Saturday, November 29, 2008

Attack in Mumbai: Why The Jews?

Why the Jews?

195 people were killed in Mubai in nine separate locations, from the luxury Taj hotel, a “postcard spot” according to one TV journalist reporting from Sky news during the attacks, the other a major railroad station, another luxury hotel. But why chose a residential building and an apartment that is home to the Chabad House in Mumbai?

Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg were two young Jews in their twenties. They were among the eight Jews killed in the Chabad house in Mumbai. They arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small Jewish community there, running a synagogue and Torah classes, and assisting Jewish tourists to the seaside city.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Television’s Channel One that two men who supervised Jewish dietary laws were also apparently among the dead. They were later identified as Leibish Teitlebau, an American from Brooklyn, and Ben-Zion Croman, an Israeli with dual U.S. citizenship. The body of another Israeli woman was also discovered, but not identified as yet.

The front page of Friday’s Yideot Achranot newspaper showed a giant photograph of the Indian caregiver for the Holtzberg’s two-year old son Moishe. According to the headlines she hid in a closet during the initial attack. After several hours she heard Moishe calling for her. She snuck out of the closet, found the child beside his mother, who was slumped over, near another man who was lying hidden from her, only his bloody legs visible. She scooped the baby up, realized the terrorists were on the roof of the building, and ran for safety.

Later it was confirmed that Rivka Holtzberg was among the first causalities. It was unclear exactly how the tragedy played out.

Israel Television covered the events, and followed the drama as it unfolded. Reporters were sent to the Israeli town of Afula to interview Rivka’s parents, the Rosenbergs, both ultra-orthodox Israelis. The Rosenbergs told the reporters they were heading for Mumbai to take care of their grandson Moishe, and be close-by in case they were needed. Even though relatives in Israel warned them the trip was too dangerous, the grandparents went anyway.

Sadly for them the only thing they were needed for was to take care of Moishe and arrange for the return of the bodies of ‘Gabi and Rivki’ for burial in Israel.

Gabi Holtzberg was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was an emissary a “shaliach” for Chabad, a Jewish outreach organization based in Crown Heights. Over 4,000 “shluchiem’ are stationed around the world, from Katmandu to Santiago. The Chabad Houses are the way stations for Israeli and Jewish travelers who are seeking a Shabbat service and meal, some kosher food, or simply to find some Jewish companionship.

The annual Pesach Seder in Katmandu draws nearly 1,000 people, mostly young Israelis traveling in the Far East. The amazing fact is most of these young people have little or nothing to do with Judaism when they are in Israel.

“I come here to keep in touch with the Jewish community,” a Jewish high-tech businessman said at the Chabad House in Shangai last spring. “I’m not religious, but I want my children to have a feeling that they are still involved in Jewish affairs.”

This young businessman was on a three-year contract for his high-tech company, providing technical support for the company’s Chinese clients. He had four of the company’s staff in toe, all Israelis, who looked uncomfortable, and were unfamiliar with the Orthodox rituals.

However, the Chabad Rabbi, had a genuinely warm smile, accepting everyone in the congregation as an equal, without criticism. Nearly two hundred people filled the basement synagogue, including a busload of Hadassah ladies touring China. The Rabbi said nothing about their arriving by chartered bus, nor did he say anything about the Israelis driving to the service in their SUVs. Of course there were also orthodox Jewish men and women in the service. A fact of life for the observant Jew is that the Chabad Houses around the world become their Sabbath sanctuary, assured of a minyan and a kosher meal.

After the service a meal was served to anyone who wanted to stay. A sign announced that a fee would be appreciated, but payment was not obligatory. Anyone interested could send in a check, or come by, after Shabbat, of course. Nearly 150 people stayed for a full four-course meal, replete with kosher chicken and beef. Lunch the next morning was more of the same, but less people in attendance.

According to Chabad activists, each Chabad house is supposed to be self-sufficient, raising their own money for their support. Usually there is a Jewish day school, and nursery school, as well as daily services. In Bangkok two Chabad houses offer services, one to the “tarmalistim’, the backpackers who use the Chabad house not only as a place to get a free kosher meal, but also a place to meet other Israelis and other Jews traveling around the world.

Many times the Chabad House is the only synagogue for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. A Chabad House in Chang Mei, in Northern Thailand, is a popular spot for the Israelis touring that resort town, and the neighboring countries. Many times young backpackers will make their plans around a Chabad House, arriving on Friday, or the evening before a Jewish holiday, staying in a guest house recommended by the local rabbi.

The Chabad outreach program was the idea of the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. The Lubavitch movement began nearly two hundred years ago.

According to Wikipeia, the movement took its name from Lyubavichi, the Russian town which served as the movement's headquarters for over a century. Wikipedia claims Chabad has over 200,000 adherents and up to a million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year, however other sources quote much less lofty numbers.

Lubavitch seems a huge movement, simply because of the number of ‘shulchim’ spread around the world, but in fact it is a small ultra-Orthodox movement based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in New York City.Again, according to Wikipedia, Lubavitch adherents follow Chabad traditions and prayer services based on Lurianic kabbalah. As "Hasidim", they follow the Chassidus of Israel ben Eliezer.

Founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Chabad-Lubavitch has had seven leaders or rebbes. Menachem Mendel Schneerson succeeded his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn in 1950, becoming the seventh leader of the movement, a position he held until his death in 1994. The movement is today without a Rebbe, and is split between those who believe the seventh Rebbe was the “Mosaich” or Messiah, those who think he was the Mosaich during his lifetime, and those who reject he was ever the messiah.

Today the movement runs thousands of centers around the world, Jewish community centers, synagogues and schools, providing outreach and educational activities for Jews. In a strange twist the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe’s father-in-law, was rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1939 by Major Ernst Bloch, a German officer in the Wehrmacht, acting on orders from his boss, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the German spy network the Abwher.

The goal of the Lubavitch Hassidm is to bring Jewish back to the Lubavitch brand of orthodoxy. The outreach is a way to capture the imagination and attention of Jewish people, mostly youth, who are open to new ideas as they move about the world.

Up until Friday, the Chabad House was an easy place to find, to go into and to leave. But the tragedy in Mumbai reportedly sent shock waves through the Lubavitch movement. From now on, one assumes, it will be much harder to get into the Lubavitch centers.

Following the attack in 1986 on Neve Shalom, Istanbul's largest synagogue, whose name means ''oasis of peace.'' 22 people, aged 30 to 82 were killed. Since then the synagogue has armed guards, hidden surveillance cameras, and tight security. To pray in the synagogue on Saturday one has to first call the synagogue offices, and go through a security check, and other procedures, before being allowed in the front door on Shabbat.

One expects the same will now be true for the Chabad Houses spread around the world.

None of this answers the question why terrorists would chose a Jewish target out of nine high profile attacks, other than the assumption that a Jew is always a good target, no matter where, or no matter when.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Light The Fire

According to a report published in today’s Yideot Achracnot newspaper over half of all residents of Sderot have been hit by rockets since Hamas began firing into Israel nearly two-years ago. 74.2 per cent of the children live in fear, according to the survey. One expert said the problem wasn’t limited to security. Most of the residents felt abandoned by the government and the rest of the country.

These statistics come on the heels of an announcement by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who said that Hamas now has three times as many rockets than before the War in Lebanon in 2006. Some of the rockets, Barak said, could hit as far as Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.

Skeptics say that Barak is trotting out these figures in order to instill fear in the voting population, in hopes that his military background will be a positive chip in his pile when the time for new elections roll around. In a previous election Barak sent out the inflammatory “Tzav Shmona” (noice eight) envelopes, to raise the level of tension among the voting public. “Tzav Shmona” is the notice soldiers get when they are activated in times of war.

Some analysts say that the right-wing parties may garner as many as 65 seats in the next Knesset elections, to be held in February 2009, with Netanyhu at the helm. An editorial in today’s Haaretz newspaper concerned the rise of Bibi Netanyahu as the new leader and blamed Israel’s current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for allowing Netanyahu to rise to power.

According to the editorial Olmert was to have resigned his position once the investigations began, leaving his second-in-command Tzipi Livni to take control of the Kadima party and fill out the remaining two-years the party had left in its elected term. However Olmert, out of selfishness according to the editorial writer, refused to step aside. The editorial also pointed out that State’s Attorney Manny Mazuz was reluctant to set a precedent and indict a sitting Prime Minister, hoping that Olmert would resign on his own. However Olmert thwarted Mazuz’s plans. The indictment, long overdue according to some circles, will wait until after the next elections. No one, it seems, wants to indict an Israeli Prime Minister.

However, this refusal by Olmert led to Tzipi Livni trying to form a new coalition in order to keep Kadma in power and avoid new elections. Had Olmert stepped down Livni would have assumed the premiership and served for out the two years remaining in the Kadma’s term. Rather, according to the article, Livni failed to form a coalition, forcing new elections. Bibi Netanyahu stepped this vacuum, exploiting the weakness of Livni, and the unpopularity of Labor Party leader Barak.. Had Olmert stepped aside, Netanyahu would still be on the sidelines, waiting for his comeback.

Olmert, according to the article, is now on an empty mission to Washington to meet with lame-duck President George W. Bush. According to press reports Olmert claims he will be discussing details of the sale of advanced US fighter aircraft to Israel, however neither Olmert nor Bush has the requisite authority to sign-off on any deal at this time. The writer hints that this is more an exercise in Olmert soothing his ego in a visit to the White House than any substantive result.

Netanyahu, by all reports, will be against any negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians. However, an article in today’s Jerusalem Post by Aaron Miller, once an advisor to both Clinton and Bush on the Middle East, there is no hope today of a pact with the Palestinians. Abbas is too weak, Hamas is too strong. The only partner at the table is Syria. Miller suggests pursuing the Syrian track, and not wasting time on the Palestinian issue. Miller excuses this line of thought with an apology; he writes he is a long-time “Palestine Firster” but in today’s climate, Palestine has to come second.

The economic meltdown in the USA has spread to Israel. The Israeli stock market dropped ten per cent, the bank shares leading the downturn. Israel Television’s Channel One reported last night that panic and fear had reached the Israeli markets.

Perhaps as a result of the meltdown, or simply a coincidence, but the Israeli giant Bank Hapoalim has been unable to operate for two days due to what bank officials claim is a “computer problem.” Workers in the local branches turn away customers with the claim that the “communications” systems aren’t working, and the problem lies with the Bezeq telephone company, that provides Internet service to the banks.

Another newspaper report said the government is mulling guarantees on the pensions of Israeli citizens over 60. A tremor has shaken the retirees sector as news reports rolled in crying about the crash of pension funds. One plan is to guarantee the income of anyone who is not making twice the national average of 3,800 shekels per month.

Other reports state that restaurants are beginning to feel the pinch, as diners eschew external culinary delights for the more modest fare in their own kitchens.

Due to the economic crises, Israelis who have lived abroad for many years are now considering a return to Israel because of the financial difficulties facing America and Europe. Israeli consulates in the USA report a vast increase in requests and information about return to Israel by former Israelis hit hard by the worsening economic conditions.

An Iranian citizen was executed on Saturday after he was tried and convicted of spying for Israel. Today, Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Ali Jafari said that the Iranian security forces have uncovered a Mossad espionage network, but did not name how many people were arrested in the sweep. According to the Iranians, the group was involved in gathering information on the Iranian nuclear program.

Another report states that Iran is busy supplying Lebanon with the latest missiles in its arsenal. This is an effort to show Iranian displeasure with Israeli meddling in Iranian affairs.

Yesterday, former Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogy” Ya’alon, who recently joined the Likud party, said that he would consider assassinating Iranian leader Achminijad. This statement did little to appease the Iranians. Last week Iran began holding military maneuvers aimed at defending itself against any attack. Israeli sources have continued to point out that Israel has not yet withdrawn from the idea of a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Jerusalem’s new mayor Nir Barkat has yet to take office, but he has already made many inflammatory statements which pundits suspect he will never be able to enforce. Barkat said he would dismantle the controversial bridge over the entrance to the city, and pave over the light rail tracks that are under construction from Mt. Zion to Pisgat Zeev.

Pedestrians and drivers unfortunate enough to have to maneuver through Jerusalem’s streets these days find themselves stuck in snarled traffic, walking in crowded dirty streets flanked by trucks, tractors and building equipment, beset on all sides by the ugly ten-foot deep ten-foot wide pits dug around the city that will one day contain the infrastructure and be the base of the light-rail project.

Barkat’s latest statement was that he would replace the light rail line with more buses, perhaps even those powered by electricity. However, this begs the delicate issue of the Egged Bus monopoly in Jerusalem. Anyone riding the buses realizes quickly Egged is not about passenger comfort. The buses lurch around corners, jerk to stops sending the elderly scurrying for handrails. The company is more intent on profit than safety or comfort. For mayor-elect Barkat to suggest that Egged would be a reasonable alternative to a light-rail is like suggesting that a horse-and-buggy would be a more comfortable and safer ride than a modern sedan.

Even though trolley-cars have been around for a century, the modern system provides smooth safe rides. As the city’s population ages, this is a consideration. This writer on a rare bus excursion, witnessed one elderly man using a cane fighting for balance as the young driver gunned the gas away from a stop and jammed on the brake when approaching the next. The seats were hard. The floors were slippery. Clearly Mayor Barkat has not been on a bus for some time, or he wouldn’t have recommended Egged as an alternative to anything.

Reports are now coming out that Mr. Barkat is a self-centered egoist who is neither pleasant nor pliable. His reputation is one of an autocrat who likes to give orders and dislikes listening to advice or opinions. Should he continue in this vein it seems he will be polishing his act for the big show, the office of Prime Minister where ego, not talent or ability, seem the main qualification.

One wonders if salesmanship, perception, not reality, are not what drives a government, a country, the world. If that is the case than a good con man is all that’s needed. But when the time comes will the leader who says they can steer the ship of state actually be able to keep the ship on course, moving forward, in a fierce storm?. As Israel witnessed in the War In Lebanon II, just became someone’s a Prime Minister, doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing.

The perception of reality isn’t the same as reality. When the virtual worlds flicker and die because of lack of electricity, someone better be around who knows how to light a fire.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crime In The Streets

The murder of reputed mob boss Ya’acov Alperon on the streets of Tel Aviv was the latest in the audacious criminal acts carried out recently in Israel. Alperon, 54, was killed Monday afternoon when his private vehicle passed over a bomb at the corner of Pinkas Street and Namir Road in north Tel Aviv. He was on his way home from court, where two of his sons were on trial for extortion.

Several months ago a rival of Alperon’s was the target of a botched assassination attempt on the beaches of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. The henchman escaped but a young Russian-immigrant mother was shot to death by an errant bullet.

According to press reports only a hundred to two hundred men make up the Israeli crime families. One opinion piece in the Haaretz newspaper claimed a clean sweep of the criminals from the streets of Israel would take a matter of hours.

Police sources confirmed that crime kingpin Amir Mulner is a central suspect in the investigation. Yitzhak and Meir Abergil, currently in police custody until their extradition to the United States, are also prime suspects. Last year Alperon was suspected of hiring foreign hit men to kill mob boss Abergil.

Their rivalry is believed to be fueled by competition over bottle recycling in central Israel, a business that earns millions of shekels annually and is largely controlled by the underworld.

Rafi and Moshe Ohana, members of a rival family to the Alperons, have also been cited as possible suspects, as have members of the Kedoshim family of Herzliya.

Since July, there have been at least five hit attempts on leading underworld figures. Two attempts were made to take out Rami Amira, a member of the Abergil crime organization, in one month.

In July gunmen shot Amira on Bat Yam's Tobago beach. He was slightly wounded, but Margarita Lautin, who was on the beach with her family, was killed. A month later a bomb was found near his parents' house in Netanya, near a kindergarten. It was dismantled. A few days later gunmen shot Charlie Abutbul in a Netanya restaurant, seriously injuring him.

Israel is a democracy, but criminals hide behind the laws meant to protect innocent civilians. More often than not the criminals go free, or serve light sentences, running their affairs from jail much as Paul Servino did in “Goodfellas.”

At the funeral of Alperon his wife and children all swore revenge, promising to rip the limbs from the killers, and send them to “gan eden” to heaven. The commentaries in the paper cited the strong resemblance to Alperson’s wife to that of Tony Soprono’s wife in the popular Mafia TV show.

But the Alperons and their ilk are not TV actors, unless the Israeli mafia is viewed as a reality show. And like Marlin Brando in the Godfather, men like Alperon are rumored to have politicians, police, and judges, “in their pocket like loose change.”

According to an investigative report that appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper earlier this month, former president Moshe Katsav, his wife, and two of his children share joint ownership of plots of land in the Be'er Sheva and Givat Brenner areas with reputed crime bosses Reuven and Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli. And businessman and Likud central committee member Aryeh Shasha.

Gavrieli-owned companies would often buy up many tracts of land, most of them agricultural, at low prices, in the hope that one day those pieces of property would be allocated to residential real estate projects.

The land owned by the Gavrieli’s and Katzav is northeast of Kibbutz Givat Brenner, and stretches across dozens of dunams, most of which is held by a different company under the name "A.R.A.S. Properties and Investments." The Gavrieli’s have since fallen on hard times, as their financial empire collapsed under the weight of the police investigation. Another report stated that Katzav had long been a defender of the Gavrielis while he was active in the Likud.

The spotlight was turned on the family when the Likud placed Shlomi Gavrieli’s daughter Inbal Gavrieli (granddaughter of the family elder) on the election list, in a safe slot, so that at the age of 27 she was elected to the Knesset.

In 2006 the police arrested Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli’s son Shlomi Gavrieli, who has since fled to Florida, and his son Shoni, as well as Shlomi’s brother Reuven, on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion, as well as operating illegal internet casinos.

Others detained at the time were Meir Abergil, the brother of suspected crime family head Itzik Abergil, and Yoram Tsarfati, the son of the 1970’s kingpin Mordechai “The Mensch” Tsarfati.

When the authorities came to search the Gavrieli house, MK Inbal Gavrieli used her parliamentary immunity to stop them, saying that she also lived there.

In an interview after the arrests then one time Likud member, Tourism Minister, former Kadima party Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, said he believed the illegal gambling sector was worth between three to four billion dollars a year. Hirschson was later indicted for embezzling money from a non-profit organization he ran, and smuggling in a suitcase of cash from Poland.

The police claim that they do not have the technology to fight crime. They need sophisticated tools to defeat the criminals but are stuck with outdated items with no chance of matching the high tech devices used by the criminals.

A news report stated that the budget to fight crime on the criminals terms was submitted to the government. According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper “… the last time a police commissioner dared to demand a larger crime-fighting budget, he was rebuked in public by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.”

Sharon apparently either by design or ignorance, allowed the Gavrieli family, and other crime families, to flourish under his rule. Likud’s present party chairman Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has done nothing to excise the crime family support from the Likud. Gavrieli’s daughter is no longer on the party’s safe seat list, and no longer a Knesset member. But the specter of the criminal families influence still hangs over the Likud, and even Kadima.

Likud chairman Netanyahu announced that stars like Benny Begin and Dan Merior and Moshe Ya’alon have joined the Likud. Three men with good solid reputations whose participation with the Likud offsets some of the bad PR the Likud had under Sharon..

But the danger to Israeli society hasn’t lessened. A bomb was tossed at a Ramle police station yesterday, but failed to explode. The news analysts say this was in response to the Alperon ‘hit.’

How was this tied in, pundits ask? Were the police at the Ramle station involved in the ‘hit?” Or was the bomb a warning that the police stay out of the fray? Whatever it was, the message made the newspapers and was linked to the crime families.

Analysts wonder if Netanyahu, once he is elected Prime Minister, which seems to be the logical outcome at this point in history, will do anything to curb the enthusiasm and audacious behavior of the Israeli mobsters. Will he fund the police in cracking down on the crime families, or veto the suggestion, as did Ariel Sharon.

Crime has always been around, since the beginning of mankind. Even Cain didn’t hold back his hand when Abel upset him. But is crime an integral part of modern society? Of modern Israel? Can Israeli exist without it?

The odds are strong we’ll never find out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jerusalem's New Mayor

Nir Barkat, the secular forty-seven year old former major in the paratroops, has been elected mayor of Jerusalem defeating the ultra-orthdox Meir Porush by 52 per cent to 42 percent. The third candidate, Akady Gydamak, garnered only 3 per cent of the vote. Barkat only won 6 seats on the 31 member city council, and will need a coalition that includes the ultra-orthodox, with 13 seats, if he wants to get any bills passed.

Barkat, a life-long Jerusalem resident, is married and the father of three daughters. He lives in Jerusalem's Beit HaKarem neighborhood. According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, Barkat completed his bachelor's degree in computer science from the Hebrew University, and nearly enough course work for his master's degree. He left academic studies to form the BRM computer company, and was responsible for helping develop software that became extremely popular and useful. He served four years as CEO of Checkpoint, the world-renowned firewall company using technology he helped develop.

Barkatis the latest in a long list that dates back to 1882, when a city council was established, in 1863, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

According to authoritative sources, Jerusalem was divided into two municipalities between 1948-1967. The Israeli municipality provided services to the western neighborhoods and the Jodanian municipality of “Amanat Al-Quds to the eastern part.

The first modern-era mayor was Abdelrahman al-Dajani who served from 1863-1882. From then on a variety of Arab mayors held the reigns until WW1 when the British established a military governor in 1917.

In 1937, as the world steered a course to yet another war, Daniel Auster became mayor during the British Mandate, was replaced in 1938 by a municipal committee run by Mustafa al-Khalidi, but returned to the mayor’s chair in 1944.

Daniel Auster was also the first mayor of Jerusalem after statehood. short interim period then took place with Jerusalem again under British rule He was a member of the National Assembly for the General Zionists party, and one of the men who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

As far back as 1947 Auster came out against the internationallizion of Jerusalem. He made his opinion known when he addressed the United Nations in 1947.

Gershon Agron, the publisher of the Jerusalem Post, was mayor from 1955-1959. According to Marlin Levin, who worked for Agron at the Jerusalem Post, then went on to be on Time Magazine’s Jerusalem staff for over forty years, said that Agron was part of the pre-state Haganah, and ran a secret radio station from the back of the apartment. Agron was constantly entertaining, even when a group of Haganah soldiers were in the back of the flat trying to decode messages the British were sending to the Arab armies.

The most famous of Jerusalem’s mayors would be the late Teddy Kolleck, who passed away recently at the age of 93. Kolleck took over a divided Jerusalem and undivided it. The Israeli army had defeated the Jordanians, who joined the Arab forces fighting against Israel in 1967 and lost their hold on E. Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Right-wing politicians point out that Jordan only held the West Bank and E. Jerusalem from 1947-1967. Before that Jordan, as country, did not exist.

Teddy Kolleck was a well-liked man who had a homey unpretentious quality about him. He was equally comfortable falling asleep at the feet of Marlene Deitrich (an old archive photo show Kolleck sitting on the floor of a crowded small living room in Jerusalem, dosing, with Deitrich’s famous legs a few inches from his cheek.) as he was speaking to a room filled with dignitaries at the King David Hotel.

Kolleck, born in Vienna, was part of the Zionist pre-state establishment. He was a secretary to David Ben Gurion, and considered one of the pre-state’s leaders. Ben Gurion appointed him as the Mayor in 1965, considering the position as prestigious as that of a Knesset seat, or a Cabinet minister. Kolleck behaved, in fact, as if Jerusalem were part of Israel’s top priorities, up there with defense and security.

Kolleck made the city friendly to foreigners, enticing stars and celebrities to visit, and donate money. He started the Jerusalem Foundation, which was responsible for many of the parks and public sites in Jerusalem. In this way he didn’t have to rely on the government to help develop the city.

According to his autobiography, Kolleck claims that Ben Gurion wanted to repeat something the Mamelukes rulers of Egypt did in 1290 when they defeated the Crusaders after a long bloody war and devastating siege. What Ben Gurion wanted to do was knock down the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, making it one unified city with no distinctions. Kolleck and a wide chorus of supporters was against the move. Ben Gurion eventually dropped the idea.

Kolleck served as mayor of Jerusalem until 1993, when he was defeated by the right-wing Likud party’s candidate Ehud Olmert. Critics of Kolleck claim he could have allowed his Labor party to maintain control of the city had he only appointed a successor while he was still in power. But Kolleck refused, and ran unsuccessfully against Olmert just as the Likud was rising to power in the city.

Olmert, who had been one of the princes of the Likud, even as a cabinet minister under Yitzchak Shamir, served as Jerusalem’s mayor for ten years then went into national politics, leaving the city in the hands of deputy-mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Lupolianski served from 2003 until he was forced to turn over the candidacy to another ultra-orthodox party, because of part of the complicated power sharing arrangements among the ultra-orthodox parties.

Lupolianski, a genial man with a pleasant smile, rose to prominence as the founder, with his modern-orthodox father, of Yad Sarah, a charitable organization that provides, free of charge, materials an out-patient needs when leaving the hospital; anything from a wheel-chair to oxygen tanks, even hospital beds.

But charity and a pleasant smile did not make him a good mayor. Analysts believe he was more an apparatchik, following orders from the Rabbis, than an innovator, or moderator. Recently a poll placed Jerusalem at the bottom of the list of Israeli cities.

Anyone who lived through the previous mayors, all the way back to Kolleck, was disheartened at the decreased city services. This was caused by the increase in the ultra-orthodox population in the city, who considered employment a full day at the yeshiva, paid no taxes, and were in general supported by those Jerusalemites and Israelis paying taxes.

The last election pitted Meir Porush, son of an old-line ultra-Orthodox politician and Jerusalem fixer Menachem Porush, against Nir Barkat, a clean-cut secular high-tech millionaire.

With headlines blaring the brain drain from Jerusalem by the cities young people, the Porush candidacy was viewed by the die-hard secular and modern-orthodox population, who had not yet fled the city for the surrounding suburbs and moshavim, or farther still, to the coast, as just another link in the chain leading the city to a disastrous economy.

The fact that Porush was opposed, not only by Barkat, but also by the Agudat Yisrael ultra-orthodox party, run by the Gerer Rebbe Ya'acov Aryeh Alter's sect, sealed his fate. With only the disaffected in the ultra-orthodox world, like Shas, some modern orthodox, those who opposed ultra-orthodox dictates requiring separate seating of men and women on buses and other increasingly radical behaviors, Porush simply didn’t have the support in the religious community to get elected.

Haaretz reporter Yair Ettinger commented after the election that Porush, was a mavrick, opposing the Ger Rebbe’s rule of ultra-orthodox politics. The Ger Rebbe, according to the report, kept choice teaching and government jobs for its own people, and denied Shas and others a decent income, and even entry to the Agudat Yisrael schools.

Nir Barkat has a lot on his plate. The future of Jerusalem is bleak. The increasing ultra-orthodox population, with their stress on yeshiva learning, will continue to weaken the tax-base. The pressure by a new US administration to divide Jerusalem will begin again as soon as Barak Obama takes office. This according to ex-US President Jimmy Carter, who claimed jump-starting the peace talks between the Arabs and Israelis was high on Obama’s list.

Still, most non-Ultra orthodox Jerusalemites believe Barkat holds the only hope for a revitalization of the city. While pundits agree Teddy Kolleck was one in a million, they put out hope that Nir Barkat can rise above modest expectations and put the city back on track. Keeping it from becoming an ultra-orthodox stronghold that is driving out the secular money-earners,.

Meir Porush mad the mistake of saying that within fifteen years ultra-orthodox mayors will rule all of Israel’s cities. His defeat at the hands of the secular Barkat may well be proof that he and the ultra-orthodox community have reached the pinnacle of their political power, with a leveling off and slow reduction to follow.

Like it or not the ultra-orthodox will now have a secular mayor to deal with, again. The city may reclaim it’s title as a ‘special’ Israeli city, and a wonder of the world’s urban centers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Great American Day

Great Day For America

The Israeli media is in favor of Barak Obama as U.S. President. Politicians on both the left and right issued statements in support of the new president.

Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni said she expects the strong friendship between Israel and the US to continue under President Obama. Analysts predict that Obama won’t abandon Israel.

Other Israeli pundits looked at the campaign and thought this was an example of democracy at its best. “A model worth of emulation.” In Israel new elections are scheduled for February. So far Mrs. Livni has not been able to form a coalition, and has had to call new elections.

The give-and-take of Israeli politics was too much for Livni, according to analysts. While she claimed she wouldn’t give in to the demands of the ultra-orthodox Sephardi Shas party, other potential partners also proved nettlesome.

Following her failure to form a new coalition, or continue the one set up by her predecessor Ehud Olmert, former Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz hinted that he would take over the party chairmanship if offered. In a counter response Mrs. Livni announced she’d appoint Mofaz deputy Prime Minister if she were elected.

But Kadima success in the next elections are not a sure thing. On Israel Television yesterday, Benjamin Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, announced his return to Israeli politics. In a press conference seated beside Likud chairman Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, Begin said that he felt it the right time to return, even if he would be on the right-wing of the Likud party.

Begin quit politics, and the Likud, ten years ago, after a disagreement with Netanyahu over the return of parts of Hebron to Palestinian rule. “If being a radical means I don’t believe that the Palestinians or the Arabs want to make peace with Israel, then I’m a radical.”

Netanyahu has also accepted former Chief-of-Staff ‘Boogy’ Yaalon into the ranks of the Likud. According to political commentators, faced with this array of powerhouses, Mrs. Livni looks as electable as John McCain running against Barak Obama.

Benny Begin, like Tzip Livni, has a reputation as a straight honest guy. But an item in today’s Haaretz newspaper, however, might work against the Likud. It involved corruption and hints of corruption in very high places. Former President Moshe Katzav, long a Likud prince, was reportedly in a business relationship with the notorious Gavrieli crime family.

During an income tax investigation into one of the Gavrieli’s dealings, evidence surfaced that former President Katzav, still appealing his conviction for rape of a woman in his Presidential bureau, was the owner of acres of land near Beer Sheva, in partnership not only with a Gavrieli, but also with another Likud powerhouse. The Gavrilis, it was pointed out, also used the Likud to place one of their own high enough on the candidates list to be elected to the Knesset.

Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has long been rumored to be above the law when it comes to influence peddling, and accepting gifts, offered or not. The press has even reported on Netanyahu’s walking out of restaurants without paying the bill, expecting the restaurant owner to absorb the cost as the price of having Mr. Netanyahu in the establishment.

The current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is under investigation for double billing airplane tickets, and other fiduciary games. One reporter commented that this was the way Israelis behave in politics. Both Olmert and Netanyahu are simply behaving according to the rules of the game in Israel.

One can’t imagine this behavior taking place unpunished in the United States. Nor could one imagine Barak Obama, or John McCain sinking to such transparent fiddling. Obama, clearly a smart, urbane, well-spoken man, has carefully watched every step he has taken since he decided to enter the national political arena a decade ago.

Obama has the gift of rhetorical flight that was matched only by Bill Clinton at his best. Or John Kennedy when he was reading scripts written by the likes of Pierre Salinger or Bill Moyers.

An Obama presidency, the media tell us, speaks of great hope and promise. On a recent Panorama TV magazine program, the issue of a politician represented on TV or in the movies came into focus. A woman playing President on TV prepares the audience for just such an occurrence in real life. In the TV series ‘24’ an African-American president ran the White House. According to this documentary, these types of personifications laid the groundwork for Barak Obama as President.

During one segment of the show Martin Sheen, as US President in the hit TV show “The West Wing,” told his priest, an old friend, played by Karl Malden, that “In this room you have to refer to me as ‘Mr. President.’ It’s just that I have decisions to make here that are national, not personal.” The priest understood. One of the series producers then said that the writers imbued the president with all the great qualities they wished a president to have. Fiction aiming at reality.

However, reality isn’t always fiction. Can Barak Obama, who can give a perfect acceptance speech, getting even strong men like Jesse Jackson to shed a tear, actually become the President of the reality facing America in difficult times. Can he face the question of Obama vs. Qassam rockets.

Sky news, while reporting on Obama’s moving acceptance speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, questioned if the new president wasn’t going to meet severe tests from many quarters. The announcer informed the viewers that a Qassam rocket barrage was falling on the South of Israel as the acceptance speech was going on.

The barrage came after an Israeli commando raid into Gaza to destroy a 250-meter long tunnel that crossed under the border fence. The Israelis claim this tunnel was “A ticking bomb” ready to be used as part of a new kidnapping plot.

Nearly sixty rockets fell on Southern Israel, causing little damage and no injuries. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni ccalled the attack a flagrant violation of the cease-fire. Hamas said the rocket barrage was in response to the Israeli raid and that they were honoring the ceasefire.

The Israeli raid resulted in the destruction of the tunnel, but the killing of five Hamas gunmen, and the wounding of one Israeli soldier. Sometime later another Hamas gunman was killed along the Gaza border by Israeli troops.

This is only one example of the tests that Obama may face in office. While the right wing in Israel bemoans the election, crying that Israel can kiss the West Bank and Jerusalem goodbye, others moderate analysts are saying that Israel will almost certainly
face another Arab-Israeli war in the next four years.

Will President Obama be up to the challenge? Will the oval office shape him, or will he shape the oval office?

No matter which, the common feeling in Israel is that the Obama victory is good for America, while it may not exactly be good for Israel. The disenfranchised poor of America see one of their own rise from the dust to the heights of success, and do it clean and neat.

The election of Barak Obama has truly shown that America is a great country, even though the old sections where bigotry and racism still flourish predictably voted against him.

Israel just celebrated the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, who tried to make peace with the enemy. Neo-Nazis have been caught with a plot to kill Obama, and he wasn’t even President.

Obama has chosen one of the toughest jobs in the world, and for him one of the most dangerous. But while it lasts, he is a model for many that indeed “Yes, we can.”

If nothing else that makes the 2008 Presidential elections a great day for America.