Monday, August 28, 2006


The Genesis of Justice

Cain murders his brother--and walks . . . God gets angry--and millions die in flood . . . Abraham commits attempted murder--and is praised . . . Jacob deceives his father, then robs his brother--and gets away with it . . .Who among us has not questioned the "justice" found in the Book of Genesis? .. Alan M. Dershowitz.. casts new light on these ancient tales. What he finds is . . . THE GENESIS OF JUSTICE Violence, lust, deception, murder, incest, and vengeance: These are the subjects of the biggest--and perhaps the juiciest--bestseller of all time, the Book of Genesis... Its oft-told tales ..[were] never before.. examined .. so provocatively from a modern legal perspective. Based on Alan Dershowitz's class at Harvard Law School, The Genesis of Justice shows how the Good Book is also a remarkable law book. According to Dershowitz, these seminal stories describe a people--and a God--struggling in a world before the invention of systematic rules, a primal place that predates our notions of fairness, honesty, and rights. Yet here in Genesis we can see these concepts--and the need for them and for their embodiment in a formal legal system--evolving in front of our eyes. Using ten of the most intriguing biblical narratives and drawing on not only his own observations but those of biblical commentators throughout the ages, Dershowitz evaluates the actions of biblical heroes, even God Himself. And together with concluding discussions on "The Injustice of Genesis," he shows us how the flawed behavior of its flawed protagonists led to the Ten Commandments and a deeper, richer sense of justice than any mere legal code could ever provide. From the time he was a kid--and was nearly tossed out of Hebrew school for asking one pesky question after another--

A while ago, I got to read parts of the book at Barnes and Noble, which is the funnest place for stumbling upon all kinds of treasures. They have an entire section of second-hand books. I was quite delighted with Dershowitz' approach to the stories of Genesis, because he uses the kind of thinking that I apply when I read those incredible stories of the most stupefying examples of fundamental human transgressions.

In his discussion of the story about the sacrifice of Isaac, Dersh seems to have hit upon the same connection that I made: that Abraham twice was in a position to cause great harm to his sons. Once, with Ishmael whom he cast out and again, with Isaac, whom he actually tried to kill with his own hands, until stopped by God. I suppose it all depends on how you tell the story. I liked the way Dersh interpreted the story of the Tower of Babel. He referenced it back to the story of Adam and Eve, who tried to become more like God than God was willing to accept. In the Babel story, the people also tried to reach equality with God, so God confounded them by sabotaging their communication apparatus, their language. Dersh interprets it as God forcing people to slow down the pace of the development of technological knowledge in order for wisdom to catch up with it. Without wisdom (knowledge with ethics) there can not be justice or law.

The book is written in a very accessible language, not high-faluting at all. What I find refreshing about his approach is that he tries to understand in what way these stories of every possible crime and transgression known to man serve the people who read the Bible as a holy book get a grasp of what justice means? He points to the motif that the God in Genesis is a learning God, a God who goes from extreme vengeance (the flood) to repentence, from stark justice to mercy. And how the ideas of what constitutes morality, fair play, rights, mutual responsibility, etc, have evolved in a time which was mostly unaware of such things?Of course what I'm aiming at is an understanding of what justice means.

Tthe God that acts in Genesis is a learning God. He miscalculated with Adam and Eve: when He told them about the tree of Knowledge and the tree of Life, and forbade them from touching their fruits, he underestimated their human will to power. He demanded total, unquestionable obedience and predictably, got a rebellion in consequence. He had to punish them, but He also learned that there is a limit to what God can demand from humans.

With Cain and Abel, He made another mistake. He thought he could play favourites with impunity, make an explicit gesture of affection and acceptance towards Abel while rejecting Cain's offering. Again, He miscalculated the monstrous reactions that such explicit discrimination and humiliation can invoke. Cain's wrath was instigated by God's preference for Abel. I believe the story means to tell us that evil deeds (not necessarily evil hearts) are often the direct consequence of an unfair system. God understood that the onus He put on Cain was not humanly bearable which is why he allowed him to live and make amends. Cain became "the builder of cities". No one remembers that, though. What we all remember is that he murdered his brother and never knew a moment's peace afterwards.

Justice sometimes looks too much like revenge. Justice needs to be tempered by mercy, or it becomes irrelevant. The Law is coercive and teaches by punishment. Justice is an ideal that strives to go beyond the principle of fitting the punishment to the crime. Its aim is to teach by example, to give people second chances, not doom a person for perpetual exile because of mistakes and human weaknesses. I think if anything, that is the lesson we can learn from the Book of Genesis. We are supposed to follow God in His learning arc and emulate His ability to acknowledge his excessive demands of humans, and ultimately, the respect He cultivates for the human being that He Himself created.

Consider how different the Biblical stories are from the Greek tragedies which deal with the same frightening human materials. The Biblical stories lay it all out, staring at the horrors straight on. The Greek tragedies keep the horrors off stage. Also, as in the case of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, but he is not aware of the relationship until after the fact. In the Biblical stories no such mercy is granted to the protagonists: Abraham knowingly tries to kill his son, Lot's daughters knowingly commit incest, etc. I wonder if we can deduce something from this comparison about the difference between what Matthew Arnold called: "Hellenism and Hebraism", two of the determinant factors that inform much of Western thought.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Luis de Leon - final chapter

There is a convergence of circumstances in Leon’s life and interests that would suggest an awareness and appreciation of his Jewish origins. He had no choice in being born into a converso milieu but he did have a choice in deciding who his friends would be, what he would learn, what he would write, what he would teach. The mystery is not whether he was a crypto-Jew in the elemental sense of word. That seems unlikely, given his honesty and straightforwardness. The mystery of the man lies in his intellectual and religious identity – how exactly did he define himself to himself? What were his secrets, the lacunae that his biographers quickly gloss over, dismiss as insignificant? Why did he join a monastic order at so young an age? Why did he want to go to Alacala, the “Berkeley” of the Spanish 16th century, and a known converso intellectual center? Where was he during 1559, the year following his graduation from Toledo university, following his 18 months sojourn in Alcala? Why did he gravitate so inexorably towards the Hebrew language to the point of ingesting it completely? Why did he associate so willingly and openly with other Hebraists, conversos like him, when he must have been well aware of the suspicions it would arouse? Why was he so admired by Cervantes, whose own converso status is still debated today vehemently among scholars? Why did he invest so much time, energy and risk his personal safety in order to translate the Song of Songs, as a passionate love song, for a simple nun, a cousin of his, who joined the convent in Salamanca, right there where Luis himself took his vows of chastity with his own Augustinian order?

If I were romantically inclined, I would presume that the great deal of his life that remains unknown to us could contain the making of a great novel. The furious attempts by his many admirers to paint the picture of a devout Christian may have illuminated but one facet of this man’s life. I remain unconvinced by the arguments brought forth by Thompson and Duran in particular, that what seem like his inclinations towards “Judaistic” approach to religion is an optical abberation, that every single one of his ideas can be traced back to previous, immaculate, Christian thinkers. They do not give any significant weight to his converso status, and his immediate circle of friends. This is not to suggest that they deliberately seek to “exonerate” him. I rather think that, in their, and other biographers’, case, not being Jewish imposes a limitation on their ability to judge his life properly. They may have gotten a hold on one layer of his life, one interpretation of his identity, but obviously there were many other layers there that still evade us. Luis de Leon himself, I suspect, would have been outraged by our attempt to cloister him in any one kind of identity. As the scholar who refused to be bound by any one interpretation of any event, text or person, who fervently believed in the possibility of many meanings existing side by side, he would defy us to reduce his life and works to any one vision, whether that of a monk, a converso, a Christian or a Jew.

I should like to conclude by relating one story involving Leon, which defies our attempt to capture the inner self of this enigmatic intellectual:

It is the story of Horacio Calle, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Javeriana, in Bogotá, Colombia. He found out a few years ago that his family, which has been dwelling in Columbia for the last three hundred years, was of converso extraction. He tells us:

That same day I went to visit an old aunt of mine and I asked her if she had any knowledge about our being descendants of Jews, as a family. And she told me, very easily, that since her early, childhood she had listened to conversation within the family, that we were Jews- Since then I got a fever, a very high one at that, and for the past three years I have been doing everything I can to discover my distant but very much felt Sephardic identity. I do not think I will ever be able to find a secret envelope, very old and written in Hebrew and passed from generation to generation, stating that we are Jews. No, I have been able to trace my genealogy all the way, back to the early 17th century when my ancestors came from Spain. The first thing they did was to change their last names, a typical anusim policy to avoid problems with the Inquisition. Their last names were Perez de la Calle, and Lopez de Restrepo. Now I am only, Calle Restrepo. The Lopez is on my mother's side and I have been told that we were Levi, from Toledo. I do not know. But now I do understand why my maternal grandmother who taught me my first "Catholic" prayers used ones that made no mention of saints at all, but only of one almighty God. Those were prayers written by fray Luis de Leon, a converso who had problems with the Inquisition in Spain....[1]

[1] Saudades, Http://

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Here is one more chapter in the life of my favourite converso. Next post will be the last you'll hear about him.

No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition....

In 1566, a campaign of ill will was launched against Leon by the Dominican Friars at Salamanca. Its main agitation was fuelled by rumors that more than once, Leon claimed to have found errors in the text of the Vulgate. He also asserted his view that many passages would have been made clearer and more meaningful had the Hebrew text been translated with greater knowledge and accuracy. Since the interpretation and translation of the Bible had been at the center of the Protestant heresy, these were extremely dangerous statements to make at that time.

Luis was an excellent Hebraist. His colleagues whose knowledge of Hebrew was much more inferior, were unable to debate with him with any measure of success. Furthermore, they found him arrogant, contentious and feisty. The animosity against him consolidated after he continually clashed with one of his colleagues, Leon de Castro, over revisions to a French version of the bible that the university was working on. His enemies joined forces and wrote a letter to the Inquisition, specifying that Leon and other professors were propagating through their teachings seventeen heretical propositions.[1] They accused the three professors more specifically of preferring “Vatable[2], Pagnini[3] and their Jews to the Vulgate translation and the sense of the Saints”. A student denounced Luis over the translation of the Song of Songs, copies of which were being circulated informally in campus. In his declarations before the Inquisition, the cantankerous Castro expanded upon Jewish interpretations of the Scriptures.

At the beginning of March 1572, Gaspar de Grajal was arrested by the Inquisition. Three weeks later, on March 26, another friend and colleague, Martinez de Cantalapiedra, was also arrested. Luis de Leon was prepared for his warrant when it arrived on the evening of 27 March 1572. The three professors were all Hebraists and were all descendants of conversos. According to Thompson, the trials of the three created one of the most significant crises in the religious and intellectual history of the sixteenth century. Their clash with the Inquisition was a confrontation of reason and moderation against not only a fanatical observation of one Biblical translation but also against a form of anti-Semitism. Luis spent five years in prison, Martinez even longer and Grajal died in prison before his case was completed[4].

Leon was imprisoned in the secret cells of the Valladolid Inquisition. For five long years he languished in solitary confinement. In a small room almost without air or light, with little to eat, he had to struggle with sickness, depression and a sense of outraged justice. For a long time he did not know who his accusers actually were and what those accusations were. Because of his delicate health, orders were given that he was to be tortured “softly”. He was denied the sacraments. Luis succeeded in holding firm, in spite of his bitter despair at times, and confronted all allegations with his own explanations. He was finally freed in December of 1576 and returned to Salamanca in triumph, to the applause of his students and colleagues. He was restored to his chair in the university.

According to tradition, he began the first lecture after his five-year imprisonment, as he always had done before, by saying “We were saying yesterday…”[5] Though not fully authenticated as an historical certainty, this story is most illustrative of the man’s inner courage and how he was perceived by others. What exactly he meant by it is a matter for speculation. Duran believes that he might have been asserting his invincibility, or he might have been claiming that time is insubstantial and inconsequential in the long view of things, or he might have been expressing a sort of Christian spirit of forgiveness.[6]. It is my opinion, subjectively formed on the basis of what I learned about the man, that he was trying to diminish the magnitude of the entire episode by dismissing it from his chronology, as no more than a blip on his radar screen. This, I think, was his way of dealing with the power of a morally bankrupt Institution, by reducing it to a non-event. In a way, time indeed had stood still for Leon, as he resumed his life from whence he left it, going on to new achievements and new victories.

[1] Duran, “Luis de Leon” pp. 28-32
[2] French Hellenist and Hebraist of the sixteenth century. Vatable is justly regarded as the restorer of Hebrew scholarship in France, and his lectures in Paris were largely attended, even by Jews. Yet he published nothing during his lifetime. Vatable's pupil Robert Stephens used his lecture notes for the material for the scholia which he added to his edition of the new Latin translation of the Bible by Leo of Juda (4 vols., Paris, 1539-45); The Sorbonne doctors sharply inveighed against the Lutheran tendencies of the notes of Stephen's Bible, and Vatable himself disowned them; yet, as they are a model of clear, concise. literary, and critical exegesis, the Salamanca theologians, with the authorization of the Spanish Inquisition, issued a new thoroughly-revised edition of them in their Latin Bible of 1584. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

[3] The Italian Dominican Santes Pagnini published an influential new translation to the Old testament in 1528. In his preface he wrote what amounted to heretical words for conservative minds: “the translation of Jerome is not uncorrupted”. (Thompson, p. 39)
[4] Thompson, p. 38
[5] This is the best known episode in his life. There is hardly a cultivated Spaniard that does not know it.
[6] Duran, “Luis de Leon” p. 35

Friday, August 25, 2006


yES, i'M PRETTY disoriented. I feel like I've been put in a blender with a few other ingerdients. It started with maximum speed and now its slowing down, not sure what kind of emulsified mixture will emerge. Boxes slowly morph one by one from containers of valued stuff into garbage recycling material. Many more boxes to go and time is short. But, L of EJ my friend, if you are reading this, I want you to know that so far so good.

Moving from Atlantic Canada to Quebec is a little like immigrating. Different language, different culture. The first thing that strikes me is how rude people are. Which makes the nice, polite, forthcoming people one encounters all the more radiant. At a school reception desk, I was attended to with great coldness and a sneering condescension by the secretary who told me no, there were no places available, the school is overbooked, bla bla. When the real authority to pronounce on such things came out, I was treated with great affability. I almost fell upon that person's bosom in sheer tears of grovelling gratitude, for extending a goodwill smile towards me. And most surprisingly, there was indeed a place for the young student candidate. His academic achievements made him a desirable addition to the school. Ah, the best revenge is to be the best!

As always in a time of upheaval (and this is a small upheaval, but nevertheless, upheaval it is!) I get to have some new flashes of recognition of humankindness. I'll share some of those once I catch my breath. Additionally, if I keep up this blog thingy which acts like an echo chamber between me and myself, my very few readers will get to hear a lot about Dante's Inferno. Why? Well, maybe because I'll be reading it together with a group of people and I'll want to share some of my impressions. That is, if the Inferno lives up to its expectations. Isn't life full of promise, I ask you? Fall, foliage and Inferno, all coming up!

A tout alors, mes amis virtuels! Back to unpacking. Oy.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


My dear, very few readers: Two more days to go, before I'm unplugged from the great network. I'm sitting here amid the boxes and wish I were either somewhere else, or two weeks from now.

Here's another installment about the times of my favourite converso. My dream is, after I finish my PhD, to get a grant and go to Salamanca, Spain, where I will research Luis's life directly from his writings, follow his travels and maybe find out where he was in the 18 months that are missing from the records of his life.

Conversion – the ultimate assimilation?

Can conversion be defined as the ultimate form of assimilation? It strives for a fundamental change in identity, so that the new religious self replaces and supersedes the old, discarded one. In his book on Luis de Leon’s life and work, Colin P. Thompson maintains that “We know well enough from twentieth century experience how within three or four generations from emigration, resettlement or conversion the characteristics of the former culture can be all but effaced and people lose their awareness of having one belonged to an alien race.”[1]

But identity is a complex mental configuration, in which many, interdependent variables play important roles. Converts find that even as external identity markers, such as distinctive clothing and religious practices are quickly cast off or gradually disappear, there will still remain elements of their old selves tenaciously preserved much longer and even never completely cast off. One such element is the moral compass, an ethos at the core of the being, which was constructed by one’s unique heritage through the circumstances, teachings and examples of family and friends. It is a “habitus” which is naturally and unconsciously transmitted from one generation to the next. These elements are so enduring that they stymie the strategies of re-classification and integration into Gentile society by adoption of non-Jewish markers.

Thompson’s opinion may hold true for resettlement and cultural assimilation – these are relatively easy to arrive at. It does not, however, account for the tenacity of Jewish awareness in later generations[2]. Religious assimilation is thus rendered virtually an endless process, and conversion does not mean the termination of Jewish identity. When all Jewish markers have been lost, interred and forgotten, core identity can survive objectively and subjectively. The status of being “Converted” is fully compatible with often consciously accepted or affirmed feeling of belonging to the Jewish people. This fact implies that the state of convertedness can hardly be accepted in its accomplished form, it is also reversible[3].

I find the conversos of later generations an enigmatic phenomenon. One would assume that the term itself “converso” would be applicable to the person who underwent conversion, either by his/her own choice or by the wish of their parents. Some of the loudest voices raised against the policies of the inquisition and the “Limpieza de Sangre” guiding principle came from first and second-generation conversos. Very often, even third and fourth generation conversos expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Of those, many had no personal recollection of Judaism; some might have been ignorant of their Jewish roots. However, the intellectual environment in which they were raised encouraged curiosity, moral self-assurance and adherence to idealistic goals[4].

[1] [1] Thompson, Colin P., “The Strife of Tongues” Cambridge University Press, 1988 pp.146
[2] The resistance of the adoptive society to the new comers is also an undeniable factor in the convert’s inability to arrive at a complete closure of past identity.
[3] Karady, Victor, and Don, Yehuda, ed., “A Social and Economic History of Central European Jewry” pp.98-100
[4] Gitlitz, p. 85

Friday, August 18, 2006


Luis de Leon’s Spain

When Luis de Leon was born in 1527 (or 1528), the great political events, which shaped Spain’s political and cultural landscape for a long time to come, had already taken place. The marriage in 1474 of Ferdinand and Isabella heralds a new reality in Spain. Whereas formerly Spain was a medieval pluralistic society, a mosaic of small kingdoms and several civilizations, where Jews, Christians and Moors shared a house and somehow managed to get along, the new Spain was organized according to a Castilian principle: Spain was to become a single country, unified under one monarch, one religion and one language.

The events abide by this principle almost to perfection: Granada falls in 1492. The Moors are conquered. The Jews are expelled. Columbus, one of many explorers and conquerors, opens the future to an immense Christian kingdom, seductively offering rewards, glory and dominance. Spanish interests require its intervention in Italy, which humanistic development in turn influences Spanish culture, so far immune to the charms of Italian renaissance. In a period of non-stop and rapid change and discovery, the theological, rational and ethical resources of the Church must be used to the utmost. In fact, every innovation must be coordinated with church doctrine.

Spanish renaissance is Church-centered. It does not turn its back on the medieval period, but rather builds on it. Spanish renaissance echoes the Castilian principle: unity and harmony are its goals. So that poets and statesmen share the same view, of unifying diversities, bringing order out of chaos, music out of discord [1]. The Kings of Castile, and later Spanish monarchy, had completely understood that in order for unification to prevail, they needed to consolidate and centralize their power, by leaning on the support of the inquisition. Consequently, a partnership was formed between the crown, the inquisition and the “lowly hungry masses” which aimed at crushing groups caught in the middle with iron pincers: intellectuals, the rising bourgeoisie and even the aristocracy. Jews and conversos, whose rise to power and wealth during the preceding century was nothing short of miraculous, would be their main victims.[2] They were singled out for persecution and annihilation.

Spanish renaissance develops in three unequal stages: The first one spans the last quarter of the fifteenth century, where all the traumatic events listed above take place, political unity and uniformity is achieved and Spain is committed to involvement in the rest of Europe. The second period, being the first half of the sixteenth century, is the one during which Luis de Leon is born and grows up to adulthood. Spanish expansionism and constant intervention abroad are now the accepted realities. Problems multiply and concurrently, the energies of the Spaniards trying to solve them. The third part of Spanish renaissance spans the second half of the Sixteenth century, when these realities are consolidated, again, along the principles of religious and political unity. The sixteenth century was harvest time for Spain[3]. This is the time when Luis de Leon’s mostly mature life develops, ending in 1591. He is born, lives and dies during one of Spain’s greatest and most interesting times, the Golden Age. Being who and what he is – a moral Christian intellectual with indisputable Jewish roots- his attitude towards Spain’s government and towards the chauvinist values of Spanish society is a blend of derision and anguish. Spanish historians see in Leon a social commentator and maybe a prototype of the modern anarchist. His ideal was a stateless society, where God’s grace will replace the law and the ruler would be more like a shepherd.

The fortressed castle of Belmonte

La Mancha

Le ciel, la terre, rien de plus”, this is how Castilian landscape, is described in Alain Guy’s quite romantic portrait of Luis de Leon[4]. Leon was born in Belmonte, a small town, perched on top of a hill, on the heart of Don Quixote’s country of La Mancha, approximately 100 km South-West to Cuenca. During the sixteenth century Belmonte boasted some thousand families. Juan Pacheco, the Marquis of Villena, a converted Jew, built the fortressed castle that dominated its skyline, in 1456. He was a favorite of the Juan II and one of the most powerful magnates of his time[5]. La Mancha was recognized for its fiercely energetic and passionate men. Aubrey Bell, who wrote the first definitive biography of Luis de Leon in 1925[6], is quoted by Manuel Duran as thus describing the nature of the people in that region:

“ The inhabitants of the town, hospitable, courteous and independent, have strongly marked character. La Mancha. … produces a keen, energetic, tenacious race … They can combine a Castilian chivalry towards the weak with a hatred of injustice and a vehemence that is almost Valencian. A foreigner well acquainted with Spain, when asked how he would distinguish the inhabitants of Cuenca…. Answered without hesitation that he considered them “a little fiercer.”

[1] Duran, Manuel., Luis de Leon, Yale university, 1971 p.15-17
[2] Duran, “The Names of Christ” p. 10-13
[3] Duran, pp. 18-19
[4] Guy, Alain., Fray Luis de Leon, Iberiques, Jose Corti 1989
[5] Guy, p. 18
[6] I could not find a copy of this book, unfortunately
[7] Duran, Manuel. “The Names of Christ”, Paulist press, New York 1984 p. 2

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Being somewhat mentally dehydrated these days, I find it hard to come up with anything interesting to say for myself. I'm in the middle of packing my house, preparing to move away to Montreal. I really don't like packing. And probably will like unpacking even less. But at least when I unpack, most of the upheaval will have been over. And I can look forward to some stability, however temporary, for a time. So, in absence of anything philosophical to chew on, I thought I'd post something about a favourite topic of mine: Luis de Leon. He is a man I could easily fall for. If only he were not 400 years older than me! Here's the first installment.

A Converso Experience

The Times and life of
Fray Luis de Leon (1527-1591)

How do I get to understand the essence of a man who lived 450 years ago in a strange country, spoke a language different than mine and acted in a time when state and religion ruled supremely and totally coordinated one with the other? Across the linguistic, temporal, geographical and cultural divide, I can only look at him through the prism of other people’s minds: translators, interpreters, historians and intellectuals.

Michel Foucault often sounded deep reservations about the possibility of a truly ethical interpretation. No text can ever have a moment when it is stable and fixed in meaning. An interpretation, being a text itself, requires further commentary. "Between word and image, between what is depicted by language and what is uttered … the unity begins to dissolve; a single and identical meaning is not immediately common to them. And if it is true that the image still has the function of speaking, of transmitting something consubstantial with language, we must recognize that it already no longer says the same thing.”[1] Interpretation is always a violation of the original message. Thus, imagining the life of a man across the ages falls short without the proper means of getting directly to him through what he said in his writings, letters, other people’s living memories of him, etc. Not being in good possession of Spanish proved an obstacle in trying to write this paper. Therefore, suspicion, vigilance as well as respect, were my companions as I walked through other people’s translations and interpretations, selective and politicized as they are bound to be. Maintaining strict neutrality was a worthwhile effort, not always possible. I am much more attuned to the accounts by Jewish historians, even if I am wary of certain exaggerations.

Luis de Leon was a descendant of conversos, a Spanish Golden age humanist, a poet, translator, writer, an Augustinian monk, and professor at Salamanca University. He lived in the sixteenth century in Spain and left his mark on his country’s cultural legacy. I will try to describe the events and atmosphere of the times leading to the century during which he lived. I will also try to focus, rightly or wrongly, on his converso experience at a time when conversos, even on the third or fourth generational level, were singled out, with unmitigated vigor, for merciless scrutiny by the Holy Inquisition, in complicity with the Spanish monarchy.

Jessica and the Old Christians

What did it mean to be a converso during that time in Europe? We don’t have many contemporary literary allusions to the inhospitable environment in which conversos lived in those days. There is Cervantes, presumably a converso himself, expressing admiration for Luis de Leon and writing the first known novel “Don Quixote”, a masked Jew according to Ruth Reichelberg. We get a small, but telling, glimpse in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” of what it must have been like.

“But who comes here? Lorenzo and his infidel.” Thus Jessica, Shylock’s estranged daughter, recently turned Conversa and newly-wed to Lorenzo, is announced by the ignominious Gratiano into Act III Scene ii of The Merchant of Venice. A lively repartee ensues, in which young Christians, scheming at love and money, participate easily and confidently. Jessica’s isolation reverberates in her silence. An outsider, she is transparent in this group of friends, ignored and marginalized. Her painful otherness resurfaces in Act III Scene V when she feels more secure in the company of Launcelot Gobbo, her father’s former servant. Launcelot offers her a “solution” for her problematic identity: she might be a bastard, and therefore not the daughter of a Jew. When Jessica playfully (but angrily?) rejects this smear on her mother’s memory, he concedes that “Well, you are gone both ways”, that is, you are Jewish on both sides. He then goes on to complain that there were enough Christians as it is, and “this making of Christians will raise the price of pork”. As Lorenzo enters, Jessica acerbically relays to him Launcelot’s jokes: “[Launcelot] tells me flatly there’s no mercy for me in heaven because I am a Jew’s daughter, and he says you are no good…for in converting Jews to Christians, you raise the price of pork”.

Already we see Jessica’s tragic future unfolding, marked by alienation from her father’s faith and people, and by her exclusion from her husband’s circle of friends. She will be a silent woman, en penitence from either side of the divide, the one unforgiving of her betrayal, the other grimly and relentlessly reminding her that as a New Christian, she will never be fully accepted and integrated into their midst.

Jessica’s character was created at the end of the sixteenth century, long after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the flight of many conversos from that land, resettling in other European countries such as Holland and Italy. English audiences would have been familiar with the special condition of “Christian Jews”. A handful of Marranos from Spain and Portugal made their way to London during the reign of Henry VIII followed by a larger community of some twenty families in Queen Elizabeth’s time. One particular converso, Rodriguez Lopez, the Queen’s physician, was accused of trying to poison her. The charges were so obviously trumped up, that even the queen herself expressed grave skepticism about his possible guilt. He was, however, tried and executed. At his trial, both the prosecutor and the judges laid special stress on his being a Jew – “worse than Judas himself”. On the gallows, Lopez asserted his love for the queen and Jesus Christ. In response, the mob contemptuously shouted, “He is a Jew!”[2] A proclamation of Christian faith was not acceptable coming from a converted Jew.

Set against this political backdrop, Shakespeare’s oblique depiction of Jessica’s cold-shouldered welcome by her husband’s Christian milieu offers an iconic microcosm of the realities of the day: deep rifts of suspicion and ill-will in existence between converted Jews and the general society, in which factors of economy, religion and mass-mob psychology all come into play in their maximal intensity. The geography may have been different but the sentiments were strong and identical either in Spain, in Italy where Spain had much political influence[3] or England. This minor scene, in which Jessica’s nervous character comes into discord with her xenophobic “adoptive” society is an apt illustration of the proverbial tide that engulfed the many Spanish Jews who chose to convert to Christianity at an age that had no patience for energetic outsiders with ambiguous identity.

[1] Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, translated by Richard Howard, New York: Random House, 1965, p. 18.
[2] Gross, John, Shylock, A legend and its Legacy, pp.32-33
[3] Shakespeare would certainly be fully aware of this circumstance, as we can see in another comedy “Much Ado about Nothing” in which young Italian and Spanish aristocrats are in social and military partnership.

Monday, August 14, 2006


"Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving.”

With surgical accuracy and hauty acuity, TS Eliot, who simultaneously fascinates and repels me, says this about confusions piled on, about articulations which add nothing but more clutter to the thinking process. I find Eliot's verbal expression ("famishes the craving") as stunning as it is dead-on.

I like to read my weekly horoscope from a certain sourse. It's very poetic and by that I mean, no vision is offered, no advice is given. Just some interesting nugget to mull over. Yesterday's portion described the following:

Physicists at Washington University in St. Louis have found that introducing disorder into certain messy situations may actually spawn order. It happened as they worked with a network of interconnected pendulums that were all waving around chaotically. When they brought random forces to bear on the tumult, the pendulums locked into sync.

I like to draw from physics to the humanities, whenever I can. Some terms come very handy in defining and explaining cetain literary and linguistic peculiarities, the kind that post-modern theories like to expose. So I drew a connection from this play between the chaos and haphazard forces, to the way some discussions or debates develop. Clarity can be achieved, as random forces and varieties of intellect are brought to bear on a discussion. The intention, conscious or not, may be the increase of confusion and distraction, away from clarity. But eventually, the "famish[ing] of craving" is only a different way en route to method, order, and beauty.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I've just read here that David Grossman's son, Uri, was killed in the fighting in Lebanon. The irony of it. I was just reading somewhere else about Zionists and what very bad people they are. From one of those whose semblance of decency and integrity Grossman tries to maintain in his eloquent and honest dissent. The contrast is explicit. Even though I rarely agree with Grossman's view of politics in Israel, I hope, I am sure, his voice will not get more quiet as a result of this personal nightmare come true that has befallen him. His positions, as well as his ultimate sacrifice, represent Israel at its acutest anguish, on every level imaginable.

I cannot find words to express the horror of losing a child. Or to comfort a berieved parent. I can only cry for him. And that's hardly helpful.

Staff Sergeant. Uri Grossman, 20, of Mevasseret Zion

Staff Sergeant. Uri Grossman, 20, was killed by an anti-tank missile in a major ground offensive in southern Lebanon on Saturday.He was the son of David Grossman, a renowned novelist and peace activist in Israel, and he was killed just three days after the author publicly urged the government to end the war with Hezbollah guerrillas. Grossman's appeal to the government on Thursday came a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Security Cabinet approved the plan for the new offensive.


If only I had a son, a little child, bright, with black curls,
To hold his hand and to walk slowly,
Down the paths of the garden,
A child.
A little one.

I would call him Uri, my Uri,
The short name is soft and pure,
A fragment of brightness,
I'll call out to my dark little boy,"Uri."

I will yet become as bitter as the mother Rachel.
I will still pray like Hannah at Shilo.
I will yet long
For him.

Hebrew Poet Rachel (Bluwstein), 1928

Saturday, August 12, 2006


1. Just something I found in my files and thought was worth sharing. It could not get any more pertinent than this, in the anguished crucible of war, politics, ethics, friendships and loves in which I find myself these days.

To anyone who is interested, I recommend reading the whole 28 verses.

The Twenty-Eight Stations of the Heart / A.S.Kline

To desire, desiring what can only be desired, what
desire destroys, no longer desiring,
ever, and never, achieved, desirable.


To delight in anticipation, delight, in security, be
happy, in other’s happiness, lose
self, in another self, celebrate being.


To make the other, self, to love self embodied
in other, from words, thoughts, make
in the semblance of other.


To remake, refashion, confuse, construct
the other as greater, as what conforms
to the image, the dream, the desire.

To find the one perfect place, time, other
and then to be there, in the place, in the time,
not to miss in anticipation, expectancy
in uncertainty or regret, but to know.

To see what is loved in things, places, times,
symbols, radiant fires, echoing radiant thought,
external analogues, that outer world
as image of what is inner.


To desire to be desired, think to be thought,
attend, to be attended to, seek to be sought,
rehearse the other as self, the self as the other.

2. I bought a DVD for my six-year old daughter of a filmed theatre production of Cinderella. It’s a musical and it's just a wee bit too sophisticated for her understanding. Or so I thought. She seems to enjoy it. It takes place in medieval Venice. The prince shows up, his eyes covered in a mask. After he meets Cinderella, he takes off the mask. My daughter tells me: He looked more handsome and interesting in a mask!

Why am I telling you this? Because it's one of those small nuggets that intrigue, charm and send me off into a ramble. I don't know how to define it. I just know what it is when I hear or read it...

Maybe I found it interesting because I realized, when she said it, that sometimes masked people are a better proposition than unmasked ones. And it's kind of impossible to come to terms with the unmasked when you put your trust in the masked person. There is something in you resists the reality.

And what does it mean, anyway, the mask? What is it? Who is to say that this is the false and the unmasked it the real?

"The Jews believe that the soul comes to inhabit the body at the moment of birth. Until then, until the image of itself becomes flesh, it pursues its crystal clear pattern, untied. Wave function of life scattered down to one clear face. How else can I know you but through the body you rent? Forgive me if I love it too much". (Gut Symmetries, Jeannette Winterson)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Failed Persuasion

The Merchant of Venice’s claim to literary immortality stands upon its two defining speeches: Portia’s “The Quality of Mercy” which is matched only by Shylock’s speech “Hath not a Jew eyes, etc”. It is interesting to note that Portia’s words are better known and prized while Shylock’s bid for universal respect is still uneasily received by many literary critics. The two speeches bracket the crucial conflict that is at the core of the play. Shylock’s speech, while making a plea of universal humanity, foretells its failure by ending on a note of revenge, thus alerting us as to his fatal state of mind.

“If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me,
I will execute, and it shall go hard,
but I will better the instruction.”

Portia’s mellifluous words, rich with Christian pathos, end up with a chilly, alarming edge:

“Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant”

These respective verbalizations of what the world should be like are not adversative in essence. They put forth a vision of the same gentler, kinder human society. Shylock speaks for the individual vis-à-vis their surrounding society, invoking the need of a human being to have a level of dignity, where his selfhood per se remains intact and politely protected from gratuitous, often violent, spitefulness. Portia speaks from society, representing its necessity for mercy as a negotiated value to pacify and reconcile the conflicting interests of its members.

By the time Antonio manages to utter the words “Gentle Shylock” in beseeching the latter to forego his bond, it is too late for Shylock to respond in kind.

By the time Shylock agrees to take money for his bond and forfeit his claim for the pound of flesh, it is too late for Portia (and the society she represents) to show mercy and let him go unscathed.

It did not have to be too late if only one of them would concede that the other made a good, valid point. But human frailty decreed that it be too late. The failure to persuade or be persuaded is the failure of moral imagination to transcend visceral hostility and give up the idea that an absolute settling of scores for just or impugned grievances, is possible, or even desirable.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Raffi Eitam, formerly commande- in-chief of the IDF forces in Lebanon and now a member in the Security and Foreign Affairs committee in the Knesset, says:

Israel should not agree to the cease-fire. Even the claim that we cannot say no to our ally dwarfs vis a vis the severe results of a cease fire under the current circumstances. We should pay attention to the fact that even Lebanon declined to accept the cease fire draft resolution. We must remember that this carries with it long term consequences as far as Israel’s survivability is concerned in a region in which an axis of radical Islamic evil is being consolidated. Such a coalition has very little interest in territorial compromises… The entire aim of this coalition is the complete and total liquidation of Israel as an independent Zionist Jewish entity. That is the size of the threat, which must guide Israel’s actions.

This is the moment of truth. We have to choose between continuing to nurture our illusions, white-washing the words and collection of dubious triumphs. We must tell ourselves the truth, once and for all. And this facing up to the truth means dealing with the fact that we have not yet won the battle, we have not yet accumulated enough achievements on the battlefield to pave the way to a political process which may create a genuine new opportunity. Victory can be declared only when the four objectives we set up to achieve in the beginning of the war will have been accomplished.

(Excerpted from a longer article and translated by Noga)

Waiting for the Katiusha, drinking beer (Ma'ariv, today)

As night life gets back to a more familar routine, we visited a pub and couldn't find even one drop of despair in the alcoholic fumes. "Lechaim" (to life) in between sirene wails.

The war in Northern Israel is still in full swing, and life in the Galilee is not yet back to normal. But the residents are trying to get used to the new reality thrust upon them. They are gradually returning to their familiar habits. “The well” (“Ha be’er”) Pub in the town of Rosh Pina is open to patrons again. We went out to meet people who look to the north, undaunted.

A few businesses and cafes have re-opened in the last few days. More people are coming to visit the pub and the local “parliament’ is back in force.

We spoke to the owner, who gave up an alcoholically invigorated reception. Haim was there, too. He told us how he visited the soldiers on the border and how highly professional our military forces were. We met Lollik, who is pretty sure it’s all the media’s fault and a couple of former Tel-Avivians who moved to the north just a year ago. No, they are not about to relocate and give up the serenity of the Galilee.

God pities kindergarten children,
And school children he pities less.
Grownups he pities not at all.
He drops them by the wayside,
And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the scorching sand
To reach the first aid station,
Sweating blood.

He may have some pity to spare for true lovers
He caresses them
Tenderly extends his merciful shade over them
Like a tree offers its branches
To shed over the homeless man
Who sleeps in the public park

Perhaps we too can all reach into ourselves
For the last few coins of mercy
Left us by mother.

Maybe their happiness will protect us
Today and for the rest of time

Yehuda Amichai

(Translation: Noga)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Political Pity and its Discontents

Hannah Arendt, a clear-minded, unsentimental philosopher, regards pity as “the perversion of compassion.” Pity, because of its traditional perception as the “spring of virtue”, has proved to possess "a greater capacity for cruelty than cruelty itself”[1]. By pitying the suffering of a certain group of poor, oppressed people, those who pity it view their pitiable objects as meriting exclusivity. This exclusive ownership over this particular suffering gives rise to a superseding feeling of beyond-moral indignation and pain, that fancies itself outside accountability to the basic norms of humanity. Pity defeats universal responsibility, becomes, as Arendt says “boundless”, and I would add, bottomless: pity for the deprived and oppressed poor led to the blood bath that was the French Revolution.

The authentic language of pity extols cruelty as the means for restoring humanity. “Par pitié, par amour pour l’humanité, soyez inhumains! ” is a sentence “taken almost at random from petition of one of the sections of the Parisian Commune to the National Convention” , and the remarkable thing about it is that it is “neither accidental nor extreme”.

As an example Arendt focuses on Robespierre, the great pitier of the French multitudes. Initially motivated by “the passion of compassion”, his compassion degraded into pity as soon as it found an open public sphere for its expression. As emotions and suffering welled over, he responded by losing a capacity for maintaining considerations of friendship, singularity, moral leadership or principles. “The evil of Robespierre’s virtue was that it did not accept any limitation”. The “pity-inspired” virtue, unleashed in Robespierre’s chaotic rule of terror, shook the foundations of impartial justice and its underlying principle of law, “the application of the same rules to those who sleep in palaces and those who sleep under the bridges of Paris”.[2]

Arendt counters the ravages of political pity by presenting a challenging and constructive alternative in solidarity. Solidarity, anchored in reason, is capable of universality. Aroused by suffering, just like pity, it is nevertheless clear headed and tough-minded, maintains its power in cooler, abstract passion. This translates into the ability of solidarity to pursue the ideal of justice that will include the rich and strong as well as the poor and weak.

Political compassion is solidarity which, unlike the hot, bubbling sentiment of pity, is cold and aloof and can carry on its commitments to the “noble ideas” of humanity: greatness, honor, and, dignity. Dignity, in the public as well as in the private sphere, maintains and is fertilized by individual compassion and political solidarity[3].

Once the model of the symbiosis between pity and boundless bloody revolutions was established, it was adopted and emulated in later generations. Revolutions and rebellions can be genuine uprisings, or they can be stimulated by political agitation. One thing they have in common, and that is the period of intense incitement that precedes them, with a view to ferment and arouse in people as much of the exclusive pity reserved for their own kind.

When the pity-generating propaganda reaches a certain critical mass, it takes over the minds of people, suspends their natural historical political pity as valid an explanation as any of the others put forth by abilities for compassion, and becomes a warrant for wanton bloodshed and genocidal agendas. Hannah Arendt’s comprehension of the ravages of pity helps explain, to a certain extent, the appeal of genocidal organizations to some of today's pundits as they attempt to decipher the meaning of Palestinian Hamas, Hizzbulla, and other so-called martyrs.

One such example of exclusive pity for one nation transformed into sheer cruelty to another is this (via: Andrew Sullivan). Here's an excerpt::

For we have seen pictures of little Israeli girls writing hateful greetings on the bombs to be dropped on the civilian population of Lebanon and Palestine. Little Israeli girls are not cute when they strut with glee at death and torment across the fronts.

 He refers to these pictures.

Little Israeli girls are as sweet and as innocent as any Norwegian or Lebanese girls or any other little girls. What's written on the shells? "To Nassralah - with love". Nassralah, who called for the extermination of all Jews in Israel, in whose name katiushahs are lobbed at their houses, at their little bodies, at their futures. They wish him dead? How do little girls know what death is? They know that these shells are meant to stop the evil man from murdering them.

How can an author, a person of morality and understanding, utter such ugliness at little Israeli girls? Because, dear reader, he has fallen a victim to that brutal, exclusive pity which Hannah Arendt warns against. He has been taken over with overwhelming pity for one set of little girls so that no space whatsoever is left for little Israeli girls.

When little Israeli girls are killed by Nassaralah's death rain from the sky, when little Israeli boys and girls are shredded to pieces by suicide bombers, can Jostein Gaarder spare a tear for them? I think not. His pity for the Lebanese overwhelms his universal morality. He has stepped into the realm of beyond-morality. We all know what dragons lurk there.

1,2,3: Arendt, Hannah, The Vita Activa, The Portable Hannah Arendt., Edited by Peter Baehr, pp

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nurith Zur, in today's Ma'ariv, wonders how it got to this (excerpted and translated from Hebrew by Noga):

The little man in Israel goes on making a hard living and braving destiny. All he wanted was to get away from it all, take a short vacation in Antalia (Turkey) and all of a sudden this war comes and keeps him here, with everyone else, all together in the unbearable heat of a cheerless bomb shelter, with whinging neighbours and ugly mice.

I go about my business, dejectedly, wearily. I don’t know what to feel, how, and why I am so sad. I find it hard to accept that there are those who hate us so boundlessly while the rest of the world stands off, unspeaking, letting them go on and on. Eventually, this cancer will digest the entire world, small Israel will never satisfy its ravenous appetite. How can they fail to perceive the danger?

I thought about the Fable of the Cave from my philosophy class. People in a semi-darkened cave, tied to chairs, can only gaze forward, to a wall in front of them. They can only see the shadows of things projected on that wall, yet they believe this is the only reality there is. They don’t bother to extricate themselves and venture out of the cave, see the world in broad daylight and understand what’s really going on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Time to take a respite from following the war in Lebanon. Isn't it so much more pleasant and rewarding to think about the theory of rights and love? Things get so muddied and complicated when theory is tested by reality. In theory the best sentiments, the most ethical principles can be applied with relative ease. It all makes so much sense. How can anyone disagree with such a noble document as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It was redacted in the aftermath of the Holocaust and its aim was to ensure the famous "Never again" cry that reverberated throughout Europe and the rest of the world when the extent of the century's tremendum was revealed. Yet today this precious document is being used as a weapon in the demonization of a small embattled country facing genocidal organizations and an indifferent world.

Michael Ignatieff, in his book “Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry” looks at the depreciation of the term “human rights”l:

“Global human rights consciousness, moreover, does not necessarily imply that the groups defending human rights actually believe the same things. Many of these NGO’s espouse the universalist language of human rights but actually use it to defend highly particularist causes: the rights of particular national groups or minorities or classes or persons… The problem is that particularism conflicts with universalism at the point at which one’s commitment to a group leads one to countenance human rights violations towards another group.”

Ignatieff is claiming here that a noble term which was supposed to uphold an ideal of universal justice, the kind that safeguards the equity and inviolability of all human beings, has been devalued by different interest groups to the point where it is nearly worthless. Politicization of an ethical principle can only lead to the kind of confused, dislocated application of the term “Human rights”, where some NGO’s use it to justify their support of terrorist activities.

Rights begin where love ends


She: I had decided to divorce Jove before he took a bite out of me.
Me: Will you stop it? He could have killed you.
She; Victim or volunteer?
Me: he lied to you.
She: He is a liar.
Me: And that forgives him?
She: I forgive him.
Me: What?
She: And I forgive you.
Me: I don’t understand.
She: Shouldn’t I forgive the woman who first took my husband and then took his wife?
Me: You took me. Both of you.
She: Victim or volunteer?
Me: Accomplice? Rights begin where love ends. Shall we argue over who is the most to blame?
Me; he could have killed you.
She: this year, last year, any year. I am the one who has to say ‘Stop’.”

(From Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson)

Love is a primal surge, that makes us aware of the loved other in the most caring and compassionate way. The loved other's well-being, happiness, most directly impact our own well-being and happiness. If they are happy, we are happy. If they are miserable, we cannot be happy. But how many "others" can we love in this way? We cannot love all others, strangers, distant peoples, as we do our dearest and nearest.

So how do we get to form this moral component in our identity that we call responsibility?
Viktor Frankel says, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." The awareness of that space, that split second before we respond to a certain stimulus, this is where the nexus of responsibility is located. The stimulus is in the past, already, as we traverse the space towards our response, we can choose: we can turn back and rage at the past, the immortal, unchangeable past, or look ahead towards the future which our decisions, our choice how to respond will directly affect. That is the moment of response that will determine how we grasp our responsibly in life. Good choices are premised on an ability to master the unique past, which has formed our present angst.With maturation, comes responsibility

Martha Nussbaum says:

“I do not go about fearing any and every catastrophe anywhere in the world, nor (so it seems) do I fear any and every catastrophe that I know to be bad in important ways. What inspires fear is the thought of damages impending that cut to the heart of my own cherished relationships and projects. What inspires grief is the death of someone beloved, someone who has been an important part of one’s own life. This does not mean that the emotions view these objects simply as tools or instruments of the agent’s own satisfaction: they may be invested with intrinsic worth or value. They may be loved for their own sake, and their good sought for its own sake . . .. [Nonetheless], the emotions are in this sense localized: they take their stand in my own life, and focus on the transition between light and darkness there, rather than on the general distribution of light and darkness in the universe as a whole.”

That's why "rights” exist. A person's, any person’s, right to happiness, safety and physical well-being cannot be dependent on our capacity to love him/her. When we no longer speak the language of love, we need automatically to switch to the language of rights. This is where our role as responsible agents kicks in. Rights vis a vis responsibility follow a different matrix than prescribed and described by Frankel. In this conundrum, the stimulus is absent. A stranger who suffers in a far away land or in some other city, unbeknownst to us, cannot stimulate any response. The singularity of individual responsibility, articulated in Frankel’s formula, couldn’t be applied directly to strangers who have no claim over our emotional attachments. The stimulus of emotions is missing. Something else must substitute for that powerful incentive to act responsibly and benevolently and that something has been defined as Rights.

The articulation of human rights consolidates a union of opposites, between love and indifference. Though the result is a glittering, transcendent moment, we shouldn’t forget that it also required annihilation, of love as the loftiest, most universal value.[1]

Rights begin where love ends

[1] This thought was formulated by an erstwhile friend, a poet from Seattle, in an on line conversation.

Uri Avneri in todays Ma'ariv gives his view of the conflageration in the Middle East:

Ohlmert promised that when this is over, there would be a new and different state of affaires in the region. Do you agree?

Absolutely, it will be new and much worse.

One of Nassralah’s objectives is to unite Shiites and Sunnis in the struggle against Israel. It’s important to remember that for centuries there has been profound enmity between Shiites and Sunnis. Many devout sunny consider the Shiites to be contemptible infidels. In coming to the Palestinians’ aid, Nassaralah is seeking to forge a new alliance between the two.

There may evolve in the region a new axis, which will include Hizzbulla, Palestinians, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Syria is a predominantly Sunni country. The Shiites are now controlling Iraq and they fully support Hizzbullas. The Iraqi Sunnis, who are fighting against the Americans, too, support Hizzbulla.

This block gains huge support in the Arab street, because of its standing up to America and Israel. The stature of the counter block, comprised of Saudi Arabia Egypt’s and Jordan, erodes daily. Their regimes are perceived to be America’s mercenaries and Israel’s agents. Abu Maazen is making a great deal of effort not to be included in this category.

So what can be done about it?

Put an end to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, which agitates the entire region, take out Hamas from its hostile front by conducting negotiations with the newly elected Palestinian government. Come to an arrangement with Lebanon that will be sustainable over a long period of time. Such an arrangement must include Hizzbulla and Syria, which will necessitate the return of the Golan Heights.

And we should remember that Ehud Barak had almost achieved that, that h almost signed with Syria a peace treaty similar to the treaty Begin signed with Saddat. But he reneged at the last moment because he was afraid of the public opinion.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Yonathan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force pilot, refuses to serve in the current northern military campaign. He was interviewed yesterday on CNN, and declared his sympathy for Hizzbulla and suggested that Israel is not a democratic state.

Dekel Shachrur, a millitary expert and a TV correspondent, himself firmly in the Left field of Israeli politics, writes in today's Ma'ariv:

Shapira is within his rights to express his views as he has been doing from “The Left Bank” a website which addresses itself to a narrow segment in the Israeli public where his ideas are well received. However, assisting the Hizzbulla in an interview broadcast in New York and Los Angeles is a cynical abuse of democracy.

As a citizen, I was worried by Shapira’s voiced position. National Security officials should also be alarmed. Israel ought to examine carefully whether alignment between an Israeli pilot (who is privy to military sensitive material), with Israel’s most vicious enemies, is not in direct conflict with state security. Pilots and gifted intelligence personnel are not allowed traveling to hostile counties. This prohibition, however, may not be enough in today’s realities, when they can still communicate the necessary information through CNN or via an Internet site.

[Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz] restricts and keeps a watchful eye over activists from the lunatic Right. He should also probe the damage that can be wrought from the lunatic Left. If I, the writer of these lines, were not a bona-fide Leftist, I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing these words. But we, on the Left, also have weeds.

In the digital era, subverting world opinion against us and publicly parading the internal contents of the Israeli Air force during a time of siege is at the very least injurious to the soldiers who are about to march off to do our battles for us. It’s high time Mazuz woke up to the damage done to Israel by some Israelis who seek to harm us.