Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Israel Lobby"?
What "Israel Lobby"?

Walt and Mearsheimer must be laughing up their sleeves.

John Stewart has explained the workings of the Israel Lobby so even (or maybe only) a five year old gets it.

Too see this segment follow this link to the Comedy Network then find the clip labeled "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (04 / 28 / 09) Clip 2 of 4".

Click. Relax. Enjoy and learn.

By the way, Haim Saban, the alleged financier of the proposed tit for tat, is not only very rich, and a major Democratic Party donor and fund raiser, he is also an ardent Zionist. (Look up the "Saban Foundation".)

For more background read here, here, and here, or just Google "Jane Harman."

Why is this still back page news? Maybe its because of the ... no that would just be paranoia.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chapter Two

It is customary during the counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot, to study one chapter of Perkei Avot each week.

So ...

I am often depressed at the state of the world. Intellectually I think that only governments have the power to do what it takes to make the massive changes we need to (a) save the planet - literally, given global warming, and (b) change society so that we live in a kinder gentler more moral and caring world.

But around the world governments seem to range from the "Mediocre" to the "Incredibly Evil", with most tending towards the latter. The average is somewhere between "Bad and "Very Bad."

The rabbis of the Mishna seemed to feel the same way about governments and perhaps even about the state of the world in general. And they certainly weren't shy about sharing their cynicism.

Chapter two of Pirke Avot contains these gems:

Omar Khadar stuck in Guantanemo, Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Khartoom, as well as the poor of my own city, Toronto, know how little one can count on the government to help its own citizens. And this in Canada, one of the "better places to live" in the world.

He could have been describing any of a half dozen on going conflicts in the world to day - not the least of which is the one in Israel / Palestine.

Does anyone listen to Hillel's 2000 year old wisdom? Not many. Instead those of us who "have" are consuming the world and ourselves to death, while fighting wars to preserve our priviledges.

So with things so bad - then and now - why not just give up? If the world is going to hell, why should one be "the last righteous perosn in Sodom." Why not just go with the flow and enjoy yourself while you can.

Perhaps words to live by, while we are trying to change the world at large.

And Rabbi Tarfon added:


Will the "work" ever be completed? Maybe our reward is just to engage in it?

(But, honestly, its hard to do so when you lack the Mishna rabbi's absolute faith that in the long run, the good will win out. Tarfon, after all was sure that one day the "completion" would happen.)

Why Is There No Palestinean Gandhi?

We often hear people say that that if only the Palestinians would commit themselves to non-violence in their struggle for rights, they would accomplish a lot more. Their violence is not only futile - Israel is capable of defending itself and of responding with much greater violence - but it alienates potential allies in the West and in Israel itself. Why is there no Palestinian Gandhi? If only there where ...

But maybe the reason that there is no Palestinian Gandhi is because the Israelis are not the British, and the world today is more hardened than the world of 1930. When Ghandi organized his famous March to the Sea (to protest the British 'Salt Tax') the British merely beat the protesters (OK , viciously beat the protesters) with clubs, and the resulting furor around the world vaulted Gandhi to a highly leveraged position vis a vis the British. The British where roundly condemned for there behavior, and eventually this wore down there will to stay in India. But when Palestinians turn to non-violent protests, Israelis just shoot them: most recently at Bil'in, where several have been killed. And no one seems to care - in Israel or around the world.

Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf comments on this:

What we tend to forget is that the current violence is a relatively new phenomena. Since 1967 and for the first 20 years of occupation, the West Bank was fairly quiet. I remember, as a kid, how we traveled there during weekends, went shopping and sightseeing. [sn - Having lived in Israel in the 70's and 80's I can attest to this] Yes, the PLO carried on the armed fight, but this was done mostly from other countries – Jordan, later on Lebanon, and finally Tunisia.

But guess what – this nonviolent struggle never made Israel even think about abandoning the land it conquered or hand the Palestinians any civil and political rights. In fact, these were the years in which the colonization of land became an official government policy. Israel agreed to a Palestinian autonomy as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, but never really considered keeping its promise.

Then came the first Intifada. By today’s standards it was a nonviolent struggle - mainly stones throwing, huge strikes and popular demonstrations. It wasn’t pleasant – soldiers were hurt, and there was an increase in terrorism as well, but it was nothing like the “culture of death” everyone’s talking about now. [sn - and the first Intefeda did bring the Palestinians some results - Olso, which unfortunately went nowhere after the assination of Rabin.]

... The real popular armed struggle, as we know it today, only began in October 2000. When I served in the West Bank, as late as the summer of 2000, we were still driving open vehicles and walking in villages without bullet-proof vests.

Bil’in was an effort to go back to the unarmed model, ... And it was for a good cause: the protesters didn’t seek the destruction of Israel. They weren’t Hamas people. They didn’t even oppose the separation wall. They just didn’t want it to pass on their land, in their village. Israel could have just the same build the wall on the international border (the Green Line), and no one would have said anything. But we wanted to get some more land.

My bottom line is this: in Bil’in, like in the first three decades of the occupation, Israel proved that it didn’t really care what kind of a fight the Palestinians are putting up, or what they ask for. This has nothing to do with “abandoning terrorism”, like Netanyahu – and all Israeli PMs before him, except for one – keep on saying. For all we care the Palestinians can convert to Buddhism or join the Likud. We just don’t want to go back to the ‘67 borders. That’s why, when they throw stones or wave flags ... we open fire.

That’s the bad lesson [we are teaching the Palestineans.] That even if you decide to abandon terrorism and protest in a nonviolent way, you would achieve nothing, and you might still get shot in the head. ...

You can read the full article here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

Friday the IDF shot and killed a Palestinian demonstrator at the weekly anti wall demonstration at Bil'in. (They had critically wounded an American solidarity protester at the same spot a month earlier. He is still in hospital with severe brain injuries.) In both cases the IDF spokesperson said the demonstrators where violent and where attempting to tear down the fence. In both cases the demonstrators say that is a lie.

But this Friday's killing was caught on video. Watch and judge for yourself if the demonstrators where violent or where trying to tear down the fence. (Warning: if you've never witnessed someone casually shot to death, this may be disturbing.)

For those of you who don't understand Hebrew, I will only say that after the shooting the demonstrators call to the Israeli soldiers, saying someone has been shot and seriously wounded and to send over their medic. The soldiers don't. They continue firing tear gas.

When the IDF spokespersons say that all the charges of brutality in Gaza are false or exaggerated, remember this video, and their statements in this case.

For more background on this story see here, here and here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chapter One

It is customary during the counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot, to study one chapter of Perkei Avot each week.

So ...

Of course this contradicts an earlier verse in the same tractate:

It has been explained (perhaps not so convincingly) that Simeon T.R. was talking about the means needed to sustain the world, while Simeon B.G. was talking about the ends to which the world is created. I prefer to think that these are simply two different opinions about what really "counts" and there is no need to jump through hoops to reconcile them. These Rabbis simply had different priorities, and the editors of the Mishnah found both worthy of inclusion.

But what of Simeon B.G.'s dictum itself. Is it not internally self contradictory? Is not "Justice" (Absolute Justice anyway) often incompatible with peace. Justice may demand that I receive 40 lashes (or whatever punishment) but it may also so embitter me that I will long seek to get even with my accusers. And of course the problem is compounded when the truth is not 100% clear. And the truth is rarely (maybe never) 100% clear.

But the Talmud deals with these cases too. In tractate Sanhedrin, when discussing the merits of mediation (vs strict legal judgment) in dispute resolution, the majority recommends that mediation always be tried first. And in response to the minority, that argues that compromise and mediation is always unjust (and should be banned (!!) since one of parties is pressured to give up what is RIGHTFULLY theirs in order achieve an agreement), R. Judah b. Korha says:
Settlement by mediation/compromise is a meritorious act, for it is written, Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates. Surely where there is strict justice there is no peace, and where there is peace, there is no strict justice! But what is that kind of justice with which peace abides? — We must say: Mediation and Compromise. So it was in the case of David, as we read, And David executed justice and righteousness [charity] towards all his people. Surely where there is strict justice there is no charity, and where there is charity, there is no justice! But what is the kind of justice with which abides charity? — We must say: Mediation.

And what to do when, despite everything, mediation fails, but the truth of the case is not clear cut? Again the Talmud (in the opening of tractate Bava Metiziah) has an answer.
Note that we are not told who is telling the truth. The court has no way of knowing, and indeed both parties may legitimately believe that they found the garmet first, and are entitled to the whole thing. Presumably (in the "objective" world of "pure truth") only one is right, but the court (and perhaps even the litigants) have no way of knowing 100% for sure.

So the court orders a compromise: divide the property equally. But note the court does not force either of the parties to admit that it is wrong. Each can go on claiming that it was entitled to 100% of the find. But they must accept the courts ruling and give up half. They can grumble if they want, continue to tell everyone of the justice of their claim. but they still must give up half.

* * *

I note that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for renewing peace talks. He is demanding not only that the Palestinians agree give up much more than half the land of Israel/Palestine (indeed he has been deliberately unclear about what - if anything - he is willing to offer them) but that they also agree, in advance of further negotiations, that the Jewish claim to the Land is just.

Would that the Israeli government studied more Talmud.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Passover Love Song

Below is a slightly edited version of a dvar Torah I gave at my synagogue yesterday.

Dvar Torah
Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach, 5769, 2009

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach

I want to dedicate this dvar Torah to my father, Julius (Yehuda Hersh) Nestel, who died just after Passover 30 years ago.

So long ago, yet at this very time.
Bayamim Hahem, BaZman Hazeh – as they say.

My father taught me many lessons, most by example, not the least of which were responsibility and love. Some of his last words with me, a few hours before he died, were that if anything were to happen to him, I should make sure that his business was properly liquidated, and that my mother and sister were looked after. Selfless love and externally focused responsibility. He also gave me the confidence and the material and spiritual resources to make my way in this world. His is a model I try hard to live up to, even if I never fully reach it.

* * *

This Shabbat is Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach - the Shabbat that falls in the middle of the Passover week – and our sages deemed that we should break the usual Shabbat cycle of Torah readings to read two special Passover related sections from the Torah, a special Haftarah, and one of the five Biblical scrolls – The Song of Songs.

The maftir for today is taken from the book of Numbers, and it gives the details of the sacrifices that were offered on Passover when the Temple still stood. The Haftarah for today is from the Prophet Ezekiel and it is the famous prophecy of the Valley of the Dry Bones. The dead bones’ coming to life is meant to symbolize the future revitalization of the Jewish people, thus guaranteeing us, according to Ezekiel, that just as Pesach gave us our national redemption in the past, so too would we experience national redemption in the future.

But it is not on these texts that I wish to dwell today, but rather on some of the larger themes of Pesach as illustrated by today’s “main” Torah portion and also in the Song of Songs.

* * *

Pesach has at least four names.

The first, Chag Ha’Pesach – or the Feast of Passover – recalls the fact that God passed over the houses of the Israelites on that terrible night when he slew all of Egypt’s first born, thus finally breaking the back of Pharaoh’s resistance to freeing the Israelites. It recalls both the suffering of the Egyptians and the miracle that spared our ancestors and saved us from perpetual servitude to Pharaoh and his kind.

The Israelites’ trust in God’s miracles and His saving grace are symbolized by the blood of the lamb that they smeared on their doorposts, and later by the Pascal sacrifice. Today the symbolic lamb shank on our seder plates comes to commemorate this aspect and this name of the holiday.

The second name, Chag Ha’Aviv – the Feast of Spring – recalls the fact that Pesach falls in the spring: in Israel, the season of lambing, and of the beginning of the harvesting of winter grains. The Karpas on our seder plates (as well as the lamb shank, some would argue) come to commemorate this aspect and this name of the holiday.

The third name, Chag Ha’Mazot – the Feast of Unleavened Bread – recalls the haste with which we departed slavery, and the “spiritual baggage” - the puffed up gas filled chametz - that we had to leave behind. Chametz has often been compared to both the bad character traits and the false comforts that our ancestors had to abandon in order to escape slavery, and that we ourselves must abandon if wish to achieve our own redemption. Matzah represents a clean and lean, back to basics, fresh start. And of course it plays an important part in the seder.

The forth name of the holiday, Chag Ha’Herut – the Feast of Freedom – recalls that the festival commemorates the beginning of our freedom. It is symbolized in the seder by our leaning on pillows, but more importantly by the whole edifice of the seder – a luxurious meal. Lots of wine, and time for deep discussions about history, current events, and nature of the world we live in.

While the Bible itself seems to emphasize the first two or maybe three names and aspects of the day, the Rabbis, starting at least in the Talmudic period, seem to emphasis the latter two names and aspects – Chag Ha’Matzot and Chag Ha’Herut. You only have to look in the Kol Hanshama siddur, in the festival Amidah (page 341), to see that the holiday is referred to in the liturgy, not as Pesach, but as

Chag Ha’Matzot HaZeh; Zman Herutenu

This Feast of Matzot; the Time of Our Freedom.

* * *


The question I wish to ask today is, “Freedom to what end?” Is it merely freedom from slavery? Are we merely celebrating freedom from hard work and obligations? Or are we celebrating being free to do things we could not previously do: hopefully holy and worthwhile things?

In Hebrew the word for “freedom from” or “independence” is Hofshi (as in the Israeli National Anthem Hatikvah – ‘lehiyot am hofshi’.) But Hofshi is also the word for “no cost.” Is that what the freedom of Passover is all about – we don’t have to pay? Furthermore Hofshi is also the Hebrew word for “secular” – free of the heavenly yoke – of Ol Matlkhut Shamayim. Surely Hofshiut – as in "take what you want, no obligations" – is not what we are celebrating at Passover!

And indeed the holiday is not called Chag HaHofshiut, but Chat Ha’Herut.

Herut means freedom in a different sense. It means “freedom to” – freedom to be obligated, freedom to take responsibility, freedom to love; because love can only be given freely.

But Herut also shares a root with the Hebrew word Harat – “to engrave.” Thus Passover is the holiday that engraves upon our hearts. And what is Passover meant to engrave on our hearts? I wish to argue that it is responsibility – the true luxury allowed us by our freedom. Slaves have neither the spiritual nor material resources to be responsible.

Even before we encounter today’s Rabbinically mandated Biblical readings we have had a hint that the Israelite’s liberation from Egypt is to be a “freedom to,” rather than a “freedom from.” In Exodus chapter 5, in Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh, God instructs him to ask Pharaoh to let the people go,

for three days into the desert, to serve the Lord.

Thus the purpose of our liberation is to serve the Lord. And presumably if Pharaoh had just granted the Israelites a regular three-day weekend to serve God, we would not be celebrating Passover today. We could have continued living and working in Egypt, as long as we served the Lord. But as we know, serving the Jewish God involves myriads of obligations and responsibilities. It is fundamentally incompatible with serving as slaves to Pharaoh and all he represents.

God thus seems to be saying, that it was our all consuming serving of Pharaoh, of Egypt and all that it stands for, that was the problem He wished to solve by the Passover liberation. People, sadly, are required to work and even to work hard, - suffering has been our fate since Adam, not since Pharaoh - but hard labour and regimented lives that leave no time to serve the true God and to do His holy works must be abolished. However, neither are the People meant to use their freedom from slavery to idle around or pursue their own pleasures as they see fit – this lesson is hammered home repeatedly in the tales of our desert wandering as well those of our later life in the Land. Rather, the People must serve the Lord rather than serve Egypt. In this the Bible seems to be foreshadowing the great contemporary poet who declared:

You may serve the devil,
Or you may serve the Lord.
But you gotta serve somebody.

And Passover comes to teach us that serving God is better than serving Pharaoh. It comes to celebrate that we now have the freedom that allows us – no, requires us – to both seek God and to serve Him.

But how?

Our Biblical readings for today give us some instruction on how best to do that: on what the nature of our relationship to the Infinite ought to be.

The main Torah reading for today is Exodus chapter 33 verse 12, through Exodus chapter 34 verse 26.

These 36 verses contain exactly 2 disjointed references to rituals of the Passover holiday, and no references at all to its central events. So why are they chosen for us to read today? If the Rabbis wished only to emphasize narrow rituals of the holiday, they could have made do with a much shorter reading. But they preceded and followed the Passover references with many other verses, in order to make a wider point about the purposes for which we are to use our Passover given freedom.

The reading opens with Moses asking God
I beg you, if I have found grace in your sight, show me now your way, that I may know you, that I may find grace in your sight;
And later
I beg you, show me your glory.
Moses, as the leader of a free people passionately wishes to know God – the mysteries of the universe, the meaning of life.

And God replies

I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

And what is God’s goodness and mercy, if not His love?
And what is Love, if not responsibility?
And what is responsibility if not to respond to the needs, and desires, the secret pleadings of an Other?

God is good to his people and shows mercy, not because he has to – He is also free after all! – but rather because He loves us. An a-rational arbitrary love! And just as a parent would do anything for their child, and a besotted lover would give their very soul to their beloved, so God wants to take care of His People.

And Love is more about giving then getting. As the Hebrew saying goes:

Yoter Me’She’Egel Rotzah Linok, Rotzah Haparah Le’Haanik.

More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse.
This is the source of God’s mercy.

And how does God exemplify His essence? What does God finally show Moses to demonstrate his glory – as Moses had begged him to do? What does he show him?

Not his face. No !

That would too explicit, and once fully known might sate our future desire. (God, perhaps a coquettish lover, wants Moses – and the People – always yearning for more! Always desiring, but never quite attaining the full blown super-duper sweat soaked knock your socks off transcendent experience)

So, God shows Moses his “afterwards.” (Not “his back” as is often mistranslated.)

And what is God’s “afterward”, but His effects, his traces in this world. God shows Moses how love and caring – yearning for the transcendent connection with the Other and its concomitant responsibility, as irrational as these things are – are precisely what make our lives worth living

But in addition God wants, as all lovers do, that Moses and the People reciprocate His love. He wants the People’s love, their loyalty, and their sense of obligation in return. Freely given to be sure, but no less strongly desired. Hence, in the second half of the Torah reading, we are told of the giving of a second set of tablets, and of a second set of commandments – with their emphasis on loyalty to the-one-God-who-created-all – and flowing from that, our infinite responsibility to Him and His creations.

We are also reminded, later in today’s Torah reading, that after Pesach will come Shavuot. Today is, after all, the second day of the counting of the Omer which will end with Shavuot: the true culmination of the Pesach story: the explication of the Law and our full set of obligations to God and to man: the Infinite and the particular. Our love of God, of the general, realized through our love of, and responsibility to, particular individual humans.

* * *

The idea that the purpose of our freedom and of our very lives, both as a People and as individuals, is to allow us to love and be responsible for the Other, is further pointed out to us by the choice of Shir HaShirim – The Song of Songs – as the scroll that we read on Passover.

As I am sure you all know, Song of Songs is about love. Often quite erotic, and always passionate, it is literally about the love of a man and a woman, but it is often allegorized to be about the love between God and his People. These are not conflicting viewpoints in my opinion. They are complimentary.

God’s love is primarily realized in this world through our love for each other. Not only romantic or sexual love, but the love of parent to child, child to parent, best friends and lovers, as well as the more prosaic love/responsibility we feel for the poor, our acquaintances, our fellow citizens. Most of us, after all, would lend our friend a tool or a cup of sugar, not because we calculate that we may need their help someday. We fully pay our taxes, and refrain from murdering our neighbours and stealing their stuff not because we fear punishment. We behave this way because we feel some level of human responsibility, some level of love to our fellows.

And what is our love, if not an attempt to transcend our aloneness: to connect deeply and irrationally to another, the same urge that has the mystic seeking union with God and that had Moses asking to fully know Him? But we can unite with God, or at least get a bit closer to Him, only by uniting with the other person. When we give of ourselves to others we transcend our mundane selves and reach a higher plane. Only by focusing externally, on the other person, can we attain some proximity to the fully Other – to God. This is the meaning of

Man created in the Image of God.

This is what Emanual Levinas meant when he declares:

O’ blessed Exteriority!

* * *

The last chapter of Shir HaShirim contains one of the most sublime lines in the Hebrew Bible – a line that many commentators say encompasses the point of the whole book.

Place for me a seal upon your heart, and a seal upon your arm;
for strong as death is love, sharp as the grave is passion:
its embers, embers of fire, the flame of God!

What is the point?

First, love requires loyalty (hence “a seal upon your heart”) and love requires a commitment to doing for the beloved (hence “a seal upon your arm”). This is responsibility – loyalty to and doing for the Other.

Last, love is a manifestation of God (hence “its embers … the flame of God”)

And in the middle, the enigmatic words: “love as strong as death, passion as sharp as the grave.”

Love, and its attendant responsibility, gives death its bitterness but it also allows us to transcend death.

Why, after all, do we cry at the death of our parent, partner, good friend? Not for them. If we believe in the world to come, they are probably better off. If we believe in the darkness of the grave, then they are not conscious to suffer, to miss life, or even us. Rather we cry that we will no longer be able to give our love to them, to care for them, for us to see their pleasure at our efforts, for us to feel their love in return.

And why do we fear our own death. Again either we will be in a better place, or we will not know. Rather we dread our death because we will no longer be able to care for our beloveds. We worry for their welfare: that they will no longer experience the benefits of our loving.

That is why it is love that gives death its bitterness.

But the love we have received is also a balm for death. For those about to die, knowing they have loved fully and well and been loved in return soothes the way. For those of us who survive the death of a loved one, love is the motivation to keep their inspiration alive, to pay forward the love we have received from them. Just as a father’s love becomes the model and the engine that allows the son to love and care for his children, so all past love is the model and the engine that allows us to keep love and care flowing in this world. Love that allows us to transcend time and our alone-ness.

Shir HaShirim reminds us that at Passover we celebrate having received the freedom and the resources to love and to serve who we want, and to give of our full energies to our beloveds. Our challenge, post Passover, is to widen the circle of our love and responsibility. To pay forward the miracle of our strength and our freedom and of God’s love. Only thus can we repay Him. Only thus can we make God, our parent, proud of us. Only thus can we reciprocate his love. Only thus can we fulfill the freedom he gave us, so long ago, at this very time.

Bayamin HaHem BaZman Hazeh

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach

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I typed my last name into Google's image search, and got 16,900 hits.

And I have a fairly unusual last name. Or so I thought.

Are we somehow all mysteriously related. Probably not. But who knows. Some of my favourites are below.

Tom, the Pennsylvania Police Chief with a Phd in Criminology

Marcel, the French male model

Rosanne, the Florida Real Estate Agent

Alexandra, the German marketer.

Hermann, the sailor.

David, the Israeli entomologist.

Yogi, the German drummer

Duke (left) with Peter Townsend

Hattie, the peace activists from Tennessee.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bibi's Father Speaks Up

Over the weekend the Israeli daily Maariv published an eight page interview with professor Ben Zion Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu’s 99 year old father. Netanyahu often refers to his father as the person who inspired him the most. When he resigned from the Sharon's government in 2005, just before the disengagement from Gaza, Netanyahu mentioned his father as one of the reasons for his move (Prof. Netanyahu opposed the disengagement plan). “From you I’ve learned, father,” said Netanyahu that day.

The elder Netanyahu is a scion of the Revisionist Zionist Movement. He was once secretary to its idolized and mythologized founder Ze'ev Jabotisnky. This interview is very interesting. Ben Zion says what Bibi probably thinks inside (on most subjects at least) but is too smart to say out loud. He also tells us that Bibi was not a successful PM in his first term (but he believes he has learned lessons and might be more successful now), and that he very much misses Bibi's (more talented?) brother Yoni, who was killed in the Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976.

In any case, this interview gives insights into where the Israeli PM is coming from, both ideologically and personally. Highly recommended.

Original Hebrew teaser.

English excerpt Part 1.

English excerpt Part 2.

English excerpt Part 3.

Leibeman's Soviet Style Diplomacy

'Who do you want first? The EU or Tony Blair?' (Eran Wolkowski/Haaretz)

The seated figure - for those who don't get it - is Avigdor Leiberman, Israel's new (gag) Foreign Minister.

Hmm ... pick-axe - a reference perhaps to Trotsky's untimely demise at the hands of Stalin. Leiberman is, after all Russian, and there are lots of Russian Jews in Israel to get the reference.

With thanks to Tikun, where I cam across this cartoon

Friday, April 03, 2009

Two Good Links

I just spent some quality time perusing Bernard Avishai's blog, and came across two interesting stories.

The first is about how the Israeli health care system is a paragon of good Jewish Arab relations within Israel and might serve as a model for the rest of Israeli society. Too bad the Israeli health care system does not treat West Bank Arabs like it treats West Bank Jews: but that would be asking too much. Still a half full glass is better than an empty one.

The second is Avishai's article - and, better still, the comments - on the current economic crisis and the "Krugman vs Geithner" affair. Its like a primer on the recession and its possible cures. Fascinating and educating.

My own view? - break up the big American banks, fire most of the top execs, and let the lending classes take their lumps. Someone's gotta pay, and better them then those who where too poor or too prudent to play high stakes poker. Given the choice, I'd rather save GM than CitiBank.

Will They Or Won't They ?

Will Israel cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council probe into human rights violations and war crimes regarding the Gaza conflict?

The UN has just made it much harder for the the Israelis to say no. It has appointed as head of the commission Richard Goldstone, a respected South African judge, and former chief prosecutor on the International Criminal Tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone is also a Jew, and member of the board of governors of the Hebrew University. Hard to cry "bias" with this appointment. (Maybe the Palestineans should cry "bias"?)

Other members of the commission are British law professor, Christine Chinkin, retired Irish army colonel Desmond Travers and former UN human rights expert Hina Jilani of Pakistan.

"I am confident that the mission will be in a position to assess in an independent and impartial manner all human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the context of the conflict which took place between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009," said Human Rights Council president Martin Uhomoibhi.

Goldstone attempted to remove the concern that the commission would be biased against Israel. He said his team would investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the conflict that ended Jan. 18.

"It's in the interest of the victims. It brings acknowledgment of what happened to them. It can assist the healing process," he told reporters in Geneva. "I would hope it's in the interests of all the political actors, too."

"It is my hope that the findings of this mission will make a meaningful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and to providing justice for the victims," he added.

Israel has refused to cooperate with previous investigative missions of the kind formed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Israel Renegs on Annapolis

On his first day in office Israel's new foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel was changing its policies on the peace process and was not bound by commitments it made, at the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis conference, to pursue the creation of a Palestinian state.

Hey! Isn't one of the conditions that Israel, the U.S. and the EU laid down for Hamas to comply with, before they will officially deal with them, is "to recognize all previous agreements negotiated between the PA and Israel ?"

So why would Lieberman, on day one, make a statement designed to piss off the U.S. and make the P.A. doubt Israel's sincerity in trying to acheive a peace agreement? Well, one reason might be that he (and his PM) are not interested in an agreement.
They know that what they are willing to offer will never be acceptable to, even the most moderate, Palestinean leader. So why not goad the PA a bit? Maybe they will refuse to sit down with you until you agree not back out of signed agreements. Then you can blame them for their "intransigence."

Jewish critics of Israel -
are also strongly Jewish

A couple of months ago I had a letter printed in the Canadian Jewish News (decrying the increasing immorality of Israeli military doctrine.) Now my wife has had a letter printed decrying the myth that Jews who criticise Israel are completely detached from Judaism and from the Jewish community. If this keeps up, maybe we can take over the CJN !

Jewish critics of Israel

I must take issue with columnist Gerald Steinberg’s claim that the “independent Jewish voices” who choose to criticize Israel’s policies are “not active in synagogues, play no role in other Jewish institutions and do not contribute to Jewish life” (“Israel-bashing Jews: not in my name,” CJN, March 5). In 2004, my colleague Emma Jo Aiken and myself conducted a research project with members of Toronto Jewish groups opposed to Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands. The results were presented that year at the annual meeting of the Association of Canadian Jewish Studies.

Contrary to Steinberg’s claim, the 15 interviewees, representing five different groups, displayed a strong commitment to Jewish life. In fact, more than half of those interviewed belonged to synagogues and had a self-described “strong Jewish background,” including attendance at Jewish day schools and membership in Zionist youth movements. Indeed, half of those interviewed described themselves as Zionists with strong connections to the traditions of socialist thought and dissent that are part of the history of Zionism. While it may be comfortable to believe that Jews who criticize Israel are beyond the pale, there is evidence that their connection to Judaism and Jewish life is not only quite real, but for many is the basis for their political stance.