years ago.  The reasons for this are various, but one of them is certainly loss of discipline in the classrom.  Teachers are intimidated by parents contacting them at all times in any ways (phone, visit, e-mail) and berating them.  She advises teachers to refuse to speak to parents from home and have specific times when they can be contacted.  She also suggests emphasis on discipline in the classroom as well as the actual teaching, without respect for the teacher and without appropriate discipline there can be no effective learning.  
She also addressed other issues of concern, such as the Parties in the Knesset, how the Knesset runs and the nature of various political personalities.   MK Wilf left the Labor party with Defence Minister Ehud Barak to form a small party called the Independence (Ha'atzmaut) Party.  Currently she is no. 3 on their list and hopes to be re-elected at the upcoming elections. But, now that Barak has announced his retirement, it is unclear what will happen to this Party.  She was intelligent, coherent, articulate and pragmatic, altogether an impressive person, and a fine example of Israeli representatives.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pharoah Morsi

There have been extensive riots in Egypt on the heels of the Gaza war (Operation Pillar of Defense) due to Pres. Morsi arrogating to himself all powers so as to become a true dictator.  Having put the judicial system, the consitutional court and the parliament under his control, he has more power than any ruler of Egypt has ever had since the Pharoahs.  What is more of a problem from the West's and Israel's point of view is that since he is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, he will use his power to institute sharia law in Egypt and place it in line with other Islamist regimes.  And this just after he received so much praise for being instrumental in arranging a ceasefire  between Israel and Hamas.  As one of my readers suggested, he might be saying to Hamas, accept a ceasefire now and when we are stronger in Egypt we'll join you in fighting Israel.  But, that is speculation, at present his reactions to Israel and the US have been responsible and cooperative.  But, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Will Morsi's increased power help or hinder his cooperation with the West?  If he retains all this power and acts like a Hitler, he will gradually eliminate all opposition, and he will take drastic action against the rioters who burned the Muslim Briotherhood offices in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere.  If as he says he only wants this power to ensure that the constitution is fair and the Parliament is reelected fairly and he will then relinquish these extraordinary powers, then Egypt could return to democracy, but don't count on it.  How many dictators do you know who peacefully returned power to a democraticaly elected assembly?  It is more likely that this is Pres. Morsi's move to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood retains power in Egypt and converts Egypt to an Islamist State with sharia law in effect, and there will never be another democratic election in Egypt while they are in power. 
Of course, any elected official who craves power can claim that he is acting in order to protect the results of the revolution.  But, noone can know the truth and so it is expected that the liberal democratic elements will oppose him.  This could lead to an internal clash that could divide Egypt and make it much less of a threat to Israel.  One cannot predict the outcome of this kind of internal dissension.  Today the Muslim Brotherhood is organizing demonstrations in support of Morsi, and if they are much larger than the ones against, as expected, then it seems that the object of the revolution has been achieved with the takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ceasefire ambivalence

Normally one would be very happy to have a ceasefire, to stop the firing and save lives.  But, under the circumstances of the situation of Gaza, where a terrorist organization, Hamas, controls a highly armed enclave and lobs missiles into Israel whenever they feel like it, the cessation of fighting of Operation Pillar of Defense leaves me ambivalent. 
There were good reasons for PM Netanyahu to accept a temporary ceasefire proposal: 1. A ground invasion of Gaza could have been costly in Israeli soldiers lives; 2. There was pressure from the US and EU to cease fire; 3.  A ground invasion was not popular with the Israeli public (partly because the IDF is a citizen army); 4. A temporary ceasefire may lead to a longer term improvement in the situation; 5. The ceasefire enhances the credibility of Pres. Morsi of Egypt, which might aid future peace efforts; 6. A ceasefire shows that Israel is a reasonable country led by reasonable men.  On the other hand, the main drawback of a ceasefire now is that by not finishing the job and destroying Hamas, the ceasefire will be only a prelude to the next round of conflict.
Of course, Hamas lost a lot, both in leaders as well as men (ca. 100 killed) and in terms of infrastructure destruction.  Pres. Haniyeh of Hamas must find new offices and much of the government buildings of Gaza have been destroyed.  He knows that had he continued with the shelling and had the IDF invaded Gaza, the death and destruction wrought on his side would have been much worse.  So they stopped and declared victory.  To what extent Haniyeh and his advisors have internalized the truth that they cannot destroy Israel and they cannot achieve their aims is unknown, but maybe Pres. Morsi of Egypt, who seems to be a more pragmatic Islamist (he needs American money) has talked some sense into them.  If they want to continue to rule Gaza they must come to some pragmatic accomodation with Israel.  At least we hope so.  Otherwise it's back to the old "cycle of violence" again.
At present we don't know the details of this ceasefire or what compromises have been made, if any, by either side, and the negotiations are still continuing.  For Israel a continued cessation of missile fire is paramount.  PM Netanyahu has stated that if missile fire resumes then a ground invasion of Gaza is inevitable.  Secondarily Israel needs assurances that another build up of missiles thru the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border will not be allowed. Hamas has announced that they gave no such committment. According to various sources it is hoped that this ceasefire might last as long as that with Hizbollah on the northern border, that has lasted 6 years since the Second Lebanon War.  But, don't get too complacent. 
Who are the winners from this ceasefire?: 1. Definitely Pres. Morsi of Egypt who has enhanced his position as guarantor of Hamas; 2. The US, under Pres. Obama and Secty of State Clinton, for their success in achieving the ceasefire; 3. Hamas by facing down Israel and surviving.  Hamas declared a victory, but if that is a victory I'd hate to see what a defeat is like; 4. Israel once again wreaked extensive destruction on a vicious enemy and reestablished its detterence capability, they won't want to go back to being pounded again soon.  Who were the losers? 1. Pres. Abbas of Fatah and the PA, who was essentially irrelevant in this situation and was ignored by all sides (incidentally Hamas announced that they will not support Abbas's application for non-member status at the UN);  2. Iran played essentially no direct role and its position vis-a-vis Hamas has been usurped by Egypt and the Sunni axis;  3. Hizbollah lost credibility, since it failed to react and open a second front with Israel as it had promised to do.   
So overall the ceasefire has short-term positive gains for Israel, but with possible long-term negative consequences, hence the ambivalence felt by much of the population.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dinner and rockets

Sun night we went to a dinner in Netanya honoring Arthur Opolion, who was President of AACI in Netanya for 2 years and who before that played many leading roles in the organization, and still does.  He is a consummate volunteer, working without fanfare on the jobs that need doing. 
Arthur had an amazing life story, that I was privileged to find when I interviewed him.  He and his sister were sent on a Kindertransport train from Czechoslovakia to England just before WWII, where they lived with a Minister and his wife for a year and a half.  His parents after many narrow escapes managed to reach Italy after the war had started and were able to escape from there and finally arrived in New York.  They discovered where their children were living and before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor they managed to have them sent via Sweden, Russia and Japan to the US West Coast and thence to NY.  This was en epic journey for two children.  When Arthur was a teenager he volunteered to fight for the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi against the British in Palestine.  He then returned to the US where he was drafted to fight in Korea, and spent some time in Japan.  Finally he made aliyah and has contributed greatly to the welfare of English-speaking immigrants to Israel.
The speaker at the dinner was Benji Davis, a young American-Israeli who grew up in Los Angeles and made aliyah in 2009.  He has a degree from George Washington University in Washington DC in Middle East Studies and History.  But his experience working as a volunteer in Sderot for a semester prepared him well for his role of assistant to the Spokesman of the Defense Ministry in Israel.  He has been criss-crossing the south of Israel, dodging the missiles and reporting on the current situation.  In doing so he is engaging in the "new" form of journalism.   Whereever he goes he documents the situation, of rockets hitting apartments, of people under stress or injured and getting killed.  He uses his advanced cell phone to take videos or stills and put them online, he tweets and he updates his facebook page and adds to the online listing of missiles attacks.  He also helps journalists by taking them to key places, being interviewed himself and arranging interviews with local people. 
Now we have instant communication of photos and text, instead of a diabolically slow vetting and decision making process.  Before, any formal response had to be passed by the IDF media department, thru the PM's media office and often be looked at by the legal department.  Now its all done in the touch of a button.  Benji had been present when rockets hit, when people (and he) were running for cover, when Iron Dome anti-missiles were fired, and when people were killed and injured.  All of his stills and videos go straight online and are widely distributed, some even reached the western press (although they prefer to show blood and bombs in Gaza).
It was very quiet while he was speaking, while ca. 150 English speakers listened intently to his stories about the war going on 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.  It was a privilege to hear directly from the horse's mouth what is the latest situation and what being there is really like.
(Note: This was written before the ceasefire.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ceasefire in Gaza

The opposition to a ground invasion of Gaza by the IDF was led by Secty. of State Hillary Clinton, who appeared on the scene immediately, together with a bevy of international leaders, such as the UN's Ban ki-Moon and the German FM Hugo Westervelle, all putting pressure on PM Netanyahu not to invade Gaza.  I thought Netanyahu's response was very moderate, he said that he had no desire to invade Gaza if the elements of a ceasefire could be worked out through Egypt.  From Israel's point of view this has to include a complete cessation of firing missiles into Israel.  What would be the point of stopping the counter-attacks now if the missiles were to continue after a short delay?  The people of southern Israel, who have put up with this situation for an incredible 13 years and over 12,000 missiles, are fed up with it and cannot stand it any more. 
The bus bombing in Tel Aviv on Weds morning is another example of the Palestinians deliberately attacking Israeli civilians.  The explosion injured 23, but luckily noone was killed and this was helped by the fact that the bombing occurred outside the Ichilov hospital in the center of Tel Aviv.  This incident brings back memories of the intifada in 2000 when hundreds were killed in suicide bus explosions.  Apart from the bus bombing, missiles continue to be fired in the south, ca. 60 on Weds morning with about 20 intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  
The kind of people we are dealing with is shown in an incident that happened yesterday in Gaza City, a gang of terrorists on motor bikes dragged six men accused of being spies for Israel (because they had listening devices and cameras according to the report) out into the street and executed them by shooting them in the back of the head, no trial, no due process, no chance.  Then they tied one of the dead men to the back of a motorbike and dragged him around the streets of Gaza City in a convoy.  
Weds evening in Cairo  it was announced in a joint press conference with Clinton and the Egyptian FM that at 9 pm our time a ceasefire would be implemented, negotiated between Clinton representing Israel and Egypt's Pres. Morsi representing Hamas.  No details of the agreement have been reported, but I must admit that I was surprised at this outcome.  WIth the bus bombing and the ceasefire Hamas declared a victory and there were celebrations in Gaza.  In Israel there were no celebrations, mainly a sigh of relief.  But, will this be another temporary ceasefire and then we're back to missiles in a year or two.  Another surprise was that Pres. Morsi, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was able to get Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.  It may be that because of his political affinity to Hamas he was able to persuade them more effectively than former Pres. Mubarak who was their enemy. 
The net result was that both sides wanted to stop the fighting.  Israel needed to have the missile fire from Gaza stopped and could not be sure that even with a ground invasion that would happen (even after the ceasefire 20 missiles fell until 11 pm).  Also, a ground invasion of Gaza was unpopular in Israel (only 30% supported it) and so with an election looming PM Netanyahu decided to use restraint, and thanked Pres. Obama for helping to arrange the ceasefire.  Hamas wanted a ceasefire because of the toll on its operatives and the terrible destruction caused to its infrastructrure in IAF bombings.  The net tally of Operation Pillar of Defense was 1,500 targets hit in Gaza,  ca. 150 Gazans killed, about 10 leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad killed, ca 1,500 missiles fired into Israel, Iron Dome intercepted ca. 85% of those targeted on populated areas, and 5 Israelis killed and 240 injured.  We will have to wait and see if the conditions of the ceasefire will have lasting consequences for Israel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Attack strategy?

There seems little doubt that there will be a ground invasion of Gaza.  Neither Israel nor any other country could afford to mobilize 75,000 men and then have them sit around for a week or more.  An attack has its own momentum and it must be organized and then launched in a short period of time, a few days.  Also, the chance of an actual ceasefire with Hamas being negotiated thru Egypt or the UN is so small that to hold the ground invasion until then would be self-defeating.  It may not have escaped notice that Hamas actually wants an IDF ground invasion of Gaza.  They know the IDF cannot destroy their organization completely and they have prepared the ground before the IDF force in advance  However, a ground offensive doesn't have to be a direct frontal attack, the most costly in terms of invading troops.
If I were determining IDF strategy in Gaza I would try to do what the terrorists least expect.  They are definitely prepared for a frontal attack by Israeli heavy armor, including tanks and artillery, across the Gaza border where they are currently massing.  That's the easy and obvious way.  I would have landings along the beachfront and drop large numbers of paratroopers behind enemy lines as it were and have them join up to make a line that in effect surrounds the terrorists and attacks them from the rear.  There would be a good supply line from the north from Ashkelon and Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.  Then as the paratroopers fight their way inland, against minimal opposition, the terrorists would find themselves in a bind, since their defensive positions and entrapments would be facing the wrong way.  So naturally they would turn around to face the approaching threat from the sea.  But, then I would hit them with the heavy weapons coming from Israel across the border.   But, I would avoid the main cities, surround them rather that have the infantry engaged in dangerous urban warfare.   But, have helicopter and special units attack specific targets, such as hospitals and mosques, where Hamas maintains operationsl centers as they did in Operation Cast Lead, that the IDF could not attack then.  These units and helicopters should come form the western sidfe of the cities where the preprepared ambushes are likely to be lightest.
This strategy is based on previous experience.  What went wrong in the Second Lebanon War was the the IDF walked into a huge trap.  Hizbollah had 10 years to prepare for the next Israeli invasion.  They had mined most of the obvious houses that would be targets for the IDF to capture and rest up in during the first phase of the invasion.  When IDF troops had amassed there, they simply blew the houses up.  I have no doubt that Hamas has learned this lesson, since they are very adept at digging tunnels and they were trained by the same Iranian National Guard units that taught Hizbollah how to resist an IDF invasion.  Let's not be duped into the same deadly error and go rushing directly at their well-entrenched ambushes.  Let's try to leap over them by attacking from where they least expect it.   

Monday, November 19, 2012

Restraints on Israel

In response to my recent blog posting entitled "Shock and awe in Gaza," I received several replies;  Here's one: Damn right, Jack! Your every word right on the nail.   Here's another: There is a problem with pinpoint targeting. In a way this insulates the general population from hardship. I think this is a mistake. What if many intersections, gas stations, bridges or overpasses (if present) and other possible targets etc. were severely damaged. The people of Sderot and others face terror and upset on a regular basis. Why not give the people of Gaza a regular tit for tat for each rocket fired the targeting of service or infrastructure. Tit for Tat is an established game theory strategy. Telephone poles, water treatment plant distribution maybe even an accidental hit to the physical power grid (but not the actual power plant). Make the population feel the pain.
I discussed this issue with a friend and this was his response.  Yes, that's the proper way to deal with the situation, the US could do that, or Britain or France, but not Israel.  During the NATO attacks on Serbia, a British pilot hit a train full of passengers and the US destroyed the Chinese Embassy with the Chinese staff inside.  Net result, a few condemnations.  As soon as Israel kills one Palestinian civilian there is an outcry and media liberals are waiting to pounce. Unfortunately a family of 11 were killed when an apartment building in which a Hamas military leader was believed to be living was blown up, one of the many where Hamas operatives have in fact been killed.  This is part of the inevitability of warfare, termed "collateral damage."  There are western BDS liberals who are looking for any excuse to attack Israel and then the Arab countries get involved and the UN issues threats ("both sides must show restraint") and the Western countries back-off ("de-escalation" in Obama-speak) and give Israel a week at most to finish off the job and stop firing. 
Hamas and all the other Palestinian groups know the drill, they wait for the UN to force Israel to withdraw and then we are back to square one, the status quo ante, as we were in 2004 after Operation Cast Lead.  Then again it becomes a never-ending cycle of Hamas missiles and Israeli counter-attacks.  In order to get out of this cycle there is only one way, since Hamas is never going to give up its embittered enmity towards Israel.  That way is to destroy Hamas completely, its personnel, its facilities and its means of governance.  Israel is partially doing this, but it never gets to complete the job because of restraints upon Israel that are not put on other nations in similar circumstances.   
Things could be a lot worse.  Israel has complete control of the skies and since Hamas has no effective aerial defence they are literally defenceless to our air force.  Clearly it is irrational for them to continually fire rockets at us to elicit an armed response, but they do.  Also, Israel has excellent intelligence, from collaborators on the ground, bugging calls and listening devices and from satellite surveillance.  This is borne out by the pinpoint hits on military leaders that have been successsfully carried out. 
People prefer to forget that Israel is supplying Gaza with electricity (for which they are not paying), water, oil and food (delivered by hundreds of trucks a day).  Why is this?  Because Israel does not want to be responsible for a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  But, during actual hostilities these supplies are interrupted, not because Israel cuts off the supplies, but because of the impossibility of maintaining the supplies during the fighting.  Fuel and water lines get cut, pylons delivering electricity are destroyed, trucks cannot enter the Gaza crossings, which are closed.  So the population of Gaza suffers, if not as directly under attack as by other countries, but I think they get the message. 
What is the message?  It should be "mess with us and you're dead!" but what it is is "mess with us and we'll tolerate it until we can't anymore and then we'll destroy your weapons capability and some of your military leaders, and then we'll stop."  Unfortunately it's not good enough, not for me, but for the future of Israel.  One of these days Israel must finish off the job, and this requires a ground invasion that literally cleans out the terrorists.  But, door to door fighting in an urban setting is dangerous and costly in terms of casualties, are we willing to risk the lives of our young soldiers for this?  Instead we could sit under the constant threat of missiles, although fewer get killed.  It's a risk-benefit analysis for which there is no clear-cut answer.
A related issue is how have the so-called "Arab spring" uprisings changed the reaction of the Arab countries to the current conflcit.  So far it has somewhat muted their response.  They are still recovering from their own internal dissension.  But, the reaction in Egypt is a harbinger.  Whereas Mubarak considered Hamas an enemy  and he banned the Muslim Brotherhood, Pres. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Bortherhood and so they have basic sympathy for the Palestinains under Hamas.  They basically discount and ignore the firing of missiles into Israel and concentrate only on the counter-reaction of Israel on Gaza.  At present they can't do anything tangible to help Hamas, but if Hamas survives, which is likely, then the next go around Egypt will probably be directly involved in aiding Hamas. Memories are short and unfortunately the Arbas might want to try a major war with Israel all over again.  That will change the future picture, when a whole series of Sunni fundamentalist governments in the Arab world will support Hamas.  At present Syria is out of the picture, due to its ongoing civil war, the PA is opposed to Hamas and is trying the diplomatic route against Israel and Iran is still the main enemy.  
This is not abstract for all of us.  Our daughter and her family live in Beersheva.  Yesterday during the day there were 17 missiles fired at Beersheva, 5 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and one that was missed got through and hit an empty site in the city (the rest were targeted on unpopulated areas).  We offered them to spend Shabbat with us in Netanya, until now beyond the range of rockets from Gaza.  But, they decided to return to Beersheva and spend Shabbat there.  They said that Hamas is not going to chase them out of their home.  Very commendable, but worrying.  Hamas and the other enemies of Israel should note this.  We are determined and we will overcome this threat and go on to bigger and better things. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Long range missiles

The use by Hamas of long range missiles, over 70 km, that reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was called a "game changer" by some corespondents.  It not only indicates that Hamas is over-reaching, in order to show its capability to threaten Israel, but it brought home to half of Israel's population that they too can come under attack and this will undoubtedly have consequences.  It will provide popular support for a ground operation in Gaza to find and destroy all missiles.  It may also guarantee a victory for PM Netanyahu in the upcoming elections and may bring the most right-wing government into power in Israel's history.  So the attacks on Israel's major cities may boomerang on the terrorists.
And what did Hamas actually gain by targeting these cities with a few missiles?  No-one was killed or even injured by the missiles on these major cities.  The latest of the missiles were intercepted by the new Iron Dome battery that was installed near Tel Aviv to protect the central area of Israel.  The non-targetable missiles near Tel Aviv fell into the Mediterranean sea and those directed to Jerusalem fell far to the south in the settlement of Etzion and to a nearby Arab village.  Many may not know that Etzion was one of the few Israeli settlements that were captured by the Arabs in 1947 and was completely demolished by them, down to the foundations, including the uprooting of all "Zionist" trees.  After the victory of 1967 when the area of the so-called West Bank (in fact Judea) was recaptured by Israel, the Etzion bloc, consisting of three kibbutzim on land of which had been legally bought by Jews from the 1920s, were re-settled by the surviving children of the original settlers.  They have rebuilt thriving settlements there as well as nearby suburbs of Jerusalem.  No-one in Israel is willing to give the Etzion bloc up to be destroyed again.
Israel is quite capable of fighting a two- or even three-border war, as it did in 1967 (against Egypt, Syria and Jordan).  But, of course its better not to have to do that.  If things work out then Israel may only have to fight Hamas in Gaza, because Syria is not capable of fighting a war now that it is itself involved in a civil war and neither side will want to squander its precious munitions on a losing battle with Israel.  Also, Hizbollah in Lebanon, with its arsenal of over 10,000 missiles, will not want to get involved against Israel, since it is totally distracted and may need its armaments to support Syria and indeed its own position in Lebanon.  There is an additional factor that cannot be ignored, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shia fundamentalists in Iran and in south Lebanon are intractable enemies.  The Iranian regime that controls Hizbollah will not want to support the Sunni fundamentalists and may even hope for an Israeli vcicitry against their own Muslim enemy, the better to triumph over Israel in the future.  Also, they may worry that an attack by Hizbollah on Israel might trigger an Israeli attack on Iran itself, for which they are not yet prepared. Meanwhile missiles continue to rain down on southern Israel, hitting houses and causing injuries.  So this may be a historic juncture when the IDF can focus on one enemy and hopefully defeat it utterly.
Last night the Hamas government building in Gaza City, where Ismail Haniyeh has his ofice, was destroyed completely by IAF attacks. At present there is talk of a ceasefire from a  meeting of Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Qatar being held in Cairo.  PM Netnayahu has basically said that if Hamas does not stop its missile fire completely and agree to a complete and extended ceasefire then the IDF will launch its ground attack into Gaza.  This is what is called reestablishing Israeli deterrance.  However, in either case such an agreement cannot be expected to last for a long time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shock and awe in Gaza

When the US forces went into Iraq in 1991 they used the tactics of "shock and awe," in other words they used so much overwhelming power that the enemy had no ability to respond effectively.   If that isn't using disproportionate force what is?  But, Israel is always accused of this, the use of disproportionate force.  Today the Russians used this tired criticism.   Thank God that we have it!  Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization that says repeatedly that it wants to destroy Israel, not just the State but all the Jews in it. And they don't just say it, but Hamas and the Iranian proxy Islamic Jihad fire missiles into Israel all the time, ceasefire means nothing to them.  And we are supposed to sit and take it, as we have for 13 years, since Israel withdrew from Gaza completely! 
Last time Israel responded with force in Operation Cast Lead in 2008, we were criticized for causing civilian casualties, but the fact is that the vast majority of the casualties, ca. 800 out of 1,300 were actually combatants, fighters who don't wear a uniform but are trained terrorists.   This time I expect it will be the same, castigate Israel whatever happens.  But, frankly I and most Israelis don't care any more. The IDF has overwhelming capability compared to Hamas in Gaza, even though they have been smuggling arms and munitions into Gaza for 10 years, through tunnels under the Egyptian border and openly from Egypt and by sea.  And even though they cannot rationally win any war against us, their only tactic is to cause Israeli civilian casualties and keep our people in the south terrorized.
Three people were killed in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi (City of Angles or Los Angeles) yesterday.  Now by targeting Tel Aviv, over 70 km from Gaza, Hamas has crossed a red line.  Israel will not stand for this, and so the IDF must counter-attack with shock and awe.  We must destroy their capability to continually fire missiles at us.  Of the over 320 sorties flown by the IAF so far over Gaza, only 15 people have reportedly been killed and of these only six were civilians, so this is truly precision bombing.  There are not many, if any, air forces in the world that could maintain such a low casualty ratio.  Israel has all the weapons of the best air force in the world available and we should use them.  If the Government decides to send in ground troops so be it.  
Hamas cannot rationally win any battle with the IDF, but they ignore that reality in order to cause us harm.  Perhaps their main aim in this case is to bring Egypt into the conflict on their side.  Pres. Morsi of Egypt is planning a solidarity visit to Gaza today.   Since he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, they have essentially the same views.  But, Egypt is a country in dire straits, it needs US aid very badly.  If Morsi does nothing to restrain Hamas in Gaza from firing rockets into Israel, then US aid to Egypt should be suspended!  If Morsi goes further and supports Hamas militarily, which we don't expect that he will at this stage, then the situation becomes extremely dangerous, and this will not be Israel's doing.  Israel has 30,000 ground troops, with tanks and other weapons, poised to enter Gaza.  If Morsi does not have a positive influence on the leaders of Hamas and if the missile fire into Israel continues, then let it be shock and awe in Gaza. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

War with Hamas

After four years since the last outbreak of major fighting between Israel and Hamas, Operation Cast Lead in 2008, the IAF hit many targets throughout Gaza yesterday.  The major strike was the assassination by missile of Ahmed Jabari, whose car received a direct hit and he was obliterated.  This was a measure of Israel's amazingly accurate intelligence on terrorist activity in Gaza.  Jabari as the head of the Izzadin Kassem military wing of Hamas was responsible not only for the barrages of hundreds of missiles fired into Israel, but also for the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit for 5 years and then his exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. The IAF destroyed many underground caches of long-range missiles too, thus removing a greater threat to all of Israel.  
In retaliation, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations fired more missiles into southern Israel, causing a million Israelis to take shelter and hunker down in corridors and bunkers.  All schools and universities were closed and all gatherings of 50 or more people were banned by the Home Front Command.  The Operation termed Pillar of Defense will continue until Hamas stops firing missiles into Israel, and might require an IDF ground offensive.  
Egypt recalled its Ambassador to Israel, who only arrived recently, and warned Israel against its "aggression."  But, noone expects Egypt to directly support the Hamas offensive, partly because its military is in a mess and partly because it desperately needs US financial support in order to feed its 80 million people. Pres. Morsi also fears Hamas becoming too powerful an influence in Egypt. The US under Pres. Obama supported Israel's right to defend itself.  UN Secty Gen Ban ki Moon urged restraint on both sides. 
The Iron Dome anti-missile system, the first of its kind in the world, operated effectively, destroying many missiles en route to populated areas.  With the early warnings, the population taking shelter and the anti-missile system, Israel has so far avoided any civilian deaths.  But, the situation takes a heavy toll on people's lives, especially for children, who tend to suffer nightmares and nervous conditions.  Hopefully this outbreak of fighting won't last too long, and Hamas, taking heavy blows from the IAF, will quickly realize that it risks being destroyed and will soon call a halt on the missile firings.  To our family in Beersheva we wish you all to be safe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

God is chance

Everyone knows the famous quote from Albert Einstein, "I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos."   What most people don't know is that this statement represents Einstein's opposition to quantum theory, and Einstein was wrong!  Simply put, quantum theory describes the properties of elementary particles, electrons, protons and neutrons, and is based on probability.  Electrons are not distributed in discrete orbits as envisioned by classical theory, but are distributed in space.  One outcome of this theory is the "uncertainty principle" of Werner Heisenberg, namely that you cannot know the exact location and speed of an electron at the same instant.  For reasons that are beyond the scope of this little article, Einstein could not accept quantum theory as propounded mainly by Niels Bohr, and so he tried to find an alternative theory and failed (for further details see "Einstein: his life and universe," by Walter Isaacson). 
When faced with the world as we experience it, most people in the past have assumed that it was all put together by a man-like super-being named "God" (something I've called TBFIS "the big fairy in the sky").  But, the findings of science over the past few hundred years have greatly reduced the realm of God's authority.  Where once the weather was thought to represent God's whim, we now accept the science of meteorology, we watch weather patterns approaching every day on the TV.   When lightning strikes it is not a manifestation of God's anger (Zeus flinging his bolts of lighting) but a result of static electricity and the precise point of its strike is based on pure chance. 
It's human nature in times of difficulty to call upon an external omnipotent being for help. When people pray "God help me" or "God save me", what they are in effect saying is give me the luck/chance to survive this situation I find myself in.  Either its a natural event such as an earthquake, a storm, a volcanic eruption, or a man-made disaster such as a war or a burglary.  In all cases substitute the word "chance" for "God" and you get the same result, a prayer for chance to favor the prayee.  In other words, "God" is a synonym for "chance" or "luck" or "probability".  Everyone knows life is unpredictable and full of randomness.
Historically man has regarded himself as a model for God.  Some people aver that "God is love," but love itself is a human concept that is based on human inter-personal relations.  Spouses often wonder if their 'significant other' truly loves them, and of course all parents (well most anyway) love their children.  God's supposed love is really a human emotion writ large.  Even if the God is abstract as in Judaism and Islam (not so much in Christianity that believes in the Greek concept of a human son of a God), God still thinks like a man (or presumably a super-man).  That is why it is so threatening to religion to regard man as a product of biological evolution, of chance working over millions of years on the genome through various kinds of mutations to produce intelligent self-aware organisms. So next time you want to say "thank God" substitute "thank chance."  It doesn't have the same ring, but it's more accurate.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BBC fiasco

This is complicated, so you'll need to pay attention.  The Director General of the BBC George Entwistle resigned today.  He resigned because an interviewee on the Newsnight program named a former Tory MP Lord McAlpine as one of the persons who sexually abused him when he was a 12 year old boy living at a home in South Wales.  He was describing how he and many other boys were driven to London to see the sights and then spent an evening drinking with older men, some of whom were MPs, who later had sex with them.  What was completely unacceptable was that the interviewer asked him if he knew who some of the men were and he described a man that others identified as Lord McAlpine.  However, after the show and the interview had been aired, he was shown a photo of Lord McAlpine and he said that he was not one of the men who abused him.  So the BBC recanted and apologized.  Meanwhile Lord McAlpine had publicly rejected that claim and had instituted civil court proceedings against the BBC.
George Entwistle was appointed Dir. Gen of the BBC only less than 2 months ago. His predecessor Mark Thompson had resigned after it had been discovered that BBC reporters had been breaking rules of accuracy and honesty in their reporting (he is now Managing Dir. of the New York Times Company).  It has since been discovered that the comedian Sir Jimmy Savile had been sexually abusing young girls for a period of over 20 years while working mainly for the BBC.  These acts had occured on BBC premises and elsewhere, notably in hospitals and clinics where Savile performed for charity and in several cases he was allowed access to hospitals at any time, including night time, when he was known to bring young girls into bedrooms without any supervision.  Until now some 300 people have reported to the police that they were abused by Savile and others at the BBC and elsewhere. The BBC program Newsnight, following reports of misconduct over the years, carried out an investigation into these allegations and was due to have run a program about Jimmy Savile late last year, but, the program was cancelled.  When Savile died in late October instead the BBC ran a laudatory commemoration of him.  
Now there are two investigations underway in the BBC, on how Jimmy Savile managed to get away with his illegal sexual activites in the BBC and why the Newsnight program that documented this was suspended.  Now there will be another investigation into how the Newsnight program allowed this allegation of sexual misconduct against a specific individual to be made on air, without any editorial checking.  Entwistle had to resign when it became clear that he knew nothing about this allegation a day after it had been reported in the media and had no editorial involvement whatsoever in the production of the Newsnight program, long after questions had been raised about their production values.  It seems that there was no journalistic checking whatsoever. 
Although the BBC is an independent Authority, that receives Government funding but is editorially independent, it nevertheless answers to a Board that is Governent appointed.  How this further scandal upon scandal will affect the future of the BBC is unknown, but one thing is clear, the BBC is not neutral in its reporting.  It is controlled by a left-wing, pro-Arab staff, and while missiles were raining down on Israel this week, the BBC reported the conflict from Gaza purely from the Palestinian point-of-view. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Two border skirmishes

In the past 24 hrs some 100 missiles, rockets and mortar shells have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza by terrorists. This makes 13 years since southern Israel has been bombarded from Gaza, and thousands of missiles have been fired.  Today a car was hit and two men were injured and a house was hit and a woman was injured, but noone was killed so far.  The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted three missiles, one headed for Beersheva. As usual it is difficult to ascertain exactly when the situation escalated, as it has done hundreds of times over the past years.  
The IDF discovered a huge, deep tunnel from Gaza into Israel thru which the terrorists could bring heavy weapons, and the IDF blew it up.  Also, several men were caught near the security fence that separates Gaza from Israel and one was killed.  Then the terorrists fired an anti-tank shell at an Israeli jeep making a routine patrol and injured the four men in it, one very seriously.  The IAF then carried out bombing raids on targets, including missile storage and manufacturing sites in Gaza, during which 4 people were killed.  This apparently triggered the barrage of missiles.  In this case Hamas announced that it is backing the attacks by other terrorist groups, including Islamic Jihad that is an Iranian proxy
PM Netanyahu and several Ministers said that they regard this as an extremely serious outbreak of hostilities and unless it is stopped immediately the IDF will take strong punitive measures.  However, the terrorists have heard this before, so they automatically go into hiding and slow the missiles for a few days until the danger is past.  The million or so inhabitants of southern Israel are fed up with this scenario and pray for a real attack by the IDF into Gaza that will actually clean out the terrorists, rather than spending huge sums of money (ca. m$500) to strengthen roofs and buildings within the area close to Gaza.  By the way, note that the many Arabs who live in southern Israel are also affected by these bombardments and have to run to shelters.  In most cases people have only 15 secs to reach safety.
While this conflict is escalating in the south, the northern border with Syria is also hotting up.  Several times stray bullets and shells have been fired across the Syrian border into the Israeli Golan.  Until today Israel simply issued a warning, but a shell that landed in an Israeli village this time drew an active response.  The IDF fired some shells and heavy machine guns into Syria.  It is unclear who is firing these stray rounds into Israel, either the Syrian Army or the Free Syrian Army.But, the former is considered more likely, and Israel does not want to become embroiled in a civil war in Syria.  It seems unlikely that either side would want to engage the IDF since that would seriously diffuse their military capability.  However, Israel lodged a complaint with the UN peace keeping body and warned that if this continues or escalates the IDF will be given orders to put down these provocative actions.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Muslim women's rights

On the internet there is a movement called "The revolt of Muslim women," that started when a young Syrian woman showed a picture of her face unveiled and wrote a statement (in Arabic and English) that she wanted to be able to feel the wind in her hair and on her face.  Soon this picture was removed from Facebook, but many other Muslim women wrote in support and said the same thing, and soon the original picture was reinstated.  Now there is a cyber movement of Muslim women in favor of their human rights and against the Muslim practice of veiling and covering women's faces and bodies in all-encompassing garments, such as burka, chador, niqab or hijab.   Where is the movement among liberal women in the West to support such a brave movement among Muslim women (they are too busy attacking Israel, the only country in the Middle East that has complete legal equality for women). 
These women's garments are supposed to preserve a women's modesty, because in fact Muslim men cannot control themselves and regard any woman alone, especially if unveiled, as fair game.  It was only recently that Egyptian women have been allowed to go out of their homes alone without being accompanied by a male relative, even a young son. The onus is put on the Egyptian women instead of focusing on the abuse by Egyptian men.  All over the Muslim world this enforced purdah is gradually crumbling, but ever so slowly.  In Pakistan the schoolgirl who publicly supported education for all females, Malala Yousufzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban and is now recovering in a London hospital.  Bombing of girl's schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is common and many girls have been killed.   
An Egyptian Committee is writing a new constitution for Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and there are demonstrations for it to be based on Sharia Law (Sunni Muslim religious law), which considers women as chattel.  But, there are no public demonstrations for women to be given elementary human rights, because if there were they would be physically attacked.  It is estimated that every other woman in Egypt has been raped or physically abused at some time in her life.  Why would men who have control over women agree to give up this control?  Muslim society is based on the use of women as property and as slaves, much as the American South was based on Black slavery.  Overcoming this primitive culture will take a long time, and perhaps even require a civil war, but until this culture of debasing women is changed Muslim society cannot advance. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Jewish speciation

I am reading a wonderful book, "The Song of the Dodo: island biogeography in an age of extinction" by David Quammen.  So what has this got to do with the Jewish question, the answer is nothing, and everything.  Bear with me as I attempt to traverse this particular intellectual tightrope.
Speciation is the process whereby new species evolve.  Reading this book on ecology and the development of understanding of evolution on islands is very instructive.  Islands have thrown up some strange species over long periods of time, as Darwin and Wallace discovered.   Quammen also uses human examples for illustration, such as the Aborigines of Tasmania, who were separated from their cousins on Australia for some 10,000 years and who developed not only their own social structures but also some distinct physical characteristics (they were taller and thinner, with bushy reddish hair) and they never used boomerangs.  But, they were not a separate species, only perhaps going on the way towards a sub-species, before they basically became extinct after contact and competition with British civilization.   
If I compare the Jews in eastern Europe to the early Zionists, although they came from the same origin, the Zionists broke off.  They developed a completely distinct new secular philosophy and those who made aliyah to the Promised Land, then part of the Turkish Empire, faced tremendous physical difficulties and challenges.  They self-consciously sought a break with the old ways, they returned to the Land and worked the land.  They had to develop self-defense organizations and train for combat.  Meanwhile the Jews in eastern Europe remained passive and depended on God for protection. a plan that did not work.  The early Jewish immigrants to Eretz Yisrael were isolated in a harsh new environment with a completely different social structure, often in cooperative kibbutzim. 
It was as if a Jewish offshoot had landed on a far distant island and there began the process of forming a new species of Jew, a process of speciation.  This process became complete when the original population, the Jews of eastern Europe, was wiped out, as if by a cataclysm, even though a man-made one, and became virtually extinct (although there were some survivors) and the remaining Jews on their desert island, surrounded by enemies, evolved into a new sub-species.  Once the new Jew established his ability to survive in the new-old environment and organize a State, they became Israelis. 
Many people have speculated on the difference between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.  Of course, in the West, in the US and Britain, Jews have a great deal of freedom to practice their own beliefs, to live safely and to vote in elections.  They too are distinct from the Eastern European Jewish model.  But, even in Britain, Jews are not all that safe.  All Jewish organizations need round-the-clock protection and in Britain and all over Europe there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jews are regularly attacked.  In the US things are better and Jews have the luxury of voting for candidates who do not represent their best interests.  That is indeed freedom.  But, even though the Jews of America are free, they are not as independent and self-reliant as Jewish Israelis.  Jewish sovereignty is a precious commodity that had to be earned by harsh experience, a process of survival of the fittest, a process of speciation. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sir Lewis Namier

On Tues I went to a talk at a luncheon of the Forgotten People's Fund given by Marjorie Glick, an experienced and professional historian, on "Zionism's Fallen Angel, Sir Lewis Namier 1888 - 1960."  Namier was an eminent British historian and philosopher.
Namier was born Ludwik Niemirowski in Polish Galicia into a wealthy, secularized Jewish family, some of whose members had converted to Christianity.  He was educated at the University of Lvov and then Lausanne and then entered the London School of Economics in 1903.  He became a naturalized British citizen in 1913 and fought as a private in WWI, but was discharged due to poor eyesight.  He then joined the Department of Information and then the Foreign Office and was a political officer on the British Delegation to the Versailles Conference of 1919.  His antagonism to the anti-Semitism of the Polish Delegation resulted in the city of Lvov being transferred to the Ukraine. 
After leaving Government service Namier was accepted at Balliol College, Oxford, and taught there for a brief period, 1920-21.  This experience had a lasting effect upon him and for the rest of his life he sought to join the British elite.  In 1929 he published The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III which was considered a masterpiece of historiography and helped to revolutionize understanding of that period.  He then specialized in the workings of the Houses of Parliament and the political parties, and showed how local politics was paramount in British politics.  His knowledge and understanding of the Edwardian period was considered exemplary.  However, notwithstanding his prominence in English history he was turned down for Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge, undoubtedly due to prejudice against his Jewishness (he was regarded as loud and opinionated).  This embittered him and during his life he felt underappreciated.  Subsequently he became Professor of History at Manchester University in 1931, where he met Chaim Weizmann, who was also a Professor of Chemistry there, and he became a life-long Zionist.  Namier worked as political secretary for the Jewish Agency for Palestine and had a close relationship with Weizmann.  However, this friendship was severed when Namier converted to Anglicanism to marry his second wife. 
He had a strong aversion to Germany and was one of those who publicly warned against the policies of appeasement and of ignoring the lessons of previous history.  He fought hard to bring Jewish refugees to Britain and wrote a piercing history Europe in Decay 1936-1940 published in 1950.  He was knighted in 1952 and remained at Manchester University until his retirement in 1953 and he died in 1960.  He was eulogized at his funeral by the Foreign Secretary, George Brown. 
Although Namier sought to be part of the British elite, this was denied him because of his being Jewish.  He never tried to hide his Jewishness and there is an anecdote about Namier, preeminent historian of England, Sir Isaiah Berlin, premier philosopher of England, and American Bernard Berenson, premier expert on Renaissance Italian art, meeting in the 1950s and having a high level conversation in Yiddish. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama II

I was trying as usual to figure out what to write about today and then it came to me, the Presidential election of course!  How can you not!  As of this writing, Pres. Obama has won re-election and although some states are too close to call (Florida, Ohio), nevertheless Obama appears to have won.  One must admit that Obama ran a well-organized campaign, with the advantage of being the incumbant, and was the first President elected with a higher unemployment figure at the end of his term than at the beginning, yet he still won.  Although Romney ran a creditable race, and seemed Presidential, he never projected the charisma that Obama generates naturally.  I think it's a case of style over substance, but everyone may have their own opinion about that.
Obama won amongst young people, blacks (90%), hispanics (80%) and asians (75%),  Romney won amongst whites and seniors.  It was clearly an uphill struggle for Romney to attain the popular vote.  As the complexion of the US population changes, whites being in a  minority, that would help non-white candidates, but as the proportion of seniors increases that may favor the more conservative candidate.   
WIll it be four more years of the same, or will some things change, for the worse or even for the better?  Most people think that Obama does not have the policies or the capability to improve the economy.  Things will probably get worse before they get better. Obamacare will become the institutionalized healthcare system in the US, extending coverage to more people, but also costing a lot more.  On foreign policy there may be a tremendous effect if Obama decides, as he is likely to, not to consider a military option against Iran developing nuclear weapons.  In that case, Israel may be forced to act unilaterally, causing a rift with the US.  Obama is more likely to pressure Israel again to make concessions to the Palestinians, yet this will bring no useful result since Gaza is under Hamas control and Abbas of Fatah will be afraid to make any agreements with Israel under those conditions.  It is doubtful if Obama can deal effectively with Egypt, Syria and the ingrained anti-Americanism in the Arab world.  Certainly US influence world-wide is in decline.
But, on the positive side, another democratic election has occurred peacefully in the US.  The Congress is going to remain predominantly Republican, so in their wisdom the American people gave the President a mandate to continue his policies, yet at the same time provided a Congress that is able to rein in the more extravagant elements of those policies.  So the US will limp on into the future with hope, but without much conviction.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Arab suicide

The Israeli Government decided that it is in its interest to destroy Syria, to destroy its military, its infrastructure and its leadership.  There are two reasons for this, first that Syria itself is the leader of the Arab rejectionist bloc against Israel and second that Syria is a close ally of Iran and a conduit for arms and materiel to Iran's Shia proxy Hizbollah in Lebanon as well as Hamas in Gaza.  No enemy is more dangerous for Israel ecept Iran itself.  How much is Israel willing to pay to destroy Syria? What must Israel do to realize this aim -  the answer is: nothing!  All Israel has to do is sit back and wait for the Syrians to destroy themselves, they are so split by violence and hatred, that as long as Israel remains strong, is a hard nut to crack, the Arabs turn on each other and in killing each other realize Israel's aims.
One might think that there are other reasons for the suicidal self-destruction of Syria, including the enmity between pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces and the sectarian friction between Alawite and Sunni forces.  But, if Syria had managed to attack and capture parts of Israel, then they would be united in this campaign.  But, in the absence of any ability of the most rejectonist state to counter Israel's existence and indeed thriving, they turn on each other.  The civil war in Syria may be recorded as a latter part of the "Arab Spring" of "the people" against the 40 year dictatorship of the Assads.  But its rather late for the "spring" now, and the civil war is a fundamental crack in Arab social organization that basically results from their inability to prosper, to give their people anything like the life they see existing in Israel, and their inability to challenge or counter Israel in any meaningful way.  They are very good at slogans, but not much else.
Now that a measure of democracy has arrived in Egypt, as well as Tunisia and Libya, those Arab countries have to come to a fundamental balance.  They have to develop a civil society governed by a democratic process, whereby the people can change their government if they so choose, and where they are concerned with the quality of life of the people, and not with trying to destroy Israel.  That latter course leads back to dictatorship, war and poverty.  This is a difficult balancing act for the Arabs, but eventually they must be able to make the transition.  Simply over-throwing the dictators is not enough, they have to produce a system that alleviates the symptoms of dictatorship and that includes learning to live with Israel. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Abbas tells all

In a candid interview with Israeli TV Channel 2 conducted in English, Pres. Abbas of the Palestine Authority essentially recognized Israel and appeared to give up the "right of return."  He said that he was born in Tzvat (Safed) and he would like to visit there, but he recognizes that he cannot return to live there since it is now within Israel, instead he said he lives in Ramallah.  He also said that during his watch there will be no third armed intifada (uprising against Israel) and he will not use violence to resolve the issues between the Palestinians and Israel, but only diplomatic and peaceful means.  He confirmed that as far as he is concerned Palestine now means the West Bank and Gaza and no more.
But, he reitereated his preconditions to restarting negotiations with the Goverment of Israel, namely that there must be a building moratorium on the West Bank, that the pre-1967 lines become the border of Palestine and that the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees must be resolved.   He claimed that these were not in fact pre-conditions, a claim that PM Netanyahu's office refuted.  Abbas was also criticized for saying these things by Pres. Haniyah of Hamas in Gaza, who said that the Israeli "occupation" could only be destroyed with violence and that Abbas was on "dangerous ground" for admitting that Israel now occupies a large part of Palestine.  In fact, Hamas organized a large demonstration tonite against Abbas, in which his image was burnt.  Abbas hastened to backtrack, on Arabic TV he said that he still supported the "right of return" of all Arab "refugees."  He also wrote a note to Pres. Morsi of Egypt and gave an interview to Egyptian TV assuring that the views expressed in the interview were his own personal opinions and had nothing to do with the formal positions of the PA, which were unchanged.  Nevertheless, Abbas may have signed his own death warrant by this interview, and has been criticized by many Palestinians as a "Zionist agent."
On the Israeli side there were several reactions.  PM Netanyahu issued a statement reiterating that he is prepared to meet with Abbas and negotiate anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions.  Pres. Peres said that Abbas is a moderate and reasonable partner for Israel.  Shelli Yachimovich, Head of the Labor Party, praised Abbas and blamed the stalemate in peace negotiations on Netanyahu.  FM Lieberman accused Abbas of interfering in the Israeli electoral process, by showing a false moderation designed to help the left, that he immediately renounced in Arabic.  So while things appear to improve in small steps, this is largely a PR stunt and any real change in the situation is an illusion. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Israelis want to be loved

On the weekend before the US Presidential election, the Features section of The Jerusalem Post is full of articles about Obama and Romney and their respective merits vis-a-vis Israel. 
In "Texas, Nebraska, Indiana: Why Israel is a red state," Herb Keinon points out why Israelis prefer Romney to Obama by about 80%, while American Jews support Obama by the opposite margin.  This emphasises that we are not "one," as the UJA ads used to say, but we are in fact "two."  The interests of American Jews in the election are mainly domestic (taxes, healthcare, deficits) while the overwhelming concern for Israeli Jews is foreign policy (Iran, Palestinians, UN).  Martin Sherman in "Obama, Islam and Israel" points out the concern regarding Obama's perceived softness towards extremist Islam, while Alon Pinkas counters with "President Obama, a friend."  Then in "How Obama saves Israel" Sarah Honig takes a cynical view towards Obama's support for Israel, comparing it to how Neville Chamberlain "saved" the Czechs before WWII.  There were also articles in previous days pointing out that the current relationship between Israeli and US security and armed forces has never been closer.
But, as Obama himself has emphasized, US support for Israel from his perspective is purely in US interests. Israel is a security and military asset to him, no more.  Yes, there was a huge joint military exercise recently, yes the relationship at the military level is closer, but is that what Israelis want?  Actually, for Israelis its not enough.  We want to feel that we have a friend in the White House, that whoever sits in the Oval Office is really concerned about our future safety.  Is this expecting too much?  Probably, but we can't help it, we also want to be loved (or at least liked). 
By never visiting Israel as President, by courting the Arabs and delivering his first major foreign speech from Cairo (now a defunct gesture since Mubarak has been overthrown), by making the US position more extreme (on settlement building) than that of the Palestinians (thus rendering negotiations impossible),  by disrespecting our Prime Minister on several occasions, and by then using Israel to win over US Jews, Obama has made himself persona non grata with Israelis.  We fear his second term if he is re-elected. Our fate as a State and our lives will be in the President's hands if there is war with Iran over their nuclear weapons program, and we fear he will (again) vacillate and not be firm in the necessary defence of freedom (much as happened in Benghazi).  We don't know if Romney has a gut reaction of friendship towards Israel, but we are willing to trust him rather than Obama.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Bibi in France

PM Bibi Netanyahu is visiting France.  He stood beside Pres. Hollande at the Elysee Palace and they made suitable speeches declaring goodwill and "entente cordiale."  They agreed that Iran was the major threat to western civilization and they will act to strengthen the sanctions against Iran to prevent it achieving a nuclear weapon.
But, the focus of the visit then changed as Hollande accompanied Netanyhau to Toulouse to visit the Jewish community there in the wake of the killing last March of four Jews outside the Ozar Hatorah school.  The dead were Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two children and a young girl, Miriam Monsonego (8).  The question being avoided was "is France safe for Jews?"  Hollande vowed to "relentlessly fight anti-Semitism" in France.  But, can that ever be enough.  There are five times the number of Arabs in France than Jews and many of them are from the North African former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.  There is overt hatred of Jews expressed throughout France by these Muslims in all walks of life, in school, on public transport and in the streets.  And the predominantly liberal-leftist climate of opinion in France that is anti-Israel only exacerbates this problem.  Jews are being attacked all the time.  The murderer of Toulouse, Mohammed Merah, who also killed three French policemen of Arab origin, had been on a training trip to Pakistan, but was not actively followed by the police.  The reason why is currently under investigation. 
There is no doubt that Hollande is sincere and that many French people are deeply disturbed by the anti-Semitic hatred expressed by the majority of French Muslims.  But, the question is, what can Hollande or any French President do about it?  They may want to stamp out attacks on Jews, but can they?   PM Netanyahu presented a viable alternative.  Without overly saying so he was showing that Israel is here as a haven for those Jews who can no longer stand the anti-Semitic climate in France.   So now there is a rivalry for Jews, between the secular life in France, tainted with anti-Semitism, and aliyah to Israel.
We see the Israeli end of that process every day, as the use of French becomes more common in Netanya, which is a mecca (appropriate word?) for the French in Israel.  I suppose it reminds them of the Cote d'Azure.  All cafes in Netanya cater to French tastes and the price of apartments is elevated by their purchases.  Even if they don't come to live here permanently, they usually buy an apartment in case they have to leave France imminently.  So there is a struggle between the pull of the Francophile secular life in France and the tolerant Jewish life in Israel.  As Hollande indicated, if all Jews choose to leave France that could spell the end of democracy in France.  He didn't say what would replace it, but everyone knows it would be a sharia Islamic State.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sandy's spawn

The weather in Israel is positively balmy, temps in the 80s, no rain and no storms.  Am I glad we live here right now, instead of Maryland where we used to live.  This storm named "Sandy" might result in an increase in aliyah to Israel from the US.  But, of course, we do have missiles raining down on the south of our country, they come and go but currently we are beyond their reach.
The damage on the East Coast is truly terrible, the amount of sea flooding is probably larger than the whole area of Israel.  The flooding of the subway in NYC may not be cleared for days and 8 million people are without power due to downed trees, what a mess.
Who will this benefit?  Pres. Obama is trying to appear presidential, not campaigning but running around making pronouncements and promising aid.  But, since this storm occurred on his watch, he should be held responsible!  It might help Romney after all, if some people decide not to vote, if they are still cleaning out the water from their basements on Nov 6. 
There will be one outcome of the storm, an increase in population.  People are unable to get to work and have to cuddle together for warmth (no electric blankets).   This will result in a spike of births nine months from now.  Don't be surprised if many of them will be called "Sandy."