Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meadow's Piano

-You're kidding.
-I'm not.
-Someone paid $300,000 for a piano? What? Jesus played it or something?
-Hey, it was a 1917 Steinway,
-Hold on, let me look. Says here that, what was it, an M or a C?
-How do I know?
-Look it up.
-An M.
-Let me see that article. You know, you're an idiot; maybe that's why you're still writing for a no readership blog. It was his wife's diamond necklace that sold for $300,000. The piano went for 42 grand.
-That’s still a bundle. Here, the Internet says it's worth maybe twenty-five, thirty tops.
-Yeah, one of his neighbors bought it. Another mogul out on the island.
-That's what it says?
-Yeah.
-Lemme see that laptop. Hmm, nice looking piano, I'll say that for it.
-Here's another ad for one, only $2,500. And look, here's a website, a thread
says, wait, one guy says 'snap it up,' another guy says must be a scam, ‘some Internet scam,’ then, can you believe it, costs like $2,500 just to get it tuned and whatever, if it's in bad shape. Keep the thing tuned and whatever. Oh, and here, says it costs like $5,000 to restring it. Take a look:
‘This Steinway piano was RESTRUNG in April 2008 and REFINISHED in 2005 . The finish is mahogany satin... and the sound is amazing! Truly, one of the best years for Steinway ~*EXCELLENT CONDITION *~ **DETAILS** YEAR BUILT ~ 1917 MODEL ~ M ~ SIZE ~5' 7” . New Mahogany satin finish ( 2005 ) . New strings (2008 ) .New #2 pins ( 2008 ) . New pin block ( 2008 ) . New Steinway decals ( 2008 ) . IVORY KEYS ( EXCELLENT , SNOW WHITE , NO CHIPS OR CRACKS ) . ORIGINAL SOUNDBOARD ORIGINAL %100 STEINWAY ACTION REGULATED (2008).’
-A scam, for sure, they say.
-Well, what're you going to do?
-This guy Meadows, that owned the piano that's being auctioned off. He was into scams wasn't he?
-That's like saying that Bret Favre has something to do with football.
-He stole like what, 50 billion dollars?
-Closer to 60 I think. Didn't exactly steal it, though. Worked a con game. Invested people's money into the stock market, paid them a dividend at the end of the year, kept getting more people to invest in his fund, kept paying out dividends, only problem was he was spending the capital fast as it came in. Paying the dividends with the money the new people invested.
-So he could buy a $20,000 piano and a $300,000 diamond necklace?
-And yachts and houses, and who knows what all. Way beyond my pay scale that kind of stuff.
-Well, he's in jail, now.
-Never got the money back, though. The government. The people he ripped off.
-Yeah. He claimed there never was any money. All on paper, paid out as fast as he collected it, spending a bundle in between.
-You believe that?
-Why not?
-Guy like that, you couldn't believe him he told you he was standing in front of you. Could be one of those sci-fi hologram tricks from out of star wars or whatever.
-That kinda money he could do near 'bout anything. 60 billion dollars. How much is that, anyway?
-60 billion dollars, that’s how much. What kind of a question is that?
-I mean, that number is so huge I can't imagine it. You know, like those school kids in Alabama that couldn't imagine what it meant that 6,000,000 people died in the Holocaust, so the teachers had them collect paper-clips until they had 6,000,000. Then they understood. Each paper clip came with a story of some type, from actors, doctors, people all over the world sent in paper clips, even bought a boxcar used to transport Jews to the concentration camps and put the paper clips in, made a museum.
-So what're you saying, how many boxcars would 60 billion paper-clips fill?
-How much money is it, is what I'm saying?
-A lot.
-That kinda money, you had it, what would you do?
-What do you mean what would I do?
-Go to jail? That kinda money you think you’d just go to jail? Smart guy rips off 60 mil, just says, okay, cuff me, I’ve had enough? You think he’d do that?
-You mean bribe his way out.
-60 billion is a lot of paper-clips.
-Bribe who?
-Whom.
-Yeah, whatever. But he’d bribe everyone he could, that kinda money. It talks, you know, in any language.
-And
-I dunno, disappear.
-But he's in jail. He was on trial. We both covered it. Handcuffs. The works. Put in the van and driven away.
-Maybe it wasn't him.
-Com'on
-No, really, maybe it was like, a double.
-A double? You mean like a twin brother? He had a brother, didn't look nothing like him.
-No, you know, someone with plastic surgery, made up to look like him.
-Just like that? He gets busted, and in comes this guy looks like him? Yeah, I've seen movies like that. Doubles. Guys who look like the president. Take a lot of planning to pull it off.
-Hey, the guy conned people for thirty years. He had to know the day was coming the cops would be knocking on his door. So he has a contingency plan.
-But who's gonna want to go to jail for life?
-Someone gets paid a lot of money.
-And no place to spend it? He's in jail, dummy.
-Yeah, but he's got family, kids, grandchildren. Enough money he could set up a trust fund for them, keep them rich for a couple of generations, maybe more. Give him two or three billion paper-clips. Invest it in Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands, whatever.
-As if it’s that easy.
-Hey, Meadows took the fall for everyone, didn't he? His kids, except for the one with the guilty conscience or thought the cops were on his trail, and who killed himself; his brother, his wife, all got off clean. Meadows pleaded guilty, kept his mouth shut, and went to jail. He could have pleaded not guilty, appealed, would have taken him ten years to go to jail. Why'd he just go quietly? Not stall?
-Because he wanted to protect his family. Keep the investigation from including them.
-Yeah, all of a sudden this scumbag is an upstanding citizen. A community minded individual. Nah, I bet he had a plan, that's why.
-And? What about DNA? You think the authorities didn't double check he was who they thought he was?
-Why would they? They had him. He confessed. He'd never been arrested before. No fingerprints to compare to. He could be anyone. He could be Elvis for all anyone knew.
-And he’s where now?
-I dunno. Anywhere.
-And he had this stand-in all ready?
-Like I said, guy knew he was running a scam. Been doing it for 30 years. Couldn't believe it took that long to catch him. Guy like that, wouldn't he have some escape hatch? Some way out?
-Like having a double?
-Yeah, like having a double, living in some place like, I dunno, an ashram in India, with a beard and a sari. That's his job. Gets a monthly salary, his family gets a monthly salary. Live like royalty. All this guy has to do is lay low until he's called on to go to jail.
-If he's ever called on to go to jail.
- If he gets caught.
-Yep. If. And when. Then Meadows heads out of the country on a boat, gets to I dunno, Cuba, the Bahamas, Curacao, where he's got a plastic surgeon waiting, does his face, a belly tuck, changes his hair, his ears, guy comes out looking forty not seventy, takes over running some business he's started years earlier, or moves into an estate that he never occupied, just rented out, who knows. And he's gone. And then there’s his kid. Committed suicide right? Then was cremated. Pretty convenient don’t you think? No way to check DNA. Maybe he wasn’t him, you know? Another double. This time double-crossed.
-You're kidding, right?
-Nope. Well, maybe about his kid. Maybe.
Pause.
-Wouldn’t he get bored?
-Bored?
-Yeah, guy like that, always playing chess with the law, adrenalin pumping. I mean the guy’s in the game his whole life, like a super salesman, he can't shut it off just because the store closes for the night; he carries on being that super salesman, at dinner, at the club, wherever.
-You're saying?
-He's still a thief. He's still into scams. He can't give it up.
-He's a scam junkie.
-Yeah, a scam junkie.
-Kinda guy who would try to scam anyone.
-Yeah, but it would have to be high-risk scam. Close to the edge. Keep the blood flowing.
-Guy who would try to sell you a phony piano just like the one the Feds were auctioning off downtown.
Pause
-(softly) Yeah, guy like that.
-Lemme see that laptop. Where was the ad for this piano?
-Here, how do we find out where it is?
-Look at this, the end of the thread. Say it was a scam. Our guy trolling for credit card numbers before any thing else. Sucker pays 42 grand for a piano, pays by credit card, say. Then here’s the scammer, he owns the credit card from then on. Buys himself a Mercedes just for the fun of it. And he may get other credit card numbers, too. Steal their identity, just for the challenge.
-Sounds like him.
-But how do we find him?
-Oh, we'll find him. He doesn’t think anyone’s looking for him. Maybe toss him
a credit card as a hook.
-Think there's a reward?
-If it's him? Sure.
-I only hope the reward payment’s not in paper-clips.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Trees Don't Vote

The recent mega-blaze in the Carmel forest was partly the blame of the JNF.

JNF planted pines because they were fast growing. Trees, according to old Turkish law, were taxed; so many pre-State Arab landowners uprooted their trees to avoid the tax. This was why Israel was partially barren when the State was declared. In Arab custom planted trees are proof of ownership of land. Also, shade and foliage were needed to prevent erosion. Pines were chosen. Recently the choice of pines was questioned since the cones and spurs from the pine are highly acidic and prohibit other plant life anywhere near them.

That said, pines are what were planted, and as most people know pines are used as starter wood for a fire, then cedar or oak or olive wood to keep the fire burning long-term.

The JNF is now out and raising money to replace the pines. The JNF chief was on the air last night saying over 50,000 dunam (about 13,000 acres) of trees went up in flames. The UJA is also running a campaign to raise money for relief. What money and what relief? I didn't look at the JUF campaign pleas, yet. Hopefully they'll pay for fire-fighting planes and fire-trucks. The real problem is the fire department itself. No fire fighters' school exists. Scarce and out-dated equipment, and lack of staff are the norm.

Last night a group of fire fighters appeared on TV sitting around, taking a breather. They responded to the reporters’ questions about salaries, stating that they hadn't received a salary in two months. Another report on another channel had a fire-fighter explaining that many appointments to the fire department are political, either Likud, the ruling party, or Shas, the party that controls the Ministry of the Interior, that controls the fire department, with inexperienced appointees filling positions required by professionals. These and other disturbing facts are now pouring out.

Bit of background. The political struggle going on now to avoid blame for the tragedy is in early stages. As was said above, the fire department falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Interior. Shas leader Eli Ishai is the Minister of that department. He is being attacked for not doing anything for the fire department. He claims he did. Memos and such are produced to verify his claims. Commentators say that these 'behind covering' memos are standard procedure. The paper is there but no one does anything about it.

Ishai said he fought for 500 million shekels (about US $138 Million) for the fire department but was only given 100 million shekels (About US$$ 27 million). Truth is he didn't fight very hard. The fire department workers went on strike a while ago, not one minister really paid attention. Following the War In Lebanon II, when a good hunk of the upper Galilee was set ablaze by Hezbollah rockets, and the inability of the fire department to cope with the blaze became evident, a government report was issued stating plainly the fire department was weak in so many areas a disaster was waiting to happen.

But who pays? Trees don't vote. Shas leader Ishai fought for money for Yeshivot, and other ultra-Orthodox causes, but did little or nothing for the fire department. Remember he has one budget for his ministry and that has to be doled out to the elements in his constituency to keep them happy and voting. Like I said, trees don't vote.

A fire-fighter officer told an Israel TV reporter that the money from the Ministry of the Interior for the fire department, the same ministry that funds the local municipalities, is turned over the local government bodies. But these government bodies are chronically short of cash, and use the money for other shortfalls, not to pay fire fighters' salaries, or buy equipment.

This produces a situation where one firefighters' salary, or even half-a-salary, is designated for half-a-dozen towns and villages. So one fire fighter is responsible for 40,000 dunams. But in truth there isn't a fire fighter, just a slot on the books, with the money going elsewhere. Ditto for equipment. The result, an understaffed, under-equipped, under-trained fire department incapable of putting out anything but a simple fire in a forest and much better trained and equipped to put out urban factory and building fires, but even then sorely lacking in the right stuff.

Eli Ishai is a very aggressive and wily politician. When interviewed at the staging location during the mega-blaze, he took the offensive, yelling at reporters that he had done everything he could and more. Later he told the press that he was a sacrificial goat, a poor Sephardi right-winger being lead to the slaughter.

In truth the case against Ishai is not racism but government priorities. The needs of the fire department have been common knowledge for at least a decade, but no one was willing to pay from their budget to upgrade and staff and pay for the necessary equipment. Now Ishai says he's been asking that the fire department be moved from the Ministry of the Interior to Homeland Security, but no one did anything about his request. A request is even on the books for a fire-fighting plane. But no plane was ever bought. In fact, the Army once had a special unit to fight fires, but the unit was disbanded.

Moving the fire department on paper is easy, but assigning a tangible budget is another. Should Eli Ishai manage to move the fire-department to another ministry he will have passed this hot potato to another ministry, but then the question is will another ministry treat the situation any differently?

The answer is 42 and counting. That's the number of people killed so far by this fire. Three others are still in critical condition. The deaths of these hapless victims push a mundane bureaucratic issue into another realm entirely. Someone commented that after the War in Lebanon II heads rolled. Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was forced to resign as well as then Minister of Defense Amir Peretz; Army top brass retired. This analyst thought the same thing would happen after this tragic fiasco.

Israel's PM Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu, to his credit, was on the case as soon as it was clear that the forest fire was beyond the capabilities of the Israeli fire department. He phoned abroad and over 30 countries agreed to pitch in, sending planes and manpower. Even Greece and Turkey, who hate each other, joined in the effort and worked together. And remember Turkey, at odds with Israel over a variety of issues, also surprised the locals by lending a hand. The Israel government also hired a US based "super-tanker" Boeing 747 capable of dropping 92,000 liters of fire-retardant in a single pass. Russia donated two smaller planes, each with 30,000 liters of material. It was these planes, along with the scores of others from around the world that helped contain the fire.

Now Bibi has gone on TV and committed his government to the purchase of two or three of the fire fighting planes like those sent by Greece and Turkey. Bibi also promises a new renovated fire department. Perhaps he'll actually do something about his promises.

But the problem behind the fire is Netanyahu's government. Eli Ishai represents Shas. That party is like a hungry child devouring whatever comes within reach and asking for more. It is not that the move is on to oust Eli Ishai, the move is really to oust Shas.

The Shas' outlook hurt Israel when a group of Christian evangelists offered to buy modern fire trucks some months back. According to the Jerusalem Post Eli Ishai turned them down because of religious reasons. Analysts say that should Netanyahu reform his coalition and replace Shas with another party, one that has members who pay taxes and serve in the army, then perhaps the massive split forming in Israeli society will be healed.

Meanwhile Bibi Netanyahu is reportedly concerned about keeping the ultra-orthodox parties in place should he succeed in hammering out a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu is counting on the ultra-orthodox, who are being well-paid now from the government budget in the form of subsidies to their yeshiva students and other perks, to vote for his plan when the time comes.

Pundits think that better perhaps would be for Bibi to discard the ultra-orthodox and take his chances with a moderate non-religious party. But, according to informed sources, Bibi thinks of history, and his place in it, and the history books won't write about him for saving trees, but will write about him for making peace. Is this philosophy shortsighted? According to Wikileaks the Americans and many Arab countries consider the Palestinian issue a huge stumbling block to dealing with the Iranian issue that nearly everyone apparently consider highly volatile. The push for a PA/Israeli peace treaty is considered a necessary precursor to dealing with Iran. Should this attitude change, say the analysts, then Bibi would rethink the make-up of his government coalition.

Commentators say that a new coalition would change the way Israel behaves towards its own citizens: forcing the ultra-orthodox to go to work, join the army, pay taxes. This change would, according to analysts, insure Israel's viability financially and defensively for years to come. But can this change be accomplished under US pressure to make a deal with the Palestinians? Apparently Bibi doesn't think so. This means, according to pundits, that Shas and the other ultra-orthodox parties supporting Netanyahu in the Knesset will continue to get their way, receiving money funneled to yeshiva students (many of whom are fictitious, used as a way to gain more money for the yeshivas) rather than the university students or even the fire department.

After 80 odd hours the physical fire was out but the political fire was smoldering. Bibi acted decisively, unlike George W. Bush during Katrina, nor Barak Obama during the oil spill. Perhaps this decisiveness will save his political hide even though he knew about these fire department shortfalls for years.

Eli Ishai has been calling for a commission of inquiry knowing he has the paper to cover his behind. Analysts say these commissions take months to form and a year to study the material and another half-year to reach conclusions that rarely have any real effect.

However, the irascible State Controller Michael Lindenstraus is preparing his own report on the shortfalls that caused the disaster. This may well fan the smoldering political coals and create a new and powerful fire department capable of handling a fire and preventing it from becoming a mega blaze.

Trees don't vote. That's been the problem. But over 40 deaths justifiably have gravitas. Will that bus tragedy change a government?
Time will tell.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Close The Gates

Barak Obama in his wisdom opened the door to Israel bashing big time.

He did this with the best of intentions, in my humble opinion (well, maybe not so humble).By cosing up to the Arab countries Obama is trying to make it easier to forge a coalition that allows him to neutralize Iran, and perhaps gain a stronger purchase controlling events in the middle east.

However, in order to show he was 'even handed' he had to act the part. This meant smashing and slashing at Israel. Take for example his insulting treatment of Israel's PM Netanyahu a few months ago. This cold-shoulder was not lost on Israel's critics and enemies.

The flotilla is only an offshoot of that policy. Last year the Prime Minister of Turkey insulted Israel's President Shimon Peres in Davos, causing Peres to leave the stage. The bickering between Turkey and Israel are another result of the new US international position. Turkey has its own ax to grind, insulted at being excluded from the EU (Back in the day as a reporter for Israel Radio, any mention of Turkey warranted an angry response from their TA embassy).

Turkey is looking to spread its wings in the region, become an influence peddler, put Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan in the same league as Turkey's famous leader Ataturk.

Erdogan tried to become a mediator between Israel and Syria, but was rebuffed harshly by Israel. This created more Turkish anti-Israeli feeling. It is not coincidence that the flotilla left from Turkey nor that radical Turkish Islamists boarded the boat, some say, with the surreptitious assent of Turkey's intelligence services.

Combine Turkish and US attitudes towards Israel and you get flotillas, pressure to lift the embargo, the world turning a blind eye to Hamas rockets, the fact Hamas is on the terrorist list of most countries, and that Iran backs Hamas.

Netanyahu, by lifting some of the restrictions on the embargo, may deflate the pressure to mount more flotillas.

According to the Israeli media the embargo on sweets and pasta were items imposed while Olmert was Prime Minister and sort of rolled over into the Netanyahu administration.

According to military sources the embargo is necessary to keep out long range missiles and other weapons that can only get to Hamas either by sea or air. Since the airports are closed, that leaves the sea, and so far Hamas has not succeeded in getting weapons through that method because of the embargo. Will lifting of some of the restrictions make smuggling weapons easier? We'll see. Remember that in the old Palmach/Haganah British Mandate days Israelis were proud of how they smuggled weapons into pre-state Israel. Just recall scenes from Otto Preminger's "Exodus" when crates of tractor parts were unloaded to reveal machine guns and rifles.

Partially lifting the embargo has taken some of the steam out of the Hamas strategy of breaking the total embargo. The world's press has picked it up. Headlines appeared on Sky news, BBC and CNN, as well as on the internet.

But Hamas is a wily enemy. They haven't given up their fight, but will keep on. Time will tell what their next
move will be.

Should Obama take a harder line towards Hamas and the militant Arab states, and issue firmer criticism of Israel's enemies, the flood gates opened by his Cairo speech praising Islam and the Arab states might begin to close, bringing the onslaught from all sides to an end. If not, as many are fond of saying, we may be in 1938 all over again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Flotilla For Shalit

The Gaza Flotilla incident continues to make news in Israel. The latest revelations were that the Israel Defense Forces captured and then released to men whom, informed sources say, could have been used to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped four years ago currently being held by Hamas forces in Gaza.

According to the Israeli daily Yideot Achranot “The two were identified as a senior Hamas fundraiser and a Syrian intelligence official serving as the liaison officer for Iranian intelligence in the Balkans.”

One of the men was “Amin Abu-Rashid, 43, a Dutch national of Palestinian descent who lives in Rotterdam, and has the Hamas nickname of "Amin Abu-Ibrahim". According to the report, Israeli intelligence considers him one of the leaders of the Palestinian movement's fund-raising system and the chief Hamas fundraiser in Western Europe.

According to the Israeli paper Abu-Rashid was not only close to Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the senior Hamas military commander assassinated in Dubai, but in interviews he gave in January, he said he was planning to confront IDF soldiers. In an interview Abu-Rashid was introduced as the “leader of Palestinians who are European citizens” on the flotilla.

The second man detained was Yasser Muhammad Sabag, a Syrian intelligence officer serving as the liaison officer between Damascus and Tehran's intelligence networks in the Balkans. Sabag has a dual citizenship from Syria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he now lives..

According to the Serbian news agency FOCUS, Sabag was released by the IDF and returned to Serbia along with a Turkish activist in the al-Qaeda affiliated IHH organization, which organized the flotilla.

FOCUS said “Its safe to say that he was not planning to bring any humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Friday's Haaretz news agency reported that both the captain and the first mate of the Mavi Marmara, the ship that led the Gaza flotilla, tried to prevent the violent clashes. The captain said that he confiscated iron bars and parts of a steel chain that were cut by activists on the ship.

According to Haaretz. Captain Mehmut Tuval was asked whether or not he knew if the IHH activists were preparing a violent welcome to the IDF takeover, Tuval said that "they were preparing to violence against the soldiers: Yeah from what I was informed.".

The ship's first officer, Gokkiran Gokhan, told his investigators that special power saws were used to cut the chains and bars and that the ship didn’t posses those tools, but were apparently brought on board by the protesters, who also brought along walkie-talkies. The first officer said that a group of protesters had cordoned off a section near a lifeboat and prohibited anyone unauthorized from approaching. He said the IHH group was made up of about 40 people who boarded the boat in Istanbul.

Footage provided by foreign news services shows Israeli soldiers beaten with clubs and bars, pulled below decks, and held captive. Some of the footage shows blood on the walls. Other photographs show a collection of ax handles, iron bars and about a dozen knives collected from the protesters.

According to the IDF the soldiers felt their lives were in danger and opened fire. One soldier said he was under attack by a group of men who had already disarmed another IDF soldier and were approaching with that soldier’s weapon. The IDF soldier opened fire, killing six men in his attack.

Other reports say the IDF had standing orders to do what was necessary to make certain no Israeli soldier was kidnapped, to avoid a repeat of the on-going Gilad Shalit affair.

Israel has agreed to an investigation into the flotilla incident. Still, military sources in Israel have criticized the raid as hasty and unprofessional lacking planning and prior intelligence what to expect on board.

Once the ship was docked in Ashdod Israel media reported that the Israeli authorities found weapons and as much as a million Euros secreted in the cargo.

Other reports say that the violence was planned well in advance by a group of activists who boarded the ship in Turkey bent on a violent confrontation.

The IDF claims the blockade is in place to prevent weapons and materials reaching Hamas. The US has approved this blockade up unil now. The IDF is also using this blockade as a negotiating chip to force Hamas to release Gilad Shalit. So far that tactic has not worked.

The flotilla affair has brought the Gaza blockade into sharp focus. Hamas activists say they will continue to use this flotilla tactic to try to break the blockade.

One Israeli had an unusual suggestion: have a group of activists involved in the release of Gilad Shalit bring a boat to the Gaza shore with Red Cross and other aid representatives aboard all demanding to visit Gilad Shalit, provide him with food and medical treatment, and a visit with a Red Cross representative, Up-until now such a a visit has been denied by Hamas.

Perhaps with a PR move of that nature the captured Gilad Shalit may have a chance to see the light of day, be as much a topic of conversation as the aid ostensibly denied the Palestinians in Gaza.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ruling From Afar

Israel has been an independent state since 1948. This 62-year period is the longest in history that the Jewish people have ruled their own country. The combined terms of Kings David and Solomon don’t match that, and Solomon, who consolidated his warlord father’s power, controlled Israel for only 39-years.

After that a succession of conquerors ruled Israel, most often from afar. The most famous were the Persians under Cyrus, the Greeks under Antiochus and the Romans under Titus. The latter resulted in a dispersion of the Jews from Israel and the end of a 1,000-year Jewish kingdom.

Once the idea of resettlement of Israel became a goal, brought about by second-class citizenship in the Russian empire, and the rise of socialism, which arose both independent of and paradoxically part of the same equation, Israel has been essentially ruled by outside powers steering policy.

Both the first and second aliya were as much idealism as escapism. The subjugation of the poverty stricken peasants fostered the taste for revolt; the alternative of starting a new society in an ancient homeland was the escape from tyranny. Nationalism was on the rise. Russian nationalists chose to implement socialist polices in their homeland; some Jews decided to try the socialist experiment in their own land, or at least land that was once historically theirs.

Many of the original settlers were disenfranchised orthodox Jews, today called ‘yotzei em sheala’ (leaving religious life with questions). Like Ben Gurion, the leaders had been raised in ultra-orthodox homes, their lives circumscribed by the rules and regulations set down by the rabbis in the small towns and villages in the Pale of Settlement, just about the only place the Tsar allowed them to live. Poverty was endemic. Work was restricted to agriculture. Oppression was a tight heavy yoke. No wonder many young men and women fled restrictive religious life and sought freedom in socialism and revolution. Those with firm foundations in Judaism sought to transfer this socialism and escapism to a utopian state outlined by the non-religious Viennese journalist Theordore Herzl in his landmark treatise “The Jewish State.”

But starting a country isn’t like starting a dot com company. Money has to be raised. A structure has to be devised. Leaders have to be found. A plan has to be followed. And then there is the question of survival, not only what to eat, but how to defend against hostile neighbors. Defense means weapons and training. Both require funds.

The early Zionists had to be both idealists and materialists. Had to have enough fervor to excite a crowd, keep them excited as they dug in malarial swamps, hacked away at parched earth, built on shifting sands. Yet material enough to realize that schnooring was a necessity. Money had to come from somewhere.

Tzdeka is an age-old Jewish tradition that traces its roots back to the Old Testament. A widow had to be cared for, also orphans, the sick, the needy. Along the way the ethics were refined: a wealthy man who became poor should be supported by the community in the style to which he was accustomed; the Torah scholar must be supported by the community lacking the scholar’s exceptional intellectual skills.

The wealthier Jewish merchants were always solicited for contributions, to the poor and needy, for a synagogue, a mikva, a Torah scroll. When the Jewish State was discussed, the wealthier Jews were brought into the mix. The Rothschilds put up money for farming equipment, a vineyard, financed new towns. An Italian/British financier named Montefiore helped with the foundations of a New Jerusalem. Simple Jews around the world were solicited for their pennies, just as U.S. President Obama appealed to donors for their dollar bills.

The bigger the child, the bigger the problems. The larger the country grew the larger the needs. Pre-state Israel, then named Palestine by the early Zionists, became a receiving nation. Like Jamestown in the British Colony, early agricultural settlements were communal. Most of the Jews lived on handouts from abroad.

Fast-forward a hundred years. The modern state of Israel is the second in hi-tech start-ups in the world with a GNP greater than all the surrounding Arab states combined. A standard of living envied by Israel’s neighbors, who still remain third-world countries. Israel’s intellectual potential was utilized, allowed to flourish, producing one of the economies hardly affected by a near financial collapse around the world.

Even the Arab population living under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza benefited from Israel’s financial success. As bad as the life is in the West Bank according to Arab sources, the standard of living, if work can be found, is still better than in other countries.

Israel is an independent state, capable of supplying other nations with aide, sending rescue teams to earthquake zones like Haiti and Turkey, supplying food and medical equipment to Thailand, helping out when possible.

But rather than join Israel as it developed, the Arab nationalists of the 1930’s, the Palestinian nationalists of the 1960’s, the Khoumanism of the eighties, the Islamic zealousness of the 90’s, all sought to deny Israel and the Jewish population an existence.

Ideally this enmity wouldn’t exist, but idealism is good in theory, until the bombs go off in the busses, the missiles fall into the settlements, throats are slit all the way through the spinal cord in a grisly decapitation.

Co-existence is a two-sided endeavor. Oil, politics, corruption, greed, all mix together to make the Middle East what it is. While the majority of Israelis abhor discrimination in theory, they still practice it, against their own citizens and their neighbors.

But discrimination isn’t limited to the Israelis. When the Black Plague swept Europe in the 14th Century, the Jews were blamed. No necessity in going on with the list of disgusting accusations that resulted in millions of Jews murdered over the centuries. Frequently this enmity is pure jealousy. Christians angered that Jews refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah; Moslems angry at Jews refusing to follow the ways of Islam. Secularists angered that the Jews were religious, businessmen angry that the Jews succeeded where they failed. On and on, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote, once, On and On.

To defend herself Israel became an armed camp. From the early Fedayin to the Hamas , Hezbollah, and Achmenijads of today, weapons were needed for defense, sophisticated, expensive weapons. Israel started by purchasing weapons with donations made by wealthy Jews. Then aligning herself with countries seeking to exert political influence in the region.

The best friend Israel ever had is the United States, a country that recognizes Israel as the one stable Democracy in the region. Not a pure democracy, to be sure. Not an American democracy. But the US has supported and supports other countries with even worse offenses than Israel. Some of them were huge mistakes, like the S. Vietnamese. Others, most in fact, took the money and pocketed it. Not Israel.

So when U.S President Obama decides to push Israel into a peace agreement, the pressure starts to resonate with the historical past, reminders of the rulers who controlled the Holy Land from afar, the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Turks, British.

ADL director Abe Foxman has said that the US is pursuing a mistaken policy in the Middle East, one that was always wrong. One that puts Israel as the key to peace.
When U.S. President Obama decides that Israel shouldn’t build up Jerusalem, that decision may easily be construed as interfering in the internal affairs of another country.

When President Obama, under advice by well-meaning liberals and friends of Israel like Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, push for a peace conference with the Palestinians, some pundits see this as a means to distract the world from the failures of Obama’s ability to make good on his campaign promises.

When all else fails, blame the Jews, is an old tactic, long practiced, usually with disastrous results for the Jews. Analysts wonder if cynical politics isn’t at work at what is called the lowest point in the US-Israel relations in 35-years.

Whatever the reasons, ruling from afar seems not to have gone out of style, no matter what Washington is saying,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Nuclear Explosion

A nuclear explosion was how one pundit described the recent revelations of fifty-year-old Rabbi Mordecai ‘Motti’ Alon’s sexual misadventures. Rabbi Alon, for many years considered one of the leaders in the modern-orthodox religious Zionist camp, retired from public life three years ago ostensibly because of ill health.
The Takana Forum, a group of highly-respected modern orthodox rabbis and educators, begun in 2006 as a watchdog group following cases of sexual harassment by religious leaders, released information two days ago that Rabbi Alon had not retired because of ill health but had been threatened with the exposure of inappropriate behavior with his students, and other young men, unless he resigned from his position as head of the Yeshivat HaKotel religious seminary in Jerusalem and leave public life.
Takana spokespersons said that the Forum had made an arrangement with Rabbi Alon that if he abided by certain rules, not being alone in the same room with boys being one of them, then they’d keep his alleged proclivities from the public eye. When it became clear that Alon, who had moved to the Upper Galilee village of Migdal along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, had not abided by the agreement, the Forum had no choice but to go public.
Takana said that they’d received scores of complaints about Alon over the years. One report expressly stated a relationship Alon had with a teenaged boy. Alon and his followers have denied the accusations terming them a ‘blood-libel.’ One of the members of Takana has told the media that he’s received threats on his life.
Rabbi ‘Motti’ Alon, one of the leading voices for the Zionist Religious movement, albeit one considered to the right of center, hosted a popular TV show discussing religious themes and was a much respected lecturer.
The Alons are a distinguished family, his father a former Supreme Court Judge and his brother Benny a popular religious leader.
In Jerusalem one is hard put to have a conversation with any modern orthodox individual without the ‘Motti’ Alon story coming up before anything else. One Rabbi, a professor at Bar Ilan, said he’d heard whispers that Alon’s ill health was a nervous breakdown, but nothing about any sexual proclivities outside the norm.
The breakdown, according to one source, was the cover story to keep Alon’s reputation in tack. The religious Zionist camp, one source said, was concerned that should Alon’s sterling reputation be tarnished it could lead to an implosion of the religious Zionist movement.
Religious Zionist, or the Kepaw Serugah (knit skullcap) movement began before the establishment of the State of Israel. The precise start of when religious men began to wear knit skullcaps is unclear, although most sources believe it began with the religious Kibbutzim, when girlfriends and wives began knitting their men skullcaps rather than the black velvet or black cloth ones worn in ultra-orthodox circles.
Modern orthodoxy allowed men to be clean-shaven, as long as they used an electric razor, considered nothing more than a modern scissors, and participate in events where women and men were seated together. The idea was that religious Jews could be part of the Zionist establishment. The Poael Mizrachi movement, begun in Europe, was an early proponent of this philosophy.
The Benai Akiva youth movement was an outshoot of this philosophy. At the outset of Benai Akiva, according to historians, men and women even held folk-dancing sessions together. Lately a more strict approach has been taken with the sexes separate at all events. This move to the right, espoused by Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon, raised the question if indeed there was a future to modern orthodoxy or if it wouldn’t be proven an experiment that failed.
While approximately 13 per cent of the Israeli population consider themselves modern orthodox, many of those are situated in settlements over the green line. These ‘settlers’ now form the core of the religious Zionist movement. ‘Motti’ Alon has long been one of the leaders encouraging, counseling, guiding that movement. The revelation of his alleged homosexuality has rocked that tradition oriented community on their heels.
Questions arise why ‘Motti’Alon’s proclivities were kept secret when it is the victims who suffered from his advances and harassment, not him. Apparently Manny Mazuz the former Attorney General was asked to investigate the matter but declined. One pundit quipped that in Israel if one had ‘proteczia’ (influence) one didn’t need friends. In Alon’s case, said the pundit, he had both.
One observer asked the question why, in a modern world, the case of ‘Motti’Alon’s leanings was causing such a stir. CNN’s business reporter the British Jeremy Quest is openly gay, having even been caught in a public park one night nude with his member tied up by a string attached to a noose around his neck, and drugs nearby. He’s still on the air. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is openly gay. Gay marriages are on the books in some states in the USA. The modern world is not aghast any longer over gay relationships, so what, asks the analyst, is the big deal over ‘Motti’Alon.
One pundit says it is because boys are involved, innocent under-aged children. This pundit says look at the argument offered by film director Roman Polanski, now on trial for statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. According to Polanski the girl was of lose morals and no one who slept with her knew she was underage. Under that argument, some of the boys ‘Motti’[Alon may have had relationships with may not have been all that innocent either.
But a man like Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon, set on a pedestal above the fray, is not supposed to have these adventures. Much like the Catholic priests who have been the focus of scandals over the decades, men of the cloth are expected to be the guiding light of morality not those succumbing to it.
Another observer goes into the philosophy of charisma. Charisma, said the observer, is both a gift and a burden. Should one allow the gift to go unchecked, using the charisma to influence crowds and individuals to immoral ends, than the gift has become a burden. How many political leaders, religious leaders, and entertainers have become intoxicated with their own press, and wound up going off the rails?
One expert says that it is up to the masses and their representatives to perform ‘due diligence’ when choosing or accepting a leader. In the case of Rabbi ‘Motti’ Alon either his tastes slipped by those supporting him, or he hid those tastes from all but a select few. He should have been found out earlier, says the expert, not wait for the Takana Forum’s discovery of complaints back in 2006.
Rafael Trujillo, the late dictator of the Dominican Republic, was only one in a line of charismatic leaders who used their positions of power for their own pleasure. The list is long and painful, stretching back in history as far as man existed, including the likes of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Rasputin, Papa Doc, David Koresh and the Davidians, and endless others.
The question isn’t what makes these people who they are but why they are allowed to gain power and keep it?
One analysts wrote that in today’s open society where the boundaries of morality are being pushed farther and farther out, Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon could easily come out of the closet, perhaps even set up his own movement with his own rules of behavior that would become a norm. This has happened in the past all too often.
This analyst said that one can only hope that Rabbi Alon’s goals can be tempered to include only the few acres and scarce individuals he encounters in Migdal, along the Sea of Galilee, and not decide he is like another man who wandered those hills, and begin preaching a new message of a new religion, one much more malignant that the last one out of Galilee.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

A recent announcement by Israel’s Ministry of Defense sent the residents of the beleaguered Southern Israeli town of Sderot scurrying to their phones to call the media, and
whomever else they could, to muster support for an initiative to change the Ministry’s mind over the decision not to implement an anti-missile system for the small towns along Israel’s Southern and Northern borders.

At stake was the safety of the citizens of Sderot. The Ministry of Defense decided that the Iron Dome anti-missile system, recently tested successfully by Rafael Industries off the coast of Israel, would be stored at an airforce base in the South of Israel.

The media pointed out that Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and others in the Ministry’s R&D division, championed the Iron Dome system as a solution to the problems of Sderot’s residents. The Iron Dome, Barak claimed, was going protect the citizens of Sderot from mortars and short-range Katyusha rockets.

Now the Ministry says that the Iron Dome takes nearly 30-seconds to go on-line, about twenty-seconds longer than it takes a rocket to fly the two or three kilometers from Gaza into Sderot. The Ministry also said that the Iron Dome was more effective with larger rockets, like the Iranian made Fajr 5, with a range of 75 kilometers.

Clearly the Iron Dome is a system that is needed to defend Israel’s industrial heartland and major population center around Tel Aviv against Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the North. In fact, no Iron Dome batteries are planned for deployment in the North at this time, according to the Ministry.

Military correspondent Yossie Melman, writing in Haaretz this week, said that the Iron Dome system was never designed to protect the Northern settlements nor those in the South. Rather it was a nod to Rafael, one of Israel’s major defense contractors, who lost out in the development of the Arrow anti-missile system, designed to protect Israel from long-range rockets flying out of countries like Syria and Iran.

According to Melman the anti-missile Gattling gun and the Nautilus laser canon system, would have been much more effective to defend Sderot, or Kyriat Shmona. Back when these systems were being tested experts claimed that the Ministry of Defense was concerned that should either the Gattling gun or Nautilus alternatives be chosen then the Iron Dome would be put on a back burner. The indications are that the Iron Dome was shoved through under false pretenses in order to throw Rafael work, and not directly for security reasons.

One pundit defended the Ministry’s actions arguing that companies like Rafael must be kept in business because they provide a vital role in developing and manufacturing systems used to defend Israel. The consolation prize of the Iron Dome would insure Rafael’s profitability since each Iron Dome battery will cost the government over $50 million, and dozens of the batteries are needed to protect the country, and form a real Iron Dome. The total cost is now estimated at over $1 billion. One analyst pointed out that estimated budgets are usually thirty-percent below the final cost.

An observer of the defense industries pointed out that if this was a bone tossed to Rafael, he’d hate to see what happened when they tossed them a real consolation prize.

The residents of Sderot have begun a campaign to change the Ministry’s mind, and have the Iron Dome deployed in Sderot rather than warehoused in an airforce base even though sources pointed out to these residents that anyway the Iron Dome wouldn’t be able to protect them, since the system was too slow to stop short-range rockets.

Will the Ministry of Defense now turn to the Gattling gun or Nautilus solution? Pundits speculate that depends on how much pressure Sderot can put on the government.

As for Syria, recently the Syrian Foreign Minister accused Israel of dragging Syria into a new war that would encompass the entire Middle East. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman responded that should Syria attack Israel, Syria would be defeated and a new regime would then take over power in Syria.

Both Israel’s PM Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak have tried to downplay Leiberman’s threats. Most analysts believe that neither Syria nor Israel are preparing for nor want a war, rather that Syria is blowing off steam. Israel’s Foreign Minister, say these analysts, is talking tough for no good reason other than that’s who he is.

Avigdor Leiberman is still under investigation by the Israel police for a variety of charges, most involved in money laundering of one type or another. The police have been investigating Leiberman for over a decade, and no indictment has ever been issued. Leiberman has called on the government to stop the investigation, saying that a decade is long enough to be harassed by the police.

A few analysts say that the investigation is used primarily to keep Leiberman in line, with the threat of an indictment over his head in case he goes too far in a direction the ‘powers that be’ find offensive. No proof has been given to this cynical observation, other than the fact that the investigation continues with no indictment.

Gilad Shalit is still a captive in Gaza, facing his fourth year of imprisonment. Observers say that as ususal, whenever Hamas feels they’re not getting attention they trot out Shalit and offer to renew negotiations. This policy, observers say, is the same one that PLO founder Yassir Arafat used for decades to keep the ‘Palestinian Issue’ on the front burner of the world’s consciousness. Pundits say that Hamas realizes the tactic worked wonderfully for Arafat, so why not for them. So far, say these pundits, Hamas is correct.

Analysts wonder why the Palestinian issue has such great appeal around the world, when so many other burning problems exist?

Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist organization in Lebanon, is now a part of the Lebanese political establishment. Recently the UN caught Hezbollah with tons of weapons stockpiled in S. Lebanon. Israel used this discovered to claim that Hezbollah is preparing another war with Israel. Hezbollah claims it is Israel preparing for the war. One observer states that Hezbollah has vowed to eliminate Israel, as have both Hamas and Iran. Israel, says the analyst, has never vowed to eliminate any of these forces. So why, the analyst asked, is Israel seen as the aggressor?

Given that Israel is facing long-range threats from Iran, and medium range rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, it is clear why the Iron Dome is needed. But one pundit asked why Sderot and the border towns in the North should be exposed to danger, using only the early warning system of sirens and bomb shelters, for their safety? What were the defense officials thinking, asks this pundit, when these small communities were ignored?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Old Dogs & Old Tricks

No matter how hard some people try, they can’t blame the recent failed attempt to blow up a Delta plane on any of U.S. President Barak Obama’s policies.

According to an article in the New York Times by correspondent Steven Erlanger, two of the terrorists transferred from incarceration at the Guantanimo, Cuba prison to a high security prison in Yemenite, not only escaped from that prison but went on to become leaders of the nascent Al Qaeda movement in the Arabian Peninsula that was responsible for the recent failed suicide bomb attack by 23 year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah on a Detroit bound Delta airline. But their release was prior to Obama.

The New York Times article states that the rise of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia came about because the U.S. released a number of Al Qaeda leaders from Guantanimo. These leaders then escaped from Yemeni prisons, or sought refuge in Yemen. In February 2009 23 suspected Al Qaeda fighters escaped from a Yemeni prison. All but a few were recaptured or killed by security forces, but those few became key players in the new rise of Al Qaeda.

One escaped prisoner, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, reorganized the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, focusing on attacks against western targets. Another, Qassim al-Raimi, became a military commander.

In December 2007, years before Obama, Said Ali al-Shihri, a 36 year-old Saudi, was released from Guantanimo after six years’ imprisonment to a Saudi-run rehab program. He went on to become one of al-Wuhayshi’s top aides in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Another released Guantanimo prisoner, 30 year-old Saudi-born Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaysh, also in the Saudi rehab program, is now supposedly the leader of the Al Qaeda religious branch in the new organization. Another Al Qaeda activists, U.S. born Anwar al-Awiaki, arrested and jailed and released from a Yemeni prison, is reportedly the “internet Imam” and the key link to Umar Abdulmutallah.

The 200,000 Somali refugees who fled to Yemen are merging with the thousands of Al Qaeda fighters returning from Iraq, or those on the run from Afghanistan. The failed suicide bomber Abdulmutallah claimed hundreds more Al Qaeda fighters were ready to do what he did.

According to some military analysts, a swap of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for over three years in Gaza, may have the same negative effect as those prisoners released from Guantanimo. This, according to the experts, is why Israel PM Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, is slow to move on the final implementation of the Shalit deal.

Hamas has placed to names on the list that create tremors in Israeli security circles. The main one is Marwan Barghoutti, the imprisoned leader of the militant Tanzim branch of the PLO, now serving two life-sentences for organizing terror attacks on Israeli citizens.

Some political analysts think that Hebrew-speaking Barghoutti should be released, since he could act as a counter-weight to Hamas, take over the Palestinian Authority from Mohammed Abbas, and be able to come to the negotiating table with the power to implement a peace agreement with Israel.

Others think that should Barghoutti be released he may just start a new Intifada just to show his power, and establish his credentials as a Palestinian leader. These skeptics also point out that of the 1,000 other prisoners; many will resort to terrorist activities and make life unsafe for Israelis who have been enjoying a relatively calm period since the end of the War In Lebanon II.

According to observers these released prisoners may have the same effect on Israel’s security that the release of prisoners from Guantanimo had on the world.

Many critics say that President Obama is too soft on terrorists, willing to talk to them rather than fight them. Israel’s PM Netanyahu has long posed as a leader of the right-wing, firm in his fight against terror. Still, according to Monday’s Haaretz Newspaper, PM Netanyahu has said that ‘a new spirit’ is in the air. Some speculate that he has a plan to announce progress in a peace agreement.

Some pundits believe that Netanyahu and the security establishment is negotiating with Barghoutti, offering to free him if he promises to help bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, not to the battlefield. Others believe that the security establishment, specifically Shin Bet head Dicter, have been whispering in Netanyahu’s ear, pointing out that the release of the Al Qaeda prisoners from Guantanimo has caused the resurgence of that organization, and a similar release of Palestinian prisoners would have the same effect in Israel.

The press is again talking about a Palestinian state by 2012. This is the goal President Obama has ostensibly set for the final agreement. Israel’s Foreign Minister, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beitanu party, has said there is no chance of a peace agreement within two years. Speaking on Israel Radio Yosi Beilin, former head of the left-wing Meretz party, derided Leiberman, saying that no country’s foreign minister took him seriously, and most avoided dealing with him. Still, there are those in Israel who find that while not politically correct, Leibnerman often has the correct take on the realpolitik.

Whatever the final analysis, it is clear that the call for softening the hard-line attitude to terrorism hasn’t brought any serious progress, at least none that is obvious. Iran is still racing to build their nuclear weapon, Al Qaeda is still planning attacks, Hezbollah in Lebanon reportedly has more rockets than ever before, and Hamas says it has weapons that can reach Tel Aviv and far beyond.

Given the uneasy state of the world one wonders if the Jimmy Carter approach to world peace will work at this time, or if it isn’t more the time to keep a careful eye on the enemies of western democracy, denying them more soldiers, officers and generals. Men who just might decide the time was right to band together with like-minded fanatics and launch a massive attack that will make 9/11 look like a computer game.