Friday, August 08, 2008

Israel and China

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was questioned again on Friday. This is the fifth time police have questioned him over a variety of suspected misdeeds, ranging from fraud, to breach of public trust, to possible tax evasion.

Israel Army radio’s Friday morning talk show hosted Moshe Shlonsky was the venue for a discussion on Olmert’s charges. “If the police had something on him, he’d have already been charged,” one of the speakers said.

The discussion then turned to former minister Avigdor (Yvette) Liberman who has been under investigation by the police for various wrongdoings for the last ten years. This week Liberman went on the attack, telling the press that either the police should charge him, or drop the investigation.

Some critics of the police question their tactics, claiming that the police have begun to use the press to sway public opinion, and keep a case open well beyond its natural life. Police accusations in the past have ruined lives, like that of former Jewish Agency head Simcha Dinitz, and later the charges proved groundless.

Some claim a similar tactic is being used against PM Olmert. “They (the police) wanted him out of office,” said one of Shlonsky’s speakers. “And they got that,” said another. “He’s leaving. He’s out.”

The Israeli populace has had enough of the politicians and their alleged crimes. A recent poll published in the Jerusalem Post stated “Internal corruption is seen as just as great a threat to Israel as the danger posed by Arab nations and Iran.”

60% of the Israelis polled believed that Israel was headed in the wrong direction. Mitchell Bark, of the Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications, which conducted the poll said ”a country where 60% of its citizens feel it is headed in the wrong direction is not in a good situation."

The poll also found that 24% of the population ranked corruption and the Arab threat as equally dangerous. According to Mitchell Barak, “"Israel's leaders have been spending a lot of time speaking about the threat of Iran and about security issues like terror, but they seem to be missing a large part of the population.

“Many Israelis are concerned with social issues like poverty and corruption - two internal issues which are not being addressed by our leadership.”"

Israel has also begun to beef up its defenses in case of an Iranian strike. New weapons systems are now on line which are geared to fighting a war on three fronts, attacks from Hamas in the South, Hezbollah and Syria in the North and Iran in the East.

The Russians have reportedly sold an advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to the Iranians. The Israelis have protested this sale. The Defense ministry has boasted “The Russians should know that if the Iranians receive this system, we’ll destroy it.”
One pundit questioned the logic of this boast, since once sold, bought and paid for, why should the Russians care what happens to the product.

Unless of course Russia is seeking to become a global player once again. Russia’s president Putin has made no secret of the fact he is looking to put Russia back on the map as a super-power.

Another threat is crime. A few weeks ago a young mother was killed while frolicking on a Bat Yam beach with her two young children. The bullet was meant for an underworld figure having lunch at a near-by beachfront café. Police claim the shooting was part of a dispute between criminals. The head of one of Israel’s largest crime families, Itzik Aberjil, is suspected of ordering the hit. The police has arrested him.

Crime comes in all forms, in Israel and around the world. Last week an ultra-Orthodox man was arrested for beating a divorced Orthodox woman in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. The woman was suspected by the ultra-Orthodox “Modesty Police” of meeting with men in public, something the community apparently disliked.

Many complaints have been lodged against the ‘Modesty Police” who enforce ultra-Orthodox regulations on the Orthodox community. The most famous case was of an American-born religious woman riding the bus to the Western Wall plaza. She was ordered by ultra-Orthodox men to sit in the back of the bus with the other women. When she refused she claims she was pulled from the seat, beaten and kicked.

Two female Israeli soldiers riding home for the weekend from their assignments in Netivot were denied passage on an Egged public bus because they were wearing Army uniforms, and slacks rather than skirts.

The rise in ultra-Orthodox fanaticism may have a backlash in Jerusalem. The latest polls show that Nir Baraket, a secular high-tech millionaire whiz who sits on the city counsel, would easily beat the ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porusch, hand-picked by his party to succeed the present ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Luplianski.

Polls show that the smiling Lublianski is viewed as a failure as Jerusalem’s mayor. The recently dedicated Calatrava Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem is cited as one of his most obvious mistakes. The $20 million bridge is considered by some to be completely superfluous in a city in need of simple social services.

The opening celebration for the bridge was a disaster. Women and men were separated by the orders of the Mayor, and women were forced to wear shawls and skirts, as if they were attending prayers at the Western Wall.

The city has steadily been losing its secular population, and with it the tax base. Industry is fleeing Jerusalem. If the polls re correct, the public hopes Baraket can revive the city, and save it from becoming another ultra-Orthodox enclave.

The 2008 Olympics kicked off in Beijing on Friday. Israel’s President Shimon Peres told Israel radio that the Chinese authorities had been putting a lot of pressure on Israel to send the President to the Olympic opening ceremony.
President Peres finally agreed. A special security detail will cordon off an area 300 meters around when the President walks from his hotel to the Olympic stadium on Shabat. Peres has also requested, and been provided, kosher food for the Sabbath.

One of the duties of the President is to kept he Sabbath, and require kosher food at all state functions.

Peres has also said he is taking this opportunity to bring up the issue of Iran with the Chinese authorities, telling them that China can influence Iran to curtail her nuclear ambitions.

Also in the Olympic parade was a small contingent from ‘Palestine.’ “I didn’t know there was a state called Palestine, yet,” said one of the viewers. Politics create realities. To the world watching, a Palestinian state has already been established.

The Olympic opening ceremony was an amazing display of technology, preparation and art. The Israeli commentators compared the current Olympics to those of Berlin in 1936 when the Nazi regime was anxious to show off its abilities to the outside world.

The sheer numbers of people on the massive arena grounds, performing in a variety of ways, was intimidating. “A bit scary,” said Uri Levy, the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s commentator. One wondered at the outcome if the Chinese, with their two billion people, decided to organize a military campaign with the same precision as they carried off the Olympics.

Most Chinese have never heard of Israel. They have no Christian tradition so are not anti-Semitic. With barely 4,000 Jews in the huge country it is no wonder anti-Semitism doesn’t exit. The leadership, of course, knows about Israel. The Chinese have been a trading partner with Israel for years, mainly in military and hi-tech goods.

One of course is reminded of the Olympics in 1972 where Palestinian terrorists scaled the walls of the Olympic village and massacred eleven Israelis. The Germans ultimately released those captured. No matter where the Israelis are, the fear of an attack is always present.

When an Israeli thinks of where in the world to travel safely China comes to mind. Their three hundred million Moslems are well behaved, and keep to themselves in the far West of China. Given the astounding achievements of China in the last twenty years, Israel would be well served to stay on her good side.

The fast of the ninth of Av begins Saturday night, commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. A likely reminder that no matter how large the castle, how gaudy the pomp and pomposity, the enemy is always there, making plans. Ready to spring a nasty surprise.