Tuesday, December 31, 2013

15 Grandmothers

On Sunday we went to a lecture at Netanya Academic College given by Genie Milgrom from Miami, Florida, sponsored by Casa Shalom (the Inst. for Marrano-Anusim Studies) and the Intl. Inst for the Study of Secret Jews (Bnei Anusim) at the College. Genie's story is amazing, yet is now part of a world-wide movement of people of Spanish or Portuguese ancestry who are discovering their Jewish roots.

Genie described how she had a conventional Catholic upbringing and she and her whole family were quintessentially Catholic. But, Genie felt an affinity with Jews and at College started to learn about Judaism, her teacher was ironically a nun who specialized in the Old Testament. Genie was married and had two children, yet this desire to know about Judaism persisted, and at the age of 30 she made the decision to convert. She separated from her husband, and none of her siblings nor her children felt any such interest. She received an Orthodox conversion and then married an Orthodox Jew.

It was when her grandmother died that she received a shock. Her grandmother, who had never said anything to her about having Jewish origins, left her a small box and in it was a gold Magen David (Star of David) and a chamsa (good luck charm). This led her to start investigating her origins, and she soon followed her family tree back from Cuba to northern Spain, to a small isolated village near the Portuguese border named Fermoselle from which her grandparents had emigrated. With the help of a Spanish genealogist she was able to trace her family tree back over 500 years, to before the Jewish expulsion from Spain.

This extensive family tree went back 15 generations, and since she could trace a maternal ancestry that far, and the original family names were typical Sephardic Jewish ones, she decided to go to Israel and request from the Rabbinate a "certificate of return" showing that she had been Jewish by birth and actually did not need to convert. She went to Jerusalem with all her evidence, but the Rabbi rejected her request because he said that merely having the names and the family tree did not prove that she was Jewish. She had to prove that her family had been Jewish at some point and that Jews did indeed live in Fermoselle.

When she went to Fermoselle, everyone she met there denied that there had ever been Jews in Fermoselle and she could find no evidence of any Jewish presence. Also, her searching of the records of the Inquistiion produced no evidence of Jewsh practices in her family or in Fermoselle, since those records (usually controlled by the Church) meticulously document all evidence of forbidden Jewish practices in Spain during the years 1478-1834. However, she did discover that there were a warren of tunnels under the village of Fermoselle, that could have been used for secret meetings, and that these tunnels connected to others submerged under the River Duero that forms the nearby border between Spain and Portugal. It was rumored that Secret Jews (descendents of conversos, who had been forced to convert to Christianity) used these tunnels to escape from the Inquisition in Spain into Portugal.

Genie was able to trace her descendents to villages where they had settled in Portugal, and further when she examined the separate archives of the Inquisition there (held in Lisbon) that started later in Portugal (in 1536), she discovered that many of her ancestors had been investigated by the Inquisition there for carrying out practices recognized as Jewish, such as wearing clean shirts on Saturday (Shabbat), or not eating pork, etc. She also went back to Fermoselle and this time a woman she met in the Church took her to see "the synagogue" which turned out to be a private home that had many centuries before housed a synagogue and had a mikve in the basement. As she came to know people and they trusted her she was taken to see another synagogue, which this time had a clear hollow cut out of the stone to house the torah. She also found some inscriptions carved into the stones of houses which delineated the region of the ancient Juderia.

She took this evidence back to the Rabbi in Jerusalem and he issued her a certificate of return, accepting her as being Jewish from birth. This also included her own children, even though they remain practising Catholics. She has returned to Fermoselle with experts from Madrid, who are now documenting her finds and scouring the nearby villages for similar evidence of former Jewish presence. Genie Milgrom showed a short video of her experiences in Fermoselle and has self-published a book entitled "My 15 Grandmothers, the journey of my soul from the Spanish Inquisition to the present" (more details can be found at www.geniemilgrom.com).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jews are too nice

Jews are generally nice, reasonable people and in dealing with anti-Semites and those in the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement who are demonizing and trying to destroy Israel, Jews usually appeal to their reason. We don't want to do what they are doing because we are civilized, we want to be superior and to appeal to their better judgement. But, this is a misplaced tactic.

A German acquaintance once told me that what happened to the Jews during WWII was inevitable because the Jews were weak and vulnerable; he said "when you live among wolves, you must behave like a wolf." There are some who say that we should not allow the enemies of the Jews and Israel to bring us down to their level, we should be morally superior. Yet you have a choice, you can be morally superior and dead or morally compromised yet alive. As my friend Eddie, who survived the Holocaust in Europe says, "the veneer of civilization is very thin" and "to those who ask if my experience in Poland taught me to be more tolerant, I say it taught me that if you don't have sharp teeth and claws you're dog meat." As they say, "it's a jungle out there."

When I was in the Soviet Jewry movement living near Washington DC and organizing student protests, I advised the Jewish students to burn the Soviet flag at a demonstration after the death sentences were handed down for the Jewish hijackers of the Soviet plane in Leningrad in 1970. Apparently the head of the Jewish Community Council, an establishment body of which I was also a member, heard about this, and asked to see me. He told me that we must not do this, because burning their flag was descending to their level. I disagreed, and the flag was subsequently burnt on Xmas Day 1970 and we warned the press to be there. Xmas day is always a slow news day and the burning Soviet flag was seen on the front page of every newspaper around the world, expressing the outrage of the Jews at these sentences.

When people exhibit their hatred of Israel (and Jews) by demonstrating outside supermarkets and in public places, they don't appeal to the reason of their audience. They appeal to their lowest instincts by showing pictures of dead children who they say were killed by Israeli/Jewish soldiers. Doesn't matter if that was true or not, but it has the desired gut effect. We Jews need to be less reasonable and more aggressive. We need to demonstrate with placards showing the dead and injured after the bus bombings, we need to burn the Palestinian flag at demonstrations to protest their hatred of Israel. The IDF and the Israeli government press office must reverse its ruling not to show the immediate effects of bombings and shootings in Israel. Let the audience see the true results, the blood and gore. It has a visceral effect that no amount of rational pleading can have. Let others appeal to the reason of our enemies, as far as I am concerned it is a waste of time and energy. It's like plaintively saying to a Nazi, "but the Jews aren't all that bad!" We are hardly fighting a losing battle. To win the propaganda war we need to get engaged, angry and nasty!

Sunday, December 29, 2013


An Israeli Beduin from Rahat, Shukri abu Latyef (22), was shot dead last Tues while working as a civilian on the Gaza border fence. The sniper who killed the Israeli has been identified as Mohammed abu Hamsha, who had sought entry to Israel recently for humanitarian reasons, in order to improve his eyesight, but luckily he was refused, although many others are allowed in for medical reasons. In retaliation, IAF planes attacked six sites in Gaza destroying terrorist training camps and missile launching sites of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israeli PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will not accept the "drizzle" of attacks from Gaza and holds the Hamas government of Gaza responsible for all cross-border attacks. There were several other incidents, including missiles fired from Gaza and one from Lebanon into Israel, as well as approaches to the Israel border fence by groups of irregulars (terrorists without uniforms).

There are two explanations given for the upsurge of attacks. One is that whenever there are peace negotiations underway, however much the PA rejects all possible compromises, the extremists get nervous and try their best to undermine any agreement. The other explanation is that since things are so desperate in Gaza, with economic ruin because of the tunnels to Egypt being closed by the Egyptian military, and the recent rainstorm that flooded large parts of Gaza, the authorities there use the external threat of Israel as a distraction for the population, they actively seek to provoke Israel into responding. Israel does respond and it is a larger response than the original attack, but Israel also seeks to contain the conflict and not get into a full-scale military confrontation with Hamas that would be an excuse for a third intifada.

As a response to the killing, the IDF also closed the border crossing, where fuel for Gaza's one power station is transported by trucks. As a consequence, the power station closed down again, leaving Gaza without electricity. There are also shortages of food, water and medical supplies. Before anyone complains reflexively about Israel, remember that it is Egypt that caused this desperate situation by closing the tunnels and closing its Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Where are the demonstrations against Egypt for causing Palestinian suffering?

Friday, December 27, 2013

First-hand experiences of Nazi Germany

Walter Bingham (originally Wolfgang Billig) is a 90-year old journalist and broadcaster from Jerusalem who described to us at Netanya AACI his first-hand experiences of growing up in Germany during the Nazi period. There aren't too many survivors of that time left alive today. He was aged 10 living in Karlsruhe in 1933 when the Nazis took over Germany. He remembers that before the take-over everything was normal, there was no separation or persecution of Jews and he played in school with the other boys.

But, after the Nazis got 44% of the vote in 1933 and then engineered the destruction of democracy and communism with the Reichstag fire, things gradually got worse for the Jews. He described the steps that were taken against him, as the only Jew in his class at school. He was first excluded from class events and often called names and beaten up during breaks. Then he was forced to sit at the back of the class alone. None of his complaints were even considered by the teachers. During the complusory "race lessons" he was forced to bear the brunt of crude racial stereotypes. He remembered that the Mayor chose a blond girl with plaits from a class to show the superior Aryan type, and she turned out to be Jewish. During this time all the population was being indoctrinated in military units of one kind or another.

After the Nuremburg proclamations against racial mixing he was expelled from school, but Jewish schools were allowed and he continued his studies in Mannheim. This was lucky because he was absent when his father was arrested, since they were originally from Poland, but his mother was allowed to remain. His father was deported to Poland with tens of thousands of other Jews, but Poland refused to accept them. So he and the others were literally stuck in the no man's land between the two countries. Only Jewish charities were allowed to provide shelter and food for them. Things got considerably worse on Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass), November 9, 1938, when hundreds of Jews were murdered in the streets and Jewish shops and synagogues were attacked and burnt down.

This event was triggered by the shooting in Paris of the third German consul Ernst vom Rath by a Jewish youth Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were among those trapped between the German and Polish borders. Eventually Poland allowed them to return, but Walter's father was interned in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he later died. His mother arranged for Walter to get to England on the "kindertransport" that took 10,000 Jewish children by train from Germany and Czechoslovakia to England before the war started. But, he was sent alone without his parents at age 15 a month before the war started and he never expected to see his parents again.

Meanwhile Walter was sent to various places in England and received an education, but because he had a Polish passport he was conscripted into the Polish Army in exile. But, he knew they were anti-Semitic and he had never been to Poland and didn't speak Polish, so he volunteered to join the British Army. But, his name was too German sounding, so his officer advised him to change it. He didn't know what he should change it to, so he went into the village and found a telephone book and chose his new name with the same initials out of it.

He was trained as an ambulance driver. After the D-day landings he was sent to the front to assist a platoon that had been ambushed by the Germans. His ambulance was destroyed, so he went back under fire, found a new ambulance and returned to rescue the wounded men. For this he was given the MIlitary medal for bravery under fire. After the war he was married. His mother had been sent to several concentration camps, but managed to survive as a group leader who looked after her workers. Eventually she was released thru the Red Cross to Sweden, where they met again after the war and they settled in England. His cousin who could not go on the kindertransport survived in Germany hiding in the attic of a shed, kept alive by a German friend. Walter made aliyah in 2004. He has toured England, Israel and the world lecturing mainly in schools about his experiences growing up in Nazi Germany.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

American hypocrisy

It has been revealed thru the exposures of Edward Snowden and WIkileaks that the US spy agency NSA had been spying on the electronic correspondence of several Israeli Prime Ministers, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as other Israeli politicians and politicians in other European countries.

For years, in fact 29 years, Jonathan Pollard has served time in a maximum security US jail for the sin of spying on the US for Israel. He was found guilty and he did not deny his guilt, however, it has been pointed out many times that he spied on the US for the benefit of a US ally, Israel, that should have been given some of the information he passed on for its military defense. Also, the amount of time he has served is way beyond that served by other spies who in fact spied on the US for America's enemies, such as the USSR.

At the time of his trial it was emphasized that "friends do not spy on each other," and the US took a holier than thou attitude towards Pollard and Israel, and Pollard was given a life sentence. There is little doubt that the trial was tainted because then Secty of Defense Caspar Weinberger communicated directly with the judge and sent him a letter the contents of which has never been publicly revealed. Now the US has been caught spying on its friend and ally Israel. What are we to make of this hypocrisy?

We all along knew that all countries spy on each other when they have the opportunity and it was well known that the US spies very extensively on all countries, including its allies. But, this was difficult to prove in the open. Now it has been revealed in publicly available documents. After many of those involved in the Pollard case, including former US Govt officials involved in his prosecution, have called for clemency for Pollard, Pres. Obama still refuses to pardon him. It is now more than past due. A large group of Israeli Knesset members, including the Arab members, are preparing a petition to ask Pres. Obama to pardon Pollard. Israel must make a stand and make Pollard an international issue. There is only one message to give to the friendly country that spied on us, Free Jonathan Pollard!!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Individuals in history

There has always been an on-going debate among historians about whether "history makes the man or the man makes history." On the latter side of the argument, Don Silverberg gave a fascinating lecture at AACI Netanya on the the role some relatively unknown individuals played in Jewish and Israeli history. Here is a list of his selections:
Gino Bartali (1914-2000) was an Italian cycling champion from the Tuscany area. He won the Tour de France in 1938 and again in 1948. He was a friend of the Jews and during WWII he played a major role in saving the lives of many Jews. Since he was able to ride around the roads of Italy unhampered by security because he was so famous, he was able to take photos of Jews who were in hiding to a printer, who then prepared false identity cards, and he was able to deliver them back to the Jews, who could then come out of hiding and use them. He hid the documents inside his tires. In this way he saved countless Jewish lives. His life was memorialized in a book entitled "Road to valor" by McConnon (2012).
Miklos Nemeth (1948- ) served as PM of Hungary 1988-90, during the tumultuous years that led to the collapse of communism in eastern europe. Earlier in his political career he was MInister of Agriculture and was responsible for a successful reform of the agricultural system in Hungary. At the same time Mikhail Gorbachev was Agriculture MInister in the USSR and came to see Nemeth to obtain advice on reforming the USSR's moribund agricultural sector. As a result they became friends. When Gorbachev was President of the USSR in the same period (1988-91) he was contacted by Nemeth who urged him to release the Jews of the USSR. Many others had tried without success, but Nemeth was persuasive and Gorbachev initially agreed to release the Soviet Jews by train through Hungary. Nemeth was also responsible for allowing East Germans to enter Hungary from Czechoslovakia and to leave thru Austria to West Germany, thus playing a key role in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communist East Germany.
Dimitar Peshev (1894-1973) was Bulgarian Minister of Justice and Dep. Speaker of the General Assembly before and during WWII. When the Germans invaded Bulgaria in 1944 and wanted to deport all the Jews, Peshev was instrumental in rallying Bulgarian leaders to oppose the orders of Adolf Eichmann. This was done even though Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany. Most of the 50,000 Bulgarian Jews survived and immigrated to Israel in the Jaffa area and there is a square with a fountain in the center of Jaffa named Peshev Square in his honor.
Menachem Begin (1913-92) is of course famous as one of the pioneers and PMs of Israel. But, in a little known incident he saved the future state of Israel. The armed forces of the nascent state of Israel had no heavy weapons. Begin's militia, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (National Army Organization) known as "Lehi," stopped a train bound from Haifa with heavy mortars for the Arab forces. They used these in the battle for Jaffa. The British had decided secretly to hold on to the port of Jaffa after leaving Palestine, in order to assist the Arabs in invading Israel. By attacking Jaffa and forcing it to surrender Lehi stopped this plan and Begin saved the State from a sea invasion. For this reason the Museum of Lehi is situated on the seam line between Tel Aviv and Jaffa on the Mediterranean shore.
Alan Turing (1912-54) was a British mathematician who developed the first computer named Colossus in 1943 to assist in the decoding of the German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park. These supposedly indecipherable codes were broken by Turing and his team, that allowed the Allies to know the German plans in advance. Thus, Gen. Montgomery knew the plans of Rommel at Alamein and was victorious. Also, the Russians knew the plans of Hitler to attack Moscow in advance and were able to defeat him in the biggest tank battle in history at Kursk. Without Turing's genius the allie's victory would have been uncertain. Unfortunately Turing committed suicide in 1954 because he was a homosexual and was persecuted by the secret service, a fact for which the current British PM David Cameron recently apologized.
John Monash (1865-1931) was a Jewish Australian engineer who rose to become the preeminent General and military expert during WWI. He pioneered the coordination of different armed forces, aerial, artillery, tanks and infantry and was recognized as a military innovator. Before the war a Melbourne golf club refused him entry because he was a Jew, but after the war they invited him and he refused. HIs methods were used by all armed forces in WWII and by the IDF in the war of independence..
Ronald Ross (1857-1932) was responsible for the discovery of malarial parasites in the specific Anopheles species of mosquito. He was born and grew up in India, where malaria was a scourge. His predecessor Laverne discovered parasites in human blood and others had speculated that the vector was the mosquito, but it was Ross who made this significant discovery in 1897 and won the Nobel Prize in 1902. It was because of the prevalence of malaria that Arabs sold land that they considered worthless to the Jews of Palestine for exorbitant sums, including the Jezreel Valley and the coastal strip from Hadera to Tel Aviv. It was because of Ross's work that these swamps were drained and sprayed and the mosquitos were removed and people could then settle there.
Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1947) was a Swedish diplomat who was employed by the US War Refugee Board to try to save the Jews of Hungary during WWII. As a neutral he had diplomatic immunity, and he used the funds given to him, principally from Jewish sources, to buy apartments in Budapest, where he placed Jews with papers declaring them under his protection. By the time he arrived in July 1944 ca. 500,000 Jews had already been deported and murdered, but 150,000 remained, and Wallenberg saved a large proportion of them. Towards the end of the war, Eichmann left his deputy in Budapest to organize the murder of the Jews, but Wallenberg went to see him and told him that if he did this he would personally make sure he was the first on the list of Germans executed by the Allies after the War, but if he stopped it, then he would ensure that he was not executed. This argument was persuasive, all deportations of Jews from Budapest were stopped and all 150,000 Jews survived, as did this Nazi. Any other person might have tried to do the same, but Wallenberg had a unique combination of bravery and audacity that enabled him to accomplish what seemed impossible.
All of the above individuals are merely a few of the hundreds and thousands of individuals who through their own actions made the interconnecting web of history actual.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

More incidents

A serious terrorist incident was averted yesterday in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, when a child noticed an unattended bag under a seat. He notified the driver, who stopped the bus and ordered everyone off. A passenger foolishly decided to investigate and opened the bag and found wiring inside. When the police arrived in 4 mins, a sapper was investigating the bag when it exploded, injuring him. There were no casualties, but the bus was destroyed. The security services are searching for the perpetrators of this terrorist bomb.

In two other incidents Palestinian Arabs tried to stab IDF soldiers at checkpoints, but failed and were captured, in one case three men were arrested together. In three separate incidents IDF troops fired on Gaza civilians approaching the border fence, and in one case someone who tried to attach an explosive to the fence was shot and killed.

There has been a small upsurge in terrorist incidents in Israel recently. Analysts attribute this to the lack of control by Pres. Abbas and his Fatah party in the camps and towns of the PA. Also, the Gaza strip is under serious economic and humanitarian difficulties since Egypt closed the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border and there was the bad storm last week that inundated Gaza. Israel has been exporting emergency supplies of food paid for by the UNRWA and fuel paid for by Qatar into Gaza.

The Christians in Gaza are in dire straits. There are only 2,500 of them left and they are under constant attack by Islamic extremists. Similarly in Bethlehem, many of the Christians have left due to Islamic pressure. Nevertheless, there is a holiday spirit in Bethlehem and the decorated and lighted Christmas tree is standing in Manger Square. Happy Christmas and merry New Year to all my readers.

PS. For those who are interested I have posted my latest painting, a portrait of my wife Naomi, on my web site (www.jackcohenart.com/recent )

Monday, December 23, 2013


No, this has nothing to do with the famous phrase of the Cold War, "I'd rather be dead than red!" This has to do with the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal or the so-called Red-Dead canal. Actually, those who know the history may remember that the first proposal of this kind was to build a Mediterranean Sea - Dead Sea canal, the so-called Med-Dead Canal, all within Israel, that would supply hrydroelectricity due to the decline of ca. 1 mile from the Med to the Dead Sea and also would replenish the Dead Sea with salt water. But, this was dropped partly for security reasons in favor of a Red Sea -Dead Sea canal, which would produce the same drop and the same amount of salt water, but would be a much longer canal and would require the involvement of the country of Jordan.

Last week in an unprecedented event, Israel, Jordan and the Palestine Authority signed an agreement to develop the waters of the Red Sea and the Dead Sea for mutual benefit. However, this is no Red-Dead Canal project, rather it is a toned down much smaller version that basically requires water sharing between the three entities. The actual agreement requires the building of a large de-salination plant at Aqaba port on Jordan's Red Sea coast, that would share potable water with Eilat. Also, Israel will share potable water from its desalination projects in the north with the PA and Jordan. In the Red-Dead Canal project the desalination plant was to have been built at the Dead Sea and would have been run by hydroelectricity generated from the water drop to the Dead Sea. Also, although the salinated brine that is a by-product of the desalination plant, could have been piped to the Dead Sea to replenish its water level, it is not actually included in the current plan and the brine will simply be recycled into the Red Sea at Aqaba.

One looks for grand designs and grandiose plans to exploit the natural advantages of the topology of the coutnry. But, this is not such a plan. However, it is a good start in that direction, and a good sharing of essential resources for mutual benefit. The building of a railway link from Eilat to Ashdod will definitely encourage the development of infrastructure in the region and hopefully the exploitation of the hydroelectric potential of the Red-Dead Sea Canal project can't be far behind.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

China and Israel

The visit of Chinese FM Wang Yi to Israel last week represents a further move by Israel, as by Egypt and the other Sunni Arab States, to reduce their dependence on Obama's America and expand their base of cooperation with other major world powers. This can be seen as a historic process, whereby the weak foreign policy of Obama has persuaded its Middle Eastern allies that they can no longer depend on the unipolar superpower that was the US and that they must look to other powers to expand their horizons. This is true even though Russia and China have been supporting Iran in its defiance of the international community thru the UN. The fact that Iran has been prepared to negotiate an interim 6 month deal with the P5+1 powers (US, France, China, Russia, UK and Germany) has a great deal to do with the compliance of China and Russia in this process.

PM Netanyahu visited China in May and now Wang has reciprocated by visiting Israel for the first time. In their joint press conference in Jerusalem, PM Netanyahu said, “Our strengths complement one another. China has massive industrial and global reach. Israel has expertise in every area of high-tech. And I think the combination could be very, very beneficial to China and of course to Israel. Especially with regards to the fields we are talking about: science and technology, water management, agriculture, green energy and health services. Likewise we want to increase cooperation between us in global transportation. I would like to talk to you about the rail road that will connect Asia and Europe, by going from the port of Eilat on the Red Sea to the Ashdod port on the Mediterranean. I believe this is important to global and Chinese commerce.”

So this is no sentimental visit, but one in which real tangible benefits could accrue to both China and Israel through mutual cooperation. Given that China is now the second largest economy in the world after the US, it is both expedient and timely for Israel to develop this alliance. Time will tell if the weakening of the US power in the world is merely a temporary event or part of a long term levelling process whereby countries like the so-called BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Italy, China and S. Africa) enhance their economic and military power relative to the USA. It will certainly help Israel's economic development if the rail link from Eilat to Ashdod, bypassing the Suez canal, becomes operational for the transport of trade between the far east and Europe.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Palestinians in Syria

It was reported in the Jerualem Post, based on Palestinian sources, that a total of 1,807 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian war. That is much more than have been killed by Israel in the last 20 years of incessant conflict. There are two reasons why the Palestinians have been killed, first because the Syrian Government under Pres. Bashar Assad regard the 500,000 or so Palestinians living in Syria as part of the enemy engaged in the insurrection against them. Thus, the major Yarmuk Palestinian camp near Damsascus has been under siege for 156 days and the Syrian Army is not allowing any supplies, food, medicine and water, into the camp. If Israel did this there would be major demonstrations around the world from the liberal supporters of the Palestinians. However, there is not a peep when Syrians kill Palestinians, that's acceptable.

Another source of the dead Palestinians is volunteers from Gaza and the West Bank going to Syria to fight in the ranks of the opposition forces. There are hundreds of committed fighters who are usually Sunni Islamists who oppose the Shia-based Awalekite regime of the Assads. Even though the Assads were considered the leaders of the former so-called "rejectionist front" that rejected any compromise with Israel, that was not enough, because they are also pro-Iranian and pro-Shia. Notably Hamas, the Palestinain Muslim Brotherhood, had it headquarters in Damascus for many years, but last year after the fighting intensified, the Head of Hamas in Syria Khaled Mashaal, moved his operation form Syria to Egypt, where then MB Pres Morsi was a supporter. Now, however, Morsi is going on trial in Egypt under the military regime with charges of supporting terrorism, including his ties with Hamas. This is a complex web of the Sunni-Shia historic conflict.

The consequences of the Palestinians fighting in Syria are unknown. As with many other nationals, including British Muslims of whom ca. 25 were recently documented by British government sources. They will constitute a hard-core of Islamists, who have been radicalized and militarily trained. When the Syrian conflict is over, if it ever is, then these fighters will return to their home countries and constitute another source of instability. Just as after the Afghan war with the Soviets, the al Qaeda organization sprouted from their ranks, so after the Syrian civil war, the world will be in for another round of Islamic terrorism. I hope Israel is keeping its eyes on the Palestinian vounteers in Syria, just as every western country must guard itself against its home-grown radical Islamists.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Soldier shot dead

In an apparent isolated incident an IDF soldier, Staff Sgt. Major Shlomi Cohen (31) from Afula, was shot dead while driving near the Israeli-Lebanese border at Rosh Hanikra. He was driving alone at night, and was on an official mission. His murderer was apparently a Lebanese Army soldier, who fired 7 shots into the jeep at close range. The IDF returned fire and later, seeing suspicious movements near the border, shot at two persons, who were hit. But, the reports from Lebanon do not indicate whether or not they were wounded or killed. The Lebanese government issued a statement that someone had been arrested for this shooting.

According to reports 44 Israelis have been killed in shooting incidents in the past 2 years, mostly by Palestinians. It is a continuous problem, apparently in most cases there is no organized attack by a specific terrorist organization, but individual Arabs randomly open fire at Israelis, both soldiers and civilians. The IDF announced that it does not wish to escalate the situation and so there will be no large-scale response. But, patrols near the border have been beefed up and the IDF is on the alert. The UN Secty. Gen Ban-ki Moon also denounced the shooting and issued a call to both sides to exercise restraint. Israel announced again that it considers any attack from Lebanon to be the responsibility of the Lebanere Government, and there were contacts between the two Governments.

Such incidents remind Israelis that we are constantly under attack, with enemies in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. Even when undertaking direct negotiations with the Palestinians, organizations such as the American Studies Association, as reported today, vote to boycott Israeli academics, and what for? Do we treat the Palestinians any worse than the Chinese treat the Tibetans, or the Syrians treat their own people, or the Egyptians treat the Islamists or the Ukrainians or the Thais treat each other. No, of course, not, objectively the Palestinians manage to live quite well thank you, and they are not under "occupation". Yet the objective situation makes no difference to these western liberals, the singling out of Israel for an academic boycott makes them guilty of anti-Semitism. We are being sniped at by Lebanese soldiers, Palestinian extremists and western liberals.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lost tribe fever

In the fourth and last of her series on "Exotic Jewish communities," Gabriella Licsko focused on the many tribes around the world that either claim descent from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, or had definite Jewish ancestry in the past, or have at some point in time converted to Judaism.

There has always been a historical fascination to try to find the so-called "ten lost tribes," who had been the inhabitants of the northern state of Israel, who in 720 bce were conquered by the Assyrians and taken into exile. Actually there were about nine and a half lost tribes, since some of Shimon and Benjamin as well as Levy and Judah remained in the southern State of Judah (or Judea to the Romans). They were in turn conquered later by the Babylonians and were exiled from 597 bce, but were allowed to return to the land of Zion in 538 bce. But, the tribes that were taken by the Assyrians vanished from history. In the Talmud they are described as living beyond the Sambation River.

In 1650, Manassah Ben Israel, a Dutch Rabbi, published a book entitled "The hope of Israel" that appealed to the British protestants and that postulated that until the Jews were spread all around the earth the Messiah could not come (or return as the Christians believed). Since Jews were excluded from Great Britain, Manassah met with Oliver Cromwell and persuaded him to admit the Jews (see "Cromwell and the Jews," 14/11/13). Then many people began to search for the lost tribes in newly discovered lands. In the 19th century it was a popular belief that the American Indians were descended from the lost tribes. The Mormons also considered themselves a "lost tribe."

Here are a few of those who claim descent from one or other of the lost tribes: Ethiopian Jews, one theory of their origin is that they are descended from the tribe of Dan (see "Ethiopian Jews," 8/11/13); Bnei Israel, from north-west India, claim to be descended from the tribe of Zevulun, because their ancestors were sea-men (see "Indian Jewish communities," 26/11/13); Bnei Menashe, are a tribe of Burmese origin living in north-east India, that claim to be descended from the tribe of Manassah (see "Indian Jewish communities," 26/11/13).

We do not know what happened to the ten tribes, they could have either inter-mixed or remained intact. Since they were taken to central Asia, it is not impossible that traces of their presence remains. There are reports that the Pashtun, a large tribal group of many millions located between Pakistan and Afghanistan have several remaining Jewish customs and have a tribal belief in descent from the Jews, but this is certainly unproven. Also, since the Taliban, the most fearsome Islamic warriors, come from the Pashtun, it would be extremely dangerous to acknowledge this connection.

There are several groups around the world that claim descent from Jewish ancestors:
The Lemba; A tribe of ca. 50,000 Black Africans living in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who have many Judaic customs and claim to be descended from the Cohanim. They keep kashrut and Shabbat, do not intermarry with other tribes and are circumcised. It is not inconceivable that they had Middle Eastern origins. In genetic tests their leaders were found to carry the Cohanim gene markers.
Chinese Jews of Kai-feng, were undoubtedly descended from Jewish traders along the silk road, who settled in Kai-feng, China. They were not persecuted but over centuries they intermarried with the Chinese so that they became indistinguishable. They had a synagogue in 1136 ce and had only 9 specific surnames. They suffered in the "cultural revolution" under Mao. There are a few survivors, maybe 900 in China who identify as Jews and ca. 100 living in Israel, where they must convert. Although they had a hard time in Israel some of them are employed as translators and guides for Chinese tourists to Israel.
Igbo of Nigeria; These are Nigerian Blacks who claim to be of Jewish descent, probably from Judaized Berbers who crossed the desert fleeing from the Muslims and settled in Nigeria, where they established a Kingdom in the late middle ages. There are about 20,000 of them

Also, around the world there are several groups that at one time or another converted to Judaism, although their practices are not always what we would call "normative Judaism." Among these are:
Subbotniks; A group of Russian peasants whose forebears rejected the idea of the trinity in Christianity and chose Unitarianism in which Jesus is regarded as a man without Godly powers. They emphasized the Old Testament and switched from Sunday to Saturday worship and were circumcised. Some then further converted to Judaism beginning about 200 years ago and intermarried with Ashkenazi Jews. They were persecuted and exiled to Siberia by the Czars and then persecuted by Stalin and the Nazis. Some made aliyah and for example Gen. Raful Eytan, the Israeli Chief of Staff in the Yom Kippur War was descended from Subbotniks.
Szombatosok, were a group of Hungarian Christians who became Sabbatarians (worshipping on Saturday not Sunday) starting in 1588. They were from remote villages in Transylvania whose ancestors developed Unitarianism, denying the trinity and many of them adopted Jewish customs, although at first they were not circumcised. Eventually many of them converted to Judaism in 1868 and many were murdered by the Nazis, but some of their descendents now live in Israel.
Bnei Moshe; these are the so-called Inca Jews, a community of Peruvians who from the 1960s adopted Jewish practices under the influence of two brothers named Villanueva in Trujillo, Peru. They adopted the Old Testament and Hebrew and have a synagogue. In the 1990's they officially converted and some made aliyah, mainly to the territories. There are about 1,000 of them and they are devoted Orthodox Zionist Jews

Another group of Jews are the "Secret Jews" (Marranos or Bnei Anusim) who were forcibly converted to Christianity and then persecuted by the Inquisition. Many fled to the periphery of the Spanish-Portuguese empires, to Mexico, South America and elsewhere. For example, there are believed to be millions of their descendents living in Brazil. In one specific case the King of Portugal, after the massacre of Jews in Lisbon in 1505, took thousands of Jewish children and sent them to the Atlantic islands of Sao Tome and Cape Verde, where their ancestors live today, still practicing a form of Judaism.

In addition to the above, it is quite likely that there are many Arabs, especially Palestinians, who could claim descent from local Jews who were conquered and converted to Islam after the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in 637 ce. There are other groups, such as the Black Hebrews of Dimona, Israel, but space prevents an adequate description of all of these groups. It should be noted that Michael Freund and his organization Shavei Israel, has been working to bring some of these groups, particularly the Chinese Jews and the Bnei Anusim back to Judaism.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Blood type

Whose blood is not good? It seems that the Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross) had a drive collecting blood at the Knesset last week, when MK Pnina Tamanu-Shata came along and offered to donate blood. She was told by the technicians that her blood would be taken and frozen, but would not be included in the pool of blood that was being prepared for use in transfusions for surgery, etc. Why was this? Because she is Ethiopian, and in past experiences it has been found that the blood of Ethiopians contains various infective agents, including HIV. This is because of their origin in Africa, as well as the unhygenic conditions under which many of them lived there. As a result, the MDA issued a directive, that all blood donated by Ethiopians be separated from the general blood pool donations in Israel. Of course, immediaely MK Tamanu-Shats accused the MDA of racism, and as a result of the controversy the blood collection in the Knesset was stopped.

The question is, is this really a case of racism, or is this merely a technical issue whereby the MDA seeks to keep the national blood pool free from infective agents? The technicians at the Knesset were merely following the protocol that the MDA has used for several years. Of course, the MDA is neither a racist organization, nor are its directives racist. They do not restrict the collection of blood from black people per se, nor any other kind of race. They are merely being cautious in screening out donors that might infect the national blood supply.

These kind of exclusions have occurred before. For example, in the US and around the world there was a time when all homosexuals were forbidden to donate blood because ot the fear of the contamination with HIV. Now with the quick methods to analyze for HIV, these general exclusions are no longer necessary. Another example, residents of the UK between certain dates are forbidden to donate blood in Israel. This is because of the outbreak of "mad cow" disease in the UK and the possible transfer to humans, in Kreuzfeld-Jakob disease. Both of these diseases result in brain degradation and are fatal. Although many Brits living in Israel resent this exclusion, no-one would declare that it is racism against British people.

I presume that MK Tamanu-Shats would not criticize the use of profiling by Israeli security that prevents terrorists of likely origin from getting on Israeli airplanes, even though others might call this racist. I note that in the US, the American Red Cross uses profiling to protect the blood supply, but to protect their airports American security does not. Perhaps they should.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Israel paralyzed

The whole country of Israel was paralyzed over the weekend due to the worst snowstorm in 60 years. In Jerusalem ca. 40-50 cm of snow fell, bringing the capital to a standstill. All roads in and out of the city were closed after people left their cars in snowdrifts blocking the routes. Israel Railways obtained permission from the Chief Rabbi to run trains on Shabbat for emergency services. Snow fell in many locations from the Golan, thru Tsvat (Safed), Efrat (100 cm), Bethlehem and into the Negev. The coast had record rainfall and low temperatures.

It is not only that Israel is not used to dealing with snow, but this level of snowfall was unpredicted, and the snow fell consecutively over two days, Fri and Sat. Emergency crews were out sanding and salting the main roads in Jerusalem overnight, but this had little effect. Although Sunday is predicted to be without snowfall, nevertheless the worst consequences of the snowfall are expected to be felt today. About 100 people who were stranded in Jerusalem, due to cars breaking down and buses not running, were put up overnight in the Jerusalem Convention Center (Binyanei Ha'ooma). In addition, freezing temperatures have left a layer of ice making roads very dangerous, especially those in the mountainous regions around Jerusalem. Also, the weight of snow and ice has caused many electircal cables to break, leading to danger of electrocution. Over 10,000 homes were left without electricity and heat overnight although this number has been reduced today to about 30,000. The number of deaths attributed to the storm is four.

Certainly Jerusalem looks very pretty in the snow. US secty of State Kerry, who was stranded for a short time in Jerusalem on a brief visit, admired the scenery before taking off for Asia. He had further talks with PM Netanyahu and Pres. Abbas in Ramallah and stated that the negotiations were not frozen like the weather. However, people were warned not to try to dirve to Jerusalem to see the scenery covered in white as it is far too dangerous. The emergency services are now removing about 50-100 cars blocking the main roads in and around Jerusalem in order to open up traffic. Route 1, the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is currently open only to public transport and private cars are not allowed. Israel has great computer and cyber capability, but until now cannot cope with the white stuff.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Nelson Mandela certainly deserved the accolades he received in honor of his death at age 95. He alone and virtually single-handedly avoided a predicted racial bloodbath in South Africa. After spending 27 years in prison he retained his sense of humanity and showed no overt bitterness towards the white leaders and politicians who were responsible not only for his imprisonment, but also for the terrible depredations on the Blacks of South Africa, including murders and massacres. But, although he remained a staunch proponent of racial harmony and co-existence, he failed to acknowledge Jewish national rights to re-settle in their homeland. He was also a revolutionary who supported the PLO, and called Yasir Arafat a "freedom fighter," and retained friendly relations with Fidel Castro of Cuba and with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Mandela's definition of a "rainbow nation" that was applied to South Africa, and has also been applied to the US and other multicultural nations, allowed for Jews to be part of that nation, but as believers in Judaism, not as Jews with a separate nationhood. Since the PLO had supported the ANC with arms and training, Mandela felt that he owed allegiance to the PLO in its struggle with Israel. He and others on the left have a simplistic view that categorizes Israel as a neo-colonial regime, with no "native" roots in Palestine, who are simply persecuting the native Palestinian Arabs. The fact that this ignores all of history is convenient for this world view, in which imperialism is a means used by the "white man" in order to suppress the rights of the "native" (black or brown) peoples. This also ignores the terrible "imperialistic" massacres carried out by one black tribe or nation against others, such as in Rwanda, the Congo, Sudan, Mali, Somalia, etc., none of which Mandela was able to prevent.

It is this blind-spot, that sees a clear dichotomy between the colonialists and the natives that is at fault in many areas of conflict, including the Middle East. The history of the Jews returning to the Land from 1865 onwards is ignored, the national aspirations of the Jews do not fit into this simplistic analysis, so Zionism is considered a "form of racism" while Arab nationalism is "kosher." But, when it transpires that Muslim extremism, as in Hamas in Gaza, is the motivating force behind Palestinian aspirations, it is difficult if not impossible for these idealist leftists to comprehend the nature of the problem. Let me give a further example, while Jews were being transported during WWII to the gas ovens in the concentration camps in Europe, Mahatma Ghandi, a truly great man and a believer in non-violence, gave the Jews advice, in effect he said, "refuse to be intimidated, stand up to the Germans with non-violence and they will see the error of their ways." He also advised the Jews of Palestine to forego violence and depend on the goodwill of the Arabs. Only really intelligent men like Ghandi and Mandela can be that stupid. They were lucky to have as their adversaries men who were not remorseless murderers but who ultimately had a sense of civilization and scruples.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hair today

I realized the other day that I have no control over my beard. It grows on me at its own rate, autonomously. In my studies of inter-planetary life forms, I have come across other self-actuated systems that have infected other species. I now realize that the hair follicles are in fact a new form of inter-planetary life that have infected the human species, a parasitic threat. Your hair is taking over the world!

There is a precedent for this, mitochondria, that exist in all our cells and control their energy production, are thought to have been derived from foreign bacteria that infected the cells and combined with them to make them what we now call human. If they could do it, so could the hair follicles. Note that the hair follicles have invaded the most sensitive areas of our body, our heads and our genitals. They are damn clever.

Of course, there is a short term solution to this problem, cut it! But, that won't in the end resolve the problem. Many of you think that the 1960's and the "Hair" generation was merely a fad, a form of human hysteria, but few realize that it was in fact an attempt by the hair follices to take over the human species and the world. Luckily it was prevented by two things, sharp scissors and drugs, that reduced the hair growth rate. Yes, of course, hair can get high too.

Oh, you doubt my incisive analysis of the threat! Well let me reassure you, currently things are under control. This is only because the style of growing beards and long hair went out of fashion several generations ago, mainly as an attempt to overcome the threat. But, it will come back, the hair is only waiting for its opportunity and you'll see, hair will again be growing all over the place. But, we bald men are immune, we will strike back for mankind, we will save the species from domination by this alien life-form. Long live baldness.
PS. I can get you a good discount on razors.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ukraine and Thailand

Ukraine and Thailand are rarely mentioned in the same sentence, yet they are in the news these days for similar reasons. Both countries have major urban demonstrations going on that are calling for the legitimate, elected government to be replaced.

In Ukraine, the opposition to Pres. Victor Yanukovich has been calling for his resignation over his refusal to go through with a trade deal with the EU as a step towards joining the European Union, in favor of a trade deal instead with Moscow. The reason why he has balked is that Yanukovich represents the pro-Russian side of Ukraine, mainly situated in the east, while the pro-western side consists mostly of urban dwellers in Kiev and the Polish Catholic population in western Russia. There is no doubt that the Ukraine is split between these two populations. Not only that, but it is seen as Pres. Putin of Russia bullying Ukraine into rejecting EU membership in order to extend Russian influence over the Ukraine. Further, Yanukovich was elected to replace former pro-Western Pres. Timoshenko, but in order to silence her he had her arrested and held in a hospital prison for months. Following an agreement she was supposed to be released to receive treatment in the West, but at the last moment Yanukovich reneged on the deal and prevented her from leaving. Her supporters are protesting against Yanukovich and against Russian influence.

In Thailand, the opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister who was accused of corruption, was tried and went into exile, are demonstrating against his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was duly elected PM in his place. They regard her as little more than a front for his control and they want to bring her down and prevent her brother form having influence in Thailand. Her opponents wear red and her supporters mainly in the countryside wear yellow, so there is nearly a civil war between the two groups. After weeks of protests that has brought Bangkok to a standstill, Yingluck dissolved Parliament and called for snap elections. But, the protesters are not satisfied, they still call for her to step down as PM within 24 hrs. How this situation can be resolved without major violence is unclear. At this point the powerful Thai Army is suppporting her as the legitimate elected PM of Thailand.

These situations are eerily similar to what happened in Egypt, when the Army overthrew the elected government of the Moslem Brotherhood leader, Pres. Morsi. There is no doubt that the leader in each case was democratically elected by a majority of voters, but the urban populations in each case, in Cairo, Kiev and Bangkok are determined not to be ruled by a leader of the rural majority.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Humor in the Middle East

I can categorically deny that Israel had anything to do with the assassination of the Hizbollah military leader, Hassan al-Laqqis, in Beirut on Wednesday. In fact the Israeli Government sent a condolence card, on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Hizbollah persists in believing that because the hit was a professional one, that no Arab entity could have done it, and so by process of elimination they blame Israel. Laqqis had been responsible for the Hizbollah forces fighting on behalf of Pres. Assad in Syria, and he was shot in the head at close range outside his home in Beirut. Some think that a case can be made for a Sunni extremist group, of which there are many in Lebanon, taking out the commander of the Lebanese Shia forces in Syria, in support of the Syrian opposition. Even though such a group, the Ahrar al-Sunnah Baalbek Brigade, claimed credit for his killing, Hizbollah still blames Israel. I ask you, is this fair?

Yuval Diskin, a former Head of the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, looks intelligent, but doesn't appear to be. He made a speech in which he stated that the lack of a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict was more dangerous for Israel than the development by Iran of a nuclear bomb. PM Netanyahu responded that his remarks were "divorced from reality," while other analysts were somewhat more critical. What is it with these former heads of Israeli intelligence, as exemplified in the documentary film (that I have avoided seeing) called "The Gatekeepers," in which they not only "spill the beans" on Israel's intelligence failures, but confess to their own stupidity. How is it that such men rise to the top of one of the most respected intelligence organizations in the world and then come out so absurd? I know the answer, they are all actually Palestinian plants. Only Palestinian intelligence (a contradiction in terms) could be that stupid!

Did Arafat die a natural death, was it AIDS as many suspect, or was he killed by radioactive polonium poisoning, the current fashionable way for world leaders to die? Three independent labs, one each in France, Russia and Switzerland, were given samples of Arafat's flesh, bones and soil from his grave to analyze. The results are in and its 2:1 in favor of, guess what, no polonium! Yes, that's right, the Russian and French (police) labs both found not a trace of polonium, while the Swiss one did find some. But, wait a minute, since Po-210 has a half-life of 138 days and since Arafat has been dead for 8 years it is physically impossible for any radioactivity to remain unless he was killed by more Po-210 than Russia has in its arsenal. Ok, so the moral of this story is - don't trust Swiss labs! And by the way, how much did his widow Suha Arafat pay them?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Kerry's gift

County Kerry, Ireland, is the home of Killarney and the people who come from there are known to have the "gift of the gab" and can speak a wonderful blarney. Likewise US Secty of State John Kerry, who is currently visiting Israel, has a wonderful way with the words.

After leaving Israel last time he warned Israel that plans to build further housing in the West Bank could bring the peace negotiations with the Palestinians to an end and cause a third intifada. In other words, he adopted the Palestinian position of threatening Israel with violence unless it makes concessions. In fact, PM Netanyahu heeded his threats and put the building of large numbers of housing units on hold for the period of the negotiations, which is to the end of the nine-month agreed period. Note that Israel already agreed to the freeing of Palestinian prisoners in four groups to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. The Palestinians also confirmed that they will adhere to the nine-month period, but since both the major Palestinian negotiators resigned, it is not clear how negotiations can continue.

This time when he arrived, Kerry was full of praise for PM Netanyahu and Israel and there were photos of them shaking hands and smiling and they had a three hour meeting that was called "constructive." Does that mean Kerry now adopted the Israeli position, or that he squeezed further concessions from Netanyahu. It is difficult to say. There are some who believe the rumors that there is a quid pro quo taking place, in other words Israel will make concessions to ensure that the Palestinians don't leave the talks, and the US will make concessions in relation to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. It might not be coincidental that the US and Israel announced a few days ago a planned major military exercise in six months, that happens to coincide with the end of the period of the interim deal with Iran and the beginning of talks for a final deal. Maybe this is a way of sending a message to Iran, cooperate of else. As I said, Kerry has a wonderful way with the words.

FM Avigdor Lieberman, newly released from court after being found innocent of all charges, gave his opinion on the situation in an interview. He said that he was grateful to the Americans for keeping contacts between Israel and the Palestinians, but that there was no chance of any peace agreement for two reasons. First there is no trust between the two sides and you can't have an agreement and peace without trust, and second you can't make peace only between leaders, there needs to be the involvement of the peoples in the peace agreement, and that simply cannot happen with the Palestinians (in Israel there is a law requiring a referendum on any agreement). Also quite eloquent for a Russian Israeli.

Friday, December 06, 2013

What kind of state?

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of her own six-man faction called Hatnua or the Movement in the Knesset, which is part of the Likud-Beitanu coalition, is also the designated head of the Israeli team negotiating with the Palestinians. This was either a very stupid or a very cynical move by PM Netanyahu to appoint Livni to this post. After all, Livni has been opposed to Netanyahu on most counts, and if it were not for her desire for power she would not have joined the coalition, like Shelly Yacimovich of Labor. She is certainly more in favor of peace with the Palestinians than most of Netanyahu's natural allies in the Likud and on the right.

One of Netanyahu's major conditions for a negotiated settlement is that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish State. But, Livni, in the midst of the negotiations, is about to oppose a bill before the Knesset declaring that Israel is the Jewish State. This is a common position of the left and the opposition to Netanyahu, namely that Israel should be classified as the State of all its citizens, and since ca. 20% of them are Arab, it is inappropriate to call it "the Jewish State."

I don't mind leftists and other anti-Jewish elements not wanting to call Israel the Jewish State. But to have a MInister of the Government coalition, and furthermore the leader of the negotiations with the Palestinians, adopt such a position publicly is downright ridiculous and galling. This is directly contrary to Netanyahu's stated position, so how can she represent the government in these discussions?

The issue revolves around to what extent Israel should be considered both a Jewish state and a democratic state. A bill before the Knesset sponsored by Israel Beitanu emphasizes the Jewish nature of the State. But, Livni has asked Hebrew University Law Professor Ruth Gavison to draft a bill that would balance these two aspects. In doing so Livni has asked Gavison to obtain opinions from around the Jewish world outside Israel. But, this is a foregone conclusion, since the predominant opinion outside Israel is that Israel should be more a democratic state than an ethnically or religiously Jewish State. Canvassing opinions from Jews abroad to some extent defeats the purpose of Israel defining itself according to the majority of its citizens' opinions.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Significant events

Sometimes I reflect upon the fact that I have been on this earth a long time. Of course, I never expected to reach the ripe old age of 75 years, but surprisingly I have done so. To celebrate this accomplishment I have been thinking about the most significant events that have happened during my lifetime, not only to me personally, but to the world.

Of course I was very small when WWII took place, but the Holocaust and the defeat of Nazism warrant as one of the major events in my lifetime, even though I was not aware of it at the time. The results of WWII and the Holocaust have affected my life deeply, probably more than any other event in my lifetime.

Second to that was the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. I was 10 years old at the time, but I can't say that I consciously remember anything about that event. However, its consquences have affected my life in a positive way. I first came here in 1963 and then lived here with my wife and child in 1964-6 and came back to live permanently in 1996.

My personal favorite event was the Six Day war of 1967, when Israel was surrounded by Arab armies intending to "wipe it off the map," yet miraculously Israel defeated them in 6 days. It was a high that lasted a long time. It presaged the subsequent development of the State and its economic and social vitality.

The next most significant event was the fall of Communism. During the Cold War, the idea that Communism and the Soviet Union would collapse under its own weight was fanciful. The first indication I had, that ironically it would be the economic failure of Communism due to its need to control a huge Empire, came in an article in Science magazine that predicted the collapse, although I have not been able to find that article, yet I remember thinking at the time, "wow, wouldn't that be great." Concomitant with the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union was the mass movement of Soviet Jewry, of over 1 million people, to Israel. I like to think that I had a small hand in this as a Soviet Jewry activist in Washington DC.

Perhaps not yet clearly in focus are the results of the so-called "Arab Spring" uprisings in much of the Arab world in the past few years. I like to think of them much as the paroxysms of the various revolts in Europe, such as the French revolution, that led to a free secular Republican France. But, so far the Arab countries have been debilitated and their militaries weakened by these internecine wars, particularly in Syria, which is good news for Israel. The final event that I would like to see in my lifetime is the denuclearization, by diplomatic or military means, of Iran. Once this threat to Israel is achieved then no foreseeable power will be able to threaten our existence.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


I believe very much in reciprocity as the basis for equitable treatment and fairness in relation to the Israeli/Arab conflict. For example, everyone knows that the Palestinians claim the whole of Palestine as theirs and seek to destroy the Jewish State that exists in part of Mandatory Palestine. But, equally, the Jews claim the whole of British Mandatory Palestine as their homeland to constitute the Jewish State of Israel. Certainly there is the fact of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land long before the Arabs came on the scene and conquered the Land as late as the 7th century ce. Then there is the legal basis to the Jewish claim as exemplified in the Balfour Declaration of the British Government of 1917, the San Remo peace conference of 1922 that gave this Declaration the force of international law and the British Mandate of the League of Nations under the peace treaty of Lausanne of 1922 that required a Jewish homeland to be established in Palestine, but said nothing of an Arab homeland. The Arabs got the French Mandate of Syria/Lebanon and the British Mandate of Mesopotamia/Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt .

In order to prevent the existence of a Jewish State the armies of the Arab countries attacked and invaded Palestine, but were defeated time and time again by the forces of the Jewish State. Now you have the well-established and viable Jewish State of Israel having to deal on equal terms with a truncated and unsustainable Palestinian entity, that is split irrevocably between two competing Arab ideologies. Is this true reciprocity? By calling the Jewish State an "occupying power" and invoking Geneva conventions and trying to delegitimize it in the UN, the Arabs hope to undermine the State of Israel. What has not succeeded in the past will not succeed now. It is purely a desperate last gasp by those who have already lost the wars. They single out Israel for uniqely biased treatment, 9 anti-Israel resolutions so far in the current UN General Assembly, while no other country is criticized. Anyone who believes in fairness will have to acknowledge that this is bizarre and unjustified treatment.

Now let us consider the refugees of the conflict. Some 750,000 Palestinian Arab refugees left the area that was to become Israel and were labelled "refugees." Equally some 850,000 Jews left Arab lands (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria), most of whom (ca. 650,000) settled in Israel. But, these Jews were never registered as refugees by UNRWA, the UN agency that was established to help the Palestinian refugees, or by the UNHCR, the UN agency that adminsters to all other refugees except Palestinians. How is it that the Palestinian Arabs get such preferential treatment, cradle to grave welfare, while the Jews from Arab lands have received nothing? Is this fair, is this reciprocal? Note that the number of actual Palestinian refugees have decreased now (after 65 years) to a few tens of thousands, while UNRWA counts all their descendents, so that the number of Palestinian "refugees" according to them have ludicrously increased to 5 million! Is this equitable?

November 29 is the 66th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan that established the legal framework for the Jewish State in Palestine. Let's use this anniversary to push for equitable treatment of Israel and reciprocity in all aspects of the Israel-Arab dispute.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Sugihara and the Jews

Sunday I saw a movie entitled "Conspiracy of kindness" at the AACI about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during WWII. The movie was shown by Naftali Bet-Ram, a retired professor from Touro College, New York, who provided some commentary.

Although Japan became an ally of Nazi Germany in the Axis powers during WWII, nevertheless they refused to introduce anti-Semitic laws in Japan and treated the Jews who came under their control with respect. It should be noted that the Japanese Government had a positive view of the Jews for one main reason. When they wanted to go to war with Russia in 1902 they could not find any banker to finance their plans, except for Jacob Schiff of New York, who loaned them m$200, which was a huge sum. When the surprised Japanese envoy asked him why he gave them the loan Schiff replied, "as a banker I should not give you this loan, but as a Jew I must give it to you," and then he wished them luck in defeating the Russians, which they did in the Russo-Japan war of 1904. In the 1930s a serious proposal had been floated called "the Fugu Plan" that Jews who were being forced to flee Europe should be settled in Manchuoko, the name given to the Japanese-puppet colony of Manchuria that Japan had captured from China. But, the American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise rejected this proposal before the anti-Jewish atrocities in Europe became known and by then it was too late.

Chiune Sugihara had become a Japanese diplomat and had learnt Russian and German. He was instrumental in buying the Manchurian railway from the Russians and was involved in learning the plans of the Russians prior to WWII. In other words he was a diplomatic spy, and he was then sent to the Japanese Embassy in Berlin. From there he was sent to the Embassy in Helsinki, and then he set up a consular office in Kaunas, Lithuania, which was closer to the Russian border. Then Lithuania was invaded by the Russians and they ordered all foreign Embassies to close. During this period thousands of Polish Jews fled to Lithuania from the advancing German Army. They brought with them tales of the atrocities carried out against the Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.

One day Sugihara was in a store in Kaunas when a young Jewish boy named Solly Ganor came in. He asked his aunt who owned the store for money to go to a movie, and she demurred. Sugihara then offered the boy the money, but he refused it, saying that he could not accept money from strangers. Sugihara told him to consider him an uncle. Whereupon the boy said, if you are my uncle you must come to our Chanukkah party. So Sugihara went to the family Chanukkah Party with his wife and children, and learnt about Jewish customs. There Sugihara also learnt about the anti-Jewish atrocities being commited by the Germans in Poland and reported them to his Foreign Ministry. Miraculously his correspondence with the Ministry survived the American bombing of Tokyo, when most of the Japanese Government archives were destroyed.

Quite coincidentally, a Dutch Jewish couple who had fled from Poland to Lithuania asked the nearest Dutch Embassy if they could receive a visa for the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curacao, since due to the war it was impossible to return to Holland. They were told that no visa was necessary for Curacao. They asked the Ambassador if he would write this in their passports and he complied. Soon they returned and asked for him to do the same for 30 of their Polish friends, and he did so. Eventually thousands of Jews, finding no escape from Lithuania simply wrote in their passports "no visa needed for Curacao" and used this as a destination visa from Lithuania. But, to leave Lithuania they needed two other visas, an exit visa from the Russians (who occupied Lithuania at this point) and a transit visa thru another country.

The Dutch couple approached Sugihara who worked out of his house in Kaunas as the offical Japanese Consul in Lithuania, from where he had spied on the Russians and the Germans. They asked him for a transit visa thru Japan and he gave them one. Soon his office was besieged by hundreds of Jews seeking similar visas. He cabled the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo for approval to give out transit visas, but was refused. He was refused three times, but nevertheless he started to give out visas to these desperate Jews seeking any haven, and in fact ended up giving 2,120 visas, according to the list of names that he subsequently submitted to the Ministry. Note that because he had no staff, making out these visas by hand was a herculean task.

The Rabbi of the Mir Yeshiva, whose 300 teachers and pupils had escaped from Poland to Lithuania, came to Sugihara and asked him for transit visas, and he agreed. But, in order to do the work the Mir Yeshiva Rabbi and a German volunteer worked together with him day and night. However, this is not the total of visas he gave out, even when he had closed the Consulate he continued to give out visas, even at the railway station and even on the train. In addition, noone knows how many visas were copied and forged. Yet the Russians gave everyone (except Lithuanian citizens) exit visas from Lithuania, as long as they could buy a ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock and the Japanese authorities honored all the visas, even those that were obvious forgeries.

In this way thousands of Jews manged to escape the Holocaust. Solly Ganor, who was Lithuanian, was not allowed to leave, and when the Germans captured Lithuania and the Russians withdrew, he saw the ferocity with which the Lithuanians themselves massacred Jews in the streets. He was sent with 30,000 other Jews to a Ghetto in Kaunas. From there some 10,000 Jews were taken out one day and murdered. Many of them were shot and many were thrown alive into the huge pit in the Ninth Fort, a remnant of the medieval fortifications around Kaunas. Altogether 30,000 Jews were murdered there.
Solly was lucky to remain in the Ghetto and was on a forced death march when he lost conscousness and awoke to find all the Germans soldiers gone. Then he was rescued coincidentally by soldiers of the all-Japanese American unit, the 442 regiment.

Sugihara remained in Europe after the war, but when he was ordered back to Japan he was forced to resign his post at the Foreign Ministry due to his disobeying of orders and was stripped of his pension and was officially disgraced. He did odd jobs until he returned to Moscow working in the import-export business. After 16 years living there in obscurity he returned to Japan. He was sought out by Jews who he had saved and was given the award of Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel in 1985. He was only recognized as a hero by the Japanese Government after that and all his pension amounts were repaid to his family after his death in 1986. When he was asked why he did it, he seemed not to understand the question and then replied "but anyone would have done it." He refused all attempts to glorify his name and to receive rewards. Now there are monuments to him in Kaunas and his hometown of Kamakura in Japan.

Of those Jews he saved, many were shipped out of Japan to Shanghai during the war, but none were killed. Some were given visas to Australia and New Zealand and other countries before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America entered the war. None of the Jews went to Curacao. About half of the Jews eventually made their way to Israel where they and their descendents live today. One of those he saved, Zerah Warhaftig, who was a Zionist leader in Poland, later became a Minister in the Israeli Government and a founder of Bar Ilan University. It is estimated that today there are ca. 40,000 descendents of the Jews Sugihara saved.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Egypt in crisis

Egypt is sinking deeper into crisis. The military government of Army Chief of Staff Gen al-Sisi has been fighting violent demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood supporters protesting the removal of elected MB President Morsi and his subsequent trial, ironically for the deaths of demonstrators, the same charge that was brought against Pres. Mubarak before him. In order to bring some control and end the continuing demonstrations the al-Sisi government has passed a law that demonstrations require prior government approval. Although this is a common requirement in democratic countries, in Egypt it has fueled even more violent protests.

Now the MB have been joined by the liberals and democrats who originally helped overthrow Mubarak, and for whom a military government that prevents demonstrations is anathema. In these new illegal demonstratsion that are continuing, people have been killed again, adn the whole situation is spiralling out of control (to use a cliche often applied to Israel). Today it was reported that a leader of the so-called April 6 movement, Ahmed Maher, that overthrew Mubarak in the original "Arab Spring" protests, has given himself up to the government forces.

While the Army has sufficient power to quell the riots, the question is at what price? Many deaths would simply cause another cycle of violence to recur. The MB has armed elements in Sinai and in Suez, where Egyptian soldiers and officals have been murdered. But, so far extensive anti-regime armed violence has not been extended to Egypt proper. If it does in wake of this new law and the subsequent deaths, then the Egyptian crisis might become a civil war between the Army and the Islamists, represented mainly by the MB.

It will clearly be in Israel's interest if the Army wins, because the Army has shown itself to be pragmatic and westernized, rather than the Islamists, who are virulently anti-Western and anti-Israel. Meanwhile the Army has proposed a new draft constitution to replace the one passed by the pro-Morsi MB-dominated parliament, and this new constitution allows the Army involvement in politics. So now we'll see whether the Egyptian populace will acccept it or not. For many it seems like back to square one.