Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hobnobbing with the machers

Me and my big mouth. On a previous trip I was having a nice chat with my endearingly doveish friend who works for the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. We discussed some of the Israeli-Palestinian joint business ventures that the organisation was trying to foment, and I felt compelled to disagree somewhat with their strategy. On the fly, I came up with an alternative and thought no more about it. Then on this trip I was having some drinks with my doveish friend's pals and colleagues and got talking to someone else about it. Before I knew it, I had been invited to their Chanukah doughnut/latke fress in the presence of the old boy himself.

Of course I cannot go into detail about our high-level talks regarding the future economic cooperation of Israelis and Palestinians, but the bit you all want to know is that he likes his doughnuts filled with dulce de leche toffee-caramel, and is very partial to bruschetta with gravadlax on the top.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The myth of secular Tel Aviv

The so-called secular folk of Tel Aviv take great pride in not being too Jewish - there is even a Hebrew word for "Kike" which they employ to denigrate anyone exhibiting too many signs of identifying with anything too overtly religiously or culturally Jewish.

Yet I was in Molly Bloom's Irish pub having a pint and watching the Chelsea match (still in Tel Aviv for those who are confused), and by half-time it was dark outside. The barman got everyone's attention, put a chanukiah on the bartop, lit the shammash and said all the brachot, then conducted the whole pub in the opening verse of Maoz Tzur. Everyone participated, most people covering their heads with an assortment of beermats, drip-towels and other random drink-related implements.

It struck me as a fascinating moment of layered irony. Here we were, in Israel but in a pub that has recreated the environment of a Dublin bar so accurately for its escapist patrons that they even set the clocks to Irish time, watching goishke football on Boxing Day. But everyone respectfully and passionately joined in the celebration of Chanukah, a festival that celebrates the victory of the priestly Maccabees over the Hellenist occupiers who were corrupting and secularising the Jewish population.

No matter what they try to do to escape it, Israelis ultimately have the old nefesh yehudi that just won't quit.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Following too closely in Yasser's footsteps?

Following the article on Friday, I couldn't help a wry smile on seeing this on LGF: has a report from AFP that Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas/Abu Mazen has been rushed to a hospital.

RAMALLAH, West Bank : Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas was hospitalised urgently in Ramallah, medical sources said. The sources did not provide any additional information about his health condition or the reason for his hospitalisation.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Yasser Abbas

An excellent article by Tom Gross in yesterday's WSJ (hat tip: LGF)

On the very day that five Israelis were murdered and over 60 injured outside a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya earlier this month, the official Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had approved fresh financial assistance to the families of suicide bombers. The family of each "martyr" will now receive a monthly stipend of at least $250 - a not inconsiderable amount for most Palestinians. Altogether, the families of these so-called martyrs and of those wounded in terrorist attempts or held in Israeli jails might receive $100 million, according to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.

Around 30% of the Palestinian Authority budget comes from international donations, including a hefty amount from the European Union. If an Arab government funded stipends to the families of the London or Madrid bombers, it would probably be pretty big news. But this is the Palestinian Authority, and no matter how little it does to discourage terrorism, or to educate its people to coexist with Israel, it can rely on excuses being made on its behalf by an army of sympathizers throughout the West - in the press, on college campuses and, most disturbingly, in foreign ministries.

For over a year now, since Mr. Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat, his boss of 40 years, many in the West have done their utmost to "explain" or ignore Mr. Abbas's failings. But if Americans and Europeans are genuinely interested in promoting Palestinian-Israeli peace, it is time for them to take a realistic look at his record. Some Western commentators were quick to emphasize his condemnation of the Netanya attack. But did they really listen to what he actually said? True, Mr. Abbas condemned the Netanya suicide bomb - but only in the Palestinian Authority's usual inadequate and half-hearted terms. He said that it "caused great damage to our commitment to the peace process" and that it "harmed Palestinian interests." But he could not bring himself to say that murdering people is simply wrong.

His outright refusal to confront and disarm terrorists, in violation of the Road Map, hardly registers anymore in the Western media and where it does, it is usually excused and attributed to his relative political weakness. However, the media also give very little idea of the extent to which the Palestinian Authority continues to glorify terrorists. A typical instance is the elevation of Al-Moayed Bihokmillah Al-Agha, who murdered five Israelis in a suicide bombing in December 2004. When the Rafah crossing, the scene of his terror attack, was re-opened at the start of this month, the Palestinian Authority renamed it "in honor of Shahid (martyr) Al-Agha." Then there is the soccer tournament named in honor of the terrorist who murdered 30 people at a Passover celebration in Netanya, or the girls' high school named by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education after a female terrorist who murdered 36 Israeli civilians and an American nature photographer. (The school was recently renovated with money from USAID, channeled through the American Near East Refugee Aid.)

Examples could easily be multiplied. A poetry collection published by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture, for instance, is named in honor of a suicide terrorist (dubbed "the Rose of Palestine" in one of the poems) who killed 21 at a restaurant in Haifa. (The collection was distributed this August as a special supplement in the daily Al-Ayyam. Most of Al-Ayyam's editors are appointed by Mr. Abbas.) Reliable nongovernmental organizations like Palestinian Media Watch meticulously translate such hateful material, but Western journalists almost invariably refuse to report it. They prefer to cling to the illusion that the present-day Palestinian leadership is genuinely striving to achieve peace and coexistence.

This lack of proper coverage leads many people, including even many who are broadly sympathetic to Israel, to hold a false view of Mr. Abbas and to persuade themselves that the Palestinian Authority has undergone a fundamental change for the better since Arafat's death. No amount of wishful thinking, though, can obscure the fact that the true "root cause" of Palestinian terrorism is the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority sometimes goes so far as to stamp out even the most symbolic gestures of coexistence with Israel. Consider last month's soccer match, organized by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, in which Israeli and Palestinian soccer stars played together in a joint "Peace Team" against Barcelona. They played well, losing only 2-1 at Barcelona's famous Nou Camp stadium in front of 31,820 spectators, including many dignitaries. Yet on the Palestinian Authority's orders, the Palestinian Football Association announced that it would punish the Palestinian players for daring to participate in such a match.

Meanwhile Palestinian militias have begun firing enhanced Kassam missiles - with a larger diameter and longer range than previous Kassams - recently hitting for the first time the city of Ashkelon and Israeli villages which until now had been out of range of Palestinian rockets. Equally ominous, the Palestinian Authority is allowing terrorists and weapons to pass freely through the newly opened Gaza-Egypt border.

So where does this all leave us?

It remains conventional wisdom, especially in the media, that the Israeli government or people are somehow the main obstacles to peace. The fact is, however, Israelis are desperate for peace. Almost no one in Israel now rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. But how many Palestinians really accept the idea of a Jewish state?

All the evidence, sad to say, points to the fact that most do not. In the recent Fatah primaries, it was those candidates who were most opposed to peace with Israel who swept to victory. Other Palestinians go beyond Fatah and support the even more extreme position of Hamas, which polled very strongly in last week's local elections in the West Bank.

The hope must still be that in the long run Palestinian attitudes will change. When that happens, frontiers can be settled by mutual agreement. But it would be dangerous folly to suppose that the necessary change has already taken place, and until it does, the Israelis have no choice but to put considerations of security first and reserve the right to determine their own borders.

Mr. Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

China snookers Britain

Last weekend saw the final of snooker's prestigious UK Championship. If you are not an aficionado of this odd and quite British sport, then it may have passed you by, but it caught my attention not just because I am an avid fan of the game, but because of the two finalists, Brentwood's Steve Davis and Beijing's Ding Junhui.

Steve Davis is the 48 year old maestro whose heyday in the 1980s saw him win every trophy going and dominate the sport. In the 1990s this mantle passed to Stephen Hendry and in this millenium to Ronnie O'Sullivan, but in the last year or two, a rejuvenated and relaxed "Nugget" has had a resurgence. His runner-up spot in last Sunday's final cements his place as the world's number 3 player.

Ding Junhui was born in the year Davis last won the UK Championship, in 1987. At 18, this is his second tournament victory, after taking the China Open last year, when he was too young to collect the prize money. He is being talked about by all as the next prodigy in the game.

It seems to me that this final - and perhaps its outcome - may represent a change in the forces at play in the world. The finalists are microcosms of the two countries; their economies, their past and future, maybe even their entire national psyche.

Davis epitomises the New Labour ideal of Mondeo Man - he is even from Brentwood, a few miles from where Ford's factory is situated. He made his fame and fortune in the Thatcher years, spent some time in the doldrums, and has enjoyed a renaissance in the Blair years. No doubt spin doctors at no. 10 will try to take some credit, but most fans of the game would put it down to his more relaxed and carefree approach rather than the frowning, fretting picture of concentration that he was in his heyday.

In many ways, he represents Britain on a wider level. The old master may have a lot to offer but he was never a dazzling showman; in fact, he wore opponents down through excellent safety play and ruthlessness in taking advantage of the mistakes of his opponents. Innovative he was not. And by dint of some underlying natural talent and finally relaxing around the table, he has maintained his place at the top of his sport. How long can it last, though?

Ding, on the other hand, is modern China to a tee. He is that intimidating blend of ordered Communist lack of emotion and new capitalist urge to dominate in his chosen field. He brings that automaton quality to the game, superb at every aspect at such a young age, showing no fear despite his inexperience, and certainly demonstrating an intent to ascend to the top and stay there.

China has managed to use the tools at its disposal to become the workshop of the world, with the right blend of innovation and efficiency coupled with the huge natural resource of cheap and malleable labour. Britain is systematically destroying its tools: our health and education systems reflect political agendas that maintain them for an era that was already passing when they were devised; our good fortune to have remained outside the Euro-zone is dissipated by Brownite bureaucracy; the masses revelling in their mediocracy, encouraged by patronising government policy and a safety net too high and comfortable to motivate and generate innovation.

Davis is a relic, currently punching above his weight. Ding is a modern powerhouse whose potential suggests he will dominate completely. The Championship final demonstrated this shift in the balance of power. Davis was unlucky but Ding made his own luck, and punished every error and misfortune.

If we are not to suffer the same fate, we need to harness and hone our skills, and ensure that the next generation of players is not epitomised by fellow Essex-boy Ronnie O'Sullivan, with the well-documented problems of his family and personal life. Yet he is the pin-up, the role model. Much better for us to get behind Shaun Murphy, World Champion on his debut last year. Ruddy-cheeked, rotund and jolly, clean-shaven, clean-living and a dazzling showman with a similar all-round game and swashbuckling style, he is what our future should look like.

Ding vs. Murphy; that is a combination to draw the crowds.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Public service message

A public service announcement - hat tip: Freedmanslife's mum...

Stroke Recognition - save a friend

During a BBQ a friend stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) and just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes. They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food - while she appeared a bit shaken up, Ingrid went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening.

Ingrid's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00pm, Ingrid passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ - had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke perhaps Ingrid would be with us today.

Please take a minute to read this - a neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally.

He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed and getting to the patient within 3 hours which is tough.

Recognising a stroke

Thank God for the sense to remember the "3" steps. Read and Learn!

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify.

Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

1. Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (coherently) (eg... It is a sunny day today)
If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 999 (obviously 911 for those in the USA) immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three questions. They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent brain damage.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Second Draft

Freedmanslife urges you to visit the excellent Second Draft website to get the lowdown on what has the potential to be the first Jewish blood libel of the 21st century (hat tip: LGF)...

"Who can forget the image of Muhamed al Durah, gunned down in a hail of Israeli bullets” at the very beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada? The impact of this dramatic footage on global culture is close to incalculable. It is one of “the most powerful images of the past 50 years,” one of the shaping images of this young 21st century.

Partisans of the Palestinian cause claim it reveals Israeli malevolence and wanton violence, murdering a defenseless child in cold blood, as telling today as when it happened. For Osama bin Laden, “in killing this boy the Israelis killed every child in the world.” For some in the West, it cancelled out the photo of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, releasing them from residual Holocaust guilt and unleashing a flood of comparisons between the Israelis and the Nazis.

To most Israelis and supporters it was a devastating humiliation, a source of guilt and remorse. Some, however, claim the footage was staged and al Durah was either unharmed, or killed by Palestinians. To them the footage reveals the ruthless propaganda and paranoid nature of PA media culture… the first blood libel of the 21st century.

Faced with such awful alternatives, many retreat to neutrality: “Who knows who did it?” “It illustrates the tragic devaluing of life in this conflict.”

But no case better illustrates the inadequacy of such even-handedness. There are genuine consequences to misjudging a case that provided major inspiration to the suicide terrorism that now plagues the entire planet and, if this is a Pallywood fake, it constitutes one of the greatest media manipulations in modern media history: a lie that has killed many and a shameful MSM cover-up. And therefore, correcting it offers a critrical starting point for both media reform and a reformulation of how we think about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Not surprisingly, the public has yet to see any of the footage in order to make up our own minds. It is now more than five years since the explosive storyline of Israeli child-murder first spread around the globe. Second Draft, which has already posted raw footage from that day, now offers citizens of cyberspace a look at the available evidence specifically about Al Durah, and, as with Pallywood, analyses of the media’s “first draft” of this story.

Come to the site, see the evidence, make up your own mind, and figure out what you want to do about it."

Been saying this for some time, but as one poster on LGF said, the media and gormless wishy-washy twits in the West believe the Palestinian version that shows the Israelis must have killed the child rather than the Israeli version told by ballistics reports and watching full, rather than edited footage, "because the Palis are an official Oppressed Minority™, theirs is given far more weight than that of the Israeli 'oppressor'."

Just a reminder here, other branches of the same "Oppressed Minority™" are killing you on your buses and trains. When anti-Iraq protesters play into the hands of terrorists by using totally absurd and unproven numbers of civilian casualties, often including those caused by "insurgent" attacks on fellow Muslims, to decry the Coalition actions, they perpetuate a situation of absolving the guilt of terrorists by giving them more excuses. Never mind the moral equivalence of collateral damage in striking legitimate military targets versus the intentional murder of civilians.

This kind of pandering comes back and burns all of us indiscriminately. Mohammed Sidique Khan didn't politely ask those who marched against Blair to leave the train before he blew it to pieces. But perhaps we should consider those among the people who died on 7/7 who were indeed vehemently anti-Iraq (subtitle Free Palestine) to be martyrs for their cause.

Ultimately we all run the same risk as the "peace activists" like Tom Hurndall and Norman Kember, because what they were either too blinkered, naive or unwilling to realise was that the enemy is indiscriminate and merciless in its abuse of its so-called friends and allies. The difference is the latter two had the temerity to go and make their stands in situ, rather than directly encouraging home-grown enemies, sensing our weakness and division, to spring up from within.

Hurndall died because he worked for a political organisation that wilfully put its members in harm's way, creating another statistic in the "grim calculus" of Palestinian terror. Either he does what the ISM claim is their job, protecting children's lives, or he becomes a martyr for the cause of their dinner companions in Hamas. Win-win for them.

Fellow Pinnerite Norman Kember, whose fate is currently unknown, was clearly there because as a good Christian, his morals dictated that he had to help. We shall set aside accusations that he was playing a missionary role and thus perpetuating the Crusader myth of the whole Iraq operation. If his captors release him, it shows the apparent mercy of Islam (the same mercy they showed whilst butchering Muslim convert, adoptive Iraqi and 100% genuine aid worker Margaret Hassan). If they kill him, they show the awesome power and divine will of Allah that their cause carries, thus rallying more support for their cause. I also think they understand that the revulsion their acts cause in the West is another tool to split public opinion between those who believe all the more that they must be defeated, and those who hold it up as a reason not to have entered and now to leave Iraq. Win-win for them.

The net effects of the actions of Messrs Hurndall, Kember and their ilk, along with their friends in the liberal press and chattering classes are several: the demonisation of Israel and the tacit acceptance of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide; the legitimisation of violence as a reaction by local Muslim communities in the West; and the increased likelihood that wherever we are in the world, we will be targets.

Well, dear world, Pastor Niemoller told us 60 years ago about what happens when they come for everyone else but you. History repeats itself. First, they came for the Jews. Then they came for the moderates and their un-Islamic values in their own countries. Then they came for those nasty neo-cons. Then they came for you, but you had turned all your swords into ploughshares and accepted your dhimmitude.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Spikka dee Inglish proppa

Freedmanslife readers are invited to submit their favourite gripes about the misuse of the English language by people who should know better. These are two of my favourite common bastardisations:

"The proof is in the pudding"
No it is not, unless you mean that Professor Plum hid the lead piping in his eponymous pie. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. The phrase refers to the idea that you can only know whether the pudding is tasty and well-cooked by sticking a spoon in it, as opposed to checking it for fingerprints.

"Coup de gras"
A fascinating corruption of an elegant French phrase, and likely to have a similar effect. A coup de gras would mean the recipient getting smacked by a blob of fat. The "coup de grace" is the traditional administration of a bullet at point-blank range to confirm that the victim is really dead, and has come to mean the more metaphorical fatal blow. Perhaps we should be more sensitive to the horrible origins of the expression and indeed administer a literal or metaphorical slap of margarine instead.

I welcome your suggestions for more...

Monday, December 12, 2005

TWAJ: The Chief Rabbi

This weekend was a momentous one for the Pinner community. Rabbi G was celebrating his 60th birthday and 30th anniversary of being our rov. His whole family were there, and gave a hilarious speech in the form of a poem, the highlights including his love of SatNav and chocolate. Also in attendance was the Chief Rabbi. Now before I get into my rant, I want to put a disclaimer here. I've met him several times, he's a nice guy (despite being an Arsenal supporter), and I don't want to annoy my friends E & G, whose flapjacks I am very fond of. So please interpret any criticism that follows as being of the position rather than the man.

So what is the post, what does the community think it is, what do I want it to be, and is the incumbent the right man for the job - or rather, perhaps, is the job is right for the man?

The history of the role is long, stretching back over three centuries, but the short version is that it evolved as the community did. As it grew from one central shul, the Great Synagogue in London, into a conglomerate of shuls formalised in 1870 by Act of Parliament as the United Synagogue (US). The London Beth Din, which is effectively the Chief Rabbi's court, sits as the religious authority within this framework, thus providing its guidance to the 1/3 of Anglo-Jewry who belong to US shuls and probably about another 1/3 who tend towards the Orthodox line.

Certainly in the eyes of the government and the public, the Chief Rabbi - both the post and this particular incumbent - seem to be seen as representing the community at large, such is the respect commanded. But what is he actually for? The Beth Din have ruthlessly exercised editorial rights over his otherwise excellent and thought-provoking publications. The OCR appears to be run by a battleaxe who keeps a tight rein on his diary, recently almost denying an opportunity for the hoi polloi in the communities to hear him speak in person because of his busy schedule - luckily he was happy to oblige and spoke anyway.

We - and the regular rabbonim - look up to the Chief Rabbi for our spiritual and perhaps moral guidance. He has a CV as long as Peter Crouch's legs, supreme intellect, great oratory skills and a moral compass that points true but for the magnetic pull to the right caused by the dayanim.

But is he delivering?

Nearly 15 years on from taking up the post, he has written many books, delivered powerful speeches, and published some insightful position papers, but what has really changed? Much indeed has, but how much of it is because of the influence of the Big Three institutions of Anglo-Jewry (Board of Deputies, United Synagogue and UJIA)? I would argue that we have moved from spending far too much time whingeing about how terrible it all is, to facing up to our problems (and the Chief was a vital driver of the whole Renewal thing), to a new sense of complacency and self-congratulation for what we have achieved.

A prime example is the opening of Jewish primary schools. The Chief recently credited the community for this wonderful achievement and said it showed our emphasis on education as the foundation of the fabric of our faith. No denying that, but it seems to me to be critical that he is honest about the drivers of this. The reality is that we should be rightly credited for taking advantage of a situation by harnessing resources and expertise, but we should not be seeking to take credit for creating the situation. Ask the parents of those primary school children whether they send their kids to a Jewish school because of the shared values espoused or because the local multi-faith state alternative is crap and the private schools too expensive.

This may sound like a semantic, nit-picking argument, but for me, this kind of behaviour lies at the heart of why I believe the man is trapped by his post. Understanding and acknowledging that we cleverly met demand by giving supply, rather than portraying the situation as a dynamic and innovative community providing supply and creating demand, is crucial to beating the complacent leadership of the Big Three and building on the fortuitous foundation we have ended up with for the next generation of Anglo-Jewry. This is a microcosm of the issues faced across the board.

In his sermon at shul this week, the Chief told a story about value and worth. He spoke of an incredibly rich man who was asked how much he was worth. He answered with a figure that was a small fraction of what he was known to own and earn. When asked why, he replied that the figure he had given was his donation to charity, because he can only judge himself to be worth what he shared with others.

Funnily enough, that is exactly how I feel about the Chief Rabbi. His main interests are arguably intellectual, moral and philosophical rather than religious. Those who are privy to his off-record views tell me that he is much more inclined to my kind of honesty and objectivity, and that it spurs him into coming up with radical and innovative ideas - that are immediately squashed by his minders back in the office.

So I think that if we want to see the best of our Chief Rabbi, he needs to recognise that to most of us, he too is only worth what he shares. To really extract this value, he may need to leave the post, or we as his constituents need to militate to separate the OCR from the Beth Din and perhaps even the US, to give him the autonomy he needs to provide a meaningful leadership.

Friday, December 09, 2005

TWAJ: Boosting the numbers

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the best-selling author of 15 books, recently won the American Jewish Press Association’s Award for Excellence in Commentary. He is also the host of TLC’s upcoming TV program, "Shalom in the Home." In the article below, "Should Jews Proselytize Gentiles to Judaism?", he shows some of the dynamic, lateral thinking some of us have been demanding for some time. No wonder he's largely shunned by Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy.

Anyway, I'm off to a dinner graced by the Chief Rabbi in honour of our local Dear Leader, who has been in Pinner for 30 years. I'm sure a TWAJ update will follow...

"The greatest challenge facing the world Jewish community is its terribly small size. The number of Jews in the world has fallen below a critical mass, and our paucity suggests tragic consequences.

Foremost among them is our inability to defend ourselves. Does Israel really have a long-term future with so few Jews in the world? Who will influence and exert pressure on their own governments to support Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, when the Jewish population in most countries outside the United States is small to inconsequential? Will governments really choose the Jews over Arab adversaries when there are hundreds of millions of them and just a handful of us?

Until now we have relied on two factors to offset our limited number: Jewish economic power and alliances. But each solution is flawed and inadequate. In countries like Australia, for example, where there are just 100,000 Jews, their economic influence is such that governments take the Jewish community seriously. But this leads to the oft-repeated charges that Jewish money controls foreign powers. And it is, at best, a temporary solution because that economic power, in an age of rampant assimilation, is becoming more diluted as affluent Jews identify less and less with the Jewish community. George Soros, the world-renowned philanthropist who has only a tenuous connection with his Judaism, illustrates this point.

As far as the Jewish community’s friendships and alliances are concerned, they always involve trade-offs. Christian evangelicals are Israel’s best friends in the world, but they still dream of all of us becoming Christian and often pursue those dreams in multi-million dollar conversion campaigns. With Catholicism, it’s the opposite. After 2,000 years, they have come to greatly respect Judaism. But the Vatican undeniably favors the Palestinians, with no less a holy man than John Paul II treating the childkiller Yasir Arafat as a saint.

But security issues aside, we Jews, whose biblical mandate is to function as a light unto the nations, are meant to leave a mark on the world. Real influence comes from quality and not quantity, and, even as the smallest of nations, Jews have arguably been the most influential nation of all.

To be sure, I have no interest in Jewish hegemony. I just want Jews and Judaism to have a seat at the table. And today, we have to accept that we don’t. Just look at the United Nations as an example of how Jews and Israel are treated with contempt, mostly because we are too small a number to influence a world body. We are fortunate that, due to the American veto, the U.N.’s regular condemnations of Israel usually have no lasting impact. But if the American Jewish community, which is large and economically influential, did not stand up for Israel so vociferously, Israel would face insurmountable international pressure. Kicking up Jewish numbers isn’t going to be easy, and vastly increasing the Jewish birthrate (as well as fighting assimilation) is key. But it is high time we addressed the issue that Jews have traditionally shied away from: converting non-Jews to Judaism.

In the 150 years that they have been around, the Mormons have grown from a few hundred followers to roughly 14 million, the same as the number of the world’s Jews, even though we have been around for 3,500 years longer. The reason: the Mormons field a global missionary force of 60,000.

Why have Jews not proselytized? Our standards for conversion are high, and we refuse to water them down to allow people to enter. And we would prefer not having converts to having insincere converts, and that is admirable and necessary. We can brook no compromise with the lofty standards that Jewish observance demands.

But the bigger reason we don’t proselytize is even more noble: unlike every other religion in the world, we don’t claim a copyright on truth. We don’t believe that by becoming a Jew you come closer to G-d than you would as a devout Christian or Muslim. We actually respect the G-dly qualities of other faiths that lead to a righteous life. We aren’t closed-minded bigots who tell the world that, unless they are Jewish, they are all going to hell.

And yet, there is something that I have learned from the many debates that I have conducted with leading Christian thinkers around the world. In the debates, there is always a group of people who feel uncomfortable with what they see as Christianity’s compromises and accommodations with paganism. The idea of a man as G-d does not appeal to them. They are likewise put off by the pagan overtones of G-d conceiving a child with a woman, and they are positively cold to the Christian idea of original sin or how we are all born guilty before being innocent. Finally, they believe in personal accountability, so that the idea of a redeemer shedding his blood in order to purge them of sin does not accord with their personal values.

It is to those people whom we should be offering Judaism as a pure monotheistic alternative and actively promoting the Torah as the word of G-d. Should they not wish to become fully Jewish because they are reluctant to embrace Judaism’s exacting standards of ritual observance, we should be creating a Jewish confederation of Noachides, as the Bible calls them, men and women who identify with Jewish spirituality and Jewish values but do not follow the ritual observances. In effect, these people would be adopting the Torah’s norms without converting to Judaism.

Already there are whole Christian congregations throughout the United States that have removed the cross and steeple, and transformed themselves into Noachide communities. There are also several virtual Noachide communities online, with members signing up from around the world. In these places, parishioners reject the deification of Jesus, observe the Sabbath (on Saturday rather than Sunday) and study the Torah for its prescriptions on spiritual life.

These people do not embrace all the rituals of biblical law, but they do adhere to the Noachide covenant, consisting of seven laws prescribed in the Torah: do not murder; do not steal; do not worship false gods; do not be sexually immoral; do not practice cruelty to animals; do not blaspheme against God; establish courts and maintain justice.

The Jewish community should be spearheading this movement and should fund a global campaign to have non-Jews join a Jewish confederation, if not adopt Judaism in its entirety. The Federation system should also be funding classes throughout the country where non-Jews can learn more about Hebrew spirituality, and synagogues can begin offering classes as well. The organization I ran at Oxford University for 11 years, where I served as Rabbi, had thousands of non- Jewish members, and many of its officers were not Jewish. For the most part, their intention was not to become Jewish, but they came because they felt that their lives were enriched by the unique, lifeaffirming, this-world orientation of Jewish spirituality. Many thousands have remained friends and supporters of the Jewish community.

This is not to portray Christianity as a lesser faith. On the contrary, Judaism and Christianity, both G-dly religions, simply have vastly different appeals, even as they share a great deal in common. Christianity will always appeal to those who prefer a more corporeal religion, where G-d is incarnate in human form and is more physically tangible, just as Judaism will always appeal to those attracted to a more subtle and intangible G-d and to those who wish to approach G-d without intermediaries.

With Israel’s survival continually threatened on all sides by sworn enemies, it would be logical for the Jewish state to call an international conference of Jewish leaders and educators where the issue of promoting a global Noachide movement can be discussed, where the question of actively promoting Judaism among non-Jews can be debated, and where the world Jewish community can be propelled out of its insularity and finally address the growing crisis of our tiny number."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

This shameful ranting must stop!

Actually, this doesn't refer to Freedmanslife. Carol Gould from the excellent Current Viewpoint wrote the article below, showing the magnificent work of the Occupied Britain branch of the Religion of Peace in gaining commercial and public sector sponsors for their War Of Terror. Wow, one little typo can make so much difference to meaning...

"Just before going back to the USA after five months in the UK I attended the ‘Global Peace and Unity’ Conference at London’s Excel Centre presented by the new Islam Channel and sponsored by Emirates Airlines, Western Union (hmm??) and the Metropolitan Police.

It was advertised as a diverse event to which non-Muslims were invited and the impression one got from the website was of a celebration of Middle Eastern culture, food, music and children’s activities in a London milieu.

To my utter horror -- and I should have written this report two days ago but my physical and emotional shock have rendered me nearly inert -- it was a seven-hour call to Jihad by a succession of ranting and shouting rabble-rousers.

The eminent barrister Michael Mansfield QC, wearing black and white keffiyah scarf, shouted into the mike about the heinous crimes of the Western coalition countries. The crowd chanted and thundered its appreciation.

The terrifying demagogue George Galloway ascended the podium and exhorted the crowd to stand up for the redemption of the oppressed Muslim world or else the nation had better get ready for ‘rioting in every street in Britain.’.

The ‘slaughter in Palestine and Iraq’ being only part of the equation, Chechnya, Bosnia and Kashmir were also mentioned all day by every speaker including a crazed, chador-clad Yvonne Ridley, who at any moment I expected to self-immolate, such was her fury at the Zionists, the Americans and her fellow Britons. To my utter disbelief, she condemned the British police force as some form of fascist brigade in ‘jackboot Britain.’

To all of these exhortations came cries of ‘Alllahu Akhbar’ from the enormous, simmering crowd of what looked to me like the angriest gathering of young men and women with whom I have ever had the misfortune to be seated in my lifetime.

It must be noted for non-British and non-Commonwealth readers that legendary cricketer Imran Khan’s arrival from Pakistan to give a speech would be the equivalent of a sporting megastar doing similar in an American arena. The crowd of some 20,000 adoring, mostly young British Muslims went mad with joy when he ascended the stage and took to the dais. What followed was a stream of invective about his own leader, Parvez Musharraf, Egypt’s leader Hosni Mubarak, and of course the ‘axis of evil’ Bush, Blair and allies. (It must be noted here that in May, when the controversy arose about American soldiers allegedly flushing a Koran down a lavatory, Khan’s power over world Islam was such that he gave one short speech and riots ensued across the globe, including the horrifying flag-burnings in London’s Grosvenor Square. )

Khan actually said we should feel the degradation of modern Muslims in the context of Hitler and the Germans after Versailles. He used this example to accentuate the reason for ‘Muslim rage’ -- there was poor Germany belittled and humiliated, like the Muslim world today. He recounted being confronted by a fellow Pakistani after 9/11 who asked, ‘Do you not feel ashamed?’ and he told the adoring crowd he did not see what there was to be ashamed of, and anyway, 9/11 was an excuse for the criminal Washington neocons to start a New Crusade against Islam.

To illustrate the level of extremism to which this event had degenerated, one of the organisers actually took the mike and said the event team wished to distance themselves from Khan’s 9/11 views.

Various ‘artists’ whom I had thought would offer a variety of musical numbers gave loud, piercing renditions of what seemed the same chant about Allah. OK, that is fine, but where are the Muslim Placido Domingos, Joan Sutherlands, Isaac Sterns and George Balanchines? Why were there no Muslim educators present at this ‘cultural festival’ asking this vast multitude of young people to sign up for music, theatre and art programmes?

An elderly sheikh in Pakistan was beamed in live to tell this excited crowd that he could hardly bring himself to articulate the word ‘Israel’ as this is not a country that even exists. (How would British Muslims like it if a rabbi got up and said partition had produced a country called Pakistan, a word he could barely utter because it is not a real country?)

The sheikh's English was barely comprehensible but he appeared to imply that Jews from ‘eighty nations’ were brought to Palestine to drive the Arabs away and to commit murder, torture, imprisonment and theft of land and homes over fifty-odd years. The young and impressionable crowd seemed ready for a collective Jihad at this point.

What was interesting was the repeated theme by a string of sheikhs from across the globe that the leaders of Arab nations were a weak, spineless bunch of puppets of the Americans who did not have the guts to stand up to Israel and the United States. This theme caused tremendous excitement in the crowd, as if a global Intifadah might just start in this London arena.

After the event I went to get some fresh air upstairs and as I looked out at a quaint old mill on the Quay a young English Muslim in a long robe and head covering asked me about this place where we stood, Canary Wharf. I told him it had been decimated and nearly obliterated by the Luftwaffe in the Blitz and that the conflagration could be seen as far away as Hertfordshire. I pointed out the lone mill and said it had miraculously survived the relentless wartime bombing raids. He looked at me and said, ‘Who did you say did the bombing?’ I replied, ‘The Luftwaffe.’ He said ‘Who are they?’ I said, ‘The Germans.’ He said ‘Really? Well, I’ve learned something today.’

Like the Muslim cab driver who last week asked me what St Paul’s Cathedral was, this young Englishman had no sense of British history or identity.

Shame on the Muslim Community of Great Britain for organising an event that can serve only to further agitate an already-radicalised segment of the British population.

The anger, aggression and totally obsessive nature of the day left me feeling shocked and personally assaulted. How far would a white Christian group get holding such a rally? Cries of racial incitement would ring far and wide and the police would be summoned.

When the Muslim community of Great Britain, with its multitude of organisations, mosques and even its own Parliament, can organise an enlightened and civilised event that makes Jews, Christians , Hindus and all nationalities -- including Israelis and Americans -- feel welcome, then Britain will have achieved a true multiculturalism.

Until then, I am not ashamed to say I am scared out of my wits and would suggest said Americans, Jews, Israelis and Hindus get out of here as soon as possible. British Christians? They have expended boundless energies on condemnations of Israel and the USA but the anger I saw on Sunday will also decimate them.

In this same week, Polly Toynbee has written a scathing piece about the repulsive nature of Christian imagery in 'The Chronicles of Narnia.' She condemns religion in general but has particularly venomous feelings about traditional Christianity. Dare I say it was this faith that sustained Britain in its Churchillian 'darkest hours?' Wake up, dear, tolerant Britons, and stop expending energy on hatred of America, Zionists and your own Church and recognise the destructive turmoil within your shores before it is too late."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Skating on thin ice

Yesterday, I went ice-skating for the first time in many years, to celebrate VB's birthday in the delightful setting of Somerset House. Thanks to many sexy women being present, and despite loathing participation in anything I'm not good at (ice-skating, MarioKart, hard work, foreplay), I decided I couldn't appear to be a complete wimp and Scrooge-like spoilsport. So I donned the skates and tottered onto the rink.

An hour later, having nearly careered into a cutie who giggled when I screeched that Wifey was a moron for hurtling me round like I was bloody Jane Torvill, I left the rink, sore and tired but generally of a less curmudgeonly demeanour than when I had started.

Today, Gordon Brown skated confidently onto the wafer-thin ice of the floor of the House of Commons to deliver his pre-Budget report. Apart from the standard combination of Brownite overspending covered up with Blairite massaging of the figures, there was a phenomenal piece of opportunism. Having blamed all of his miscalculations and the gloomy outlook on high oil prices, he announced a doubling of the windfall tax on North Sea oil profits.

At a time when the majors are looking for new profit centres and have lots of cash to invest, he decided, without any consultation, to raid £6.5 billion from them over the next 3 years.

So what, they make loads of money anyway, right? Firstly, this does not justify covering up the mistakes he has made and New Labour's pouring of endless piles of cash into the black hole of our public services by stealing the money. Secondly, it's very short-sighted and will probably cost Britain a lot more in the long-term.

For a start, he's missing out on a chunk of corporation tax from where that money would have filtered through to the bottom line. Also the majors will have to hold on to some of the profits to replace the working capital he is depriving them, so shareholders will not be paying as much CGT or tax on dividends to Mr Brown from that end. Most importantly, he is taking away what little incentive there was for the majors to invest in a depleting region, thus depriving the country of jobs and stability of supply of oil and gas.

Suddenly my own performance on the ice looks a lot more assured. Mr Brown seems to have gone crashing straight through it.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Aggressor from Pinner invades Iraq

Anyone notice that Norman Kember, the peace activist captured by those poor misunderstood "insurgents" in Iraq, is from Pinner? Funny how I'm the rabid right-wing nutcase from Pinner who supported our evil, Zionist-inspired crusade to take over the country, and I'm safe and warm at home, without a letter-bomb to defuse in months now, whilst that nice peace activist who no doubt marched against Blair's banby-killing bombs (and Free Palestine while you're at it), and went to help the oppressed in person, is most likely to come back to Pinner a foot shorter than when he left.

You see, I tread a line somewhere between Billy Connolly and Boris Johnson on this one. The guy knew he was running a lot of risks by going, but at least he wasn't inspired, like Ken Bigley, by money and adventure. His motives were good, but he (for which read "his type") lacked the hefty dose of realism that only gets administered to wishy-washy Stop The War liberals when they visit the people they think they are helping, and find that voting Democrat/Lib Dem doesn't stop them getting beheaded.

I hope Mr Kember returns home safe and sound of course. But in doing so, I also hope he brings a message not to continue turning the other cheek or making allowances for their cultural differences or their barbarity being a mere release of pent-up trauma of years of Saddamite rule. Whether you agreed with going into Iraq or not, for whatever reason (I think it was right to go in, but not for the reasons Blair used), the reality is this. We are there, democracy is beginning to emerge, Saddam is on trial for his life, and America really doesn't seem to want to run it as an oil fiefdom.

Oh, and the nutters will want to kill Whitey, regardless of your opinion on the rights and wrongs. Until we start understanding this simple truth, they'll keep hunting us down, and we'll have to keep fighting back. And the do-gooders will still see a moral equivalence between their intentional and callous acts of murder, and the collateral damage caused by trigger-happy Yanks.