Showing posts from 2013

The PLO are not the sole legimate representatives of the Palestinian people and can't negotiate a treaty with Israel.

The PLO has official status at the UN as the "legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people.  In the Seventies it was granted observer status at the UN and it represents the Palestinians in international forums and negotiations with the Israelis.

Before the Nineties there was a logic to this. The PLO was a body composed of a group of different Palestinian organizations and had Arab League support.  The Palestinian's were either dispersed or under Israeli rule and had no means of electing a representative and the UN gave that status to the PLO.

Today, however, things have changed. First of all the Palestinians held free elections in 2004.  The result of those elections was an indisputable victory not of the PLO, but of Hamas and as such Hamas has the best claim to being the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Secondly, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and Gaza is governed by Hamas. That means that decision making in Gaza is purely by the Palestinians…

Salif Keita and BDS, from Alabama to Jerusalem

A few weeks ago I noticed that Salif Keita was due to perform at King David's citadel in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was both surprised and delighted.
I was surprised because Salif Keita is from Mali, a predominantly Moslem country on the edge of the Sahara where there is both an Islamic insurgency and Al Qaeda presence. Keita was also once a minister in the government of Mali. Salif Keita is an albino, which apparently are a group who face discrimination in some parts of Africa and he works to prevent discrimination against albinos.
I was delighted because Keita is one of my favorite African musicians.  His music combines modernity with ancient African themes.  I told my partner that while I would not be willing to spend 600 shekels (150 US dollars) to see the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney (as they are today), I would be willing to spend that much to see Salif Keita in King David's citadel.
The citadel is a structure just inside the Jaffa gate in Jerusalem which was built…

The inevitable defeat of inevitable victory in the Middle East

In 1948 the Palestinians were sure they couldn't fail, they outnumbered the Jews two to one and had the support of all the Arab states. In fact the Jews had nowhere to run and were so scared of failure that they gave the war everything they had. The sense that Israel's situation was precarious remained strong after 1948  and in the run-up to the 1967 war, Nasser's doom laden pronouncements led to widespread fear in Israel.  Again it turned out to be the opposite: Arab overconfidence fed the Israeli dread of defeat and led to opposite results.
In 1973 the situation reversed: The Israelis thought they were undefeatable and the Arabs were sure they couldn't win. Although the Israelis didn't lose the war, it was the closest Israel has come to defeat.

Because many Arabs assumed victory was inevitable sooner or later, they didn't work for that victory and were at a disadvantage. Because so many Israelis thought the Arabs might be right, they were motivated to try har…

Hebron and my basic training in the Israeli Army

This post is a continuation of my experiences doing basic training in the Israeli army in 1994.

As part of the basic training, we had to spend a six hour night shift guarding the base. To make it easier we were allocated partners for the shift and I was paired with the only Haredi Jew in our group of new immigrants doing three week basic training.
I no longer remember his name, the Russians liked him because his wife was Russian and he stood out.  He spoke Hebrew with a strong Yiddish inflection but the key thing about him was that he lived in the heart of Hebron.  Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank with Jewish settlers right in its heart.  There are I believe, about 400 settlers living there and they are regarded as among the most extreme settlers in the West Bank and a source of constant provocations and tension with the Palestinian population.

Our lone Haredi told us he was doing military service because it would allow him to get additional child support (he had …

My name was used for cyber fraud: An order for translation which was never paid.

I suppose there were warning signs. First I recieved a snail mail version of the Nigerian scam (in this case it was Portuguese) telling me I had inherited 650,000 Euros. 

Then I got this mail from Facebook: Dear Jonathan,

Your Facebook account was recently logged into from a computer, mobile device or other location you've never used before. For your protection, we've temporarily locked your account until you can review this activity and make sure no one is using your account without your permission.

Did you log into Facebook from a new device or an unusual location?

 - If this was not you, please log into Facebook from your computer and follow the instructions provided to help you control your account information.

 - If this was you, there's no need to worry. Simply log into Facebook again to get back into your account.

For more information, visit our Help Center here:

Facebook Security Team
The login proved to be f…

Hair-raising tales from elderly Israelis

My appartment is too small for my current five person family and we are looking for a larger one. There is a neighbourhood we really like nearby and my partner found a nice flat for sale there, although its still a bit too small, its within our budget and is in a building which can easily be expanded.  So I went to chat to some of the neighbours, see what they were like and whether they would agree to an expansion.
I spoke to two neighbours and the second pair were small elderly folk who told me they had been in the building since it was built "in 1963 or 1964".
They said they were allocated the apartments in a lottery.  Apparently it was discounted as they were immigrants.  "Where are you from?" I asked. "Poland" came the reply.
They told me they arrived in Israel in 1949, "Well actually it was 1947 but the British imprisoned us in Cyprus until 1949".  I did my History MA on this stuff and started asking questions.  This is the story they told:

A comparison of discrimination in Israel, the UK, Sweden and USA

I thought it might be interesting to compare treatment of African-Americans, British Moslems and Israeli Palestinian-Arabs.  Note that I have excluded the occupied territories.  In some cases the situation in Israel is good enough that factoring in the occupied territories would still leave it comparable with other countries. I did not include economic data because of time constraints.

Discrimination varies between countries and is affected by particular local conditions. It is important to note differences: Not all Israeli Arabs are Moslem while I focussed on Swedish and British Moslems. African Americans are not a religious group but a skin-colour group.  Israeli Arabs and African Americans are local minorities while in Britain and Sweden most Moslems are relatively recent immigrants.

In the course of looking for sources I found Moslem sites discussing some of these problems. One memorable quote said that there are more Phd's in France then in the entire Moslem world. Problems …

My basic training in the Israeli army: Part 1 - Going home at the weekend.

In 1991 I moved to Israel and took out Israeli citizenship.  In 1994, I was called up by the Israeli army to do four months military training, after which I was to join the reserves. I went through a brief selection process after which I was sent, along with about 120 other new immigrants to do 3 weeks basic training at an army base.
I moved to Israel at the same time as a million Soviet Jews, so nearly all the 120 immigrants came from the former USSR. The next biggest group (about 10-15 of us) were native English speakers divided evenly among Canadians, Americans, Australians and Brits.

We were issued with a load of gear, including one brand new uniform and shoes.  We were told that the new uniform was a special gesture to us as immigrants and that "regular" recruits weren't given them.

The showers were mostly cold, the toilets had a leak, we slept in tents and I had permanent diarrhea, probably caused by stress, but the food was good. I formed a brief friendship with a…

How Bank Mizrahi mislaid my mortgage money

I just read a funny story in the Financial Times about a man who tried paying in a fake check sent to him by a charity and was amazed to find that the money cleared:

Well this reminded me of how my bank nearly lost my mortgage money in 2008. I took out a 350,000 Shekel mortgage which at current prices is 60,000 pounds or about 95,000 dollars (the same amount the man had in his fake check).
The contract I had with the seller had the money enter his account in two installments, the first installment 100,000 shekels was paid in fairly early and the second, for 250,000 shekels was due to be the last payment on the flat.  The seller's lawyer faxed the bank name (" Bank HaPoalim" meaning The Workers' Bank), account number and branch to my bank ("Mizrahi" meaning Eastern) and they were supposed to pay the money in on a certain date.  Except the money never arrived. The bank insis…

Syria: How Sunni-Shia warfare came to dominate the Middle East.

With hindsight one can now see that there has been a growing pattern of Sunni-Shia conflict emerging in the Middle East, which to some degree paralells the Moslem-Jewish conflict and may be far more bitter. Iraq seems to have been the spark that ignited the conflict, and it may well be that it won't extend beyond Syria-Lebanon.

Round I: The Iraq - Iran war (1980 - 1988)
In 1980 the Sunni-dominated Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein invaded Shia-dominated Iran, then fresh from a religious revolution. This lead to the Iraq-Iraq war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civillians in both Iraq and Iran. The invasion was the product of a long history of tension and border disputes between the two countries, much revolving round Kurdish revolts in Iraq, however the revolution in Iran had radicalized the Shia third of Iraq and led to growing attacks on the regime by Iraqi Shia radicals.
The Iraq-Iraq war was not purely a Sunni-Shia conflict, and the Iraqi regime was not ove…

The Sri Lankan analogy: Why Israel is more like Sri Lanka then South Africa and what that means for the Palestinians

The main problem with the infamous Israeli-Apartheid analogy is that discrimination and conflict in Israel is based on religion and not on race. Zionism does not incorporate race theory and does not hold that the Palestinians are racially inferior which was a basic principle of Apartheid and European colonial societies.  Its not surprising that Zionists did not adopt such doctrines given that most race theorists regarded the Jews as non-European inferiors. Other problems with the Apartheid analogy are that outside the occupied areas there is full democratic procedure in which Arabs/Moslems also participate and that half of Israeli Jews can reasonably considered to be Arabs.

Sri Lanka is similar to Israel-Palestine in that it is also a religious conflict, between Hindus and Buddhists belonging to separate ethnic groups (Tamils are Hindus and Sinhalese are Buddhists). Although Buddhists outnumber Hindus in Sri Lanka, they are massively outnumbered in neighbouring India, just as the Jews…

Deaths in Palestine and Syria compared.

Wikipedia quotes a UN estimate of 80,000 for the deaths in the current conflict in Syria.
A further 10,000 - 40,000 were killed in an uprising in Hama in 1982.

There are, I think, no reliable figures for deaths in the Lebanese civil war in the 70's and 80's, but Wikipedia has an estmate of 150,000.

About the same number of people have died in the current Syrian civil war as in all the Arab-Israeli wars put together. If you just take Palestinians killed by the Israelis, then far more Syrians have been killed then all the Paelstinians ever killed by Israelis.

So how many Palestinians have died?  There are a number of figures to take into account here, first Palestinians killed by peoples other than the Israelis: Thats mainly the British, the Jordanians and the Lebanese. Second, Palestinians killed by other Palestin…

Ba'ath regimes in Iraq and Syria both used chemical weapons against their citizens

Every so often in the past year, we hear a dull rumble late in the evening.  Its the unmistakable sound (at least to us Israelis) of war planes flying overhead. Sometimes we read the next day about a bombing in Syria and sometimes it just reflects growing tension in the North.
Until a few weeks ago it seemed certain that Assad was due for a rapid exit, but now, with help from his three allies, Russia Iran and Hezbullah he seems to be hanging on, at least for the moment. He has suddenly woken up the the fact that Israel was bombing with impunity in Syria and threatened to retaliate. I'm inclined to believe him, because without a response his credibility will be zero, though he will probably try and prevent escalation.  This raises the spectre of Hezbullah fighting Israel using Syria as a proxy - instead of, as was true for so many years, the reverse.

The nightly news analysis on Israel's channel two now says that Assad may survive. As a political scientist I have this to say: H…

How Jewish demographics are changing: The rising Anglo-Hebrews and vanishing Sephardi-Ashkenazis

About 45% of the world's Jews live in Israel.  Another 40% live in the USA. Of course who is a Jew and how you count them is a bit unclear, for example people with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers (and there are quite a few of them) clearly have a connection to Judaism even if they are not officially Jewish.  I know that in England official figures represent the number of Jews registered with a Synagogue but nobody in my family is remotely orthodox or registered with a Synagogue and yet here I am living in Israel.

One thing is clear: Since the Second World War, there has been a massive shift in Jewish demographics, and part of that shift has been a movement towards English speaking countries.  Millions have left Arab, Moslem and East European countries and moved to Israel and the USA, Canada or Australia. Mainly of course, to the Israel and the USA.  Of the top ten Jewish communities in the World, four are English speaking and the other is Israel.
Of the other significant com…

Academic boycotts of Jews and Israelis: Historical parallels

When one reviews Jewish history one occasionally finds disturbing parallels. Accusations that Zionists were dragging Britain and the USA to war against Iraq were common before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was astonished to find that Mosleyites (British Fascists) had used similar claims back in the Thirties.

The current push to discriminate against Israeli academics may seem new, but it has a history.  It seems that academia is one of the first places to be affected by antisemitism.

Jews were first admitted to the Oxford colleges in the 1880's. In complete contrast to Britain, Russian universities introduced quotas for Jews in the 1880's, Jews were anyway banned from living in most of Russia. After the First World War, the new state of Hungary introduced quotas at its universities. In the USA growing Jewish enrollment at Ivy League universities led to tight quotas allowing only a very small number to attend.

In those days, faced with Pogroms and the like, troubles at univ…

East is East and West is West in the history of Israel

Israeli roads generally run the length of the country, which is a neat North to South (or vice versa) or cross it West to East (or the reverse), which tends to be a lot more narrow. When you drive on the West-East roads signs appear telling you the direction you are driving in. At the top they say מזרח (East) in Hebrew, in the middle is a squiggle in Arabic (saying the same thing) and at the bottom it says in English "East".
If you're bilingual like me then the sign appears to say "East is East", rather like Kipling's Ballad of East and West:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,  Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; 
Few countries epitomize Kiplings poem as wonderfully as Israel. It seems as though the Westernized Jews will never be able to attain peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians.
Kiplings adds that
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,  When two strong men stand fac…

Israel: Land of the post-apocalypse

I recently discovered that a work colleague's daughter has four passports. "Four?"  I said, "Isn't that overdoing it a bit?". Truth be told my son has three, so I can hardly talk.
He explained that her grand-parents came from central Europe and had insisted that the child obtain every possible passport for which she was eligible. Her parent were Israelis who were in the USA when she was born, that accounted for two, the others were from a couple of central European countries.
"They live with an ever present sense of impending apocalypse" he said.
Truth is, many Israelis do, especially those whose family lived through the Holocaust.  My father escaped Germany because his mother got him a forged Polish passport - he wasn't entitled to a passport from any country.  Like Japanese coastal residents, there is a permanent sense that our safety could be transient, that the next tsunami is just a matter of time.
There are, I think, two versions of the…

Who is a refugee?

Who is a refugee?  It might seem straight forward but it isn't.
If I lost my house in a financial crisis and moved abroad with nothing but a couple of suitcases, am I a refugee? I suppose you need to be persecuted because of your sexuality, politics or ethnicity but what does it mean to be persecuted?

Were Jews who left the USSR in the 'Seventies (and allowed to take only two suitcases) persecuted? If they were persecuted for being Zionists, couldn't they have chosen not to be Zionists?
Are refugees people who are forced to leave their countries? But if they are persecuted for being Zionists and then leave willingly to a country that adopts them, then are they still refugees?  Were they refugees when they arrived?
What about the Palestinians, who having arrived as refugees, were persecuted by their host countries in order to force them to maintain their refugee status. Are they now refugees because of 1948 or because of their treatment by their Arab hosts?

Perhaps a refuge…

Did Ben Zygier expose Israeli networks in Iran?

Do you remember how Iranian scientists kept getting murdered? Have you noticed that it has stopped?  You may also recall how the Iranians announced that they had caught the networks and put people on trial. They were all Iranians, supposedly recruited by Mossad. The Iranians accused the Israelis and desperately kept trying to kill Israeli tourists around the world.
Time Magazine reported two days ago that the Western Spy agencies say the Iranian story about catching the assassin networks are reliable.  The timing of the Time story, just as Ben Zygier was hitting the headlines strikes me as something which could be more than a coincidence.
Having said that, Zygier was arrested in 2010 and the last Israeli assassination was in January 2012.  The Iranians claimed to have wrapped up the network in June 2012. The Iranians aren't the only ones to have wrapped up some Israeli networks in recent years.  Hezbollah has also had some successes, though reports I read suggested they did it by …

Political party funding in Israel and how it encourages splinter groups

Israeli political parties are state funded. The way it works is that parties receive funds according to the number of seats they hold in the Knesset and are subject to legal restrictions on how much they can spend in election campaigns. They are allowed only limited non-state funding sources, which are small private contributions and membership dues and there is a ban on anonymous contributions, contributions by people who are ineligible to vote or public associations.
 Any party which wins more than 1% of the vote is entitled to a refund of some of its election expenses (2% of the vote are required for a seat in the Knesset).
New parties that register for an election can use some financing sources that are not available to existing parties but are still subject to many of the restrictions.  TV time is allocated on the basis of 25 minutes for every party running in the election + 6 additional minutes for every MK in the outgoing Knesset.

If a party with Knesset seats splits, the spli…

I voted Labour in Israel's 2013 election and felt like a fool.

I voted Labour in the last Israeli elections, but I did so with a certain amount of dread. In 2009 I voted Labour and half the 13 members of Knesset subsequently decamped to a new party and sat in Netanyahu's government. You might say that half my ballot went to the Likud and half to Labour.  Not what I intended.
Most outrageously, the group that left included the party chairman, Ehud Barak.
I no longer remember who I voted for in 2006, but it may well have been Labour.  The party took 19 seats, led by the Sephardi union organizer Amir Peretz, who inspired hope that Labour would focus on social issues. Unfortunately he was offered the Defence Ministry by Olmert and his greed for power led him to take an office for which he was manifestly unsuited, followed by entry into a war for which he lacked appropriate experience. That and a photo of him looking through binoculars which still had their lens covers on, finished his career. Peretz also chose to leave the party, joining (former …

My dove's interpretation by Meir Ariel, translated into English

My dove’s interpretation / מדרש יונתי Words and Music: Meir Ariel / מאיר אריאל My translation: To hear the music go to
Source for the Hebrew text:

Ask the heart of Jerusalem Ask how she feels - Stones in the heart of Jerusalem The market square reels.
Wrapped in lies and injustice Laboring on the wall But through a veil perceptible Our city lies exposed to all.
Not pursuing justice Does not want peace for there is no peace without justice - Just why did we come here? - did we dream a dream? - Is that day over?
My dove returns to the fissures The hawk vibrates above - And hidden steps ingest her Opening winding mouths
It is the lands of the sea behind us We are their passion. It is the lands around us We are their song
It is the same convoy   Facing the sea. Followed by the King Smeared in blood, Wilderness, animals also – They are all upon us.
How Jerusalem…