Tuesday, January 31, 2012


@TNR: A Liberal Islamic Scholar Speaks Up in Egypt

Leon WieseltLinkier is worried about the rise of Far Right in Israel, yes he does ...

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012


@ TNR: About Thatcher and Salander

@ Mick's: Facebook blasphemy

@ The Volokh Conspiracy: An "Israel-firster" kerfuffle

@ Rosie Bell: friends and enemies

@ TNR: Arab Spring
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@ TNR: Happy Birthday to Egypt’s Doomed Revolution

Monday, January 16, 2012

Israel Derangement Syndrome - Part Two

Pursuant to this post, here is another deranged complaint about Israel that surpasses the vilest imagination, via Simply Jews:

"A Dutch lady spends some time in Israel, while pregnant. She goes through the usual rigmarole of prenatal tests, is diagnosed with some virus which is subsequently taken care of. Eventually, she gives birth to a healthy baby and here it starts: she pens an article The chosen people have to be perfect. It's her unique way to thank the Israeli medical establishment, I guess. With statements like this:

To be pregnant in Israel is comparable to a military operation. Countless echos and blood tests should produce the perfect baby, nothing can be left to the luck of the draw. The state demands healthy babies and a lot of them too.
Or like this:
What makes things even more emotionally charged is the Israeli demand to produce many children."

Please note how a well functioning health care system that actually goes out of its way to make absolutely certain that babies are born healthy is thus being demonized as a Nazi-like institution obsessed with "perfect babies".

Please note how the mother viciously concludes her insane diatribe :

"... finally we held this little baby boy in our arms that went through all those tests. When we admired his little fingers and toes we saw that one of his toes was too small. His personal revenge on the Israeli health system."

Her son being born slightly deformed she considers a revenge and a moral triumph.

One needs to hate unconditionally and without boundaries in order to be able to produce this piece of rhetorical poison.


I sent this comment to Ms. van Heusden:

Hello Ms. van Heusden:

I read the report about your recent article about "The chosen people have to be perfect". I couldn't quite understand why the critics were so appalled by its contents. To me it seems like a very good example of how one can write trenchant criticism so ironically that readers can actually believe that you meant it to be understood straightforwardly. It is a brilliant, current day version of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal".

As you would know, he also wrote about babies. Swift, in his wisdom, suggested that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This ironic hyperbole mocked the heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general. As your piece was clearly meant to mock antisemitic attitudes towards Israel and Jews and to prove how your intended audience can be so easily fed all sorts of monstrous tales about Israel. It seems impossible your readers are so easily duped into believing that a mother could actually rejoice in her baby's being born slightly deformed in revenge for the meticulous health care and supervision administered during the anxious pregnancy period by heartless Israeli physicians and nurses bent on making sure your baby would be born healthy and happy. But you pulled it off. The use of the serious tone and sincere feeling highlight the absurdity of your account and complaint and shames the gullibility and unconscious bigotry of your readership who will believe anything evil about Jews.

Congratulations, then, on the finest piece of ironical criticism I read in many years.

BTW, in his day, Swift's "Proposal' aroused an uproar of indignation, and many read it as an actual suggestion. So you can consider yourself to be in good company in that regard, as well.

So keep on the good work. We Jews need advocates like you.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This is not antisemitism,

says Prof. AbuKhalil, he of Angry Arab fame:

"Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It is official: it is anti-Semitic to blame Israel

"In letter to Chilean Ambassador to US, B’nai B’rith International says blaming State of Israel or Jewish people as whole for alleged actions of tourist is 'absolutely unacceptable and irrational.'" (thanks Khelil)"

The story is here:

"B’nai B’rith International has sent a letter to Chilean Ambassador to the United States Arturo Fernandois, expressing “our grave concern over the outburst of anti-Semitic activity that has occurred in Chile after the arrest of a 23-year-old Israeli backpacker, who is suspected of having accidentally ignited the fire of the Torres del Paine National Park.”

B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin wrote, “Undoubtedly, the fire is a national tragedy, and we share the Chileans’ sorrow for this very unfortunate incident. But blaming the State of Israel or he Jewish people as a whole for the ‘alleged’ actions of a tourist is absolutely unacceptable and irrational.

”In the wake of the fire in Chile’s Patagonia region, the outburst of anti-Semitic attacks and charges included outrageous claims made by Chilean politicians.

The vice president of the Christian Democratic Party wrote on his Twitter account, “I bet that the Israeli ‘tourist’ that burned Torres del Paine is one of those sent by his State after killing Palestinian children.”

According to the rationale of AbuKhalil, any hatred expressed for Jews, either in or out of Israel, triggered by the (accidental) act of one Jew, cannot be regarded as antisemitism, as long as someone somewhere somehow has invoked the Palestinians as the victims of Jews.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Useful rules to memorize:

@ Mick Hartley's:

"It's a reasonable rule of thumb that when you have a detective successfully guessing the vital password, then you have a writer who's failing his audience."

Comments Trail:

@ Mick's: searching for lost time

@ Mick's: Three ladders

@ TNR: Spring Break

@ Simply Jews: About Fareed Zakaria's valium

@ TNR: A discussion about presidential candidates that managed to get away from the usual acrimony and actually gets some posters to enjoy each other's contribution.
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The Big Picture: Petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy--Moonrise

Thursday, January 05, 2012

"Our life is layered"

An excerpt from Ralph Angel's poem:

Evolving similarities

In the darkest of circumstances
I too have dialed the number
and thought twice and tested each one of them
as if anybody stands a chance around here
and no one carries our messages.
If there's something you still need
believe me
they will pick up the phone.
Because the body's not stupid.
Because the flesh remembers
and taking care comes first.
A young mother cradles an infant to her breast
and it feels like love.
Like we can do something.
Because you would save every last one of them
you are already forgiven.
It doesn't matter now
that nothing in this world is direct.
Our life is layered.
First we weep
and then we listen and eat something
and weep again
and listen.
And eat again.
And it doesn't matter anymore
at the bottom of your story
at the very-most bottom of recovery.
And confession.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Swollen Envy of Perverse Minds

I'm thinking of starting a regular feature under this heading. I often come across wonderful examples of this phenomenon, the swollen envy of pygmy minds, which is how Mark Twain defined antisemitism, but that can be appended and deployed in a variety of related or unrelated cases. Such a feature will act as a catch-all garbage bean.

And here is the first example today:

@ Simply Jews: A urine-soaked gloat from a urine-soaked creature

Norman Finkelstein on Christopher Hitchens:

When I first learned that Hitchens was diagnosed with an excruciating and terminal cancer, it caused me to doubt my atheism.

@ Prof. Abu Khalil's "News Service"
:Israeli team won the World University Debating Championships in the category of the English as a Second Language on Tuesday, securing the title for the second time in three years.

"Tel Aviv University students and brothers Omer Nevo, 26, and Sella Nevo, 22, traveled to Manila and brought home the gold as the first-place team and the first and second-place ESL speakers, respectively."

What did they have to do to win? Open their mouths? Or were the judges Americans? Or did they have to shoot their opponents and occupy their places?

And this, from the professor who teaches
political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley:

"Public service annoucement [sic]
Please. If you are going to Tunis airport, wipe your feet well if you use the bathroom. Thanks."

If I did not read it with mine own eyes, I wouldn't be able to imagine it.


Solidarity, Reciprocity, and Discontent

The following is a partial translation of the first part of an article by the Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini. He is addressing the recent scandals involving Charedim behaving badly, that shook Israeli society out of its usually docile acceptance of its beleaguered life.

"Israel is in the throes of a much needed culture war, but not because someone spat on an eight year old girl or another yelled at a young girl who sat in the front of the bus. We need a culture war in order to rescue the state of Israel from becoming a state of minorities, while the majority is trampled upon. The problem does not lie in a lawless fringe group of zealots, who do not recognize the state of Israel. The problem is the thousands and hundreds of thousands who are excused from proper schooling, military service, or the workforce. The segregated sidewalks or buses are not even the cherry on top of the rotten icing. That’s not the problem. The problem is rooted in those who join the chorus of condemnations while shoring up the status quo. These include Shas and the PM, and others.

Many members in the Charedi camp are fed up with the deformed social structure they inhabit. While they want to lead a religious life, they also are not afraid of English or History studies. They want to do military service, be part of the workforce and are willing contemplate substantial reform to the conversion concept. Let’s not be mislaid here. Rabbi Amsalem, of Shas, is not some wild weed in Judaism. The entire Shas party is a weed. It was Maimonides who wrote that “he who decides that the study of Tora excludes working for one’s living, and is willing to live on charity alone, is tantamount to heretic and a scoundrel to the Tora”. In the matter of segregation between men and women, they know how to be disciples to Maimonides. In that respect they remained in the Middle Ages.

Contrary to high and mighty declarations, and illusions, when it comes to sharing space with the Charedi population, the option of shared communities is implausible. Secular, observant or traditional Israeli Jews will not dare reside at the heart of a Charedi community. Charedim, by contrast, are allowed to settle anywhere. This works well as long as they are the negligible minority. It becomes a problem when they multiply. Then they coercively wish to impose their ways upon others. The conclusion is that we must separate. Observant Jews, secular Jews, traditional Jews, Right-wing or left-wing Jews, all can live together. But this is impossible with the Charedim. It is not possible to co-mingle with them. This is the situation not only in Nigeria where various groups slaughter each other, or in Somalia where everyone blows up everyone else. But also in Britain and Sweden. It doesn’t work in Yavne-El, a township that gained much notoriety during the nineties due to the invasion by the Bratslav Chassidim. Problems only got worse over the years. However, the allegation -- promoted by predictable articles in the media – that this separation is de-facto racism is total nonsense. All those authors who make these allegations themselves live in neighbourhoods where others share in the same culture; they do not live among at the heart of a Charedi or an Arab neighbourhood. They wouldn’t want to live there. So let them not waste our time with ”racism” claims.

Those who are interested in partnership are welcome. One condition applies: that it be a two-way street, not a unidirectional exchange. Partnership between a man and his horse is regulated as between humans and beasts. And even that is being disputed nowadays. It ought to be completely clear, though, that this is not a model for partnerships among social groups. Separation among the different communities does not exclude partnership and solidarity, but only when it is reciprocal as between equals. Whoever is funded by public, tax-payers’ money must be required to assume their share of the general burden. There are rights, but then, there are responsibilities as well, such as national or military service, working for a living, or paying taxes. Solidarity – absolutely. Parasiticality – absolutely not.

Inbuilt into the structure of democratic societies is tolerance towards those who are different and “others”. This is the correct form. Still, a certain adjustment is called for. For example, we will happily accept and welcome emissaries from Kfar Chabad if they wish to speak at a Raanana center, provided a secular group from Raanana is allowed to make its case at a center in Kfar Chabad. No more uni-directional rights. No more taking advantage of liberal rights in order to put an end to liberal society. This applies to any type of fundamentalist group. What they don’t want done to them, they should not be doing to others.

Mixed societies can thrive peacefully only if those who join them share in a certain ethos. Secular people who try to live in the midst of a Charedi suburb are not about freedom of residential choice but a provocation. It’s the same as with Jews who insist on residing in the midst of Hashiloach Village or Arabs who want to implement the “Right of Return” in Israel proper. The national idea – and most countries in the world are nation-states – is based on communities sharing in a common ethos. Such an ethos can be culturally authentic or something that has evolved and consolidated over time. Communities are also self defined. There is no racism in the idea of people wishing to live in a culturally, religiously or nationally, familiar public space.

It is the weaker segments in society who always pay the price for the attempted co-mingling of communities. The strong and enlightened elites, as we know, are quite successful in preserving the boundaries of their own homogeneous living. If the elites have a right to choose their quality of life, a life that includes separation, they should not moralize different principles to others.

And like the Old Cato, I will recapitulate with the inevitable conclusion: Israel is a minoritocracy, not a democracy. Only a reform of the governance system will correct the warp that allows a few, relatively minor, pressure groups to trample upon the rights of the majority through political extortion. Until such a reform takes place, the current struggle will yield three indictments against three spitters or rioters, but for Israeli society, and especially its women, no good news will be forthcoming."

This article from the Jerusalem Post tries to unravel the very complex tangle of beliefs, mindsets, ways of life and behaviours involved in the kerfuffles:

"JUST AS important, however, the secular interpretation of events is sometimes no more accurate. Many secular Jews possess the absurd belief that all haredim, or even all religious Jews, are of the same mindset as the extremists. Former Meretz Party chairman Yossi Sarid declared that Judaism itself halachically mandates such behavior (!), and that all religious parties should be disqualified from the Knesset.

The widespread talk against religious Jews is no less offensive than the curses heaped by haredi extremists upon others. This also has the effect of encouraging the wider haredi world to adopt a siege mentality and prevents them from acknowledging any wrongdoing in their own camp – which in turn lends credence to the secular charge that haredim are indeed all of the same mindset. Thus, the ultra-secular and the ultra-Orthodox are locked into a vicious cycle which brings out the worst in each.

Yet another interpretation of events was apparently held by the groups that joined the rally in Beit Shemesh, who portrayed the issue as one relating to women. But aside from the question of whether some of them were seeking to force a rift between Netanyahu and his coalition, even those genuinely motivated by a desire to improve the status of women were missing the point."

These problems are only a part of what makes Israel appear to be , to quote the recently departed and much missed Christopher Hitchens, an abnormal country. Naturally, I disagree with him about Israel not being a normal country. Israel is the best functioning democracy imaginable under circumstances of extreme existential threats. These two articles are just a very random sampling of how Israelis are trying to fashion their democracy in such ways as can be both fully democratic and Jewish. Israel is not normal in the same way that the US or France or UK are normal countries. And it's not abnormal in the same way that Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or Iran are abnormal. But on the continuum between the "normalcy" of a Western, law and order democracy, and the abnormality of third world theocracies and dictatorships in which law is to be feared rather than respected, Israel is just a notch away from the former end.

What captivated my attention in Ben Dror Yemini's article is his somewhat fumbling but worthy attempt to deal with an issue I have been thinking about more and more recently. That is the knotted issue of solidarity in our current multicultural ambiance. He says explicitly what the problem with solidarity is, namely, that it seems to flow, expected to flow, in one direction, from the mainstream majority to minorities. To this he says, no. No solidarity without reciprocity. When a minority expects to be accommodated on principles that are not only unshared by the vast majority but are reviled by it, then there is a place to ask by what right, and to resist.

Easier done in Canada, perhaps, than in Israel.

Perhaps, quite inadvertently, I just provided a possible angle by which to evaluate these matters: "When a minority expects to be accommodated on principles that are not only unshared by the vast majority but are reviled by it". There is an essential difference between an unshared value and a reviled value. I'll have to cogitate some more.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Another 27 minutes well worth the watching:

Roger Scruton - The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope

Monday, January 02, 2012

An interview with Irving Howe (Via: Alan Johnson) from the mid-seventies.

Well worth the 28 minutes of your life it will take to watch.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Recognizing Righteousness: Italians and Jews

1. Gino Bartali

Gino Bartali was a famous Italian cyclist; he won the Giro d'Italia three times and the Tour de France twice. But these weren't his only achievements. Described here as 'one of cycling's all-time greats', Bartali is being considered for the honour of Righteous Among The Nations - awarded by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem - for the part he played in rescuing Jews in danger during the Second World War. One of those testifying to his efforts is Giorgio Goldenberg, now 78, whose family was saved by being hidden in Bartali's cellar in Florence:

The cellar was very small... A door gave way onto a courtyard, but I couldn't go out because that would run the risk of me being seen by the tenants of the nearby apartment buildings. The four of us slept on a double bed. My father never went out, while my mother often went out with two flasks to get water from some well. (Via: Normblog)

2. The Greek Lawyer (from "A Tale of Two cities" by Moris Farhi)

To date, the Germans had dispatched most of the men who had assembled on that Saturday to build roads and airfields. What the future held for other Jews, the lawyer dared not imagine. Reports from eastern Thrace and Macedonia augured the worst. The Germans had delegated the administration of these territories to their ally, the Bulgarians, but since the latter kept prevaricating on the matter of surrendering their own Jews, the Germans had decided to deal with the Jews of Thrace and Macedonia themselves. Lately there had been rumours that these unfortunates would be deported en masse to Occupied Poland. All of this made the lawyer look back regretfully to the time when the Italians had been the occupying power. The Italians had been humane, often in defiance of Mussolini's edicts. Throughout their occupation, they had persistently warned the Jews of the Nazis' racist policies and urged them to leave the country; on many occasions they had even granted Italian passports to those who heeded their advice. Ester might remember one Moiz Hananel, a distant cousin from Rhodes: he was now safe in Chile. But, alas, ester's father, Salvador, disinclined to liquidate his considerable investments, had procrastinated. Now the Italians had gone and Salvador's wealth had evaporated.

There the lawyer's letter ended.

3. Peretz

My father-in-law was the eldest son in a family of ten. He had parents, three brothers and four sisters. They all lived in Salonika, Greece. The mother was either a Bulgarian Jew or a convert to Judaism, upon her marriage to my husband's grandfather. This detail is not quite clear. She had blond hair and very blue eyes, which my father in law inherited from her. My father-in-law , as a young man of eighteen, was conscripted into the Greek army and sent to the front with Italy. He was due to be released in a few days when war broke out, and he was taken prisoner of war by the Italian army. He spent two years in an Italian prison camp and then, when the Germans invaded and occupied Italy, his Italian guards released him along with all the Jewish prisoners, fearful that the Germans would transport them to concentration camps. The guards advised them to head into the countryside rather than into the cities. My father-in-law attended this advice. (His fellow Jewish POW's disregarded the advice and decided to try their luck in the cities. as far as my father-in-law knows, none of them survived the Germans).

Peretz roamed the Italian countryside for four years, working on farms, wherever he could find some shelter. He spent a year in the basement of a monastery, urged by the monks not to even step outside for fear that he might be sighted, suspected, and reported to the Germans. Some of those who gave him shelter knew he was Jewish, some did not. When the war was over, he headed back to Greece, to Salonika. He found one sister, who had converted to Christianity and married to a local Greek policeman. She was saved because her husband's family concealed her identity. The rest of the family had been transported to Auschwitz, and that's the last that was known of them.

4. Giovanni

My Italian friend, Giovanni, grew up on a farm in Avelino. At some considerable distance from the farmhouse where the family lives there is a large pit, the size of a very small room, covered by some makeshift trap-door. Giovanni's father remembered working side by side with his own father digging this hole in the ground which was then used to shelter a couple of Italian Jewish families during the time when it was more dangerous to be Jewish and be known for it. Until he told me this story, Giovanni had no idea what an unusual account he was carrying in his memory. Which goes to show that for some people it never occurred that helping Jews avoid or escape the Nazis was the exception rather than the rule.

A pattern of decency emerges from these disparate examples, a certain self-evident and intuitive moral imperative that transcends, discards, disregards, any inclination, fed by millennium of religious indoctrination and antisemitic suspicion, to avert the gaze at one's own convenience. The people involved in these acts of kindness, were not educated on the lofty academic ideals of universal justice and the philosophy of mutual responsibility. They were as ordinary as all the other peoples among whom the Holocaust was taking place.

And this makes you think that if indeed there was a banality of evil loosed upon the world during those benighted years, perhaps there was also a partial antidote, the banality of the good.