Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kashmir again

For many years I have been warning that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan dwarfs the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Not only have India and Pakistan already fought three wars, but they are much more highly populated than Israel and the Palestinians and also they both have nuclear weapons that spells a potentially diastrous outcome.  The recent clashes along the line of control in which both Indian and Pakistani soldiers were killed does not bode well for the future.
Just as in the Middle East, the two parties to the conflict occupy portions of a territory, namely Kashmir, that they both claim.  Both have some right on their side, when the Indian subcontinent was split in 1948 each independent kingdom or princely state had the choice of opting to join either India or Pakistan.  In the case of Kashmir the Maharajah of Kashmir decided to join India even though the vast majority  of his subjects were Muslim (ca. 80%) and wanted to join Pakistan.  A Pakistani army invaded Kashmir and occupied part of it, then the Indian army entered Kashmir and drove them out of most of it.  In the end, 40% of what was considered to be Jammu and Kashmir was occupied by Pakistan and the rest by India, with an unstable border called the line of control between them. This conflict is very similar to the Israel-Arab conflict, but of course there are differences.
If one considers the amount of media attention and newpaper column inches devoted to the Middle East conflict compared to that of Kashmir, the bias of liberal journalistic support for the Palestinians is astounding, considering the real threat to the world's peaceful future in Kashmir.  Why are the Palestinians given so much media exposure and support, it can only be because their enemies are the Jews.  The Palestinians have no oil, no strategic location, no source of money, nothing to contribute to the betterment of mankind (like the Jews).  On the contrary they play on their manufactured victimhood as the exemplar of the dispossessed, mimicking the Jews in doing so.  Yet the liberal-leftist world regards them as virtually uncorrupted and sacrosanct, when in fact they are the opposite.  They are split in two, Fatah nationalists in the West Bank, Hamas Islamists in Gaza, and they kill each other without compunction.  Their whole framework is corrupt, stealing the aid intended for the people and they have no positive aims, only the commitment to destroy Israel.  Just as there were fellow travelers with the Stalinists, so there are fellow travelers with the Palestinians.  Yet, it is a mystery why, what have they contributed to civilization to deserve this support?  Nothing!
So forget the Palestinians, they are marginal, but forget Kashmir at your peril.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Whenever economic experts discuss the financial situation of any country they always refer to innovation as one of the main sources of future income.  Innovation clearly depends on technical know-how, that requires a country to be technologically advanced and have a thriving university-level educational system.  Further, government control of industry and jobs reduces the opportunities for individual-based innovation.  For surely it is the individual who has a bright idea or who advances a specific technology that is the basis of innovation and of entrepreneurship.
Steve Jobs developed the first Apple computer in his garage, Bill Gates developed the first computer operating system (Microsoft Windows) in his small office.  And as you go back in time you find many such innovators, such as Edison, Tesla, Marconi, Baird, Ford, etc. each of whom had a bright idea and the motivation to pursue it.  Many innovations rest upon basic findings in science, such as Einstein's relativity theory resulted in basic changes in the way physicists looked at the world and hence resulted in such new areas as space travel and electronics. 
I can only describe in detail the area that I know well, namely the discovery of the structure of DNA.  Watson and Crick's short paper in Nature in 1953 describing the double-stranded helical structure of DNA was revolutionary, but is was based on solid evidence gathered for over a century in such areas as chemistry, physiology, biochemistry and genetics (for a detailed description see Portugal and Cohen "A Century of DNA", 1977 MIT Press).  The important point is that there is a continuous line of study and investigation that leads to such revolutionary scientific breakthroughs, known as paradigm shifts (see, Thomas Kuhn "The structure of scientific revolutions"). There is also no evidence that deliberately planning to make such discoveries can succeed, they result from unplanned individual insights based on breaking with contemporary thinking.  The only places where such innovation and breakthroughs can occur are in the West where there is the history and technology that enables individuals to freely strive for novel insights.
In a communist planned and controlled economy there is no opportunity for such innovation, nor for personal remuneration for such effort.  Thus, communism in the USSR collapsed and China has had to reinvent capitalism in order to survive.  Innovation is the fuel for the engine of capitalism, and it is alive and well in Israel.  Many years ago I wrote an essay on the contributions that Jews had made to the development of western civilization, without such innovative thinkers as Marx, Einstein, Freud and the hundreds of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes, particularly in Physics, western civilization would not be what it is today.  And without the Israeli contribution, the smart phones and tablet computers that we use today would be inconceivable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Existential history

"Existential history" is my name for the brand of historical analysis that emphasizes the involvement of men and chance in history.  There certainly are long-term historical processes that culminate in the changes, be it evolutionary or revolutionary, that constitute what we know as history, the unfolding of events representing the story of men and women in relation to the environment and to each other.  But, much also depends on random events, chance and the sheer unpredictability of human actions and reactions.
Bertrand Russell pointed out that Napoleon Bonaparte was born on Corsica soon after the island was captured by France from Italy.  If it had still been controlled by Italy he would have gone to Rome and not Paris and history would have been completely different. Joseph Dzjugashvili survived as a weak child, was brought up in a seminary and then became a bank robber for the revolution.  As Joseph Stalin (steel) he was a ruthless, immoral man who when Lenin became ill and died, became General Secretary of the Communist party and murdered all potential rivals using communist ideology as an excuse.  Adolf Schiklgruber went through WWI and survived to become Adolf Hitler with a burning desire to take revenge on the enemies of Germany, principally the German Jews who he rationalized had been responsible for the crushing defeat of Germany.  Many incidents conspired to allow Hitler to achieve his goals and it took WWII to remove him and his hate-filled racist ideology from the world.   If these individuals had not existed we may say that someone else might have replaced them, but certainly not in an identical or even similar way.
In retrospect, history seems like a clear progression of events leading to certain conclusions, such as the winning of WWII by the Allies.   But, there were times, certainly early on, when Nazi Germany had control of most of Europe, that the eventual victory of democracy looked very remote and millions died before that could be achieved.  How the RAF won the aerial Battle of Britain is itself an example of an unpredictable combination of  technology, men and sheer guts, the superiority of the Spitfire and of its pilots. 
The existence of the State of Israel is another process that unfolded over a period of a hundred years (from 1882 to 1973) including many uncertain events and outcomes.  The military victory of the Six Day war in 1967 seemed to be the turning point in the realization of a strong stable Jewish State.  But, in 1973 the Arabs states attacked on Yom Kippur and the State was in danger of being over-run.  It was the fighting spirit and heroism of individuals like Zvika Greengold and Avigdor Kahalani, who made a stand and prevented hundreds of Syrian tanks from over-running the Golan Heights and descending into Israel.  One might say that such a victory by Israel was inevitable, but at the time it did not seem so, sometimes out-numbered 100:1 the Israelis tankers won out thru incredible firing accuracy and persistance. 
Another aspect of this type of history is the totally unexpected actions of certain individuals, for example, who exposed the corruption of Stalin and the evil of the communist system, none other than Khruschev, one of Stalin's staunch lieutenants.  And who eventually caused the downfall of communism, two of its former leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.   And who overturned apartheid in S. Africa and released Nelson Mandela, the leader of the last white minorty government F.W. de Clerk. And who brought about peace between Egypt and Israel, Pres. Anwar Sadat, who contrary to all predictions visited Jerusalem in 1977.  
This should give us hope for the future, overall democracy is winning, but the path to victory is not inevitable and is certainly convoluted. What is happening now in the Arab world, that was previously called the "Arab Spring" but has now devolved into an orgy of murder and blood-letting, is another of those processes that will affect the future of all of us.  The current French military reaction in Mali to wipe out a despotic Islamist hotbed, is an example of what will need to happen to contain the dreadful ideology of Islamism that has raised its bloody head from 9/11 onwards.  We do not know how, but we must have faith that through individual and combined efforts this ideological threat to the world's freedom will also be defeated.     

Monday, January 28, 2013

Failed Arab States

Israel is surrounded by failed Arab states.  All of them, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, are what have been called "cess-pits" by a British commentator. 
Egypt, that is the largest Arab country in terms of population, recently had its first democratic election in history.  But, what came out of that, a Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, and a parliament dominated by extreme Muslims.  It was reported recently that Morsi before he became President, stated that Jews are "bloodsuckers" and "sons of pigs and monkeys" (in this he was only quoting the Koran), thus revealing his personal views. The dedicated democrats in Egypt are rioting against the Government and have sacked the MB offices in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.  There were riots in Port Said over the trial results in which 21 were sentenced to death for the killing of 75 people after a soccer match last year, causing another 50 deaths. It never stops, and the idea that such disputes can be resolved peacefully is simply foreign to Egypt.  It will probably take another 100 years before Egypt can operate at western norms with a civilized system of government.
Syria is in a state of civil war in which a variety of Sunni groups are fighting to overthrow the Assad regime that is dominated by the minority Alawite sect (similar to the Shia of Iran).  In the past almost 2 years of this insurrection ca. 60,000 Syrians have been killed and ca. 1 million have been rendered homeless and are living as refugees in camps over the borders in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.  Syria is an artificial state containing three distinct groups, Alawite in the NW, Sunni in the center and Kurds in the NE.  Whether they will break apart remains to be seen, but the situation is one of stalemate and death. Syria will remain a failed state for years to come. 
In Jordan, there were elections last week, but the most powerful political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the election and refuses to cooperate with the Parliament, where they are not represented.  They oppose the power of the Monarchy that is dominated by indigenous Beduin.  The Monarchy is not stable without control of the army to put down any opposition.  Palestinians (from west Palestine) are ca. 70% of the population and represent a source of instability.  It is unlikely that King Abdullah's attempts at fostering democracy can stave off the forces that intend to overthrow his regime.  Jordan is on the way to becoming a failed state.
Lebanon is a chronic case of instability, an artificial country, cobbled together by the French in 1922 to protect the Christians as well as the Shia minority.  Ironically the Shia have become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics because they have the only militia, Hizbollah, that is still armed and is more powerful than the Lebanese Army, on the excuse that they are armed to repulse Israel.  In fact, Sheikh Nasrullah is using his power to control Lebanese politics acting as a proxy of Iran and Syria.  Lebanon is another failed state.
No wonder Israel is reluctant to negotiate with the Palestinians and Pres. Abbas of the PA is making impossible preconditions.  A Palestinian State would certainly be another failed State, since it it has no hope of being self-sufficient and is divided in two (Gaza and the West Bank) and would certainly be a haven for terrorists.   By contrast, Israel is a stable liberal democracy, with a thriving economy, that protects human rights and is a magnet for immigration.  Anyone can travel here and see for themselves.  Travel of westerners to any of the surrounding failed Arab states is not advisable.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Israeli coalition

Here's a novel idea, Yair Lapid is Israel's Barack Obama.  Yair Lapid is a moderate, middle class, centrist, whose father Tommy Lapid was a reporter and a secular politician who openly disliked the ultra-orthodox.  Yair takes after him, but is not so abrasive, and his new party Yesh Atid (there is a future) jumped to the second place in the recent election (19 seats) by using the catch word (you got it ) - "change."  Yair Lapid is young(ish), good looking, has charisma, was a TV anchor and knows how to present himself. 
How did he gain more seats than the other centrist/leftist parties, such as Kadima, Hatnuah, and Labor, all of which also emphasized the economic situation and favored domestic issues? All the others are made up of old style politicians, Shelly Yacimovich of Labor is head of a party that the voters are apparently fed up with, it was the largest party here for many years, but is now down to 15 seats and in decline.  Kadima (2 seats) was imbroiled in internal fighting and its current leader Shaul Mofaz was a former Chief of Staff of the IDF.  Tzipi Livni filled her Hatnuah movement (6 seats) with old-style politicians that she attracted from other parties and it looked like a collection of opportunists and hacks.  Only Yair Lapid selected clean people with no previous political experience.
Now someone like me might not vote for such a party with inexperienced, although clever, people.  But, apparently the younger, moderate, middle class, yuppie Israelis found this combination irresistible, just as Obama was irresistible to the more liberal, young, centrist (and colored) voters of the USA.  
PM Netanyahu has given a press conference in which he outlined the aims of his next Likud government coalition, that sounded very much like the aims of Yair Lapid.  No doubt he was sending a message, namely, we can get along very well together.  Both Likud and Yesh Atid have named their coalition negotiators and let the games begin.  Much will depend on what ministries Lapid wants to control.  Usually the second in command gets either the Foreign or Defense Ministry, but Lapid may prefer the Treasury, since most of his policies are domestic.  What he chooses will determine what is left for Likud and Israel Beitanu.  Then there will be the negotiations and haggling with the other possible coalition partners.
Lapid and Netanyahu have commited themselves to passing a law that will equalize military/civilian service for all young Israelis, including the haredi and Arab sectors. This will make it difficult to include Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7) that are against compulsory military service for religious students.   Both Likud and Yesh Atid have commited themselves to a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian problem, and this will make it difficult for Bayit Yehudi (12), that opposes a Palestinian State, to join the coalition. 
But, in the end all these parties are expected to compromise and join up so they can have influence over the government's policies, and so the coalition will be a broad one, probably with Likud-Beitanu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Kadima (2), Shas (11), Bayit Yehudi (12) and UTJ (7), making a  total of 82, certainly enough to govern with, as long as Netanyahu can hold it together - interesting times ahead.
From the Jerusalem Post (24/1/13); Possible coalitions:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rahamim and the Countess

Here is another of my short stories from my book "Discovering America" (available from

Rahamim and the Countess
Returning from Israel to Europe, I decided to ship my car to Marseille and then drive to Paris. Being alone on the boat was naturally a problem, so for the first day I kept my eyes open to see if I could get into conversation with someone. Every evening people gathered in the bar, and there was a band and dancing. I watched the people as they coursed here and there, and discerned three main groups.
The youngest was made up of a Zionist youth group which had spent a summer doing volunteer work on a kibbutz in Israel and was now returning to France. The older more staid members of the voyage were the tourists, of several nationalities, most of them well-dressed, and scattered in pairs or families at different tables. The group of intermediate age consisted mostly of young Israelis who were on vacation, and who seemed to get to know each other. I decided this was the group I should try to mix with.
By the pool it was this group that was most active, swimming, sun­bathing, flirting. I heard a couple speaking English and so intro­duced myself. They were originally from South Africa. Through them I met others in the group, and the second evening I sat among them, although my inability to speak Hebrew fluently and to understand their natural rapid speech made me also feel an outsider. Sitting around the table were several other Israelis who, although part of the group, seemed to keep more to themselves.
As I began to know the group better I realized that it was far from homogeneous. The South African couple were more representative, in that most of them came from north Tel-Aviv, and the affluent suburbs, such as Savyon. These two had obviously come on vacation together, although they were not married, but the others also quickly paired off. The rest of us who sat at the table were the odd-men out.
In the middle of this group was a tall, handsome, dark Israeli who every evening sat at the same place nursing his beer. The conversation flowed around him, and every so often he would utter a remark. From the gist of what was said to, about, and by him, I understood that there was an undercurrent of dislike between him and several others of the group although I could not fathom why.
I asked my South African friends and they said it was because he came from south Tel-Aviv, the Tikva Quarter, the poor area where mostly North African Jewish immigrants lived. They seemed to genuinely regret the ill-feeling, but it appeared that the fellow, Rahamim, had a chip on his shoul­der, and the other Israelis, notably the Sabras, the native-born Israelis, had taken to joking about him.
Naturally I felt sympathy for him and wanted to help in some way, but he spoke very little English, and even if he had spoken fluently I think he would probably have ignored me, as he treated the rest of the group. Matters deteriorated, and one evening a shouting match broke out between Rahamim and one of the other more ostentatious members of the group. When Rahamim calmly stood up and displayed his full height, well over six feet, towering over the other fellow, the matter was quickly settled (it was rumored he was a paratrooper).
Notwithstanding all the ill-feeling, Rahamim returned each evening to his seat in the midst of the group, as if protecting his territory.
We stopped for a day each in Cyprus and Rhodes, and then reached Piraeus. There several people left the boat and a few others joined the cruise. One family was particularly noticeable. It consisted of an elderly couple, a younger woman in her early thirties and her two children. They exhibited all the signs of affluence, the man looked particularly distinguished in a dark blazer, gray flannels and yachtsman's cap.
That afternoon I saw the younger woman walking alone on the upper deck. She was wearing silk flowing pantaloons and a matching top in light flimsy lace. The wind was blowing her clothes against her body and her auburn hair was flaming out behind her. It was a marvelous sight.  She streamed down the deck as if oblivious to all the eyes following her.
That night this new family sat at a front table by the band, and were shown a great deal of courtesy by the Captain, who visited and sat with them at their table for a long time. The rumor went around that the older couple was a Count and Countess from Italy, and that the daughter was also a Countess. While the older couple danced occasionally, the younger woman sat most of the time survey­ing the room, hardly talking.
On the second night she danced once or twice with the Captain, but otherwise sat aloof. Then Rahamim stood up, walked across the floor, and sat down next to her.  They first chatted for awhile, and then danced. I was puzzled at first as to what language they could be speaking, but then someone said French, of course, because Rahamim came from Morocco. From the first moment, Rahamim and the Countess were the object of intense interest and speculation.
By the next evening Rahamim was sitting in their midst as if he were an established member of the family. The older Countess seemed to pay him more attention than the younger, and seemed to be having fun flirting and dancing with him. From that evening little was seen of Rahamim elsewhere on the boat, and it was rumored that he had transferred to the Countess' cabin on the upper deck, while her children had been shifted elsewhere. The other young Israelis were at first quite shocked by this turn of events, and then very subdued about it.
A few days later we docked at Marseille, and like the rest of the passengers I stood on line to have my passport stamped, and then ran down to the dock to have the papers relating to my car validated. While I was thus scurrying around I happened to see Rahamim descend from the gangplank and enter a waiting black Mercedes. As it flashed by I caught a glimpse of the young Countess animatedly talking to Rahamim while he stared resolutely ahead.
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)

Thursday, January 24, 2013


My tuping is getting unbeleiveblay bad, with many mistakes, typoies  and extraw letterwsx, most nwotably w's. This is a n example of my typoing wiothout any correections.  Wher wo allthese w's come form?  Oc cousdre I checkl all my blogs before they gow out, and I find that w w is the most common unwnatedw letter.  Whyw is thisw?  If this were ina  newspaperw I wwoulkd bew fired, but of courser I wwasw!
I think I have delevoleef dfyslexia, but maybe hter eis a specfialc type of dysplxisa that deveolope when people becoem old.  I will call this Senior Adaptivfe Dsyslexia or SAD, and I wonde rif the medialc profession will waccept this as a new condition pr disease.   SAD is obviously the resuolt of loss of control of coordination between the brian and the fingers tyuping out the letteres.  It is a reuslt of inability ot cvontrolt eh rpevise order of the pressing of the little keys byt the huge fingers, that obviously gorw bigger with age. 
HAs the growth oif fingers tips with age been documentieed?  If not I willc all htis condition finger tipgrowth with age or FTGWA, a memorable acronym.  It needs to be carefully investigated , so don't be surperirsed if a technicain coems to your door to emasure your finger tips any time soon.  And while he's ther ehe may give you a test for SAD.  With allt ehse aging conditiions its no wonder that there's not mcuh left that works properly.  We may eb mjeasuring that soon too.  Be prepared. 
PS. Note; I didn't mention Yair Lapid at all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Election surprises

The Israeli election results are out and they contain two major surprises.  1. Reduced support for Netanyahu.  Although Likud-Beiteinu remains the largest party with 31 seats, they lost many seats and this leaves Netanyahu weakened and with a reduced ability to form a strong government coalition.   Whether it was a mistake for Likud to join with Israel Beitanu or whether this loss was an inevitable result of the electorate wanting change is difficult to say.  2. Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid Party is the biggest winner, gaining 18-19 seats.  SInce this is a new party with a new leader one can assume that the voters went for it as a sign of wanting change, especially since Yair Lapid appeals to the middle class (and women) and is definitely centrist, unlike Labor and Tzipi Livni who are more leftist in their positions. 
The big losers in the election are: 1. Shaul Mofaz, whose Kadima party was essentialy wiped out in the election; 2. Tzipi Livni, whose Hatnuah Party failed to garner more than 6 seats. 3. Shelly Yacimovich of Labor, whose hope of becoming queen of a left wing resurgence has failed with only 17 seats; 3. The much heralded move to the right with Naftali Bennet's Bayit Yehudi Party failed to materialize, although they received a respectable 12-13 seats. 4.  The even more right wing Otzma Yisrael (Strong Israel) party failed to obtain any seats in the Knesset.
Overall, the left/right divide was exactly balanced with ca. 60 seats for each, but you could argue that the right has more ability to forma  government with Likud plus Bayit Yehudi outnumbering the left's Labor plus Meretz plus Hatnuah by 43 to 29 with Yair Lapid in the Center determining who he will crown king with his coalition support.  Of course, there are the religious parties Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (6) that can be bought by either side, although they are more likely to go with Netanyahu than with Yacimovich.
Netanyahu has announced that he wants to form the widest possible coalition.  This may be difficult since some party positions are diametrially opposed, such as Yesh Atid and Shas, who are opposed on extending equal military service to the haredi community, and Hatnuah and Bayit Yehudi who are opposite in their support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.  However, a good and experienced politician like Netanyahu should be able to square the circle and persuade them that its worth their interests to be in the coalition rather than outside.  The only major party that I cannot see joining Netanyahu is Labor, since not only has Shelly Yacimovich ruled this out prior to the election, but they differ so much in economic and security policy.  So the extended coalition might be Likud-Beitanu/Yesh Atid/Bayit Yehudi/Shas/UTJ, making a total of 78 seats.  If Netanyahu can achieve such a coalition and hold it together he will be somewhat of a political magician.  How his being weakened will play in foreigh policy will be an interesting and important issue. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Election Day

Today is Election Day in Israel, its a national holiday, although some stores are open and buses are running.  Elections in Israel are a very quiet and low-ley affair compared to the years of campaigning, advertizing and hoop-la in the US and even the comparatively polite electoral process in the UK.  You could go to sleep and miss them here.  There is only a limited time for TV ads and they are restricted to specific times on specific channels.  Easy to miss and not often watched.  Also, the incidents of conflict and excitement are few and far between.
There were words exchanged between Netanyahu and Livni over who is a worse threat to the State.  We have had past statements regurgitated as possible threats to public safety, such as Jeremy Gimpel's statement of several years ago that he would blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, although it does not represent the policy of his party Bayit Yehudi and we vote for parties here.  Frankly compared to the negative ads and hard ball politics practised ad nauseam in the US, here it is very tame, and I prefer it that way.  You can make up you mind without being blasted with repetitive TV ads and posters everywhere.
One of the suprising features of the election has been the complete absence of any reference to the Palestinians.  It's as if they don't exist, as if Israelis are not concerned about them.  And indeed it shows that the Palestinians are not only not an issue in the campaign, they hardly impinge on Israeli consciousness.  Basically, Israelis have become used to the idea that there is nothing in fact that they can do about the Palestinians that will resolve the situation.  The Palestinians like most Arabs and Muslims are against Israel's existence, they won't recognize us and won't negotiate seriously and truthfully with us.  So what's the point in worrying about it.  When, if ever, they come around we'll be here, otherwise they are our enemy and there's nothing we can do to satisy them.  Pres. Abbas does not control the West Bank, let alone Gaza, and so there truly is no partner and so the Palestinian situation was by default ignored by all parties, except perhaps the left that claimed that Netanyahu is avoiding an opportunity to negotiate with them, but they were basically parroting Obama's position anyway against their political enemy.
 So we are going to vote to choose who we think should lead our wonderful country.  Even though everything is certainly not perfect here, and the electoral system leaves much to be desired, nevertheless we have a Jewish country with a stable democracy, and that's how we like it.   It took a lot of struggle and suffering to get to this point and we owe it to the pioneers to cast our ballots.  More analysis later when the results come pouring in. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The substitute genius

Friends, in 2009 I self-published three books, my autobiographical novel "Amanuensis" and two books of stories, one of short stories, entitled "Discovering America" and one of novellas, entitled "Trove."  I have decided to e-mail some of my stories to you as a break from my other articles.  Every author likes to be read, and noone is particularly interested in buying my books, so I thought I might expose some of my writings this way.  I would be interested in any candid feedback.  Maybe you can forward or recommend a story to your friends to expand the exposure.  My first story, chosen at random, is entitled "The substitute genius."  Read on...

The substitute genius
In 1944, when I was 15, I was tested at the Franz Lizst Conservatoire in Budapest for piano.  My precocious ability was already known to the staff there, but they would not enter me before because they said I was under-age, but it was probably because I was Jewish.  I was already known as a virtuoso, but nevertheless I had to take the test with the rest of the class of entrants.
            Unfortunately, my year of entry coincided with the takeover of Hungary by the Nazis, because the Hungarian Government under Admiral Horthy was not considered sufficiently Fascist for them. The Iron Cross movement had undermined the Government and had assisted the Germans in their rapid conquest of Hungary.  We knew that it would become much worse for the Jews from then on. 
            When my name was called “Wilhelm Wolfe,” I stood and entered the Hall.  My name was certainly not Hungarian, but could have passed for Austrian or even German.  I bowed to the Committee and sat down at the piano.
            I decided to play the piano part of the Piano Concerto #21 by Mozart.  In those days, being a Jew, I had to be very careful what I chose.  Nothing too obviously Germanic, such as Beethoven, and nothing too emotional, that might be labeled “Jewish.” I chose Mozart because he was after all Austrian, and his work had that sense of cool detachment that could never be labeled overly emotional.  This particular piece was both lyrical and to some extent bombastic, something the Hungarians admired.
            As I sat down to play I was aware that several other people had filed into the Hall to hear me.  I concentrated on the music. I imagined a whole chamber orchestra behind me, filling in the empty spaces.  I was both confidant and animated.  As I performed I realized that more people had entered the Hall, and by the end there was quite an audience, including some of the other entrants.  As I finished the final flourish, there was enthusiastic clapping.  Notwithstanding the fact that I was a Jew, I was accepted into the Conservatoire, the only Jew who was admitted that fateful year.  The general opinion that I heard was that I was a genius, although I ignored the compliments and the anti-Semitic remarks and kept my head low.
            My father warned me that things would become drastic for us.  Jews were being arrested on the street or at work by the Iron Cross and the Gestapo and simply taken away, never to be seen again.  My father hid some money for my mother and me in case he was arrested. 
            At school I was subject to a constant barrage of anti-Semitic remarks.  A few of the boys were, however, quite friendly.  It would have been dangerous for any of them to be seen to be too friendly with me, such as walking home together on the street.  That was enough to cast someone under suspicion.  The friendliest boy, Jan Kertesz, said “Good morning” to me every day, and we exchanged remarks about music and life.  I would have been happy to get to know him, but it was not to be.
            Among the regular anti-Semites was a boy named Istzvan Szabo, a Hungarian nationalist.  Some of them were also anti-German, but they also hated the Jews.  Szabo was an accomplished pianist and was second in the class to me.  I think it irked him that a Jew should always be on the top, above him, and he always let me know it! 
            My father was eventually arrested and taken away, and we never saw him again.  That’s how it happened in those days.  My mother managed to eke out a living, and for the most part we hid.  It was dangerous even to inquire where he might have been sent.   
            One day a ration of food appeared in my locker.  I was afraid that it was a trick and left it there all day untouched. But, the ration for Jews was so low that I could not afford to leave it there to rot.  So I took it home.  I wondered who had left it for me. This became a regular event, and the extra food kept us alive.
            Also, a bottle of milk that we hadn’t ordered appeared every now and then on my doorstep.  I tried to catch whoever was leaving it, but could never do so.  Whoever it was was making sure that I stayed alive. I wondered why.
            One morning without warning, as we were being lectured in music theory, the door opened abruptly and an SS officer appeared dressed in their characteristic black uniform. He looked like a slug to me, that’s how I thought of him.  He spoke to the teacher and then addressed the class.  He simply said, “Wilhelm Wolfe stand up!”  I was frozen in my chair, I wanted to stand but suddenly my limbs would not obey me.  I was terribly afraid, somehow time was passing, I had no idea how long. 
            Suddenly there was the scraping of a chair on the floor and the creaking of the floorboards.  Someone stood up, but it wasn’t me!   I stared at the boy who had stood for a moment before I realized that it was Istzvan Szabo, what was he doing standing up?  The teacher stood open-mouthed as if he had been turned into a statue.  The boys looked here and there in confusion, but nobody spoke, nobody said anything.  I was just about to spring up and say, “No, it’s not him, it’s me, take me!” but the Nazi asked Szabo, “Are you Wolfe?”  And he immediately replied “Yes, sir.”  I was amazed, I was completely taken aback, I felt faint.  “Follow me,” the Nazi said and marched out of the room, followed by Szabo, the door being held open for them by a Green Cross guard.  We all sat in stunned silence. I was trying to understand what had happened.  Why had I hesitated, and why had Szabo sprung up in my place? 
             We later heard that Szabo had been taken out to the back yard of the school and shot in the head!  Why had he done this thing for me?  It was incomprehensible!  Later the Principal took me aside and said that from now on I would be known in the school as Istzvan Szabo and I would be issued a special identity card.  I was not to speak of this to anyone, least of all the boys in the school.
             To this day I cannot understand why he did it.  He certainly didn’t like Jews!  Why then?  Luckily the Nazi control of Hungary lasted only until October 1944, a mere 8 months, but enough time for them to murder 350,000 Hungarian Jews.  After the war my mother and I managed to escape Hungary and arrived in Austria in 1945. We lived there until 1950 and then were able to move to the new State of Israel.
            When I arrived in Israel and had finally settled in Jerusalem, I began attending the Rubin Academy of Music, where I received a special scholarship for advanced studies.  I started composing, and I dedicated my first composition to him, to my substitute.  Maybe I will try to make contact with his parents, if they are still alive and if they will want to communicate with me.  
            Maybe he was a true Christian, he gave his life so that I might live, or maybe he wanted Istvan Szabo to be the name of the best pianist in the school.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Maghreb now

The Maghreb means "west" in Arabic and refers to north-west Africa, incuding Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and perhaps Libya thrown in.  There is now turmoil in the Maghreb and in the adjoining cantral African state of Mali. This results from a resurgence of extremist Islamist groups in both Mali and Algeria.  This resurgence seems to be based on heavy weapons that were stockpiled by Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, that with his downfall have been dispersed around the Muslim world, showing up in such disparate places as Syria, Gaza, and Mali.  Also, fighters who were allied to Qaddafi have now returned to their home countries, such as Tuaregs in Mali, and have now taken up these heavy arms against their legitimate governments. 
The first act was the take-over of northern Mali by Islamist Tuaregs, followed by their drive to capture the southern capital of Bamako.  Then the French intervened to save Bamako and under Pres. Hollande a French force of 1,800 troops plus the French air force have been coutner-attacking the Islamists.  The Malian Army proved no match for the Islamists and so the French intervened to save the situation.  Now they are driving north retaking territory and town from the Islamists and expecting further support from other African countries.  About 1,000 troops from West African countries including Nigeria are expected as well as operational support from the US.
Meanwhile a large force of al Qaeda in the Maghreb (aQiM) insurgents captured the Algerian oil refinery at In Ameras near the Libyan border.  After fighting islamist insurgents for many years during a civil war that killed ca. 200,000 Algerians, the Algerian Government and Army were not about to wait for advice.  They attacked and in a series of moves have reportedly re-captured the refinery and killed as many as 70 terrorists and abut 30 hostages were killed, although more than 100 foreigners and 200 Algerians were released.  The attack at in Ameras was blamed by the attackers on the French action in Mali, but experts said that it must have been planned some time ago. 
The significance of the war now going on in the Maghreb is that aQiM is not only trying to take territory to establish a center for terrorism, but it is also close enough to threaten Europe and its oil supply.  France and other countries are taking action against this, but they were undoubtedly caught off-guard.  PM Netanyahu called Pres. Hollande and congratulated him on the successes of the French forces in Mali.  He pointed out that France is in the same position as Israeli finds itself in, needing to take action against Islamist extremists who are heavily armed with weapons that emanate from Libya, in Israel's case Hamas in Gaza.  Noone can predict that will happen next in the Maghreb, how strong the aQiM is and how they will seek to counter the succcess of France in Mali. But, having France under terrorist assault may give the Europeans a greater sense of Israel's true situation. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Election prospects

It is risky to make predictions over the results of an election, particularly when there are 32 parties competing and when alliances and enmities fluctuate.  But, I have never been known for my caution, so here are some predictions regarding the Israeli election that takes place next Tues Jan 22.
1. PM Netanyahu will be re-elected as PM by a large majority.  His party Likud-Beitanu is holding steady at ca. 34 seats in the polls, which is twice the total of the next party, Labor with 16 seats.  The two separate parties that merged their lists, Likud (27) and Yisrael Beitanu (15) together had 42 seats in the current Knesset, so this does represent a loss of ca. 8 seats, that may be explained by supporters of both parties opposing their merger.  But, even though Netanyahu would still have to form a coalition government, it would be surprising if any other bloc could out-number him.
2. There will be a significant move to the right.  The growth of the new right wing party Bayit Yehudi (Jewish home) to the third spot (running neck and neck with Labor) at ca. 16 seats, indicates a move of the electorate to the right, at the expense of both Likud-Beitanu and the center parties such as Kadima
3. This may be the most right wing government in Israeli history, If Netanyahu makes a coalition government with Bayit Yehudi.  The question is what center and/or religious parties would be prepared to join such a coalition.  Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich has ruled out joining any coalition with Netanyahu.
4.  The loss of the center-left:  There are two new center-left parties, Tzipy Livni's Ha'tnuah (the movement) and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a future), together with Labor and Kadima, they will split the center-left vote and weaken the center-left bloc because they were unable to form a coalition together.  This is partly because of different policies, for example Tzipy Livni has been angling for a ministerial position, yet she is very anti-Netanyahu, while Yair Lapid said he would join a Netanyahu coalition as long as it does not include Shas, a haredi party.  But, the main reason for the lack of center-left unity is personal ambitions and antagonisms.
5.  A striking result of this election is the demise of Kadima, that was the largest party in the last election with 28 seats, and went from being led by Ariel Sharon, to Tzipy Livni (who refused to form a coalition with Netanyahu) to Shaul Mofaz (who did form a coalition with him, but then left), and Kadima is expected to poll only ca. 2 seats.  Historically, center parties have not fared well in Israeli elections, from Rafi, Shinui, The Third Way to the Center Party to Kadima.
6. Some personalities may not be seen in power again.  Avigdor Lieberman, our former FM who resigned recently on being indicted, has announced that he will leave political life if he is found guilty of any charge, not only one involving "moral turpitude."  His popular Deputy FM Danny Ayalon, who Lieberman dropped from the party list, might make a come-back if Lieberman is gone.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak is retiring, since his break-away Independence Party is not running, as it received no support.   Not many will be upset at his retirement.
In general, people vote on two subjects, the economy and security.  On the economy, there is no doubt that Netanyahu's free market economics has made Israel a fluourishing and stable economy.  With the threat of Iran, the Moslem Brotherhood and other extremists in the adjacent countries and the Palestinians unwilling to negotiate, security issues also tend to give an advantage to Netanyahu.  Finally, we need a strong Government with a strong leader to stand up to Pres. Obama and only Netanyahu fits this bill.  So vote for Bibi, you won't regret it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Interfering Obama

I am outraged at the crude attempt by Pres. Obama to intervene in the Israeli election process.  He gave an interview to a journalist Jeffrey Goldberg just a week before the Israeli general election, and he reported that Obama felt that he knew better what was good for Israel than the Israelis themselves and he wanted to save Israel from making serious mistakes. What gives Obama the right, the gall, the arrogance to think that he knows better what is good for us than we do ourselves.  It is foolish for a foreign leader to intervene in an election, but it will ensure that our political leaders will have the tendency to maximize our sovereignty and independence of action. 
Take for instance the area E1 that has been in the news a lot lately. After the PA leader Pres. Abbas went to the UN to seek to obtain unilateral recognition of a Palestinian State without Israeli involvement, the Israeli Government reacted by announcing the intention to build housing on the area E! that lies between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, thus making Israel contiguous in that area.  This upset many European and American leaders, including Obama, who have commited themselves to a two state solution in which Palestine will be in the West Bank to the exclusion of Israel.  The fact is that there has never been Palestinian or even recognized Arab sovereignty in this area, it passed from Turkish control to the British Mandate (that was not permanent) to illegal Jordanian occupation to Israeli control.  Therefore, to call this area "Palestinian Land" as is often done is not only incorrect, it is prejudging the results of any negotiations. 
Then last weekend a group of Palestinian Arabs took over a parcel of this land and set up tents on it, claiming it as theirs, without a shred of evidence or justification.  The Israeli Govt. ordered the squatters removed and they were, although a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court left the tents in place for a few days.   Now I put it to you that it is in Israel's sovereign interest to ensure that Israel is contiguous there, while Pres. Obama opposes this and represents the Arab view that to have a contiguous Palestinian State is more important.  But, in the absence of any negotiations and with the PA taking unilateral action, Israel should and must act in its own interests.  So Pres. Obama butt out!  I will vote for PM Netanyahu in this election because I believe that he is strong enough to stand up to Obama's pressuring tactics.
According to a poll published on the front page of the Jerusalem Post this morning (Thurs), three seats were actually lost by Likud-Beitanu for the first time to a left of center Party, in this case Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah.  This brings Likud down to 32 seats, the lowest poll result so far.  Until now Likud has been losing seats to the more right wing party Bayit Yehudi, that has gone from nowhere to become the second or third largest party.  So overall the right is increasing its lead, but Obama's criticism of Netanyahu may persuade some voters to waste their vote on a smaller centrist party.  However, in the end Netanyahu will win and will become our next PM, so Obama should face up to that eventuality.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Jaffa Institute dinner

On Sunday we were invited to the Jaffa Institute annual gala dinner fundraiser, held at the Airport City Convention Center, a big new development near Ben Gurion Airport, where many international companies have their offices.  The Jaffa institute is a charity that has for many years been involved with the education and social welfare of poor and deprived children living in the lower income areas of Jaffa and south Tel Aviv (see  This dinner was a huge affair with ca. 1,000 people and it must have taken a lot of organization. 
We and several others were invited to the dinner by Neil Davis, a wealthy London businessman, who with his wife Beryl has been a patron of the Jaffa Institute for many years and an organizer of the British Friends, and they were awarded the Nefesh Yedid Award of the Institute.  There were other awards including the Mizrachi-Tefahot Bank that was given the Social Partner Award.  Neil now lives in Herzliya and has made aliyah to Israel.  Apart from the usual speeches by the Director of the Institute David Portowicz and others and a promotional film, the entertainment was given by a children's orchestra and by David D'or, who has an amazing contralto-type voice, strong and operatic.
The Dinner was written up in the Jerusalem Post ( ) and it was stated that they raised NIS 1.5 million to help disadvantaged families and children.  It was impressive that most of the people assembled were of course Israeli, there were relatively few foreign guests, and this level of charitable support from within Israel is an indicator of the truly self-sustaining charitable impulses of the Jewish people. There is no doubt that the social and educational fabric of Israel society has been aided and fostered by such charitites as the Jaffa Institute.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Here is a paradox, we are all the same, yet we are all different.  We all have two legs, two arms, two hands, one head, one nose, two eyes and two ears (at least that's what's considered "normal").  But, we are all so different.  Our experience of life affects our behavior and our interactions.  Each one of us is unique genetically and experientially.  Even "identical" twins try to distinguish themselves one from the other. 
We now know from studies of twins reared apart, that nature (i.e genetics) plays a greater role than nurture (i.e. the environment) in the detemination of our personality and behavior.  But, the environment, how we are treated by our parents, our peers and others, has a tremendous effect on our lives.   An orphan or someone subjected to violence or war will be phsyically or mentally scarred compared to another who is similar but has not been so exposed.  So the paradox is there, and to the extent that we are the same and different we compete with each other, for jobs, for spouses, for income.  That's basically why communism and other forms of intense social sharing in the final analysis don't work, that's why the kibbutzim in Israel can never be more than a small percentage of the population and why Communist China is reinventing capitalism.
Skin color makes such a difference, especially if you are born in a society where the majority of people are a different race.  Sex also makes a huge difference (vive la difference), but women and men differ greatly among themselves in relation to sex.  Although belief system makes a difference, it masks the true differences which are ethnic and genetic.  Basically hatred comes from these small differences, how one tribe or national group tried to compete for land and resources with others.  But, many conflicts today are more civil or tribal wars than inter-national conflicts. 
Almost all the land of the earth has already been divided up and now its a struggle for supremacy within those lands; Hutu and Tutsi vied for control in Rwanda and Burundi, Arabs and Jews for Israel/Palestine, Alawite and Sunni in Syria, various groups in Somalia and so on. Some countries were artificially created by the colonialist powers, such as Lebanon, Jordan (Transjordan), Iraq and so on, and some of these are failed states.  Others have fluctuated in size with time and conflict, such as Romania, Hungary, Armenia, Sweden, etc. Very few countries are completely homogeneous, Japan springs to mind (but they wiped out the Ainu).  In the final analysis each country must find it own way to inter-tribal peace and stability.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Jimmy Savile scandal

Most Americans will never have heard of Jimmy Savile.  He was a British institution, a silly comedian who for many years ran a program called "Top of the Pops," and who engaged in fund raising for nobel causes, such as children's cancer and handicapped children (a kind of British Jerry Lewis).  But, it has now been revealed in a Scotland Yard investigation that Jimmy Savile was the most prolific sexual predator and child abuser ever uncovered in British history. 
He worked as a porter on the gate of several hospitals before he began his show-biz career.  Because he became so famous in the 1960's-90s and was such a nationally known and universally liked performer, he was able to expand his abuse so that now over 600 complaints have been registered against him, of which ca. 250 have been confirmed.  There are cases of abuse against children as young as 8 and adults as old as their 40's, he preferred girls but also abused boys and young men and has been accused of 34 cases of rape.  How is it possible that this was going on from the mid-1950's to the last recorded case in 2006 and nothing was done about it, notwithstanding many individual complaints?  How is it that he was able to get away with such gross misconduct all over the UK and even in the studios of the BBC for 50 years?
The case came to the fore earlier this year when the BBC investigative journalism program Newsnight was rumored to be doing an expose of Jimmy Savile, but the program was blocked and not broadcast.  Then Jimmy Savile died and instead of an investigation into his abuse the BBC ran a commemorative program idolizing him.  Somehow the truth came out, people who had been abused by him years before started coming out of the woodwork and the story began to unravel.  Then there were hearings at the BBC as to why the Newsnight program was withheld and how he had been able to use BBC facilities to carry on his abuse.  As a result of these investigations, the heads of Newsnight and BBC programming were forced to resign.  Then the police began a criminal investigation.
It appears that there were two reasons why Jimmy Savile got away with it, first, the complainants were children and they were not believed; also, each complaint was handled separately, so the police never put two and two together to see an overall picture.  Savile travelled all over England, so different police departments did not know what was happening elsewhere, what incompetence.  Finally, Savile had such good contacts and was so admired that three potential actions against him were dropped.  He had free rein of the BBC and many hospitals.  He was even given keys to several hospitals and nursing homes and used their premises for rape and child abuse.  For this to have been going on for so long indicates that he must have had accomplices, but so far none have been named.  One suspects police connivance as well as BBC involvement in this long-term pattern of abuse.  Eventually I suppose the full story will come out, another example of British hypocrisy. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cold comfort

I know that if I put a technical scientific term in the title it would be enough to put most readers off, but in response to my jocular "cold treatment" article recently, I received advice from some readers about how to prevent or cure colds.  One was to stuff garlic up my nose, another rub Vick's ointment on my chest, or put cut onions around the house to attract the bugs and so on.  I totally reject these primitive folk cures as having no value whatsoever.  Note that people choose things that smell strong and bad, but that have no proven curative basis.  What they do have is a placebo effect, because you think it will work it seems to help.  It may be real, but it is pure self-delusion.
I was a Professor of Pharmacology, the science of the study of drugs and their effects on human beings.  Actually I was a biochemist who got waylaid into this area, so I am not a clinical or classical pharmacologist (I don't really know the  pharmacopaeia), but I do have some insight.  There are two subdivisions of pharmacology that we are interested in today pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.  The former term, with the ending "kinetics," obviously has something to do with speed, it is the study of how fast a drug distributes about the body; the latter term with the ending "dynamics" has to do with how much of a drug can get to the target site in the body where it is needed to act.  Clearly if the drug you take orally never gets from the digestive system into the blood stream it won't work on a site elsewhere in the body and if not enough of it gets to the target it won't work either.  One major aspect of drug design is to overcome these barriers. 
Someone once asked me how do drugs know where to go to have their effect, and of course the answer is they don't "know," that is teleological.  Drugs simply distribute around the body either systemically (i.e. taken it by mouth or injection) or locally (e.g. by patches absorbing thru the skin or thru nasal ingestion).  They only work or function at the sites where they interact with a specific target, such as an infectious bacteria, a virus or a particular product of these invaders (such as a protein or surface membrane) that distinguishes it from other natural components.
A few years ago there was a major media splash that a young student had come up with a combination of three drugs that killed HIV in a  test tube and could cure AIDS.  One of the drugs was urea, which prompted a leading expert to say that "if i pissed into any tube I could kill any infective agent."  The fact is that at high concentrations any active drug will kill viruses and bacteria, the problem is drug delivery, getting the right drug to the right target in the body in a reasonable time and with an effective concentration.  Killing infectious agents in a test tube is only the very first step to being able to produce an active drug.
I had a friend who was a Professor who believed in Linus Pauling's theory that vitamin C could prevent colds.  He took 1 gram a day, that is a huge amount.  But, since he still got colds he doubled the dose and took 2 grams a day.  Soon he got very ill, his teeth began to crumble (vitamin c removes calcium) and his gums decayed.  He had fainting fits and dizziness.  He was diagnosed as having vitamin c poisoning, and after he stopped taking vitamin c he largely recovered.  Too much of anything is not good.  By the way, double blind studies proved that vitamin c is totally ineffective against colds.
For a cold I take certain specific drugs (no endorsement is intended), for example to stop a running nose and sneezing I take Coldex, that dries the mucous membrane, for a cough I take Oxocatin syrup that is anti-tussive (that stops the trigger to cough) but is also expectorant (that clears out the mucous from the lungs), I also take Strep Care lozenges for sore throat.  In addition I have found that Mucolit lozenges or tables help to clear mucous in the throat and I spray Flixonase that dries out the nasal passages and helps me sleep.  Now all of these are scientifically tested drugs, approved by the FDA in the US (after double-blind studies), and accepted around the world and legally prescribed by medical doctors.  There are many other combinations of drugs that can work, such as Actifed syrup and codeine (which I used to take and which sent me to sleep) and anti-histamine dugs that reduce mucous membrane irritation (this is not intended as medical advice, consult your doctor).  
However, note that none of these drugs actually cures the cold, they each have a different chemical structure and work on a distinct site in the body, but none of them is an anti-viral agent.  The cold is due to rhinovirus infection, a virus that attacks the mucal membranes, causing mucous over-production leading to coughing and sneezing and irritation (no actual rhinocerous-virus!).  We don't have many drugs against viruses (such as HIV) but we do have drugs against many bacteria (such as penicillins), but since the cold is due to a viral agent these anti-bacterial drugs won't work, unless there is a secondary infection that might lead to a fever. 
Finally I want to say that scientific medicine studies all folk remedies, extracts the active ingredient from the whole mess (such as aspirin was discovered from the bark of the willow tree) and then it is about 1,000 fold more effective and that is what one should use.  Believing that onions attract viruses, or that magnets reduce arthritis, or that garlic up the nose cures anything is simply primitive.  Get real! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Israel's Sandy

Israel has not had a super-storm as bad as Sandy was on the east coast of the USA, but we have had record-breaking rainy weather in the past week.  It has rained hard and consistently for about 5 days, with more expected and snow fell in Jerusalem (10 cm) last night.  The main barometer of rain in Israel is Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) that after 7 years of drought was down to its minimum (3 meters or 9 feet below the red line) and now it has already reached 1 meter below its maximum.  This has been the rainiest winter season in 10 years and it's a great boon for our usually dry country. 
The main artery around Tel Aviv is the Ayalon Highway (equivalent to the N. Circular in London or the Beltway in Washington) that is built over the usually small Ayalon stream.  Now it is a raging torrent and has overflowed the highway and made it into a river.  All traffic in Tel Aviv is diverted and it is a mess.  Also the trains which run along that route were stopped due to the undemining of the rails, cutting service throughout the country.  The police have asked everyone to stay home, fine by me since I'm still recovering from my cold.
In Jerusalem all events have been cancelled and snow fell last night with a big dip in temperatures to below zero.  They have sand trucks standing running, but everyone knows the city will come to a halt.  Ironically the snow attracts visitors from all over the country to see Jerusalem in the snow and this leads to terrible traffic jams.  The River Jordan that is usually ca. 15 m across is now up to 150 m and growing and there is flooding in all low-lying areas.   Best to stay home for a few days until better weather forecast for the weekend arrives.  Keep warm and dry.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Obama's picks

Pres. Obama's pick for Secty. of State to replace Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Kerry, is considered to be a good choice.  Kerry is a Democrat who has a good record on anti-Iran sanctions and is a friend of Israel.  But, his picks of Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary and John Brennen as Director of the CIA have both caused some consternation among both Democrats and Republicans as well as supporters of Israel.  Fortunately, both appointmetns have to be approved by Congressional Committees, and it appears that a confirmation struggle will soon ensue.  Perhaps these appointments represent what we in Israel have feared in Obama's second term.
Hagel is known as a maverick among Republicans, and although he is listed as one, he often votes against his Republican colleagues.  Obama said he admires Hagel's "independent streak."  Hagel has expressed views that include willingness to continue discussions with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and has opposed harsh sanctions.  Although he  now proclaims himself a friend of Israel, he is on record as supporting negotiations between Israel and Hamas.  How precisely these would be carried out is uncertain, but it is true that Israel has negotiated indirectly and unofficially with Hamas over the recent ceasefire thru Pres. Morsi of Egypt. 
John Brennan is currently the White House counter-terrorism advisor.  But, his views have also raised concerns.  He is on record as stating that terrorism is a tactic not an entity, and therefore it is inappropriate to have a counter-terrorism policy.  This seems particularly inappropriate for someone who would be leading America's war on terrorism.  It seems that both of these candidates represent views that might be called liberal, third-world views that are consistent with those of Obama himself, and that put emphasis on the wrongs of US policy as well as on its rights. 
However, since the nominations have been put forward, both Hagel and Brennan have issued statements clarifyng their stands and adopting positions in line with established US policy.  Also, several Israeli leaders have said that Hagel's nomination is not a problem regarding Israel, although they are concered about his stand on Iran.  The Israeli Government has issued no specific comments on Hagel.  Hopefully a long draw-out confirmation fight in the Congressional Committees will be avoided, but expect some fireworks on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Harpaz affair

The eponymous Harpaz Affair, so called after the former Lt-Col Boaz Harpaz who was an aide to former Chief-of Staff of the IDF Gabi Ashkenazi, came to light when a letter was leaked to Ch 2 News in Aug, 2010, purportedly showing that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was improperly advancing Maj-Gen Yoav Galant to replace Ashkenazi as CoS.  But, when the police were brought in it was quickly discovered that the document was a forgery.  Then it was traced to Col. Harpaz, who with his assistant Col. Erez Viner, confessed to forging the document in order to undermine Barak and his candidate for CoS Galant. 
This Affair is in the news again now because the State Comptroller has issued a Report that took 2 years to complete.  The conclusions of the Reoprt are that :1. The forged letter represented the top of the iceberg in an ongoing hate campaign between Barak and Ashkenazi, that not only endangered the workings of military-civilian interactions, but could have damaged IDF military functioning; 2.  That while Ashkenazi is not accused of having initiated the forged letter or been directly involved in producing it, he moved too slowly in reponse to it once it had been exposed.  3. Barak and his aide Koren come under suspicion for abuse of power in deliberately undermining the authority of Ashkenazi, an atmosphere that caused the Harpaz reaction. 
Although the Harpaz letter was found to be a forgery, it cast a shadow on Barak's plan to appoint Galant to replace Ashkenazi and together with other issues led to his being replaced by Lt-Gen Benny Gantz who is the current CoS.  Several high ranking officers, including Generals and possibly Defense Minister Barak himself, might come under police indictment for their actions related to this affair.  What is most disturbing is that there was a "war" underway between the staffs of Ashkenazi and Barak, the military and civilian heads of Israeli defense, while at the same time actual military actions were taking place on the ground.  How these military actions were affected, if at all, by this internecine warfare, and to what extent the military or civilian sectors exceeded their authority and carried out illegal activities is now being investigated. 
Ashkenazi was considered to be a successful CoS of the IDF and it appears that personal animosity between him and Barak led to these activities.  It sheds a bad light on Barak, himself a former CoS of the IDF, of trying to run the IDF himself while acting in a civilian capacity as Defense Minister.  Unfortunately, this story has all the earmarks of a great movie, which means it seems unreal. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

State of play

With the election only two weeks away, the current state of play in the ever-changing election scenario here is as follows:
1. The three major center-left parties, Labor under Shelly Yacimovich (20 seats), Hatnuah under Tzipi Livni (9) and Yesh Atid under Yair Lapid (9) have been communicating about joining together to oppose Bibi Netanyahu of Likud-Beitanu.  But, each of them has a different strategy.  Shelly Yacimovich has announced peremptorily that she will not join a coalition with Likud, Tzipi Livni has not announced her intentions, leaving the matter open (people think she wants to be the FM again, but she is antagonistic to Netanyahu), and Yair Lapid has announced that he would join a Likud coalition under Netanyahu if it would prevent a more right-wing coalition of Likud with Bayit Yehudi and Shas.  So all three are at loggerheads and their attempt to stave off the looming victory of Likud-Beitanu is too little, too late.  Even with the left-wing Meretz party with ca. 4 seats they could not together reach more than 42 seats.  In fact these tactics show their weakness, their inability to join forces, and probably help Netanyahu in regaining some of the support he has lost to the right wing Bayit Yehudi Party.  There are rumors that Pres. Peres was behind this late attempt to form a center-left coalition, but his office denies it.
2. There are also rumors that after the election the Likud-Beitanu joint list will split again into two parties, although the leadership deny this.  It may be a clever move by Netanyahu to absorb the Yisrael Beitanu party.  It is noteworthy that after many years the indictments against party chairman Avigdor Lieberman suddenly were brought forward just weeks before the election, and if he is charged with a major offense, having already resigned his post as FM, he may not be able to hold government office again.  So since there is a joint list, and if the head of the other party is gone, Netanyahu may try to gobble up his rival's party.  On the other hand, it may be this very fusion of the party lists that has been instrumental in the combination losing votes and going from ca. 42 seats down to ca. 35. 
3. It seems clear that the combined center left, as it currently stands, have ca. 38 seats and the combined right-wing have Likud-Beitanu (35) plus Bayit Yehudi (15) and Shas (12), so the right wing coalition would win (62), together with some smaller right wing parties such as United Torah Judaism (4).  At most, even if Netanyahu was tempted to form a center left coalition with Likud-Beitanu, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, they would have ca. 53 seats.  Its all in the arithmetic.  However, until the votes are counted noone knows where the lines of demarcation will fall and who will be prepared to compromise in order to get into office.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Cold treatment

I have a cold, a terrible cold and cough and I'm suffering. So I took random medications and went to bed.  But, the neighbor's heating/cooling system makes a terrible racket.  It's like a truck revving its engine just outside the window.  I try for a while, but I cannot get to sleep and I cannot ignore it.  So I decide that I'm going upstairs to confront our neighbor (a nice fellow), but what can I expect him to do, turn it off ("we need heat too"), get an engineer, but that would take ages.  So I go and get some blankets and decide to sleep in another room, the one with the least noise.  I'm just about to do this when my wife says, "it's gone off."  What?  It has indeed gone off.  Only for a few minutes I suspect, but no indeed it has gone.
So I'm lying cozily in bed, but guess what?  I can't sleep because its too quiet.  I miss the noise, I lie there expecting it to come on any moment.  Should I run upstairs and plead with my neighbor "please turn it on again."  No, I can't do that, so I toss and turn for a while, take some more medication and suffer, until I find myself here, writing on the computer again.
I have a rhinovirus, I'm sure of it, although I'll let the doc decide.  I imagine all those little rhinoceroces running around digging their nasal spikes into my cells, making them go crazy and causing me to cough.  Ok, I know the connection between rhinovirus and rhinoceros is that both involve the nose, but I like the idea of viruses with sharp probocises.  That's how they do so much damage.  How can such a tiny virus bring a huge man to his knees, its not right, it doesn't make sense.  Unless they really do have these long sharp proboces (what is the plural of probocis?)  So I'm suffering all over, my nose my throat, my chest, my lungs, all because of this little virus, although probably tens of thousands or millions of them are crowding around my cells and making them suffer with their probocies. 
Its not fair, we must come up with a cure for viral infections like the common cold and flu that cause so much human misery.  Here we are lying in bed, all of us who have the flu or the cold and we are suffering.  Surely the Great Fairy in the Sky did not make man to suffer thus.  Surely he did not make tiny little rhinoceroces to attack our cells and make us suffer so.  Life is really unfair.  Maybe if we wipe out all the big, huge daddy and mommy rhinoceroces the rhinovirus won't bother us any more.  It's an idea.

Friday, January 04, 2013


I watched the second series (12 episodes) of "Homeland," the American TV series about Homeland Security.  It is based on an Israeli series called Hatufim, "Prisoners of war," and has the same central theme, one of the returned prisoners has been "turned," has become a secret Muslim after 8 years in captivity in Iraq, the last three years held by al Qaeda, and the question is, is he a terrorist or is he loyal?  This is the big question that pops up over and over again in the series, and I must say it was so well done that it was riveting.  The production and acting were so good that the story was believable, for the most part.
Claire Danes, one of my favorite actresses, plays the part of Carrie Matheson, the CIA analyst whose job it is to "get" the al Qaeda terrorist leader Abu Nazir, and she suspects the US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, from the time he returns to the US as a war hero of being an "asset" of Abu Nazir.  Her superiors ignore her warnings and this sends her over the edge into a bipolar crisis and she lands up in hospital being treated for mental disease and loses her job at the CIA.  Meanwhile Brody runs for Congress and wins and as a Congressman has a poweful position to help his Muslim friends. 
The parallel of this story to that of "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962, remade in 2004) is very clear.  Just as the US soldier Raymond Shaw played by Laurence Harvey has been brainwashed by the Chinese Communists in the Korean War and is suspected by his former comrade Bennet Marco played by Frank SInatra of being a "sleeper" agent, so Brody plays the role of Shaw and Matheson of Marco.   But, the difference is that while Shaw has been truly brainwashed and can be "controlled" (by his mother) to overthrow the US Government, Brody is more independent and wants to kill those in the US Govt. responsible for the wanton murder of hundreds of Muslim children. Brody's sentimental attachment to the dead son of Abu Nazir is being used by him cause a major terrorist incident in the US.
I found two major flaws with this story; that the CIA would trust Brody and not keep tabs on him, such as his meetings with the Muslim agent played by a reporter and his phone calls and especially his call from inside the operations room of the CIA when he warns Abu Nazir that he is about to be shot, which was incredible. Of course, all calls from inside the CIA must be monitored.  Second, Brody photographs a list of 10 incidents that a CIA analyst has in his safe and sends it to the terrorist, but later when he is turned back to supposedly being a  loyal US citizen he neglects to tell them about the importance of this list. 
After Abu Nazir is killed and Brody is supposedly loyal, his car blows up at the Pentagon where the VP of the US (that Brody has murdered) is being eulogized, killing hundreds of notables (such an explosion could not kill that many).  And the question is, did Brody know that they had made his car into a car-bomb and who moved his car so that it could kill the people gathered at the ceremony?  Can't wait for the next season to resolve these questions.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Shia-Sunni conflict continues

The conflict in Syria started as an uprising against the Assad regime, but it has become a deeper sectarian conflict between Alawite control of Syria and the Sunni majority.  The Alawites are ca. 12% of the population, but have maintained a grip on Syria since the commander of the Air Force, Hafez Assad, took power in a Ba'ath Party coup in 1971.  Ever since the Sunnis have been suppressed by the Assad police state.  The "Arab Spring" gave the Sunnis the impetus to rise up against the regime.  But, now the conflict is clearly a sectarian one that is part of the larger Shia-Sunni clash that is occuring throughout the Muslim world.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, Sunnis and Shia are blowing each other up and continuing their age-old conflict.  Only yesterday a group of Shia in a convoy going on a pilgrimage to Iran were blown up in their buses and 60 were killed.  The Sunnis in the Free Syrian Army are being supported and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the leaders of the Sunni world.  Meanwhile the Syrian Government is being armed and supported by Shia Iran. Shia Hizbollah is saving its military in case it is necessary for it to fight to save its position in Lebanon should the Assad regime fall. 
The Shia-Sunni conflict goes back to the beginnings of Islam, when it was unclear who should be the successor to Mohammed when he died in 632 ce.  In the absence of a clear successor, his major followers fought it out and chose one of their number to be the first Caliph.  But, there were those who thought this was against God's will and Mohammed's successor should be of his family.  His only male successor was his son-in-law Ali. The followers of Ali as the natural heir became the Shia, the "faction" of Ali.  A battle was fought in 680 ce between the Caliph's army from Baghdad and the Shia led by Ali's son Hussein, grandson of Mohammed, in Kerbala in southern Iraq and the Shia were decimated.  Since then they have been a heretical minority to the Sunnis, but have a majority in Iraq and Iran.  Every year in the bloody ceremony of Ashura they commemorate Hussein's martyrdom.
Recently articles have appeared in the Saudi press indicating that Israel is not such a great enemy of the Sunnis.  The intepretation of this is that the Saudis see Shia Iran as the greater enemy and would rather see Israel strong enough to counter Iran, for its own reasons, rather than trying to tear it down.  This may also explain why the Sunni states often offer support for the Palestinians, but rarely follow through.  Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon is not only or even primarily to threaten Israel, but also to pursue their historical imperative to settle the dispute with the Sunnis. Age-old conflicts such as the Sunni-Shia split do not die.  On the contrary, according to Isaiah Berlin, every movement has within it the seeds of its own destruction (for example, the Catholic-Protestant conflict, the Bolshevik-Menshevik conflict, the Sunni-Shia conflict).  It is my major prediction for the New Year that during 2013 we will see a sharpening of the Sunni-Shia conflict and a concomitant lessening of the Israel-Arab conflict.