Thursday, September 20, 2007

Congregation Ahavat Parnassah

Dear Members/Friends/Major benefactors,

It's time once more for my annual High Holydays message. This time of year always comes round so quickly after the summer delights of weddings, warm weather, trips to Eilat and periods of mourning. Normally at this time I sum up the last year, the events, people and the trends - all, of course, as they affect the Jews. Often I segue into a plug for our appeal (in which we reguarly trounce our neighbouring shul Shaarey Suburbia!) and tell you about all the worthwhile charities that we will be supporting as well as discussing the UJIA. But this year I want to do something different. I want to think about the notion of the new year. Now I know that many of you don't like it when I discuss religious matters, and I get many letters along the line of 'that not what I pay my membership for!'. But humour me for a moment. It may turn out that what is and isn't religious isn't so clear at all.

A passing non-Jew might well conclude, on walking through a Jewish area, that the Yamim Noraim represents the festival of Jewish hat wearing, double parking and standing outside the synagogue. A quick thinking gentile might even construct an impromtu theology, perhaps Jews wait outside the synagogue to commerate waiting for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai? Perhaps the strange semites wear hats and plimsols to recreate wandering in the wilderness? Either way the encounter at the (heavily fortified) gate of the synagogue is one of ethnic separation and suspicion, a small checkpoint to weed out undesirables so that once inside the full blown camaradarie of the yearly Jewish love in can begin. Strange then that Rosh Hashanah is actually a wholly universalist festival. Unlike all the others, Rosh Hashanah has no link to the Jewish people, no commeration of events in Jewish history, it marks a global event rather than an ethnic one. Radically in the rabbinic debate over where the near falls, Tishri wins over its rival Nissan, Rosh Hashanah is counted rather than Pesach, its polar opposite.

Aside then, from a polemically universalist commemoration of creation, what meaning can we find in our New Year? We learn that on Rosh Hashanah books are opened. in the plural. So this new year I'd like to suggest a we open some different books (although I realise that many rabbis have been sacked for such offenses). Not just the book of the Jewish people, not just the shul membership list, not just the books of jewish comfort, self-congratuation and platitudes. Many more than this: Books of the Saducees, Karaites, Gnostics, Judaeo-Christians, excommunicated kabbalists, anti-nomian Hassids, Sabbatians, Bolsheviks, Bundists, Judao-Islamic Syncretists, Rabbinic Anarchists, Half-jews, Queers, Anti-Zionists, Neo-Canaanites and 4 worlds, dancing, spliff smoking, meditating pardigm shifters. We need all of these, as Franz Rosenzweig taught "We must not give up anything, not renounce anything, but lead everything back to Judaism. From the periphery back to the centre; from the outside in". We need new books, or rather the forgotten old ones, to begin to deal with the slew of new questions. Let me briefly allude to some, aside from the obvious problems such as the price of Challah and poor quality of kosher wine: the end of 'meaning', end of jewish peoplehood, end of jewish nationalism, post Zionism, post-religion, and post-insularity-moving towards open ended, reconstructed, de-hierarchilized, joyful Post-Judaism to come. At this new year, we're desperately crying out for new books, new visions, new Jews.

Newness of course can be rather transient. What of the fate of previous New Jews, those strapping tough young hebrews who would work the land and shrug off the diaspora mentality? Somewhere between gentrification, Commentary magazine and the Neo Conservatives the new jews soon become old Jews, fitting in perfectly with a materialist ethnocentric worldview. The other, more long lasting usage is of comparison, x are the new Jews. Fit in Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Romanies etc. as the time requires. Here the newness is again transient, what if you are a new Jew that, with a change of circumstances, ceases to be a new Jew? It all gets rather confusing; do you then continue to be a Jew (perhaps becoming an old one), looking out for new new Jews, or do you, following the model of the genetic Jews, cease to be a Jew when others peoples are in the place where you previously stood? Must it be like Yehuda Ha Levi's dark fantasy, that once we gain power we are as immoral as anyone else? If you can only be a new Jew once it would seem so, it must remain a temporary state.

Just as the new year offers us an apparent fresh start, so being a new jew can be seen as a break, a radical transformation, a new begining, marking a total separation from the old. Yet much newness must take its lead from what has been and what has been forgotten. The historical positioning of Jews on the margins has led to a rich history of thought which is invaluable to the new jew. Now I know that many of us may indeed possess the little book of Jewish Knowledge, or even the Second little book of Jewish knowledge, but I feel our heritage may have something a little more substantial to offer, perhaps that newness is also oldness and that knowledge comes in books which are not necessarily little.

There is however, a cerain seduction in the new year's reinvention; the belief in a kind of all-too-easily-attained perfection. Now I know that there's a tendency to believe that the nice Sir Sacks must know all the answers and indeed live an exempary version of the life of a Jew, but we must be suspicious of what we find underneath his crown. Of course I appreciate fully that living in Mill Hill must seem like having arrived at the Jewish utopia, but I am here to warn you about the dangers of such thoughts. If our newness is to remain new and fresh, it can never arrive. It can never expect to arrive. Like the messiah, a perfect form of Judaism must be on the on hand continually strived for and on the other hand expected without a horizon of expectation. I would like to think that Judaism is perfectable, but this perfect version always remains to come. This messianic structure means that we always strive to improve on what we have and breeds in us a deep suspicion of those who claim or appear to have reached a Hebraic nirvanah.

At the end of Yom Kippur, we (those are still in shul) say Next Year in Jerusalem, the city whose gates the Messiah will first walk through. We say these words knowing that we will say them next year and the year after. We say these words even if we are sitting in Jerusalem itself. (Perhaps next year will will even have been able to take advantage of a bargain Ryanair flight to the holy city, but let me remind you, Michael O'Leary is not the messiah.) We can never reach Jerusalem, we can't even expect to reach Jerusalem, but we must never stop attempting to reach Jereusalem, a messianic post-time when wolves will be lying down with lambs, or perhaps more radically, when the human will have left the lamb alone. This is genuine messianism. Rather than madly proclaiming dead rabbis to be the messiah, or cajoling lapsed jews into performing mindless mitzvot, its about understanding a structure without content which demands of us that we never stop striving for a perfectly unattainable perfection.

Now, don't take any of this the wrong way. I won't be delaying the end of Nei'lah on the grounds that the end of the fast must always be 'yet to come'. And don't try turning up at my house univited on shabbat expecting some 'radical hospitality'! Maybe though, when we have our next AGM and debate the key issues of our times, such as whether we need a rotating bimah and should pets (but not women) be counted in our minyan we can start to see look ahead, to take small steps towards building a new Jewishness that is genuinely fit for post modernity.

Finally, I want to wish mazeltov to David and Rachel on their recent divorce, Yosef/Yusuf on his conversion to Islam and Shirley Cohen and Barry Weinberg at keeping their adulturous relationship secret until now. Look forward to seeing you all (In my dreams) in shul on Kol Nodrei. Just remember if you dont have a ticket you wont get in! I Know I said its a universalistic festival, but there are limits.........

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

Special request: Our synagogue is a holy building. Please treat it with respect. Please leave mobiles, Xboxes, vibrators, car keys, pen-knives, recreational drugs, with security at the entrance of the shul. They may be returned at end of service.


Our kiddushim are the talk of north-west London thanks to the hard work of the lovely Ladies Guild. They seem, however to have been rather too popular as certain indiviudals have been spotted arriving to shul just for the kiddush and avoiding the service. This is not permitted, and anyone attempting this will be apprehended by our security team.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nous accusons ensemble

Melanie Phillips is back after a summer break, and is on top form. Well ok, she has plagiarised her title from the core theme of a classic post-7/7 Freedmanslife posting, but I think it's forgivable, besides which it allowed me to get creative on my French... this is worthy of a reprint in full:

September 11, 2007
Nous accusons!

Tomorrow, an appeal starts in Paris in a case which encapsulates all that is most rotten and murderous about the media war against Israel and its truly monstrous consequences. At the beginning of the second intifada, an event occurred which more than any other was to incite mass hysteria against Israel, lead directly to the terrorist murder of Jews and whip up demonstrations and incitement against Israel and the west throughout the Arab and Muslim world. On September 30, 2000 viewers around the world watched a short news clip screened by the TV station France 2 which appeared to show the killing by the Israel Defence Force of a Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, at Netzarim junction in Gaza. The boy was shown crouching with his father behind a barrel next to a concrete wall in an apparently vain attempt to shelter from the gun-battle between Israel and the Palestinians that was raging around them. In his commentary on the incident France 2’s Israel correspondent, Charles Enderlin, declared that the IDF had killed the boy.

This footage become the iconic image of the intifada and the Palestinian ‘struggle’ against Israel. It served to incite terrorist violence and atrocities as well as inflaming hatred of Israel around the world. It was used in Palestinian educational materials to incite other children to turn themselves into human bombs. It was used repeatedly in al Qaeda’s videotape of the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. It was used to whip Iraqi Republican Guards into a frenzy before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And most stomach-churning of all, it was invoked by the Palestinian mob in Ramallah that lynched IDF reservists Yosef Avrahami and Vadim Novesche, who had taken a wrong turning, two weeks after the alleged al Durah killing. As Joanna Chandler wrote in

The consequences of their fatal error are well known: they were tortured and beaten to death in the Palestinian Authority police station, and their lifeless bodies thrown out of the station’s second story window to a throng of men howling, Allahu Akbar —God is great! They commenced to dismember and disembowel the soldiers’ corpses, and then passed the entrails on a platter to a hysterical mob numbering in the thousands who rejoiced as they literally chewed and swallowed the remains of their hated Jews. What is lesser known is that while eating the flesh and blood of their victims, in satisfaction and triumph, the good citizens of Ramallah chanted, not only, Allahu-Akbar—but the name of Mohamed al Durah!

But it quickly became apparent that the IDF could not have killed al Durah. Initially, the Israeli government had taken responsibility for his death, but it later concluded that the whole thing was a fraud because it was physically impossible for the IDF to have shot at the al Duras from their position that day at the Netzarim junction. Several other independent commentators came to the same conclusion, including extensive investigations by the French-language Israeli news agency MENA, a German television documentary film by Esther Schapira called Three Bullets and a Dead Child: Who Shot Muhammad al-Dura? and the Atlantic Monthly; along with Richard Landes, a Boston University historian, who has claimed on his blog, Augean Stables, his website, The Second Draft, and in three films—Pallywood, The Birth of an Icon, and Icon of Hatred—that the al Dura ‘killing’ was staged.

On November 24, 2004, Philippe Karsenty, founder of the French online media watchdog, Media Ratings, sent out an email to his subscribers in which he accused the France 2 television network of staging the al Durah ‘killing’. He called for the resignation of both Charles Enderlin and France 2’s News Director, Arlette Chabot, for their role in promulgating the alleged hoax. France 2 and Enderlin sued Karsenty for defamation, and won. Tomorrow sees the opening of Karsenty’s appeal. The behaviour to date of both the French judges and France 2 has been simply outrageous.

The footage in question was filmed by a Palestinian cameraman, Talal abu Rahma. France 2 is holding 27 minutes of raw footage of his film which it refuses to release. Independent investigators have repeatedly asked it to do so. It refuses point blank. Why? Since it transmitted parts of this footage, why does it refuse to release the rest of it? The most likely reason is that the unscreened footage proves that the ‘killing’ was indeed nothing of the kind.

During his trial last summer, Karsenty presented all the investigative evidence that had been accumulated. The prosecution brought no witnesses, and challenged none of his evidence. The recommendation of the Procureur was that Karsenty be acquitted. Yet astoundingly, the court decided against Karsenty and in favour of France 2 and Enderlin. It seems that the sole factor behind this perverse decision was a letter produced in court from the then French president Jacques Chirac to Enderlin in which Chirac praised Enderlin’s book and his general proficiency. That presidential encomium was apparently enough to persuade the judges that Enderlin could not possibly be guilty of journalistic fraud. Karsenty was accordingly judged guilty not on the basis of evidence against him—there was none — but because the French judiciary dances to attention whenever the French President jerks their strings, and the establishment sticks together.

From the evidence that has become available, it is quite clear that the ‘killing’ of Mohammed al Durah was nothing of the kind. Look for yourself. Here is the France 2 original film; and here is the Second Draft film which shows why it’s a fake. In her article, Joanna Chandler itemises some of the startling revelations in this footage:

Western audiences viewed a 55 second video of the supposed “killing,” at the end of which news commentators dolefully announce the “death” of the boy. The 55 seconds shown on television is actually 7 segments of film pieced together. At the end of the 7th segment, two fingers appear in the viewfinder, indicating that this last segment was a second “take.” The two fingers are only visible if the tape is played in slow motion. An additional 3 seconds of film exists—three seconds that television viewers were deprived of observing. In this segment, the “dead” boy and his father reappear. Then, something extraordinary occurs: The boy raises his elbow and right leg, turns his head and furtively looks around, replaces his head and elbow in the “dead” position, but appears to have forgotten about his leg. He leaves it suspended in the air for the duration of the clip.

The two fingers after the boy is pronounced dead, plus the clip of the boy’s movements after he supposedly “dies,” is widely available on the internet for all the world to see. Strangely, there has been little forensic, let alone, scientific and journalistic, curiosity about this novel phenomenon. Evidently, the fervent belief in life after death explains the absence of even a single collective guffaw—let alone any critical analysis of why a “corpse” would behave in so untoward a manner. Nor did the fact that Mohamed al Durah’s “death” required two “takes” arouse any journalistic, or even theatrical curiosity…

Although, the boy’s posthumous movements should have pronounced the al Durah hoax dead on arrival, there is no shortage of further evidence of the deception. The Israeli soldiers are alleged to have continuously shot the boy and his father from their guard post for a duration of 45 minutes, with the intention of killing them. In the film, the al Durahs are crouched against a wall. Immediately to the right of the screen is a cement barrel, topped by a concrete cinder block, also located against the wall. The al Durahs, the wall, and the barrel are in plain view of the camera, and the al Durahs appear to be using the barrel as a shield against fire coming from an unseen location on the other side of it. The unseen location is assumed to be the guard post from which, unseen assailants, presumably, Israeli soldiers, are, allegedly, “firing.” However, the al Durahs are concealed by the barrel and are, therefore, not visible to the soldiers in the guard post.

Because the Israeli soldiers could not see the pair, they could not have fired on them deliberately. Furthermore, even if Mohamed al Durah were shot by bullets coming from an unseen location on the other side of the barrel, by unseen assailants, presumably, Israeli, there should be bullet holes on the section of the barrel that directly faces him. In fact, not a single bullet exited the barrel from the supposed Israeli direction to reach the boy. There are no bullet holes on the side of the barrel behind which Mohamed al Durah is “hiding.” On the contrary, seven bullet holes were found in the wall against which the Al Durahs were crouched. The bullets that created these holes appeared to have been fired from the same direction from which the pair were being filmed, that is, from a Palestinian position located behind the camera, and not from the direction of the Israeli position, as alleged.

The boy’s father claimed that he had been shot in the hand, arm, elbow and leg and that he suffered a crushed pelvis. He also said that Mohamed received a bullet to his stomach that exited from the back. According to the cameraman, Abu Rahmeh, Mohamed bled for 20 minutes. But, in the film clip broadcast the world over, and in the additional 3 seconds not commonly seen by television viewers, there are no signs of blood on the Al Durahs, on the wall behind them, nor on the ground.

Three hours of raw footage from Reuters and AP, taken in the vicinity of the Netzarim junction in Gaza, on September 30, 2000—the very same day as the supposed “killing” of the boy—show dozens of Palestinian Arab children attacking the Israeli guard post, not only from the ground, but from adjacent buildings that looked down upon it, with Molotov cocktails, heavy objects, including appliances, stones, and other projectiles. Many of these landed on the roof directly over the heads of the approximately 20 soldiers inside. Surely, if they had desired to kill children, those in plain view, lobbing their Molotov cocktails, would have been easy targets—unlike the Al Durahs, who were not threatening the soldiers, were not attacking the soldiers, were not visible to the soldiers, were not in the line of fire of the soldiers, but were, in fact, impossible targets for the soldiers.

Despite the attempted arson and other violent aggression against the guard post, at no time are Israeli soldiers filmed firing upon the Arab Palestinian children. The dozens of reporters and cameramen observing the evil mischief of these “innocents” were waiting for them to provoke a shooting incident. If the Israeli soldiers had fired even a single shot at the children, it is impossible that the cameras would have missed it. Indeed, they were waiting for nothing else! In fact, other than the phony Al Durah “killing,” not a single Arab Palestinian child was reported killed or injured by Israelis at the Netzarim Junction that day. It is beyond the realm of possibility that the Israeli soldiers in the guard post would have ignored these children in favor of shooting at Mohamed al Durah and his father who were not violent, not present and not even visible to them.

This raw footage, in other sequences, is rich with evidence of typically staged atrocities and is widely available on the internet. One can see a phony ambulance evacuation and a pretend battle in which Arab Palestinians are firing into what turns out to be an empty building. There are scenes in which men dressed in civilian clothing are instructing others dressed in military uniform in the staging of heroic battle scenes with nonexistent Israeli soldiers. There are faked injuries. Phony “victims” are handled roughly and stuffed into ambulances while bystanders smile and give each other “high fives.” The al Durahs are seen crouching behind their barrel while a panicked crowd runs away. In another faked scene, a hoard of Arab Palestinians appears to be fleeing and scrambling to get out of the line of Israeli fire while other Arab Palestinians calmly stroll the streets, and go about their business with their children and families. If all the others are panicking, why aren’t they? The answer: They know the scene is staged.

This scandal has many layers of evil. It reveals the wickedness of the Palestinians who so cynically stage hoaxes like this, as a result of which murderous hatred and mass hysteria are exponentially spread and innocent people are attacked and butchered in a rising spiral of terrorist atrocities. It reveals the wickedness of western journalists who transmit footage they know is a fraud as a matter of routine, becoming as a result active collaborators in the deaths of innocents. As someone from France 2 remarked during this affair, ‘It happens all the time’. Sure it does — we saw it last year in the Lebanon war when ‘atrocities’ that had been faked by Hezbollah were transmitted as true accounts by broadcasting organisations which turned a blind eye to the evidence of journalistic fraud because the story they told fitted the broadcasters’ own prejudices. And it reveals the intellectual corruption of the French judiciary, which perpetrates a transparent injustice and in turn helps further promulgate a murderous lie because, instead of holding power to account, the French judiciary is in its pocket.

To my knowledge, there has been no coverage whatsoever of these revelations about the al Durah footage, let alone the Karsenty case, in the British media. That says it all. They are so resistant to the suggestion that the story in which they so fervently believe — that Israel is the evil aggressor in the Middle East and the Palestinians are their innocent victims —might be wrong, that they simply do not register any evidence which bears that out. How can it possibly be the case, they think, that fashionable progressive French journalists (like themselves) could deliberately make themselves party to a lie? Since in their own eyes progressive people are by definition the unique repository of moral virtue, anyone who challenges that position is by definition evil. It is therefore impossible that the Palestinians staged a theatrical hoax, impossible that France 2 deliberately transmitted such a fraud, impossible that the Israelis could be the innocent victims of such a deception. The image of the killing of Mohammed al Durah exists; and the image is all. Nothing else has any reality. The fact that the ‘corpse’ moved and peered behind its hand to see if the cameras were still filming is irrelevant. The terrible thing about so many western journalists is that they really do deeply and sincerely believe their own lies.

The trial of Philippe Karsenty is an event of the greatest political and cultural significance. It may well come to define the relationship of Europe to Israel and the Jews as devastatingly as the 19th century Drefyus affair — in which the false accusation of treason against a patriotic Jewish French army captain produced an outpouring of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice — once convinced an assimilated French journalist by the name of Theodor Herzl that there could be no future for the Jews unless they had their own country. But now the French are determined to traduce and defame that country, too.

The Karsenty appeal is a very big story indeed. Let’s see how many journalists, in these degraded times, are able to recognise it.