Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Talibanization of Israel?

According to Tuesday’s (Nov 8, 2009) Israeli Haaretz newspaper the European Union foreign ministers said today that a way should be found to make Jerusalem the capital of two nations, Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Haaretz reported that “Last week, Israel sternly warned the EU against adopting new language that endorses East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.”

Analysts say that Jerusalem is the hot potato of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. They point to a document drawn up by the Swedish delegation to the EU as incendiary. In that document, delivered by the present head of the EU, a call went out for E. Jerusalem as the Palestinian capitol of Jerusalem. The document also called for a Palestinian state entailing E. Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Israeli sources criticized Sweden for the document. Pundit believe the document only lowers Israel’s regard for the EU as a fair and honest broker in the peace process. The EU ministers insist upon a comprehensive regional settlement as part of the negotiations. The ministers did, however, compliment Israel’s PM Netanyahu on his call for a ten-month freeze on settlement.

The activists in the settlement community did not view this freeze so positively. Protests have been held and demonstrators have resisted the Minister of Defense inspectors sent into the large settlements to record any building activity.

Yesterday the West Bank’s ‘Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva’ one of the religious seminaries that combine service in the Israel Defense Forces with study at the religious institutions, made the news when the head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, was singled out for censure after publishing a book called Revivim, based on a weekly column of the same name in the right-wing weekly B'Sheva, in which Melamed advocates refusing military orders to evacuate settlements in Judea and Samaria.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the controversy became heated when OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi said that the Har Bracha Yeshiva should be expelled from the hesder yeshiva framework. Other more moderate voices opined for a dialogue to resolve the issues, reminding listeners that the alienation of the settler movement in the past caused such deep divisions in Israel and such animosity that Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated as a result.

Hesder includes about 40 religious-Zionist yeshivot under which religious high school graduates can choose a shortened army service of 18 months combined with with three-and-a-half years of yeshiva studies. About 1,300 students a year enroll in this program.

According to Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld, head of the Shadmot Mehola Yeshiva in the Jordan Valley, none of the other heads of the Hesder yeshivot agree with Rabbi Melamed. Rabbi Rosenfeld, who was one of the six Hesder heads to meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday, said the issue had been blown out of all proportion and was ‘behind us.’
But other voices saw modern-Orthodox Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman’s statement that he hoped Israel would one day be government by Torah law as the increasing “Talibanization” of Israel.

Neeman told rabbis and rabbinical judges attending a conference in Jerusalem on Jewish monetary laws that "restoring the former glory, so that the law of the Torah is Israel's law, is really the appropriate way to endow upon us the law of Torah in stages… step after step."

Leader of the opposition, Kadima chair Tzipi Livni, also a former Justice Minister, told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that such sentiments should "be troubling to every citizen in Israel," Other Knesset members called for Neeman’s resignation.

A recording of Sephardi sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef calling for his followers to ignore Israeli civil and criminal courts and only adhere to Halachic (Torah-based) judgments passed down by religious courts was played on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet today. The former Sephardi Chief Rabbi also said that there was no halachic difference between gentile judges and Jewish judges deliberating according to gentile laws.

Rabbi Yosef quoted a halacha stating that "anyone who legislates in secular courts is raising one's hand to the Torah of Moses our teacher, he is deemed a wicked person and cannot not be counted in a minyan."

Later Justice Neeman’s office issued a conciliatory statement that said "Minister Neeman spoke in broad and general terms about restoring the stature of Jewish law and about the importance of Jewish law to the life of the country."

Many observers blame the founders of the modern state of Israel for the current crises. David Ben Gurion was in favor of creating a religious and non-religious education system, in which parents could chose which stream to enroll their children.

Over the years this created two separate peoples each with their own values sometimes in opposition to the others. Little cross-culture was observed, in fact, much animosity was created with secular Israelis resenting any type of ‘religious coercion’ encroaching into their daily lives.

The rise in the strength of the ultra-Orthodox parties created a situation where any Israeli government must agree to measures that incense the secular population. Both sides, according to analysts, are always playing for an advantage. The ultra-Orthodox parties are always seeking to garner more of the budget for their organizations, and the secular parties complain that the money belongs to the secular population who serve in the army and pay taxes.

Political experts believe that should Jerusalem be divided along Palestinian and Israeli lines, the ultra-Orthodox population would no longer be able to be as violent and obdurate as they are today since the city would undoubtedly in the end be declared an international free zone. In that case, one observer points out, no demonstrations would be allowed against a parking lot near the Old Citiy’s Jaffa gate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fourth Of July, A Short Story by Samovar Lightfoot

Fourth Of July

Short Story by Samovar Lightfoot

Fourth of July, 1961, Chicago Loop.

Harry was behind the bullet-proof glass. Only two cars had

pulled into the parking lot since he'd started his shift at eight in the morning, relieving Willy Blackman. Willy'd been asleep when Harry knocked on the window, startling him awake. Willy went for his gun, a .38 snubnose special he kept in his belt. When he saw Harry he took his hand off the gun. Willy didn't smile much. A smirk was the best Harry ever got.

After Willy had turned over the change and cash Harry'd need for his shift, Willy'd gone to his canary-yellow Cadillac, and driven out of the lot. Harry'd put the 12-inch portable GE television on the counter, ready to watch the baseball games later in the day. He had a twelve-hour shift to kill.

Harry worked Sundays and holidays. Usually there was no business until later in the afternoon when families came down to the Loop for dinner. The lot had a contract with the Blackhawk Restaurant providing free-parking for the dinner guests, if they returned with a stamped ticket.

A short list of typed names was taped to the wall near the cash register. Most of the names were Chicago big-wigs who parked for free. Some of the names were Mafia dons. When they pulled in they were usually followed by a non-descript sedan occupied by stern-faced men in suits who Harry assumed were the FBI.

Getting up for work wasn't easy. He'd been out on a date until three in the morning. When the alarm went off at seven he thought he'd been shot.

The two cars had come in together, a Plymouth and a Chevrolet; two families heading somewhere, dragging little chldren who protested all the way down the driveway and out towards Randolph Avenue.

Harry'd been working in the parking lot for two years, since he was 15. It was owned by his cousin, part of a chain of about fifty lots. During the summer and on holidays Harry parked cars alongside the men, all black, who treated him kindly.

Cars were part of Harry's life then. Parking them, admiring them in magazines, going to races. He and his buddies, the other four Jewish guys, would sit around and listen to records of the sounds of car races trying to identify the cars.

"That's a Ferrari," Al would say. Al was the genius, a homely Judo champ who was always skipping grades. "Nah, it's a Lotus," Gabe would say. Gabe was the muscular dunce who was always flunking. If tests knew what ADD was then he'd have been on Ritalin and given more time at exams. David wouldn't say anything. He never did. In later years he became a well-respected radiologist, but that too is a solitary profession. David and Harry and Gabe had been on the football team together until Gabe been expelled for misbehavior and wound up in a private and expensive Military school. The last in the group was Earl, a smart, pudgy non-athletic kid who was usually asleep. He was a decade younger than his next sibling, and the spoiled baby of the family.

Gabe and Al had their own car. They were partners. They'd been given the little Morris Minor as a gift by a shady character who'd caught their attention one morning when he'd flown down the street in his red-Ferrari, a car as rare as the abominable snowman in their north-side brown brick apartment building neighboorhod where Chevy's and Fords were the mainstays and a Buick was already a move up.

His name was Dick, and he was some minor hoodlum, hiding out in the neighborhood in a third-floor walk-up. The Ferrari kept in a wooden garage in the alley behind the apartment building. Gabe and Al worshiped the guy, who was handsome, trim, and claimed to race sports cars. He even deposited the Morris Minor on the street, complete with black rollbar and numbers painted on the doors.

The engine block had frozen up. He gave Al and Gabe the car. They rented a wooden garage in an alley a few blocks away and worked feverishly trying to rebulid it. They had dreams for the car, cutting off the old body and replacing it with a fiberglass Devlin, bought from a magazine.

The hauled out the engine, took it apart and rebuilt it, dropped it back in the Morris Minor, and were impatient to test it. The car didn't have any doors or a front bumper. The hood was standing on it's side near the door of the garage. When they tried the key, the engine wouldn't turn over. So they thought of a push to start it.

Gabe and Al pushed he car out of the garage, out to the alley. Al thought if Gabe pushed it, got it going fast enough, Al would pop the clutch and the engine would catch. They tried it until Gabe was covered in sweat and gave up. They couldn't get the car going fast enough.

By then they'd reached the end of the alley, and were near the street. A young guy driving by in an old Oldsmobile saw them, and offered to help. They man handled the Morris out into the street. Gabe and Al sat side by side, and the other guy started pushing. Up to speed, pop the clutch, zip. No luck.

Then Al thought the problem was the carburator. He had Gabe stand on the metal struts that usually held the bumper, lean over into the engine, and play with the choke and carburator while he released the clutch. Again the push, the speed, pop the clutch. Zip.

Okay, Al said, I'll do it. So he switched places with Gabe. Got on the struts, the car behind pushed, the car came up to speed, Gabe popped the clutch, the engine coughed once, twice, backfiring and sending out a plume of black smoke, then the engine froze up, the tires bit hard into the asphalt as if Gabe hit the brakes. Al was thrown twenty feet from the car in a graceful arch landing with a thump as his head hit the cement curb.

By the time Gabe reached him blood was pouring from his ears. By the time the ambulance arrived Al had been dead for ten minutes.

Harry heard the news on the radio. "A freak traffic accident is the only fatality on this July Forth. Seventeen year old Aly Feldman was killed...."

Harry's knees went out from under him. He called his boss for relief, and then rushed to Al's house. Al was an only child. His parents were inconsolable. Al's grandmother kept calling Gabe a murderer.

Two days later Harry was a pallbearer at his friend's funeral.

There would be no more horse-play. No more games. Wearing dark

suits and white gloves, the four friends were no long kids. Death had ended their childhood.

A coroner's inquiry cleared Gabe of any criminal charges.

But Gabe never forgave himself, nor forgot. Some say you never really get past being seventeen. Al never did. The rest of us ran from it as fast as we could.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letter From The Taxman

Sometimes the IRS or Mas Hachnesah (the Israeli equivalent) send out letters to a
taxpayer demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars, or shekels, in back taxes. These
letters are usually a complete surprise and result in the taxpayer quickly contacting
the IRS or Mas Hachnesah.

That was the government’s point: to get the taxpayers attention. Soon it becomes evident that the sums of money the government demanded in the letter were gross exaggerations. Once the dialogue begins between the IRS and the taxpayer the real reason for the letter becomes clear; some issue of back-taxes or another at a sum greatly reduced from the heart-stopping number in the first letter.

Pundits assume that this is the same tactic U.S. President Barack Obama is using with the Israelis when he makes the statement that the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is a settlement.

Gilo has nearly 50,000 residents serviced by Jerusalem’s bus lines. Gilo residents pay their city taxes to Jerusalem. Gilo students attend Jerusalem schools. For all intents and purposes Gilo is part of the Jerusalem municipality.

During the Second Intifada that began in September 2000, Palestinians perched in nearby Beit Jalla and fired on Gilo. According to Wikipedia, “Between 2000-2002, during the first two years of the Second Intifada, there were over 400 shooting incidents targeting Gilo from Beit Jalla. Although Beit Jalla is predominantly Christian, it was infiltrated by Fatah's Tanzim gunmen, who purportedly positioned themselves in or near Christian homes and churches in the knowledge that a slight deviation in Israeli return fire would harm Christian buildings…. The shooting included gunfire and mortar attacks. Many civilians were injured and homes facing Beit Jalla suffered extensive property damage, prompting many residents to leave. The Israeli government eventually built a cement barrier and bulletproofed the outer row of homes. The shooting on Gilo ceased entirely only after Operation Defensive Shield.”

During that operation the IDF invaded the West Bank, including Ramallah, and captured Yassir Arafat, putting him under house arrest, and effectively ending the Second Intifada.
The head of Tanzim Mawran Bargouti was also arrested during that operation, and later convicted of murder. He is now serving several life terms, but is still talked about as a possible replacement for Mohammed Abbas, the current head of the Palestinian Authority.

Observers remember when sandbags appeared in the windows of Gilo apartments. When the Israeli government set up the wall of pre-fab cement blocks nine-feet tall stretching the entire length of Gila’s frontier with Beit Jala. The wall protected those Gilo citizens driving along the frontier street, as well as the pedestrians, some of whom were taking their children to the local school, and pre-school centers.

Palestinians snipers firing into Gilo from Beit Jala shot Israelis. One case was a 22-year old policeman who was shot in the heart. He languished unconscious in Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem for months, but miraculously recovered. Other shots ripped into a local day-care center. Cars traveling along a road beneath Gilo heading into the Gush Etzion block were fired at indiscriminately until the government put up the pre-fab nine-foot tall concrete blocks there as well.

The Gilo wall still stands. Local artists painted beautiful pastoral scenes on the wall. The government paid to have bulletproof glass put in the windows of those apartments facing Beit Jala.

Calling Beit Jala a settlement isn’t new. During the second Intifada some foreign news services referred to Gilo as a settlement, using statements like “Palestinian guerillas today fired at the Israeli settlement of Gilo,” giving the impression that Gilo was somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, on an isolated hilltop surrounded by pastureland, not a part of Jerusalem.

Gilo was captured by Israel from the Jordanian army during the 1967 Six-Day War, and sits over the 1967 ‘Green Line’. Other neighborhoods captured then were East Talpiot in the southeast, French Hill in the Northeast, and Ramot in the Northwest. Back in the 1980’s these new neighborhoods were referred to by Israeli Foreign Ministry officials as the ‘New Wall Around Jerusalem.’ They were meant to do exactly what Gilo did during the Second Intifada, absorb the enemy’s fire so it didn’t reach the center of the city.

Today the combined population of these neighboods exceeds two hundred thousand Israelis who think of themselves as living in Jerusalem. When the U.S. representatives visit Jerusalem, however, they are careful not to venture into these neighborhoods that the State Department has long-considered ‘occupied territory.’

During the Bush administration little mention was made of these neighborhoods being ‘occupied territory.’ Mostly they were considered a natural expansion of Jerusalem. Bush wrote a famous letter to then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon saying it recognized that there had been changes on the ground that needed to be taken into consideration when drawing up final boundaries. Former Premier Ehud Olmert said Bush talked about 1967 plus when talking about borders.

But dissension over settlements always existed even in the Bush administration. According to a Jan 2008 article, the Jerusalem Post reported on an upcoming visit by then U.S. Sec of State Rice saying that the “US has consistently opposed all construction beyond the Green Line, including inside Jerusalem.”

A compromise was apparently worked out with the Obama administration to leave the large settlements, like Ariel, Karnei Shomron, Beit El and Ofra, alone. Lumping Gilo in as part of the definition of settlements was, according to some analysts, meant to get the attention of Israel’s P.M. Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu.

During P.M. Netanyahu’s last visit to the U.S. much was made of the lack of a photo-op at the close of his meeting with President Obama. The Israeli media fell over themselves dissecting the reasons for this apparent ‘snub.’ The consensus was that Netanyahu was not as forthcoming on the settlement issue as Obama expected. And that Netanyahu was in no great rush to negotiate a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, public statements to the contrary.

Today’s Israeli press made mention of the announcement that only 400 Jewish leaders would be invited to the White House for Hanukah celebrations, opposed to the usual 800. “Cold shoulder to the Jewish community” was how the Jerusalem Post described the downsizing of the event.

Some observers say this could lead to a very dangerous situation if the trend to ignore the American Jewish community gathers momentum. By minimalizing the Jewish community’s importance Obama could wind up marginalizing that community. Some in the Jewish Community believe it is only their influence that has kept the Jews in America safe and productive. History has shown, say the oberservers, the difficulties that could arise should the Jews become helpless and vulnerable.

Some time back the Israeli press wrote that Obama’s Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel told the President that the only way to get the Israelis to do anything about peace was to play hardball. One commentator in today’s Israeli papers said that Obama may be paying too much attention to his aides who themselves don’t know what is really going on in the Middle East, just what they think, or want to think, is going on.

Some critics go even further, stating that Obama has assembled a team of sophomoric idealists who have not outgrown their unrealistic concepts held when they were part of the anti-Israeli radical-left back in the 60’s. Today, the critics say, these idealists have aged, grown wealthy, but still hold onto unrealistic goals. The sophomoric approach, the critics say, also applies to the economy. Rather than opt for employment schemes as FDR did during the Great Depression in the 30’s, the Obama administration is looking for ways to cut government jobs, creating even high unemployment. These same critics say that Obama seems primed to make all the wrong moves at the right time.

Moreover, columnists like the New York Times’ Tom Friedman have written on a few occasions that Obama doesn’t have the right take on the Middle East, and that anyway he should be focusing on issues like the economy rather that falling into the trap of thinking he can solve the problems of the Middle East in a few months.

The latest flap over Obama’s people calling Gilo a settlement is in the same vein. No serious politician on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really expects Gilo or any of the other new neighborhoods, the “New Wall Around Jerusalem” to be given up.
Yossie Beilin, one of the authors of the 1993 Oslo Accords, and former head of the left-wing Meretz party, says that Jerusalem is not part of the settlement issue. (Construction within existing settlements was permitted under the Oslo agreements, although the Palestinians later demanded no construction. Analysts say that demand effectively stopped any possibility of negotiations, a situation that continues until today.)

So sending out shocking messages to get attention isn’t always the best way to break a deadlock, or further negotiations. In this instance some say it is more that some college kids broke into the tax authority and started having fun sending out prank letters.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Israel and Switzerland

Trying to find out the breakdown of the Swiss economy can be rather difficult. Why would anyone living in Israel be interested in Switzerland? Simple. The Swiss population of 7.8 million people is roughly the same as that of Israel.

There the similarities nearly stop.

Switzerland has an economy of about $403 billion in 2007, making it, according to some charts, the 16th richest country in the world. It does have the highest per-capital income in the world, about $43,000 per person.

Israel’s per-capita income is $26,600 (2007 est.) with a surprising GDP of about $200 billion.

Most of Switzerland’s economy is based on according to the U.S. State Department website, Aug 2009: “Industry (est. 29% of GDP): Types--machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, time pieces, precision instruments, textiles and clothing, pigment, transportation equipment.
Services (70% of GDP).
Trade: Merchandise exports (2007)--$172.6 billion (207.1 billion Swiss francs): food, beverages, and tobacco (3%; +24%); metal and chemical industries (42%; +12%); precision instruments (7%; +8%); watches (8%; +16%); machinery and electronics (21%; +11%); clothing 1.1%; +4%). Major markets--EU, United States, Canada, CIS, India, Brazil, Japan. Merchandise imports (2007)--$164.8 billion (197.7 billion Swiss francs): consumer goods (38%); equipment (19%); energy (7.1%); raw materials (28%). Major suppliers--EU, U.S., Canada, CIS, South Africa.”

Israel’s breakdown is similar to Switzerland’s. Agriculture: 2.6% industry: 32.4%
Services: 65% (2008 est.)

What big difference jumps out? War. Defense. Survival. Switzerland declared itself a neutral country. While Switzerland does maintain an army, they make sure it doesn’t really have to fight. When Switzerland joined the UN it was with the understanding the Swiss would never send troops to a conflict.

Believe it or not the Swiss air force shot down German planes that encroached Swiss airspace during WWII. They also engaged the US forces and during that war over 100 Allied troops were interned in Swiss prisons. The Allies bombed a few Swiss factories and towns. The Swiss were selling weapons to the Germans. Also the Swiss were lending the Germans money, depending though, how well the war was going.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Israel “… depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel imports substantial quantities of grain but is largely self-sufficient in other agricultural products. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, and agricultural products (fruits and vegetables) are the leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable trade deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the US, its major source of economic and military aid.”

Another big difference between Switzerland and Israel is that Switzerland doesn’t depend on foreign aid to help with its deficit, since it has no deficit. The US provides Israel with about 5 percent of Israel’s GDP. Nearly $3 billion in foreign aid, another $2.5 billion in military grants and loans for the purchase of military weapons, supplies, and replacement parts. Then there’s the additional $10 billion in load guarantees the U.S. provides.

Switzerland’s budget surplus allows Switzerland to remain neutral. Israel, on the other hand, remains dependent on the USA to help Israel with the 10 percent of the GDP spent on defense (about $20 billion a year). Imagine, one pundit says, that if Israel could devote that 10 percent to hi-tech, services, tourism, the positive effect on the economy. And, the pundit adds, don’t forget when a soldier does reserve duty for 30-days, he’s away from his job that is productive to the economy, and gets paid for the month.

So when Israel’s PM Bibi Netanyahu goes to meet with President Obama for a trilateral summit including the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, pundits say he goes not because he wants to, but because the largest donor to Israel’s cause has asked him to.

Israeli Jet fighters, tanks, Armored Personnel Carriers, all run on US engines; helicopters, machine guns, rifles, are pure US Army issue. One observer said, ‘Try telling the country that puts the engines in your tanks and planes you’re not interested in sitting down with the PA for a discussion that may lead to peace. Hard to do.’

The Israeli media’s take on this new summit is that PM Netanyahu is going just because he was pressured by the US to go. In this case pressure could mean shutting off the flow of arms and supplies the Israeli army needs from the US. These threats have happened in the past, under US President Nixon, the first US President Bush, and US President Carter.

So, say the observers, going to New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel to sit with Abbas and Obama isn’t such a big deal. One cartoon shows a nervous sweating Obama sitting near Abbas and Netanyahu pleading for ‘just a little handshake, please.’

“Obama’s 11th Hour Push” was the headline in the Israeli paper Haaretz. After much back and forth by US Special Envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to go to Washington. Abbas, according to the paper, has little legitimacy since his term of office has officially ended and he extended it with the approval of his narrow cabinet, even though elections were scheduled.

Netanayhu has a right-wing coalition to answer to back home and isn’t willing to make any concessions prior to the meeting. This lack of concession is something that has embarrassed Abbas, according to analysts. In today’s Haaretz a report came in about new construction outside the settlement of Beitar Ilit, in contravention of the assurances Israel Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has given George Mitchell.

Most analysts say nothing substantive will come out of the meeting. Netanyahu said today that he’d stop settlement activity if the Arab states would allow Israeli commercial aircraft to fly over their airspace.

Lebanon’s strongman Sheik Nasrallah said this week that he’d never recognize Israel as a state. Hamas has echoed this statement. Syrian President Assad seems to be playing a double game, supplying Hezbollah with arms while talking about peace with Israel. The Iranian dictator has kept on threatening Israel with annihilation.

So what happened to Switzerland?

Israelis pay huge taxes on everything in order to support a military that is necessary to defend the borders. The Swiss are sailing along, no one on their borders threatening them with annihilation, no one calling for their destruction, no one saying they won’t recognize Switzerland as a state.

A veteran analyst said ‘A successful peace process in the Middle East would be wonderful. Especially one with teeth that worked. That really brought peace. But sometimes peace isn’t possible, much as it is desired. A teenager can want to have a lusty affair with Angelina Jolie, but that doesn’t mean it will ever happen.’

Another analyst says that considering the difficulties Israel has faced up to now, it is amazing that the economy is so strong, and Israel is so successful in a number of fields.
The $200 billion less than Switzerland that Israel now makes could be $200 billion more without having to constantly spend precious resources on defense.

The father of neo-conservatism, Irving Krystol, who died recently, said he thought the conflict in the Middle East was a waste.

Clearly, if Israel can make peace with the Palestinians, and then the Arab world, this would be in Israel’s best interest. One observer says that Israelis have shown a lot of things but stupidity isn’t one of them. If peace were possible, he says, then Israel would leap at it.

President Obama’s belief is that Israel is the lynchpin to peace in the Middle East, and to quelling the rise in Islamic Fundamentalism. Perhaps he’s right. If so, and the correct formula is reached, Israel will go along with it. There are few Israelis around who wouldn’t want to turn Israel into Switzerland.

In this Jewish New Year, let’s hope that a positive fate is written in the Book of Life for a real chance for peace.

Shana Tova

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Elders In Zion

Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told the Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday that said the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust, "as it should be."

"But who pays the penance? The penance is being paid by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians."

Tutu was in Israel as part of a group called “The Elders,” made up of former S. African leader Nelson Mandela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Former Irish president and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, and others. Most of the Elders are critical of Israel.

However, Mary Robinson did not only criticize Israel. “Robinson did not restrict her criticism to Israel. "On the Palestinian side, there needs to be much more responsibility to come together in a responsible way, as the PA and Hamas and Fatah and other elements must be much more urgent on the discussions that they are having in Egypt.

Tutu was less even-handed. He drew on his experience in South Africa, comparing the border checkpoints to those he’d encountered in S. Africa. Tutu also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses. He called on governments to impose economic sanctions on Israel, saying the imposition of sanctions worked in S. Africa.

Tutu was asked about the controversy in Petach Tikva where several state-supported religious schools have refused to accept Ethiopian school children. Tutu’s response was “I hope that your society will evolve.”

In fact Israel hasn’t evolved. The ultra-Orthodox do not tolerate the secular Israelis and the secular Israelis resent the ultra-Orthodox as leeches on the body politic, using the Knesset only as a way to insure the fat subsidies while avoiding paying taxes or serving in the army.

However, Ashkeanzi (eastern European) run schools have long been guilty of denying Sephardi (Oriental) Jewish children seats in school, even if the Sephardi kids are ultra-Orthodox. Discrimination is rampant in the world, including in the ultra-Orthodox community. How one dresses, puts on tifilin, wears a hat, is enough for one ultra-Orthodox Jewish group to determine the other isn’t kosher enough for them. Take new immigrant Ethiopian kids whose Jewish origins are in question by the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox establishment, and trouble is a given. Experts say these are problems the State must deal with by managing subsidies to schools, and a firmer hand by the Ministry of Education.

In that Tutu is correct. The fact that Tutu won the Nobel Prize doesn’t carry much weight in Israel. Some critics point out that Yassir Arafat also won the same prize while plotting revolution and terrorist acts.

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanhyahu speaking in Germany said that the problems between the Israelis and Palestinians could be solved if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So far no Palestinian has come forward with this recognition, nor have any of “The Elders” sponsored such an initiative.

One of the “Elders”, Mary Robinson, spoke of a two-State solution. However while it is clear one state will be Palestinian, no one has defined what the demographics of the second state will be. One analyst said that if the Palestinian state were one entity, and a secular democratic state of Israel the other entity, with the population of the Arab Israelis rapidly increasing, it wouldn’t be long before both states would have Arab majorities, and then discuss an amalgamation.

Under the two-State solution, would a Jewish State fit the mold of America’s democracy? No. Would it insure a Jewish future in the region? No. Only a strong Israeli army can insure that. A parallel issue arose in Germany when the publicly funded Berlin Multicultural Center's (Werkstatt der Kulturen) decided to remove educational panels of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler, from a planned exhibit.

Pictures of al-Husseini being greeted by Hitler, even documentary film, are readily available at a variety of sites. al-Husseini was not only greeted by Hitler, according to research, but also given an apartment in Berlin and even made an “Aryan” by special declaration of Hitler. Archive footage of al-Husseini visiting Moslem troops dressed in Nazi uniforms is also available.

The two issues tie up in a simple way, one analyst said. The Arabs hated the Jews long before the existence of a Jewish state. In Tutu’s example it was the whites that hated the blacks. In the current example, according to experts, it is the opposite, the Arabs who have shown enmity towards the Jews, time and again.

One political observer agrees with Israel’s PM Netanyahu, that it is up to the Arabs to show good faith, and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Anything less would probably result in the Jewishness of the state being replaced with a non-denominational democracy, which while enviable, would do nothing to insure the basic tenant of Israel: a safe haven for Jews, protected by a Jewish army, and run by Jews who are looking out for Jewish interests.

The world would be a wonderful place, wrote one pundit, if Israel could give up the quest for a long-term Jewish state recognized by the world, if only relinquishing that goal came with a guarantee that the Jewish residents would be allowed to live in peace and harmony.

History, however, has taught a completely different lesson.
Jewish persecution is nearly as old as history itself. One pundit says that nothing in the modern world, certainly not the declarations of demagogues like Achmadnijad nor Venezula’s Chavez, nor the Wahabi brand of Islam, among others, give the Jewish people any solace; or proof that their safety is secure. With the Iranian atomic bomb on the horizon, safety seems even farther away.

Jews as second-class citizens in Arab countries was not uncommon. Arab honor may be damaged because the Arabs were defeated by these once second-class citizens in many wars; and damaged more by the ill-treatment Arabs certainly receive at the hands of Israeli teenagers in army uniforms holding machine guns, manning the border checkpoints.

The Arab negotiators claim that no recognition of Israel will be granted at this ‘early stage.’ More, they claim, that once real peace talks are held the issue of a Jewish State and Arab recognition of that Jewish state will be raised. They view this recognition as a negotiating chip. If that is really the case than that statement will be challenged if and when negotiations ever take place.

Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman said this week that there would be no peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis for at least the next sixteen years. Was this a scientific analysis? One pundit said it was ost probably just chatter? What is clear, though, said the pundit, is that tomorrow won’t see a peace agreement. Nor will next month. And probably not next year, either. The outstanding issues are greater than Israel freezing settlements, which to the Israelis is a negotiating chip just as powerful as the Arabs demand for resettling refugees, or Arab control of Jerusalem.

U.S.President Obama believes the settlement issue is vital to jump-starting the peace process. This week Israel’s PM Netanyahu has said he’s worked out a plan for a 9-month freeze on settlement construction. Netanyahu has taken heat from the settler community for this statement. But in fact young Israelis seeking housing in the West Bank settlements are being warned that construction is slowing to a halt, forcing these families to look elsewhere. So the freeze is beginning. In the Antarctic once winter sets in the sea freezes at a rate of 4 miles a day. It takes a while for the big area to freeze over. The same may be true in the West Bank today.

Meanwhile the press published yet more verbosity about the imminent release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, now in his forth year of captivity. One tires of watching this carrot dangled in front of the soldier’s poor parents. One only hopes that soon Shalit will be home and that chapter will be closed. But one knows that Hamas and Hezbollah will then set their minds on another captive, launch another raid, and dangle that poor kid in front of the public for as long as they can.

With these conditions present one wonders why the Elders don’t turn their attention to freeing Shalit rather than blaming Jewish tragedies in the Holocaust for the plight of the Palestinians. Israel can be aggressive but the obtuse behavior of the Palestinians in light of their own actions, past and present, against Jews, is nothing more than clever and disingenuous. Positive actions on the Palestinian side, including Hamas laying down their arms, would go a long way to making Israelis feel secure, and willing to move quicker towards a peaceful solution.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

15-minutes of Fame

The ultra-Orthodox riots in Jerusalem were sheer politics, according to most analysts. The Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox group boycotted the Jerusalem elections because they were punishing the ultra-Orthodox candidate, Meir Poruch, who had upset the leader of the Gur Hassidim by voting against a bill in the Knesset the Gur wanted passed. This bill would have meant that certain monies controlled by the Knesset would have been under Gur control. Since Poruch opposed the Gur Hassidim leader, Rabbi Alter, Gur ordered their people to boycott the election for Mayor. Nir Barakat, the secular hi-tech millionaire, won the election because of this.

But Gur wasn’t done. The riots in Jerusalem are simply a way for the Eda Haredit, controlled by Gur, the largest Hassidic sect, to show the new secular mayor who really runs the city. If the excuse of the opening of a city parking lot near the Jaffa gate of the old city hadn’t come up, another one would have.

And did. The ultra-Orthodox mother from the Satmar Hassidic sect that was arrested for child abuse set off another wave of riots. This was yet another excuse for the ultra-Orthodox to show their power.

One source in the ultra-Orthodox community said the Satmar knew of the woman and her problems. But he excused the behavior of the Satmar Hassidim by saying that the Satmar were accustomed to dealing with their problems internally, quietly, not in public, certainly not in the secular press. But the excuse maker was reminded that Satmar hadn’t dealt with this issue, the woman’s child was literally starving to death, and she was suspected of abusing her other children.

This source also excused the group of Natorei Karta, a branch of Satmar, who recently met with the Iranian president Machmud Achmadnijad. In a video posted on Youtube, either by the Natorei Karta or the Iranians, the ultra-Orthodox delegation is shown in this six-minute clip, blessing the Iranian leader, giving him a large silver goblet as a gift, and calling him a hero for opposing Zionism.

The source said even the mainstream Natorei Karta had sidelined this group as crazies. And that the Satmar by and large ignored them. But not publicly. “They keep these criticisms within the community.’

To further compound the current tensions in Israel between the ultra-Orthodox population and the rest of the country a recent poll predicted that by the year 2030 the ultra-Orthodox community would make up the majority in Israel.

One pundit suggested a poster congratulating the ultra-Orthodox. The poster would read, “Mazel Tov. In 2030 you’ll be the majority! You can make all the rules. You can rule
the country as you please. But remember these two basic facts your community will now have to face. 1.) You have to pay taxes to provide your community with the government support it now lives on, and 2.) You have to join the army for who else will defend Israel against her enemies?

Clearly the Natorei Karta believe they can make peace with Israel’s enemies. Their program is to live in ‘Palestine’ as they called it in the Youtube clip, as loyal citizens. ‘We believe in being loyal citizens to whatever country we live in,’ one of the members told the Iranian president.

The members of the delegation also bemoaned the Holocaust for the loss of the great Jewish religious leaders who would have opposed the establishment of a Zionist state had they survived the Nazis. The Iranian president didn’t comment on this, as he has long held that the Holocaust never existed.

This Youtube video underlined Andy Warhol’s quip that everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame. This group got theirs when they met with Machmud Achmadnijad. In the video the diminutive Iranian president is seen shaking the hands of each of the delegates and then hugging them. It should be remembered the Natorei Karta, also met with Yassir Arafat and other of Israel’s implacable enemies. None of these meetings play well with the mainstream Israeli public who, unlike the ‘source’ don’t understand these ultra-Orthodox men are a marginal group within the ultra-Orthodox world.

A more mainstream group in the news is the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, the OU, that has branches around the world. They even have a representative in Bangkok. “How else will you know if the food is kosher?” asked the representative, a heavy-set man in black coat, long beard, and sidecurls, who said he’d been in Thailand for over 25-years.

The Jerusalem branch offers services and programs primarily to the Orthodox American immigrants. They also supervise some aspects of the kashruth observance in Israel, although mostly that is handled by either the State or the ultra-Orthodox community. The OU in Israel also publishes a weekly pamphlet entitled “Torah Tidbits” an informative booklet with the portion of the week, analysis of various aspects of halacha, opinions and ads for the religious public.

But recently the OU published a pamphlet in Hebrew that was passed out to soldiers in the Israeli army through the Army’s chief rabbi’s department. The pamphlet purported to document how the Vatican was running tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah fighters.

The Jerusalem Post ran the story, with a denial by the New York headquarters of OU. NYC claimed they had nothing to do with this pamphlet, that it was strictly a local Jerusalem initiative brought about by right-wing elements in the organization.

The Orthodox community in the USA and Israel are considered by analysts to be supporters of the right-wing camp, and are suspicious of, if not actually against, U.S. President Obama and his policies. Some say that Obama and the Natorei Karta have a lot in common. Both would like to see the Zionist state disappear.

Obama’s recent statements against settlements also include the dozen or so people living in caravans on“illegal outposts” that are making headlines in Israel. Most of these outposts are manned by young Israel men, mostly ‘yeshiva bochers’ (seminary students) with long side-curls, and large knit skullcaps, check shirts, jeans, t-shirts, with tzizit clearly visible. Most are single, pre-army, some of the residents are young couples with babies. To these people settling the Land of Israel is a mitzvah, the exact opposite philosophy from the Netorei Karta that met with the Iranian president.

But both groups have come up against the Israeli authorities, the Israeli police. Today a photograph appeared in the Jerusalem Post of a sign attached to a light pole with a warning to phone the posted number should anyone see the Israeli army and police coming to evacuate a hilltop settlement. The Israeli press was filled with rumors that the Ministry of Defense had issued orders that the 26 illegal hilltop settlements were going to be evacuated all at one time massive army maneuver.

The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, was in charge of the overnight withdrawal from S. Lebanon’s security zone in 2000, a place the Israeli Army had occupied for over 20 years. That move is still being criticized in some circles, although most parents with boys serving in Lebanon were happy their sons were no longer targets of the well-trained and sophisticated Hezbollah fighters.

The mass raids on the hilltop settlements, according to the media, are planned to be a move to appease the demands by the U.S. President Barak Obama, who earnestly believes that if he can cause a freeze in settlement activity, then peace can be put forward. President Obama has also demanded a freeze to building in areas of Jerusalem that are over the green line, the border of what was Jordanian territory for 19-years, from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War
Israel’s Prime Mininster Benjaim ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has said he will never stop building in Jerusalem. Some pundits say this move by President Obama is meant to get Netanyahu to compromise: if Obama lays off Jerusalem, Bibi will freeze settlements. Others think that Obama has been convinced that only force, twisting of arms, threats that monies will be withheld from Israeli coffers, will convince Israel to freeze settlement activity.

In an article that appeared in today’s Haaretz, Dan Maridor, a Minister Without Portfolio in Netanyahu’s cabinet is quoted as saying that Said Erekat, a Palestinian Authority leader who traces his service back to Yassir Arafat once said that the Palestinians always say no to a compromise because they know Israel will always come back with a better offer.

Meridor said this in reference to President Obama’s administration apparently reneging on an agreement reached between Israel and the Bush administration that allowed natural growth in the settlements in exchange for Israel agreeing to the Annapolis accords.

U.S.Special Envoy Dennis Ross is set to accompany U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchel to Israel next week to discuss the settlements. Ross, an old Mid-East hand, reportedly knows men like Erekat, and their belief that by saying no the offer will always get sweeter. And more, that no Palestinian could ever say yes and stay alive. Maybe, like the Natorei Karta, this Peace Initiative is Obama’s fifteen minutes of fame wrote big.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Survivors and Obama

President Barak Obama is viewed with suspicion in Israel, according to most reports, especially among the Holocaust survivors. “I don’t know what he’s going to do, so I’m a little suspicious,” said Prof. David Halivni Weiss, 82, who survived the Wolfsberg subcamp during the Holocaust.

Professor HaLivni was commenting after meeting another survivor who it turned out had been in the same camp at the same time. Halivni went to meet the other man last Wednesday, and the two shared common threads of their experiences.

Zolly Schwimmer, 94, still has a firm grip on his long-term memory. He had set up a panel of papers taped to the dining room wall of his Netanya, Israel apartment, including what he claims is the only sketch of the outline of the camp.

Both men remembered the tin plates they carried for what little food they ate. Prof. Halivni, a Talmud scholar and Israel Prize winner, recalled a scan the SS guards used. “It was the potato peelers job. They said anyone who wanted to could peel potatoes. That sounded like a good job, a bit of potato to eat, even a peel. So I volunteered. And I was in line when one of the Kapos, who was from my home town, pulled me out of line.

I didn’t like that. So I volunteered again, and again he pulled me out of line. Later I found out he’d saved my life because there was no potato peeling job. It was a ruse. They took the volunteers out and shot them.”

Why did he think the guard saved him? “I think it was because I was an Eloui (child prodigy) in our town. That’s the only reason. Otherwise I didn’t really know him.”

Prof. Halvni was 16 when he was taken to the camps. Zolly Schwimmer was 29. Scwhimmer says he is used as a fact checker by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and also the Holocaust Museum in Washington. “Some of the stories
About the camps are made up,” he said. “People remember what they want, and just keep repeating it.”

According to the men during the High Holidays a small minyan formed in a room using a prayer book, “Machzor” made up by one of the prisoners, who wrote what prayers he remembered on the inside of an abandoned paper sack that held the cement they used to build the underground ammunition bunkers.

The two disagreed if it were Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, but Schwimmer said he was inside the room, while Halivni said he was kept outside because he was young. Still, prayers in the camps was something unusual.

Prof. Halivini also lectures on faith and the Holocaust. How could someone keep their faith in such an environment. The Holocaust, he said, taught him to be more critical of what man writes, not as accepting just because it is written down. This line of critical thinking is what distinguished him from most other orthodox Jewish Talmudists.

Both Zolly Schwimmer and David HaLivni married Holocaust survivors. Livni’s had passed away, but Mrs. Schiwmmer was busy setting the table for lunch, with potato salad, tuna, and other items. Fluent in Hebrew Mrs. Schwimmer told one of the luncheon guests she’d been in Auchwitz for a year and that her barracks were within meters of the crematorium.

At night some of the Kapos would come to an opening of the fence and yell the names of the families that were exterminated that day, so the information could be passed on to those who knew them. To this day, she said, she still wakes up with nightmares.

People like Schwimmer and HaLivni have learned to be suspicious of peoples’ intentions. There is clearly no comparison between President Obama and fascism, but just the hint of
Showing anti-Jewish bias is enough to make these men, as intelligent as they are, wary.

Some time back a contributor wrote about the ‘survival gene.’ Clearly, with experiences like those undergone by Mr. Schwimmer and Dr. Halivni, it’s no wonder that gene isn’t honed to a fine edge, and their survival antennae twitching as news pours out of Washington and other countries, like Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is being criticized for making entreaties to Hamas in efforts to restart the cease-fire agreements. The critics come from the Kadima party, more liberal than Netanyahu’s Likud, which makes the comments somewhat ironic, according to pundits.

Netanyahu is, analysts say, responding to the lead set by President Obama to try to get some movement in the Middle East peace process. Recently former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, viewed by some as an anti-Semite, and others as a well meaning but naïve liberal, visited Gaza. Then came George Mitchell, the State Department’s special envoy to the Middle East.

Following these visits suddenly the press was filled with reports of the eminent release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured three years ago and is reportedly being held in Gaza. Reports of his imminent release have surfaced every few months over the last few years, but never were more than talk.

Some point out that if Hamas would release Shalit it would be a sign of good faith; something the Israelis would use to mollify critics of any Obama peace initiative. While the papers recently said the release was imminent, Hamas leaders have denied such a release. Shalit has been the carrot dangled before the Israelis for three years, and nothing seems to have changed.

Some observers say that if Obama really had gained power with the Arabs from his Cairo Speech then he could pressure Hamas to release Shalit, just as he is pressuring Israel to freeze settlements and restart peace talks. But Obama, say the critics, seems more interested in making highly publicized demands of a pliable Israel than an obdurate Hamas.

Dennis Ross has been promoted from Special Envoy to the Middle East in the State Department to Middle East adviser in the White House. Ross recently published a book “Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East” with former Jerusalem Post editor David Makovsky, now senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process.

The book takes the position that a settlement freeze or settlements in general were a red herring, and not the crux of the Middle East’s problems. Perhaps, some say, once Ross is in the White House he can pass on this message to President Obama. Others say Ross was only appointed to guard Obama’s flank from attacks by the pro-Israeli voices.

On the Syrian front, the statements swing between bellicose threats of war to regain the Golan Heights, to moderate messages that Syria is prepared to seriously negotiate peace with Israel.

In Lebanon Saad Hariri, a sunni Musliim, is the new Premier who replaces political ally Fouad Sinioras , in a power-sharing agreement. Hariri is the first son of the slain Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, blown up by a car bomb in 2005 in Beriut.

Both Syria and Hezbollah are suspected in the attack. Yesterday, Photos of the younger Hariri talking with Hizbollah strongman Sheik Nasrallah, were on the news. How this coalition will play out is something out of a Shakespearean play with all the court intrigues going on behind the backs of the prime players. Hariri and his later father were both prime movers in the pressuring Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. The younger Hariri has also been critical of Iranian influence in Lebanon.

With so many Holocaust survivors, and children of Holocaust survivors, in Israel, it’s no wonder that all of the machinations of the various parties in the middle east are looked up on with suspicion by those with bitter experience of power gone mad.

One observer stresses that President Obama means well, has surrounded himself with intelligent and liberal-minded advisers, including more than a few Jews; and says he only hopes that President Obama can keep a balance between what needs to be done to bring peace and what the temptations of appeasement could mean to Israel.

On the bright side, the World Bank has commissioned a feasibility study meant to finish in 2010 of a pipe or canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The pipe would not only refill the quickly evaporating Dead Sea but also supply water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian authority.

If nothing else this shows that the possibility of peaceful cooperation is possible. That’s assuming the canal ever starts to bring water from one sea to another, or if it won’t get stalled somewhere along the line much as the peace process and even the release of Gilad Shalit.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Waves of Sunshine

An estimated one million people will protesting in Iran today. (Thursday Sept 18). My guess is the ayatollahs will be sitting on their cushions with butterflies in their stomachs worried that the crowds will turn on them, not just Achmadinejad, either politically or even physically. Could this unrest spiral up to the top and spin those leaders out of office resulting in a new election, a regime change, even replacing the mullahs with 'normal' people? Then the 'normal' people would put the mullahs on trial an hang them, much as the mullahs did to the Shah's people. Wouldn't that be a nice way to end the Iranian nuclear threat?

(Karma, eh? Krishnamurti once wrote that revolutions should be avoided since they only insured the revolutionaries would ultimately be replaced by yet another revolution.)

Rabbi Doctor Gershon Bacon, professor of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University, once observed that Islamic fundamentalism comes in waves, with peaks and valleys, and now we're in a peak.

Will that momentum continue or subside? Will the storm abate leaving the seas quiet or continue to build in force until it floods the world? The latter is a scary thought, so let's hope that these demonstrations in Iran are a glimmer of sunshine through the clouds, signs the storm is passing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Smart & Mean

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu spoke on Sunday replying in part to the now famous ‘Cairo Speech’ of U.S. President Barak Obama.

First Obama. Obama reached out to the Arab world with a branch of peace. He also began pushing Israel for movement on the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority’s Said Erekat responded to the Obama speech by saying the PA hasn’t had a friend as good as Obama in Washington in over twenty years.

Interviewed recently in the Jerusalem Post, neo-Con syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer said the now Israel has problems. He didn’t see peace with the Palestinians until they recognized the rights of Israel to exist. “Once they do that there’ll be peace in two weeks,” he said.

Then Bibi: A Palestinian journalist from Ramallah told Sky News that he was shocked at the new demands made by Netanyahu, mainly that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

What seems obvious to Israelis is that if the Palestinians don’t agree prior to negotiations that Israel has a right to exist, why sit down and talk at all? A recent pole showed 64% of Israelis support a two-state solution.

Bibi in his speech accepted a Palestinian state. Some say he put so many obstacles in the way that actually agreeing on a Palestinian state would be impossible. No Palestinian right of return to “Israel.” Continued ‘natural growth’ of settlements. A demilitarized Palestinian State.

According to experts these terms have already been bandied about in the past, and are the agreed diplomatic starting point for present negotiations.

According to Krauthammer, when Ehud Barak was Prime Minister he mistakenly agreed to divide Jerusalem, something that no other Israeli leader had ever done. Krauthammer said that the compromise could never be withdrawn once it was put on the table. Netanyahu withdrew it, stating that Jerusalem would remain the undivided capitol of Israel.

What seems obvious is that Netanyahu and Obama are negotiating over Middle East Peace through the media. And like any negotiations, these will go on for a while as offer and counter offer are made.

David Grossman, one of Israel’s leading novelists, bemoaned Netanyahu’s speech, saying he missed an opportunity to step forward and lead the Jewish people to peace. Grossman mainly objected to continued existence of the West Bank Settlements as the obstacle to peace. He thought Netanyahu should have taken the window of opportunity Obama offered and declared a freeze of settlements with an ultimate withdrawal once peace was achieved.

But Grossman didn’t address the issue the Ramallah journalist thought penultimate: the precondition that Palestinians accept the right of a Jewish state to exist. For him settlement was the issue.

Opinions similar to Grossman’s were also heard from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, now visiting Israel. Carter met with the Hamas representatives and said that Hamas should be taken off the US list of terrorist organizations. Carter also said Israel should completely evacuate the West Bank.

A cartoon showed Jimmy Carter and Barak Obama standing beside a tree talking while a teenager wearing an Israeli flag was hanging by his thumbs. The caption: "But it's for his own good." Actually there was no cartoon, but there should be.

There is more behind President Obama’s olive branch to the Arab world that obvious to most of us on a lower pay grade. What he is ultimately up to can only be pondered from afar. It seems he is playing chess with the Arabs, realizing that Israel is a pawn, and that the opposing king is the sweep of Islamic fundamentalism that crosses borders and supplants regimes, as in Lebanon. If Obama can divide the Arabs, the moderates from the fundamentalist, then he may be able to set back the current anti-western tide, check-mate the opposing king.

Like any good surgeon Obama, or his military advisers, realize that one can always operate, but as a last resort. The current Obama strategy seems to be trying trickery and guile before firing missiles and ordering bombers into the sky. Of course the risk is the opponent may be a better chess player, in which case, pundits say, the west is fried hominy grits.

Natan Sharansky the former Soviet dissident and now famous Israeli, was reputedly a master chess player. Now in his bid for head of the moribund Jewish Agency, he has been out maneuvered. The JA board won’t appoint him. His buddy Bibi Netanyahu has responded by canceling an address before the group’s annual General Assembly, a slap in the face to that ruling board and Bib’s way of getting them to approve Sharansky to the position. Sharansky was Bibi’s choice.

History has shown that the best strategies don’t always work out. A missive making the rounds on the Internet espouses the great and wonderful deeds of the Jewish people throughout history, blaring proudly how the Jews have outlasted all of their enemies.

Truth is the Jewish people were lucky to have escaped many of the tragedies with enough people to start over. Clearly if one is a believer then the hand of God is evident; and if one is an atheistic agnostic then the survival of the Jewish people is simply because of the natural growth of those people not part of the tragic event, (the invasion by Persia, the invasion by the Greeks, Romans, expulsion from England, Spain, the Holocaust,) to regenerate itself over the millennial span of time.

The success of Israel is simply because of the applied intelligence and perseverance of the Jewish men and women attacking a problem with vigor. The worst fear of any enemy is finding not only an intelligent foe but a mean one. So far Israel's leaders have shown how to harness Israel's best resource, brainpower, and develop a fierceness to go with it.

Those who were ravaged, decimated, exiled didn't see the hand of God nor hear the wings of history beating during their suffering. Those who fought and died, and left behind grieving families may not share the jingoist’s zeal. Should God become displeased He could just as easily withdraw His support from the Jewish people as lend it. A positive destiny is not a given. Iran can gather allies and destroy Israel, that must be hopeful, but vigilant. Pride alone isn't going to stop any rockets. Maybe Prayer and Faith will help, though. Fierceness, intelligence, flexibility, good planning and hardware, like anti-missile missiles and perhaps even bunker busters, may be the real solutions.

Obama is putting out a feel good message, one that carries a promise of a very happy Hollywood ending. Its the meanwhile that's the trouble.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Good And Bad

U.S. President Barak Obama has tightened the screws on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu’s thumbs.

In the pivotal “Cairo Speech” last Thursday, Obama hinted at a new Middle East initiative. Yesterday Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel. The press reports that Mitchell will try to push Israel into concessions as part of what the US sees as a window of opportunity presented by Obama’s new presidency. The push is on, he press reports, to get something signed before the shine wars off Obama’s glamour and his popularity dips.

According to the Israeli media Obama’s Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel and political adviser David Axelrod, both Jewish, are behind the latest maneuvers. Pundits believe this move is meant to allow Obama to reach out to the Arab world in an effort to sway moderate Arabs away from radical Islam.

Obama is demanding a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity, as well as Netanyahu’s acceptance of a two-state solution agreed upon by his predecessor Ehud Olmert. So far Netanyahu and his right wing and religious coalition have rejected the call.

As of now Netanyau is backed into a corner, and growling. Many columnists write about the perception in Israel that Obama is trying to dictate Israel’s policies to benefit the Arab world. While this is understandable, given the Arab distrust of the US after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a two-state solution, analysts say, would require Israel to cede land to the Palestinians but no Palestinians are around that are both acceptable to Israel and have the power to implement a Peace agreement.

Some pundits believe that the Obama two-year plan seems at this juncture to be putting an inordinate amount of emphasis on the Arab-Jewish conflict as if solving that problem will solve all the problems of the world.

Observers point out that the settlement issue is as old as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Under the George W. Bush administration Israel was allowed to continue what is euphemistically called ‘natural growth’ brought about by expansion within the settlement as families have more children and the needs of the community require more housing.

The concept allowed the large established settlements like Ariel and Maaleh Adumim to develop into cities with populations in the tens of thousands, replete with shopping centers, movie theaters, gas stations and medical clinics.

New construction in these cities has been taken for granted. Homes, apartment buildings and subdivision are put up by entrepreneurial contractors and usually the units are bought quickly.

The new reality President Obama is pushing stops this ‘natural growth.’ Obviously, a settlement freeze, according to analysts, can never be implemented in the West Bank until the Netanyahu government adopts the plan that President Obama is selling.

Optimists say that if this new reality works, the world will be a much better place. If it doesn’t the world will suffer. But skeptics say that Israel and the settlements are not the lynchpins to the new effort, but may well be the scapegoats let loose in the desert as sacrifices.

Israel, say these skeptics in Israel, unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and received rockets and mortars in return. Israel, they say, unilaterally withdrew from the 25-kilometer security zone it had occupied in S. Lebanon, and received thousands of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets as payment.

Analysts say that today Israelis are calling for some quid pro quo before agreeing to anything more. So far nothing substantive has been put on the table. Hopefully when something is offered it will be to the advantage of all parties concerned, and help move the region closer to peace.

The only problem, the skeptics say, is that after more than sixty years of fighting between Israel and the Arabs, and hundreds of years of fighting between Arabs and Arabs, or Arabs and Christians, the odds of anything significant happening just because President Obama wants it are slim.

To which the optimists say, ‘But better slim than no chance at all.’

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is planning to outline his own diplomatic initiative for Israel next Sunday. Only time will tell how far apart he and President Obama are in their
positions, and how close they can come to some resolution of their differences.

When one veteran Israeli journalist was asked to comment on Obama’s ‘Cairo Speech’ and the Obama plans for the Middle East he waved his hand from side to side. “Good and bad,” he said. “Good and bad.” This from a man who has covered the Middle East since the 1940’s.

“Good and bad.”

But which will win? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Satmar, Yemenites, & the UJC

On May 19th the Jerusalem Post printed an article entitled “UJC to pull 110 Jews out of Yemen, by Haviv Rettig Gur. The rescue attempt is laudable and necessary. But it may just put the Yemenites and their children in grave danger.

The article dealt with the Jews left in Yemen and how the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the United Jewish Federations, in the USA, was working with the US State Department, and other organizations, to help get out this group. According to the Post 280 Yemenite Jews are still left in that country.

The Post reports that the evacuation, which will take place over the next few weeks, will cost about $800,000. This sum will cover the evacuation, and absorption of these Jews in the United States.

The Jewish Agency for Israel strongly objected to the move of these Yemenites to the USA. The Post quoted a senior JA official as saying, “The place of the Jews is in their homeland…”.

The Agency, says the Post, is particularly upset because it was the Satmar Hassidic Sect, based in Monsey, & Brooklyn, New York, that requested that the UJC help extract the Yemenites. The Satmar Hassidim oppose political Zionism. Satmar is already actively funding Jewish education in Yemen.

The Yemen government has declined to grant visas to Yemenite Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel, which has had a Jewish Yemenite population since the end of the 18th Century. UJC president Howard Rieger reportedly sent an e-mail to UJA Federation of New York head John Ruskay explaining that the UJC will help any Yemenites immigrate to Israel once they’ve arrived safely in the USA.

This rescue is laudable. Life for Jews in Yemen has become tenuous with an upswing in anti-Semitism and violence. In December 2008 Rabbi Moshe Yaish Nahara’l was shot dead in Rayda by an Islamist who said he killed Nahara’l because the Rabbi refused to convert to Islam. Nahara’l was the leader of the Jewish community in Rayda.

So far so good. But the problem isn’t the need to rescue the Jews of Yemen. That is a given. The problem is a one-hour 2003 film “Bchazeket Satmar” a Yona Films Production, produced and directed by Nitzan Giladi, that won a prize at the Documentary Film Festival in March of that year. It aired on Israel Television’s Channel 8. The film was partially funded by the New Foundation for Film and Television, a government-funded institution. In other words, this is a serious film, done by people who are reliable and know what they’re talking about.

The film is disturbing. It tells the story of how the Satmar came to a town in Yemen and convinced a few families to come to the USA and join the Satmar community in Monsey, New York. Clearly, Monsey would be preferable to the hovels of Yemen. Or would it?

The story follows one family to Monsey, and then documents how that family is stripped of its children, forced to bang on the doors of one bureaucracy after another trying in vain to get their children back. Children that were taken away from their parents by the State authorities and placed in foster homes, in the care of Satmar families.

The accusation made by one of the Yemenite mother’s Satmar neighbors was that the mother had shaken her child, causing a trauma that needed treatment. Child Welfare Services, at the behest of the Satmar, removed the children from their parents. Given Satmar’s status in the community, the parent’s had no chance of a fair fight. That’s assuming they even spoke English, which they didn’t.

The film draws us to the conclusion that Satmar mistreats the Yemenite Jews they bring to the USA, takes away their children in order to insure that the children have a good “yiddishkeit” environment, allowing the children to grow up in a strong Satmar-oriented home, far away from the parents, who might influence the children in a non-Satmar direction.

The film was frightening, and defined tragedy. There was no Hollywood ending. The family was separated permanently. The parents forbidden to see their own children.
And this was not an isolated case.

Is there collusion between the Satmar and the State authorities? Is there a hint of corruption? Is Satmar going out of their way, crossing legal boundaries in efforts to ‘save’ Jewish children from their natural parents? Or is it simply a way to get more children into the Satmar community, much as adoption agency supplies Brazilian infants to childless Israeli families.

Whatever the reason, if the allegations in the film are true than the 110 Jews bound for the USA under Satmar protection are in trouble. The UJC may well find itself, for the best of reasons, complicit in the abduction of children from their parents, albeit in a quasi-legal framework aided and abetted by State authorities.

One recalls the tales of Moroccan Jewish immigrants to Israel in the late 50’s and early 60’s when the Ashkenazi establishment considered these people second-class citizens. The Jewish Agency archives show pictures of these immigrants using toilet bowls to store vegetables, sleeping on the floors, or outside, rather than in beds, cooking on fires, rather than stoves. For both cultures were strangers one to another.

This is the same way the Satmar, and probably the New York State authorities look at the Yemenites. Primitive people who can’t take care of themselves, or their children. This paternalistic attitude changed in Israel, slowly. But the suspicion of some insidious Satmar plan to remove children from their parents cannot be ignored.

The UJC should make certain the Satmar Hassidim take good care of these Yemenites.
Satmar neither supports Israel nor the UJC. Once the Yemenites are in this Satmar community, any chance of falling prey to the vices of Western Civilization will be lost, for good or bad. Satmar, it should be remembered, spawned the Natorei Karta, the very people who not only deny Israel but also meet with enemies like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It is questionable if the UJC is doing the Yemenites, or the Jewish people, a favor by placing them with the Satmar. But once done it is the UJC’s responsibility to make certain a fundamentalist sect doesn’t take advantage of these hapless immigrants: a sect intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them. And willing to do something about it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yogurt & The Two-State Solution

Why are the Jewish people so successful, as a group?
‘Innovation derived from restless energy,’ speculated one philosopher.
Why is Israel so productive?
‘Work has more meaning when one is involved in problem,’ said the same pundit.
than engaged in routine tasks.
Jews apparently have a restless energy. When confronted with
a task as, many Jews will find a way to make the task more interesting by adding or subtracting from it, modifying it, streamlining or encumbering it, all with the goal of creating a better product, document, procedure.

This takes the boredom out of the work since every day is another challenge. This may also explain why so many Jewish people have been awarded the Nobel Prize for various things, from Science to Literature. This restless energy, perhaps even the arrogance of thinking that something can be done differently, better, may well be the cause for the much envied Jewish success.

This week the man who developed Dannon yogurt passed away at 103. The Carasso family was originally from Spain but fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century and wound up in Thessilonka, Greece. Around 400 years later, in 1916, they migrated back to Spain Daniel Carasso was born in Barcelona where his father Issac named him Dannon, a Catalonian nickname for Daniel. The Carasso family began to manufacture yogurt, then only known in Greece, the Middle East, and Asia, at the beginning of the last century.

In 1929 Daniel moved to Paris, where he opened the family’s French branch.. He also studied business management and even attended the Pasteur Institute to study the microbes in yogurt.

When the Nazis came to power the Carasso family fled to New York, in 1941, and went into business with Swiss-born Spanish businessman Joe Metzger and his son Juan. Together they purchased the Bronx based Oxy-Gala company and founded Dannon Milk Products. The yogurt didn’t sell well until they added some jam to appeal to the American sweet tooth, and then the business took off. The Metzgers were reportedly marketing masters, and the Dannon Yogurt brand became a popular snack and health food. Beatrice Foods eventually bought them out. But the Carasso family moved to Paris in 1951 where Daniel opened up the European Groupe Danone Yogurt brand. Today sales are in the billions of dollars.

Needless to say, Daniel liked to go to work. He took an old product, yogurt, and improved upon it.

Israel has become a hothouse of ideas, producing thinks like the disk on key also known as the jump drive; Israel is home to much of Intel’s R&D, designing a number of the original Pentium chips. Israelis also improved on the idea of drip irrigation, and their system is now used around the world. Israelis are also responsible for developing some of the anti-cancer drugs, like Gleevec used for Lymphatic cancer. Two Israelis won the Nobel prize for their work in Chemistry developing processes that lead to cancer drugs.

Challenge keeps the mind busy. Tinkering makes things better, and staves off boredom.

As simple as that.

Dr. Yair Paz, a professor of Geography at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem recently gave a lecture, replete with maps, showing the division of Jerusalem, and the “Two State Solution,” prepared in the greatest secrecy back in 1937 by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The map the agency prepared behind closed doors was in response to the British Peel Commission that was looking to establish a working plan for what they thought would be post-mandate Palestine. Pragmatists who kept their ideology within manageable bounds drew up this map. The Jewish population of pre-State Israel was barely 400,000, with the Arab population numbering nearly 350,000. If one State would be created the Jewish people would have a hard time keeping a majority. Therefore the pragmatists were in favor of a two-state solution.

For their part the Arabs firmly rejected any two-state solution. The right-wing Jewish Revisionists, also rejected any talks of a two-state solution.

Their Peel Commission’s proposal divided Jerusalem, scooping away the Old City from the Jewish people, putting in a corridor from Jaffa to Jerusalem, ostensibly to be controlled by the British, and handing Jordan and the West Bank over to the Arabs. Jerusalem would be an international city. Founding Jewish Agency chairman Chaim Weizman was reported to have said he didn’t want the Jewish people to be in charge of the Old City since the sensitivities of the Moslems and Christians would be too much for a fledgling State of Israel to handle.

Back then the neighborhoods of Beit Vagan and Beit Hakerem were distant settlements, while today they are nearly in the center of town. Back then the Jews drew up their own map in response to the Peel Commission, knowing that some counter proposal had to be made.

The Peel Commission gave the Jewish people Tel Aviv and Haifa, and West Jerusalem, sans the Old City.

The Jewish Agency plan countered with a link between Tel Aviv and Haifa with the land reaching to Jerusalem, and including the Galilee. The Jewish Agency plan gave up the Old City and the Holy Sites but demanded to keep Mt. Scopus, with a view of the Old City.
According to Dr. Paz this was because one of the Jewish Agency planners thought that in the future the Jewish forces could use Mt. Scopus as a staging area and flow down into the Old City. In those days according to Paz the philosophy was that history was fluid, that was a fact today could become another fact tomorrow,. Pragmatism and flexibility was the key. Stay in the game, keep up the dialogue, because things change all the time.

The Peel Commission’s plan and the Jewish Agency counter proposal were never implemented because of the rise of the Nazis in Europe. The British had more on their hands than worrying about a territorial problem in Palestine. The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 put all talks of a partition on hold, and nothing was done again until after the end of WWII. By then pre-State Israel was already preparing for a war with the Arabs, and Independence, which came in 1948.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the plan to swoop down on the Old City from Mt. Scopus was put into action. The talk of a two-state solution is still on the table, with Jerusalem as an international city.

Over seventy years since the original idea was discussed talks are still going on.
Given these facts it is unlikely that any solution can be hurried, or even reached, simply because a new U.S. President has come to office.

But one never knows. As the Chairman of the Jewish Agency in 1937 said, “History is fluid.” Given the Jewish penchant for tinkering with things, restlessly looking for newer variations on the theme, much as Daniel Carasso decided to filter his yogurt and make it lighter than the original Greek recipe, and then even adding jam, perhaps some new thoughts will be able to tweak this two-state solution idea and make it into a palpable reality.

Clearly Jews don’t have a paten on innovation. It is just possible that President Obama has an idea that works better than the rest. And to prove the ‘fluid history’ idea, one can merely accept that the Peel Commission isn’t gone, the decision was just postponed. Perhaps now is the time when it will be revised and implemented to everyone’s satisfaction.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jerusalem Day 2009

Uzi Arad, chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, hinted last night on Israel Television that the Obama demand for a two-state solution was more rhetoric than substance. Arad was part of the Netanyahu government’s group meeting with their U.S. counterparts in the first visit of Israel’s PM Netanyahu to the USA. Arad diplomatically hinted that Obama was naïve thinking such a solution was possible in the near future.

Since June 2007 Arad was forbidden from entering the United States, according to a March 2009 report in the Washington Times, since he was considered a ‘security risk’ for his suspected involvement in the Larry Franklin affair. Franklin, the former Pentagon analyst, was sentenced in 2006 to more than 12 years in prison for giving classified information to an Israeli diplomat and members of a pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he gave Franklin a sentence on the low end of federal guidelines because it appeared Franklin was trying help the United States, not hurt it. The US government removed its objection to Arad entering the USA once he was appointed chairman of the Israel National Security Council.

Arad told Israel Television’s Channel 1 that a peace agreement including the West Bank was possible, but how could the same agreement include Gaza. “Gaza is the elephant in the room,” he said, stressing Gaza couldn’t be ignored. In his opinion the two-state solution had become a slogan not a real demand. “There are people in the Obama government who know what is going on,” he said. “Some are friends of Israel.”

Still Arad hinted that Obama was showing naiveté if he expected a solution to the Palestinian issue to solve problems in the Middle East, including any problems with Iran.

How serious is the recurring demand for a two-state solution? Surverys report that most Israelis would agree to a two-state solution if it would bring peace, however, ‘no one wants Hamastan,” in the West Bank,” said Arad.

Arad pointed out that the Road Map, proposed by the Bush administration, was greatly exceeded by Israel when the Sharon government withdrew entirely from the Gaza strip. Arad pointed out that this withdrawal did not lower the danger to Israel from hostile forces, but rather increased it. Hamas took over Gaza. The greenhouses, schools, buildings meant for peaceful purposes were used to fire missiles and mortars at Israel.

Arad said that a new Road Map might be drawn up but until the Palestinians are willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state the talks will be fruitless. “Sure they want two-states, but neither one will be Jewish.” According to Arad the two states would be Gaza and the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinians with Israel as the room they’d use for expansion.

During their talks in Washington the Netanyahu government made the point that until the Palestinians, and Hamas, accept the existence of Israel there will be no chance of any peace. This echoes the theme espoused by Arad, and is apparently the Israel government’s official position.

The Obama government’s demand that Israel freeze settlements was honored Thursday morning in a minor gesture. The tiny hilltop outpost Maoz Esther was cleared when the Israeli army hauled away seven metal containers converted to cabins.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, a highly placed source said,“Evacuating illegal outposts in the West Bank is expected to be the Netanyahu government's first gesture toward Obama and the Palestinian Authority.

“This is part of the ‘price’ Netanyahu paid Obama in exchange for the latter's statements about Iran's nuclearization, the sources said.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he would evacuate the outposts by force if necessary. Pundits believe that the 26 outposts, usually tiny with only a few families are easy to destroy, but the large settlements will be left untouched.

Observers point out that the settlement issue has been a bone of contention between Israel and the USA’s various administrations since just after the 1967 6-day war. Depending on the administration the demands were from evacuation, to a complete freeze, to allowing only natural growth. These discussions have been on-going for 42 years, and show no signs of letting up, or reaching a resolution.

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy believes that only the evacuation of the settlements, and Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank can save Israel from a dark limited future. According to Levy “Obama is about to save Israel from itself.” Levy continued,
“In a single move he shrank the fear mongering of Benjamin Netanyahu and his mouthpieces on Iran to its proper size. In a single move he put the centrifuges of occupation, the real existential threat to Israel, at the top of the agenda.”

Gideon Levy also wrote, “How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel - one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.”

From Levy’s words it is clear that not all of Israel is behind Netanyahu and his party line. However, Levy has always taken a far left point of view out of step with mainstream Israel. But there are those who support his views.

Thursday is “Jerusalem Day,” a celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem during the 1967 6-day war. Prior to that, from 1947-1967 Jews were forbidden to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, nor get any closer to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the holiest site in the Jewish religion, than no man’s land on Mt. Zion.

Today Jews have repopulated the Jewish Quarter, pray at the Western Wall, and have built a virtual wall of new neighborhoods, almost all over the 1967 “green line.” Jerusalem's population currently stands at 760,800, with 492,400 Jews and 268,400 Arabs, said the report published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS).

Since 1967, the Arab population has increased by 291 percent, the Jewish population grew by 149 percent and the city's population overall rose by 186 percent. A separation fence is nearly completed around Jerusalem, funneling any West Bank visitors to the city through army checkpoints.

(According to the latest data released by Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel's Jewish population stands at 5,593,000, or 75.5 percent of the population, and the Arab population is at 1,498,000, or 20.2 percent of the population. A recent University of Haifa survey showed that 40 per cent of Israeli Arabs denied that the Holocaust ever occurred.)

Somewhere between Uzi Arad and Gideon Levy lay the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem, but only time will tell where that somewhere is.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spain 09

Spain has a long history, not only with its relationship to the rest of the world, but specifically with its relationship to the Jewish people. The Jews were first alienated, imprisoned and tortured during the “Inquisition” that began in the 14th century and lasted officially until the middle of the 19th Century. Historians estimate that approximately 3,000 Jews were burned at the stake during the Inquisition. Then the Jews were expelled, many finding their way to Italy, Amsterdam, Europe and N. Africa. Estimates of those expelled range from 40,000 to 300,000, with the lower number the more accepted.

The Moors conquered Spain in 711 and most of the area around the Mediterranean in the process. The Crusades drove them back into North Africa. Jewish merchants were assigned to trade with the Moors, buying goods for sale in Spain, and selling Spanish goods to the Moors. Christian Spain was forbidden this trade. The Inquisition began officially in order to ferret out the non-Christians that were living in Spain. Originally the Inquisition was run by the Pope, out of Rome, but later Ferdinand II took over in a much more cruel fashion. Ultimately the evil Tomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) Torquemanda assumed control of the Inquisition.

Torquemada served as the Grand Inquisitor and headed an organization of ecclesiastical courts which imprisoned, tortured, and burned suspected nonbelievers at the stake. It is estimated that at least 2,000 died in Spain during his tenure.

According to Wikipedia: “The Inquisition worked in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of recent converts… It was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II.”

Historians claim that there was a long tradition of Jewish service to the crown of Aragon. Ferdinand's father John II named the Jewish Abiathar (Yehuda) Crescas to be Court Astronomer. Another Jew who converted to Christianity (A Converso) financed the trip of Columbus to the new world.

According to Wikipedia: “Jews occupied many important posts, religious and political. Castile itself had an unofficial rabbi. Nevertheless, in some parts of Spain towards the end of the 14th century, there was a wave of anti-Judaism, encouraged by the preaching of Ferrant Martinez, Archdeacon of Ecija. The pogroms of June 1391 were especially bloody: in Seville, hundreds of Jews were killed, and the synagogue was completely destroyed. The number of people killed was equally high in other cities, such as Córdoba, Valencia and Barcelona.

“One of the consequences of these disturbances was the mass conversion of Jews. Before this date, conversions were rare and tended to be motivated more for social rather than religious reasons. But from the 15th century, a new social group appeared: conversos, also called New Christians, who were distrusted by Jews and Christians. By converting, Jews could not only escape eventual persecution, but also obtain entry into many offices and posts that were being prohibited to Jews through new, stricter regulations that were enforced by both the papacy & the newly formed kingdom's Inquisitors.”

Visiting Spain is removing the reminder of cruelty and oppression the Spaniards
Inflicted on the Jewish people. This is not difficult since the evil history dates back so far as to nearly be forgotten. But not quite. Perhaps the fact that Ferdinand and Isabella also sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery mitigates their crimes. Perhaps.

Practicing Judaism was forbidden in Spain until after the demise of the fascist dictator Franco in 1975. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the first synagogue opened officially. Today’s Jewish population is in flux, since so many Israelis pour into Barcelona on a weekly basis, unloading from the never ending tours so popular with budget conscious travelers.

Sitting on the steps watching the “Magic Fountain” light show in Barcelona, a beer-bellied middle-aged Israeli lay sprawled on the steps conversing freely in Hebrew with his wife and another couple.

At the base of Montserrat, peering up hundreds of meters to the famous church, a group of Israelis standing near their tour bus were receiving a lecture on the place in Hebrew by their tour guide.

On Shabat the Chabad minyan in the nicer part of Barcelona was made up mostly of Sephardi Spaniards, and a few Israelis, all led by the Chabad Shaliach, a pleasant young man originally from Mexico, and his associate, originally from Argentina.

In the town of Fornalux, 30 km from Palma on the Island of Mallorca, a native Mallorquine (one born on the island) now a commercial airline pilot, said that “Cheutas”, (conversos) are still discriminated against in Spain. “I don’t understand why? They are part of our history. If they were Jewish hundreds of years ago, so what? Today they’re Spanish.” (In 1691, during a number of Autos de Fe in Majorca, 36 chuetas, or conversos of Majorca, were burned.)

Conversos, also known as Morranos, secretly practiced Judaism in Spain for centuries. Today secrecy is no longer required. In the small quaint town of Torla in the Pyrenees mountains, amid the authentic stone and slate houses packed together like sardines, one comes across a Jewish star carved artistically into a wooden door covering an electric box. When asked about the star the British ex-Patriot owner of an adjacent apartment said, “My father asked the same thing. He’s Jewish you know.”

Joan Miro lived and worked just outside Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands during most of his life. The Mallorcan village of Deya, once the home of British poet Robert Graves, is now rumored to be the part-time home of Hollywood film star Michael Douglas, himself half-Jewish. There are Jewish names in the tiny cemetery attached to Deya church. Aurbach, Faber, and others.

Graves found Deya on the recommendation of his friend Gertrude Stein. At the time Graves was living with his mistress. Perhaps Stein, a lesbian, knew Deya as a place that accepted different types; perhaps she found Deya through an aunt or cousin or childhood friend there, Faber or Aurbach? Whatever the cause, Graves settled into Deya, except for a period during World War II, and lived there until he died.

Graves thought of the town as sitting on a magic mound of magnetism. He established an artist colony, and formed a cult built around the worship of strange objects, among them his mistress. At one point he owned much of the town, and rented the homes to those he wanted under his wing. Then the main road was narrow and dangerous, the main street in town made of dirt, the homes lacking electricity and running water: today that has all changed. The road is wider; the main street is paved with asphalt, the homes modern with luxurious amenities, selling for half-a-million dollars and up.

The people are still nice. A woman with a typical Balearic Island straw basket over her shoulder, a recorder peeking out of the corner, smiled showing bad teeth, and tried to give directions. She wore a black beret with a red Mao star, and a black-check kafyiah around her neck. She’d been born and raised in Deya, so one assumes the odd types still populate the area. If one can find them among the tourists pouring out of busses and lining up to visit the home of Robert Graves; or sitting in expensive restaurants that are spread throughout the little village.

Pamplona has the image of an old Spanish town where every July 7th the bulls chase stupid macho types who frequently slip and are gored. Ernest Hemmingway made the town famous in his Spanish epic “The Sun Also Rises.” But the old town is only a fraction of the sprawling city, sort of a mini Barcelona. And except for a few die-hard cities, bull fighting seems to have fallen out of favor in Spain.

Madrid has a wonderful name and conjures up beautiful images, although most “hip” people today prefer Barcelona, for the Gaudi buildings, and the Joan Miro museum. Most overlook, or don’t know, that the famous Montjuic, that contains among other buildings the wonderful Miro museum, was the site of a prison where Franco’s fascists tortured their enemies, who were later buried in the nearby cemetery.

Guernica is one of the draws to Madrid. The dynamic Picasso painting depicts his anger and frustration with the carpet-bombing of the town of Guernica by Nazi planes, at the request of Franco who at the time was trying to curry favor with Hitler. Franco was also trying to intimidate any enemies who thought they could oppose him, using Germany’s might as a weapon. But the painting, in black and white, is like all great works of art, finely fitted and finished. Each part fits into the others, making the viewer thing about their integration, while accepting their place on the canvas.

In Bilbao the Guggenheim museum in the Basque country perhaps ironically rounds out the Jewish experience in Spain. Jews once tortured, imprisoned, expelled, are back: today the Guggenheim, built by a foundation originally Jewish, designed by Frank Ghery, also Jewish, is the magnet that brings visitors to the northern regions.

In the small Basque seaside town of Guetera, a Basque-born Catholic waiter at the portside Mayflower restaurant brags he has been to New York twice. “Are you Jewish?” he asks. “All of New York is Jewish.” He then goes on to tell about his favorite authors, Saul Bellow, Phillip Roth, Bernard Melamed, “And the Israelis, Grossman, Oz, Yoshua..”

Has Spain changed? “The Church, no one goes there,” said an innkeeper, a young bespectacled man, trained as an attorney. “That’s why you don’t see any priests. They’re just not important any more. Not since Franco died.” He stood at the door to his 15th century building, now a guesthouse, waved, and said, “Shalom.”