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.

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...