Monday, February 24, 2014

Ukraine / hiatus

The Ukraine is in turmoil, the democratically elected President Yanukovich has been forced out of office, not only by protesters storming the government buildings, as a result of which about 85 were killed, but the Parliament seeing the way the winds were blowing, deserted him and voted him out of office. Now his worst enemy, Yulia Timoshenko, addressed the massed crowd of protesters in her wheelchair and seems set to return to power. Yanukovich not only imprisoned Timoshenko, but when she became ill he refuesed to allow her to leave Ukraine for treatment in Europe. But, his main error was in cancelling the treaty negotiations with the EU and returning Ukraine to the Russian orbit. Since Ukraine obtained independence when the USSR broke up, it has been trying to ensure its separation from Russia.

Ukraine is split beween the pro-Russian eastern provinces that are highly industrialized and the western agricultural and urban areas, that are more pro-European and want to have a relationship with the west. Although Yanukovich was elected, his reversal of Ukrainian policies caused him to lose support and eventually to be removed from office. He has now vanished, hiding somewhere in eastern Ukraine. Now a caretaker interim President has been selected by the Parliament and elections will be held.

But, the protesters are not leaving their positions in the main squares of the cities. Anything could happen now, from stability to a complete breakup of Ukraine into pro-Russian eastern Ukraine and pro-European western Ukraine. So far there has been no targeting of Jews, but the history of anti-Semitism in Ukraine makes this a possibility under circumstances of no state control. If the Russians decide to try to bring Yanukovich back to power as the "legally elected President" this could become a major international crisis. Stay tuned.
We have our family visiting now for the wedding this week of our oldest grandson. You will excuse me if I have a break from writing my blogs. You too can have a rest. Be back soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

EU funding for anti-Israel NGOs

The Jerusalem based organization NGO-Monitor has done an excellent job in investigating and exposing bias in the EU funding for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). In a presentation to the European Parliament in Brussels on Tues NGO-Monitor's President Gerald Steinberg revealed that 57% of the total budget of 170 million euros (me) goes to the Palestine Authority and other pro-Palestinian NGOs in Israel. That means that the EU is funding the Palestinain cause more than all other causes in the world combined. Yet, the fund is supposed to be used to promote democracy around the world, while Israel is acknowledged to be the only democracy in the Middle East, and the PA is certainly nowhere near democratic. Why are so much EU funds being expended to undermine the only functioning democracy in the region?

Even the President of the fund, called the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights(EIDHR), Bastiaan Belder acknowledged that he was not aware of this huge bias. Why is it that the PA receives directly me11 while countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE receive much less or almost nothing to promote democracy? For example, the EIDHR funds NGOs like the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, and The Holy Land Trust, both of which are effectively arms of pro-Palestinian propaganda. Several MEPs told The Jerusalem Post that they were disturbed by these findings, which incidentally are readily available information, but could not blame the European foreign policy personnel for this huge discrepancy.

While several MEPs expressed their concern at the revelations, some were defensive, including several who have publicly taken pro-Palestinian positions previously. These include a German MEP named Alexandra Thein, who referred to the funding as going to programs that the EU supports rather than to specific NGOs. This is a clear case of those with anti-Israel or anti-Semitic bias supporting the funding of pro-Palestinian so-called human rights organizations at the expense of Israel. This situation has evolved because the European Parliament has never excercised oversight over the EIDHR and so pro-Palestinian elements have essentially taken it over.
(The report can be found at )

Thursday, February 20, 2014


The US has officially complained to President Karzai of Afghanistan against his decision to release 65 prisoners who are terrorists who have been incarcerated for murder. Apparently Pres. Obama considers the release of prisoners with "blood on their hands" as an illegitimate and dangerous move, since they are members of the Taliban or other extremist Islamist groups. Obama considers them a danger not only to Afghanis, but more specifically to Americans who are living there or elsewhere. On the other hand, the US has pressured Israel to release 100 convicted Palestinian terrorist murderers (in four groups) as a concession to the Palestinians in order to get them to actually sit down and negotiate. So it seems that Israeli lives lost to the released and convicted prisoners with blood on their hands is not a concern of the US. Secty of State Kerry has said that it is a price worth paying for Israel to release these prisoners in order to get the so-called "peace process" going again. Note that there was no reciprocal concession squeezed out of the Palestinians by the US, they don't consider that a necessary price to pay. Such hypocrisy by the American administration shows their lack of concern for the situation of their best ally in the Middle East. They want a foreign policy success at Israel's expense at any price.

Jay Pollard has been in prison in the US for 28 years. He was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. This harsh sentence resulted after then-Secty of Defense Caspar Weinberger intervened with the judge and inappropriately affected the sentencing. The letter he wrote to the judge has never been released for publication. What is hypocritical is that while other spies have been sentenced to life sentences, such as Aldrich Ames, who spied for the USSR and whose information led to the exposure of at least 100 American spies and the execution of at least 10 of them, he was released after 10 years. Only Pollard has been incarcerated for so long, for spying for an ally and whose actions in no way affected the US spying capability. This is rank hypocrisy and can only be a result of not only timidity on the part of several US Presidents, but also anti-Semitism at the highest levels of the American judicial system.

Denmark is known as a liberal-minded European country, where hurting animals is worse that hurting humans. Denmark is one of those countries which have banned kosher meat production because they regard the Jewish slaughter of animals with a sharp knife as leading to suffering, while they prefer stunning the animal first, that in itself has been shown to cause more suffering. But what is hypocritical is that a young healthy male giraffe named Marius at the Copenhagen Zoo was killed and cut up and fed to other animals. Why they did this is unbelievable, they said he was from a genetically inferior line. Kosher slaughter of a giraffe could be problematical, but the Danes stunned him in the brain, I wonder if he suffered.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dry rot or termites

I walked into the middle room in my studio and was astonished to see two finger-like projections emanating from the top corners of the door frame. It looked wierd! They were both at ca. 45 deg and were brown in color. I must admit that I was startled, what on earth could they be, it looked like something from a horror B-movie. It was clearly alive, because it had grown there, so I sprayed them with caustic stuff and hacked them off. Then I must admit I tended to forget about them for some weeks.

Then I noticed that there were small piles of wood dust at the bottom of the door jambs, something I had noticed before but had not taken very seriously. I went and looked it up on Google, and concluded that I had the dreaded dry-rot! The fungus literally eats up the wood and produces a brown wood dust and the growths are extensions of the fungus called mycelium. Inside the door jambs the wood had been eaten away. But, then someone came in to see the damage and told me it was caused by termites, although I never saw any termites there. Certainly the little mounds of wood dust and the external tubes are quite characteristic of termites.

So I had an expert come in to make the determination and he said definitely termites? Then he moved my library and showed me behind it these tiny worm-like creatures that have small legs and the little tunnels that they build. He pronounced them Sinai termites, not the dreaded kind that one finds in other places, including the US, but the kind that live underground and only come up to eat the nearest wood. What the terminators do is drill holes every half meter or so in the floor around the room and then pump in a poisonous chemical that kills them off and forms a barrier that prevents them coming up again for up to 5 years . Any damage above ground can be repaired without too much problem since they don't eat the wood if they don't have a nest nearby underground. So its not so bad as it might have been, but why do all these things keep happening to me?
PS. To those who are interested, you can see my latest painting at

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Death and destruction

In Israel more people are being killed these days by organized crime than by terrorism. I am not sure this is something we should be proud of. Recently there have been a spate of car bombings and shootings that indicate a crime war is underway. At least 5 people have been murdered by bombs put in their cars in several cities and two were shot dead at point blank range in their car on the main road along the beach in Tel Aviv in broad daylight while hundreds of people walked and sunbathed nearby. Fortunately no one else was hurt, but clearly they have little concern for civilians, then the two assailants simply walked away. The special police branch dealing with serious crime is on the case and PM Netanyahu even mentioned it in his Cabinet meeting. But there is little prospect of ending this crime war any time soon.

Yesterday a tourist bus was blown up at the Taba crossing from Egypt to Israel just before it crossed the border from Egypt. It was carrying South Koran Christian tourists and four of them were killed and others severely injured. The Egyptian authorities preferred to transport the injured 3.5 hours south to Sharm el Sheikh hospital rather than across the border to the Eilat hospital that was ca. 15 mins away. Magen David Adom mobilized ambulances and emergency services, but they were not used. If I were an injured S. Korean tourist I would sue the Egyptian government for negligence. Egypt depends on tourism and this was a deliberate attack by Islamist terorrists in order to bring ruin on their own country. I would not visit Egypt as a tourist, and even though there are criminal elements in Israel, so far no tourists have been killed.

In the Old Town of Akko (Acre) a gas explosion caused the deaths of five people and the destruction of a three storey building. A similar explosion took place two weeks ago in theJerusalem suburb of Gilo, where a strong smell of gas was investigated twice by a technician, but whatever he did was not sufficient and there was an explosion that caused a building to collapse and killed a family of three. He is under arrest. Such incidents are all too common in Israel.

Finally, two children in a family of five were killed and the rest of the family was very ill after a technician used the toxic substance phosphine to fumigate their home against pests and then left the material in their apartment after it was supposedly safe for them to return. The technician is now under arrest and no longer allowed to practise his trade. All these apparently random deaths, as well as the many traffic deaths in Israel, amount to a tremendously wasteful loss of life in the Jewish State.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A mammoth national disaster

Thus PM David Cameron described the current wide-spread flooding throughout southern England and Wales. This is the rainiest winter in Britain since 1776, and you know what happened then. Things must be bad since he announced at a special press conference that "money is no object, what needs to be spent to bring flood relief will be spent." But, his government has been criticized for moving too slowly to prepare flood barriers and increase river dredging before the floods came.

The whole British south and east coasts are under attack from a series of very strong storms with hurricane winds, and the whole Thames Valley is inundated. The main train line that links London with Devon and Cornwall, that runs directly along the south coast, has been swept away and many towns and villages are isolated. Scotland has not escaped with a series of storms bringing record snowfalls. Similarly the east coast of the USA has had a series of very cold storms that has blanketed the whole region from Atlanta to Boston with snow and ice, causing traffic accidents and grounding flignts. The western world has been brought to a standstill by the weather.

Now its time for an ad from our sponsor, Israel. Yes, Israel has been experiencing balmy weather, today was a little cooler and rainy, but up to Thursday we had brilliant warm weather, with cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the high 70's F (20s C). Wonderful for retired people, the only thing to do is stroll to the town center and sit and have a cup of tea or coffee with a nice cake and some friends. Of course, we need more rain, but who would prefer too much rain and snow to having a little drought this winter.

Another national disaster is looming in Britain, Scotland is due to have its vote for independence from the United Kingdom next week. David Cameron has not been very effective in arguing against it, but as people point out, since there are no Conservative MPs from Scotland in the British Parliament in London (none!), he is probably not the best person to speak against separation. Those who want to keep the Union are mainly in southern Scotland in the cities (Glasgow and Edinburgh) and their arguments are mainly economic. The UK Government has announced that if Scotland votes for independence then it will have to float its own currency or join the Euro Zone, since it will not be able to use the British pound. This could be disastrous for Scotland, but those who support independence are not put off by what they consider a minor temporary inconvenience.

David Cameron had to put off a trip to the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestine Authority, to deal with the emergency at home. Let him put his own house in order first, certainly he has enough problems, rather than coming here and giving us the benefit of his advice. Since Scotland would be a country of ca. 5 million people, maybe they can learn from Israel, which is larger in population (8 million) and is a relatively successful economy. Maybe we should send PM Netanyahu to Scotland and England to give them the benefit of our advice.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

European boycott?

The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, is visiting Israel and addressed the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, last Wednesday. One of the things he said was important, that the European Union will never boycott Israel and will never apply sanctions to Israel, whether a peace agreement is signed with the Palestinians or not. He added that there is no support within the European Parliament for such a move against Israel, although individual countries might want to carry out their own boycotts. This is indeed good news, since some politicians, including US Secty of State Kerry, have threatened that if an agreement is not signed Israel will be boycotted by the EU. But, Kerry made no parallel threat to the Palestinians.

However, Schulz went too far in his speech when adding the usual criticisms of Israel, he made three accusations, 1. that Israelis use 4 times more water than Palestinians, which is supposedly not fair; 2. that the blockade of Gaza was wrong and Israel must end it; and 3. that since the international agreement with Iran, Iran's threats against Israel have ceased. He was wrong on all three counts. The Bayit Yehudi faction shouted out that he was lying when he spoke about the water consumption, and some of them walked out on him. It turns out that it is pure Palestinian propaganda, widely believed in Europe, but not based on fact. When the facts were checked it seems that Israelis use only 1.2 times what the Palestinians use. Schulz later apologised and admitted he did not check the facts before putting it in his speech.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein catigated Schulz for using the general term "blockade" against Gaza, since Israel does have a sea blockade of Gaza, to check for weapons and war material, but on land there is no blockade and all forms of material are allowed to enter Gaza, including food, medications, oil and building supplies. Although there was a temporary halt on building materials when it was discovered that the Hamas government of Gaza was using large quantities for building large tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border in order to attack Israel. Usually it is quoted that ca. 800 trucks per day supply Gaza. Much of the material is paid for by the UNRWA agency from funds donated by the EU and the USA, something Schulz could have easily checked.

PM Netanyahu corrected Schulz regarding the Iranians, and quoted from recent Iranian speeches, one of which by Supreme Leader Khamanei a few days ago called Israel a cancer in the Middle East that must be removed. He also quoted several bellicose statements by Pres. Rouhani and Iranian military leaders. Contrary to the impression that European politicians are trying to give that Iran has moderated its statements since the signing of the interim Geneva agreement, if anything the statements emanating from Iran are more bellicose than they were before the agreement was signed. Schulz could have checked recent news reports to discover this.

What is truly worrying is that if the President of the European Parliament repeats Palestinian propaganda and is so wrong on such important issues, what are we to expect from lesser people. As PM Netanyahu stated, many Europeans jump to criticize Israel without checking the facts first and repeat unjustified Palestinian propaganda without ever questioning its source. Also, they never criticize Palestinian human rights violations and lack of financial transparency that leads to massive corruption and the theft of millions of dollars that they themselves donate to the PA.

The Israeli left as exemplified by Labor leader Isaac Herzog criticized the right, such as Bayit Yehudi, for not accepting valid criticism. But Schulz's statements were not valid criticism, they were regurgitated snippets of anti-Israel propaganda, that should not go unchallenged.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Twelve years a slave

The movie "Twelve years a slave," is based on the 1853 book by the actual free black man Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped from Washington DC in 1841 and sold into slavery in the deep south in Georgia, when is was essentially impossible for a slave to escape. It is a compelling tale, and yet it lacked something. I'm not sure what, maybe because we have become used to a diet of movies and stories in which good triumphs over evil, in which the downtrodden arise and wreak vengeance on their oppressors. For example, the recent movie "Django unchained" in which a black man, with the help of a white liberal, manages to destroy a whole plantation in the south with its vicious slave-owners.

The unremitting cruelty of the slave-owning whites, including the repeated whip lashings that sliced the backs of men and women alike, is shown in gory detail. The fact that the "hero" is essentially broken, and forced to follow the immoral orders of his slave master, inflicting pain and suffering on his own kind, may be true to life, but is at times unbearable. You want him to strike back, even at the risk of his own life, but in order to save himself he doesn't. Unfortunately that was the reality of the situation and has been in many places and times.

If we compare this to movies about the Holocaust, of which there are now many, we know of many circumstances where people both fought back at the risk of their lives, for example "Defiance" about the Bielski brothers in the forests of Moldova, and "Schindler's list" about the rescue of over 1,000 Jews by a German industrialist. And there are also examples of wishful thinking, as in "Glorious basterds" in which a Jewish platoon led my a southern white officer kills Nazis. All these and many other movies, such as the comic book Super Heroes, have made us impatient when it comes to the real, drab, oppressive verisimilitude of the everyday inhumanity of man to man.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Jew Law

A lecture was given by Yoel Sheridan at Netanya AACI focussing on the so-called "Jew Law" or the "Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753." You might wonder why the British Parliament would need to pass such an act? Although Jews had been allowed to return to England as a result of the intervention of Oliver Cromwell in 1645, it turned out that there was actually no official edict of expulsion signed by King Edward II in 1290, and neither is there an official edict or act of Parliament allowing Jews to return to Britain (see blog "Cromwell and the Jews" Nov 14, 2013). However, for Jews to become naturalized citizens of Britain was another matter.

As a result of the gradual increase in affluence in Britain thru trade, the number of Jews, mainly Ashkenzi Jews from Europe, who moved to Britain gradually increased with time. Jews who were born in Britain were actually considered British, but immigrants were not allowed to become naturalized British citizens and were considered aliens or denizens, meaning they were residents although with limited rights. In 1750, only ca. 85,000 people actually voted out of a British population of approximately 6 million, including ca. 6,000 Jews. The acts extending universal suffrage were in the future.

Thru the influence of Gideon Samson, a wealthy Jew who was a broker in the Stock Exchange, who lent money to the British Government and who converted to Christianity in order to own land, and others like him, the British Government under George II and his Prime MInister Henry Pelham, decided to introduce the "Jewish Naturalization Act" into Parliament in 1753. This was supported by the Whigs but opposed by the Conservatives. One reason some Christians supported this act was that they believed that for the second coming of Christ, Jews had to be spread all over the world. This act was passed against strong, highly anti-Semitic opposition. The act required that for a foreign (alien) Jew to become a naturalized British citizen he had to apply to Parliament and be approved, then he had to wait three years, and pay a fee, an expensive process. Without the Jew Law a person had to take several oaths, including swearing allegiance to the Crown and the Church of England (although this was intended to prevent Catholics becoming British citizens).

But, following the passage of this act, the tone and extent of anti-Semitic propaganda in Britain increased significantly, and within 6 months after it had been passed, this act was repealed by the British Parliament. Jews were not accepted as equal citizens in Britain for another hundred years after this (see blog, "Emancipation of the Jews of England" Jan 26, 2014). A strong residue of anti-Semitism remained in Britain up to and including WWII and even until today, when all Jewish institutions in Britain have to be protected by guards against attack.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is a great international event. Approximately b$30 were spent by the Russian Government in developing the area around Sochi and constructing roads, stadia and other facilities. This will hopefully in the future attract some (wealthy) skiers, but not much else. Was it a waste of money? Too soon to give a definitive answer, but the likelihood of recouping a fraction of the cost is extremely small. But, as a PR display for Pres. Putin it was a great success. It puts Russia on the international map, much as the summer Olympics did for China a few years ago. The opening ceremony was appropriately lavish, with amazing special effects, a nice sentimental tone, and in the historical extravaganza the era of Stalin and the Gulags was quickly glossed over. Also, thousands of fireworks, OOhh, AAhhh.

What amazes me about the winter Olympics is that anyone bothers to go at all. After all, who but the most intellectually challenged is going to go out in freezing weather and throw themslves down slopes at great speed. The results are known in advance, with the Norwegians winning all the skiing events, except for a few Europenas or Americans, and the Dutch winning all the skating events. Remember, Norway is very mountainous and is covered with snow most of the year,and Holland is flat and has many canals that are frozen most of the year, so there is not much else to do there except to ski and skate, respectively.

Why do you think the speed skaters have such razor-sharp long skates? It's not for speed as you might think, but they evolved to cut up your opponents. Why do you think in the biathlon they shoot guns? It's not for accuracy, but they used them to eliminate the competition. And you thought it was all friendly and fair play. Of course, the figure skating events are sown up in advance for the Russians, the judges are either bribed or threatened (a nice blond or a knife in the back). The down hill racers are all insane, that's why most of them come from the Alpine area, they need to drink a lot or take a lot of drugs in order to be able to throw themselves down a mountain at breakneck speed. And the upside down skiers and snowboarders, they don't tell you this but they were all recently released from asylums specially for the games.. And the luge, they are all certified suicidal. Give me the summer games, running slowly around a track for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fascinating tale of the Amerys

Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum gave a fascinating lecture at Beth Israel, the Conservative (Masorti) shool in Netanya, about the Balfour Declaration. He was motivated to give this lecture by his findings that he considered an amazing story. His curiousity was sparked by the question, who actually wrote the Balfour Declaration, that is considered the founding document of the Jewish State of Israel?

Other countries have founding documents, such as the US has the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 largely by Thomas Jefferson. Then there was the French Declaration of the Rights of Man adopted by the French Assembly in 1789. There is of course the Israeli Declaration of Independence written in 1948 by David Ben Gurion and others, but the Balfour Declaration was unique in that it was attributed to a leader of another government, in fact the Foreign Minister of the British Government in 1917 during WWI, Arthur Balfour. It was then adopted into international law in the Treaty of San Remo in 1920 and was then the basis for the Mandate given by the League of Nations (the forerunner of the UN) to Britain to administer the Turkish territory they called "Palestine" in order to establish a National Homeland for the Jewish people.

The story of how the Balfour Declaration came about is complex and long and has been described in several books, including "The Balfour Declaration" by Jonathan Schneer (see blog 17 May, 2012). But, it was not explicitly stated who actually wrote the final draft that was signed by Arthur Balfour. Several people had a hand in drafting it, including Chaim Weizmann, Head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, Lord Rothschild, Lloyd George, and Balfour himself. But, after the papers of the British Government of the time were released 50 years later it was discovered that the actual author was Leopold Amery, who was theSecretary of the War Cabinet at that time in Lloyd George's Government.

Who was Leopold Amery? Therein lies an amazing tale. He was a typical British product of his age, born to an upper class family, he lived in Belgravia, London. His mother was a Hungarian aristocrat whose family had escaped persecution in Hungary during one of the uprisings and had fled to England. Leopold himself was born in India in 1873 and on returning to England went to Harrow School, a preserve of the upper class. After studying in Oxford he was sent as a journalist to S. Africa to cover the Boer wars and on his return wrote a seven volume history of the Boer Wars. Eventually he went into politics and was elected to Parliament where he served from 1911-1945. He served in several government posts and in 1915 during WWI was the Cabinet Secretary. It seems that in this role he was given all the drafts that had been received to support the concept of a Jewish presence in Palestine, and he put them together to produce what is known as the Balfour Declaration. It is in fact one sentence that encompasses the basic requirements for the founding of a Jewish National Home.

What became known later, although this was never revealed at the time, was that Leopold's mother Elizabeth, was originally Jewish. Her family had converted to Christianity, but Leopold himself was halachically Jewish, although this remained a secret during his lifetime. The irony of this will become clearer when we discuss his oldest son, John Amery. He was always a difficult child, and after his studies became an open supporter of the Fascist movement. He went to Spain and fought on the side of Franco and then vounteered in France to fight for the Nazis. He was brought to Hitler's attention and met with him several times, since he was after all the son of a serving British Cabinet Minister. John Amery broadcast German propaganda to Britain and he also established The British Free Corps to support the Nazis in the war, although he was only able to recruit a very small number of traitors. What was notable about John Amery was that he was a totally commmited anti-Communist and Jew-hater.

He was captured after the war and was returned to Britain for trial. His parents tried to save his life to no avail since he was a self-confessed Nazi supporter and a traitor to Britain. He was hung in London in 1945. The playwright Ronald Harwood in his play An English Tragedy (2008), explores the relationship between Leo and John Amery and considers it significant to John Amery's story that Leo Amery had apparently concealed his partly Jewish ancestry. It is an amazing story that the actual drafter of the Balfour Declaration that helped to establish the Jewish State was a secret Jew and that his son became a traitor and a spokesman for Nazi ideology.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Accidents will happen

I parked at the far end of the parking lot and when we went to retrieve our car there were no other cars around. I started to back out of the space and - thud! I hit something - another car. But, where did it come from? A mystery, it suddenly appeared, perhaps from my blind spot! I surveyed the damage, the other car had a few scratches from the back door to the back wheel and my car had a dent in the corner of the bumper. That was it, I was going maybe 5 mph and they couldn't have been going fast. So it was a minor accident, if you have to have an accident this was the one to have.

Since it appeared that I had caused the accident I said that I would take care of it. The other people were nice and the husband was English, so all very civilized. We agreed that it was too small an accident to bother with the insurance company, and the following day I asked some friends and they all agreed, pay for it yourself, because if you go to the insurance company you will have to pay the deductible anyway and they'll jack up your premium.

On the following Sunday I received an e-mail with an estimate (that was quick) for the work on the other car, it was NIS 4,000 (ca. $1,200). My friends had told me to expect it would be about NIS 3,000. This was more, but not much more, so I replied, "OK, go ahead." This was a mistake, since I should have enquired of the insurance company before going ahead to at least compare prices. When I took my car in to my dealer they told me it would cost NIS 4,000-5,000 and that I should contact the insurance company. These costs were way above my expectations for such minor damages. So I went to my insurance agent and they said they would cover my damage, but they called the garage with the estimate for the other car and they were already working on it, so they said they could not cover that, so I paid for it myself. Anyway, my car was fixed in two days, they did an excellent job and it cost me just the deductible for small damage NIS 1,200. So altogether not so bad, my first accident after about 10 years.

I drove my car home feeling good. When I got home my wife was looking worried. She said there is something wrong with the refrigerator. When I opened the door of the fridge, the door of the freezer compartment above it fell off! Quite a shock. Luckily I managed to hold it, but later it suddenly fell on the floor. So I called a refrigerator man and he came and stuck the plastic thingy back in place and fixed the little rod that held the two doors together, and lo and behold the doors were fixed, and it only cost me $100. What next?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Correction. It was pointed out in relation to the previous blog about a universal; draft, that the orthodox (dati) are not secular (hiloni) and they also favor a universal draft. Also, I should have clarified that a universal draft includes all kinds of national service, including social and medical service as well as military service.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Universal draft

There is a social conflict in Israel between the Supreme Court, which is known for its liberal bias, and the ultra-orthodox (haredi) community which is certainly very conservative. The status quo that had existed for many years in relation to national service in the IDF was shattered in 2012 as a result of two events. First, the Supreme Court ruled that the "Tal Law" that had been in effect for many years and that allowed yeshiva students to get almost automatic exemptions was "illegal," and second the elections produced a government coalition in which the Yesh Atid party plays a big role and one of their main election promises was to introduce a universal draft law in which all segments of the population would be treated equally.

Ben Gurion was the first to introduce exemptions for the best yeshiva students, but over time the number ballooned from 600 to 60,000. This was unacceptable to most of the secular (hiloni) community in Israel, why should the haredim receive preferential treatment of exemptions and government subsidies, while the rest of the population is required to go out and defend the country and them. So after the Supreme Court struck down the status quo of the Tal Law, it was agreed that haredim would also have to serve. But, since they oppose serving in the IDF as destructive of their special way of life, it was obvious that merely passing legislation to force them to serve would not in fact work. They would refuse, they would fight it en masse and they would go to jail if necessary. Also, the IDF itself was not enthusiastic to have tens of thousands of uncooperative haredi recruits, even though a small number of them do volunteer (and are often harrassed for it). So there was a deadlock, that was overcome thru negotiations between various political parties and pressure groups, that resulted in a new law that requires yeshiva students to register for military service on their 18th birthday, but they can get a deferral of up to 3 years with a financial subsidy while they are studying.

However, this law was challenged in the courts by the hiloni organizations that want a completely equal universal draft, and last week the Supreme Court ruled that this compromise arrangement is also unlawful and struck it down. That means that haredim who register on their 18th birthday must be drafted and they cannot be deferred or paid. As a test case one haredi man was arrested for not registering, and this resulted in country-wide protests of tens of thousands of haredim, including students of many yeshivot. There was some violence and the police stepped in and arrested 15 haredim, all of whom will be charged with disturbing the peace and other crimes. This of course upset many more haredim, and now it looks as if there will be a protracted nation-wide conflict until the conditions of a universal draft law, that includes Israeli Arabs as well as haredim, is approved.

Friday, February 07, 2014

List of activities

I don't know if you are like me, but I keep a list of current activities, an ongoing list of appointments, lectures, concerts and other events, so as not to forget anything. I have this in my computer and print it out and keep two copies, one on my desk and one on the living room table. It's very handy, but it is also somewhat depressing. As soon as an event happens and goes off the top of the list, others enter the list from below with alarming regularity. Its like riding a continuous escalator, never able to get off.

This is the nature of life. As a retired person with some volunteer activities, and certain interests in lectures and concerts, life is unusually full. I sometimes wish that I did not have such a busy life, and look forward to those days when the list is blank and then I can do what I want, such as paint in my studio, or just sit and read, or just do nothing. But, then there are many other chores, such as going to the bank, or the post office or the gym. For example last Thurs last I had no events listed, a free day. But we had to go to the Ministry of the Interior office to get our carer's visa renewed, took 1.5 hrs. Then to the post office to pay her National Insurance (Bituach Leumi) and then to the Bank to deposit a check. This all took the whole morning. When it was finished we were happy to sit down in the square and have a nice light lunch since the weather was perfect, 23 deg C (ca. 76 F) and it was lovely.

But, every day, as I dutifully cross off yesterday's activities, I always have that sinking feeling, that the interesting and enjoyable events that take their place, are another burden, a further series of commitments. There is no such thing as free will, once the commitment has been made, a ticket paid for or a meeting scheduled, one must go. Like today I had a meetingt in the morning, a lecture in the afternoon and a musical show in the evening - too much! When I was working, I did of course have very little time for such activities, but then how did I ever get my banking and car servicing done? Only those who are too old or lame can avoid such activities. I am being negative and cynical, I am lucky to be able to go to all these wonderful concerts and interesting lectures. But, oh for a little free time!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Beethoven and Shakespeare

On Sunday, and I am not making this up, we went to a lecture on Shakespeare in the morning and one on Beethoven in the evening. Both lectures were at Netanya AACI, the morning lecture was "Will the real William Shakepeare please stand up" by David Lawrence Young, a former English teacher and author, and "Beethoven, from tragedy to triumph" by Harvey Bordowitz, a former orchestra conductor, as part of his lecture series on music. We did not plan it this way, but that is what happened. I would like to talk about these two cultural giants, each geniuses in their own field, who together symbolize the founding origins of western civilization.

Young's thesis and something known to all Shakespeare scholars, is that little is known about the man named William Shakespeare, and what little is known does not seem to be consistent with him being the author of the famous plays. As has been said before, there are no known mss. that can be attributed to William Shakespeare, no letters or drafts of plays, etc. Also, there is not a stitch of evidence that he actually wrote the plays that are attributed to him. The First Folio of 36 collected Shakespeare plays was published in 1623, 7 years after Shakespeare's death, and half of them had never been seen or heard of before. There are several other famous men who have been variously preferred as the actual playwright, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlow, Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Rutland, etc. But, that is not the issue here. It is that these plays had such an influential role on English and world literature, and so if we leave aside the authorship question, the real question is, what is it about these plays that makes them stand head and shoulders above everything else that has ever been written by the hand of man?

Ludwig van Beethoven was an irascible, anti-social loner, who as is famously known suffered from deafness. His father was a violent lout who regularly beat him. He grew up with only one saving attribute, he was a musical genius. He studied with Haydn for two years and then progressed well beyond him. Beethoven's music is characteristically infused with a sense of emotion, of pathos and joy, that was unique in the annals of music.

These two men, so far removed from each other in space and time, represent two of the main pillars upon which western civilization is based. Shakespeare, whoever he was, was one of the first men to write of real flesh and blood people, who had both good and bad characteristics. He infused his characters with psychological traits that no-one else had done before him. It has been claimed that Shakespeare invented the concept of modern man, with all his worries and concerns. Beethoven revolutionized music by making it a reflection of his inner struggles and presenting music as a psychological landscape as no-one had done before him. Beethoven exposed his personal vulnerabilities for all to hear. These two men then elevated western culture above its previous purely descriptive level and contributed to the development of secular civilization.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Kerry's threats

At the Security Conference held in Munich, Germany, US Secty of State Kerry gave his speech last Saturday and described the US effort to bring the parties to the Israel-Palestinian conflict together. In his speech he issued what can be considered a threat against the Israeli government. He said that if the talks fail then Israel will be blamed for the failure and that the current status quo cannot be maintained "absolutely to a certainty," and this will lead to an increase in the campaign of delegitimization of Israel, especially in Europe. With such certainty and such threats there seems to be something wrong with Kerry's attitude, not what one would expect from a cool, neutral intermediary or diplomat.

It should be noted that this mimics the Palestinian position, they always threaten that if the negotiations fail, or Israel does not accept what they demand, then Israel will be to blame and there will then be violence against Israel, that will be Israel's fault. Specifically at this time the Palestinians, including Pres Abbas, who has supposedly renounced the use of violence to resolve the conflict, threatens the outbreak of a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel. Note that Kerry also made such a threat last November in an interview, but then retracted his remarks ("taken out of context" etc.). His previous remarks resulted in Defense Minister Ya'alon calling his approach to the negotiations "obsessive" and "messianic," but then Ya'alon too was forced to apologize.

Now in response to Kerry's latest remarks several Israeli Ministers expressed their outrage. Economy MInister Naftali Bennett Head of the Bayit Yehudi Party said that Kerry should be supporting Israel, not issuing threats against it, and he said the Jewish people will not give in to threats. PM Netanyahu called the implied threat "irrelevant." Of course, then Kerry said he was surprised at the reaction his remarks caused, and the State Department spokesman asked for people not to "misinterpret" or "exaggerate" Kerry's remarks. The leader of the Labor opposition Haim Herzog and the Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the negotiations with the Palestinians, both said they thought Kerry's remarks were reasonable. You can see what side they are on.

When the US has little or not leverage within the Arab world and with Iran, the US Administration turns on Israel in order to score a foreign policy success. It has happened many times, with Carter, Clinton, Bush and Obama. Bullying Israel in order to get it to accept their dictates (or the Palestinain position) is an established part of US Middle Eastern policy. However, it has not worked in the past and it will not work now. It seems easy because Israel is so dependent on the US, but the really intractible party is the Palestinians. In an even-handed gesture Kerry threatened Pres Abbas with the same fate as Yasir Arafat if he did not accept Washington's proposals for peace. Whatever he meant by that, Abbas interpreted it as a death threat and threatened to taek Kerry to the Intl. Criminal Court. Kerry needs to learn a few lessons in real diplomacy.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The eye of the storm

An astute reader pointed out to me that Israel is not really experiencing "peace," only a temporary lull in the war against it by the surrounding Arab states. This is because they are all caught up in the "Arab storm" that is encircling Israel. In fact Israel is at the eye of the storm, the calm center of the raging events that are engulfing Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

Every day in the newspaper we read of another suicide bombing in Iraq, thirty killed here, twenty killed there, does anyone really pay much attention. But, in Iraq there is a low level civil war going on between the Shia majority, represented by the government of PM Maliki, and the Sunni minority in the western province of Anbar. Recently the Sunni extremists of al Qaeda affiliated groups such as the al Nusrah Front took over the city of Falluja and caused ca. 140,000 refugees to flee the fighting that is still continuing. Last Thursday a group of 6 suicide bombers captured a building of the Transportation Ministry in Baghdad and held it for several hours. Several of them detonated their explosive vests and altogether 9 security personnel were killed. These kind of attacks are typical of al Qaeda and are part of the Sunni campaign to undermine and replace the Shia-dominated Iraqi Government.

The civil war in Syria is now three years old and over 130,000 people have reportedly been killed, as well as an estimated 14,000 people held in the Assad regime's jails and millions of displaced persons within Syria and 5 million refugees in the surrounding countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The Sunni extremists in the Assad opposition in Syria and the Maliki opposition in Iraq have joined forces with the intention of establishing a Sunni Islamist State in the heartland of the Arab world called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They may never achieve this goal, but they will cause enormous suffering and destruction in the process of tryigng to do so. If they do set up such an Islamic State this will mean serious problems for Israel down the road. But, for now we have to contend with the threat of Iran, our common Shia enemy.

Egypt is in the process of being returned to the status quo ante, a military regime with a strongman as President, al-Sisi in place of Mubarak. Even if al-Sisi is far from the democrat the Obama Administration would prefer, he is a convenient ally for Israel. He is not only decimating the Islamist Moslem Brotherhood, but he is also fighting the Islamists in Sinai and their Hamas supporters in Gaza. Today two missiles were fired at Eilat from Sinai. One fell harmlessly and the other was intercepted by the Iron Dome battery stationed near Eilat. Hopefully in time the Egyptian Army will bring this area under control and the terrorist threat to Israel will diminish.

We are left with Lebanon, that is being further and further dragged into the Syrian maelstrom and Jordan, that is inundated with Syrian refugees and has a restive Palestinian majority. Can either of these artificial states last much longer, probably not. Meanwhile Israel should take no chances and prepare for the denouement as the Arab world unravels.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Oxfam and Johansson

Oxfam is a British charity organization founded in the 1940s that helps to fight poverty and oppose injustice around the world. They collect money and sell second hand clothes from their shops in towns all over England and send clothes, food and medicine to refugees in places of conflict. To say that Oxfam is a left-wing, anti-Israel organization is an understatement. The Palestinians are their favorite cause, they see them as the victims of imperialist Israeli/Jewish oppression. As far as Oxfam is concerned, Israel is a puppet of the American cultural plan to control the world and suppress poor, indigenous cultures and peoples. Its all black and white, quite simple (and simplistic). That Oxfam is a leftist reaction to the former excesses of the British Empire in actually persecuting indigenous peoples is evident.

Scarlett Johansson is a beautiful American actress, famous for her movie roles, such as in "Girl with a pearl earing" (2003). Like all such personalities she engages in advertizing and charity work. She has been an ambassador for Oxfam, helping its charities around the world. She has also been the principal in the international advertizing campaign of Sodastream, an Israeli company that makes soda producing units, that has been very successful in the US market. Apparently Oxfam discovered that Sodastream is an Israeli company and asked Scarlett to stop advertizing for them. Scarlett refused, seeing no reason why she should stop. What is anathema for Oxfam is that Sodastream has its plant on the West Bank in Ma'ale Adumim, in "occupied territory," and as such for them is "exploiting" the Palestinian people. But, Sodastream actually employs hundreds of Palestinians who otherwise would have no income and would be destitute. As a result of the public controversy Scarlett resigned from her role in Oxfam, and continues to advertize for Sodastram.

What most people don't know is that Scarlett Johansson is Jewish. Her father is Danish and her mother is Jewish. Scarlett grew up in NYC and had a typical Jewish background. She clearly saw the Oxfam pressure on her for what it was, a typical politically motivated leftist anti-Israel ploy. Contrary to their dogmatic assertions, the Israeli companies in the West Bank, whatever the ulitmate resolution of the conflict, actually employ most of the Palestinian people living there, who would otherwise be engaged in marginal agriculture. Ask them if they prefer Scarlett Johannson to advertize for Sodastram or support Oxfam and I am sure they will resoundingly support her decision. Sodastream issued a statement accusing Oxfam of actually financially supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Policy disputations

Two former political partners in the Israeli government coalition, Naftali Bennett, Minister of Economy and head of the Bayit Yehudi party and Yair Lapid, Minister of Finance and head of the Yesh Atid party, have become embroiled in disputes regarding government policy, as well as disagreeing with PM Netanyahu.

First, at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, both Bennett and Lapid spoke and gave opposite conclusions. Bennett said that if Israel agrees to give up the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to a Palestinian State in a peace agreement there would be terrorism and rockets fired on Israel and it would spell economic ruin for Israel. Lapid on the other hand said that his Ministry had done calculations that if Israel agreed to a peace treaty with the Palestinians there would be a huge economic dividend for Israel, coming from increased trade with Europe and reduced spending on arms. These are the right wing and the left wing perspectives on peace, respectively. Who is right? Probably both are, to an extent. But, note that while Bennett's party went up in the polls, Lapid's went down.

Bennett also got into hot water with Netanyahu. After Netanyahu stated publicly that if the Palestinians excluded all Jews from their territory in a putative Palestine State, that would be tantamount to "ethnic cleansing," Bennett declared that any Jews who stayed behind in such a Palestinian State would be murdered. This undermining of his position angered Netanyahu and he told Bennett that if he disagreed with Government policy he should leave the coalition. This caused Bennett to rethink and he apologised to Netanyahu, saying he did not mean it as a personal attack, but he did not in fact retract his statement. So the whole idea of whether or not Jews should be allowed to live in a Palestine State is really up in the air. There is no doubt that the Palestinians themselves don't want any Jews, even though there are a million Arabs living in Israel, and the thought is that if Jews stayed behind as part of an agreement the Palestine Government could not protect them anyway.

It will be interesting to see where US Secty of State Kerry comes down on these issues in his anticipated Framework for the negotiations. Does the US support the right of Jews to remain in part of their Holyland in Palestine, and if so how would their lives be protected, or does the US support the Palestinian position that all Jews must be uprooted from Judea and Samaria and excluded, which would be ethnic cleansing? We wait to see how Kerry walks this particular tightrope.