Sunday, June 30, 2013

Religious corruption

We all know about the well-publicized and extensive culture of sexual and physical child abuse that has taken place in the Catholic Church over most of its history.  In places as far apart as Ireland, Quebec, Italy and the USA there have been thousands of documented cases and law suits.  Now that they have less fear, people are coming forward who were sexually abused as children by their parish priests or by Church elders. 
In addition, the Vatican has been involved in several financial scandals; for example, the former head of the Vatican Bank, Roberto Calvi, absconded and was found dead hanging from London Bridge in 1982 (I am not making this up!) and it was not detemined if it was suicide or murder.  Since then there have been rumors of further scandals, until a few days ago when it was announced that the Bishop of Salerno, Nunzio Scarano, has been suspended by the Pope and is under suspicion of embezzling money from the Vatican Bank where he was in charge of foreign investments and was caught trying to smuggle m$17 out of Rome in a suitcase.  Yes, the new Pope claims he wants to eliminate corruption, good luck with that.
It is not only the Christian Church that is involved in extreme scandals, here in Israel Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Metzger (we have one for the Sephardim as well) has been put under house arrest and has resigned his position after being charged with embezzlement and corruption.  Apparently there were also rumors about his ethics before he was elected Chief Rabbi, but they appointed him anyway because an honest Chief Rabbi is hard to find.
But, these kind of crimes pale in comparison to those endemic to Islam, where Ayatollahs and Imams call for the death of millions of people every day.  Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the actual Head of State in Iran, the so-called Supreme Leader, has numerous times called for the destruction of Israel with nuclear weapons, that Iran under his leadership is fast developing.  Many Sunni religious leaders, including the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawi, has called for religious war against the heretical opponents of extreme Islam.  The use of violence is routinely preached in the Mosque as a part of Islamic culture.  Recently  Imam Sheikh Maher Hammoud of the Quds Mosque in Sidon was arrested by the Lebanese Army in a clash that took 16 soldier's lives for inciting violent insurrection in Lebanon against the Shia.
If anyone has any illusions about religious leaders or believers being somehow morally superior to the rest of us, forget it.  I have seen no evidence to indicate this.  Those of us who are not believers should have no illusions about the true piety of believers.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Last thoughts?

When undergoing a life-threatening incident, as I recently thought I was having, what do you actually think about? Supposedly your life flashes before your eyes and you evaluate your whole life and conclude that you have really been a good person, if somewhat misunderstood.
Actually, when I had my false alarm of a possible heart attack recently, I had some strange thoughts.  I decided to drive myself to the emergency room, probably not the smartest thing to do, but whoever said I was that smart.  On the way I was thinking, suppose I actually pass out or crash, who would be responsible.  If I am unconscious at the moment of impact can I be held responsible.  If the other person involved, the crashee, decides to take legal action, can I be fined or sent to jail, if alive, for causing the incident. Now it goes without saying that this crashee will be an insensitive unpleasant person who cares nothing for the fact that I, the crasher, am actually suffering and passing out.  He will want his pound of flesh.  
This left me thinking about Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," and that if it were written today, he could have his pound of flesh without shedding a drop of blood by using a laser knife.  So problem solved.  What a pity, it's so much better if there is a real contradiction between the plaintiff and the defendent.  By using this rhetorical trick Shakespeare gets sympathy for the defendent, who otherwise is a thoroughly unpleasant liar and cheat.  It is only because the plaintiff, Shylock, is a Jew, that this legal device works in the story.  Anyway who would believe the theatrical device he uses that a woman was indeed a legal clerk.  Not so smart this Shakespeare.
Yes, I was actually thinking about Shakespeare when I arrived at the emergency room.  When they asked me what was wrong, I could give no other answer, "to be or not to be, that is the question?" (?להיות ולא להיות זה השאלה)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Israel, the catalyst?

The casualty count in Syria has officially reached 100,000, with well over a million people displaced.  It is almost unbelievable how the former Arab enemies of Israel are in disarray, collapsing one after another.  Iraq is a shadow of its former self, Egypt is in turmoil, Syria is a basket case and Lebanon is being drawn into the Syrian conflict.  Israel remains a stable democracy in the eye of the Arab Storm. 
Only Iran remains a mortal threat to Israel and it's support for Pres. Assad with its proxy Hizbollah from Lebanon, turning the tide against the Sunni insurgency could be a dangerous outcome.  The current turn of US policy by Pres. Obama to supply the insurgents with arms via Jordan will hopefully prevent this outcome.  The IDF is ready and poised to respond if there is an actual attack from Syria on Israel, but this is unlikely.  Pres. Assad will lose significantly if the IDF counter-attacks his forces and the anti-government forces have stated publicly that they have no interest in engaging Israel at this stage.  There is no immediate possibility of a rapprochement in Syria and the planned "peace conference" in Geneva has been abandoned in face of Russian opposition. 
US Secty. Kerry is once again returning to the Middle East to push for Israel-Palestinian negotiations.  But, although there have been reports or rumors of the PA being amenable, Pres. Abbas has publicly rejected this.  He is sticking to his preconditions for talks, that negate the whole point of the process.  Others, especially in the Arab world, continue to refer to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the fundamental crisis in the Middle East and as Quartet Rep. Tony Blair says, why not try to resolve it.  But, really this is such a patently false belief, all the Arabs countries are in turmoil and this has nothing directly to do with the presence of Israel in their midst. 
One might argue that it is because Israel is so successful, militarily, economically and organizationally, that the Arabs are spurred on to try to better themselves, hence Israel may be an indirect catalyst for the current Arab uprisings.  Yet even this argument is hard to justify in light of the Arab cultural tendency to violence and their endemic backwardness.  It is as if they have historically been throwing themselves against the brick wall that is Israel and have only recently realized that they are incapable of making any dent.  They need to revolutionize their culture, modernize their societies and fundamentally alter their attitudes.  Only then would they really be prepared to make peace with Israel.  But, will that time ever come?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

False alarm

I'm sorry for the lapse in my blogs, but on Saturday I woke at 4 am with a terrible pain in my left shoulder, something that has happened before, but not as bad.  I took my blood pressure (I have a little machine) and it was high, so I waited a while and took it again and it was higher, so I repeated that and it was very high (210/90).  So we drove to Laniado Hospital and they checked me and admitted me. 
They said it was good that I came in, but it wasn't a heart attack, the pain in my shoulder was not connected.  But, they had no explanation for it.  They gave me an injection of voltaren and that relieved it (so must be muscular).  Also they gave me something to lower my blood pressure, but my pulse went down, eventually to 35, much too low.  My pulse is usually very low in the 40's-50's.  I told them I don't take hypertension tablets because they lower my pulse.  But, I got two contradictory responses from the cardiologists, one said there are drugs that lower the blood pressure but don't affect the pulse and another cardiologist told me the high blood pressure was because of the low pulse, in other words they are connected.  I'm confused, but I'm going to see my GP today with the results and the write up from the hospital.  In summary, they told me I probably need a pace-maker, but I can put it off until I actually pass out!  What kind of a scientific test is that.
There are two mysteries involved here, why do I have this sudden extreme pain in my left shoulder (it is still there, only lessened) and why did my blood pressure read so high on my little machine, that has worked consistently well until now.  Was it a true reading or not?  I believe the machine, after working consistently well and giving what seemed to be accurate readings in previous days, may have misfunctioned, so I'm taking it to the doc for testing.  I thought of that at the time, but I couldn't take the chance that the reading was indeed correct and ignore it. 
Actually I was glad that they kept me only 3 days in the hospital (and part of it on the weekend, since Laniado is a religious hospital nothing much happens on Shabbat).  I wanted to be out by Monday for the beginning of Wimbledon, but I couldn't tell them that. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

My computer smells

The ultimate horror, my computer would not boot-up!  Of course, I am a very modern man, I have a desk-top, a lap-top and a tablet as well as a smart phone.  But, I am old-fashioned too, I cannot function without my desk-top computer.  I immediately recognized that there was a severe problem, not one of your little minor problems, like a  loose fan that had happened to me before.  This time the poor machine (it's 5 years old) was really sick.
I called my computer guy (everyone should have one) and he said he would come over.  I had opened up the side of the computer to gaze disconsolately into the intricate labyrinth of wires, boards and capacitors.  It was like a foreign language, incomprehensible.  Finally the computer guy came, and with him he carried an electronic box.  I asked him what it was and he said "a power supply."  I asked him why he had brought that, and he replied (and this is the main point of this digression) that 90% of the repairs he is called on to make is replacing a burnt-out power supply.  He turned the computer on and it failed to boot up.  He sniffed the power supply in the computer (at the back where the power plugs in) and he pronounced his verdict - yes, it smells of burnt plastic, its the power supply!  So he disconnected it and took out the old power supply, and on the back of it there was an area of actual burning, you could see the blackened area even on the outside of the power supply box. 
Then I remembered smelling such a smell a few days before, but I had not taken it seriously, and since I could not find a source, and since it seemed to dissipate quickly, I gave up.  If I had known that the human nose is a powerful problem detector for computers I would have realized immediately what was the cause.  It was the smell of burning plastic, like the hard kind, bakelite, burning.  Anyway, he replaced the power supply, reconnected all the myriad wires and in less than 5 mins, lo and behold the computer worked normally.  Of course, for this valuable piece of specialized information I had to pay, but not exorbitantly, since it was obviously routine. 
So it seems that in order to run hi-tech machines, lo-tech detection can still be very useful.  Next time, using your dog to detect computer problems.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moral relativism

Pres. Barack Obama spoke at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin, where Pres. John F. Kennedy spoke 50 years ago during the Cold War, and reflected on the changes that the world has undergone since then.  I can remember in my lifetime the speech when Pres. Kennedy spoke the ringing words "Ich bin ein Berliner."  Perhaps Obama could never match the drama of that phrase, the world has become a much safer, more peaceful and affluent place since then.  After the defeat of Nazism, Germany and Berlin were divided.  Then Russian Communism was vanquished, and Berlin was reunited in 1989.  Since that time perhaps 30 nations have joined the side of democracy, including the East European nations which were formerly behind the "Iron Curtain" (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, etc.) as well as the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union (Russia, the Baltic nations, Ukraine, etc.) and the 6 countries that formerly constituted Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, etc.), and Albania, and so on. 
Moral relativism equates both sides in a conflict, allocating blame equally.  But, in real life that is rarely if ever the case, one side or the other bears most blame.  Were Germany and Britain equally responsible for WWII? Of course not.  When Communism controlled East Germany, did equal numbers of people try to flee to the East as well as to the West.   Thousands of people risked and lost their lives, as Obama mentioned, by jumping, swimming, running and tunneling over and under the Berlin Wall erected by the Communists, in order to escape to freedom.  In hindsight it is too easy to equate two sides.  They say that the victor writes the history, but that doesn't make the two sides morally equivalent.
So it is with Israel and the Palestinians.  Many western liberals casually cast blame equally on both sides, because it's easy to do this.  At a conference now being held in China under the auspices of the UN Council for the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinians (why is there such an organization?), it is considered axiomatic that Israel is guilty of causing the Palestinians to suffer and to be without a state of their own.  According to this analysis the Palestinians share no blame in the current situation, although they were supported by their Arab allies, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, who invaded the nascent State of Israel in 1948, and then again threatened the annihilation of Israel in 1967, and then again attacked Israel in 1973.  No, all this guilt is forgotten, according to them the Palestinian's plight is all due to the Israeli "occupation." 
Now Barack Obama states that the war in Iraq is over and that the war in Afghanistan is coming to a close and all will be well with the world.  But, these statements are untrue, Iraq is entering meltdown, as well as Lebanon, as the Syrian civil war spills over into their territory.  Sunni and Shia are killing each other everywhere in the Arab world and a new crisis is gripping the world as Russia continues to support the Assad regime, together with Iran and Hizbollah.  In Syria, moral relativism is alive, even though the regime is using all means, rockets and chemical weapons, to kill civilians and to destroy cities.  Assad cannot be allowed to play a role in the future of Syria, whatever Putin says.  So all is not right with the world and we must keep our moral compasses intact. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The impossible dream

Israeli President Shimon Peres is 90 years old. This puts Israel into a special category, the only nation with a 90 year old President.  Last night was his birthday party, and before a large audience consisting of PM Netanyahu, former US President Bill Clinton, former British PM Tony Blair and numerous show business personalities, including Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Al Pacino and more, he explained his political philosophy.  What it comes down to is the same as the "Man of La Mancha", "to dream the impossible dream," to tilt at windmills, to keep going with indomitable determination despite the evident pitfalls.
Shimon Peres was born in a small village in what is now Belarus.  He left with his family for "Palestine" when he was 11 years old in 1934.  He kissed his beloved grandfather goodbye and never saw him again, the whole family was murdered by the Nazis.  His family settled in Rosh Pinna, a small village in Galilee.  Shimon began his ascending rise to power as a youth leader and under the influence of David Ben-Gurion became in turn a leader of the Israeli Labor Party and eventually Defense Minister and Prime Minister.  He was known as a supporter of technology and was responsible for Israel developing nuclear technology as well as supporting the development of hi-tech industries. Throughout his career he was a rival of Yitzhak Rabin and was considered to be a "loser" for his many defeats by Rabin and others in elections.  Yet he persisted and never gave up.
Shimon Peres started out as a "hawk" but eventually became a "dove."  He pushed for peace talks and reconciliation with the Palestinians and was chiefly responsible for the Oslo Accords of 1993.  He persuaded Rabin who was then PM to go along with this policy.  Many people blame Peres for the subsequent round of terrorism instituted by Yasir Arafat who was rescued from Tunisia by Rabin-Peres and brought back to head the Palestine Authority.   Although some accuse him of being responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis, nevertheless, Peres continues doggedly to pursue his impossible dream of peace with the Palestinians.  Maybe if he lives to be 120 he might realize that dream.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Moderate in Iran?

The election of Imam Hassan Ruhani as President-elect of Iran has provided analysts with a great deal of material on which to speculate.  Is he really a moderate?  Will he change Iran's policies regarding Syria?  Will he halt Iran's nuclear weapons program? 
What one must remember in asking all these questions is that fundamentally nothing really has changed.  Ruhani who also happens to be a cleric, was one of the six conservative candidates who was allowed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei to stand for election.  He happens to be the most moderate of the six candidates and that is good news and he won by a landslide, with over 50% of the vote, while the next candidate, the Mayor of Tehran, scored only 17%.  But, the kind of issues being raised, Syria and the nuclear weapons program, are beyond the control of the President and the Parliament.  These issues are decided by the Supreme Leader and his ruling council directly, and although he congratulated Ruhani on his election, he will not defer to him in matters of basic policy. 
This election was to democracy what elections in Hitler's Germany and Communist Russia were to democracy.  They are a facade, a little bit of democracy to the extent that the dictator allows them to be. In fact the election of Ruhani to some extent plays into the hands of the clerical autocracy of Iran.  The last general election in Iran was rigged in favor of Pres. Ahmedinejad, and everybody knew it.  Because of the riots and extreme violence used to put them down, this time the Ayatollahs chose apparently not to intervene and allowed the majority candidate to win. But, they control the army and the revolutonary guard and can call the shots, so they are not afraid of the consequences.  Even more than that, the people this time demonstrated their support for Ruhani's win without interference by the Government, so everything looks peaceful.  
The main issue facing Ruhani is the economy of Iran, which is in free-fall due to poor management and the sanctions. The sanctions are biting and affecting the whole of Iran's society.  The Ayatollahs are happy to unload this problem onto Ruhani and continue with their international games.  The new President will be concerned with domestic issues, but on all matters he is a loyal member of the regime's elite and he will follow their line to the end.  As PM Netanyahu said, to believe otherwise is to be deluded by wishful thinking.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hate crime?

On the evening of Aug 1, 2009, a masked gunman burst into the Bar Noar gay youth club in Tel Aviv and started shooting.  Two youths were killed and nine wounded.  Then the gunman disappeared.  Of course, this was labelled a "hate crime" and police investigated it assuming that the perpetrator was an anti-gay activist.
The police had no leads until 4 months ago, when a prisoner offered evidence that caused a sensation.  He claimed that the shooter was a relative of a 15 year old boy who had been raped by the founder and youth counsellor at the club.   But at first this story was not allowed to be published, since there was a court imposed gag order against publication.  Then the gag order was lifted for a day and then reinstated and then finally lifted.  Apart from the futility of the gag order, unfortunatey, this prisoner is not a reliable witness, and the lawyer for the defense of the counsellor denied all his claims.  However, after the final lifting of the gag order the name of the counsellor was published and he is Shaul Ganon an LGBT activist who was ironically the spokesman for the Youth Center in the aftermath of the shootings.
The people arrested for the shooting are Hagai Felician, who is an older brother of the youth who was allegedly raped, and two of his friends.  According to police, Felician went to the youth club to shoot Ganon, but unaccountably, when he found that Ganon was not there, he instead randomly shot those who were present.  So far there is no explanation for this apparently pointless killing.  Of course, many LGBT activists refuse to accept this story and still cling to the belief that the shooting in the Bar Noar club was indeed a "hate-crime."
In order to facilitate the unraveling of this story, Ganon has been given immunity by the police for his testimony regarding the events leading up to the shooting.  That means that if he did rape the 15 year old he cannot be tried for the crime.  However, another young woman has come forward and claimed that Ganon raped her also.  So he can be tried for that rape, if it goes to trial.  In the meantime the police claim that they have found a second wtriness to the events that triggered the shooting as well as the problematical prisoner who has a long criminal record.  When or if it goes to trial this story will certainly make further news.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Distracting obsession

When Pres. Barack Obma took office in 2009 he did so with the desire, like all new Presidents, to solve the conflict between the Arabs and Israel.  He stated then that all other conflicts in the Middle East were derived from the Israel-Arab conflict and that if the Arabs could be satisfied with the creation of a Palestinian State brought about by US intervention then they would be grateful to the US and would change their hostile attitude fundamentally.  That was why Obama chose to give a speech to the Arab World from Cairo in 2009 and then avoided visiting Israel. 
It took until 2013, after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, the fall of US-ally Pres. Mubarak, the take-over of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, the expansion of sectarian violence in Iraq,  the Syrian civil war and the nuclear threat from Iran, for the reality to sink in and the realization that the only dependable ally the US has in the Middle East is Israel.  That was why for the first foreign visit of his second term Obama visited Israel, and although he appealed directly to the Israeli people over PM Netanyahu's head to bring pressure on their government to force them to make peace, nevertheless he showed greater friendship towards Israel than he had ever done hitherto. 
There has been a gradual realignment of forces in the Middle East.  From an excessive focus on the Israel-Arab axis, there is now a greater awareness of intra-Arab Sunni-Shia strife, in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that has nothing to do with Israel.  The lines are drawn between the Sunni Muslim States of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, allied to the Sunni elements in Syria and the Shia axis of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  When the death toll in Syria hit 50,000 I asked how high would it have to go before the US and its allies intervened.  Now we know that the figure is 100,000 deaths, because that is the current US estimate (actually 93,000 minimum), and now Pres. Obama, on the basis that Sarin gas has been used by the regime (that was already reported by Britain, France and Israel), has reversed his policy and agreed to supply the "moderate" Sunni rebels in Syria with arms, and may even consider a no-fly zone, starting along the Syrian-Jordanian border.   
It is not only the Sunni-Shia conflict that is distracting US (and UN) policy away from a near obsessive focus on Israel and the Palestinians, but also the other local potential conflicts, including the possible spill-over of the Syrian conflict to Iraq and Lebanon, the potential conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over the damming of the Nile and the current upheaval in Turkey.  Truth be told, the Palestinians are a minor irritation compared to the real danger of the Hizbollah intervention in force (at least 5,000 fighters) tipping the balance in favor of the regime, leading to a pro-Iranian victory in Syria.  The US and its allies have commited themselves to toppling Pres. Assad, and the Iranian-Russian alliance cannot be allowed to prevent that.  As the Syrian debacle really takes center stage, so the Israel-Palestinian conflict fades into the background.  The US might yet be glad that Israel has its "back."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Josef Mendelevich

On June 15, 1970, 43 years ago, a dozen Soviet citizens (10 of them Jews) in desperation at their plight attempted to steal a small civilian airplane at Leningrad airport.  They had bought all the seats on the flight ostensibly to attend a wedding.  They intended to force the pilot out of the plane and one of them, a former pilot in the USSR airforce, Mark Dymshits, would take over and fly the plane to Sweden.  Another participant was a 22 year old Zionist activist Josef (Yossi) Mendelevich, who had been born in Riga, Latvia, and had helped organize an underground Zionist organization with branches in Riga, Leningrad, Moscow, Tbilisi, etc.  However, their plan had been detected by the KGB and they were arrested and interrogated.  As a result most of their colleagues throughout Russia were also arrested. They were tried in Leningrad in what became a notorious case, in which they were given stiff sentences.  The leaders of the group Eduard Kuznetzov and Dymshits were given death sentences and the remainder were jailed for 15 years.
Although the Soviets expected the accused to be broken by their treatment, the contrary happened, and all of them spoke out against their treatment and the repression of Jews in the USSR, not allowing them to practice their religion and to emigrate to Israel.  Remember this was 1970, long before Gorbachev and perestroika. The harsh sentences, given that noone was hurt and no passengers were involved, caused a strong international reaction.  I remember being at the corner of 16th Street near the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC where we used to organize demonstrations, and I had arranged (against the wishes of the Jewish Community Council) for a group of Jewish students to burn the Soviet flag.  It was the end of Dec, 1970 when the verdicts were announced and it was the holiday season with little news, and when we burnt the Soviet flag it appeared on the front pages of most newspapers around the world. 
As a result of the international pressure, including that from the US Government, the Soviets commuted the death sentences.  Mendelevich spent 12 years in the Soviet prison system.  He was first in the Ural Mountains, where he and another Jew decided to take action, but what?  If they demanded kosher food they would be left to starve, or if they demanded Hebrew prayer books they would be laughed at.  So they decided to start wearing kippot.  They cut them from their trousers and wore them, and they also arranged with the prisoner trustees to do all their work during the week and not work on Shabbat.  Both of these actions resulted in time in solitary confinement in punishment cells.  But, they persisted, and after about a year the prison guards gave up and let them keep their privileges.  They also smuggled in Hebrew prayer books with bribes to guards, and kept them hidden.  Mendelevich copied the Hebrew text on to small pieces of paper that he kept hidden in a match box.  While he was in solitary confinement he learnt the whole book by heart, so for him it was an ideal situation. 
After continued clashes with the prison authorities he was moved to Moscow where he underwent special interrogation.  By, this time, 1981, the Soviet Jewry movement was in full swing and Jews were being allowed to emigrate from the USSR. So the KGB told Mendelevich that they were fed up with him, that they were going to strip him of his Soviet citizenship, which is what he wanted all along, and they expelled him and the other so-called "hijackers."  He was then able to move to Israel and finally realize his dream.  He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and son, and is an ordained Rabbi teaching in a Yeshiva.  He spoke in English (that he taught himself while in prison) at Netanya AACI on Thurs evening and was a very inspirational speaker.  The English translation of his book "Unbroken Spirit: a heroic story of faith, courage and survival,"  was only now published (by Gefen) although the Hebrew version was printed 30 years ago.  His epic story is part of the struggle for survival of the Jewish people and deserves to be widely known.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turkish spring?

People have superficially labelled the riots and demonstrations now occuring in Turkey as a version of the Arab Spring, calling them the "Turkish Spring."  Apart from the fact that it is now the summer, this is a mis-representation.  What is happening in Turkey is fundamentally different because it represents the fault line between secular democracy and Islamic coercion.  Although the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Cairo initially seemed to be similar, it turned out to be quite different, it was mainly an uprising of Islamic extremists against military dictatorships that controlled the Arab countries. 
Turkey is a democracy and is fundamentally different from the Arab world because it has been a western-style democracy for 90 years, since the time of Kemal Attaturk, who modernized and westernized Turkey and declared it a Republic in 1923.  Many people don't realize that in the wake of WWI something drastic had to be done, because the Allies (Britain, France and the US) were preparing to carve up Turkey as well as its former colonies.  In fact, while Britain and France received Mandates to govern and then allow self-determination over the Middle East, the US was offered to be the Mandatory power of Turkey (then of Armenia) but Pres. Wilson refused because he did not want the US to become a colonial power (although the US controlled the Philippines and Cuba) and the US had not actually declared war on Turkey or fought against it.  But, the "Young Turks" under Attaturk carried out an internal revolution and by agreeing to "secularize" Turkey managed to maintain its independence (they also defeated the invading Greek Army).
What is happening in Turkey now is a defensive reaction in order to maintain the status quo of democratic norms against an increasingly Islamic and authoritarian trend by the current Government of Pres. Erdogan, whereas in the Arab countries, the reaction was against years of repressive and incompetent military dictatorships.  But, it was not primarily to bring about democracy, but primarily to replace those dictators by Islamist governments, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.   Now, Erdogan realizing that Turkey is a good model for the Arab world has been trying to gain influence there.  He was on a tour of N. African countries when the rioting started in Istanbul ostensibly over the development of a popular park.  Apparently together with his Islamic trend, Erdogan also has visions of reestablishing Turkish hegemony in the Arab world, although he has little hope of success in that.  However, as one of the main Sunni antagonists to Syrian Pres. Assad, who is allied to Shia Iran, Turkey under Erdogan sees itself as a leader of the Sunni Muslim world.   However, to be such a leader he needs to move his coutnry more to the "right" as a Muslim state, something that he has been busy doing, and the demonstrations all over Turkey are a specific reaction to that trend. 
Turkey can turn to the left towards secular Europe (it has a long-term application to join the EU) or to the right (to be a leader of the Sunni Muslim world as a facsimile of its former imperial role), it can't have it both ways.  Apparently Erdogan wants the latter and the demonstrators want the former, to return to the Attaturk model.  We will see who prevails. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Two-state problem

Danny Danon, who is now Deputy Defense Minister, caused a stir last week when he stated publicly that he and many of his colleagues in the Government coalition do not support a "two-state solution."  This is contrary to official Israeli Government policy and to the stated aims of PM Bibi Netanyahu, since his speech at Bar Ilan University just after taking office in his previous term in 2009, when he embraced the conventional wisdom that a "two-state solution" is the key to peace with the Palestinians. 
There are many who have questioned Netanyahu's sincerity in accepting this approach, and many think that like Ben Gurion when he accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1948, but privately admitted that he depended on the Arab's rejecting it, Netanyahu also is banking on the Arabs avoiding the two-state solution at all costs.  There are several reasons for this, first no Palestinian leader wants to go down in history as the one who finally accepted the existence of Israel as a Jewish State in Palestine, and second to do so will be an almost instant invitation for assassination. 
There are other factors, Pres. Obama in the beginning of his first term pressured Israel to institute a freeze on all construction on the West Bank, but although Netanyahu did impose such a freeze for 10 months, Pres. Abbas still refused to negotiate. Since then, after the freeze expired, Abbas has made the re-institution of a freeze a pre-condition to any negotiations.  He has also added acceptance by Israel of the pre-June 1967 borders (actually ceasefire lines) and the return of the so-called Palestinian "refugees" to Israel as further pre-conditions to negotiations.  If Israel accepted his terms then what would there be to talk about.  He knows that it is impossible for Israel to accept these preconditions, not only because the pre-1967 ceasefire lines are null and void, but Israel has made it an integral part of the two-state solution that Palestinian refugees must return to the putative Palestinian State and not to Israel.  It would be tantamount to commiting national suicide for Israel to accept these so-called refugees, who are not actually refugees but the descendents of refugees, who do not themselves have any legal right of return.
It is not surprising that some of the more right-wing members of Likud and Israeli Beitanu, as well as Bayit Yehudi, would reject the two-state solution, since the PA's policy was and remains the replacement of the Jewish State by a Palestinian State.  Also, for good reasons they do not trust any Palestinian entity to remain peaceful and not to become a spring board for terrorist attacks against Israel.  If the Palestinians returned to negotiations, sincerely wished to make peace with Israel and stopped all violent attacks, then Netanyahu might need to persuade his coalition partners that he is right, but until then the whole question is moot.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 5 anniversary

June 5 passed last week without notice or comment, but it was the anniversary of one of the most momentous days in Jewish history, the start of the Six Day War of 1967, when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon threatened to invade Israel.  Not only did they not succeed, but the IAF destroyed their air forces on the ground in a lighting strike and thus ensured the survival of the Jewish State.
I well remember those awful days leading up to the war when Pres. Nasser of Egypt closed the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and ordered the UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai peninsula, which they did without hesitation.  US Pres. Johnson promised Israeli PM Eshkol to send an "armada" of ships from many nations to break the Egyptian blockade, which was illegal under international law and a causus belli for Israel.  But, in the event no other nations agreed to join.  So on June 5, after much hesitation, Eshkol gave his military commanders the go-ahead to attack.  Many nations warned the Israeli government against taking such unilateral action, including Pres. Charles De Gaulle of France, who instituted a military arms embargo against Israel.  But, this lightning strike destroyed most of the Egyptian and Syrian air forces on the ground and enabled Israel to maintain total air superiority that allowed the armored ground forces to advance unhindered.
The result of this war changed the face of the Middle East forever, it catapulted Israel into an era of superiority and self-reliance and showed the Arab nations that they were backward and incompetent.  Unfortunately, all our subsequent woes have rested on the fact that the Arabs were unable to accept the fact of their utter defeat and they have continued trying, through war, terrorism and delegitimization of Israel, ever since.  The fundamental mistake of the west and particularly the Americans is that by giving the Arabs what they think they want (Israeli withdrawal, and an end to the "occupation") that this will lead to peace.  There are so many examples that show that this is not the case, yet Secty of State Kerry continues the charade, coming to Israel every month to waste time on more useless discussions. One definition of madness is trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. A fundamental change is needed in the Arab world, and it is happening, but has not yet reached anywhere near its end-point, a fundamental realignment of the forces of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish interests.
The Jerusalem Post editorial today (Monday, June 10) entitled "Sykes-Picot and Israel," points out that this all but forgotten formerly secret British-French agreement made in 1916 prior to WWI was the victor's way of carving up the former Turkish Empire and led to the founding of Lebanon and Syria from the French Mandate and Israel, Jordan and Iraq from the British Mandates.  Some of these States, particularly Syria and Iraq, were artificial entities cobbled together from various ethnic groups, such as Sunni, Shia and Kurdish, that have never cohered into stable states, similar to Yugoslavia in the Balkans.  They are still struggling to find their stable form, if they ever can.  Meanwhile Israel remains the only island of calm within the Middle East, a fact that the US should be celebrating.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

MK Dov Lipman

On Thurs evening we went to hear MK Dov Lipman speak at the young Israel Synagogue of Netanya at a fund-raiser for Laniado Hospital organized by the Netanya Friends of the Hospital.  Dov, in case you don't know, is the only American-born MK elected in the recent election on the Yesh Atid party list to the Knesset.  He had to renounce his American citizenship in order to serve in the Knesset.  He is religious (dati) and wears a black kippah, which makes him an unusual member of the generally secular Yesh Atid party.  He explained how he unexpectedly found himself in that position.
He comes from Silver Spring, Maryland, where he was active in Jewish causes.  He remembered at the age of 14 standing in the silent vigil opposite the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC carrying a sign saying "Free Yuli Edelstein" and now Yuli Edelstein is the Speaker of the Knesset. (Parenthetically I was an organizer of this "silent vigil" when I was active in the Soviet Jewry Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington).  Dov studied in various yeshivot and obtained smicha as an orthodox rabbi and obtained a Masters degree in education.  In 2004 he and his family made aliyah to Beth Shemesh, which he chose because it was a mixed community of religious and secular Jews. 
He was shocked to find the degree of animosity between the secular (hiloni) and ultra-orthodox (haredi) communities, that particularly came to a head over the placement of a religious Zionist school adjacent to a haredi neighborhood.  He realized that he had been naieve and decided to take an active role in trying to mediate between the two communities, since he had connections to both.  He was in an ideal position to help interpret each community to the other. This role brought him to the attention of various community leaders, and he decided to pursue a political career. 
Prior to the recent election he had heard that Yair Lapid was forming a new party and contacted him to indicate his interest.  He was surprised to be called back and then had a meeting with Yair that proved a turning point in his life.  He hoped Yair, who is secular and has a reputation of being anti-haredi (that he partly inherited from his father Tommy Lapid), would be interested in him as an Orthodox Rabbi, because Yair wanted his party to be inclusive.  He was appointed no. 17 on the Yesh Atid list and was not expected to be elected, but on election night Yesh Atid did unexpectedly well and received 19 seats, so Dov found himself in the Knesset. 
As the only native-born American in the Knesset and a person who has a reputation of being a conciliator between the hiloni and haredi communities, he is deeply involved in the current issue of sharing the national service burden equally among all Israeli communities.  He is on several Knesset committees that are concerned with this issue and others, including conversion and absorption.  He spoke fluently and earnestly and created a very positive impression.  After his talk there were several questions particularly related to these hot topic issues, which he handled with aplomb.  It seems that he has found his vocation. 

Friday, June 07, 2013

Palestinian Anusim

One of the many areas where Jews were forcibly converted to another religion was the Holy Land.  Palestina was part of the Greek Byzantine Christian Empire that was the successor to the Roman Empire.  Palestina was inhabited by Jews and Christians who were also mostly of Jewish origin.  In fact for centuries practicing Jews and Jewish Christians lived side by side in relative peace.  After Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslim Arabs in 638 ce, however, both groups were forcibly converted to Islam. 
Although the Arabs murdered and converted a large number of Jews and Christians, they soon realized that a small contingent of Arabs could not run a large Empire, so first in Cairo, then in Damascus and later Baghdad, they turned to the remaining Jews and Christians to help them.  They institutionalized the relationship with the "peoples of the books," namely the Bible and the New Testament, in ca. 900 ce and officially recognized their religious rights, but as dhimmis, inferior people who had to pay a special tax, the jizya, for this privilege.  Just as in Christian Europe, in order to survive in society, many Jews were forced to convert to Islam, but many did so only superficially while secretly remaining practicing Jews.  Because some Jews were accepted as part of Muslim society it was easier for these Jews to continue living as Secret Jews, or Bnei Anusim, than their brethren who were forcibly converted to Catholic Christianity in Spain and Portugal and then as conversos or their descendents were subject to the rigors of the Inquisition. 
That some of these Bnei Anusim remained fully practicing Jews in secret is shown by the example of the Mashhadi Jews, a whole community who were outwardly Muslims from 1840 onwards (see blog entry "Jadidi," March 5, 2013).  Some moved surreptitiously to Baghdad and Jerusalem over the years and eventually they immigrated to Israel as a group.  Early Zionists and investigators realized that among the Palestinian Arabs there were some who continued to practice rudimentary forms of Jewish customs, such as secretly lighting candles on Fri nights, just as the "marranos" did in Spain.   Some Palestinians even admitted confidentially that they were of Jewish origin, but to admit this publicly was tantamount to inviting persecution and death.  However, as the power of Israel increased and it became more established, some of the Palestinian Anusim came out of the closet and moved to Jewish areas, and live ostensibly as Jews. 
According to some estimates ca. 85% of Palestinian "Arabs" are of Jewish origin (in Portugal it is ca. 30% and Spain around 20%).   Here is a novel proposal for the solution of the Palestine-Israel conflict, persuade these Palestinian Anusim to openly revert to being Jews and convert those who will accept it and thereby remove the need for the Palestinians to have a separate state.  This is certainly wishful thinking, but stranger things have happened, and the lure of being members of a powerful and successful Jewish state could act as a magnet for those who wish to return to their roots. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

No Better Place?

The news of the failure of Shai Agassi's Better Place company, that was introducing all-electric cars into Israel, has come as a shock.  But, it was known that there was not a large enthusiastic flood of electric car buyers.  People are cautious, including myself.  My car broke down a few years ago and I had to replace it, I was not prepared to wait until an electric car was available.  Also, I drive short distances, so an electric car would not represent a worthwhile investment for me.  With only ca. 1,000 electric cars on the road, and add to this the fact that Israel has now found huge quantities of natural gas together with much crude petroleum at several sites out in the Mediterranean off Haifa, and you see that  the future for Better Place looked grim.  It has now declared bankruptcy and has been placed into receivership. 
This certainly does not mean that the concept or dream of having electric cars and gasoline independence for Israel is over.  Very often new ideas and innovations take a critical time to be accepted.  It took a long time for people to be reassured that large metal boats would not sink, and even after the Titanic and the Concordia people still go on cruises.  It took a long time for people to accept that they could talk into a telephone and converse with someone over distance, and flying in planes was initially considered too dangerous for passengers.  But, now all these things are part of the fabric of our lives.  So with electric cars, a time will come when the concept will become reality, Better Place was ahead of its time.
There were several things wrong with the Better Place approach that could be improved upon.  First, they rushed ahead to have fleets in Israel, Denmark, Australia and elsewhere, instead of proving the concept in one place.  Second, the battery switching maneuver which would allow the cars to drive long distances was flawed, because people don't want to have even this inconvenience, they want to be able to drive as far as they like without worry.   Third, there are other battery and non-gasoline concepts, such as hybids and hydrogen cells and natural gas tanks that could also work.  Also, there was a lack of Israeli government support to push the concept and facilitate the development of the necessary chain of battery switiching stations.  When in the future this technology is worked out and one approach comes to the fore, Better Place will be seen as a historic initiative that paved the way for gasoline independence.
There was a report in the J'sam Post Mon morning that Yosef Abramowitz, the entrepreneur founder of the solar power network in the Negev, known as Mr. Sunshine, has made an offer for Better Place.  It remains to be seen if he will offer enough cash to cover the company's deficit.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Jewish terrorism?

There have been a series of "price tag" attacks by Jewish militants against Muslim and Christian targets, consisting of spray painting of slogans with the term "price tag" in Hebrew and sometimes fires and/or property damage such as tire slashing.  The latest incident took place at the Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem, but most of the attacks occurred at night in Arab villages in the West Bank.  In an attempt to be even-handed Finance Minster and Yesh Atid Party Head Yair Lapid and Justice Minister and Hatnuah Party Head Tzipi Livni have suggested labelling these attacks as "Jewish terrorism."  However, this would be a serious error and would devalue the term "terrorism" itself, that we often criticize the media for not using correctly.
In these "price tag" attacks there has been no loss of life, not even any injury and no attempt to harm anyone.  Yes, property has been defaced, but the absence of any intention to harm people is so opposite to that of Islamic terrorism that specifically targets civilians in order to kill and maim and to cause "terror" that it is important not to conflate the two.  You could call these "price tag" attacks hooliganism or vandalism, but it is definitely NOT terrorism.  While the media usually uses words like "militant" to describe outright terrorists, when the terror is closer to home they bend the rule and for example described Adebolajo in the UK as a "terrorist" and the Tsarnaev brothers in the USA as "terrorists."  It depends on whose ox is being gored, when Arab terrorists kill Israeli citizens then they revert to "militant."
This is bad for both the credibility of the media and for the war on terrorism.  If you can't recognize what is really terrorism, the murder of civilians for political means, then you cannot fight it effectively.  If the same type of action elicits different descriptions and responses by the media then who can clearly see the similarity of the acts, the presence of an overall Islamist plan against all western targets.  Let's get real, Islamic terrorism is terrorism whether its carried out in Nigeria, the UK, USA, Kenya or Israel.  The acts of these Jewish "price tag" militants hardly compares.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Memories of Spain

Last Thursday evening there was a musical performance in Ra'anana entitled "Memories of Spain" sponsored by Casa Shalom, the Institute of Marrano-Anusim Studies.  It took place in the home of Mel Corin and his family, a magnificent house with a beautiful garden with a swimming pool.  Mel is a contemporary artist who paints colorful abstracts that were on display during the evening (his website is  We sat around the pool on a flawless evening and after feasting on tapas and sangria listened to a performance on the viola da gamba played by Myrna Herzog, who runs the Phoenix Early Music Ensemble (her website is
Myrna is an internationally recognized virtuoso on the viola da gamba, that is not widely played now, but has a beautiful mellow tone.  It has 7 strings as opposed to the 4 strings on the modern string instruments of violin and cello, and comes somewhere between them in tone (gamba means legs).  Myrna played pieces from the earliest Spanish songs of the15th century to a contemporary Japanese composer Sun-ichi Tokura and ended with renderings of Bach.  It was a unique experience.  Myrna Herzog played for free and Mel Corin graciously donated his home free of charge.  This enabled Casa Shalom to reap the benefit of the evening.
Myrna pointed out that the viola da gamba travelled contemporaneously with the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and many of its exponents were Jews.  King Henry VIII when he wanted to expand the musical capabilities of his court imported into England 6 Sephardic Jews who played the viola da gamba.
Neil Davis planned the evening on the suggestion of Danby Meital and Adina Moryosef of Casa Shalom organized the event.  Neil then introduced Gloria Mound, the Executive Director of Casa Shalom, who spoke briefly about the aims and activities of Casa Shalom ( and invited everyone who has not yet been to visit the library of the Intl. Inst. for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) at Netanya Academic College, where she has her office.  This houses the library consisting of 2,500 books and 5,000 mss. that she and her late husband Leslie (z"l) collected over 40 years and is regarded as the best library on the subject of the Anusim in the world.  Altogether a memorable evening.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Upside of anti-Semitism

Every few years the Israeli government hosts a forum on anti-Semitism, entitled "The Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism," that is currently being held in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   In an article in the Jerusalem Post (May 28) covering this Forum entitled "A global tsunami of anti-Semitism," Isi Leibler expresses his outrage at the current resurgence of anti-Semitism in the form of modern anti-Israelism and castigates the Israeli Government for not doing more to counteract it.  Of course, I agree with him.
But, those of us who have experienced anti-Semitism in the diaspora, and have chosen to make our homes in Israel, do not expect anti-Semitism to fade, as many did after the horrors of the Holocaust.  The murder of six million Jews cannot stem the tide of endemic hatred that permeates European culture.  We know it will resurrect in one form or another. 
One upside of this is the absolute conviction that Zionism is the only concrete solution to this resurgence.  What other course do Jews in the diaspora have, except to grin and bear it?  They must realize that it will never go away, that it will only worsen and so aliyah is the only solution.  Yes, they may put it off for a time, but then their children will inter-marry, cast off the onerous cloak of Jewishness and attempt to assimilate.  There will in time be no significant Jewish presence in the diaspora, except perhaps for the USA, and then Israel will be the only bastion of Jewish survival.
Why is the USA an exception to the rule of endemic Jew-hatred?  Actually it is only a partial exception, there is plenty of anti-Semitism brought to the USA by immigrants from Europe, particularly Catholics in the east and Protestants in the west.  But, by and large in all polls the majority of Americans are pro-Israel.  The main explanation for this is that the population of the US is not itself indigenous, they all came from elsewhere, except for the so-called Indians, and they therefore cannot consider themselves more entitled than American Jews, who have been there for just as long.  
However, this is not a perfect argument, because even in Europe, where Jews settled with the Romans in such areas as Germany, France and Spain pre-dating the current populations by as much as 1,000 years, it counted as nothing to the Nazis and their ilk.  Since anti-Semitism is an irrational belief in various illogical canards (such as that all Jews are rich and all Jews are communists) there is no point in engaging in rational arguments with anti-Semites.  Best just to leave them alone and come to the Jewish State.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Equalizing the burden

The Peri Committee on equalizing the burden of national service to all segments of the population has agreed upon a compromise deal that would require the haredim (ultra-orthodox) to serve.  However, the conditions of service are not eactly equal to that of the hiloni (secular) requirements for service.  At age 18 all young men and women are required to serve, but until now up to 60,000 haredim have received legal exemptions because they are studying in yeshivot, religious schools that teach Torah study.  This number started out at 400, but over time the religious parties used their coalition power to protect their segment of the population. 
Under the new rules there will only be 1,800 exemptions allowed for outstanding students of Torah, the rest must serve.  But, they will be given an 3 extra years if individually approved up to the age of 21.  But, since many of them will be married by age 21 and will have children, then they will be exempt again.  At present ca. 30% of haredi men serve in the IDF voluntarily, but under the new rules it is estimated that 70% of them will serve.  Also, these rules will not be implemented for another 3 years. An improvement, but a quantitative one, hardly truly sharing the burden. 
A coalition crisis was averted by the intervention of PM Netanyahu, who persuaded Defense Minister Boogy Yaalon from voting against the measure in the Committee.  He wanted a much more rigorous enforcement of the new rules, that if a haredi man did not register for service (i.e. was a draft dodger) then he would be liable to legal proceedings and imprisonment, as the hilonim are. The main advocate for equalizing the burden was Finance Minister and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who made this a primary element in his party's program.  But, they were persuaded that making haredi draft dodging a legal crime would not work, it would only antagonize the whole haredi population.  Instead they preferred an economic toll for avoiding the draft, believing that loss of income and loss of tax benefits would be enough to persuade the haredim to serve.  This is what the Committee agreed, but the haredim are still opposed to this and it will face opposition when it comes to the full Knesset Committee.
Also, the Peri Committee avoided the question of the Arab sector of the population.  At present there are Arabs, particularly Druse and Beduin and some Christians and Muslims, who serve in the IDF.  But, apart from proposing that all Arab men be required to do some form of non-military national service, such as medical service, they did not propose anything specific.  It was felt that the problems with the haredim were enough to deal with for now. 
Note that some think that the IDF do not want to be flooded with unenthusiastic haredi and Arab recruits, that they have enough draftees already and with the budget cutting that is going on concurrently, this is no time to increase expenses by expanding the IDF.  Their emphasis is on quality and not quantity.  Also, note that Arabs in this context refer only to Israeli citizens, not Palestinians in the West Bank territories who are not Israeli citizens and who oppose Israel violently.   Whether the equalization of the burden will be achieved in the future is debatable, but at least the hiloni segment of the population will feel that the problem is being tackled and is not being left as unfair and unequal.