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?