Tuesday, December 24, 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 Secondly, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and Gaza is governed by Hamas.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 without any outside intervention.  While we may not approve of the means by which the Hamas took over in Gaza, and the failure to hold further elections, that is arguably an internal Palestinian affair and despite the problematics Hamas is the only Palestinian group which can claim to represent the Palestinians.  At the very least, it is no longer possible to claim that the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinians or that its decisions are binding on the Palestinians.

It could be argued that in the eyes of the UN the PLO remains the sole representative but in the absence of a fresh decision confirming their status, I would say that is contentious.

At present Israel and the PLO are negotiating a "final solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under US guidance, but without Hamas having some role in those negotiations, it seems to me that these negotiations cannot be said to be taking place in good faith.

A lot of people feel that Netanyahu is not negotiating in good faith and doesn't really want a result. That may well be the case, but the truth is that the negotiations in their present format are farcical when they don't include the only truly self-governing and independent section of the Palestinian people.  As long as that is the case, nobody is acting in good faith.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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 by King Herod about 2000 years ago.

Unfortunately, the timing of his show didn't suit my schedule with kids etc. so I had to leave it and I forgot about it until yesterday when I discovered from the Engage (anti-racist campagin against anti-Semitism) website, that Mr Keita had cancelled the performance and published a letter on his web page explaining that he was doing so because of  threats and because he wished to protect his work for Albinos. You can see the letter on his facebook page, or here
Salif Keita's letter explaining concert cancelation
 I have no problem with that, as I said I was surprised he would play here at all, and if he doesn't it won't affect how I vote or view the world. I just accept it as one of those things.

What struck me was the debate on his Facebook page, which is rather sad.  Some were saying the boycott was anti-Semitic, others that criticism of them as anti-Semite as an "attempt to silence debate".  There was no attempt to reach out or promote peace and understanding. I saw that some supporters of boycotting Israel were comparing it to the bus boycott in Alabama and after reflecting on this I wanted to point out the difference between non-violence and boycotts as practised by Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and the BDS movement.
First both Dr King and Gandhi steadfastly and absolutely opposed the use of violence. This is not true of the BDS movement (boycott divestment and sanctions).
Second boycotts as used by both Gandhi and Dr King were first and foremost actions taken by those on the recieving end of discrimination. One of the problematics of BDS is that it is not Palestinians who are using non-violence or boycotts, it is predominantly a European movement targetting Israel, while ignoring the history of European-Jewish interaction, in which boycotts were a means of persecution. Dr King always spoke out very clearly against anti-Semitism, even saying that "Israel's right to exist in security is incontestable" which the BDS doesn't.

I suppose BDS supporters conflate themselves with the Palestinians and think that by acting in supprt they become part of a struggle they admire. Instead they are complicating the situation of the Palestinians and turning Israeli foreign policy into a struggle against anti-Semitism. The Palestinian's popularity in some respects is their achilles heal, preventing them from seeking or sustaining any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Incidentally a Rabbi, Abraham Heschel, was at the front of many of the civil rights marches. Right next to Dr King (second from the right in this picture).

Monday, September 16, 2013

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 harder. Thus inevitable victory fed defeat.

Six months ago Assad's defeat looked invitable, but right now its hard to say what will happen in Syria. Latest reports say 50% of the opposition to Assad are "global Jihad' volunteers. With so many Jihadi forces gathering, Assad may find friends in new places, expeically if he dumps his Sarin collection.

Things may be reversing again. The Arab states are a mess, but given the way things tend to fall upside down in the Middle East, I would hestiate to make any predictions.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

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 five children) and to carry a weapon.  He also saw it as his duty to educate us about Hebron and constantly explained that Hebron, or rather the "Tomb of the Patriarchs" in the heart of Hebron is the burial site of Abraham and other forefathers (and mothers) and the second most holy site in Judaism (it is also sacred to Moslems).  All this was recounted with a typical slight sing-song Yiddish inflection.
During the peace negotiations with the Palestinians in the 'Nineties a Jewish terrorist opened fire in the tomb, killing 29 Palestinians.

During the six hours that we guarded the base, I told him about my family history and he told me about himself. To my astonishment he turned out to be a former Irish-Catholic postman from Brooklyn. This revelation caused me to take another look at the man. I suddenly noticed that he was taller than me - and among the rather short Russian Jews, I was noticeably tall (in England I am average height).  He was also red-headed.
The next day in the dining room I couldn't keep my new information to myself. "x is a convert" I told someone next to me, "he's a former Irish Catholic from Brooklyn". Everyone who heard this was stunned and you could hear a buzz as the information travelled across the dining room, like waves of grass bending in the wind.

I have since learnt that Rabbinical Judaism regards it as a grave sin to remind a convert of their origins and they are quite right not the least because it is very difficult to convert to Judaism and requires a year of study. I sometimes remember the incident and feel ashamed of my action but with it I feel a sense of annoyance that someone who was not born into Judaism should act in a way that makes life difficult for those of us who had less choice in their religion.

I have never visited Hebron or the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but I should add two important facts about the tomb, which contributed tot he Jewish extremism round it.  First of all it is one of what were known to the Jews as the four holy cities (Tsafed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron) in which the Jews maintained a presence across the centuries. In 1929 there were riots in Palestine and 70 Hebron Jews were killed and the rest forced to leave.  The issue was a celebrated cause among right-wing Jews.  The other pertinent fact is that Jews were banned from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs from the late 1300s until the Israeli conquest in 1967 and despite that apparently maintained their connection with the site, worshipping on the steps at one of the entrances.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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 from Ohio using a Mac. I don't use Macs and someone in Ohio had got hold of my password.  This was worrying. 

In between I got a request to connect on LinkedIn from a German translator. I occasionally get these requests from people I don't know. If they look interesting and reliable I sometimes accept and this guy looked OK and I thought he might have some interesting connection, so I agreed.

Then yesterday the German fellow suddenly sent me an angry mail saying I owed him 700 Euros. It emerged that somebody using my name (spelt Löwenstein with an "umlaut") had ordered a large translation job relating to search engine optimization (SEO) which is the process through which websites get Google to bring them more visitors. He thought it was me and that was why he "friended" me. They gave him an address which was not mine.  I checked all the other Jonathan Lowensteins online (we're a relatively exclusive brand) but I could find no other in Israel. 
I exchanged some mails with the translator and he forwarded me the e-mail containing the translation order. I tried to trace the e-mail but failed. So I checked one of the documents he had translated and found it was for a website: http://www.jetztabnehmen.net/Abnehmen-mit-Schuessler-Salzen.php.  If you click on the link in the website it takes you to http://www.meddirekt24.com/ which is a site selling some kind of fake medicine.

I recently read an excellent article about fake medicine sites inWired (see this as well) so I guessed what was up. I guess they got their SEO material translated for free by posing as me, they even paid him a deposit to make it look genuine. So take care.

I located the server housing the website, it was in the Czech republic but the server is probably rented and just holds a website. The business is elsewhere and these guys know their internet and won't be nearby. I suppose they are German speakers because the documents were in German and they spelt my name with an Umlaut.

Monday, August 19, 2013

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:

The woman had a Catholic neighbour in Poland, and both he and his sister were called up by the Nazis for servitude of some sort in Germany and he suggested that she pose as his sister.  As a result she became the maid in the house of an SS officer. I missed a trick here and failed to get details of the SS officer and the servitude.  She said she was very young and the man protected her.  She masqueraded as a Christian for four years, living in the officers house. She didn't want to go into details and her husband didn't like talking about all this,  I didn't hear what happened to him.

After the war they both started making their way to Palestine. There was a mass movement of Jews out of Poland and the USSR in the Forties', mostly locally organized and now called "Bricha".  They both joined the same group (and fell in love) and their group walked across the Alps from Austria. I believe US troops were helping Jews crossing through Austria (eg providing food and shelter).  I repeat they crossed the Alps on foot from Austria to Italy.  In Italy they got a train to Genoa. From Genoa they took a rickety boat (they told me its name but I forgot it).  When they approached Palestine, two British destroyers came either side, slamming against the boat and trapping it.  British trooops boarded the boat (incidentally this usually happened in international waters) and took the occupants prisoner.
They were held on Cyprus until about a year after Israel's independance and released in 1949.
Being elderly they have no need (or money) for any expansion, and having crossed the Alps on foot they are in great shape, so their flat won't become free any time soon... So the flat fell through.  I got this post though,  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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 of inequality are not purely the product of discrimination and any comparison of data needs to factor that in.

This is what I found:

Members of Parliament

Israel: 10/120 10% of seats vs 20% of population
UK:   8/650 1.2% of seats vs 4.8% of population
Sweden: 3/349  0.8% of seats vs (roughly) 4% of population.
USA: Senate - 0/100 African Americans are  13.6% of the population
          Congress - 41/435 9.4% of seats
Taken together 41/535 7.5 % of seats

Executive (government ministers)

Israel: None
UK: 1
Sweden:  None
USA: Head of State + 3

High Court

Israel: 1/15
UK: None
Sweden: None
USA: 1/9


Israel: 3750 out of 22,000 (17% vs 20% of general population) An additional 7,000 were held from the occupied territories. 2008 10% os Israeli Arab prisoners were involved in political crimes.
UK: 11,000 out of 86,000 (13% vs 4.8% of general population).
Sweden:  No data Non-Swedes form 30% of inmates and immigrants are reported to be disproportionately represented in the prisons.
USA: 900,000 out of 2.3m (39% vs 13.6% of general population) 2009

Voter participation

Israel: 56% vs 67% national average. 2013 elections.
UK:  No data by religion but Bangladeshi and Pakistani voters were reported as having a higher then average turnout (70%+) . 65% national average. 2010 elections
Sweden: Studies suggest that voter turnout is lower among immigrants.  Many immigrants are given residency but not citizenship.
USA: African American voters had a higher turnout then any other major ethnic group.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

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 former Tajikistani hunter who now fed the Lions in the Jerusalem zoo.

At the start we were taken to a lecture hall and given a speech by the base commander who told us "the door to his room was always open". He said it in a rather languid way which did not inspire confidence and, since no one ever took us on a guided tour of the base and our every waking moment was occupied, I wouldn't have known where his "room" was anyway.

Basic training consisted of learning basic military discipline, including a bizzare time consuming system for folding our regulation three blankets, which required two people to fold together. Every morning we had to spend about 15 minutes folding blankets together. Fortunately someone at my workplace had warned me about this. He told me to keep one blanket permanently folded in the regulation method and then just fake the other two and put the "proper blanket" on top.  I did this without trouble for the next four months.

We were taught how to fire a rifle. For the rifle training they issued everyone with Colt M16 automatic rifles which caused a lot of whispering in Russian:  "bzzzzzz, bzzzzzz, bzzzz, Kalashnikov, bzzzzzz, bzzzzz, Kalashnikov". Our Israeli weapons trainer grinned and said "yes I know, the Kalshnikov is much better". That calmed the Russians down. Apparently M16s are prone to jam in dirty conditions and have to be kept clean all the time. Kalashikovs can be buried in mud, dug up and will still fire.

Our extremely basic basic training included 2 or 3 weekends. Everyone was promised at least one weekend at home.  I was one of the lucky ones who went home on the first weekend.  The Russians told me that in three years Russian military service you get 2 weekends at home and most of that is spent travelling.
I got out of the base on a Friday morning, in my lightly soiled uniform with instructions to be back very early on Sunday.  I waited unsuccessfully for a bus on the main road, and eventually hailed a taxi.  I told the driver that I didn't have enough cash but if he took me to a cashpoint I could pay.  It was a long journey from Ashdod to Tel Aviv and in Holon the driver stopped for me to get money out. I must have looked very tired. because we were only allowed six hours sleep a night and kept active all the time, and after I took the money out he told me he would drop me off near Tel Aviv and wouldn't accept any payment.

When I got home, I was greeted by my cat who was badly injured.  I lived near the Carmel market and the alley cats round there are ferocious. My cat was a semi-wild cat who came and went as he pleased and was not "done".  He occasionally got into fights and this had obviously been a bad one and he was in a state. I quickly put him in a cat box and rushed to the vet, still in my uniform.

The vet turned out to be a Major in the reserves and insisted on writing a letter to my commanders, telling them I had a wounded cat that needed constant attention.
I got back on Sunday at the appointed time and handed in my letter to my commanders who were all aged between 20 and 22.

The following weekend, most of those who had been at home the previous weekend had to stay the weekend.  I was one of very few who got sent home and it was the sick cat that clinched it. Over the next four months I never once failed to go home at the weekend.

See more about my basic training 

Monday, July 8, 2013

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 insisted that they had paid it in, so we did the obvious thing and compared the account details. It emerged that my bank had misread the branch number and paid it in to the wrong branch. So my bank contacted Bank Hapoalim and  they investigated and it turned out there was someone with the same account number in the other branch and that the money had gone into their account!
At this point stress levels started to rise. 250,000 shekels, ostensibly my money, had gone into the account of an unknown third party.  The bank clerk blamed the seller's lawyer arguing that his writing was unclear. The lawyer blamed the clerk for not checking and said his writing was clear. I could see my appartment purchase going up in smoke and being stuck in the courts for years.
I paid a visit to Bank Mizrahi, to try and keep the pressure on them to do something. The clerk told me he was the one who entered the details, and that the matter was now making its way up the bank's hierarchy and had reached the hands of a "very senior regional manager" (as he put it). I had a mental image of the bank as a vast pyramid of (mostly) men with my mortgage issue slowly being handed up the pyramid and causing amusement somewhere higher up the pyramid's chain.  Apparenly the regional manager had called Bank Hapoalim's regional manager and had been told that they could not legally remove money from someone's account without their permission. The lucky owner of the account containing my 250,000 shekels was in the USA, presumably spending his new found winnings, and Bank HaPoalim would do their best to trace him, however, as was apparent from the discussion, Bank HaPoalim didn't consider it to be their problem.
I managed to stay calm for a week; I was fairly confident that it if it went to court I would get a good hearing but I was very worried. After a week, the bank called to say that HaPoalim had located the account owner and that he had agreed to let the bank remove the money and so my money made its way to the correct destination.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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 overtly religious, but the creation of a regime in Iran whose ideology was formally religious-national meant that any conflict involving that regime risked escalating into ethno-religous conflict.

Round II: The Iraqi civil war / insurgency (2006 - 2008) 
The Ottoman empire was a religious empire based on Sunni Islam and during the centuries of Ottoman rule in Iraq, the Iraqi Shia were a neglected religious group. The British tapped into existing elites and established a state in which the Sunnis continued to dominate, although Shia were the majority.

The 2003 US invasion and the forcible implementation of democracy in Iraq led to sudden Shia domination, since the Shia are the majority of the Iraqi population.  Religious-nationalism formed a focal point of opposition to the US presence and neatly gelled with the extreme anti-civilian violence of Al-Qaeda whose religious xenophobia turned out to be directed against Shia Moslems no less then non Moslems. As a result Shia and Sunni militias fought each other as they fought the USA, but while they only targeted the US occupying army, they mercilessly attacked each other's civilian population. For both sides the USA was the prime target, but Shia-Sunni warfare was now openly sectarian and extremely bitter.

Round III: War in Syria:  All out Sunni=Shia warfare. (2011 - Present)
When Hizbullah, Iran's Lebanese Shia militia, started fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime, the conflict there turned into an  almost purely sectarian war.  One can now see that each round of conflict since the Iran Iraq war has incorporated greater Sunni-Shia conflict and that this is now becoming the Middle-East's dominant conflict.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

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 are massively outnumbered by the region's Arab Moslems while forming a majority in Israel. The ability of Tamils to find support, funds and arms in India has fueled the dispute just as the Palestinians have been able to leverage their regional majority to sustain their struggle.  The Tamil Tigers who led the Tamil uprising trained in India and negotiations to end the war were often held between India and Sri-Lanka without participation of the Tigers. Until Oslo, Palestinians trained in camps across the Arab world and were not a party to Israeli-Arab negotiations.

Buddhism is a religion with a long history of minority status in India and Sri Lanka is the one place in the Indian sub-continent where it is dominant. Sri Lankan Buddhists have a long history of fighting off Hindu encroachment. This is also similar to Israel, Jews have a long history as a minority everywhere and Israel is the one place where Judaism has been the dominant religion for significant periods. Although they have generally done so passively, Jews have also had to resist encroachment by Islam and Christianity.

The Tamil Tigers were pioneers of suicide bombings, killing both Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and then the Sri Lankan PM in 1993. In both cases the assassins were suicide bombers, used before the Palestinians adopted this tactic.  Unlike the Palestinians, the Tigers managed to liberate territory using military means, but like the Palestinians, they showed complete disregard for the principles of human rights both with regard to their Sinhalese rivals and internally in their management of the Tamil  population.

The end of this conflict was one of the symptoms of the emergence of China as a serious world power, the Chinese have a history of conflict with India and although they have abandoned Buddhism (and fight it in Tibet), China was once a mainly Buddhist county and it has played an important role in Chinese history.  With Chinese support (and yes, the Israelis were also involved) the Sri Lankan government decisively defeated the Tigers and ended the Tamil uprising.  Although thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in the last stages of the war, Sri Lanka faced little international protest.

As an analogy for religious conflict Sri Lanka is a better model for understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict then either of the two popular models, Northern Ireland and South Africa and it is perhaps significant that the end of this conflict was the total defeat of the Tamils.

Finally one should remember that while analogies may be useful as models, they are in the end just analogies and not genuine analysis.

The South African analogy is particularly problematic in that there is little resemblance between the ANC, which always sought equal and human rights for all South Africans while Palestinian organizations were frequently anti-Semitic  (sometimes virulently) and never even pretended to accept ideals of Human Rights.  The similarity of the Palestinians to the Tamils is one of the elements which make Sri Lanka a better model.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Deaths in Palestine and Syria compared.

Wikipedia quotes a UN estimate of 80,000 for the deaths in the current conflict in Syria. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Syrian_civil_war
A further 10,000 - 40,000 were killed in an uprising in Hama in 1982.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hama_massacre

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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebanese_Civil_War#cite_note-1

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 Palestinians and finally those killed by Israelis. For purposes of convenience I am not making a combatant-civillian distinction because when you deal with non-regular forces and civil wars, its impossible to make that distinction.

Using figures quoted in Wikipedia I took rounded estimates and totalled the higher estimates to give totals.

killed by
killed by
killed by
killed by
killed by Palestinians
3,500 – 20,000
6,000 – 10,000
(including Sabra and Shaltila)
1,000 (pre-1948)
4,000 – 5,000

3,000 – 4,000 (1948)

3,000 – 6,000 (1949 – 1975)

4,000 (invasions of Lebanon)

10,000 (intifadas and Gaza invasions)
700 colaborators + 600 Hamas vs Fatah

In all about 25,000 Palestinians are thought to have been killed  by the Israelis since the Thirties' and 65,000 to have died in various conflicts. Much less then the dead in Syria or the Lebanese civil war.  The total Arab dead in wars with Israel since the twenties, including non-Palestinians, are estimated at about 90,000. See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/casualtiestotal.html.

By way of contrast, if we take the Second World war as having been 2,000 days in duration (from September 1939 to May 1945), then every day of the war 3,000 Jews were killed, for six years. So the total number of Paelstinians killed by the Israelis, although reprehensibly high, is equivalent to just over a week of the Holocaust.  In fact of course, the Nazis began exterminating Jews in 1941, which makes it close to 4,000 Jews a day for four years and less then a weeks work.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

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: He may survive this time,  but the next uprising will be better organized, better funded, will fight harder and sooner or later he will go.  Its still over for Assad.

There now seems to be clear evidence that the Syrian "regime" has used chemical weapons during the fighting. There is a kind of irony in this: Both Syria and Iraq under Saddam shared a common ideology: Ba'athism (renaissance in Arabic), an ideology formed by a man called Michel Aflaq. Both used chemical weapons against their own civillians.
Now that chemical weapons are out there in use, I wonder how long before some poorly educated, moronic Islamic group gets hold of them and how Israel should respond if we are attacked with chemical weapons, even if it is a small-scale localized attack.

It is not often discussed but I have for many year felt that Ba'athism is a form of Fascism. To give a few pointers it shares an intense nationalism, sexism and corporate government with limited free trade, worship of the leader and no commitment to equality. And is, of course, intensely violent towards dissenters. The issue is discussed on the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ba'athism, on the Jewish Agency website: http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgency/English/Jewish+Education/Compelling+Content/Eye+on+Israel/Current+Issues/Peace+and+Conflict/The+Baath+Party+and+Fascism.htm and also in the New Republic: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/world/magazine/107238/baathism-obituary#.  It has also been suggested that this description applies to Gaddhafi's Libya.

Incidentally a number of far-left groups in England were instrumental in supporting Saddam in the Eighties, including Corin and Vanessa Redgrave. Plenty has been written about their immoral support for Arab Fascism and you can see it here: http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/2975/full.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

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 communities: Argentina, Russia and France experience migration (mainly to the USA or Israel) and only Brazil and Germany experience growth but have only small populations.
Assuming current trends continue, by the end of the century nearly all the world's Jews will speak English or Hebrew and many, perhaps most, will speak both as Jews migrate between Israel and English speaking countries.  Jews frequently migrate to Israel and then from Israel, they or their children move to the USA or vice versa.

The other significant change is the rapid irrelevance of the Ashkenazi-Sephardi divide. It used to be that if a Jew came from Europe s/he was Ashkenazi and if they came from the Middle East they were Sephardi. That is to say your place of residence defined your Jewish sub-ethnicity. Nowadays most French Jews (half of Europe's Jews live in France) are "Sephardi" and originate from Algeria or Tunisia, while any Jew from the Middle East is an Israeli and could be anything.  That means the Ashkenazi Sephardi distinction now only relates to Synagogue affiliation and history, and that is meaningless for Secular Jews and of low significance among Modern Orthodox Jews   Only Haredi Jews still maintain the distinction and I suspect that even among them, distinctions are eroding in Israel, as some secular Jews from different origins become Haredi and as social gaps erode.
According to Meir Shitrit on the Ministry of Education's website, over 35% of Israeli marriages are between Sephardi  and Ashkenazi partners while a Hebrew University study found that the percentage of children with mixed parentage increases by half a percent each year as children get younger, with 15 year olds currently at about 25% born or intermarriage. Incidentally, this means that over time all Israelis will be descended from both Holocaust survivors and from Jews who were evicted/escaped the Arab world.  There are also sizeable groups such as "Bukharan"s (Uzbekistani and Kazakhstani Jews), Caucasians (eg from Armenia, Azerbaijan,Georgia etc.) and Bulgarians, Turks, Indians and Ethiopians who are neither Ashkenazi or Sephardi.  Needless to say members of all Jewish groups live in the USA, where differences erode even faster.
Among Haredi Jews change is much slower; Marriages are arranged and tend to remain within the different Hassidic "courts", but the same processes occur among them, its just the speed that is slower.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

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 universities were a minor irritation and not a major issue for Jews.

The German student union banned Jews from joining in 1921.  A poll of students found that 75% supported the ban which applied to converts as well as practising Jews. Einstein left Germany in part because of the constant disturbances in his lectures, related to his Jewish origins.  In Poland they had something called Ghetto Benches in the Thirties in which Jews, whose presence at the universities was subject to quotas, were also required to sit in seperate areas of the lecture halls.

There was a logic to restrictions on Jewish students, in that Jews deprived non-Jews of University places and later of middle-class jobs.  This logic doesn't apply today because the numbers of Jews in Europe has greatly dropped, however it remains true of Israeli academics, many of whom seek employment abroad.  While Israeli students probably bring more benefit then costs to British academics (by paying for courses), Israeli academics compete for jobs and article publication and so they have a direct interest in a boycott of Israelis.

Am I an Israeli academic?  I have dual nationality and dual degrees. Do boycotts apply to Israeli Arabs or just to Jews?  Where do you draw the lines? At present it seems like these boycotts are more expressions of emotion then policies but they cause us to assume that we face discrimination.  Unoffical apartheid.

Back in the Nineties, I visited the World Trade Center in New York and climbed to the top.  At the top of the building was a large metal pole: a lightning rod. Obviously such a tall building was a magnet for lightning, just as it was (we now know) for terrorism.
In a way, Zionism functions as a lightning rod for Anti-Semites. Israel, as the most prominent Jewish locale naturally attracts the ire of those who dislike Jews.  That they follow the same lines as earlier antisemites is hardly a surprise: they are, afterall, directing their ire at Jews.

Is it because of discrimination against Palestinians in Israel?  Discrimination exists in Europe too. It may well be that the Palestinians are the Casus belli - the excuse.  If the issue is the West Bank, then the use of antisemitic practises may be popular but it is hardly likely to prove to Israelis the error of their ways.
When dealing with minorities, the difference between legimitate criticism and racism is very subtle; The likelihood that union memebers can exercise such judgement are close to nil and a boycott intended as an anti-racist measure will soon become antisemitic and cease to serve any function.  The claim to be acting from anti-racist motives becomes particularly absurd when you consider the deeply antisemitic opinions voiced by many Hamas leaders.
Sometimes it is more important to be wise then to be right, ultimately the boycotters are neither wise nor right.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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 face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.
The problem with that though is that equality is only attained in conflict.

The East and West division is strong in both Western and Arab culture. Islam and Christianity have a bitter mutual history of conlifct: especially in Iberia where the Moslems were evicted, in the Balkans where Greece and Turkey exchanged populations and in the "Holy Land" where a bitter conflict was fought in the Middle Ages. European and Arab History are told differently, that is Christendom and the Islamic "world" each have a distinct narrative. According to Karl Marx they also had different modes of production: Feudalism vs. Despotism.  
Modern nation states tell their histories using a territorial based methodology in which one takes say, the French State and its people, defines them as the French "nation" and shows its development over time. This approach makes sense for countries like England and France which have had a long existence 

The territorial approach is problematic in countries which are the creations of European imperialism, although as time goes on - say over the next few centuries - this may become more relevant. There are a variety of ethnicities in Africa which are spread across several states and it might make more sense to trace the history of an ethnic group like the Tuaregs or the Akans then to write the history of Burkina Faso. The Middle-East is not as bad as Africa but also problematic. Iraq is essentially an amalgamation of three Ottoman provinces created by the British and it is questionable whether there should be a history of Iraq or of the Kurds or whether you should combine the two.

When you write a History of Israel, the Jews have both a territorial history and a supra-territorial history as a persecuted people.  Even the Palestinians have crucial events in Lebanon and Jordan, like Karameh, Black September or Sabra and Shaltila, however Palestinian history is generally very recent while Jewish history goes back a long way and is very varied. Even if you just throw in the Pogroms and the Holocaust you are referring to the whole of Europe and the Russian Empire and require extensive background.

I am currently reading Benny Morris's History of the Zionist-Arab conflict. It is probably the best history of the conlict in existence but tends towards classic territorial-based history and that bothers me because it doesn't sufficently describe European Jewish persecution or the Jewish presence in the Arab world.  I think a true History of Israel needs to combine the territorial approach with a "people" based approach and look at how the people formed, where their language originates, their beliefs and economy as well as the territorial formation. In the case of Israel, possibly more than any other country, that means devoting a lot of space to things that happened outside the state's territory and to merging Ashkenazi and Sephardi history.  So in a true History of Israel, East and West must merge and intertwine.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

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 impending apocalypse: The right-wing version says that the Iranians could use nuclear weapons against us and that Islamic fundamentalist regimes will surround and attack us.  The left wing version says that the world will boycott us because we persecute and discriminate against the Palestinians. Both threats are real: We are healthy paranoiacs because people really are out to get us, however the reality is that the likelihood of either option is very small.  Small, but not impossible, is a reality we have to live with.
Years ago at a dinner party in London, a friend asked me: "What does the Holocaust mean to you personally".  We were  drunk and young. Now, many years later, armed with an MA in History specializing in the Holocaust's aftermath, I realize how difficult and inappropriate that question was.  I told him that my world was a post-apocalyptic world. In my world nuclear weapons had already been used and entire cities and towns had been wiped out. For years I pondered the inadequacy of my reply and wondered why I didn't just tell him about my father, which, I suppose, is what he wanted to hear.
And yet, now that I look back, I think it was a good answer. Many Jews, especially in Israel, live in a world in which there has already been an apocalypse and fear the next.

You might think that leaving Israel would solve the problem, but it doesn't, at best it gives you a respite. Instead of worrying about yourself you worry about your fellow Jews, and in the end a problem shared is a problem halved or 1 in 6 millionthed in this case (there are six million Jewish Israelis).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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 refugee is someone who has formal UN documentation (and recognition).  For example, Palestinian refugees carry UN documentation and are "recognized refugees". My father was also a recognized refugee.  He arrived in England in 1939 with no citizenship and was at some point given UN refugee status which he kept until 1968, when he applied for British citizenship.  By that time he had a house in Muswell Hill and a family, he hadn't been a refugee for years. So does the documentation count?

In contrast only very few of the Jews who migrated to Israel between 1948 and 1958, had refugee status and yet most of them were fleeing persecution in the Arab world and Eastern Europe. Were they refugees?

At the time, Israel didn't regard them as refugees because it gave them citizenship and undertook to house and feed them.  To the Israelis they were coming home, but now 60 years later we look back and say they were refugees, this is especially true of the Jews who left the Arab world, many of whom left at very short notice  (perhaps the length of time you have to plan your exit defines your refugee status).  So many arrived that many lived in camps for years because Israel couldn't house them (does living in a camp make you a refugee?).

The issue is now raised because of the many Palestinians claiming refugee status. Unlike the Jews, the Palestinians have UN documentation and lack formal state citizenship, but many have lived in the same houses in the same countries for generations and their connection to "Palestine" is by now very tenuous.
The Jews are clearly no longer refugees, but Israel invested a great deal in caring for them at the time, and they left very valuable property behind so perhaps that is sufficient.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

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 tracking rarely used cell phones.
Ha'aretz suggests this morning that Zygier talked too much and the Australian spy services got onto him. Someone in the Aussie service may have leaked information to the Iranians and Zygier might have damaged Israel indirectly.  As long as we don't know what he was accused of, its hard to judge what damage he did and how justified his treatment may or may not have been.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

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 splinter group can take a proportion of the funding, particularly if the splinter group includes more than 5 members of Knesset.  In general funding is calculated in a way that each five MKs gets you a higher level of funding.

Overall I think its a great system. In theory at least, it restricts the ability of big business (or trade unions) to control the parties and provides what would seem like a completely fair frame work. Israel has a vibrant democracy is which the system responds rapidly to voter shifts and new parties easily emerge, however there are serious problems.

One problem with this system is that it encourages party splintering. Once elected the MKs are not dependent on the party membership for future funding. They are now the source of the party's funding and if they choose to break away from the party to form a new party they can take their funding with them.  Politicians with sufficient public following - Tzippi Livni being the prime example - can now elect to form a new party with a group of associates from other parties. Being a new party enables them to initially circumvent restrictions on political party funding. When Tzippi Livni failed to win the leadership election in Kadima she simply left the party with a group of followers and formed a new party in which she controlled the list. Positions 2 and 3 of her list of candidates for the elections were former leaders of the Labour party who had, like her, had lost their leadership elections (Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz).  It is probably no coincidence that soon after the political funding law was passed, Ariel Sharon left the Likud with a large number of Knesset members (including Livni) and picked up a large number of Labour MKs on the way.

A second problem is the emergence of parties with low levels  of dependency on their membership. Many of the new parties have no or little national organizations and whatever organization they have is as often as not staffed by paid operators rather than volunteers. Meanwhile, the larger parties rely on membership votes to decide their list and MKs need to endure expensive, difficult to fund, campaigns with uncertain results. Obviously its easier just to leave the party and take your funding with you.  Big business and trade unions can control the big parties by funding the individual leadership elections which are not state funded. Funding individuals may be a more effective path to political control then general party funding.

My view is that the law needs to be reformed so as to increase the importance of local party membership and discourage party splinter groups. Part of funding should be dependent on the existence of local branches with emphasis on representation in the peripherial areas. Groups which leave existing parties should not be able to take all the funding with them and sitting MKs who form new parties should face funding restrictions.

Source: http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/me00636.pdf

Saturday, February 2, 2013

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 Kadimah leader) Tzippi Livni's new party, which got six seats.
Peretz won the leadership after a contest with temporary party leader Shimon Peres, who is notorious in Israel for losing elections which he should have won. Following his defeat, Peres left the party, along with a number of other MKs, joining Ariel Sharon's new party Kadima.
In 2003 I was out of the country.  Labour was led by Amram Mitzna who won 19 seats.  Mitzna also joined Livni's party last year. So two former Labour leaders are now in the Knesset with Livni.
Before Mitzna, the party leader was Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who is still in the party.  In other words, none of the last four leaders of the labour party  (before the current leader, Shelli Yehimovitz) are still members of the  party. Not only that, if you voted labour in the last 3 elections, some percentage of the MKs you helped elect ended up in different, more right-wing parties.
Under the circumstances I felt like a chump voting for Labour.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

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

My dove’s interpretation / מדרש יונתי
Words and Music: Meir Ariel / מאיר אריאל

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 flirts
And dances to the masses-
Participates and undulates
Her hips hugged by the herds.

Question her ministers debates
Lacking height or might
In courtyards, just a match misplaced
And every courtyard walled high.

We have been in the oven,
Now in the frying pan.
Pumped with drunken honor,
- Crackling slightly,
- Almost burnt
- Sealing slowly.

Why so vigorously does chopping board
Scratch against knife?
Enough let the knife slumber -
Yes, drop the knife.

"Shmita" do you understand
That you run to take more land?
In suspected fraud, possible theft, murkily
Protected by the governor? Is this redemption? Dignity?
Like a thief of the Judean fellows?
And to whom will you sell when the land lies fallow?
Or will you convert that year?
And before whom will you proclaim innocence seventh by seventh?
While the ground under you is enslaved?
Who likes this? Earth you take -
Redemption you do not give. Or maybe your fingertips
Very tight very very very very -
Trained to let go? Skilled at release?
Practiced at the drop?

Oh Mother Mother Earth
Oh Mother Earth.
Mother Earth is my mother,
Earth my earth
- Until I die!
For what Adam?

Do not stir and do not awaken
Unsought animosity
Once out they won't be shaken
Not by rabbi minister or luminary

Someone will charge upon us
As if waking from a delusion:
Erase us and our plunder
Sink us into their chasm

If only we saw your sights,
Heard your voice.
Truth and justice at your gates,
The beauty of you looks!
The fineness of your voice!
Favor of your lovers' eyes!

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...