Thursday, February 28, 2013

Applauding a loss at the Oscars

Congratulations to the Oscar winners. But, why is it that many Israelis are glad that two Israeli-made films that were nominated in the category of best documentary did not win an Oscar.  It's simple, really, it's because any documentary nominated at the Oscars, or essentially at any other film festival anywhere on earth, must be anti-Israel.  In other words, it must have a theme that attacks Israel and is intended to undermine the basis of the Israeli State, otherwise it could not be nominated. 
Take the two Israeli-made films that were nominated, "Five broken cameras" and "The Gatekeepers."  Both were made by left-wing Israelis, the first in collaboration with a Palestinian cameraman, Emad Burnat.  In "five cameras" the director obviously selects scenes in which Israeli soldiers behave badly, fight with and/or beat up poor innocent Palestinians.  He also uses the cute little son of the cameraman as a main character.  Never mind that this action was shot at the village of Bil'in where they have been demonstrating and rioting for several years against the Israeli security fence.  In that time how many Palestinians and their left-wing Jewish supporters have been killed by IDF soldiers, who have orders not to shoot?  In that time how many IDF soldiers have been injured by rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown at them or have been beaten up?  In that time there have been many pitched battles between IDF soldiers and determined violent demonstrators?  But, the only scenes shown in the movie are those depicting the IDF soldiers as aggressors. This is anti-Israel propaganda.  Why do the demonstrators go there, to try to destroy the fence. But what is not shown is that they went to the Israeli Supreme court and won their case to have the fence moved and it was moved, but that didn't stop their attacks, because they are against the fence in principle and they are against the existence of the Jewish State in principle.  In the film the little boy asks his father "why can't I go and stab an Israeli soldier?"  That's what they bring their children up to do.  So we are glad that this film demonizing Israel and Israeli soldiers lost.
"The Gatekeepers" is a lot more complex because it features interviews with six former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal intelligence service, that was obviously a coup to achieve. But, the director, Dror Moreh, has a left-wing bias and cut the film to emphasize the regret and rejection of violence that all of the former intelligence heads have expressed after leaving  office.  This is an interesting trend, remember Ariel Sharon, who after being "the father of the settlements" brought tragedy to Israel with his unilateral withdrawal campaign from Gaza; remember Yitzhak Rabin, who after being the strong man of the IDF and the life-long enemy of Shimon Peres, supported his Oslo Accords that led to death and destruction for Israel.  What are the psychological factors that cause such men in high places who have to make tough decisions, that after they resign or later in their career they do an about-face, and become soft.  In the case of Sharon it was said that he didn't want to go down in history as "the butcher of Sabra and Shatila," and for Rabin, who told the IDF soldiers to "break the bones" of the Palestinians, he wanted to prove that he wasn't such a bad guy after all.  Similarly, these former heads of the Shin Bet want to prove that they really weren't so bad, and so they suddenly become soft and adopt a peaceful approach.  Still, the aim of the film is the same, to show how bad Israel has been in its treatment of the poor Palestinians.  I have a modest suggestion, if they don't like how the Israeli Government treats them, let them go to an Arab country, how about Syria.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eat kosher!

There is a big scandal in Europe over the labelling and origin of meat that is being sold on supermarket shelves.  It was discovered in DNA tests, that can distinguish the species of the meat, that many products being labelled and sold as beef are in fact partially of completely horse-meat.  Not only has this led to a scandal about truth in labelling, but it now appers that frozen meat carcasses have been transported all over Europe and either deliberately or accidentally mixed up.  Thus horse-meat has turned up in all sorts of products all over Europe.
How did this happen?  It seems that horse-meat produced in Romania, was shipped to France, where it was mis-labelled and sent onto a factory in Luxembourg, where it was mixed with beef and turned into products like so-called beef lasagne.  It was then shipped to the UK, Sweden and other countries. All such products have now supposedly been removed from supermarket shelves.  Of course, someone was making a lot of money on this switch, since horse-meat is a lot cheaper than beef. 
Meanwhile other factories have been closed down, at least two in England and one in Ireland, for having undocumented and partially frozen horse-meat packages lying around.  This is both illegal and unsanitary.  So far, no actual threat to human health has been discovered (horse-meat itself is not dangerous).  Now all manufacturers of meat products are rushing to test them for DNA and several products have been removed from shelves, even where a small contamination (say 1%) of horse meat was discovered.  In order to restore customer trust in labelling, producers have to ensure full and constant testing. So there is now a new industry, meat testing of actual species. In a few cases even pig and other species have been detected. 
The inevitable conclusion is that its safer to eat kosher meat, even if it's more expensive.  At each stage of the processing there are watchers (mashgiah) to check the purity and source of the meat products.  Of course, DNA testing will be even better, when or if it becomes compulsory and publishable with the product.  But, that may never happen.  So in the meantime, if you fancy a good steak, eat kosher!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Middle East follies

The situation in Syria is in a kind of stalemate, with both sides inflicting the maximum destruction on the other. The result is a mounting casualty count, with neither side actually winning.  But, the insurrection is gradually gaining ground, although they have insufficient fire power to bring a knock out blow to bear on the Assad regime.  However, it is impossible that Assad can regain all the territory in Syria that he previously held.
I predict a two-stage downward spiral in Syria. First will be the gradual wearing down of the pro-Shia regime, as the insurrectionists gain ground, as long as the Sunni Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to supply them with arms.  Then there wil be a reckoning between the so-called moderate Sunni forces and the forces of the jihadists, who want to make Syria a part of their future Caliphate.  During this process, that will last for several years, Israel can sit back and watch as Syria slides further into total destruction and chaos.  Not only will this sever the link between Iran and Hizbollah, but the dreaded outcome of a unified anti-western Sunni Islamist state in Syria will be at least delayed if not prevented, but at great cost. 
Secty of State Kerry will be making a quick tour around the Arab/Muslim world in order to establish American credibility. Then Pres. Obama is going to visit Israel in April.   But, there is no other place in the Middle East that he can in fact visit without fear of assassination.  He certainly cannot visit Syria, he can't go to Egypt that is constantly in a state of conflict. He can visit Jordan, but if he does he may trigger a negative anti-American reaction from the strong party of Islamists and Palestinians there.  He can visit Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that are supposedly American allies.  So he'll visit Israel and try to resuscitate the so-called peace process.  But, as things are right now, with riots and demonstrations going on all the time in the PA, the only way Obama could visit there is if he pressures Israel to make concessions to the PA on the release of prisoners and other issues.  So the PA are preparing the ground for Obama to pressure Israel to be able to visit the PA. 
Meanwhile Iran has announced that they are installing 200 more advanced centrifuges to improve their ability to enrich uranium.  The only conceivable reason for doing this is to obtain highly enriched uranium that can only be used for a nuclear weapon.  The UN and the IAEA agrees with this analysis. As PM Netanyahu keeps warning, we are rapidly apporoaching his red line, when Iran is about to develop a nuclear weapon.  The meeting being held in Khazakstan between the Five plus One countries and Iran will undoubtedly end in stalemate as before. I hope that when Obama does come to Israel he will see the Israeli data and realize that he has no choice but to act against Iran.  Such is the inconceivable mess currently fomenting in the Muslim Middle East.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Livni gambit

It is said that "Politics is the art of the possible," but some Israeli politicians expect the impossible.  Naftali Bennett of the right wing Bayit Yehudi Party and Yair Lapid of the center Yesh Atid Party have joined forces to strong-arm Bibi Netanyahu into accepting their dictates of future coalition government policies.  In effect they are saying, we won't join your coalition unless you give us what we want.  But, they are dealing with an experienced and slippery politician in Bibi Netanyahu of Likud-Beitanu.  So far he has not budged, on the contrary he seems to be doing a deal to form another coalition against their interests.  This might result in these two parties ending up in the opposition and their leaders having won their block of seats for nothing. 
Take Tzipi Livni (please), as a cautionary example. In the 2009 election for the 18th Knesset her party won the largest number of seats, so she thought she could boss Bibi around.  She demanded to be joint or alternate PM with Bibi, but he wasn't having it, he formed a more right-wing coalition and left her out in the cold, in the opposition.  She sat there and fumed and said nasty things about Bibi, but accomplished nothing.  Then she was thrown out of her party, Kadima, and for the election this year for the 19th Knesset she formed her own party "The Tzipi Livni movement," into which she collected some hacks and although predicting many mandates, she ended up with only 6 seats. 
Now this time she has learnt her lesson, so although she absolutely rejected being in any coalition government headed by PM Netanyahu, she negotiated with him and was the first to come to an agreement and was able to get the Justice Ministry, where she has served two previous terms as Minister.  So she has learnt the golden rule, "better to be in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."  Bibi also showed he has learnt a lesson or two, "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
Unfortunately, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid are innocent politicians, never having been in this situation before.  They have succumbed to the Tzipi Livni syndrome, believing that they can throw their weight around, without ever having done so before. Bibi has out-maneuvered them so far, not only with Livni, but he has also had talks with Shas and Labor (an unlikely coalition).  So unless these two erstwhile leaders want to spend the next few years in the political wilderness they had better quickly get off their high horses and deal with Bibi.  Otherwise we're in for new elections and I think the electorate will punish them for their lack of action as they did Livni.  But, a poll conducted by the Knesset TV channel claims that in a new election Yair Lapid with increase his support while Netanyahu will lose 50%.  So maybe Netanyahu will blink first.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Song of creation

Here is another short story from my collection, "Discovering America," available on

Song of Creation
Imagine this!
It is hot, very hot, in Calcutta.
The air is thick and polluted.  It grasps at one's throat.
The old taxi lurches forward, threading its way through the maze of people, cyclists, rickshaws, and cars.  They move in random patterns, as if oblivious to each other's existence.
The American occupant of the taxi is sweating.  He leans forward to avoid the hot sun slanting through the back window.  His left hand is placed on the back of the front seat to steady himself.  The old Sikh driver with a white wispy beard and a white turban stares ahead.
She sits to the right of the American, her red, worn saree looped behind her head for shade.  She is as beautiful as the goddess Parvati in her blessed incarnation, when she tempted the Lord Krishna.  The color matches her lips and she wears a matching bindi.  The bodice reveals her full bosom and slender waist.  She is very young, yet she has about her an air of tawdry refinement.  She is sitting back in the seat and is turned towards him.  When she speaks there is a note of urgency in her voice, a plaintive, pleading tone. She whispers into his ear, and what she says belies her appearance.
"You must take me with you. There are many things we could do, I am very experienced in the ways of love. I need the money, my family is poor. We need the money to buy food. My brothers and sisters are hungry. You must take me, I will make you happy."
The American stares ahead, his thoughts torn between his raw senses and the choice that faces him.  Where did she come from, a gift from heaven, a test? As they drive across a bridge he steels himself. The stench from the shacks made of wood and rags that line the sides of the bridge rises into his nostrils, a mixture of human excrement and mouldy sacking.  He retches, but struggles to control himself. It will soon pass he tells himself. He brings out his handkerchief and wipes his forehead of the sweat that is dripping from him. Outside the peasants dash between the traffic, hands outstretched, risking death for a few piastres.
As they descend from the bridge the stench recedes, and the taxi picks up speed. The driver honks his horn and swerves wildly. The American is distracted from his thoughts, how will he answer her? How will he resolve the conflict between his lust and his principles, between his desires and abstract concepts of duty and honor.
"Where did you come from? Who sent you? Did someone pay you?  How much do you want? I warn you not to make a scene?"
"I am here freely," she responds, "my desire is to make you happy, please take me with you. It is destined that we must be together."
As the taxi swerves to avoid a rickshaw, he sees in the distance a huge yellow truck.  Strangely it is being pushed by a horde of men, who are swarming about it.  They are pushing it into the road ahead, directly across the taxi's path.  On top of the juggernaut a crew of men are directing and cajoling the men below into superhuman efforts.  As the taxi gets closer the American sees that the sixteen wheeler is piled high with garbage.  Then in quick succession he realizes that the taxi is not slowing, and that the driver is going to try to avoid the truck.
"No!" he shouts as the driver swerves to the left as the huge truck looms before them. It gathers speed as it passes the crown of the road, and the men scatter as the taxi screeches towards it.  The American sees as if in slow motion the front of the taxi hitting the truck.  He closes his eyes as his head is jerked forward and hits the back of the seat.  When he opens his eyes he sees that the front of the taxi is trapped under the body of the truck. He turns to see that the girl is alright, and she sits composed beside him as if nothing unusual had happened.
He turns to his left to see a mass of dark faces staring in. A thin young man struggles to reach him through the open window.  In horror the American sees that he has no hands, one arm is cut off above the hand and the other below the elbow.  The cripple is mouthing something but the din makes it impossible to hear.  The American recoils in terror as the stumps are thrust at him, and in his mind the awful question forms, "how could I give him money if he has no hands?"
Suddenly the American feels his right hand grabbed and he is pulled out of the other door of the taxi. The young woman is dragging him along with her. He looks back and sees the taxi driver, his white turban standing out above the crowd, gesticulating to the men on top of the truck, while they, knee deep in stinking garbage, shout down imprecations upon him. When the American looks ahead again he sees that she is leading him down a slope towards a small dingy cafe. Small dark bodies dart across their path, while she resolutely pulls him away from the turbulent scene.
He stumbles, and dust rises into his face.  They must traverse a small bridge across a ditch to reach the cafe.  Looking down he realizes that it is an open sewer.  Once again he starts to retch, but soon they are over it and entering the yellow plastered building.  A few patrons lounging around stare in amazement at this pale apparition.  She says a few words to a man, and drags the American on into the interior.  The cooler air hits him, he wants to stop, to sit down at one of the tables, but her momentum cannot be resisted, she pulls him further through a curtained doorway and into a small room.  Without pause he twists and falls down onto the bed.
He is aware that a bottle of cool liquid is being proffered, and he drinks deeply from it.  It is refreshing but he feels that his thirst can never be slaked.  Half consciously he is aware that she is near him.  He reaches out and traces the silhouette of her body.  He senses her, but he does not see her, he communicates with her, but their lips do not move.
"Why are we here?"
"Is it not natural for a man to lust and a woman to desire?"
"But, you look so young and pure?"
"All is not as it seems."
"How can I do this, it is wrong?"
"How can a man always know the right path?"
As they thus communicate she unravels her saree, and opens her bodice, revealing her roseate breasts.  Ecstatically he grasps her to him.  Her head is haloed in moving sunbeams leaping through the holes in the flapping rag curtain on the high window.  He is transported, he is enfused with otherworldliness, and slowly he sinks into oblivion.
He awakes with a start.  It is musty in the small darkened room.  "How long have I been here?  Oh God, this is so sordid!"  He jumps up, and pulls on his clothes.  She lies prone before him, her beauty unadorned.  "I must pay her," he fumbles with his wallet.  It is still there.  He takes out some notes, in the dark he cannot see the denominations, and scatters them towards her.  She awakes, and, he thinks, she smiles, as she raises her hands and grasps the floating papers as they catch the last rays of the dying sun.
He must get away.  In panic he turns and runs from the place.  As he does she speaks to him, but he cannot understand her words, only the tone speaks of gratitude.  He races through the cafe, but does not remember crossing the bridge and ascending the slope.  He sees before him the Sikh driver standing next to the taxi.  The driver springs to life when he sees the American, he opens the back door, and salutes formally as he enters.
Then suddenly they are driving away, into the gathering night.  The cool air rushes against his flushed face.  An unlikely chariot, the taxi plunges forward, breaching the ripple he has created in the smooth surface of his existence.
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Accuracy not advocacy

MediaCentral provides professional services for foreign journalists working in Israel, from useful contacts to finding stringers to having a convenient place to have a cup of coffee and chat with colleagues.  The Head of MediaCentral ( in Jerusalem, Aryeh Green, came to talk at AACI Netanya, and he emphasized the need for greater accuracy in the media rather than advocacy when reporting on the Middle East.  As he pointed out, we are not asking the media to be pro-Israel, nor anti-Palestinian, we are only asking them to maintain their own supposedly high standards and report accurately what is the situation here. 
This means recognizing that many of the terms being commonly used in the media, such as "occupied territory," "Palestinian territory," "illegal settlements," "right wing Israeli government" and so on, are highly prejudicial and inaccurate and to a large extent pre-judge the situation. Everyone recognizes that the Middle East is a highly complex area, yet simplistic solutions and phrases are often used as a kind of shorthand to simplify the situation for the uninitiated.  This of course excludes those who are deliberately pushing their own biased agenda, such as those who are anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian, and are not interested in presenting the true facts.
As Aryeh pointed out, most of the journalists he interacts with at MediaCentral are serious, professional journalists, who have achieved a high standing within their profession.  If it is pointed out to them that Israel has a perfectly legitimate claim to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) that is independent of either a left or a right wing interpretation, they are quite interested to listen.  If a left wing Israeli states that he is prepared to give up the West Bank to form a Palestinian State, that does not mean that he doesn't accept that Israel has a legitimate claim to the territory. It only means that he agrees with a political decision that it would be better for Israel to give up that claim.  Others on the right might not want to give up that claim, but in either case, the fact is that Israel does have a claim on those territories under international law (exactly what that claim is has been discussed elsewhere).  So to call the territories "occupied" is a factual mistake, rather they are "disputed" territories.  Also, they have never been under Palestinian sovereignty, so to call them "Palestinian territories" is to prejudge any negotiated outcome. 
Similarly with such issues as "The Wall," that reporters on organized trips see for 95% of its length is a chain link fence and not a wall and is properly called "the Israeli security fence" or "anti-terrorist barrier."  Also, there is no doubt that under international law Israel is entitled to maintain a naval blockade of Gaza given the hostile actions from there, including firing of 10,000 missiles into Israel over 10 years.  In all these cases popular perceptions tends to overcome realities and MediaCentral exists in order to help foreign media to see the reality of the situation. 
In interacting with the foreign media, including BBC, CNN, NY Times, Wash. Post, etc., etc., there have been several documented successes when Middle East correspondents stationed in Jerusalem have accepted that their use of terms such as "occupied territories" are unwittingly biased.  Also, in cases such as China, where instead of dealing with hundreds of individual correspondents, there is only one agency for the whole of China, this makes the process much simpler.  Overall, MediaCentral's emphasis on accuracy over advocacy in the media has been a remarkable example of success. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Van Gogh Alive

Last week we went to see the presentation "Van Gogh Alive" at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds with AACI.  This was a show put on by an Australian company and consists of large high density photographs of his paintings projected on numerous screens in a large blackened tent, called the Maxidome. 
First we were briefed by a guide about Van Gogh and the exhibition.  The guide who was an artist himself, although informative, did not actually guide us, but provided us with background of Van Gogh's life and paintings.  Two points he made, Van Gogh's productive painting period was a mere ten years, from 1880-1890, during which he painted some 2,000 canvases.  Also, Van Gogh's technique evolved into short straight brushstrokes of pure color using thick paint. By making these strokes follow a sinuous direction he gave the painting an impression of movement.  He rarely diluted his paint with a solvent such as turpentine and he rarely merged the basic colors to make gradations of color.  He particularly loved pure basic colors such as yellow and dark (cobalt) blue. That is why his paintings are so bold and emotionally effective.   There were also posters of some of his most famous paintings exhibited outside the show, with detailed information about their content, and their significance in his life. 
These strokes of pure color can be seen very clearly in hyper-fine detail in the huge projections on building high screens that surround the viewer.  The show that lasts about 40 mins includes many of his most famous works and many that are unknown.   One can leave the tent and go out for a sit down (very few stools inside to sit on) or a drink in an adjacent part of the tent, and then go back in to the continuous show.  In the show they try to make things more "alive" by having movement in the paintings, such as windmills that turn and trains that chug along.   They also project quotes from his letters to his brother Theo (he wrote on average one letter a day) that are related to the pictures being shown, and also the showing is accompanied by classical music that enhances the whole experience. 
A few notes about Van Gogh, his life can be divided into: his early period (1883-6), when he was starting to paint in Holland, consisting of many dark pictures of peasants that are quite depressing; then his much brighter paintings when he moved to Paris (1886-8) and started painting in his very expressive (so-called post-impressionist) style; his characteristically bright paintings when he moved to Arles (1888-9) in Provence and perhaps painted his best works; the period when he was committed to the asylum at Saint-Remy, in which his paintings became more intense and personal; finally the short period (1890) when he returned to northern France to Auvers, where he supposedly shot himself and bled to death over a period of two days.  It is well known that he sold only one painting during his lifetime and one soon after.  It was his sister-in-law who exhibited his paintings some 20 years after his death and that of Theo who brought him fame. 
The show was a very enjoyable experience, but has some drawbacks.  It over-emphasizes the size of his paintings and their impact and if used for other artists could tend to replace actually looking at their paintings.  Further, because there are many screens to watch, one inevitably misses some projections and so one needs to go back inside and follow the show several times to see it all.  Overall it was a very stimulating experience for one who idolizes Van Gogh's art.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Change is good

It used to be simple, the head of the party that got the most votes and seats in the Knesset would hold negotiations with each of the other parties he wanted in his coalition and they would agree on a price (so much money, so many ministries) and that would be that.  But, now things are different.  The two parties, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, that are respectively to the left and right of Likud, have ganged together and have agreed not to join Bibi's coalition unless their basic requirements are met. They actually want policy to be decided in advance.  I am sure this is not entirely new, but the fact is that since they have a combined number of seats equal to those of Likud-Beitanu, the two leaders, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennet, by agreeing to a policy together can basically force Bibi to accept their dictates.  He knows they want to join his coalition government, but they are holding out together for an agreement, they are blackmailing Bibi.
The main policy that they want agreed to is a universal, equitable draft, i.e. no exemptions for the ultra-orthodox (haredi) and for the Arabs, well maybe a few exemptions.  But, they mean business, they want "change," they want the middle class to feel that they are not treated unfairly when their sons and daughters go to fight for the country.  Everyone who is a citizen should be treated equally, and they are right.
What has prevented this happening in the past?  Mainly the involvement in the coalitions of the religious parties who are against equal treatment for the haredim.  So the two leaders are saying, we should get first dibs, let us join the coalition on our terms and if any religious party then wants to join they must accept this new policy.  So the religious parties for the first time cannot blackmail the government to continue the status quo. It is clear that the two parties Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi out-number the religious parties, so this is the first chance for fundamental change for a very long time. 
Also, Bayit Yehudi seeks to prevent the policy of a "two-state solution" by preventing any withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and any limitation on construction in the settlements there.  It is unlikely that Yair Lapid would agree with Naftali Bennet on this, but Bibi has to placate the right wing within his own party that is comparatively stronger than it was in the last election.   By the time Pres. Obama gets to visit, things may be quite different here in Israel and he might not like the changes.  On the other hand he too ran under a slogan of "change" and so change must be good.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buddhist abuse

Child and sexual abuse by religious leaders in the Catholic Church is common knowledge and also occurs in the Protestant faith.  Recently there have been several prominent cases of Jewish leaders who have been accused of abuse in different countries: Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who is leader of the UK’s Orthodox Jewish community, told an alleged victim of sexual abuse that it was forbidden to report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority; in New York, Rabbi Nechemia Weberman, a prominent figure in the ultra-strict Satmar branch of Hasidic Jewry, was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a girl who had been sent to him for counseling; in a recent case in Canada, Dr. Aubrey Levin of the University of Calgary‘s Psychiatry Department was convicted of sexually assaulting male patients who had been referred to him for treatment by Alberta’s criminal justice system, and a letter from Rabbi Yisroel Miller, the leader of House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox synagogue, was read aloud in court in support of Dr. Levin; and in Australia there have been reports of sexual abuse at Jewish schools in Melbourne and Sydney in the 1970's-80's.
But this blog is about an unusual case of abuse that occurred in the Buddhist faith, one not usually associated with such activities. The Buddhist Master Joshu Sasaki arrived in Los Angeles from Japan in 1962 and has taught thousands of Americans at his Zen centers in the area and in New Mexico and has influenced thousands more seekers of enlightenment through a chain of affiliated Zen centers across the world. He is known as the Buddhist teacher of Leonard Cohen, the poet and songwriter.  Although he is now 105 years old, Sasaki has been accused by an independent Buddhist panel of having groped and sexually molested young women over a period of 30 years (see
 Several women have come forward and made complaints that while they were being taught by him, he groped their breasts and had intimate physical contact with them.  At the time, when they were teenagers they accepted his authority that this was part of the training in self-control that they had to undergo, and also that this was not to be revealed to anyone.  What is unusual about these complaints is that Zen Buddhism as a religious order emphasizes self-restraint, that the world is an illusion and therefore that feelings and passions are to kept severely under control (this raises the eternal question "what is the sound of one hand groping?") Apparently Buddhist leaders too are only human and succumb to the needs of the flesh and of their own power over others. I have seen no evidence that revered religious leaders are any more moral than those of us who do not pretend to their higher levels of moral authority. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Prisoner X

The case of "Prisoner X" has caused an international furore between Israel and Australia.  Apparently Prisoner X was an Australian citizen who emigrated to Israel and became a joint Israeli citizen.  His name has been revealed to be Ben Zygier from a prominent Melbourne Jewish family, but he used the name of Ben Alon in Israel.  He was apparently recruited by the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, as an agent and travelled thru Iran and other enemy countries. 
At this point the case becomes obscure, because he was secretly arrested and imprisoned in a high security jail in Israel.  The only assumption then is that he was found to have revealed top secret information to the enemy.  According to reports he was held in solitary confinement, and although on a special high security watch, managed to commit suicide by hanging himself two years ago. He was then buried in Melbourne.  Although there were rumors about the case and questions were asked two years ago, it was only now that a gag order imposed by an Israeli court could be bypassed due to the story being reported in Australia by the ABC network. 
However, before jumping to conclusions, it appears that the Israeli Government had informed the Australian Government of the case against Zygier, and so there has been no protests from Canberra.  Also, his family had been informed of the situation.  Further, throughout the case, including lengthy court proceedings, Zygier was represented by counsel (three lawyers) and was given due process, even though everything was kept secret under the court order.  There are numerous complaints in Israel by human rights organizations that accuse the Government of using the courts to cover up their actions.  Under the IDF legal code general gag orders are apparently not allowed, but the Government uses the civil courts to keep cases against Mossad agents secret. 
While we don't know the actual details of the case against Zygier, now that the case of Prisoner X has come into the public arena, it won't be long before further details of his case will emerge.  There is a rumor that he was one of the Israeli agents (with a real Australian passport, most of them were forged) who was involved in the murder of Hamas terrorist leader Mohammed Mabhouh in Dubai and he was detected or captured by the Dubai Secret Service and cooperated with them, naming names and giving the Israeli team away.  This might explain how the Dubai authorities knew so much about the case so quickly. The Dubai authorities held him in a secret location, but the Mossad managed to find and capture him and bring him back to Israel for trial.  He may have been "bumped off" to avoid embarrassment to the authorities here, but he appears to have managed to commit suicide.  However, if I knew the real story I could not tell you, because if I did I would have to kill you.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Here is another of my short stories, this time from my collection "Confessions of a Jewish Activist and other stories."

Lance Barstow was the best quarterback in College.  He was tall and blond and the girls swooned over him.  When he was decked out in his football togs he was the ideal American male.  After each game the team would repair to the tavern and drink themselves silly on beer.  Then Lance and some of the boys would take their pick-ups and go out somewhere and have sex.  It was the routine.  The girls were all blonde and beautiful and easy and Lance called them “holes with hair.”
            But, after a time it became too routine, none of the girls that hung around with the team were really attractive to him.  He wanted a greater challenge, he secretly yearned for a smoldering, dark, passionate woman.
            Occasionally Lance would glance into the coffee shops and bars that lined the main avenue outside the school.  In there he saw a different form of life, as if on another planet.  Men and women sitting around talking, discussing books, ideas, politics, art and philosophy.  Lance was not well informed on any of these subjects, but he was no dummy.  However, he knew that if he entered any one of these places and sat down and tried to enter into the conversation he would be laughed at.  The standing of the best quarterback in such a milieu would be as nothing, just as if some intellectual had tried to enter into his own little life-stream.
            On one such occasion, when he looked through the glass wonderingly at the different life forms before him he noticed a young woman.  She was dark and attractive and she was obviously arguing passionately for a belief that she held.  He was entranced by her as if by a being from another planet.  She must be either Italian or Jewish, he thought, how exotic.  Right then and there he decided to change his life, to leave the boring round of drinking yourself silly and screwing another in a long line of exchangeable bimbos, for a more exciting and meaningful life of discussion, argument, and then passionate sex.
            He started to frequent the library, not to pick up girls, but to learn the rudiments of the subject.  He wanted a girl who would want him not just for his looks and for his body, but for him.  How could he ensure this, since he was so well known on campus, he realized the only way was to use a disguise.  In going thru the books about art and philosophy he came upon a picture of the painter and sculptor Giacometti.  He was a stooped man with curly dark hair, carrying a pile of long papers under his arm, as if about to show his work.  He wore a tweedy jacket and had on glasses and looked distracted.  The archetypical intellectual.
            Lance went to the theater store and found himself a suitable wig.  He bought a tweed jacket that was just a little small in a second hand clothes store.  Then he rolled up a towel and sewed it across the back inside so that when he wore it it made him look a little hunched over.  With a pair of horned rim glasses and some papers under his arm the transformation was near complete. 
            Now all he had to do was to learn something about art and philosophy and politics and poetry and …. The thought made him feel sick.  But, he had made a resolution to change his life, so he persisted.  He started to drop into classes, and if challenged he would tell the teacher that he just wanted to get a taste of the subject.   Gradually he began to build up confidence.  He learnt who Picasso and Stravinsky were, and he could even distinguish between materialists and humanists.  He decided after some preparation he was ready for his first foray, his first experience of a different way of life.
            He walked into the arty coffee bar as if he were himself elsewhere, thinking of the solution to a major problem.  He sat absent-mindedly at a table and spread his papers untidily before him.  While drinking a cup of coffee he looked at them and at noone in particular.  Then he caught sight of her, she entered with a group and they sat nearby.  They engaged in fierce discussion of abstruse topics that hardly meant anything to him.  But, he decided to take the plunge.  At an opportune moment he leant over and said “but the difference between them is entirely arbitrary.”  He had heard that this sentence would stop any silly intellectual argument and indeed it did.  There was a pause in the conversation, a silence during which each of them viewed the intrusive stranger. 
            Having passed their scrutiny, the conversation continued, but now in a subtle way it included him.  One of the men turned to him and said, "I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure…” and held out his hand.  Lance replied, “Oh, yes, sorry, my name is Giacometti,” and he shook the proffered hand.  Someone else asked “any relation?”  Lance had the foresight to reply, “oh, yes, distant cousin.”  As he replied he managed to catch the eye of the young woman he had admired.  He stared at her for a moment and then asked “and what is your name?”
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unwarranted hatred

When I was a child growing up in London I was often attacked by gangs of boys and they used to say things like "Jew-boy, go back to your own country."  When I was young I was mystified by this, what after all was my own country, since I had been born in England?
When I got older I thought that they were referring to the Jewish country of Israel that had come into existence when I was about 10 years old.  This made me a Zionist.  But, then after Israel was founded and recognized it became clear that these anti-Semites weren't consistent.  Now they decided that it really wasn't our country, no it belonged to another group called the Palestinians.  How did this transition occur, I am not sure, but it is clear that now a large proportion of people in the western world and certainly a large majority in the east, consider Jewish sovereignty not just wrong, but immoral, and anything that they can do to support the rights of the Palestinian Arab underdogs is justified, even if it means hating all Jews. 
Recently Sarah Honig caused a scandal when she wrote in her column in the Jerusalem Post that when she was visiting an obscure village in rural Ireland she was shocked to find that during normal school hours they were being taught about and were collecting money for the poor, deprived Palestinians.  When she questioned them, they knew nothing about Israel, where it was, how big it is, all they knew was that they were expected to support the "poor" Palestinians who were being persecuted by the Jews.  By writing about this travesty she disturbed a hornet's nest.  Now she and the Jerusalem Post are being inundated by letters from Ireland, most of them anti-Semitic in the crudest possible terms (see her column on this at
This reminds me of a description in the book "Among the Believers: an Islamic journey" by V.S. Naipaul, who toured the Islamic world in the 1970s.  When he was in a remote village in Indonesia he visited a madrassa, a religious school, and he asked what was being taught.  The translator told him that the teacher was telling the children how the Jews were evil and must be destroyed.  He questioned this and said, but there are no Jews in Indonesia, why not teach them something more useful, and he was told, no, they must be taught this, it is part of the curriculum.
So this is where it comes from, from the beginning they are all taught to hate the Jews, even if they have never met one and even if none exist in their country.  If anyone really believes they can distinguish between anti-Semitism, defined as racial hatred of Jews (and not just hatred of the religion Judaism) and anti-Israelism, defined as hatred of the Jewish State, good luck.  The only guarantee of Jewish survival in the world is the existence of a vibrant Jewish State of Israel with a strong army to defend it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Jews of Regency England

The Regency period in English history is broadly defined as the period between 17751837, beginning while King George III was still on the throne and ending with the ascension of Queen Victoria.  In the century before this period England had experienced a huge expansion of its empire and its commercial enterprises.  It is not surprising then that Jews were attracted to England, Sephardic Jews escaping the restrictions of Spain and Portugal and Ashkenazi Jews escaping the persecution and ghettos prevalent on the European continent. 

There is a myth that the Jews of England during the Georgian period were mostly Sephardic, coming in the wake of the unofficial permission granted by Oliver Cromwell to Manasseh Ben Israel of Holland in 1665 to allow Jews to live in England.  Jews had been in England from the time of William the Conqueror, but had been expelled in 1290 and officially there were no Jews in England until 1666, although it is known that there was a small community of Secret Jews (Marranos or Anusim) who passed as Spanish.  However, the facts show that a large proportion of Jews in England during the Georgian and Regency period were in fact Ashkenazim.  It is estimated that during this period there were a total of ca. 15-18,000 Jews in England and of those only ca. 12% were Sephardim. 

This was the situation described by Libi Astaire, who comes originally from Kansas City, studied in NY, and now lives in Jerusalem. She is the author of books on the Secret Jews of Spain ("Terra Incognita") as well as a detective series on Regency England (see  She spoke at AACI Netanya on "Pride, Prejudice and Jews: London's Jewish community during Jane Austen's time."  Of course, there were restrictions on the Jews of England during this period, they were not allowed to become citizens and foreign-born Jews weren’t allowed to own property, but they were allowed to build their own synagogues and worship as they liked, and they were not forced into ghettos as they were in Europe.
Needless to say among the Jews were the wealthy, such as Abraham Goldsmid, Nathan Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore, and the many poor, who often started as rag merchants, a familiar sight roaming the streets dealing in old clothes.  There was a well-known Jewish "fence" named Ikey Solomon, who was deported to Tasmania, and who might have been the inspiration for Fagin in Charles Dicken's "Oliver Twist."  But, recent research has shown that there was another possible source, namely a Black man named Henry Murphy who was reputed to steal children to use them as thieves.  Another famous Jew during this period was the prize fighter Daniel Mendoza known as the "Star of Israel" who fought and won many bouts and became Champion of England.

It is important to remember that during this period there was no welfare system and no police force, so people were more or less on their own, except in so far as the Jewish communal organizations helped them.  And it is known that the wealthy Jews in this period were very generous.  The first Ashkenazi synagogue built in England was the Duke Street Synagogue in the East End of London in 1690, but it was destroyed during WWII and so Bevis Marks Sephardic Synagogue is the oldest one remaining. 

Although Jane Austen herself did not mention any Jews in her novels, there were sympathetic Jews described in English literature, such as in "Harrington" by Maria Edgeworth, and "Daniel Deronda" by George Eliot.  But, most portrayals were negative caricatures.  No wonder many Jews cast off their origins to baptize their children in order to better fit into the prevalent English culture.  One such was Isaac Disraeli, whose son Benjamin  became a British Prime Minister.  But, overall the Georgian period was one of relative tolerance, prosperity and growth for the English Jewish community.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Red Orchestra

Last week I gave one of my occasional lectures at AACI, and this time I focussed on books that had influenced my thinking, when I read them as an impressionable young man in the 1960's.  Here I will only discuss one of these books, "The Red Orchestra" by Gilles Perrault, that was originally published in French in 1967 and in English in 1969.  It tells the incredible story of the Soviet Union's spy ring in Europe during WWII, and the fact that it was run by a Palestinian Jew, Leopold Trepper.
Trepper was born in Poland in 1904 and after receiving an education at the University of Krakow, unable to find any work, he ended up as a miner.  Soon he became an organizer of the miners and became a dedicated communist.  He was arrested by the authorities and spent 9 months in prison.  After his release in 1928, because it was dangerous for him to stay there, he joined a Zionist organization and emigrated to Palestine. There he continued his communist activities, organizing anti-British strikes, and was once again arrested and expelled back to Europe.  In France he joined a communist spy-ring gathering information for the KGB in Moscow.  He changed his identity several times and had passports under pseudonyms such as Leiba Domb. 
His abilities were noted and in 1932 he was called back to Moscow for training.  He returned to Belgium in 1938 and was tasked with setting up a spy ring mainly targeted on the British.  Trepper established companies using legitimate businessmen as fronts, such as the "Excellent Trenchcoat Company" with a branch in Ostend.   But, with foresight, Trepper realized that the Germans would be the main enemy of the Soviet Union and so he extended his activities to Paris.  Sooner than he expected the Germans conquered France and occupied Paris, and in 1940 Trepper, under the name of Jean Gilbert, was put in charge of all Soviet intelligence in occupied Europe. Trepper spoke fluent German, French and Russian as well as Polish and Hebrew.  He had a group in Berlin led by two dedicated communists, Harro Schultze-Boysen and Arvid Harnack, as well as networks in Brussels and Paris, amounting to 279 members, of whom 66 were Jews. 
Trepper cultivated contacts particularly with SS officers, who received lavish presents and attended parties run by Trepper's companies, such as Simexco in Paris. Information collected thru these contacts were transferred to Moscow by radio transmitters. They gave invaluable information to Moscow, including the date of the German invasion of Russia, June 22, 1941, and the specifications of the German Tiger tank. Since the radio operators were called "pianists" the whole spy ring was called an Orchestra and its conductor was Trepper.   The Germans were infuriated when they realized that a transmitter was operating out of Berlin, and they also discovered with horror that there were transmitters with similar call signs operating out of Brussels and Paris.  It took them some time to get organized due to inter-agency competition as well as technical difficulties.  But, eventually the Gestapo discovered the spy rings in Berlin and in Brussels and Paris. Many members of the spy ring were captured, tortured and eventually executed.  One of Trepper's main agents in Brussels Hersh Sokol was hung upside down in a cell and dogs were set upon him, however, he did not talk.  Eventually the Gestapo caught up with Trepper and he was arrested in Paris in 1942. 
The Gestapo did not realize that Gilbert, alias Trepper, was Jewish.  They treated him with consideration as the head of the Soviet spy ring in Europe and turned him, persuaded him to send disinformation to Moscow in order to deceive them. He called this "the great game" and used it as the title of his autobiography.  During WWII Trepper had led a high life, using the black market to make money and bribe people, and he did not share the terrible fate of his collaborators. This led some to question his loyalty, although he claimed after the war that he had always been a loyal anti-Nazi.  Over time he gained the confidence of his handlers, and even though he was always accompanied by two SS guards, he managed to escape from them in 1944.  He got them used to going to a pharmacy to get drugs he needed, and then one day he vanished because he knew that there was another entrance to that pharmacy. He used safe houses to make his way across Europe and managed to pass thru Germany and across the front lines into Soviet-occupied territory.
But, when he arrived in Moscow he was arrested and imprisoned by Stalin, who trusted noone, especially those who had been in contact with the Germans.  He spent 8 years in Soviet prisons, until the death of Stalin in 1953.  Then he was released, and chose to return to Poland and was appointed Chairman of the Jewish Community organization in Warsaw in 1955.  He remained there until he could leave in 1973 and died in Jerusalem in 1982.  I have a cutting from the Jerusalem Post dated Dec 24, 1988 (p. 9), of an article by Jon Immanuel entitled "The Palestinian Jew who spied for Stalin."  There is a grove of trees in the Sha'ar Hagai forest near Jerusalem commemorating Trepper and the other members of the Red Orchestra.  None other than Himmler himself estimated that the work of the Red Orchestra had cost Germany the lives of 200,000 soldiers during WWII.  Let this be his memorial.  Leopold Trepper exemplified the resourceful, tough Jew who showed us that Jews if organized could exact a great price from our enemies.
(PS. To see the Powerpoint version of this presentation go to

Monday, February 11, 2013


So many things are happening in the world that it is difficult to make sense of them all and see any kind of pattern.
The Bulgarian Government finished its investigation into the suicide bombing last month at the airport in Burgas that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver.  They concluded that the whole thing was planned and executed by Hizbollah.  Enough reason to place Hizbollah on the list of terrorist organizations you'd think, except that the EU doesn't want to do this, since it hopes to "negotiate" with them.  What nonsense!
Pres. Obama's office has announced that he will visit Israel in the near future, after the coalition talks have produced a new government here.  Perhaps he is hoping to influence the compositon of the coalition or its polices towards a more liberal centrist position.  Since he did not visit Israel during his first term and has on several occasions shown his disdain for our Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, I am not sure I welcome him.  But, on the other hand we must be nice to a superpower, even if it is on its way down.
Turkey has criticized Syria for not reacting militarily to the attack last week by the IAF on Syrian facilities and an arms convoy.  Turkey criticized Israel for attacking another country.  Turkey does not hesitate to attack Kurdish rebels ove the border in Iraq and Turkey unilaterally invaded Cyprus and occupied a third of the island and still does.  It established an illegal state there that noone in the world recognizes except Turkey, and they have the gall to criticize Israel, what hypocrisy.
Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran is in Egypt for the meeting in Cairo of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).  Although Pres. Morsi was very friendly towards Ahmedinejad, as one Muslim (Sunni) extremist to another (Shia), nevertheless his visit was not popular in Egypt, ca. 78% of the population was opposed to his visit to Egypt, even more than those Americans (68%) who were against his visit to the US for the last UN General Assembly.
In Tunisia last Weds the opposition political leader Shokri Belaid was assassinated by an Islamist extremist.  This has resulted in major demonstrations in Tunisia and the effective downfall of the mildly Islamist Government of the Ennhada Party. It has always been the case that political opposition is not tolerated by Islamic movements, they only know how to use violence and murder to achieve their aims.  What will happen next, whether Tunisia will go the way of Egypt, with constant demonstrations against the government, or of Syria, with an all-out civil war, can only be guessed.
The French Army is busy mopping up the forces of the Islamist-Tuareg rebels in northern Mali after capturing most of the towns. Pres. Hollande when confronted by the imminent downfall of the Malian Governemnt and the capture of the capital Bangui was quick to order his forces into action, and they moved quickly with aerial support to destroy the insurrection.  However, the French forces are now being replaced by West African forces and it is unclear whether they are capable of holding the gains and preventing a resurgence of the Islamist and Tuareg forces that have melted into the Sahara desert. 
Israel has resigned from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that has sponsored many anti-Israel resolutions, while ignoring the truly terrible human rights offenses of other countries, for example, Syria, China, Korea, Sudan, etc.  Specifically Israel refused to cooperate with a pre-determined investigation of the impact of Israeli settlements in the West Bank on the Palestinians.  We know in advance that Israel will be censured, since the UNHRC regard the Israeli settlements as illegal, which according to international law they are not!  The problem with this is that the UNHRC might then vote for sanctions against Israel.  What form these could take remains to be seen.
What this selection of events means in terms of Israel and the future remains to be seen, but generally speaking it is not a good prospect.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Racism in Israel

Although generally speaking Israel is a very tolerant country, there are cases of racism that occur from time to time.  Case in point, the Betar Jerusalem football (soccer) club.  It has been known for years that the fans of this club are right-wing, nationalistic and anti-Arab.  When Betar is playing an Arab team or a team with Arabs in it, the fans chant racist anti-Arab slogans and this has got them and the club into trouble. Two weeks ago Betar played the Arab team of Bnei Sakhnin, from a small town in the Galillee, and the fans displayed a racist anti-Arab banner across the stands and this caused a scandal.  Also, there were some clashes and four fans were arrested. 
The police vowed to avoid any such incidents when Bnei Sakhnin came back for a return match, and the team itself has been very cooperative.  They rejected the racism and asked the fans to behave themselves, and at the second match to take palce today there will be a heavy police presence.  However, to break this pattern, the owners and managers of Betar decided for the first time to employ two Muslim players from Chechnya (many other league teams have Arab players).  They started last week, and generally there was little trouble, but last night the offices of the Betar team was fire-bombed and there was a lot of damage (trophies lost) but no injuries.
All involved from the Prime Minister down have called this attack "shocking" and "unacceptable", including the Sports Minister, the Mayor of Jerusalem and the Manager of the team, and the police are investigating.  However, this team is the only one in Israel where such incidents have happened.  Nevertheless, some Arab politicians have suggested that this represents the racist nature of Israel.
In south Tel Aviv there is an area around the old bus station where the African immigrants (about 30,000 of them, mostly illegal) cluster.  They generally live in very poor accomodation, abandoned buildings and the area is dangerous.  Recently a young Israeli girl was raped there and an 83 year old Israeli woman was repeatedly raped by an Eritrean immigrant. This case shocked a lot of people and there were anti-immigrant demonstrations by the local people. 
The last government built a strong fence along the Egyptian border from near Eliat to near Gaza, that has cut down the infiltrations by 95%.  From thousands a month it is now down to a trickle of African migrants.  One was shot last week while trying to cross the barrier.  This multiple layered fence has also stopped terrorist attempts to enter Israel from Sinai.  Five Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack along the border last year, but hopefully it won't happen again.  Now the government is concentrating on repatriating the illegal immigrants to their countries.  Each one gets a cash payment and a free plane trip.  Hopefully the number of illegal African immigrants can be rapidly reduced.  Now the Government has proposed to build a similar strong fence along the Syrian border to prevent the infiltration of Syrian refugees and also terrorists.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Old Man at Shalom Tower

Here's my weekly short story from my collection "Discovering America":  "The Old Man at Shalom Tower"
(Please note these stories are my copyright, for reproduction please contact me)

The Shalom Tower stands erect over Tel-Aviv, jutting precipitously from a slum. I wanted to park our over-sized American car in the underground parking garage there. I saw an entrance to the garage and stopped behind a car that was waiting to enter. When another car came out of the adjacent exit, the old man in charge let the car in front of me enter. I pulled onto the ramp, confronted by the old man sitting astride a chair.
It was very hot.
I waited my turn. Suddenly a car entered the exit ramp and then transferred to the entrance ramp below me. The old man acknowledged the driver's wave before the car disappeared into the bowels of the building. I leaned out and shouted something in my poor Hebrew at the old man, to the effect that I should have been next.
Then another car exited, but he did not move.  He sat impassively before us smoking and staring into the distance. 
I was infuriated. I got out of the car and went round to where he was sitting.  Looking down at him I asked him why he would not let us in. Purposely looking away from me he muttered something I could not understand. I called to my wife and she came and translated.
"Because he doesn’t want to," she said.
"But, that's crazy, why not?" He just sat there and ignored us. I walked down the ramp but there was no-one else there to appeal to. I returned to my car, the engine running, standing before the old man in his rickety chair. I was sweating profusely.
"What shall we do?" my wife asked.
"I don't know," I replied.
Then on an impulse I got in the car and pounded the horn a few times.
The old man looked away with disdainful Levantine contempt. He had a dark, stubbled face, wrinkled and lined. He was shabbily dressed. With a mounting sense of frustration I edged my car forward until it almost touched the chair. My wife screamed at me,
"Don't be stupid, let's just go!"
The old man glared directly at me.
A man carrying a briefcase came over and asked in English what was the problem. I explained the situation to him, and then we both went to speak to the old man. Several people stopped to see what was going on.  The younger man, dressed in an open-necked shirt, slacks and sandals, questioned the old man animatedly. I wished that I could understand them. They spoke, and then the younger man turned to me and said simply.
"He does not want to let you in."
"But, why not?” I asked plaintively.
"He says he does not have to give a reason."
No reason.
I stood uncomprehendingly, then angrily I shouted at the old man in English,
"You stupid bastard!"
Suddenly the old man erupted into life. He drew the flimsy chair out from under himself and brandished it over his head as if to strike me.
The young man shouted at him, and he momentarily hesitated. Our eyes met and there was hatred and anger in his steady, rheumy gaze. As he set the chair down I lurched forward and raised my hand to strike him.
A voice called out to me, and I too was restrained. A picture flashed into my mind of myself standing above this old man, now cowering waiting to receive a blow, with my arm raised to strike him. I viewed us from an ever-increasing height, so that gradually my circle of vision expanded until it encompassed the young man with the briefcase next to me, the blue car glinting in the sun, my wife standing beside its open door, her arm extended pleading to me, the crowd of onlookers, then the bustling street beyond, and the building towering above us all.
I had been overcome by the heat and the irrationality of the moment, but suddenly I felt cool. I was spent, I relented, my anger waned. As I returned to the car a policeman appeared. After a brief conversation with me and the younger man, he spoke to the old man. Then he returned and told me I must move because I could not park there as this was the entrance to the parking lot for employees only, and also the crowd was holding up traffic on the street. He directed me to a parking lot on the other side of the building. 
He was very polite and helped to clear a path for me to back onto the street. The world had suddenly returned to rational normalcy. But, I realized that I was still trembling all over.  How had I, of all people, descended to this? How could I have wanted to strike a harmless old man?
At the other side of the building was the entrance to a public parking garage. We entered without difficulty and the machine spat out a ticket.
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)