Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Iran deal

The interim deal agreed between the P5+1 international powers and Iran in Geneva is a diplomatic victory for Pres Obama and his allies. But, it is a temporary solution for 6 months in the crisis relating to the potential acquisition by Iran of nuclear weapons. Whether you approve of this deal or not depends a lot on whether or not you think Iran can be trusted to keep the terms and spirit of the deal.

Certainly it is better to avoid conflict if possible, but Chamberlain declared Hitler an honorable man and made a deal with him, that he broke when it suited his purpose. North Korea made an agreement with the US that it would stop all nuclear activity, but a year later it revealed it had a secret program and had continued developing nuclear capability. So the question is, can the supposed "moderate" Pres Rouhani or his boss Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei be trusted any more than Hitler, or Kim Jung Il. Especially since Khamanei declared last week and again today that nothing could stop Iran from enriching uranium.

The deal gives Iran temporary relief of some sanctions (valued at ca. b$700) in exchange for promises not to develop any more enriched uranium above 3%, to reduce its huge stockpile of highly enriched 20% uranium and to stop any further addition of centrifuges to its enrichment facilities. Also there is provision for the cessation of work on the plutonium reactor at Irak. The agreement also calls for daily verification of these terms by an independent agency. However, as some have pointed out, not only has Iran broken its agreements before, but there is no way that improvements in other facilities and in areas away from the major plants can be detected. It could build huge new capabilities without this agreement applying to it. So it comes down to whether or not Iran's government can be trusted to keep its word.

PM Netanyahu has rightly backed off his severe criticism of this deal now that it has become fait accompli, and is now considering how to influence the final agreement that is due to be negotiated after 6 months. He is sending a delegation to Washington to consult with the Obama Administration over the terms of the supposed final deal. Whether or not this deal is a defeat for Netanyahu depends upon your interpretation. His opposition to a "bad" deal certainly helped to improve the conditions of the deal agreed by Iran. Now we must wait and see how the deal pans out and then what the final deal will be. If it avoids a military strike and war all to the good, but if the deal does not stop Iran developing nuclear weapons it will have achieved nothing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Kennedy assassination

It is 50 years since Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. I remember this as one of the most profoundly shocking moments of my life. It was a watershed in American history, which brought Lyndon B. Johnson into the Presidency and led to the expansion of the Vietnam War and many other consequences. To a degree it represented the end of idealistic illusion in the American political scene, the end of the American "Camelot." Later revelations of his medical condition, his drug taking, his obsessive womanizing and his sparse political accomplishments have largely tarnished the earlier image.

Of course, the question is "who did it?" There are many actors who had cause to hate the Kennedys and JFK in particular. If we take them in approximately reverse order of likelihood:
1. Frank Sinatra; Frank was a pal of Kennedy, he endorsed him for President and profoundly believed in his liberal agenda. After JFK was elected, the first time he was due to go to the West Coast, it had been arranged thru Peter Lawford (a brother-in-law of JFK) and Robert F. Kennedy that the President would stay at Sinatra's home in California. To accommodate him and his entourage Sinatra built a special extension to his home to be the "Western White House." However, at the last minute JFK went elsewhere, mainly because of fear of Sinatra's mob connections. Frank in anger trashed the accomodation and later had it demolished. He was extremely angry wth JFK for this affront and vowed to get even. Whether or not he contacted his mob friends about this is unknown.
2. The Mafia: It was well-known that JFK, with his brother RFK as attorney general, intended to bring down organized crime in America. They knew a lot about it thru their father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who made his fortune running whiskey from Canada during prohibition (this was before he became respectable and was US Ambassador to Gt. Britain). Although mob contacts have been established from Sam Giancana to JFK, thru the prostitute Judith Campbell Exner, and even possibly to Jack Ruby, the small time gangster who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald the day after JFK's assassination, there has never been any proof that the Mafia itself was involved in JFK's death. Another mob connection was that the CIA reputedly used the Mafia to try to kill Castro in Cuba.
3. Lyndon Baines Johnson: LBJ and the Kennedys hated each other. Even though JFK chose LBJ as his Vice-President, it was entirely a matter of politics. He needed someone from the South who could garner votes, and LBJ was the obvious choice. But, JFK and especially RFK detested LBJ and considered him an uncouth, unsophisticated and ignorant hick. Likewise LBJ hated JFK and RFK because of their slights to him. Certainly LBJ had the most to gain from the assassination of JFK. However, there has never been any evidence of LBJ's involvement in this heinous act.
4. J. Edgar Hoover: It is no secret that the Kennedys, as one of their first acts in office, intended to remove Hoover from his position as head of the FBI. It is also well-known that Hoover kept files on everyone, including the Kennedys, and that he blackmailed them because he had information about JFKs infidelities, including with Exner and Marilyn Monroe. If anyone could secretly organize such an assassination it would be Hoover, who hated the Kennedys.
5. The anti-Castro Cubans: They may have had the greatest reason to want to murder Kennedy after he reversed his decision to bomb Cuba to support the anti-Castro Cubans who had invaded the Bay of Pigs in 1961 with his approval. As a result of his betrayal the invaders were defeated and many of those who were caught were tortured and murdered. But, also many of them were returned to the USA, where they were vehemently anti-Kennedy. There is a rumor that although Oswald was overtly pro-Castro, this may have been a front because he did have known contacts with anti-Castro activists. The involvement of the CIA with the anti-Castro Cubans is well documented.
6. Lee Harvey Oswald: Oswald was a known Communist sympathizer, he had defected to the Soviet Union and then returned to the USA, with his Russian wife. He was active in the pro-Castro movement. He had been to Mexico and contacted the Soviet and Cuban Embassies there, but he had been denied visas to their countries. It was probably coincidence that JFK went to Dallas and drove in an open car thru the city where Oswald was working in the School Book Depository, with a magnificent view of the motorcade. There is little doubt that Oswald wanted to prove his commitment to the communist cause to impress the Russians and the Cubans. Oswald bought the gun that was undoubtedly used to shoot JFK. Even though there may have been more than one gun involved, this has never been proven.

Recently I saw two interesting programs on TV, on Nova and "The Lost JFK Tapes" on the BBC. They showed in independent studies that first, a rifle shot causes two shock waves and this explains why different people heard more than three shots. Second and most importantly they showed that a bullet of the kind fired from the kind of gun, the Carcano rifle, that Oswald used could eaily have gone thru Kennedy's neck and then thru Gov. Connolly seated in front of him, without being severely damaged. Also, the trajectory of such a "magic" bullet would not be straight. Third, they showed that when a bullet destroys a person's brain the body rigidifies and jerks backwards, as Kennedy's body did after the third fatal shot from behind. There is a theory that one of the secret service men shot his gun accidentally at Kennedy, the third fatal shot, and this would explain the secret service's interference at both autopsies. But, this could also be out of zeal after their own incompetence, since Kennedy was shot on their watch, or according to the wishes of the Kennedy family.

In a sense, this is the simplest explanation, that a pro-Communist, pro-Cuban sympathizer took the opportunity to strike at the basis of American democracy. Because it seems too neat an explanation, many people distrust this conventional answer.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Indian Jewish communities

In the third of her series on "Exotic Jewish communities," Gabriella Licsko spoke about the Indian Jewish communities, namely the Cochin Jews, the Bnei Israel, the Baghdadi Jews and the Bnei Menashe. Note that all of these groups are quite distinct and have separate histories and origins. Except for the Bnei Menashe, they all shared the characteristics of being very Indian, but also being pro-British, and distinctly middle class.

The Cochin Jews are the oldest group, their origins are supposed to go back to the Temple period about 2,500 years ago. They probably came from the Arabian peninsula to trade, since the area of Cochin is on the west coast of the State of Kerala in south west India. There was never any anti-Semitism in India and yet the number of Cochin Jews has always remained small. An early King gave them a copper scroll that is one of the oldest existing that guarantees them permanent safety in Cochin. There were three distinct groups of Cochin Jews, the earliest were dark skinned and were called the "Black Jews." The second group came later, after the expulsion from Spain via Persia, and were called the "Paradesi" or "White Jews" and the third group was called the "Mechshurarim" or "freed" because they were originally slaves of the Paradesi and many of them converted to Judaism. These three groups were not allowed to inter-marry with each other.

Because of their connections first to the Dutch and then to the British, the Cochin Jews felt that they would lose their economic and political status when India became independent and most of them (ca. 5,000) moved to Israel in the 1950s. Although the Cochin Jews were recognised as Jews by the Rabbinate (except for the Mechshurarim who had to re-convert), they still had a hard time immigrating to Israel. Some of them suffered from the disease of elephantiasis, and it took a while before the health authorities in Israel would agree that it was not contagious and would let them immigrate. Also, over time many of them had apparently converted to a form of early Christianity know as St. Thomas Christianity that was perhaps influenced by their Judaism. Many of the Cochin Jews moved together to moshav Nevatim in the Negev and you can still see their small museum and authentic synagogue (as well as the original one in the Israel museum) and you can have a good Indian meal there. Another Cochin settlement close to Beit Shemesh is called Mesilat Zion.

The Bnei Israel are a group of Jews who largely lived in and around Bombay (today's Mumbai). They were a larger group, consisting of tens of thousands, all of whom were supposed to be descended from 7 Jewish couples who were shipwrecked 2100 years ago. Since they lost all their books, they gradually lost manyJewish customs and became less observant, although they continued to observe kashruth, say the "shema Israel," perform brit milah and kept Shabbat. They were called "the Saturday oil pressers" by the local population. They became very Indian in their dress, the women wore saris, and they spoke the local language, Marathi. But, they were trusted by the British and many of them were drafted into the Indian Army and became officers and there was even a Jewish Mayor of Bombay named Nissim. They were quite westernized and many were Zionistic and when India became independent the same year as Israel, 1948, many left for Israel, although some went to Britain where life was easier for them. Most of the Rabbinut accepted them as Jews, but there was a problem of some extreme Orthodox Rabbis not accepting them, because they were concerned about possible inter-marriage in the past, but the whole problem was settled in 1964. They live mainly in the south, Dimona, Yeroham, and it is quite common to see women dressed in saris walking around in those towns, although the younger women now only wear these clothes on special occasions.

The Baghdadi Jews didn't only come from Baghdad, but more generally they were a class of merchant Jews from Iraq, Syria Aden and Persia, who moved to India for trade starting in 1730. Some of them were very wealthy and became more so in India. Their center was Bombay and the most famous family were the Sasoons, known as the Rothschilds of the East (Vidal was not a member of this family, but Siegfried was). These wealthy Jews supported the synagogues and schools of the community and ran a welfare system, so no Jew went hungry. They spread as far as Hong Kong and Shanghai, but preferred to be considered British, and many of them moved to Britain. Some Baghdadi Jews who went to Israel were treated like the rest of the poor Sephardim, since the Ashkenazi Jews who ran the Israeli system were ignorant of their background, education and standing.

The Bnei Menashe are a very distinct group who live in the tribal areas of NW India in Manipur and Mizoram. They claim to be descended from the tribe of Menashe, one of the lost tribes, which some believe but others doubt. They speak Mizo, a Tibetan-Bumese language and about 100 years ago were probably animist head hunters. They were converted to Christianity, and probably because of a tribal longing to return to their original homeland, the story of the Jews had a special resonance for them. In the 1920-30s they became more fervent and some of their rituals were thought to resemble those of the Jews. In 1951 their spiritual leader had a dream after which he decided that they were really Jews and from then they started to follow Judaism. In the 1980s an Israeli Rabbi named Avihail discovered them and thought they were one of the lost tribes and brought their case to Israel. In the 1990s with the help of Michael Freund of Shavei Israel they began to convert and finally were accepted to come to Israel. There are now several hundred of them mostly in Kiryat Arba who are very committed Jews, and about 8,000 remaining in India waiting for their aliyah. But, because India frowns upon their conversion in India some have had to go to Nepal to be converted. They do bring new meaning to the phrase "a rainbow nation" applied to Israel.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Domestic politics

A change in the domestic political scene in Israel was presaged last week by the victory of Isaac Herzog for the leadership of the Labor Party. He defeated the incumbent Shelli Yacimovitch by 58 to 41%, but with a low voter turnout (53%). This is the seventh consecutive change of leadership since the Labor Party lost power in 1999 to Likud and has never regained it. Not only that, but the Labor Party has seen a gradual decline in its support. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand, the Labor Party became the controlling power in israel for 30 years from the foundation of the State in 1948 until the electoral victory by Menachem Begin of Likud in 1977. During that time, the Labor Party produced many famous leaders, from Ben Gurion to Golda Meir. But, in the end, as with every organization, power corrupted it. It was not only foreign policy or the relationship with the Arab world and the Palestinians that caused the change, but also the corruption that was exemplified by the suicide of the Labor Minister of Housing in 1977.

Isaac Herzog is considered a more serious leader than Yacimovich has been. She refused in principle to serve in a coalition with Netanyahu and focussed almost exclusively on domestic issues. Unfortunately in Israel, the relations with the Palestinians, the US and others is a very important component of any government's policies. Herzog has previous experience as a Minister and comes from a distinguished family, his grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Israel and his father was former President Chaim Herzog. He said that he is going to have two main planks in his policies, social justice and peace. He is expected to be more pragmatic than Yacimovich and may even be prepared to join the Netanyahu coalition.

There is a saying that all politics is domestic, but in Israel relations with the Palestinians and the Arabs, as well as Iran, tend to dominate all discourse. This is bad in a sense for the country, but a necessary evil. Israel has to have a large defense budget, that of course diminishes the welfare budget. Nevertheless, Israel is a welfare state, with entitlements and a good medical system (American Jews note). Hopefully Isaac Herzog will improve the status of the Labor Party as the loyal opposition.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Geneva negotiations

For a very small country, Israeli has a significant influence on world affairs. Not as the anti-Semites suggest through control of the US and the markets, but rather as an adversarial voice in international affairs. It is clear that Pres. Obama is primarily motivated in relation to the Middle East to avoid any further conflict. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama does not want his legacy to be the President who started a major war with Iran. He has enough domestic problems with Obamacare and he knows the US public are "war-weary." There is no public support for a war with Iran, even though this might mean that Iran would get a nuclear weapon and threaten not only America's allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also the delivery of oil throughout the world through the Straits of Hormuz, that could cause a major financial crisis. An example of Obama's reluctance to get involved militarily was his backing off of his threat to attack Syria to destroy their chemical weapons stores. Instead he made a deal with the Russians to get an international agency to destroy them. Very good, but it did lose the US credibility in the region.

So the US was prepared to do a deal with the new Iranian leader Pres Rouhani, but it was Netanyahu's strong opposition to the "bad" deal that would have left Iran holding many kgs of 20% enriched U-235, as well as an active plutonium reactor, that helped squelch the deal. That, and the negative vote of the French. The recent visit here by Pres. Hollande and his team cemented the agreement between France and Israel to stop Iran getting sanctions relief without giving up their already attained nuclear stockpile. Now the P5+1 group meeting in Geneva with the Iranians is on a different track. Now Netnayahu has put pressure on the western allies to be tougher with Iran, to ensure that it cannot have breakout capability. A deal will be much more difficult now, especially since Supreme Leader Khamanei stated publicly the other day that Iran will never give up its enrichement capability and then he uttered more insults against Jews and threats against Israel. These were hardly remarked upon, and not even condemned by Obama, although a day later US rep. to the UN Samantha Powers did declare them "abhorrent."

It is this combination of utter hatred expressed by the Iranian leadership for Israel and the threat that if they don't come up with a "good" deal then the likelihood of an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear faciltities is greatly increased, that must be motivating the US and its allies now. In other words, as Netanyahu and Minister Naftali Bennett, touring the US, have said, a "bad" deal increases the likelihood of a war, while only a "good" deal will help to avoid it. This morning there is the report of a deal signed between Iran and the group of allies in Geneva. In time we shall see what this deal entails and whether or not it will satisfy Israel's and Saudi Arabia's serious concerns about Iran's intentions.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sinai and the West Bank

The attack on a bus yesterday that killed another 12 Egyptian soldiers was an example of the lawlessness in the Sinai. The Egyptian army are struggling to control the activities of the extremist elements among the Beduin and Palestinians in Sinai. This has largely developed since the overthrow of Mubarak and the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under Pres. Morsi, who were sympathetic to the Sunni Islamists, including those of Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. However, when the Army under Gen al-Sisi took over from Morsi, the Sinai was one of the main places where the Islamists had managed to gain a foothold. Now the Army is trying to mop them up. This includes closing the border to Gaza and closing all the tunnels that allowed men and weapons to flow back from Gaza into Sinai.

Although Sinai is close to Israel and has a long common border, the activities of the Egyptian Army will hopefully save Israel from becoming entangled in the violence and terrorism there. But, just consider what might happen in the West Bank if the Palestinians of the PA achieve a state. I would love for there to be a true peaceful relationshiop between Israel and a Palestinian State, but I suggest that Sinai is a more likely model for a Palestinian State on the West Bank. There will be chaos, lack of government control, militias, and civil war between the nationalists of Fatah/PLO and the Islamists of Hamas and al Qaeda. Is this an acceptable outcome for Israel, especially when the West Bank is right on our doorstep? Mortars and missiles fired into Israel will be far more dangerous than if they are fired from Gaza or Sinai, because most of Israel's population and its nerve center, such as Ben Gurion airport, will be within range of any Islamist who wants to bring Israel to a stand-still. Jersualem would be constantly under attack from the surrounding "Arab" hills. This would be an unacceptable and unlivable situation.

While the Israeli Government is negotiating with Pres. Abbas of the PA, even though the talks are currently stalled because the Palestinian negotiators resigned, does anyone think that Pres. Abbas has control over the PA so that he can deliver. The joke among the Palestinians is that he controls the parking lot of the Mukata, the government compound in Ramallah. Is any deal that Abbas signs worth more than the paper it is written on? But, of course, there is little chance of an agreement, even if the American administration as usual are trying to get their place in history and their Nobel prizes for peace (oops, I forgot Pres. Obama already got his in advance) by trying to enforce one. Abbas is a lame duck president, his term actually ran out in 2009, and he has cancelled elections. He does not want to go down in history as the Palestinian leader who gave up the fight with Israel, nor does he want to be assassinated. So it is likely there will be no agreement, that Abbas will retire, there will be chaos in the PA, Israel will be forced to take over to re-establish control, and we will be back to square one. We must negotiate and act according to the predictions of what is most likely to happen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


There are two possible steps that could be taken to help resolve the Israel-Palestine problem (note I don't say "solve" I don't believe in neat solutions). First, redefining the title of "refugee" for the Palestinians to conform to the norms of international law and the UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) and second, going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague to test the legality of the settlements on the West Bank.

To take each of these in turn. It has been mentioned before that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that was established in 1949 to take care of the short term needs of the Palestinian refugees, has expanded into a multi-generational pro-Palestinian body that perpetuates the conflict. By defining "refugee" to include the descendents of former refugees until the nth generation, the so-called "Palestinian refugee problem" keeps increasing. If there were ca. 750,000 original Palestinian refugees, now UNRWA calculates that there are 5 million! This is ridiculous, since all other refugees in the world are considerd to be only those who actually leave or are forced out of their country or place of residence and NOT their descendents, and their numbers decrease with time. If the UNRWA definition of "refugee" is struck down, as it could be, then the number of actual refugees left decreases to several tens of thousands, and that is manageable. Israel could easily agree to the repatriation of these original refugees, those who want to return, and possibly their immediate family members (one generation) as part of a negotiated settlement. This should then satisfy the needs of the Palestinians.

You may have noted that the US has switched the term used to describe Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) from "illegal" to "illegitimate." This has been used both by Secty. Kerry and the White House spokesman. What does this mean? It means that the US has decided that the settlements aren't strictly speaking "illegal" but by using the less definite term "illegitimate," they imply that this is a political judgement. In other words the settlements impede the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian State, and hence the two-state solution, but "illegitimate" is not the same as illegal.

The usual legal argument against Israel is that under the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to war, a victor is not allowed to settle its own nationals in an "occupied" territory. In order to be termed "occupied" the territory must first have been under the sovereignty of the defeated state, but this is not the case with the West Bank. It was never Palestinian sovereign territory, nor even Jordanian, since the Jordanian occupation (1948-67) was never recognized under international law. Its previous sovereign was the Turkish Empire. Certainly Israel has a strong claim to this territory because of the San Remo Treaty of 1922 and the Mandate given by the League of Nations to be administered by Great Britain in order the establish a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine, which never discriminated between any part of "Palestine."

Taking an issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, a UN body, would be very risky for Israel. There is the general antagonism to Israel in the UN, for example recently the General Assembly passed 9 resolutions all criticizing Israel, and a translator who left her microphone on was heard to say in effect, "isn't that enough already." But, more specifically when Israel was criticized for construction of the security "wall" (that is mostly a fence) around the West Bank to stop terrorism, in 2004 the ICJ found against Israel and one Egyptian judge ensured a majority against. In other words, Israel cannot expect to get a "fair trial" in the ICJ. Nevertheless, the issue of the Israeli settlements is a legal question that could in principle be decided in a netural court.

Now I realize that the UN and the Arabs would fight tooth and nail against redefining the nature of Palestinian refugees, and there is little chance for Israel to get a fair hearing in the ICJ or elsewhere. But, if they ever want a resolution of this eternal problem, then the Arabs and the supporters of the Palestinians are going to have to recognize reality. Israel is here to stay, Israel is strong and for an "end of conflict" agreement, the Palestinians will have to give up their illusory "right of return" for millions of fake "refugees" and to accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. If they don't the population of Jews on the West Bank will continue to increase, and in the end the only solution would be to exchange these Jews for the Arabs living in Israel, and no one would countenance such a forced exchange.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Words, words, words

Remember the song, "Words, words, words, I'm sick of words.." from "My Fair Lady," well I'm not sick of words, but I am sick of forgetting them. I love words, I pride myself on finding just the right word to fit the meaning, yet sometimes, maybe because I'm getting older, I forget words. I forget the word that gives the precise meaning that I want to convey.

The reason I mention this is that it happened twice to me today. The first time I was writing a blog about Israel and the Iranian imbroglio (nice word that), and I could not remember the word for what constitutes the power that Israel has to prevent others from attacking it. I remembered that it started with "de", so I literally flashed thru the computer dictionary under "de" and I found it, of course the word was "deterrence." How convenient computers are.

Then my son sent me a sermon given by his Rabbi from his synagogue's web site, that equated some religious and scientific terminology, for example, pointing out that biblical creation is similar to "the big bang theory." I knew there was a word describing substituting one word for another, without adding to the meaning. I searched for but could not find this word. So I went to sleep for my afternoon "shluf," and sure enough an hour later I woke up suddenly and the word was in my head, it was "tautology."

So what does this mean? That the words are there, trapped in my brain's dictionary, but it is the retrieval mechanism that has gone awry. It is permissible to use any technique to bring it back to the surface, including sleep. I suppose because it bothered me that I could not remember the word, my brain was flicking through its listings while I slept and found it and held it uppermost in my thoughts for me to find as soon as I awoke. Marvellous thing the brain, if only it didn't (what's that word...ah, yes) "deteriorate."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Low level conflict

Parallel with the stalled peace negotiations that are going on between Israel and the PA, forced by the USA, there is a continuing low level conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. Evidence of this conflict are not hard to find, practically every day there are riots in some part of the West Bank, with the IDF required to go in and restore order. Stones and Molotov cocktails are thrown at the cars of ordinary Israeli civilians, including mothers driving children. IDF soldiers are especially vulnerable, three have been killed in the past two months, Tomer Hazan was murdered by an illegal Palestinian co-worker at an Israeli restaurant who lured him to the West Bank and murdered him, Gal Kobi was shot in the neck by a sniper on the Gaza border, and Eden Attias was stabbed to death this week while sleeping on a bus in Afula by a 16 year old Palestinian who wanted to get revenge for the imprisonment of a cousin. Does anyone believe these incidents happen spontaneously? No it results from constant anti-Israel incitement in the PA.

What always happens when negotiations are ongoing is that the Palestinians threaten that unless Israel does such and such they will break off the talks and violence will ensue. But, the twist this time is that when the Palestinians threatened the start of a third intifada (uprising) this warning was echoed by none other than the US Secty of State John Kerry, who is supposed to be a neutral honest broker. In order to start the negotiations Israel was required to give a major concession to the PA, and that was the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands. No concession to stop construction on the West Bank was agreed. Now the Palestinians are trying to force that concession by using threats of violence and Kerry is repeating their threats. Suppose Israel said it would not continue negotiations and threatened violence unless the Palestinians gave up their claims on Jerusalem, would Kerry support that. Certainly not, yet not only are the Palestinians allowed to get away with threatening force, the Obama Administration tacitly supports that. This is unacceptable.

There is a rumor going round that the Obama Administration have proposed a deal to Israel, either they cooperate on Iran or the US will give support to the Palestinians in the negotiations. Of course, the corollary is that if Bibi refuses to deal, then the US will compromise with Iran and take the Palestinian side in the negotiations. Whether this is true or not that is what is happening. This allows Obama/Kerry to paint Bibi as the bad guy who really wants war with the Iranians, rather than the good guy who is trying to save Israel and the world from a nuclear Iran, as well as exposing the blackmail and deceit of the Palestinians.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Iran's success

By agreeing to negotiate with the US and P5+1 members, Iran has managed very successfully to drive a wedge between the so-called allies. Notwithstanding Secty of State Kerry's recent statement that all the allies are on the same page, this is simply not true. If France had not objected to the "bad, bad deal" that PM Netanyahu warned against, Pres. Obama and Secty Kerry would have led the allies to agree to this deal, which would have resulted in an easing of sanctions for future Iranian restraint on nuclear enrichment. The deal so far with Iran leaves it holding over 2 kg of 20% enriched uranium, close enough for a break-out strategy to obtain a bomb with fissile material quickly (a matter of weeks) whereas the deal that Bibi envisages requires Iran to hand over or dilute that material, to avoid such as break-out possibility. Now Secty Kerry is lobbying on Capitol Hill to prevent the Congress from voting stricter sanctions, very unseemly. Why? To mollify his friend Pres. Rouhani of Iran? How is it that the US Executive is closer to Iran than to its own Congress? Perhaps the US Secty of State and Pres should register as foreign agents of Iran.

This difference between the US on one side and France and Israel on the other is very worrying. Pres. Hollande of France and his FM are arriving in Israel today and the hope is that France and Israel will agree on a strategy to thwart the easing of sanctions short of a full climb-down by Iran. The US position represents a retreat from the leadership position that the US has held in the world since WWII, and comes about because although Pres Obama declares that "all options are on the table," no-one any longer actually believes him. He is desperate to seek any kind of accomodation with Iran so that he can avoid the ultimate possibility of attacking Iran. He managed to do this with Syria, by allowing Russia to come in as the guarantor for Assad, and thus avoided reacting to the so-called "red line" of uranium enrichment that he had warned about. He initiated this policy in his Cairo speech in 2009 in which he essentially told the Muslim world that the US under his command would not be their enemy.

Now the Russians are in Egypt with Pres. Putin signing deals with the al-Sisi military government there. The US is losing out in Egypt, and the Saudis and the Gulf States no longer trust American promises. The US is slipping from influence, not because it lacks the power, but because it lacks the will. I ask what is the point of having this power, that is used against Somali pirates and to mop up after a typhoon in the Philippines, both very commendable actions, if it is not projected meaningfully into the world, if it is not a credible threat to such dangerous regimes as Iran, N. Korea and Syria. You can be sure that if there is any kind of power vacuum others will quickly fill it. Russia is the first in line and Iran is not far behind, with its dreams of hegemony in the Middle East.

Actually, this also represents an opportunity for Israel, to help fill the void left by America's shrinking credibility. If Israel finds it necessary to attack the Iranian nuclear sites as a last resort to stop them developing nuclear weapons, you can be sure that it will be done effectively and seriously. This will not only set Iran back, but save the Sunni Arab states from their greatest fear, domination by Shia Iran. Such a move would enhance Israel's real power status in the world and its deterrence. One cannot predict the outcome of any such complex situation, but it could turn out to be a winning one for Israel.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Health Day

Netanya AACI had a Health Day on Weds, a full day of booths, presentations and lectures on a wide variety of subjects. At the booths there were items for sale as well as free giveaways. There were also demonstrations of low-level laser therapy, Indian head massage, reflexology (foot treatment), omega-3 oil from plants, spine tuning (chiropracty), water filtration and healthy eating. Many of the "alternative medicine" applications are of questionable efficacy, although they claimed to cure and/or improve many ailments. What I found most objectionable was when they started talking about "energy healing," and when I asked what energy they were talking about they got very defensive, one is not supposed to ask such questions.

Regarding the low-level laser therapy (LLLT), this should be distinguished from high-level laser therapy in which lasers are used to remove superficial skin lesions, and is very effective. The main claim for LLLT is that it relieves pain, particularly muscular pain in the joints, neck, etc. In a study published in the journal Pain (vol 52, p. 63, 1993), after reviewing all data in the literature, Gam et al concluded "LLLT has no effect on pain in musculoskeletal syndromes." The sellers of the LLLT laser product claimed that the laser light penetrates 3.5 cm into the body, I seriously doubt this and have not been able to find any publication that documents this.

I missed the presentation on homeopathy, but I suppose that was just as well. I think that these alternative medicine methods have blossomed because we are all living longer, due to the success of scientific medicine. But the fact is that everyone gets some ailments, and when their standard medical practice cannot help them anymore they turn to what this is, an alternative. Most of the claims have no factual basis, yet people will shell out large sums of money when they become desperate.

In the afternoon, Don Silverberg, a nephrologist and practicing physician, gave his usual smooth talk about the latest patterns in health care. He spoke about high blood pressure medication, statins against cholesterol and aspirin against strokes, all of which most members of the audience seem to take. He discussed vitamins, iron deficiency, sleep apnea, some cancers, such as ovarian and prostate, and mentioned a relatively new pain-killer named Lyrica, that reduces pain from peripheral nerves. He emphasized the need for regular checkups, for example by women for cervical and ovarian cancer, and by men for PSA that may indicate prostate cancer. He said that vitamin D levels in Israel were unusually low and everyone should take some, also iron (as in free iron in transferrin not in hemoglobin) was often low and an indicator of fatigue and often heart and other lung problems.

Most people came away from this experience having learnt more about their health and how to improve it. Thanks go to Sylvia Kovler and Natalie Green for organizing the day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cromwell and the Jews

It is almost impossible for me to reproduce the talk given by Elkan Levy at AACI Netanya on the return of the Jews to England, entitled "Cromwell and the Rabbi." His lecture was so rich in detail, so full of anecdote and yet so coherent, that one is left amazed by its fulness and scope. Nevertheless, being foolhardy, I will try to at least summarize its main points. Let me add that Elkan Levy was a former President of the United Synagogue of Great Britain and then the Head of the Department of Small Communities. His knowledge of the history of the Jews of Great Britain is encyclopedic.

He sketched the background, reminding us that although the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 by King Edward I, some still remained there throughout the subsequent period. It was the English Civil War (1642-1651) and the victory of the Parlimentarians (Roundheads) and the beheading of Charles I in 1649 that prepared the way for the Jews to openly return to England.

There were several reasons for the British and particularly the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was a very pragmatic leader, to want the Jews returned to England. First, there was the general sense that wherever the Jews went they brought economic benefit because of their mercantile activities, just what England needed after a punishing and costly Civil War. Second, Britain was engaged in a war with Holland, which at that time was the richest country in Europe, a condition that was largely attributed to the active Jewish community there. Third, there was the theological argument, that until the Jews were spread all over the earth, according to the Biblical prophecies, the coming of the messiah (or for the Christians, the second coming of Christ) could not occur. Fourth, there was a general sense in which religious tolerance was growing, mainly because the various Christian sects, especially the Protestant sects and Catholicism, needed to find a way to tolerate each other.

At that time it was more dangerous for the descendents of conversos (or Marranos) to try to pass as Catholics than as Jews. He gave the example of a certain Senor Robles whose two ships at dock on the Thames and their contents were seized by the British customs because he was a Spanish Catholic. When he submitted an affidavit claiming that he was really a Portuguese Jew, whose family had been persecuted by the Inquisition, his ships and goods were returned to him.

Manasseh Ben Israel (Soeiro) (1604-1657) was the respected Rabbi of the Amsterdam Sephardic congregation, appointed when he was only 19. He was a very opinionated, egotistical and strong-willed individual, who in 1650 published a book "The Hope of Israel" (in Latin, Spanish, Hebrew and English) calling for religious tolerance and that the Jews should be allowed to return legally to England in order to fulfil Biblical prohecy. He took it upon himself to be the leader of this movement, something that was frowned upon by the lay leaders of his Synagogue. Nevertheless in 1655 he resigned form his position and travelled to London and published a direct appeal to Cromwell regarding the readmission of the Jews.

There were also strong opponents to this move, and so in 1655 Cromwell summoned leading lawyers, scholars and clerics to a Conference at Whitehall in London to decide the matter. Tasked with determining the legal basis of the expulsion of the Jews, two Judges came to the notable conclusion that there were no laws actually preventing Jews from living in England, since the expulsion had been an edict of the Crown and only referred to the Jews then resident in England who were actually property of the King. In his diary on Dec 14, 1655, John Evelyn wrote in his diary "Now were the Jews admitted."

But, to actually achieve the practical outcome was not so easy. Cromwell dismissed the Conference without any official declaration. In answer to the critics, Manasseh published another work in 1656 entitled "Vindiciae Judiorum." Meanwhile Manasseh had no income from Amsterdam, failed to receive a promised payment from Cromwell and was not appointed the Rabbi of the first Synagogue that was allowed to open in London in 1656 at Creechurch Lane, where for the first time Jews were able to openly practise their religion. Manasseh's son died in London in 1657 and Manasseh took his body back to Holland for burial and he died there the same year. Cromwell died in 1658.

The Restoration of the Monarchy occured in 1660. When the Jews were challenged as to their right to practise their religion, since the laws were interpreted to apply only to Christian practise, Charles II supported the Jews and the general right of toleration to practise religion in Britain with the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. Even then the fight continued for many years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Many of you, like me, will never have heard of "Rojava." This is the name the Kurds of north-eastern Syria have given to their enclave, consisting mostly of ca. 70-80% Kurds, that is now virtually independent and separate from the rest of Syria. After having defeated the Syrian Army and expelled the pro-Shia Alawite Arab forces, the Kurds then turned on the mostly Sunni Islamists who captured territory surrounding their enclave and have defeated them. The Kurds, consisting of the so-called YPG (or People's Protection Units), have surged forward in the past few weeks, capturing territory where the proportion of Kurds is less. We learn this from an article in the J. Post this weekend by Jonathan Spyer of the Herzliya-based Inter-Disciplinary Center (

Rojava now consists of a separate ethnic Kurdish enclave controlling about 10% of former Syrian territory. Maybe this will be the pattern of furture developments in Syria, with the country splitting into at least three entities, namely the Kurdish north-east, the Alawite north-western area, and the Sunni heartland, where there will be clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist forces of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). Damascus will remain the center of fighting between the Assad regime and the opposition forces.

How can Rojava survive economically? Quite easily, since this region has most of the oil resources in Syria, such as at Romeilan, and if they can manage to sell their oil across the border to Iraq they will be able to thrive. On the other hand, the Syrian oposition groups have claimed this oil as a national Syrian resource and will contest Kurdish control if they ever get the chance.

Naturally the question arises if the Kurds in Syria and in Iraq, who have a similar enclave in northern Iraq, can get together and combine forces. But, the aim for a future Kurdistan is greatly reduced by the fact that each of these Kurdish enclaves is controlled by mutually antagonistic Kurdish parties, the PKK (the socialist Kurdish Worker's Party) in the case of Rojava and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani, in Iraq. These two military organizations have fought each other before and there is little or no likelihood of their combining at this time. This will be a great relief to Turkey, where the builk of the Kurds live in eastern provinces adjacent to Iraq and Syria.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

No Iran deal

The Geneva meeting of the six international powers (the so-called P5+1, USA, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany) with Iran over the issue of the Iranian nuclear weapons program eneded without an agreement last weekend. Some will heave a sigh of relief, given that a pending agreement was described that would have been greatly to Iran's favor. The agreement that was broached would have reduced the strong sanctions against Iran that are crippling its economy in exchange for Iran agreeing not to make any more highly enriched uranium (greater than 3%).

But, this according to PM Netanyahu would have been "a very, very bad deal", giving Iran what it wants without a significant compromise on its part. This deal would have left intact Iran's huge stockpile of kilograms of 20% U-235 enriched uranium, as well as the plutonium reactor that allows an alternative path to a nuclear weapon. The fact that Iran was unwilling to agree to the removal of these two resources puts the lie to its contention that they are only seeking a peaceful nuclear program rather than a weapons program. Highly enriched weapon grade uranium can be easily achieved in a short period of time from 20% enrichment and plutonium is also only required for weapons manufacture.

The fact is that it appears that Pres. Obama was prepared to make this bad deal, but it was the French who balked, who said this is not a good deal because it leaves the Iranians in the position to achieve a nuclear weapon in a short period of time (a quick breakout), and gives them an easing of the sanctions. Whether or not the influence of Israel's objections to this deal carried weight is unclear, athough the French did refer to Netanyahu's objections.

So the two sides agreed that progress was made and they will continue talks at a later date, and meanwhile there is no easing of the sanctions and no limitations on the Iranian nuclear program.

Monday, November 11, 2013


It has been reported that the Swiss lab that investigated some of the remains of Yasir Arafat found high levels of Polonium in his bones and other organic residue. By contrast, the Russian lab issued a statement Sunday that the levels found were too low to be significant, and these results differ from the Swiss findings. The French lab will not reveal its results except during a criminal proceedings.

The Swiss result is very surprising, since Po-210 decays with a half-life of 138 days. Therefore, 9 years after Arafat's death the most that could be expected to be in his remains would be a minute fraction of the original amount virtually undetectable. Unless the original amount was a tremendously high level of Po, it seems very unlikely that this final amount could be detected and certainly not as "high" levels.

Of course, the first culprit identified as the source of Arafat's poisoning was Israel. However, this is not the usual Israeli modus, they prefer to blow up the whole building or send in a squad of expert marksmen. Slow poisoning is not the Israel military way. Suha Arafat, his wealthy widow, has claimed several times in interviews that her husband was poisoned by someone in his inner circle. This makes sense because of the many delays and difficulties found in investigating his death, for example, why was he whisked off to a French hospital where he was kept incommunicado, even from his wife? Why were all his medications and personal effects disposed of immediately after his death? Suha Arafat lives in the lap of luxury in Paris and Geneva on the proceeds of her husband's personal accounts of billions of dollars, skimmed off the aid money given to the Palestinians over many years. But, the rulers of the PA, Arafat's personal assistants, at first refused to give Suha access to his accounts, and when they did she only received part of the proceeds. So she is mad at them.

Of course, the Palestinians will argue that whoever did poison Arafat, if indeed he was poisoned, may have been a close personal aide, but it was done at Israel's behest, as if Arafat had no personal enemies. That his close followers might have wanted to get rid of him, after all he had been there for too long, makes perfect sense. But, in the final analysis, who cares, Arafat is long gone. But his ghost lives on in this sordid tale of imaginary murder.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lieberman's return

Avigdor Lieberman, former FM in the Netanyahu coalition government, was under investigation for 17 years on various charges of corruption during his earlier career. Why it took so long to investigate these charges has not been explained. Nevertheless, last year he was finally indicted and stepped down from his office, but Attorney-General Weinstein then dropped the most serious charges for lack of evidence and Lieberman was only actually tried on one charge, that he illegally appointed the former Ambassador to Latvia to another post because of favoratism. It was alleged that the former Ambassador had warned his friend Lieberman that he was being investigated. However, last week the court of three judges (there are no juries in Israeli courts) found that there was no proven charge of illegality or favoratism and in fact the appointment of the Ambassador was carried out according to routine procedures and there was no evidence that Lieberman as FM interfered in the process. All charges were therefore dropped, a victory for Lieberman and he is free to return to his position as FM.

This has significant consequences for the political future of Israel and the so-called peace talks. Lieberman, for all his faults, is a very canny politician, a Russian street-fighter. He has risen from nothing to the head of his own party, Israel Beitanu (Israel our home), that he merged with Likud, and is now a powerful figure again in Israeli politics. Whether or not Israel Beitanu separates from the joint party Likud Beitanu, Lieberman will be a force to be reckoned with. He holds a key position just to the right of Netanyahu, and as Netanyahu has had to compromise in order to deal with the Americans, the EU and the Palestinians, so Lieberman comes across as the uncompromising rightist. He therefore acts as a counter to the more liberal Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Justice, who is leading the negotiations with the PA for Israel. Although his focus will again be on foreign affairs, Lieberman's main role will be to see that the Israeli Govt. does not do anything stupid in compromising with the Palestinians.

Lieberman's acquital raises several larger questions. Why is it that many Government officials are charged by the State Attorney General, but no cases are brought for many years, and then often dropped? This has happened over and over again, with Ariel Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and many others. It seems more politically motivated rather than dealing with real cases of corruption. It could have a very negative effect on the credibility of the Attorney General's office and the whole process of State justice. There needs to be a significant and deeper look at how these cases are brought.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Ethiopian Jews

For her second lecture in the series on Exotic Jewish Communities, Gabrella Licsko spoke about the Ethiopian Jewish community. There are about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and the largest concentration of them is in Netanya. It is common to see them in our streets and working around the city. But, the Ethiopian community has had a hard time adapting to Israel, perhaps more than most immigrant communities.

The origin of the Ethiopian Jews is shrouded in mystery. The popular theory is that they are descended from the liason between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Sheba was not in Ethiopia itself but across the Red Sea in Yemen. In biblical times and later it was a very verdant area often ruled by Queens. The son of the Queen of Sheba was Menelek who is considered to be the founder of the royal line of Ethiopia descended from King David. Much later they converted to Christianity. Another theory is that the Ethiopian Jews are descended from the tribe of Dan.

Around the 15th century there is eyewitness testimony of a Jewish Kingdom in Ethiopia, and for several hundred years it was ruled by a Jewish dynasty. But, wars between the Jewish and Christian kingdoms resulted in great destruction and finally the Christians won and reduced the Jews to penury. Jews were only allowed to be farmers and petty artisans, they were driven out of the main cities and those who survived ended up in Gondar province in the north east and some in Tigre province. They spoke Amharic, which is a southern semitic language, but their sacred texts were written in a special language called Geez, that only the priests (Kesim) could read.

Because of their remoteness and isolation from other Jewish communities, the Ethiopian Jews never developed Rabbinic Judaism, had no access to Ashkenazi and Sephardi texts and never celebrated Hanukkah, a later festival. They do however celebrate a unique festival of Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur, when they pray as a community to be returned to Israel. This day is now a holiday for them celebrated in Israel.

During the 18-19th century things became worse for the remaining Jews who were named Falasha, a derogatory term. Many were forcibly converted to Christianity, forming a group called Falash Mura, or "impure people." The relationship between the Jews and the Falash Mura is complex, some Jews regarding them as brothers, and others looking down on them as traitors.

By the 19th century their numbers had declined drastically because of a general famine in Ethiopia and attempts were made to help them. In the 1920s Rav Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wanted to arrange their aliyah, but unfortunately it did not happen then. Later several individuals, mostly the educated children of senior Kesim, managed to reach Palestine and then Israel. But, the very poor majority continued subsistence farming in Gondar through civil wars and political strife under Haile Selassi and the Marxist dictator Mengistu, both of whom would not allow them to leave. In 1974 Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, agreed to accept them as Jews and this helped their aliya, even though many Haredi Rabbis refused to accept them as Jews and still do. In the 1980s many of them trekked across the desert to Sudan, although thousands died on the way. In 1984 they were spirited out of Sudan secretly to Israel in operations Moses and King Solomon by El Al and with the help of the US. But, eventually this route was closed and it only became possible for the rest to leave once the regime changed and wanted greater contact with the US.

Due to controversy about whether or not they are truly Jews there were bureaucratic hold-ups in their transfer to Israel and their acceptance under the "law of return." Finally most senior rabbis accepted them as Jews, allowing the MInistry of the Interior to recognize them. The Falash Mura immigrated more recently and were also accepted, but they are required to convert.

Since they came from almost a stone-age background, they had no idea what things such as planes, toilets, elevators and TVs were. Not only was it difficult for them to adapt to modern life in Israel, but they had to learn Hebrew and often how to read and write. Also, since the men had been farmers there was not much they could do in Israel and often the wives, who were younger and more adaptable, became the bread winners, thus undermining their traditional family structure. But, we should point out that this year's Miss Israel is an Ethiopian girl from Netanya named Titi and there are now Ethiopian MKs and even one Ambassador. The Ethiopian Jews are still adapting to Israel, and prejudice against them is gradually fading and in several generations it will probably be difficult to remember how hard it was for them to be absorbed here.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Kerry and the talks

US Secty of State John Kerry has arrived in Israel again and immediately interjected himself into the so-called peace process. After meeting with PM Neanyahu and PA Pres Abbas, Kerry stated that he was sure the problems that have arisen in the negotiations could be overcome. What gives him such confidence?

Prior to the resumption of negotiations, apparently Kerry asked Abbas what confidence building measures Israel would have to take to get him back to the negotiating table. Two options were offered, a release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and a partial cessation of Israeli construction in the West Bank. He chose the former, and after some clarification of details, the Israeli Govt. announced that Palestinian prisoners would be released in four groups. So far two groups have been released. There was extensive opposition in Israel to these releases because most of the released prisoners had been tried and found guilty of murdering Israeli civilians in terrorist attacks.

It was at this time that in a routine manner the relevant housing department announced tenders for 1730 housing units in the West Bank. This was not in any way connected to the negotiations or to the top levels of the Israeli Govt. However, negative reactions occured amid the celebrations in the PA for the release of the prisoners. PA spokesmen have attacked Israel for continuing construction in the WB and it was reported that the PA representative to the talks, Saeb Erekat, threatened to resign, although this was later denied. Kerry is now asking what Israel must do to get Abbas not to stop the talks. And guess what, he wants Kerry to persuade Netanyahu to stop building on the WB.

This is the usual Palestinian blackmail. Give me a concession, I'll pocket that, and then ask for more. And if you don't give it to me I'll blame Israel for the impasse. This is certainly not the behavior of anyone who actually wants a peace agreement. There is now a movement in the PA saying "no negotiations while construction continues". Such demonstrations don't occur spontaneously in the PA, they are organized by Abbas in order to put pressure on Kerry to put pressure on Israel to make further concessions, just to keep the Palestinians at the table. It really is a farce.

This morning in the J. Post they reported that Abbas and the Palestinians are upset that Kerry is not applying enough pressure on Israel to force another building freeze. What makes Kerry confident that Netanyahu has no choice but to make the concessions he demands on behalf of the Palestinians? If only PM Netanyahu could say to him, "go to hell, if you want the Palestinians to negotiate, stop paying them bribes in the form of aid." That's the only form of currency they understand.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Another glue?

I have a friend who is religious, not extrememly so, but he wears a kippah. We agree on most things, but whereas I am secular, he says that it was our religion, Judaism, that kept our people together throughout the centuries, that provided the "glue" that enabled us to survive. I can't disagree with him, he is right, it was Judaism that was the glue that held us together, but I cannot accept or believe in it solely because of that. What I need is another glue, an alternative to Judaism. For me that is Jewish nationalism or Zionism.

In all human groups there are three aspects of identity, nationality, ethnic affiliation, and belief system or religion. This is as true for a Mexican American Christian as for a German Russian Jew and an Israeli Arab Christian. In fact, the word "Jew": itself is ambiguous, as I have argued before, and stands for all three aspects, namely a person whose ancestors originate from Judea (from the tribe of Judah), whose ethnic affiliation is Jewish and whose religion is Judaism. In most cases the three categories can be separate, as in a French Algerian Muslim or can be two-fold as in an Indian Hindu, or all rolled in together as in a "Jew."

In almost every human group there are extremists, who emphasize one aspect of the trinity of characteristics over another. Thus, an Islamist is one who emphasizes the religious aspects over the national or ethnic. An Islamist wants everyone to be governed by Islam (to submit) and to give rise to a supra-national Caliphate. To him the designation of Syrian Muslim or Algerian Muslim are superfluous, everyone will simply be a "Muslim." There are some anomalies though, for example, one can be a Jewish agnostic or atheist, because being Jewish is a national and ethnic desgnation as well as a religious one, but one cannot be a Christian agnostic of atheist, since Christianity is purely a religion, you can either believe in it or not.

The question then for a Jew, who wants to remain Jewish but not be a believer in Judaism, is whether or not the "glue" of Zionism is strong enough to hold the Jewish people together in a time of secularism and assimilation. I hesitate to say "no" to this question, but I fear that it is true. The apotheosis of Zionism was the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel (some wanted to call it Judea). Once a true Zionist accepts that designation he/she then has no choice but to come and live in Israel and accept the nationality of Israeli. Otherwise it is now clear that in the Diaspora, the national designation of a Jew does not work, because it confuses people. In the West being Jewish is usually considered purely a religious connotation. If its a nationality how can you be British and Jewish at the same time, how can you be American and Jewish or German and Jewish? Actually the Germans had no confusion about this, you could not have both designations, they were mutually exclusive.

But, in a democracy the protection of minorities does allow this duality. However, many liberal-minded Jews in the West now seek simplification of their national identity by dropping the Jewish one, as exemplified in the recent Pew poll that found 20% of American Jews do not identify with Israel. They would be correct in saying, "I am not an Israeli!" but they also want to say "I am not Jewish!" They could be non-religious, non-Zionist and yet, still remain a Jew by birth and by ethnic identification. For me the transformation of becoming an Israeli citizen cements my Jewish national identity. But, for those living in the Diaspora, who are not Orthodox, a few generations may dilute their Jewish genes and their Jewish national identity.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Einat Wilf on the Impasse

Einat Wilf is a native-born Israeli who was a former MK, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Chair of the Education, Sports and Culture Committee and Chair of the Knesset Committee on Israel and the Jewish.people. She has a BA from Harvard in Government and Fine Arts and a PhD from Cambridge University in political science. She is the author of three books on politics and society in Israel. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem. She is a very articulate speaker and spoke at Netanya AACI on the topic "How to break the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse."

She spoke eloquently about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. She said that she used to believe that the conflict is about the fair division of land and other resources and therefore could be resolved through rational negotiations for the partition of these resources. But the reality of the second intifada caused her and many other Israelis to realize that the conflict was existential - that is, not about the size of Israel, but rather about it's very existence. If the Palestinians wanted to build a state, as the Zionists did, accepting anything that was offered to them, more than preventing the Jewish people from having their own state, then there might be a chance for peace. But until then it is a vain hope (1)

I would categorize her as "a conservative who was a liberal who has been mugged by reality." She realized that the Palestinians cannot acknowledge the equal legitimacy of the Jewish State and that until they can overcome this denial, no solution can be found. Although she continues to support the idea of partition of the land as a basis for resolution of the conflict, she is deeply skeptical that at this time in history this would bring about peace (2).

Einat does not expect that the current negotiations will end in any kind of useful agreement, but reiterated that even if the likelihood of peace in the near future is very low there is a responsibility of decision makers to try to make a future agreement easier rather than harder. In this context, she pointed out that UNRWA - the UN Relief and Works Agency, perpetuates the conflict by automatically defining all descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees themselves, a situation without parallel in other conflicts. This exaggerates the problem from only a few tens of thousand of still surviving actual refugees to five million, thus preventing a solution. It is this UNRWA figure, that includes up to a fifth generation, that most of the world accepts, whereas in reality a refugee is one who has left his/her country either voluntarily or under duress, NOT including their descendants. Thus the so-called "refugee problem" could easily be resolved by Israel accepting the remaining true refugees, but not their descendants. This is a bureaucratic decision by UNRWA of automatically defining descendants of refugees as refugees themselves and has no proper parallel in other conflicts and refugee situations. It could be easily overturned, if there was enough pressure to do so, such as by the US Congress, since the US supplies 25% of UNRWA's one billion $ funding (3).

Also, Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza and even in Jordan are still inside historic Palestine and therefore cannot be defined as refugees, and Palestinians who live in Jordan were given Jordanian citizenship and therefore also cannot qualify as refugees. Further, the middle class Palestinians who live in villas in Ramallah and other PA cities are still supplied services by UNRWA as if they were starving in refugee camps. This is all a tremendous shell game, an intricate facade to trick the world into believing that the Palestinian refugees constitute a terrible international humanitarian problem (3).

Einat was attending a conference in London recently with other speakers, including former British Foreign Secty Jack Straw. She prepared her remarks to counter what she expected would be the most extreme anti-Israel views from the Palestinian spokesman, but in fact Jack Straw drew the most attention for his controversial remarks. He denounced Israel for its intransigence over the settlements, he stated that Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US enjoy "unlimited funds" that divert US Government policy to prevent pressure on Israel and the Germans were preventing the EU from formulating one policy to pressure Israel due to its "obsession" with Israel. When it was later pointed out to him that these remarks drew on classic anti-Semitic prejudices, Jack Straw dismissed the charges (4).

Einat affirmed that western critics of Israel fail to have a truly coherent policy when it comes to promoting the solution of two states for two peoples. They pressure Israel on settlements but do nothing on the matter of the inflation of the number of refugees. They refuse to move embassies to West Jerusalem based on the 1947 partition recommendation, but treat east Jerusalem as belonging to Palestinians based on the post-1967 situation (5). She also said that when it comes to the West Bank and occupation, there is a case to be made that Israel has serious claims to at least part of it (6).

Einat discussed the matter of Israel's war of ideas and the importance of words and terms used in this war. She explained that this is the reason she highlights the true nature of those called "refugees." She noted that for several decades Israel has neglected the war of ideas and she called for putting substantial financial and human resources into winning this war (7).
(1) Al-Monitor
(2) "For the Palestinians Sake"
(3) "UNRWA as an obstacle to peace"
(4) Read her response to his remarks on Facebook
(5) On the matter of Jerusalem see
(6) Daniel Reisner interview,

Monday, November 04, 2013

Israel, Turkey and Syria

Israel has an established and public policy not to allow high-end munitions to be transferred from Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon. As the Syrian regime of Pres. Assad comes under more and more fire from the inusurgents it has taken to trucking some of its assets over the Lebanese border to Hizbollah. Last week there was an attack against an air base near Latakia in north-east Syria that destroyed a large cache of missiles in huge explosions. There were various reports about how this attack took place and it was revealed by the US State Dept. that this was due to an IAF air strike. They reported this as a matter of fact, although it might have been because they were miffed that Israel carried out this attack on the same day that is was announced that all the facilties for the production of chemical weapons in Syria had been destroyed by the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons under the agreement between the US and Russia that was ratifed in Security Council Resolution 2118. However, this does not yet include the destruction of the actual CW products that Syria still holds, the largest such hoard in the world.

In Istanbul, there was a public celebration of the opening of a train tunnel from the European side to the Asian side of the Turkish city. This fulfils a dream that the Turks have always had to cement their hold on the European side of Turkey to their Asian mainland. It is not coincidence that this very expensive project has been completed during the the term of PM Erdogan, whose AK party is a so-called "moderate" Islamist party. Erdogan has had anti-Israel policies for years now, especially since the Mavi Marmara incident when the Turkish ship tried to break the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza. This anti-Israel policy and this tunnel are both manifestations of Erdogan's drive to re-establish Turkey as a major inhfluential power in the Arab and the wider Islamic world. So far he has not had much success in this, since the Arabs well remember the repressive imperial control Turkey once exercised over them. But, being anti-Israel is a good way to appease the Arabs. In a recent move that indicated the degree to which Erdogan is willing to go, it was revealed that the Turkish Security Minister had passed the names of Iranian spies for Israel who had met their Israeli handlers in Turkey on to the Iranian authorities. Presumably they were all arrested, tortured and executed. I suggest in response that Israel should reveal the names of Turkish spies it knows in Greece to the Greek government, with which Israel now has friendly relations.

Ironically, Israel and Turkey, as well as the Sunni Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Gulf States, have parallel interests in seeing that Assad is defeated in order to reduce the influence of Iran in the region. So far Assad has not responded to any Israeli attacks against military convoys destined for Hizbollah and his responses against Turkish support for the insurgents has been very limited. It would be a strange situation if Israel and Turkey found themselves on the same side actually fighting in Syria against the Assad regime, but stranger things have happened.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Ten arguments against Israel

There are several arguments made by the enemies of Israel and accepted as conventional wisdom that simply do not hold water, that are based on disinformation, misconceptions and downright lies. Here are a ten of them:

1. The "occupation" is the cause of the conflict. This is baseless, since Israel did not occupy the so-called territories of Gaza and the West Bank from 1948-1967, yet during that time the Palestinians and the Arabs in general showed no sign of being prepared to resolve the conflict. Also, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, yet it has not reduced the militant anti-Israel policy of Hamas in Gaza at all. What many Palestinians mean by "the occupation" is the existence of Israel in Palestine, in other words they seek to destroy Israel, and many good liberals support them.

2. The settlements are the cause of the conflict: Also, during 1948-1967 there were no "settlements' in the "occupied territories" and yet the hatred and antagonism of the Arabs was no less. Further, during the period of 1967-1977, until the election of PM Begin, few settlements were built in the territories, yet there was no sign of any lessening of the conflict from the Arab side.

3. The israeli settlements are illegal: This is simply not true, the whole of the British Mandate, that included the territories of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza were supposed to become a Jewish State. In the protocols of the San Remo Conference of 1921 and the League of Nations Mandate for Britain of 1922, there was no provision for an Arab State west of the Jordan River (at that time the "Palestinian Arabs" did not yet exist). The sovereignty of these areas did not change from 1922 until now, since the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank (1948-1967) was never recognized as legitimate under international law. Hence Israel has a legitimate right to built there and a legitimate claim under international law to retain sovereignty of those areas. Furthermore, several settlements and blocs of settlements were inhabited legally by Jews prior to the War of Independence of 1948, including the Etzion bloc and several Gaza settlements.

4. The West Bank is Arab territory: Not true! Just because Arabs live there does not make it "Arab territory", any more than Washington DC is "Black American territory" or Kansas is "Indian sovereign territory" or eastern Turkey is "Kurdish territory." It is simply a matter of who has the sovereign right to that territory, and the Palestinian Arabs have never had sovereignty over that territory. You may think that they should have, but the fact of the matter is that they never have had!

5. There are 5 million Palestinian Arab refugees: This is a simple falsehood! Under international law the descendents of a refugee are not themselves counted as refugees. This is true of all refugees in the world under the protection of the UN High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR), except for rhe Palestinians who have their own UN agency the UNRWA, that counts descendents as refugees. The Palestinian "refugee problem" seems unsurmountable, except if you apply the usual international standard to them as to all other refugees and then you find that there are now only several tens of thousands of true Palestinian Arab refugees still surviving. By continually adding their descendents to the fourth and more generations, the supposed number of false "refugees" keeps increasing, while the actual number of true refugees keeps declining. This is how UNRWA continues to perpetuate the "Palestinian refugee problem" and keeps the UNRWA bureaucrats in jobs.

6. The Palestinian Arabs have the "right of return": This is simply not true! Under international law there is no such thing as a "right of return." There is no precedence for any such right. Noone can point to any case where refugees from a conflict have gone to court to take advantage of such a fictitious right, and no peace treaty has ever sanctioned such a right. Only under the terms of a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian representatives could any specific number of refugees be granted a right to return by the sovereign state of Israel.

7. The Palestinians deserve a State of their own: No group has obtained sovereighty over any territory by right without a struggle. There is no automatic granting of self-determination, each case has to be recognized on its merits. There are several groups that might be considered to be more deserving of a State of their own than the Palestinians, such as the Kurds (in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran), the Chechens (controlled by Russia), the Cypriot Turks (controlled by Turkey), the Baluchis (controlled by Afghanistan and Pakistan), etc., etc.

8. The Israelis treat the Palestinians as badly as the Nazis treated the Jews during WWII: This is a gross lie! It is a stain on the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered under horrific circumstances during WWII, and does not deserve to be taken seriously. Anyone who utters such tripe is being anti-Semitic, not merely anti-Israel.

9. A boycott of Israeli goods or academia will help the Palestinians: There is no basis for such a belief. Boycotts are rarely successful and in the specific case of Israel, the EU, UK and most other countries can only gain from the usual academic openness and free flow of ideas with Israeli academia. To boycott Israel would be out of all proportion to the situation whereby Israel is actually allowing scarce goods to be trucked into Gaza, when Egypt has closed all the illegal smuggling tunnels and has closed the Rafah border crossing.

10. Israel is an apartheid country: This is a gross falsehood, as any visitor to Israel can plainly see. There is no separation of any races within Israel. It is a "rainbow" nation, with black Ethiopians, Arabs and brown and white Jews from all over the world learning together, marrying and inter-mingling. The Israeli State does restrict the flow of enemy aliens such as the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, who are not Israeli citizens, who engage in terrorism against Israel, and have murdered thousands of Israeli citizens.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Jews in Opera

On Weds night Rob Coopman and Andre Boers presented a program of recordings and videos at the Emunah meeting at the New Synagogue (MacDonalds) in Netanya on the topic "Jewish aspects in opera." This was a very entertaining program that was both enjoyable and informative.

They started with the famous "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from the Opera "Nabucco" (Italian for Nebuchadnezer) by Guiseppe Verdi (1848). This chorus is based on psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." The explanation for Verdi's focus on Jewish subjects was that at that time censorship prevented open performance of political subjects, such as the unification of Italy, and the yearning of the Hebrew slaves for their freedom from exile was a convenient parallel. There is another unsubstantiated story that Verdi himself was not the natural child of his parents, but was adopted from an itinerant Jewish musician.

They then went back in time to Antonio Vivaldi, a Venetian violin virtuoso, whose baroque compositions were widely influential. Particularly his opera "Judith triumphant" (1716) that tells the biblical story of Judith who murdered the General Holofernes, which was composed to celebrate the victory of the Venetian Republic against the Turks and the recapture of the island of Corfu. The parallel of contemporary events to biblical stories was often used in opera.

They then introduced a trio of French Jewish operatic composers, Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), Fromental Halevy (1799-1862) and Jacques Offenbach (1819-80). Meyerbeer was born in Germany as Jakob Liebmann Beer, but changed his name to honor his (rich) uncle. His best known opera is "The Huguenots, " but Meyerbeer suffered greatly from anti-Semitism, particularly from his contemporary Richard Wagner, and tended to avoid overtly Jewish subjects. By contrast, Halevy tackled Jewish subjects head-on, particularly in his famous opera "La Juivre" in which his heroine and her father end up being tortured to death for being Jewish. Offenbach wrote many operas including the famous "Tales of Hoffman," from which they played the "doll song."

The Jewish opera singers they featured included Jacob Schmidt, who was an Austrian singer with an amazing voice, but unfortunately he was only 5' 2" and was too short to be an operatic hero, although he made many recordings. Also, a trio of Jewish New Yorkers, Richard Tucker, Jan Peerce and Beverly Sills. Tucker and Peerce (born Perlman) were brothers-in-law and perhaps because of that they never got along. Beverly Sills not only had a magnificent soprano voice, but eventually became the Director of the Metropolitan Opera Company, quite a feat for a poor Jewish girl born Shayna (Belle) Silverman.

They ended with George Gershwin (originally Gershowitz) whose opera "Porgy and Bess" is probably the best known American opera, and they played Sammy Davis Jr., also Jewish, singing "It ain't necessarily so."