Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Prisoner releases

When America wants the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel, they apply pressure on Israel to make concessions. Case in point, the release of Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israelis, who are now being released in the second of four groups in order to reward Pres. Abbas. This supposedly bolsters Abbas's position among the Palestinians so that he can actually negotiate with the Israeli government, something he refused to do for 4 years.

There are many who oppose these prisoner releases, some whose family members were murdered by them and some as a matter of principle. Their argument is that as they were tried in a court of law and found guilty and given a sentence, then noone, not even the Israeli Government, has the right to pardon them and release them before they have served their time. On the other hand, the argument goes, that in order to achieve peace the releasing of such terrorists is a small price to pay. Also, the terrorists being released are mostly those incarcerated in Israeli prisons before the Oslo Accords, so they have served at least 20 years. Unfortunately the release of the terrorists does not achieve peace, but only allows the so-called peace process to continue (ad nauseam).

Those against the releases argue that they are considered a victory by the Palestinians and the celebrations upon their return give a tremendous filip to those who plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. These terrorists see the Israeli state as weak and effete, if they were Israelis imprisoned by the Palestinians they would have long since been executed. The current release has caused a coalition crisis in the Netanyahu Government, with Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party publicly opposing the releases, when as members of the Coalition they are required to support them. But, Netanyahu has pressed ahead with the releases despite domestic opposition.

In any case, there is little chance that the two sides can overcome their fundamental differences. For example, PM Netanyahu requires that for an end of the conflict agreement, the Pals agree to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This they adamantly refuse to do because to do so would be to negate one of their sacred cows, the inherent right of return of all Palestinian "refugees," including all descendents, to what is now Israel. Of course, this is ridiculous, since there is no basis in international law for the return of refugees and certainly not for their descendents, who are not classified as "refugees" under international law.

So ultimately the terrorist prisoners will have been released in vain, there will be no reciprocal Palestinian concessions, and there will be no peace agreement, and the former terrorists will return to their deadly business and kill again. The victims could be a member of your or my family! Will that make Pres. Obama happy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stuart Shamai z"l

Sunday morning I received the shocking, sad new of the death of Stuart Shamai. He was a larger than life character who was well known among the English-speaking community in Netanya. He made aliya from London about 10 years ago and I met him when I was organizing the Likud Anglos group in Netanya before the previous elections. He volunteered to help me and was an excellent volunteer and organizer. He made his presence felt with his booming voice and extrovert personality and he was a hard man to say no to.

Apparently he fell on some steps in Ra'anana on Monday and hit his head. When he got to the doctor in Netanya he was taken to hospital by ambulance, but he had a concussion which resulted in a brain hemorrhage and he never recovered. He died on Shabbat morning and the funeral was in Netanya on Sunday morning.

Walking around Netanya, and perhaps any city, can be hazardous for older people. I fell nearly a month ago, I caught my sneaker on a projecting metal cover and fell like a ten-pin. Luckily for me I saved my fall with my right knee and hands. My knee has only just healed and my right hand was badly bruised, but apart from that I was lucky. I spoke to several others who have had similar experiences. Stuart was unlucky in that he hit his head.

Stuart made his mark in Netanya in several ways, one story that I can tell about him, since it is reasonably well known, is that soon after coming to Netanya, Stuart joined the New Synagogue, known as MacDonalds. He was soon on the Board and was shocked to discover that the elected Board could not find out what was the actual financial situation of the Synagogue. It seems that a group of old-timers who called themselves the "Trustees," who had run the shool for years, controlled the finances. So Stuart, in his own inimitable way, contacted the office for amutot (an amutah is a non-profit organization) and asked them if "Trustees" have any authority in an amutah such as the synagogue. He received a written answer back that there is no role for "Trustees" in an amutah and that the financial responsibility rests with the elected Board. So Stuart, using this letter, forced the Trustees to give up their control. This resulted in recriminations and bad feelings and some who had been in the synagogue for many years left, and others were appalled by the manner in which this was done. It ended with new elections for the Board and with Stuart leaving the shool.

So for good or ill, whatever one may think of that situation, Stuart left his mark in Netanya. His funeral was crowded with people who had experienced the benefit of his expansive personality. If it can happen to Stuart it can happen to anyone. It only proves once again how unpredictable life is. Stuart will be missed.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Islam, realm of war

In Islam there is a traditional belief that where Islam is predominant and in power, Dar al Islam, there will be a realm of peace, Dar al Salaam, but everywhere else where the infidels are in control, meaning everyone else but Muslims, there will be the realm of conflict and war, Dar al Harb.

Ironically if one looks at the world as it is, the divison is exactly the opposite of that. Dar al Islam is currently the Dar al Harb, everywhere one looks in the Arab/Muslim world there is conflict. In Syria there is a vicious civil war that has killed over 100,000 people, most of them Muslims of one kind or another. In Egypt, and North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Algeria) there have been insurrections and military clashes. In the Gulf there have been clashes between Sunni and Shia, such as in Bahrain. In Iran, apart from the suppression of freedom of speech and rigged elections, there is a spiralling economic crisis mainly because they are trying to develop nuclear weapons. Where there are Muslims generally there is conflict, such as in Burma with the Rohinga, and in the Philippines, where the Muslim inhibitants of Mindanao, the Moro, are fighting for separation.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is comparatively peaceful. Yes, there have been terrible conflicts and massacres in Africa, in Rwanda and Burundi, but these seem to have died down. The violence in Sudan can be traced to oppressive military actions by the Muslim Sudanese Government, in South Sudan, that is now an independent state, and in Darfur. But, in Kenya and Somalia where there is the al Shabab and in Mali where there is the Boko Haram, Muslim extremists are causing terible violence, as at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. It's time the Muslims recognized just how wrong their traditional view of the world really is.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Local election results

There are a few conclusions that can be drawn from the results of the Israeli local elections. Very few people bothered to vote, the numbers were down from last time, with only 30-40% of those eligible voting in most localities. Why this should be the case is unclear, since the local government may have more impact on individual citizens than the national one? Yet, this is a trend all around the world. To counteract this it is recommended that the local and national elections be held together.

Incumbents won, in almost every race the incumbents won in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheva and Netanya, and often by wide margins. Even in Beth Shemesh, where there was a closely fought election, the incumbent won, although by a small margin. In this case, electoral fraud has been charged and the loser has gone to court to have the results investigated. In Nazareth, where there was a three-way race, the incumbent won and the challenger, the extreme Palestinian nationalist Hanan Zoabi, who resigned from the Knesset to run, received only a small vote.

Being indicted for corruption and illegal activities does not prevent you being elected. Three out of four Mayors who have been indicted for criminal activities, but who were allowed to stand again for election, since they are innocent until proven guilty, were re-elected as Mayor. In other words, the electorate ignored the charges against them, very strange. Now there is a move to pass a law that would prevent people who are under indictment from standing until the charges have been tested in a court of law. Meanwhile three Mayors who are potentially going to jail have been re-elected! But, if they actually are found guilty then they will be forced to resign from their positions.

One loser in the elections was Avigdor Lieberman, the Head of the Israel Beitanu Party that has joined with Likud to form a joint list. He supported Moshe Lion as the challenger to incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, and since Lion and at least one other candidate supported by Lieberman was defeated, this is a net loss for Lieberman. How it will affect his subsequent electoral chances is unknown. Similarly several candidates supported by Shas were not elected, so this might be the beginning of the decline of Shas after the death of its founder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Local elections can have repercussions in national politics.

Friday, October 25, 2013


We went to the first of a series of lectures on "Exotic Jewish communities" given by Gabriella Licsko at Netanya AACI. Gabriella is a Hungarian Jewish immigrant to Israel who specializes in Jewish cultural phenomena. She gave a series of lectures last year on the various Orthodox Jewish sects in Israel, which were so popular that we invited her back. The current series started with a description of the Yemenite Jewish Community, that includes not only the true Yemenites, but also the Habbani and Adeni communities.

The Yemeni Jews are a very ancient and separate grouping, not included under the Ashkenazi (Yiddish) or Sephardi (Spanish) main Jewish rites. They developed largely in isolation and their distinct attribute was to largely follow the teachings of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides), who came from Cordova, Spain and resided in Cairo (1168-1204). He wrote a famous letter to the Yemeni community, in answer to the question, if a Jew is threatened by death unless he converts to Islam, should he choose to convert or accept death? He wrote that it is preferable to convert, because first one can secretly continue to believe and practice Judaism (as many conversos did in Spain) and second there may come a time when the forced convert can revert back to his original path (as the Rambam once did). He also advised that conversion to Islam was preferable to conversion to Christianity, because Islam is determinedly monotheistic while Christianity requires belief in a "trinity."

The reason the Yemenite Jews would ask such a question is because they lived under a terribly oppressive Muslim regime. Although they had developed a strong community during the pre-Muslim period, once Islam arrived in Yemen they were very badly treated. It was common for Jews to be abused in broad daylight on the street and Jewish women stayed mainly in their houses and only went out dressed as Muslims. But, many Jewish communities experienced harsh treatment, what made the Yemenite experience worse was the co-called "Orphan decree." Under this, if any Jewish child was orphaned then they were automatically required to be converted to Islam. To avoid this fate many children were either betrothed and/or married at very young ages, something for which the Yemenite community is known, but the origin of this custom is not well known.

The Yemenites wore characteristic oriental-style clothes, the men with long peyot and were not allowed to wear turbans or wear swotds or any protective weapons or ride horses, only donkeys. The women wore black clothes with a pointed cape on their head. They were not allowed to be farmers or engage in agriculture, so they became silversmiths, pot- and earthen-ware makers and shop-keepers. Ironically when they arrived in Israel in large numbers in the 1950s they were channeled by the Israeli authorities into agriculture. Because of their persecution the Yemenites developed Zionism independently and started arriving in Palestine in the 1880's. The area of Tel Aviv called Keren Hateymanim became a Yemenite enclave, and later many settled in Rosh Ha'ayin, and Rehovot and vicinity. They were famously brought to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50 when many of them had never seen an airplane before. There are estimated to be now ca. 350,000 Yemenite Jewish descendents in Israel.

The Yemenites were not homogeneous, they divided into at least three major religious groups, there was a group who were influenced by Sephardic rites and mysticism called Shami, and those who were not influenced in this way were called Baladi (from the Arabic for "home country"). The offshoot of the Baladi were the Rambamistim and the Dordaim both of whom advocated a more "rational" version of Judaism and mostly rejected Sephardi mysticiswm.

A distinct smaller group from the area of Yemen called Habban are the Habbani Jews, who although nominally Yemenite Jews, were quite different. Many years ago they developed a military tradition, and wore their hair long, wore turbans, rode horses and were much feared by the local Arab tribes, who tended to avoid them. They were called "wild Indians" by the Israelis who rescued them. By contrast to most Yemenite Jews who were not strongly builtt, the Habbanis were tall and muscular. However, there were only several thousand of them, and they settled together in Moshav Bareket near Ben Gurion airport and became wealthy, since they owned the land on which Airport City was built.

Finally, the Adeni Jews were also quite distinct, due mainly to the fact that the British conquered Aden in 1839 and treated the Jews there very well, recognizing that they were loyal to the British Crown and were excellent traders, just what the port city needed. Although they descended from the same Jews as the Yemenites, they did not consider themselves Yemenite Jews and greatly intermarried with Iraqi and Indian Jews. They spoke English, were quite wealthy, adopted British dress and customs (including afternoon tea) and even before the Brithish withdrew from Aden in 1963 they mostly went to Stamford Hill, London, although there is a small group living in Israel in Tel Aviv. The persistence of these groups of formerly Diaspora Jews in Israel is a testimony to the strength of ethnic customs and practices.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Geneva II?

Will there be a Geneva II conference on Syria? A group of 11 Foreign Ministers, including the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other "Friends of the Syrian Opposition" met in London Monday to prepare the groundwork for the Geneva II conference. However, there is at present no guarantee that this conference will take place. The main sticking point is that the major Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, will not accept Pres. Assad as a participant in the conference nor will they accept any interim governing body for Syria that includes him or his followers of the Ba'ath Party. This is perhaps understandable given the degree of mayhem and murder that the Assad regime has inflicted on the Syrian people in order to stay in power, namely over 100,000 dead in 2 years of civil war, over 2 million refugees and an estimated 5 million displaced persons within Syria.

But, the supporters of Assad, namely Iran, Russia and China, are not prepared to allow such a conference to proceed without the participation of what they consider to be the legitimate government of Syria, namely the Assad regime. At the same time as continuing to expand their financial and material support for the main Syrian opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army, the Friends of the Opposition led by US Secty of State Kerry, are trying to argue that the rift over the participation of the Assad regime in the Geneva II conference should be discussed at the conference. This is splitting hairs, since the Syrian opposition fighting on the ground in Syria will not hear of any such consideration. In fact today the official Syrian opposition announced that it will not attend the Geneva II conference.

Under those circumstances what would be the point of having such a conference? At the same time as providing more support (but not weapons) to the opposition, the US and allies are trying to force them to negotiate with representatives of the Assad Government, which they refuse to do. Although the Saudis, Qataris and probably the Turks are supplying the opposition with weapons, what can the US do, except maybe to threaten to reduce their support. But, that won't work since all they supply is non-military materiel, such as food and medications.

The Saudis turned down a place on the UN Security Council because they are disgusted by the fact that it has been ineffectual as regards Syria, all action (except the chemical weapons program) have been blocked by Russia and China. How the Syrian situation will eventually play out is unclear, but the fighting on the ground has reached a stalemate barring an unexpected turnaround only a diplomatic solution now seems possible.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A third intifada?

In the past there have been two Palestinian "uprisings" or intifadas. The first intifada was a rather spontaneous and chaotic affair in 1987-91. The second intifada was a planned and organized insurrection against Israel from 2000-2005 led by Yasir Arafat, who had been allowed to return to "Palestine" by PM Yitzhak Rabin to head the Palestine Authority. Arafat wanted to re-establish his control over the terrorist forces after his years of absence (exiled in Tunisia) and also to try to undermine Israeli control over the "territories" of Gaza and the West Bank. In neither case were the intifadas successful in achieving their main aims. Apart from the killings, the suicide bombings and the IDF responses, Israeli control continued and the intifadas achieved nothing substantive, they did not demoralize the Israeli people. They did however prevent negotiations proceeding between Israel and the Palestinians.

Now Pres. Haniyeh of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has publicly called for a third intifada. He is doing this in order to show his disapproval of the current negotiations between Pres. Abbas of the PA, Arafat's successor, and Israel. He says that he is also in favor of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation leading to Palestinian unity, but he can't have it both ways. What he is really trying to do is to wrest control of the Palestinian movement away from Abbas and the Fatah/PLO into the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.

At this point in time Hamas is caught in a bind. They strongly oppose any accomodation with Israel and support the formation of a Palestinian State only as a replacement for Israel, in all of Palestine. They also support the return of all Palestinian "refugees" and the release of all Israeli prisoners. But, Hamas has a problem since the Egyptian Army under Gen. al-Sisi removed Pres. Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) from power and established an interim military government. They are currently crushing the rebel Islamists in Sinai and have destroyed almost all of the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border that was the lifeline for Hamas. In order to make common cause with the MB when it was in power in Egypt, Hamas cut its ties with Shia Iran. Now it has no other potential allies. That is why Haniyeh is trying to reassert his leadership of the Palestinian movement. Israel must be careful to watch for a third intifada starting in the West Bank and to crush it with all available means, particularly if the current negotiations between Israel and the PA fail, as they are likely to do.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We went to a presentation of "I'm not going back," a memoir of the evacuation from London by Kitty and Ralph Wintrob, at the AACI Netanya. They are from Toronto, Canada, but Kitty was a Jewish girl age 11 growing up in the East End of London during WWII and she was evacuated at the start of the war as were almost all children in London and other big cities that were expected to be targets of German bombing. After war was declared on Sept 3, 1939, almost a million and a half children were evacuated from London into the countryside. Athough the evacuation was very efficient and well organized, at the other end the treatment of the children varied considerably, there was no organization that looked after the children's welfare. The population were essentially told they had to take one or more children and it was up to them who they picked. It was not only random, but often the children were badly treated, being expected to be servants or even worse.

One must admit at the outset that the treatment of Jewish children in Europe was of course much worse. Kitty pointed out that often children and even adults assume that the "evacuation" in England was part of the Holocaust in Europe during WWII, when children were simply murdered or shipped in trains to concentration camps where they were murdered en masse. In some locations, children were massacred and even thrown into burning pits alive. But, of course, in England, none of this happened, so we must strictly distinguish between evacuation of all children in England and transportation of Jewish children to death camps in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The experiences of evacuation in England were extremely varied. Kitty and her best Jewish friend were evacuated to a small village near Bishop's Stortford, NE of London. They were taken into a hall and people randomly chose them. A young couple chose the two girls together, which greatly pleased them. But, when they arrived at the isolated cottage they were very disappointed. The couple were very poor, they had very little in the cottage and very little food (even though they received a small allowance from the Government for taking them). They were shown into a bare room with two mattresses on the floor and that was their room. They were given sandwiches of ham and cheese. When Kitty said that they were Jewish and could not eat ham, the woman asked her where were her horns (this is a true story). When Kitty told her Jews did not have horns, the lady took out the ham and gave them only the cheese.

During the beginning of the war there was a period of a few months when nothing much happened, called "the phony war" and there was no bombing of London. So after a while Kitty got fed up with the situation and was allowed to return to her parents in London. When the bombing started she was returned to Bishop's Stortford, but this time to a different house. At first the older couple treated them well, but then began demanding that they do "their share" of the housework and eventually they were given chores starting early in the morning, including scrubbing floors! After a while Kitty couldn't stand this, so she plotted her escape, saved her money and then ran away and took a train back to London and to her parents. Although bombs were falling in London she refused to go back, although her friend stayed and they lost contact with each other.

I was also evacuated from London, although I was somewhat younger (7 at the end of the war). At first we were sent to Kent, south of London. By then the authorities had learnt that it was better to send the mothers with the childrten, since so many ran back home. The British tricked the Germans into believing that their bombs were falling too far west past London, so they reduced their range and bombs started falling in Kent. Se we went back to London and were then evacuated to Northhampton, in the center of England. There we lived in a large house with a local family who were very good to us. We became friendly with them and they visited us in Lodon after the war to celebrate the victory.

But, my uncle Berny who was evacuated to Wales with his younger sister, he was 10-12 and she was about 6, had a much worse experience. The people they were sent to were anti-Semitic, they abused the children and locked them at night in a coal celler under the stairs. They escaped and somehow he managed to get them back to London. He could not remember how he accomplished this feat, to go hundreds of miles with no money, sleeping in ditches and eating handouts. But, as I said we all survived, saved by the English channel.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Local elections

Local elections are taking place in Israel on Oct 22. There are posters up all over the place and many parties are vying for seats on local councils. As in most cities there are a few candidates for Mayor, in Netanya only three. But, our mayor for the past 15 years is Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar, who is a shoo-in. This is because she has done a lot for the city, even though her opponents accuse her of over-spending.

Last week we had an election meeting at AACI Netanya in English, organized by former City Councileman Simon Monk, at which representatives of 8 parties spoke, althugh many more are running. If I were to say that I could remember what each of them said I would be lying. Not only that, to distinguish between some of them is almost impossible. Two things stand out, the Mayor's own party "Netanya One" (Netanya Ehad) argued that we should vote for them so that the Mayor has her supporters on the City Council and therefore she can carry out her policies without opposition. This seems a little dangerous to me, since she has been in power for years and certainly controls everything that goes on in Netanya, too much power can lead to corruption.

The other thing is that her opponents, including Herzl Keren, say that she is spending/wasting the taxpayers money when things could be done much more cheaply. They point out a few examples, Netanya has a new state-of-the-art stadium that was built for 24,000 people. The cost skyrocketed from NIS 100 million to 360 million. But, this is what usually happens with large building projects that take years (in this case 8 years) to complete. They also attacked the cost of renovating and updating the center of town, namely the pedestrian mall (midrochov) and the main square (kikar). However, I think most people agree that Netanya's city center was sorely in need of an upgrade and if you want to be a tourist city you must do things to attract visitors.

On Oct 17 the Mayor herself came to speak to a group of English speakers at a private apartment. This is because as a mayoral candidate she understandably refused to participate in the election forum which featured only Council candidates. I must say that the Mayor was very effective, she warmed up the audience like a pro, with jokes told in English. She also spoke about many different aspects of Netanya, including the improvements she has made to the environment (getting the Govt to subsidize the removal of the old city dump), renovating the city center (the Kikar), renovating the area of the winter pond, developing sports facilities, cleaning up Netanya, from the mafia and from trash dumping.

Someone in the audience told an anecdote, when Miriam came to visit her for personal reasons, she saw that next to her apt. building there was a dumpsite. She went in there and opened the trash bags and took out envelopes with addresses on and went herself to the doors and told the occupants that if she found their trash dumped again the city would sue them. She also got the owner of the land fined and he had to put up a fence to prevent further dumping. Now that's the kind of Mayor I like. She said she eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes Netanya and I can believe it. Netanya has developed incredibly since she has been in charge and I'm sure she will continue with her good works.

In other cities in Israel there are less certain outcomes. Mayor Ron Huldai is running again in Tel Aviv and Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, and they are both likely to be re-elected. In Beit Shemesh there is a more contentious election between a secular and a Haredi candidate. There has been a lot of animosity and conflict between the two communities there and the outcome of this election is being looked at as an indication of how things will develop in the future.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

US policy towards Egypt

US policy towards Egypt under Pres. Obama is confused, vacillating and self-destructive. At first, of course, when he made his famous speech to the Muslim world from Cairo in 2009, it was clear that Obama was trying to appeal to the Arab/Muslim masses to tell them that the US was not their enemy (I suppose the corollary was that Israel was their enemy). Pres. Mubarak of Egypt was then a staunch US ally. When Mubarak got into trouble with the uprisings of the Arab Spring and was quickly deposed, Obama did nothing to save him, just as Carter did with the Shah of Iran, he took the supposedly moral high ground, muttered the magic word "democracy" and let Mubarak be removed. So much for the US supporting its allies. Other Arab leaders, especially in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States took note.

Apparently the marauding mobs on the Arab street weren't convinced by Obama's appeal, and the demonstrations took a decidedly anti-American turn. They brought the Muslim Brotherhood to the fore, something that was predicted, and resulted in the election of Pres. Morsi, the MB representative. After a year, when it became clear that the MB were taking more and more control of Egypt and not concerning themselves with the well-bring of the populace, the Egyptian Army under Gen. al-Sisi responded, deposed Morsi and took power. They claim they plan to revise the constitution and re-introduce democracy. But, Obama had dug himsel into a ditch, namely Pres. Morsi represented the workings of democracy in Egypt and therefore the US could not support this illegal Army coup.

Now, instead of supporting the Army and opposing the MB that is anti-American to the core, Obama is digging himself an even deeper hole. Everyone knows that the Army command is more pro-American than the MB, yet, the US Administration is now cutting aid to Egypt. The Army regime is also fighting the Islamists in Sinai and has closed almost all the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, both of which are definitely in Israeli and American interests. Just when they should be supporting the Army and increasing aid the US is reducing it. Every Israel knows this is a mistake, even for the US, yet Obama is pig-headedly proceeding with his "Cairo initiative" irrespective of the reality. He is apparently unable to take advantage of changing circumstances that are in the US's favor.

Ironically, by taking a wrong turn on Egypt and finding himself on the same side as the MB, and being prepared to cozy up to Iran, Obama has done Israel a favor. If the Sunni Arab States, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, cannot rely on the US, who can they rely on to protect them from the Islamists of the MB and the Iranians, The only other capable power is Israel. Hence there are reports of representatives from the Gulf States visiting Israel to coordinate policy against the Islamists and Iran. Thanks Pres. Obama, you unwittingly did us a favor.

Friday, October 18, 2013


The name Bubaneshwar popped up on my TV screen and I had a moment of recognition and confusion, where had I seen that name before? And then it dawned on me, I had actually visited Bubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa State in India, south of Calcutta. It was in the news because it was in the path of a huge cyclone that filled the Bay of Bengal and was heading for Bubaneshwar.

I went to Bubaneshwar in 1988 when I was visiting my former student and friend Siddhartha Roy who was working in the Bose insitute in Calcutta. I had told him that I was interested in visiting a genuine ancient Hindu temple and he arranged for both of us to fly down the 225 miles from Calcutta to Bubaneshwar and to visit the ancient stone temples there. Apparently Bubaneshwar is one of the few places where the Muslims, who destroyed almost all of the carved stone temples in northern India when they conquered the area, failed to penetrate to. Consequently there are a series of temples there, from small ones to huge ones. The most famous one is the Sun Temple on the coast at Konark that is very special, it is built in the form of a juggernaut, a huge chariot with large stone wheels (that obviously don't turn) and a superstructure of spires. In order to prevent the Muslims destroying it, the Hindus filled the whole interior with stones, so that it couldn't collapse, and it was left like that. I found it an amazing site to visit and I hope that the current cyclone has not damaged it.

About 500,000 people were evacuated or fled inland from the coastal region, thus preventing the kind of casualties of 10,000 killed that resulted from the last huge cyclone in 1999. But, there was extensive damage throughout the region and many homes and businesses were devastated. I hope others will visit the temple at Konark, and report back to me that it is still intact.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

No comment!

Two topics that I refuse to write about are the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at 93 and the interview of Minister of Finance Yair Lapid with Charlie Rose, that made the headlines because of some controversial comments he made publicly. Writing about them gives them more importance than they deserve.

Rabbi Yosef, a former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, was undoubtedly an outstanding Torah scholar, who had a great following. His funeral last week in Jerusalem was one of the largest ever gatherings in Israeli history, some 850,000 people attended. But, it was as a political leader that he really made his mark, he was credited with founding the political party Shas, and was considered its spiritual leader until his death. He brought together the three concepts of religious observance, Sephardic ethnicity and political power. Shas is one of the largest parties in the Knesset, but fortunately it is currently in the opposition. It has been shadowed by claims of corruption and its first leader Aryeh Deri did a prison sentence for taking public funds and distributing them to his own party's schools. Their rationale for this kind of corruption is that the Sephardim have been exploited by the Ashkenazi establishment for years and this is pay back. Now that the Rabbi has gone, it is likely tha the three princelings who have inherited his political mantle will viciously fight it out for predominance and hopefully Shas will fade into the woodwork.

Several commentators complaining about Yair Lapid's comment to Charlie Rose in an interview that Jews are safer in New York than in Israel. This loose statement is not borne out by the murder statistics, there are far more people/Jews killed in NY by random murder than Jews killed in Israel by terrorism. But, aside from the facts of the matter there is the question of why a supposed Zionist and Minister in the Israeli Giovernment would make such a statement. However, I find his other comment about the Palestiniansnot needing to recognize Israel as the Jewish State even more worrying. Why? Because this was a statement made by PM Netanyahu only days before in his speech at Bar-Ilan University. In the context of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, this is one of Netanyahu's stated requirements. Such a comment by Lapid, that he does not find this requirement necessary, not only undermines his own PM, but also undermines Israel's position at the bargaining table. One would think that a Finance Minister in a Government would show more loyalty and common sense and just keep his mouth shut on such delicate matters. One further strike against Lapid (this paragraph was published as a letter to the editor of the J'sam Post, 14/10/13).

Well, I commented on these matters, even though I don't think they are worthy of any further consideration or comment. This also applies to the 18th anniversary of the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin, it's time to say "so long chaver."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Terrorist tunnel

Last Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting, PM Netanyahu stated that 2013 has been one of the quietest years as far as terrorism is concerned. However, just two days before Colonel (res.) Sariya Ofer was bludgeoned to death by two Palestinian men outside his house at night in the settlement of Brosh Habika in the Jordan Velley. He had been a distinguished officer who had formed the Shaked commando unit. His brother had died on the same day 40 years before during the Yom Kippur War. A manhunt ensued and after arresting several persons, two men admitted to carrying out the murder.

A very long tunnel, 1.7 km (1 mile) long, was discovered by the IDF leading from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel. It is not known if this tunnel was intended to be used to kidnap IDF soldiers or to carry out a terrorist attack in Israel, or both. Conceivably a team of terrorists may already have entered Israel to carry out such an attack. The tunnel is very sophisticated, with electrical supply and lights is built high enough for a man to walk upright and has locations for storage of explosives and munitions. It is faced inside with 24,000 concrete slabs that Israel allowed to be imported into the Gaza Strip to help civilian building because of the closure of the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border by the Egyptian forces. This is what the Hamas rulers of Gaza do with the assistance that Israel gives them. Needless to say, all importation of building materials from Israel into Gaza was halted.

This kind of sophisticated tunnel must have taken a great deal of planning, probably took two years to complete and and must have cost a lot of money (est. m$2). This is where the funds given to Hamas in Gaza by the EU and other well-meaning entities is going. Added to which there are reports that billions of dollars have been lost in the PA to corruption; it is surprising that the world, that is under economic strain, still sends these funds to feed the endemic corruption in the West Bank and Gaza. What a pathetic waste of money.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

State of nature

We went to an evening of music at AACI performed by American folk-singer, James Durst, who has been touring the world for nearly 50 years (see and is now visiting Israel. He sang well and was very entertaining, but I could not escape the feeling that he was way out of his time range, an aging hippie who had taken upon himself to tour the world preaching peace, love, and understanding.

HIs repertoire was nostalgic, including songs of that once-famous group "The Weavers," who had popularized the Israeli song, "Tzena, Tzena," back in the 1950s in the US. He had also met Pete Seeger and told some anecdotes about him. He sang some Vietnamese songs in the original and in translation, which really dated him, who talks about Vietnam anymore. He related the origin of the S. African song "Wimaway," which was originally entitled "wimbube" meaning sleeping lion, and the lyrics of which were written in the US and bear no relation to the original folk-song, for example, there is no jungle in S. Africa and lions don't sleep at night, they are nocturnal. He sang songs from various countries, including one in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and one that he had written himself about mixing up people from all over the world and then they would find that they are really all brothers and sisters.

This kind of peace and love formula from the 1960-70s doesn't seem to fit in an era of terrorism and Islamism, when people have been killing each other in Rwanda, the Balkans and now in Syria. It is based on the concept that left alone, without the negative influence of governments and religions, all people would naturally tend towards peace and love. Unfortunately this is simply not true. People with this view often refer to nature as an ideal state, where without the interference of organized government people would live in a state of innocence (the Garden of Eden).

It was previously believed that animals unlike man kill only for food and never kill each other for any other reason, but this is simply not true. Naturalists have discovered that chimpanzees, that are generally gentle vegetarian creatures, sometimes go on an organized rampage and snatch the babies of other groups of chimpanzees or other monkeys and eat them. Lions and hyenas have a hate relationship, they kill each other for no reason, certainly not for food. Similarly Lions kill cheetas for the same reason. Maybe it is survival of the fittest, maybe it is ancient enmity, but the idea that nature is a pure, innocent realm is nonsense, it is kill or be killed. Watching a pack of feral dogs take down and eat alive a beautiful deer is nature at its most normal.

Similarly this is true in human societies, as we Jews know all too well. As one German told me, when you live among wolves you must act like a wolf. Nevertheless it is nice to sing about the good old days when we were young and innocent and maybe we need people like James Durst to remind us of this.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The regional implications of a Palestinian State

The title of a conference held at Netanya Academic College (NAC) was "The Regional Implications of the Establishment of a Palestinian State," sponsored by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialog at NAC and funded by the EU Partnership for Peace and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The results presented represented a three-way collaboration between the Abraham Center, the Amman Center for Peace and Development, Jordan, and the Data Studies and Consultation Unit, Palestine Authority. Other organizations were also represented, such as the Inst. for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University.

The conference was based on a research project that asked the question, if a Palestinian State is founded under the "two-state solution" that is both stable and democratic (in other words not supporting any kind of terrorism) what happens the day after, what next? How will the three sovereign entities then, Israel, Jordan and Palestine relate to each other? How will normalization occur, how will the security and the balance of power develop, what will happen to economic cooperation? There were several subsidiary questions, given the assumption of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, of course a very big assumption, what will be the political character of the Palestinian State and how will the Palestinian Diaspora relate to the situation? I wish I could report that these questions were answered substantially and satisfactorily, but that was not the case. Perhaps to expect more is expecting too much, given the wishful thinking represented by the basic assumption underlying the project. However, this was certainly a worthwhile exercise, that brought together representatives of the three above-mentioned countries after several years of collaborative work.

Five areas were investigated by different groups:
I. The political character of the Palestinian State. Under this heading it must be stated that the conclusion reached that the Palestinian State would be democratic, with a civil society in which citizens will enjoy freedom of speech and religion, seemed totally utopian. After all there is only one such democracy in the Midlle east and that is Israel. As one speaker mentioned "the elephant in the room" is Hamas, and without a resolution of the Hamas rejection of Israel and indeed the PLO, there is little hope for any such outcome. Notwithstanding this, the researcher concluded that Hamas could join in a "democratic coalition." This ignores the reality of the situation in the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank and elsewhere.
II. Regional normalization. This assumed that there would be regional normalization between Israel, Jordan and a democratic Palestine subsequent to a "two-state solution" (actually a three-state solution, including Jordan). This would require fruitful cooperation in the areas of economics, tourism, water, agriculture and other subjects. One of the speakers, former Palestinian Ambassador to France, Hind Khouri, emphasized that Palestinians still regard the whole of Palestine as theirs and will never accept Israel as the Jewish State. But, she also stated that the PLO and Hamas (!) support a two-state solution. With such confusion and contradiction it is impossible to really know what is the real Palestinian position. Another speaker referred to a possible confederation of the three countries.
III. The national aspirations of the Palestinian Diaspora. Under this rubric it was concluded that the so-called "refugees" would have to consciously adopt the idea of being a Diaspora, so that they would need to give up the concept of the "right of return" for everyone, although a new concept of "right of exchange" would be possible, whereby any Palestinian immigrants to the Palestinian State would be offset by an equal number of emigrants. I found this concept totally impractical. I pointed out that the definition of refugees used by UNRWA is different for Palestinians than for all other groups in the world under UNCHR, and by adopting this international and legally accepted norm and excluding descendents in perpituity, the number of actual Palestinian refugees would be reduced to a few thousands, and this could produce a manageable solution.
IV. Security and regional balance of power. Because the Palestinians reject the term "demilitarization" they would accept a condition where they would have security forces that would be "lightly armed." There would be a regional mutual defence pact, and Jordan would continue to regard external invasion of its territory as a causus belli for Israel.
V. Economic cooperation. Of course, without regional economic cooperation no progress will be possible. Since Israel has ten times the size of economy as Jordan and Palestine combined and a tenth of the unemployment, it is understood that Israeli cooperation is crucial to this development. However, how would the influx of Jordanian and Palestinian workers in place of other foreign workers in Israel be managed, not only from the pov of security, but also to avoid permanent loss of Palestinian population?

For a much fuller description of this project go to No doubt such academic exercises in virtual reality are useful in producing solutions to future problems. Other think-tanks have tackled this problem, what happens after a "two-state solution"? In reality, we are far from that situation, but there is no harm and perhaps a lot to be gained in planning ahead and engaging in mutual dialog.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Jews who weren't meant to be there

This was the title of a lecture given at AACI Netanya by Elkan Levy, a well-known and popular speaker, who had been President of the United Synagogue and then Director for small Jewish communities in Britain. The conventional wisdom is that there were no Jews in Britain between 1290 ce, when they were expelled by King Edward I, and 1650 ce, when they were allowed to legally return by Oliver Cromwell, after representations by Dutch Rabbi Menassah Ben Israel. But, in fact there were always Jews in Britain during that hiatus of 360 years, and Elkan Levy seemed to know all of them personally. His mastery of facts and dates was indeed impressive.

First sketching the background, it is clear that not only did Jews arrive in Britain very early, with the Romans, but they also came with William the Conqueror after 1066 ce, and in fact were effectively in charge of the banking system in Britain during the early medieval period. This was because it was forbidden for Christians to make profit in dealings with other Christians, but Jews were allowed to loan money and make profit (usury) from Christians, although not from fellow Jews. But, the Jews were not free citizens, they were in fact owned and protected by the King and their debts were in effect repayable to the King. Over time the Jewish community became very wealthy, but this proved their downfall, since so many aristocrats and the King owed them money, to fund the building of castles and cathedrals and to pay for their involvement in the crusades, that it became expedient to expel the Jews and then burn the letters of credit. So in 1290 the King expelled the Jews, although he was upset that the letters of credit were burnt, since he would have been the ultimate beneficiary.

But, not all of the Jews of England left, there are records of many of them staying on, either as Jews, or Christians, or probably Secret Jews (like the Marranos of Spain). Some examples, King Henry IV had a Jewish doctor in ca. 1400 ce and so did Queen Elizabeth. He was Rodrigo Lopez, and he was a loyal subject, who used his extensive contacts in Spain to provide invaluable information to the Queen's Secretary of State Walsingham, who ran one of the first effective secret services in history. But, unfortunately his enemies conspired against Lopez and he was executed in 1594 for trying to poison the Queen, even though she apparently knew he was innocent.

King Henry VIII owned a set of the first printed editions of the Talmud and had people who could read it to him. He also had Jewish musicians imported from Italy. In cities in the north like York and Lincoln there had been large Jewish communities, and one of the oldest standing stone houses in England is in Lincoln and is still called "The Jew's house." Unfortunately the mass suicide of the Jewish community in York in 1190 when they were surrounded by a hostile mob in Clifford's tower largely ended their presence there. In London, there was an institution called the Convertorium where Jews who converted to Christianity could live at the King's expense. There are records dating back throughout this period, showing that there were always Jews who were prepared to convert in order to ensure a pleasant retirement.

Many Spanish former Jews or Marranos visited England and were later interrogated about their contacts when they returned to Spain and we know about this thru the records of the Inquisition. For example, a young man visited Bristol where he described an active Jewish community of several hundred souls, run by a woman known as Esther of Bristol. Apparently she was well-known and tolerated. There was a Spanish inn-keeper in East London during Shakespeare's time, who was almost certainly a Marrano, who had a beautiful daughter. There is a rumor that Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to her and that she was his famous "dark lady."

These are only a few of many anecdotes about Jews in Britain during the period in question. There were probably never more than ca. 5,000 Jews there at any time, out of a total population of ca. one million. But, that they were present and often accepted during the period of 1290-1650 is undoubted.

Friday, October 11, 2013

3D printing, a new revolutionary tool

I believe that 3d printing will revolutionize our society, much as radio, television, computers and other technology has done in the past. So what is 3d printing?

Normal printing of ink on paper is done in two dimensions, 2d. The flat surface of the paper allows a text to be written or a graphic to be drawn. How could printing be done in three dimensions? The answer is that the print head does not produce ink, but consists of a dispenser of a special kind of plastic and a laser that heats it. The plastic is thermolabile, meaning that when it is heated it polymerizes and fuses into a solid form. The image is built up of 2d layers that form a 3d object. By targeting the laser into the plastic a predetermined solid shape can be produced that is an exact replica of a 3d image stored in the computer. The plasic can be of any color or degree of hardness. The image can be based on a laser scanned item in three dimensions, such as a vase, a kitchen utensil, a gun, a hand, or actually anything. Or it can be based on the imagination or the user or can be an object that has been designed de novo, such as a new industrial product. The scope of 3d printing is so vast and revolutionary that it opens up completely new vistas.

For example, someone scans all the parts of a gun and prints them in 3d, thus producing identical copies of the originals. These can then be put together just as the original gun was, and it has been shown that they can fire bullets, just as the original gun did. Now the police have a problem, how can you trace a gun that is plastic, has no identification marks or numbers (they can be left off) and is undetectable by metal detectors and can be destroyed so completely that it appears that it never existed. How can security agencies defend against perfectly reproduced working guns that are made purely of plastic.

Another example, someone patents a particular device, say a computer accessory. Someone else takes it apart and copies each piece, but changes the design to improve it. He can now produce copies of his device and sell them without breaking the copyright of the original (of course, the device must be all made of plastic, or metal wiring must be added). At present 3d printers cost ca. $1,000 each and they can be used to produce anything. For example, on two occasions I have thrown away perfectly good working fans because the plastic housing had broken and no longer supported the fan itself. With a 3d printer I could have scanned and reproduced new parts or even improved their design. This will lead to much greater innovation and convenience. In the future people will wonder how they managed without 3d printing.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Terrorism continues

Last Saturday night 8 year old Noam Glick was returning to her home on the edge of the settlement of Psagot, north of Jerusalem. Suddenly she saw an Arab man in the stairwell next to her house wearing a face-mask, she screamed to her parents "there's an Arab in the yard," and before anyone could do anything the Arab terrorist fired three times and shot her from one meter away. Fortunately the bullet that entered her shoulder near her neck failed to cut anything life-threatening and she continued to scream, which caused the Arab to run back to the hole in the fence and run away. Noam was helicoptered to hospital in Jerusalem where she was treated and released.

It was later discovered that the hole in the fence had been known about and the alarm system was not working, a further example of incompetence. A massive IDF hunt ensued and the assailant and his brother were arrested in the West Bank town of El Bireh the following day. Since the IDF close off the roads into and out of suspected localities from which the terrorists operate, there is coinsiderable pressure to give them up. This is an example of a "routine" terrorist incident in which individuals take action that could lead to fatalities, but it is difficult to prove that any organization was involved.

Two days later Pres. Abbas of the PA, who has routinely condemned terrorism, mentioned the shooting incident, but failed to specifically condemn it. He rather condemned the shooting of four Palestinians in Kalandia, although they were shot during riots in which they bombarded IDF soldiers with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Incidentally this was mentioned during the visit of ten Labor and left-wing MKs to Ramallah. When Pres. Abbas visited the Knesset, Israel put out Palestinian flags, but no Israeli flags were to be seen when the MKs visited Ramallah. These are supposed to be our friendly negotiating partners.

Meanwhile the negotiations are continuing, now in their ninth meeting. They have 9 months to complete the whole comprehensive agreement. After 100 years of the conflict it would be a miracle if this could be achieved. PM Netanyahu has made Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish State as one of his major requirements in teh negotiations. However, today Finance MInister Yair Lapid in an interview with Charlie Rose in the US said that he did not regard this as a necessary requirement. Apart from the poor judgement in undermining his own PM, this kind of statement definitely interferes in the Israeli position regarding the negotiations. Whatever happened to loyalty.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

An unusual country

Israel has for many years been trying to be a "normal" country, whatever that is. But, there are certain things about Israel that make it unique and are difficult to understand. I don't talk here about the obvious, Israel's Jewish culture, but about aspects of life here that are unexpected and maybe inexplicable.

For example, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) broadcasts news in English three times a day (6.30 am, 12.30 pm and 8.30 pm). Since English is an international language and there are many tourists, journalists and diplomats in Israel, you would think that this would be an important way for Israel to get its message across. But, they broadcast these news reports at such a low power (volume) that it is almost impossible to hear them. What is the point of this, can someone explain it to me, I see no point in bothering to broadcast if people cannot hear it.

Since this is a country dependent on tourism you would think that they would make it easy for tourists to find their way around. But, in many cases the spelling of names in English is so abstruse that no GPS system could find them. Suppose you want to go to Caesarea, named after Caesar, you would not find it, because the official spelling is "Qesariyya" (don't forget the double y). Where does this come from, probably the German, but, it is certainly spelt especially to confuse the tourists. They have been talking about changing this for many years, but so far no change.

We drove up to Kfar Atta north of Haifa and went thru the Carmel tunnel, that goes under the city thru the Carmel mountain and reduces the time for transiting Haifa considerably and reduces the traffic jams in Haifa. On the way back we took rte. 22, and saw a sign at Kfar Atta saying ":Tunnels 8 km". We (three of us) looked for further signs for the tunnels en route to Haifa, but saw none, the road took us directly thru the downtown area of Haifa, but we never saw any further signs for the tunnels. What is the point of building tunnels at incredible expense if the ordinary driver cannot find them? Why aren't there huge neon lit signs saying "Tunnels this way" in Hebrew and English? What a waste.

In an emergency don't rush to the emergency room (miyun) of the nearest hospital, first go and see your doctor and get a permission slip to go to the emergency room, or better yet go to your Sick Fund (Kupat Holim) and line up and get a form 17 to take to the emergency room. Failing that, if it is really an emergency and you don't call an ambulance (that you will have to pay for unless the patient is hospitalized) call a specific number and tell the person on the other end that you have an emergency, then explain calmly what the emergency is. If they refuse to cover the cost of the emergency room you will have to pay the full cost yourself, currently $400. Only if you have prior permission from your sick fund or doctor (in writing) will they cover the cost. Of course, being Israel there is a loophole, if you fail to get the permission in advance, you can apply afterwards with the doctor's letter from the miyun, and if they feel like it they can give you prior permission after the event. This is Israel.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Secret contacts

Because of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it has been rumored that some Arab countries are communicating secretly with Israel. Their rationale is that if the Palestinians can talk to Israel, they can too. After all they need not be more kosher than the Pope (to use a mixed metaphor) and in any case most of them only pay lip-service to the Palestinians.

They have bigger fish to fry (or lambs to roast), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait are all very concerned about the growth of Iranian power and fear a nuclear-armed Iran as much as Israel. The Shia-Sunni split is older and deeper than the Israel-Arab split and given the relative weakness and lack of resolve shown by Pres. Obama, they feel they cannot rely on the USA to protect them at this time. They realize that Israel is the only potential power that can deal with Iran, and they are secretly cozying up to Israel. Out of this might come a secret agreement to cooperate if Israel decides to "go it alone" and attack the Iranian nuclear sites. Such an undeclared agreement might include fly-over rights for Israeli planes and other unspecified support for Israel's action, such as not joining a UN vote sanctioning Israel for such a strike.

An informal Sunni-Israel alliance might in the not-too-distant future result in the recognition of Israel by some of these Arab countries, whose connection to the Palestinians is remote, but whose economies and geography lead them to fear Iranian hegemony and who feel less threatened by Israel than the proximal Arab countries, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. This might not require a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but might be a good reason for Israel to keep the negotiations with the PA trickling along.

In this respect, the Israeli Minister in charge of the negotiations with the Palestine Authority, Justice Minister Tzipy Livni, this week clarifed the Israeli position and declared that she is intent on negotiating a full end-of-conflict agreement and not an interim agreement that would leave major issues unresolved. This statement was made to dispute a contrary statement issued from the office of Pres Abbas of the PA that accused Israel of only trying to negotiate certain issues in an interim agreement and not a full resolution of the conflcit that he is seeking. Also, the idea that such a comprehensive agreement can be arrived at in 6 months after a 100 years of the conflict is relatively naieve.

It has always been my position that in order to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, first the Iranians have to be dealt with, either diplomatically or militarily, and then the Arab States must make peace with Israel and only then will the Palestinians be forced to accept the existence of Israel as the Jewish State. We'll see what comes first, the chicken or the turkey.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Standing alone

British PM Neville Chamberlain said "Herr Hitler is an honorable man," after negotiations with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1938, a year before he started WWII. At the time Chamberlain was pursuing a policy known as "appeasement," essentially giving Hitler what he wanted to appease his appetite. But, as Winston Churchill said, noone ever satisfied a crocodile's appetite by feeding it.

When Germany attacked Poland in Sept 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, and after Germany had rapidly conquered most of continental Europe, Britain stood alone against Germany. It was only the success of the RAF during the "Battle of Britain" in 1940 that staved off the German invasion of Britain and gave time for the subsequent events of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American equivalent of the Battle of Britain, and the declaration of war by Pres. Roosevelt on Germany that brought the US into the European conflict and eventually saved Britain and the world.

We heard echoes of that situation when Israeli PM Netanyhau addressed the UN last week and declared "Israel, if need be, will act alone," referring to stopping Iran developing a nuclear weapon. He also said that so-called "moderate" Iranian Pesident Hassan Rouhani was a "wolf in sheep's clothing," and he advised the western nations in relation to the strong sanctions against Iran to "distrust and verify." At least noone can criticize Israel for having a policy of appeasement towards Iran. Netanyahu was trying valiently to prevent such a policy by US Pres. Obama and his Administration as well as other western allies. He was partially successful, since Pres. Obama called his skepticism of Rouhani "entirely justifiable," and Secty of State Kerry also again repeated that a change in tone from Iran was not enough to justify removing sanctions. There is of course one major difference between 1938 and now, the presence of Israel with its IDF and IAF. This will make all the difference in the outcome.

But, other persons and organizations were less convinced. "J Street," the left-wing supposedly pro-Israel lobby in the USA, was quite sure that Netanyahu was spoiling a potential resolution of the diplomatic rapprochement between the US and Iran. And The New York Times, quoted negatively in Netanyahu's speech, struck back and accused him of leading the war lobby and trying to get the US involved in another Middle Eastern war, namely with Iran. But, in a Washington focussed on the "shutdown" of the Government, most citizens seemed not to care about this particular spat.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The shutdown

In the US, the big news is the shutdown of the US Government. I was a US Government employee for 22 years and in that time the US Government shutdown about three times, but every four years or so when the budget was being debated, there was always the threat and worry about a shutdown. This made life a bit uneasy and uncertain for all Government employees.

The current Government shutdown is due to the budget not being passed by the deadline, but it is really due to the new Healthcare Bill called Obamacare. Actually it is an amendment to delay the implemenation of the Healthcare Bill by a year that has been tacked on to the budget by the Republicans that is the actual cause. In other words this is a political, even a philosophical difference, between liberals/Democrats, who believe in taxing the rich to pay for the poor, and conservatives/Republicans, who believe that the poor should pay for themselves. However, the Healthcare Bill has already been passed and so this is only the funding for it that is being used to hold up the whole thing.

It is now a "who blinks first" game between the Republicans, who are holding the whole of the US Government hostage to their political machinations and Obama and the Democrats who are trying to get their programs thru Congress. The problem is that the Republicans hold a majority in the House of Representatives. It is likely that most Americans will blame the Republicans for the mess and if the shut-down drags on (the longest one 17 years ago was for 3 weeks), then it is quite likely that the Republicans will feel enormous pressure to give in. If they do then they will likely end up losing the next election, and helping the Democrats to win.

Whether or not this will be viewed as a victory for Obama is unclear. In a situation like this noone really wins. The public regards the politicians as uncaring and self-centered and guilty of ignoring the public's needs, i.e. not doing their jobs. It only brings politicians and Congress into further disrepute.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Palestinian dilemma

The Palestinians are upset because Syria is stealing the headlines. Although Pres. Abbas of the so-called "State" of Palestine, which is not a recognized state at all, spoke at the UN General Assembly, it hardly raised an eyebrow. The fact is that the Palestinians are passe, they have been outclassed and outshone in the area of terrorism and publicity by their Arab colleagues. Using chemical weapons against his civilian population gets Assad more column inches than Abbas can achieve.

But, some of the Palestinians are even more upset because Abbas has continued the negotiations with Israel that are onging in the region and has publicly rejected the use of terrorism. The Hamas rulers of Gaza are calling for a third intifada to show their disdain for peaceful means to resolve the dispute. They are commited to the use of force as the only way to destroy Israel and "end the occupation." This is a definition of insanity, keep trying to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. There are also groups within Fatah, the party of Abbas, who endorse a third intifada, because they cannot face the prospect of actually making peace with Israel and recognizing Israel's existence as a Jewish State. Although there are continuing incidents of Palestinian terrorism, such as the murder of an IDF soldier on the West Bank and the shooting of an IDF guard at a checkpoint in Hebron, nevertheless sustained terrorism has not been renewed. There have been incidents of rioting throughout the West Bank to commemorate the anniversary of the second intifada, but it was largely contained by the IDF with some arrests.

Frankly, the Palestinians don't know what to do. The UNRWA organization that has for 60 years been providing free welfare for most Palestinians, who call themselves "refugees," has been hit by reduced contributions. The Arab countries that have commited themselves to support UNRWA to only 7.5% of its budget (the US provides 25%!), have actually only contributed less than half that amount. Syria can't contribute, Egypt is in dire financial straits and has closed all the tunnels to Gaza and is considered an enemy of Hamas, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are busy contributing to the opposition forces in Syria. The Palestinians are simply on the back burner.

Only the US seems intent on raising the Palestinian issue as a major factor in the Middle East. Pres. Obama in his speech at the UN GA identified Syria and the Palestinian peace talks as the two major issues in US foreign policy. Frankly most people thought this was a mistake, how can you compare the two situations as far as significance for the US is concerned. Secty of State Kerry also stated that the peace talks must be "intensified," but so far there has been no reported progress. Also, the US is intervening directly in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, something they said they would not do. This usually leads to pressure on Israel since the Palestinians never give an inch anyway, they don't know the meaning of the word "compromise."

So the Palestinians are faced with a dilemma, they don't really want to make peace wih Israel, but they cannot win any resort to terror, even the most died-in-the-wool rejectionists must recognize this by now. So they will waffle around for a while, until reality hits and the PA probably goes belly-up and dies. What will happen then is anybody's guess.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Syrian quagmire

Syria is in a terrible mess, over 100,000 people killed, massacres, use of chemical weapons, rockets fired into neighborhoods, 5 million refugees, torture and murder of men, women and children, destruction of cities. Until now the forces on the two sides have appeared fairly monolithic, the Assad regime with the Syrian Army and the rebels with the Free Syrian Army.

But, the opposition to Pres. Assad and the regime is fragmented, mainly between Sunni mainline rebels, liberals, leftists, Kurds and Islamist extremists affiliated to al Qaeda and the Al-Nusrah Front. Although these groups are nominally fighting on the same side, the official Syrian Democratic Front and the Al-Nusrah Islamists have now been reported to be in open conflict with each other, fighting over land that has been wrested from the regime, particularly in the north and east of the country.

This is not surprising since these groups have completely different aims. The Syrian Democratic Front, supposedly intends to reunify Syria under a democratic and representative government, while the Islamists seek to retain a hold of Syrian land in order to use it to spread their Islamist revolution and to start to develop a pan-Islamic Caliphate, where the Shia and all other minorities would not be allowed. Of course, the West support the so-called Democratic opposition, but how can they supply them with arms and munitions without them also falling into the hands of the Islamists. Basically the opposition are all anti-Shia, because the Assad regime is Alawite that is identified as Shia and the main support for Assad comes from the Alawite minority mainly in north west Syria. The Assad regime is also an ally of Iran and Hizbollah from the Shia region of Lebanon. In effect Syria is the bridge between Shia Iran and Shia Lebanon.

In a timely article that appeared in the weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post by Jonathan Spyer, a well-known expert on Syria (, he points out that the Government side is also splintered. Not only has Assad lost power and control to the rebels, but also to his allies and sponsors. Spyer points out that due to losses in personnel and the fact that many Sunni soldiers are not reliable, Assad faces a growing manpower shortage. This has been made up partially by ca. 5,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) and ca. 10,000 members of Hizbollah fighting in Syria, but these groups are not directly under the control of the Government or the Syrian Army. So Assad has been forced to give up large swaths of the country and the eastern Kurdish area is already essentially an independent zone while the Syrian opposition groups are already fighting over who will control the northern and eastern parts of Syria. In addition to this there are several smaller groups, including some Islamist groups, that are fighting on Assad's side for their own reasons. It really is a mess. Meanwhile Syria is all but destroyed.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Israel and the global economic crisis II

In view of some interesting responses to my summary of Pinchas Landau's lecture, I decided to write a follow-up. First, here are Pinchas' comments and corrections:

There are a few minor points I would adjust or correct:
Europe doomed – also and especially demographically
‘unofficial financial commitments’ not exact but it will do, in any event, the number is in excess of 400% (FOUR!!)
Re France and Roma : a) decision taken by Sarkozy right-wing gov’t (in 2010); b) did not relate to ALL Roma, at least not explicitly. The point is, it was a major signal of how things are shaping up
PIIGS – includes Italy
Jews in UK – c-250-275,000
I have incorporated these corrections into the version posted in my blog, ISblog.

Second, an astute reader, Mike Axelrod from California, wrote:
I would not associate UKIP with Le Pen, Golden Dawn, and even EDL. The latter are truly extremist and fringe. I don't think that characterizes UKIP at all. ...The rise of UKIP is a logical consequence of the excesses of the EU, which started out as a trading block, and now wants to take over Europe.
I pretty much agree that Europe is doomed. The north countries can't even afford to bail out Italy let alone France. Too big to fail, and too big to bail out-- the irresistible force meets the immovable object. The EU Central Bank (ECB) has been buying them time with money creation despite that being prohibited by its charter. The PIIGS need to have their own currencies. The north countries need to go their own separate ways inside their own trading block. They need to be separate from the PIIGS both economically and politically.
The three success stories are Switzerland (not a member of the EU), Singapore, and Israel. Switzerland has solved the problem of having a multinational state by defusing power- the Canton system. Singapore is the most remarkable of all. From a poor Third World country to the First World in 40 years. Not only that, the IMF puts Singapore at rank three in the world in terms of GDP per capita; Qatar and Luxembourg being one and two. I submit the first two are anomalies. Singapore shows how well a valued-added economy can work with a business friendly climate, and a lack of corruption in government. In my opinion, if Israel becomes more like Singapore it will enjoy more prosperity and get into the top five in GDP per capita.
I'm not optimistic about the future of the U.S. Empires last between 200 and 250 years, and we are not immune from whatever forces operate to bring their downfall. Sir John Glubb's "The Fate of Empires" provides a canonical set of descriptors. See especially Section XXII-- The Influx of Foreigners. I would advise an ambitious, intelligent, and energetic young American to emigrate.

Another reader pointed out that:
(1) The Haredim and Israeli Arabs make up a significant portion of the population of Israel. I've read accounts that they're 1/5 the population & still growing while the Seculars are barely holding their own. With their large and growing families, & since many in this population do not have gainful employment, I would think this issue would put a huge drain on the Israeli economy.
Comment: This is true and is the cause behind the current political efforts to introduce an equitable draft into the IDF. The hope is that if the haredim carry out national service they will also be more likely to be gainfully employed.

(2) Hi-Tech employment effects a small sliver of society. There are not finite positions available nor a skilled population to work in this industry. Hence, I do not see the Hi-Tech economy dribbling down to the masses.
Comment. In a small country like Israel the Hi-tech industry is a huge component of the economy and does provide large sums in taxes to the Govt. as well as provide employment for a significant sector of the population.

(3) Olim to Israel take a huge investment in housing, transportation, and getting accustomed to a new home in the Middle East. I would suspect that this issue would be a huge drain on the economy, especially if there is immigration from France & England.
Comment. Yes, this is true, but the pluses exceed the minuses, the olim bring assests with them, they buy apartments and set up businesses and add signficantly to the economy

(4) Israel needs a strong military. I would think military budgeting puts a huge drain on the economy.
Ans. Israel has a huge military budget, but the defense budget is undergoing real cuts for the first time in history.

(5) Your speaker did not mention that israel discovered a huge reservoir of Natural Gas & that Israel can export this resource. Wouldn't this factor be an A + for the economy?
Comment. Yes, this is a major factor that will bring Israel real tangible income and energy independence in the near future.

(6) Also, could you explain why Electric Cars have failed in Israel & in Denmark? I believe these countries, small & compact, would be a perfect model for the Electric Car industry. Why did this industry, " A Perfect Place" file for Chapter 11?
Comment. The answer is simple really, because not enough people were convinced that their investment in an electric car would be worthwhile for them. Remember, metal boats couldn't get passengers at first because people thought they would sink and airplanes couldn't get fliers at first because they thought they would crash. Some ships did sink and some planes did crash, but now they are basic to our civilization. It will come.

(7) Is there an Israeli "brain drain" out of the country? I believe there used to be.
Comment. there used to be and there are a huge number of Israelis employed in the US, but as the economic situation there worsens and with Israeli Govt. inducements, more are coming back and fewer leaving.