Wednesday, November 11, 2009


As most people know by now, my grandpa passed away a few weeks ago. For those who missed the levaya and shiva, and for posterity, here are a few thoughts and anecdotes about him. Firstly, the personal from the JC:

"MAISEL. Avrem. A kind, gentle, sharp-witted and principled man. Sadly passed away Saturday, October 31, aged 93. Much loved by all the family."

Having been a bit feeble for most of the week, but still lucid enough to recount some stories of his childhood to Mum and see his friends Michael B and Doreen, Grandpa took a very bad turn on the Saturday morning. At the time, my parents and cousin Claire were visiting Hilly and Al in Zurich, leaving only Helen back in the UK. The care home could see he was in his final hours, and managed to get hold of Julie in Zurich, who called me, and I got to Helen, just as she put her mobile on and got the awful news that it was too late. Julie sent Phillip down to shul to get Mum and Hilly, and as we all digested the news and booked planes home, Mum found some immediate comfort in the turn of events that saw us grandchildren deal with things first.

This was swiftly reduced by my inadvertent leaking of the news via Facebook before any other relatives had been informed. Oh well. Shows what a powerful medium it is, and Grandpa would have been chuffed to know he got his own status update - although he wasn't comfortable with t'internet, he understood it was something he had to learn, and had only recently got a computer and his own hotmail account.

When I got back to London, one of the first tasks was for me and Dad to go to the care home and sort out his possessions. I had been giving some thought to whether I wanted to see Grandpa "doing a Lenin" or not, given that my last contact with him had been back in the De'Ath Ward of Northwick Park (that's the ward on floors 1 to 16 for those who have not heard of it), and I was not sure if I wanted that to be my final image - a frail if stubborn man perched in a hospital bed.

In fact, staunch supporter of universal free healthcare that he was, even he was so underwhelmed with his experience there that at one point, he took a bit of a stand. When they had delayed a minor operation for the third time (the second being entirely the hospital's own fault, having fed him breakfast despite the surgeon requiring nil by mouth for 24 hours before the op), the orderlies told him he may as well go and have some lunch, as they wouldn't be able to fit him in until the following day. He said no thanks. They said whaaat? He said he was going to refuse all food just in case an opening came up for surgery and he missed it because he had eaten something. When they understood he was actually going on hunger strike - a 93 year old diabetic with a dodgy foot and a solid 15 years of mileage on a heart bypass - they miraculously found an operating theatre and a surgeon.

As it happens, the decision was rather abruptly taken out of my hands, when we went to Grandpa's room, the nurse pushed the door open - and there he was, still in bed! In fact it was strangely reassuring, once I got used to it. The cliché was definitely true - he was lying there looking so peaceful, as if he was finally getting some decent sleep. The sun was streaming in through the window, and his room was really very nice (I had not seen it before as he went from hospital to care home only after I moved to Tel Aviv), with his favourite paintings and family pictures around him, and a lovely garden view outside.

This was the first moment when I realised that there might be certain items of his that I might stake a unique claim to - I have inherited his round shoulders and barrel chest, and am a pretty good fit for a whole range of rather nice jumpers, shirts and coats. Special mention must go to the stunning sheepskin jacket - Motty eat your heart out. At the levaya on the Tuesday, it felt very right to be there wearing his fab Dunn and Co trilby, red and blue check scarf and very lush gloves with fur lining.

Over the course of the week, we shared some great anecdotes about him, and also had a look through the accumulations of his and Grandma's lifetimes in the flat on Harrow Hill. I was particularly thrilled to find his membership card for the Labour Party, and remembered him telling Mum he was only voting for Blair to get them in, then was hoping for "Real Labour" to emerge. How prophetic - and unfortunate for the rest of the family, who have not inherited his socialist tendencies!

We had many political debates over a Shabbat table, at their flat and at Eastglade, over the years. Grandpa always enjoyed the intellectual rigours of it, even though he knew I would not be persuaded. Right until the end, he was reading the Guardian or having someone read it for him, and although he was a proper leftie, he wrote to them when he felt they crossed too big a line on the Israel thing (or in fact, dictated to Grandma who wrote off in her lovely bubble handwriting).

I was sitting with him in early July 2005, having his usual lunch of Ryvita and crackers and listening to Radio 4, when they announced that London had won the right to stage the Olympics. He switched off the radio and said "well, that will be a disaster. Thank God I'll be dead by then!" I don't think he can have envisaged cutting it quite so fine...

He did manage to come to one sporting event though - the FA Cup Final, when Cardiff played Portsmouth:

Somehow he managed to still get in his traditional afternoon nap during most of the second half, despite 80,000 spectators cheering all around him.

One of our favourite moments with him was on a weekend in Christchurch, not long after Grandma died, when we had a lovely suite together at the Captain's Cabin. After dinner, he had got into bed, and Mum asked him if he had brushed his teeth. He said "not tonight". On further interrogation: "I'm 93 and I don't feel like it." What a geezer.

I also remember being on the Bessies' balcony in Zurich playing Scrabble with him at dusk. As it got darker, he was struggling to see the board, so he said "let's shed some light on this" and whipped out a pocket torch to shine at his letters.

He generally kept in good spirits and set himself new targets to live for. Not least of these was to see his first great-grandchild. When Yosi was born, he and Grandpa seemed to be taking it in turns to be ill, but Grandpa hung in there for long enough to meet him once, on a sunny afternoon in the garden of the home, just a week before the end.

Perhaps because of this final achievement, I don't think any of us were massively shocked by the timing of Grandpa's passing. Mum has been saying  to Dad for about 30 years that Grandpa was on his last legs, and this time might be the last she would see him, but after her visit to him last week, when he was so enfeebled but still felt the urge to tell her some of his life story, his early childhood memories (which Mum, in a homage to her day job, took thorough notes on), she really knew.

And I think so did he. A few days earlier, Dad had been visiting him to discuss some financial matters, and although Grandpa was really feeling under the weather, he wanted to hear my news. Dad read him my latest blog entry (luckily there was no autopsy so nobody can prove that this was what killed him), the one about my nascent love affair with Tel Aviv. Afterwards, Grandpa insisted on calling me, despite Dad feeling he was too weak and that I would be able to tell he was poorly.

Although he could hardly speak in more than a small, croaking voice, he managed to tell me he was so happy that I had "found love". Those were the last words he would ever say to me.

I cannot help but feel profoundly uplifted by his incredible dignity, knowing that he was in his final days, and that even when he was so tired in every way, he reached across thousands of miles to give a parting blessing. He must have guessed that my only real guilty feeling about leaving the UK was the sense of abandoning him, and I had felt, deep inside, however much I tried to repress it, that back then in the hospital in August, as I kissed his forehead and walked away, it would prove to be a final goodbye. I am sure he knew too, but - in a homage to the legendary stoicism of Grandma - he just gave me a classic Grandpa grin and wave.

As I return to my Altneuland, I have this strong sense that I am bringing his indomitable spirit with me. All I can hope for is to carry myself for even a fraction of my life with his humility, integrity and humour in the face of whatever adversity I am faced with.

Rest in peace, Grandpa. Even if Labour lose in May.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The honeymoon

It's been nearly 8 weeks since I got to Israel, and I am still enjoying the "honeymoon period". I have been reminded by a very awesome guy (mush!) to always be aware that I get a very extended honeymoon period on my aliyah (yes, I am biting the bullet) because of the good fortune of having generous and wonderful parents and grandparents who have endowed me with a very soft landing here for my first year or so.

I want them to know that not a moment goes by here where I do not remember how lucky I am to be here on these terms, and I will be eternally thankful to them.

I look around me at people also just arriving (in some cases really crash-landing), and I see the many stresses and fears they have, their lives one endless stream of struggles with language, accommodation, employment, finance, bureaucracy and distance from loved ones. I feel awful that perhaps they do not have the same opportunity to luxuriate in everything that makes moving here momentous. All I can do is try and take advantage of the fact that out here I have the three key features olim hadashim require - chutzpah, protectsia and savlanut, and maybe try to give people a hand where possible. Perhaps this is one country where you really can and should "pay it forward".

On a wider level, one of my ambitions is to eventually set about improving the aliyah experience for people who choose to come here. It sounds odd that those are the ones that need the help, but actually the state does an adequate job looking after those who have no other choice, and in the longer term, Israel needs to attract the best and brightest of the Diaspora. For them to come here voluntarily and put down roots requires material compromise, so they have to be given a chance to experience something meaningful that replaces the loss of earnings that is almost inevitable.

Because Western olim by and large have the safety net of going back, it takes something quite powerful and profound to continue to anchor them here. In the words of one of my new friends (Polo), he is "earning what I did in London 12 years ago, in a position of seniority I had 7 years ago... but in lifestyle terms, back in the UK I wouldn't be at this level for another 10 years."

How can this be translated into spiritual, emotional and intellectual advancement, not just a statement about career, social and material change?

When I tell some of the little anecdotes of coincidences and moments that have happened to me here, something clearly resonates with native Israelis and both recent and settled olim. But whilst some people do have their own stories to tell, so many just don't have the time and cannot find the mental and emotional space to be open to these things, because of the aforementioned draining process of getting here and getting settled.

There is a reason why this place is like nowhere else, and it is because there is a unique quality to the people and a special atmosphere to every inch of the land that is so hard to describe, and indeed is perhaps unique to each of us. Everyone who has been here and felt a moment of love for this noisy, hot, dusty, dishevelled place knows what I am talking about. It could be the waft of hyssop and jasmine when out on a kibbutz, the unique Tel Aviv beach sounds of clip-clopping matkot and the ice-cream guy shouting "artic, artic", or the moment your ears pop when a very fast taxi driver takes you up into the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (I always think this moment marks the spiritual crossing-point, like some higher being clearing your ears so you can hear a different tone and quality of sound that echoes from those white stones).

Now I am learning not to be too pompous or self-important with all these thoughts and what I write here, and perhaps I don't always succeed, but what I hope is that by trying in my own way to express them and tell my stories, maybe the odd visitor or olah hadashah will just be a bit more open to these experiences for themselves. Not just having them, but being willing to recognise and explore them, without seeming weird or religious. It doesn't help physically with the chores and pressures of being here, but mentally I think it changes the experience completely.

But how to channel this into something practical? This being Israel, everyone has their ideas. I enjoyed a fabulous meal out with T&T (mazel tov on your engagement!) and their lovely friends last night, and we had some discussion about this.

One of the great assets of Israel is the heavily subsidised ulpan system to ensure that anyone who wants to learn Hebrew for any reason and any period of time can do so at a very affordable price. Despite this being a fantastic attraction for many young Jews who want to "try before they buy" - I was one of them - I was horrified to learn that the government are cutting ulpan budgets, and this will have the effect of raising prices or losing classes, or both. This is tragic, short-sighted and counter-productive. Having an accessible ulpan is just as important as Birthright or Masa. Write to the Knesset immediately!

We also talked about ways to improve the city using private money, to create new quarters in the way that Neve Tzedek, anchored by a resplendent Suzanne Dallal Centre, has been transformed. There are many neighbourhoods where a similar process would reap benefits. The key is to make this city proud of itself and try to get the residents to look past the end of their noses.

Israel is a funny place with an inverted value chain of civic pride and public behaviour. In the UK, people hold the door open for you, queue politely, generally don't litter, and obey the no smoking sign. Here, the opposite is true - in fact, they almost relish the barging. But here, if you stumbled on the street, people would rush to check if you were okay, whilst in the UK, people might well politely step over you on their way to the Tube. I know which I would rather have.

But it is not enough. If it can be transformed into a wider civic pride, combined with better care of surroundings, for example not just accepting the unkempt appearance of 80% of the buildings here because they look fine from the inside, perhaps we can have the best of both worlds.

We have to start small - and the advantage of being here is that sense of ownership. The other day, I was on a station platform in Netanya, and saw two kids in army uniform. One took out the last ciggie from his packet, and flicked the empty box at the bin. It missed, and he left it lying on the floor. I went up, said in my bastard Hebrew "you're in uniform, set an example and show some respect", picked up the box and dropped it in the trash.

The kid was completely stunned, probably because people here usually let this sort of sloppy behaviour slide. But I think along the lines of "broken windows theory" - you have to fix the small ills in society before going after the big prizes. And today that kid is chucking a fag-packet, but tomorrow he could be holed up in some Palestinian's house in Gaza, showing the same contempt for their home as for the station platform, or he could be letting his dog crap somewhere on Ruppin so Freedmansister is guaranteed to put her foot in it on the way back from the beach.

I think it is incumbent on Israelis and olim to keep trying to inspire and exhort each other to stay here, even when the going gets tough. This is a pioneering country whose frontiers remain unsecured and undefined, 60 years after creation. It is not an easy place to survive, let alone thrive in, and whilst the cliché of the Israeli Sabra (hard and prickly exterior, soft and sweet inside) is true, some people are disillusioned by the barbs that stick in the hand and craw, and never get as far as scooping out the lush fruit within.

An example: last night I was out for birthday drinks of an old friend at the Dancing Camel Brewery, and ran into Arik Bradshaw, a friend from ulpan. We ended up taking a little walk along the seafront and up to Ben Yehuda, just as the heavens were opening, and she told me how she was struggling financially and therefore physically and mentally, to make a go of it here. Her Hebrew was improving at a dazzling pace thanks to a fun but poorly-paid cafe job, but she felt homesick and to some extent thought Tel Aviv lacked certain things she had been relying upon to make the experience worthwhile and complete.

One of the main things she emphasised was that she had expected this to be a city full of live music culture, and that she was learning the violin. I pointed out that there were plenty of places to go, if she knew where to look, but this clearly was not enough to inspire her. Then, just as we walked down Ruppin to the end of the alley that runs down to Ben Yehuda, we suddenly heard the strains of violins and an accordion, playing Jewish or Central European music.

As a light drizzle turned into a full-scale downpour, complete with the crashing cymbals and drums of thunder and lightning, we ducked into the little pitzutzia at the foot of the alley, where half a dozen people were sitting under the awning at 1am, as three guys from Slovakia or somewhere nearby were playing merrily. The Bulgarian shopkeep merrily handed out pints of Czech draught beer, and gradually more and more people passing by, running to get out of the rain, came and huddled in this little corner shop.

The three men played for a solid hour and by the end, maybe 20 people were squeezed in under the shelter, clapping and singing. Arik was delighted and clearly reinvigorated, not least when one of the players let her play a few bars on his violin.

Only an hour or so earlier, when had just been trying to explain that this kind of small miracle makes up my daily experience here, she appreciated it and felt glad for me, but perhaps couldn't really grasp it for herself. Now, she seemed a different person, her eyes shining, a big beaming smile on her face.

And all of this in the rain! It's amazing how that first deluge of autumn doesn't actually dampen people's spirits here but seems to raise them. There is a sense of camaraderie when everyone is caught outside without coats and umbrellas, and a feeling of common sacrifice that although we may not get to have our 158th consecutive day on the beach, this country needs the water. It never lasts too long, as the novelty washes off, but it is delightful to read all the positive Facebook and Twitter updates from olim hadashim about that first moment of British weather.

I hope the forecast 4 days of solid rain will at least focus my mind on actually making a living and doing some work - to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven, right? The glorious weather has put a wonderful gloss on my first few weeks here, but now to knuckle down and make a living, and see if the honeymoon lasts.

Now I am off to make some fresh baklava (almond and orange-blossom this week). Shabbat shalom!

Glossary for the uninitiated (ie uncircumcised)

Ulpan - intensive Hebrew language school
Aliyah - Jewish immigration to Israel
Pitzutzia - little corner shop that always has something random for sale
Savlanut - patience
Chutzpah - blarney/cheek
Protectsia - network of useful people for any problem
Olim hadashim - new immigrants
Matkot - beach bat and ball game

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I loved her, and now she is here

Setting the scene: Freedmansdad has been out here for a long weekend while Freedmansmum and Freedmansister have a girlie (girdly?!) weekend in Lille. So too are the Cors, for a wedding (Ham is at home babysitting the toastie machine), and we met up with them for a drink on the beach (well, I sat there while the waitress pointedly refused to take my order - I guess she was one of those who take the Service Not Included thing on the bill quite literally here). Also flying through were one of Freedmansdad's old friends from back in the valleys, and his goody wife.

The leading questions they all had for me were of course whether I was settling in and whether I would stay, and also what made this place so special and better than London. I could only answer this through a series of anecdotes...

Avid readers of Freedmanslife will recall that I recently described my short time here as a life less ordinary. I said that I felt much more aware of my surroundings, much more in tune with people, nature and the world. I also thought I was in love with the city, and had this strange and magical sense that it loved me back. Perhaps there was some kind of Tel Aviv Syndrome (a cross between Jerusalem Syndrome [Type II] and Stockholm Syndrome but with fewer frummers than the former and better beaches than the latter).

I also felt that this was a place where finally I would find the time and space to become the person I always thought I was capable of - in fact, the person so many others always thought I could become, but that got bogged down in London, became listless and dull, and in relative terms to potential, really was a bit of a failure. I can be this self-critical now, because in just a few short weeks, I have started to turn it around.

This city and its people inspire me to read, write, debate, live a healthier lifestyle (so much that I have gained hair and lost belly at a rapid pace, and an old friend from London didn't recognise me standing next to him on the beach!), give myself quality time alone, blended with meaningful time with other people, try new recipes, hang out with artists, dancers and dandies (longstanding Freedmanslifers will understand this represents a radical change), take long walks, set challenges for myself (ie get fit enough to do shlav bet [short voluntary army service for new olim] and then walk the entire 1,000km Israel Trail - does this sound like the old Fatty Freedman?!) and actually put into practice all those things I said I would do a month ago.

Is this a honeymoon period? Maybe. But so many others I know who have moved here, some quite a few years ago, are still in it. So now I am pretty convinced that this is where I belong, because as the hackneyed expression goes, home is where the heart is.

Last week, I was having my daily sunset swim, when I felt a most powerful sensation that I had to turn around and look back at the beach. On doing so, my eye was drawn immediately to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I began to swim back to the shore, determined to go up and say something. No sooner had I got close to the beach than an even more powerful feeling overtook me, that it was vitally important not to speak to her after all.

So I sauntered on by, grabbed my towel and went for a shower, before heading up the steps behind the beach, to take my usual seat on a bench on the promenade and enjoy the sunset. As I made my way up, I passed a guy heading in the opposite direction. He was clearly dressed up a bit more than he might be usually, and was holding a large bouquet of flowers. Despite there being hundreds of people on the beach, I knew he was heading to that breathtaking girl.

And of course, that is exactly what he did. Even from a distance, I could see she was delighted to see him. Although I was desperate to know what the occasion was, the whole point was that she was someone very special whose special moment I had narrowly avoided casting a pall over, and I could hardly pop over and ask.

As I enjoyed another delicious ever-changing canvas of red and orange, misty greys and deep blues, and reflected on this, I felt profoundly connected to my surroundings, and comforted by the knowledge that one day I would be that guy coming down the steps at sunset.

Earlier in Freedmansdad's stay, I had told him I was no longer sure if I believed in coincidence, and indeed, since I had been here, every one of these "chance" encounters had been profound or practical. Last night I recounted some of this, and the sensation of being in a deep love affair with the city, to
Valley and Goody as we headed up to the closing party of the Tel Aviv 100th anniversary celebrations. I think they thought I was a bit mad, until we arrived, and the chorus of the opening song, referring to this city, was "I loved her, and now she is here". As the fireworks went off, and the faces and facades of the city flashed up on a clever screen formed by a mist of water on the Yarkon River, I knew my love was not unrequited.

If I had any remaining doubts, they were dispelled, when after the fog of the fireworks started drifting away along with the audience, we turned around, and right in front of me were four of my most special Israeli friends, who I had yet to see since arriving. After a lot of hugging and kissing, we enjoyed a spectacular concert of some of Tel Aviv's greatest bands of the 80s and 90s, playing together for an immense crowd, in a wonderful, convivial atmosphere.

What a night. What a month. What a life.

She loved me, and now I am here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ahmedinejad is a Jew-hating self

Okay, so even though the following appears in the Guardian, it does appear to be quite plausible:

Ahmadinejad has no Jewish roots

Rumours that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's family converted to Islam from Judaism are false. In fact, they are proud Shias, by Meir Javedanfar.

In June 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's meteoric rise from mayor of Tehran to president of one of the most influential countries in the Middle East took everyone by surprise.

One of the main reasons for the astonishment was that so little was known about him.One recently published claim about his background comes from an article in the Daily Telegraph. Entitled "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past", it claims that his family converted to Islam after his birth. The claim is based on a number of arguments, a key one being that his previous surname was Sabourjian which "derives from weaver of the sabour, the name for the Jewish tallit shawl in Persia".

Professor David Yeroshalmi, author of The Jews of Iran in the 19th century and an expert on Iranian Jewish communities, disputes the validity of this argument. "There is no such meaning for the word 'sabour' in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian. Also, the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name," he stated in a recent interview. In fact, Iranian Jews use the Hebrew word "tzitzit" to describe the Jewish prayer shawl. Yeroshalmi, a scholar at Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies, also went on to dispute the article's findings that the "-jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "This ending is in no way sufficient to judge whether someone has a Jewish background. Many Muslim surnames have the same ending," he stated.

Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of "Sabourjian" emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad's native village in 2005, the name "derives from thread painter – sabor in Farsi – a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated". This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.

According to both Naji and Tait, Ahmadinejad's father Ahmad was in fact a religious Shia, who taught the Quran before and after Ahmadinejad's birth and their move to Tehran. So religious was Ahmad Sabourjian that he bought a house near a Hosseinieh, a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.

Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mother is a Seyyede. This is a title given to women whose family are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Prophet Muhammad. Male members are given the title of Seyyed, and include prominent figures such as Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In Judaism, this is equivalent to the Cohens, who are direct descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. One has to be born into a Seyyed family: the title is never given to Muslims by birth, let alone converts. This makes it impossible for Ahmadinejad's mother to have been a Jew. In fact, she was so proud of her lineage that everyone in her native village of Aradan referred to her by her Islamic title, Seyyede.

The reason that Ahmadinejad's father changed his surname has more to do with the class struggle in Iran. When it became mandatory to adopt surnames, many people from rural areas chose names that represented their professions or that of their ancestors. This made them easily identifiable as townfolk. In many cases they changed their surnames upon moving to Tehran, in order to avoid snobbery and discrimination from residents of the capital.

The Sabourjians were one of many such families. Their surname was related to carpet-making, an industry that conjures up images of sweatshops. They changed it to Ahmadinejad in order to help them fit in. The new name was also chosen because it means from the race of Ahmad, one of the names given to Muhammad.

According to Ahmadinejad's relatives the new name emphasised the family's piety and their dedication to their religion and its founder. This is something that the president and his relatives in Tehran and Aradan have maintained to the present day. Not because they are trying to deny their past, but because they are proud of it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ahmedinejad is a self-hating Jew

This one needs to be re-read a few times to be believed:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past... vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by The Daily Telegraph shows.
By Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat

A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots. A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.

Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past. Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him. "Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith. "By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."

A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said it would not be drawn on Mr Ahmadinejad's background. "It's not something we'd talk about," said Ron Gidor, a spokesman.

The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch. Relatives have previously said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four.

The Iranian president grew up to be a qualified engineer with a doctorate in traffic management. He served in the Revolutionary Guards militia before going on to make his name in hardline politics in the capital.

During this year's presidential debate on television he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe. However Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.

Mr Ahmadinejad has regularly levelled bitter criticism at Israel, questioned its right to exist and denied the Holocaust. British diplomats walked out of a UN meeting last month after the Iranian president denounced Israel's 'genocide, barbarism and racism.'

Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned denunciation of the Iranian leader at the same UN summit. "Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium," he said. "A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the State of Israel, the State of the Jews. What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations."

Mr Ahmadinejad has been consistently outspoken about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. "They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets," he declared at a conference on the holocaust staged in Tehran in 2006.

[ Incidentally I noticed that whilst Ahmedinevich is busy denying the Holocaust, the Taleban not only recognise it happened, but used it as the basis of a threat to German NATO troops in Afghanistan that they would wipe them out in a similar way to how the Nazis killed the Jews... ]

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Goldstone's passion for works of fiction

I have so far refrained from having a good old dig at Richard Goldstone for his quite incredible (I mean it literally, it's not credible) report for the UN on the Gaza operation. In part this is because Dershowitz (x3), Phillips et al have done such a good job already. I also found a peach from Evelyn Gordon about the use of proportion and force - not recommended for weak-hearted lefties. Even the Economist, which might generously be described as a critical and naive friend of Israel, managed to say something decent. And I had to pick myself up off the floor after reading an article from notoriously self-flagellating former Ha'aretz editor David Landau.

We already know the story of Goldstone sleeping through one of the sessions where residents of the bombed towns of Israel were giving evidence to his committee. But I had to share with you this little treasure which has somehow gone unreported in the British media, despite casting even more doubt over Goldstone's capabilities and ability to discern fact from fiction:

When Goldstone Indicted a Fictional Character (and a Dead Man)

by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

Judge Richard Goldstone, whose recent United Nations Human Rights Council investigation purported to find evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, once indicted a fictional Serbian character and a dead man for war crimes as well. As in Gaza, those indictments were also allegedly based on "eyewitness testimony."

Goldstone headed the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the United Nations in 1993. In 1995, one year into his term as chief ICTY prosecutor, Goldstone presented an indictment of several Serbs for war crimes and crimes against humanity. As brought to light in the weekend edition of the Hebrew-language Makor Rishon newspaper, among those indicted was a man identified as "Gruban".

Gruban, later identified more fully as Gruban from Bijelo Polje, was charged with viciously raping Muslim prisoners in what was identified by the prosecution as essentially a Serbian concentration camp. His crimes were given weight by an anonymous individual identified only as "Witness F", who claimed to have suffered at the hands of the notorious war criminal.

As described by Makor Rishon, "Within just a few months, the black silhouette of 'Gruban' was plastered on a poster of the most wanted war criminals in Bosnia." At the time, Makor Rishon noted, the American newspaper The Boston Globe published an article wondering why the poster of "Gruban" stated that his description, father's name, location and age were all listed as "unknown".

The problem for NATO forces in tracking down the serial rapist was that Gruban from Bijelo Polje, also known as Gruban Malic, is a fictional character from Hero on a Donkey, a famous Serbian novel about World War II by Miodrag Bulatovic.

The Gruban hoax was the result of a conversation in a Bosnian cafe between Yugoslavian war correspondent Nebojsa Jevric and an American journalist desperate to see a "real war criminal", according to Makor Rishon. Jevric identified "Gruban Malic" by name as the Serbian people's "worst war criminal", having committed the most rapes.

After the indictment of "Gruban" became known, Jevric capitalized on his countrymen's bemused fascination with Goldstone's "investigation" and wrote a book called Hero on a Donkey Goes to The Hague. In the book he detailed how his comment to an American reporter took on a life of its own.

In 1998, even after the true identity of the "war criminal" was known, the charges against "Gruban Malic" were officially dropped for lack of evidence by Goldstone's successor. Thirteen other flesh-and-blood Serbs were also taken off the same ICTY indictment docket alongside "Gruban" - including a man that Goldstone indicted several years after he had already died.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rav Freedman's Yom Kippur Message

Tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and one of a handful that receives close to impeccable levels of observance (at least in public places) from even the most secular of Israelis, in terms of not eating, driving cars, yacking on mobiles etc. They do however let their kids go cycling and rollerblading down the middle of the totally deserted streets of the city, which is surreal and somehow incredibly beautiful - the buzz of traffic (especially the ubiquitous Israeli honking) replaced by the tinkle of bike bells and sound of children playing everywhere.

Somehow this juxtaposition seems quite appropriate: the solemnity of the day for adults, on a Jewish religious and spiritual level but also as the 36th anniversary of a war that blew away Israel's ideal of invulnerability post-'67; and teenage kids taking advantage of 2 miles of Dizengoff to build up a head of steam on their scooters.

This time of year is always a period of reflection, for the religious and secular, as families get together, broadcasters run their summaries of the year that was, (some) people go to shul in the old-fashioned way, and - even more than it usually does - being in a city composed almost entirely of other Jews, built by our own hand in just the last 100 years, I find myself more contemplative than ever (despite my minimal attendance at shul). I think about all the things I did last year, those I really shouldn't, and consider that the best way to seek forgiveness for the latter is by not doing them again, and striving to redeem myself by actively doing the right things (and doing things right - harming no-one but frittering away time and ability is almost as sinful in my view).

I particularly ponder why I am here - what draws me to Israel, not just on the practical level of it being a financial imperative, a natural break point in my life back in London, crammed full of gorgeous Jewish women at a time when (apparently) I ought to be thinking of settling down with one, and all under delicious blue skies and next to lapping waves.

Some avid readers have been kind enough to post the odd remark or comment on my notes so far, and some more forthright friends have voiced their opinions on my move here. Among these are "I always thought you would go, I am just surprised it took you this long", "why on earth would you live there... there's nothing there", "hope the honeymoon phase lasts", "soooo jealous", "wish I had the courage to do the same" and "still as impartial as ever, Michael!"

With this interesting blend of views in mind, I got to thinking about the bits I am less keen on. Not the obvious stuff that as a Brit abroad, I notice in most places, ie the total ignorance of the concept of personal space, the general barging and pushing by people and vehicles, the grudging service and so on. Israeli society is a long way from perfect, and I question (as do many others) why I would trade the apparent comforts of London life for the daily challenges of living here.

There are problems here on so many levels, with a religious-secular divide, an Arab-Jewish divide, an Israeli-Palestinian divide, a Sephardi-Ashkenazi divide, all the lovely neighbours, water shortages, lack of recycling, general pollution and litter, the fact that having a country has just changed the nature of the Wandering Jew into something more optional, the general level of corruption and protectsia and so on. Then there are all the same ones we suffer from in the UK - a widening gulf between the elite and the poor, alarming levels of hidden poverty, over-reliance on the state by too many sectors of society, concerns about education and health, and the impact of a global financial crisis.

However, the difference I see here, and this is what compels me to be here, is that these are our problems. For all that people in every country like a good old grizzle about such problems, the blame is usually placed on the government or the mystical "they", no practical solutions are mooted, let alone ones which the debaters feel like trotting off and implementing themselves, and the end result is usually a polite but resigned sigh then a cup of tea (British goyim) or a throwing up of hands in the air and an oy va voy then a cup of tea (British Jews).

Here, it is a pretty small country, and the constant interference in each other's personal space and good old protectsia do have their uses. People who feel strongly about something can - and often do - get off their butts and try to fix it. This is the entrepreneurial nature of society, on a commercial and social level. See a disease, an injustice, an empty patch of land, a gap in the market, an opinion that needs a counter-argument, and go do something about it.

For me this is the Israeli way. Or at least, it was.

My greatest concern for Israel is that young people here are tired. They are tired of creating your heart and cancer drugs, your mobile phone chips, your laptops, your desalination and solar technologies, your irrigation systems, your instant messenger, your citrus fruit, only to receive endless calls for a boycott of Israeli goods.

They are tired of silently suffering 8,000 rockets aimed at them with no international condemnation, tired of responding by emailing, texting and leafleting the civilians near the rockets to please step aside, before putting troops on the ground at great risk to check if they left before firing back, when airstrikes would be safer for them, tired of the anonymous and unproven claims of systematic abuse of civilian populations and property during this mission, tired of the world believing every one of the blood libels spread by a side that threw its own brothers off buildings, tired of having to keep checkpoints because although they are inconvenient, they do cut the threat of bombs, tired of removing hundreds of them at their own risk, but getting no thanks from anyone, least of all the Palestinians, tired of being the ones to make concession after concession when the reward for doing so is 8,000 rockets.

And you know what? Sixty-one years of living in this neighbourhood, trying to make peace with neighbours in a white Western Ashkenazi philosophical manner, trying to "civilise" them, has not worked. In fact I think the opposite is starting to happen. Instead, they are brutalising us.

Let us not just blame the average Palestinian in the street - it is the result of years of steady inculcation of the message that Jews have no claim over any part of this region, that Jews are evil, that Jews drink the blood of Palestinian children, that Jews killed Mohammed al-Durra, that Jews invented the Holocaust.

For as we tumbled into a chicken-and-egg of being attacked, having to occupy these people, thereby unintentionally and unwillingly reinforcing these myths, and creating the next generation of attackers, the world did not stand idly by. Far from it. The world perpetuated this state of affairs by funding the camps, the textbooks, the weaponry, by allowing the smuggling, the revision of history, the barrage of rockets, by failing to even maintain a pretence of impartiality in its reporting, its institutional rulings, its policies.

So to all those people out there in the world, who really believe they are fair-minded decent liberal people, and if only nasty little Israel would learn to behave, everything would resolve itself nicely, my message
this Yom Kippur is this. You should look at yourselves and understand that you hate Israel because we are a reflection of you. A quote from Stephen King's article in the Irish Examiner - "could it actually be that we see Israelis as very much like ourselves – sophisticated, prosperous, well-educated, fairly pale-skinned democrats? Do we hate ourselves that much?"

I propose that you are so terrified of having this same situation on your own doorstep on a daily basis, and more so, terrified of how you would react, whether submissively or repressively, that you demonise Israel even as it struggles with these demons on a daily basis.

Abbas, Erekat et al have admitted in the past few months (just not to the English-speaking media) that they will effectively never sign a peace treaty. They retained the right to try and wipe out Israeli in their constitution, they stated that there is only Allah above and below the Temple Mount (ie even a theoretical Jewish/Israeli right to what is under the Dome of the Rock would be rejected because the Muslim world would tolerate no less, and how can any Israeli government - especially one in coalition with the frummers, sign that away?!), and they continue with the usual equivocations elsewhere. And these are the "moderates"!

This is a conundrum for the world to resolve - cue throwing up of hands and an exasperated sigh, followed by a cup of tea and a spot of BBC News.

To Israelis and to Jews everywhere, my message is that we do not have to be brutalised by our neighbours, enemies and critics, and we should not try to impose our own cultural and philosophical norms on them.

For the Jews, whether in the Diaspora or Israel, instead let us look to ourselves, to all the problems we need to fix internally. Why is there such visceral hatred between settlers and peaceniks, even though they both love Israel and their enemies want them both dead or exiled (just maybe in order)? Why do I not have a mixed-recycling bin as even backward Blighty manages in many areas? Why does the Gordon Beach manage to look pristine on the sand and in the water most days, but is still subject to a layer of flotsam and debris on others? Why must Israeli drivers continue to kill more civilians than the rockets and bomb-belts? Why can't Israeli society learn that Jews have been around for six millenia, outliving every other tribe and nation, including the ones who tried to wipe us out, and therefore show just a little care and patience when it comes to customer service, waiting, queuing, giving a smile every now and then? Why is anyone homeless or hungry in this land, where we have several billionaires, GDP per capital that competes with Europe, and we "have never seen a righteous person in need"?

Why does everyone use the excuse of "this is the Middle East" to explain away every problem (including why Israel is maybe becoming more desensitised to brutality and violence) when the Bauhaus architecture, phenomenal technology, H&M and Ikea, obsession with education, constant self-flagellation, democracy, social liberalism, melting-pot of opinions and beliefs, and easy ability to obtain schnitzel clearly mark us out as a Western society, regardless of which shore we have washed up on?

We are in a unique and blessed situation. Israel was formed by "kibbutz galuyot", the ingathering of exiles - but it is also "Kibbutz Galuyot" in the sense of being a commune of people from the world over, with their ideas, experiences and enthusiasm, and despite the Israeli post-army wanderlust, still nowhere else to go that accepts us and that we can really call home.

All those years of galut mean we have built up some incredible attributes and experience in how to make the best of what we have, how to make the transient into the permanent, how to give to those around us even as they restrict, spite and persecute us, how we tread the line between their grudging respect and seething jealousy. We do this by looking after ourselves first - the family unit, the synagogue, the shtetl, the community, the city, and now that we have our own country, we can try to improve our nation as a whole.

For the Jews, cue throwing up of hands, an oy va voy and a cup of tea. But after Yom Kippur, let us start finding some solutions for our own problems.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A life less ordinary

I think I am in love. At least, the whole movie schtick about being in love is that all your senses are heightened, and you become almost autistically aware of everything around you in a heady and pulsating new way. Well, if this is the case, I am in love with Tel Aviv.

A simple jaunt to the beach near to sunset brings with it a series of very Israeli cameos.

Firstly, as I come down onto Ruppin, there's the mother with two children in the back of the car, the car wedged into a space about 3 inches longer than the vehicle, warning her kids (in Hebrew - I think I understood this correctly but some of the vocab hasn't come up in my first 4 days of ulpan) that "mummy has to make some bumpies to get the car out so hold on".

Just around the corner on Shalag, I notice a middle-aged lady outside an old block with no lift, in heated discussion with a guy on the ground floor and another on a top floor balcony. They have installed a very neat little winch system and have hooked up crates full of the lady's shopping, and are having the classic 3 Jews, 4 opinions moment on how to get the goods to the 4th floor. I consider adding a 5th and even 6th perspective, but there is a picture-postcard moment in front of me as the sun drops behind a fluffy cloud and a halo of dusty pink rays shoot out in every direction.

As I come down the ramp to Gordon Beach, a very large labrador has just spotted a tiny little bassett and decided to make friends. The owners are giggling away as the lab appears to give it a sloppy kiss on the forehead. One of those instants that ends up on the nasty black-tinged posters with tacky quotations that you used to get in Athena (z"l).

Down on the sand, it's 6.15pm and I think about my friends in London as I kick off my flip-flops and dive into crystal-clear bath-water temperature seas, tinged a lovely ochre by the setting sun. Then I focus on the native wildlife. Sorry, assorted Wifeys!

After an invigorating swim, I trot off to take a shower. A twentysomething Russian dolly-bird is walking along with the tiniest little baby greyhound, which sprints to the foot-washing taps for a frolic, much to the delight of a blonde toddler, who shrieks with delight as it runs around her.

I head up from the beach, a beatific smile across my face, thinking it has been a proper Lou Reed Perfect Day. Halfway up Shalag I realise I left my keys somewhere on the beach. About-turn, more glowing sunset, more dogs, more cute owners, still a great day.

It truly sinks in why Rav Kook always signed letters from his house in Neve Tzedek as "Tel Aviv, Iyr HaKodesh" - Tel Aviv, holy city.

My love affair is such that I am looking at myself in a whole new way. I walk a little taller, I am prepared to make changes and personal compromises to ensure this relationship works, I can imagine myself becoming a better person with every moment together. I want to gain knowledge and lose weight. I want to gain insight on my self and lose my fear of the 'other'. I want to gain experience and lose inhibitions. I want to be free and yet I can best achieve that by committing to this place.

Someone implied recently that my postings on Israel are not objective; I say to you that this is a place I defend with passion as well as reason, because I love it, and I think it loves me back.

With thanks to Berlinerstrasse for also daring to dream.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Five months of Fizzybubbly

Well, there has been a heck of a hiatus since my last posting, but now I am happily settled in Tel Aviv for a 5 month test run ahead of a possible decision to make aliyah. I will try and post regularly with news and views, especially as this will save dramatically on repetitive emails and phone conversations.

A brief explanation of how I got here and why, as my departure seems to have taken some by surprise, despite the 4 different leaving shindigs and efforts to reach everyone by text, email and Facebook. Basically since we got the flat out here about 5 years ago, I have spent 3 months a year enjoying being in Israel, but never for more than 3-4 weeks at a time. With a business to run in the UK, I felt compelled to return and make a go of it, but finally a few months ago I decided to give it a shot. With the forthcoming end of my lease making a natural break-point and a feeling that I was just as unlikely to make a decent amount of money here as in London in the current economic climate, I bit the bullet.

So with the fantastic help of Marlon the black/white van man and Grandpa's garage, I put all my stuff in storage (about 70 crates, a dozen large bags, 60 bottles of booze), booked my bmi ticket with specially schnorrered gold status, and flew off into the sunset.

Now I am safely ensconced in Tel Aviv, have had 3 days of ulpan so far, and am generally having a fantastic time. If I can find a way to eke out a reasonable living, then it's hard to think of any compelling reasons to come back to Blighty. Every day I speak to or email someone and they mention the shit weather, or broken Tube, or dead economy, whilst here the cafes are full, the nightlife is vibrant, the weather is a steady 30 degrees by day and 20 by night, and need I mention the women?

Also as I am in the shadow of Iran's mushroom cloud for a few months, I am once again invigorated with the urge to fight back against the combined efforts of the world media, the Axis of Feeble in DC (Zbig/Hilldog/Obummer), and the wonderful so-called humanitarian organisations with their warped sense of do-gooding.

On this note, a quick celebratory gloat at the exposure of Marc Garlasco as a Nazi obsessive. You might remember I mentioned him in a posting back in January, when the world was having one of its regular feeding frenzies at Israel's expense. Here's what I wrote:
For example, the "neutral" "expert" from "Human Rights Watch", Marc Garlasco. Here is a little snippet about him, and a link to Honest Reporting's article on him, HRW, and some of their previous handiwork. Now whilst the killing of this doctor's family was clearly a tragic accident (unless you are Bowen, Garlasco or Gilbert of course), the IDF's initial reaction was that if they did hit the house with a shell, there was a reason it was targetted. Then they started to carry out a fuller investigation and I found this coverage of the actual tank unit commander's comments.
At the time, I had a bad feeling about him and the various other parties who kept cropping up in the world's media. Now it transpires he has a bit of a Nazi fetish. And it must be true, because I read it here on the BBC. Just the kind of guy to check out allegations of Isreali human rights abuses. He is taken to task in this fabulous article over at Mere Rhetoric.

That's about it for the moment. L'hitra'ot, ani holech lahof!

Friday, May 22, 2009

There are 70 conflicts worldwide, so why do we focus on just one?

Original article by Stephen King appeared on May 13 in the Irish Examiner

Yes, there is public feeling about the Palestinians and their rotten deal. I’ve never heard Chechnya being discussed on the DART, whereas I have heard Israel being trashed on buses as well as at smart dinner parties. Besides, who’s ever heard of a "Sri Lanka out of Tamil Eelam" march through Cork or calls for a boycott of Russia? I owe Micheál Martin an apology of sorts. I admit that when I read media reports of his discussions with Ban Ki-moon in New York at the weekend my eyes rolled up to the heavens.

The country’s most senior representative to the rest of the world has a rare opportunity to raise Ireland’s issues with the UN secretary-general and what’s his top priority? Yes, you guessed it – Gaza.

It’s not that Gaza isn’t an important issue facing the world. It is. What Gaza is not, though, is an issue where Europe, let alone Ireland, can wield much positive influence. Gaza will only be sorted when the Arab states, the US and Israel – probably in that order – decide it should be sorted.

But I was wrong. I had swallowed the media line. Yes, Micheál Martin and Ban Ki-moon did talk about Gaza, but it was just one subject among others.

In fact, when you look at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) press release, the first item of discussion listed was one where Ireland has a very direct interest, namely Chad.

So what caused my blood pressure to rise? Was Gaza the topic the DFA’s spindoctors were pushing? Possibly. Was the position on Gaza the most objectively newsworthy? Again, possibly: the Pope is in the region and Ireland tends to be at one end of the European spectrum of opinion on anything to do with Israel.

The third possibility, and the one that seems to me most likely, is that the media has a fixation on Israel (and its supposed crimes) which is, for want of a better word, disproportionate. That’s why the line about Gaza led several media reports of Minister Martin’s meeting.

If I were Jewish, I would be told I’m paranoid for thinking the world and its media are out to get me. After all, the fact that Israel is the world’s one and only Jewish state – amidst a vast ocean of Muslim states – inevitably makes many Jewish people think it’s them, and not Israel as such, which is in the media’s sights. But I’m not Jewish. Besides, just because people are paranoid doesn’t mean others aren’t out to get them.

A quick scan of the world’s trouble spots makes my point. The well-respected International Crisis Group is currently tracking 70 conflicts around the world, from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zimbabwe. Yes, 70: we live in a dangerous world.

Some of these are very familiar to us: Northern Ireland, Iraq, the Basque country, North Korea and, of course, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Others are not nightly news: Kashmir, Burma, Eritrea and so on. And then there are the conflicts we have forgotten about, or never really heard about too much because they are far away or poor, or both: Armenia versus Azerbaijan, Mindanao in the Philippines, Morocco/western Sahara and Aceh.

Some of the 70 hotspots are especially deadly. Millions of black Africans have died in Congo in the past decade, well below most people’s radar.

Sri Lanka has had a bit of a focus in recent weeks – though hardly the minute-by-minute wraparound coverage Gaza had in January. How many of us were really aware of the fact that more than 80,000 people have died in a quarter of a century of civil war?

Try this. Google "Tamil Tigers" and you will receive 2.3 million results. Google "Hamas" and you get 10 times as many – and Hamas hasn’t been around nearly as long. It’s the same if you Google "Tamils" and "Palestinians". Is the difference that the Tigers might have killed Rajiv Gandhi but, unlike the Palestinians, have rarely brought their murderous tactics to Europe directly? The Sri Lankan conflict, at least in its military phase, looks as though it is coming to an end. The work of peace-building will last for years to come.

The same could be said about Chechnya. The Russians have just announced the end of their "counter-terrorism" operation. There are no solid figures for the number of civilians killed since the second war began there in late 1999, but estimates range anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000.

Put that in context. Israel might be geographically small – smaller than Munster – but in population terms Chechnya is absolutely tiny. A region with a little more than one million inhabitants has seen anything up to one-fifth of its civilian population killed in two decades of war. And one school siege aside, we have largely looked the other way.

By comparison, 6,000 Palestinians – armed and civilian together – out of a Palestinian population in the territories three to four times that of Chechnya have died since the second intifada of 2001.

It goes without saying that any civilian death is a tragedy – and, very often, an outrage – but search for Chechnya on the DFA website and you only receive one-tenth of the number of hits that you do for Israel. No-one believes the DFA is somehow in league with the Russians and supports their quasi-colonial war against Chechnya, but it does go to show some perspective has been lost somewhere along the line.

Yes, there is public feeling about the Palestinians and their rotten deal. I’ve never heard Chechnya being discussed on the DART, whereas I have heard Israel being trashed on buses as well as at smart dinner parties. Besides, who’s ever heard of a "Sri Lanka out of Tamil Eelam" march through Cork or calls for a boycott of Russia?

But whose fault is that? Dare I suggest, the media? As a result, Israel has learned a lesson from the Russians and the Sri Lankans: impose a media ban and the world leaves you pretty much alone. No one could condone the ban during the Gaza offensive – and being host to the world’s second largest press corps, after Washington, means you pay a high price in terms of stroppy hacks – but it does seem to work.

SO WHY why the obsession with Israel? It’s the only country in the world whose existence is queried is one reason. It’s the Holy Land to the world’s two largest faiths is another. That al-Qaeda sometimes backs the Palestinian cause makes Israel/Palestine strategically important – but that’s true of Chechnya, too.

Maybe it’s the oil in the Middle East region that makes Arab countries important in western capitals (while distracting from their own despotism)?

Could it be some wrongheaded notion of guilt for having set up Israel after the Holocaust, when actually Israel fought British imperialism for its independence? Could it be, as many Israelis believe, that we see Israelis as Jews and, therefore, as bloodthirsty sub-humans in the latest manifestation of centuries-old anti-semitism?

Or is it just anti-Americanism? Perhaps it’s a little to do with each of these factors. But could it actually be that we see Israelis as very much like ourselves – sophisticated, prosperous, well-educated, fairly pale-skinned democrats? Do we hate ourselves that much? It’s either that or Israel simply isn’t deadly enough to deter the journalists too afraid to work in fly-ridden Congo.

Gaza for breakfast, back to the pool at the American Colony Hotel in time for tea, and pick up an attractive girl or strapping lad at a bar after dinner. Same again tomorrow, please. Just try doing that in Darfur.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bluebirds grounded

A quick footy-related posting. Cardiff City have managed their usual success at snatching defeat from the jaws of glorious victory by spending the last 3 matches getting one solitary point, by scraping a 2-2 draw with a couple of late goals against rock-bottom Charlton. Their other two fixtures saw a 6-0 drubbing at Preston, the only team who could realistically catch them for the last play-off place, and an ignominious 3-0 home reverse to Ipswich, a team with nothing to play for except avoiding the wrath of famously hot-headed new gaffer Roy Keane, in Ninian Park's final ever league game before their move to the new place across the road.

Why is this surprising, special, worthy of comment? SOmething that has seemingly gone totally unnoticed by footy fans is the real possibility of a bizarre play-off for the play-offs scenario. Under Football League rules, if two teams finish the season with identical points, goal difference and goals scored, and there is something to play for (ie a place in the play-offs for promotion), then the two teams must play a special play-off to determine who finishes highest.

Here is a part of the latest league table:

Played Pts Goals

Wolverhampton 45 87 27 79
Birmingham 45 80 16 52
Sheff Utd 45 79 25 64
Reading 45 77 33 71
Cardiff 45 74 13 65
Burnley 45 73 8 68
Preston 45 71 11 64
Swansea 45 68 14 63

I have included Swansea just to rub it in that they cannot get into the play-offs. Small comforts...

Now look at Cardiff and Preston's records. If Cardiff were to lose by a single goal, be it any given scoreline, and Preston were to win by that same scoreline, they would be exactly tied, and for the first time ever (I think!), the top seven would all make it into the play-offs, with Cardiff and Preston facing each other in a preliminary round.

Wonder what odds you'd have got at the beginning of the season that a team effectively finishing seventh could make it into the Premiership?!

None of this is of any comfort; I am pretty sure Preston will romp home with a fantastic end-of-season performance, while Cardiff will cave in miserably to a Sheffield Wednesday side who have absolutely nothing to play for and are mentally already halfway to the Costa del Bling for their summer break.

Monday, April 20, 2009


So some of the spineless diplomats who didn't manage to boycott the Geneva charade did at least manage to wriggle out on their shameful serpent bellies during Ahmedinejihad's speech. Even by his standards, it was totally nuts - just the kind of finger one wants on the nuclear trigger. He started with the classic "Palestine was expropriated by the Jooz" tirade, which prompted a first wave of walkouts, then ranted on through Israel being "a most cruel and racist regime" and "genocide of the innocent Palestinians while the world stood by", before explicitly blaming "the Zionists" for the war on Iraq.

Still, all credit to him for his oratory skills, he kept steadily spitting bile as a solid hundred delegates got up and huffed out, not to mention a couple of protestors running in wearing very funky wigs.

Needless to say, the BBC managed its usual spin, with a preview report saying how the whole thing had been made a farce by all the nasty boycotters, then managing not to translate his speech. Prior to that, an interview with an expert about North Korea's nuclear arsenal was quickly turned by the Beeb anchor into a discussion about Israel's nuclear ambiguity, and suggesting that Israel could just declare then give up its weapons in return for Iran ceasing their nuclear programme. Nice one.

A little affirmation is needed; may I first recommend readers to Calev's wonderful blog, In The Land Of Milk And Honey, and secondly I am cribbing a passage from Amos Oz that he just used, by way of sticking two fingers up to Ahmedinejad, the people who stayed on the conference floor, and the continued insidious bias of the BBC.
Then he [my father] told me in a whisper, without once calling me Your Highness or Your Honour, what some hooligans did to him and his brother David in Odessa and what some gentile boys did to him at his Polish school in Vilna, and the girls joined in too, and the next day, when his father, Grandpa Alexander, came to the school to register a complaint, the bullies refused to return the torn trousers but attacked his father, Grandpa, in front of his eyes, forced him down on the paving stones and removed his trousers too in the middle of the playground, and the girls laughed and made dirty jokes, saying that Jews were all so-and-sos, while the teachers watched and said nothing, or maybe they were laughing too.

And still in a voice of darkness with his hand still losing its way in my hair (because he was not
used to stroking my hair) my father told me under my blanket in the early hours of the thirtieth of November 1947, ‘Bullies may well bother you in the street or at school some day. They may do it precisely because you are a bit like me. But from now on, from the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. For ever.’


Good heavens. Are my eyes deceiving me? Here is someone very senior from the UN commenting on the "Durban 2" extravaganza of Israel-bashing taking place in Geneva:
"A handful of states have permitted one or two issues to dominate their approach to this issue, allowing them to outweigh the concerns of numerous groups of people that suffer racism and similar forms of intolerance to a pernicious and life-damaging degree on a daily basis all across the world."
Indeed, it is horrific that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, along with their fellow human-rights-abusing, oil-weapon-wielding, Jew-bashing friends Venezuela, Russia et al, should use this as a tool for anti-Semitism and tedious attacks on Israel, when there are so many other things going on in the...

...hold on...some interference on the line...what's this...ah...I it...orftorfu, you say...yes...yes...uh as usual then...thanks!

Sorry about that dear reader, it seems I made a mistake. That quotation from the beeyatch UN head honcho of this conference is actually aimed at AUSTRALIA, ISRAEL, THE USA, HOLLAND ETC for walking out in protest at the appropriation of the conference agenda to solely attack Israel and the Jooz.

Hopefully she will bury her head so far in the sand she'll strike some choice Arab crude and choke to death on it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back in TLV

After a 10-week hiatus, I am finally getting back on the horse and blogging again. I was just thinking about what to write, as I sit at Ruppin Villas, with the BBC news on in the background. Lo and behold, Lize Ducet is hosting a debate on - get this - "Do the Palestinians have a partner for peace in Netanyahu?"

The delightful Abdul Bari Atwan is peddling the standard Palestinian line. I always think he looks like a sleepy hound dog. He speaks in that totally stereotypical Arabic-English voice, throwing in plenty of quavering emotional crap. Hilariously he makes a slip and says Israel could have dealt with "moderates like Arafat... I mean Abbas"!

Most of the debate is a yawn-fest in which the British and American folks on the panel try to stick to blandishments, whilst Bari Fatwa peddles his nonsense and the Israeli guy, Saul Zadka of some unheard-of agency, and formerly of Ha'aretz, plods along with his heavily accented English and blunt, boring counter-arguments. He fails to question very much of the others' statements, for example he leaves unchallenged such phrases as "Netanyahu is opposed to a two-state solution" and "Israel's government coalition is extreme right-wing."

Then the debate switches to a discussion on the worldwide recession and even Bari Fatwa has something reasonable to say, whilst the dumb Israeli sits twiddling his thumbs and looking like a one-trick pony. This is the time to point out that Israel's banks largely avoided sub-prime, that Israel is slowing down but is going to have a much milder recession, and this shows that Netanyahu's policies in the past as Finance Minister, and his suggestion that the best way to cut a deal with the Palestinians is through "economic peace" is a realistic option. Instead he gets a laugh from the panel by meekly agreeing with Bari Fatwa that Gordon Brown is a pillock.

Useless bloody Zionists.

Meanwhile, a bit earlier on in the trip, I read an excellent piece by the wonderful David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post. Note the references to Saeb Erekat's recent interview on Al-Jazeera. Want to know if we have a partner for peace with the "moderates" of Fatah? Really think there is a workable solution? Wake up and smell the white phosphorus. Here is a choice morsel of Erekat's interview:
"Yasser Arafat said to Clinton defiantly: 'I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah.' That is why Yasser Arafat was besieged, and that is why he was killed unjustly."
Let that sink in a bit. Arafat denied that the Temple Mount had any Jewish connotations, therefore was unwilling to concede even the idea of Palestinian sovereignty on the ground with theoretical Jewish sovereignty of what was underneath. Erekat and Abbas concur with this, and Erekat even suggests Arafat was KILLED by Israel for this. The full interview is translated here at MEMRI.

We will never have peace with the Palestinians, unless we want a civil war of our own when the frummers turn on an Israeli government for allowing the destruction of what is left of the Temple.

So I find myself in this bizarre position where the more time I spend here in TLV, the more I think about aliyah, love the lifestyle, and wonder what I am doing in London, but then I see things like that and think I would be a better Zionist by being back in Blighty defending Israel properly. In either event, do I really want to spend the next few years wheeler-dealing, or should I be doing something more meaningful? Some big questions...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Editor's Notes: Home truths about Gaza

Superb piece by David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post:

Are we losing the capacity to distinguish between what we know from our own experiences to be true or credible and what others would have the world believe about us?

In a Jerusalem Post supplement that will appear next week to mark the end of Pessah, Esther Wachsman, whose son Nachshon was kidnapped by Hamas in 1994 and killed in a Palestinian village not far from Jerusalem as the IDF tried to come to his rescue, describes poignantly how the family came to choose his name.

The family's third son, he was born at Pessah time in 1975, and they decided to name him in honor of Nachshon the son of Aminadav, the man who had the guts to trust God and test the waters, the man who leapt into the Red Sea confident that his people would be able to cross, the man who showed the children of Israel the path to their destiny.

Israel cries out for such a figure today... or such a mindset: the confidence to set a path of national destiny, to unify behind it, and to pursue it for our own benefit and that of like-minded nations, leaving our enemies helpless in our wake.

Israel has faced, and faced down, more daunting hostile challenges in its brief modern history than those posed today by the toxic mix of demonization and violence championed by Iran and offshoots such as Hamas and Hizbullah. Surviving the first moments of statehood in 1948, when a few hundred thousand pioneering Israelis prevailed against armies drawn from surrounding populations in the tens of millions, was only the first of many improbable victories.

It was a series maintained through the decades, notably including the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, all the way through to the second intifada, when the Palestinians dispatched suicide bombers in a calculated, strategic onslaught that was designed to terrorize our nation and encourage us to take the only sensible course of action - to flee. Yet even with buses and cafes and shopping malls blown up week after week, and much of a watching world branding us the architect of our own misery because we had resisted suicidal terms for Palestinian independence, the people of modern Israel did not flee; we stayed, we rethought, and we learned to protect ourselves more effectively.

But in the years since then, those who seek our demise have rethought as well. We sought to construct hermetic physical barriers to the suicide bomber onslaught. From south Lebanon and Gaza, Hizbullah and then Hamas simply cleared those obstacles by firing missiles over them, and every effort is being made to do likewise from the West Bank.

Protecting Israel cannot now be achieved by walls and fences and defensive measures; the rockets have to be stopped at source - and the source of the rockets, as ruthlessly determined by the Palestinians who manufacture and launch them, lies in the heart of the civilian populace. By cynical design, those who would kill our citizens thus ensure that their people are killed when we try to thwart the attacks - so that we are forced to fight not only to protect ourselves, but to protect our good name and our legitimacy as we do so.

This creates a somewhat complex reality - in which war footage and death tolls emphatically do not tell the full story of our conflicts, and yet that story is told, and is misunderstood, largely in a mix of misleading images and statistics. Still, internalizing the true picture - of an Israeli nation seeking to defend itself against a cynical, dishonest Palestinian terror leadership whose religiously inspired loathing for us far outweighs its concerns for the well-being of its own people - is not impossibly challenging, not for those with the earnest will to look a little more carefully.

Operation Cast Lead, Israel's turn-of-the-year military effort to halt the rocket fire from Gaza, however, seems to have marked something of a turning point as regards the willingness to look a little more carefully, to probe beyond the daily images of war and the casualty tolls.

Indeed, the furor surrounding purported testimonies from a small group of soldiers back from the war - the soldiers whose stories were compiled by the Rabin pre-army program's Danny Zamir - would suggest that a growing proportion even of our own people, we Israelis, are losing the capacity to distinguish between what we know from our own experiences to be true or credible and what others would have the world believe about us.

THE IDF is a people's army which directly touches us almost all of us. We all serve in it ourselves, and/or have relatives and friends and colleagues who do.

Almost all of us knew soldiers who directly experienced the Second Lebanon War, and came home with sorry tales of inadequate training, equipment and supplies. Almost all of us know soldiers who served in Operation Cast Lead. And what we didn't hear directly was supplemented by what we saw and heard and read about in the media.

We knew that the IDF was drawn into a civilian theater of war by an enemy that had placed rockets inside mosques, booby-trapped schools and deployed snipers in apartment buildings. We knew, too, because IDF commanders were permitted to say so publicly, that the army had changed tactics in the wake of events such as the ambush in Jenin refugee camp in 2002, in which 13 soldiers lost their lives, and that there was a readier resort to fire power in areas of military operation.

We knew, for instance, that the IDF leafleted areas where it was tackling Hamas, and urged Palestinian civilians by radio and in countless phone calls to leave. If it then came under fire from a particular building in such an area, we heard commanders detail, rather than send in soldiers to their possible deaths, it called for air support and, if necessary, took the building down.

We knew that mistakes were made - how could they not be in so densely populated an area at a time of war? Somewhere amid the self-flagellation of the Zamir soldiers' stories, we seemed to forget that the IDF killed several of its own soldiers in the bloody chaos of conflict. Inevitably, there were Palestinian noncombatants, many Palestinian noncombatants, killed in error in a conflict in which teenagers and the elderly were known to be potential suicide bombers, in which Hamas gunmen fought out of uniform and sometimes fired from within civilian crowds, in which any notion of Palestinian fighters following rules of war was nonsensical.

Credible sources, furthermore, suggest that, post-war, there has been considerable debate within the IDF about the difficulties of reconciling traditional IDF military ethics with the problematics posed by the nature of the civilian-theater conflict Hizbullah and Hamas have concocted: Where is the correct path between safeguarding troops and minimizing harm to civilians, and was it followed this time?

This newspaper, when news broke of the Rabin academy graduates' "testimonies," sought to measure their credibility by traditional journalistic standards. How dependable was the source? Were the testifying soldiers named? Could they be contacted to verify their accounts?

By definition, such assessments have to be made rapidly, decisions taken against the pressures of deadlines, and all newspapers inevitably get some of them wrong. But since the soldiers themselves were not named and not contactable, and since doubts about the accuracy of their accounts surfaced almost immediately, it was rapidly decided to carry those initial stories on the inside pages of the paper.

Danny Zamir's unexpected declaration to this newspaper on Tuesday that he had been horrified by the worldwide controversy sparked by his soldiers' accounts was, to put it mildly, hard to reconcile with his earlier stance and expressions. Now, Zamir says that the IDF "tried to protect civilians in the most crowded place in the world. There were no orders to kill civilians or any summary executions or things like that. There were problems, but problems the army can deal with."

The narrow focus in his own op-ed article (reprinted on Tuesday in the Post) on The New York Times in particular and the international media in general is disingenuous, too; it was parts of the Hebrew media, notably Haaretz and Ma'ariv, that first splashed the damning accusations he had compiled of permissive rules of engagement producing specific incidents in which civilians were deliberately shot dead. It was a Haaretz reporter who flatly stated that "the soldiers are not lying, for the simple reason that they have no reason to... This is what the soldiers, from their point of view, saw in Gaza."

Except, it turns out, they didn't. Their "testimony" was hearsay, and untrue.

FROM ISRAEL'S front-pages, in the sadly predictable rat-pack world of what passes for global journalism these days, Zamir's compilation became the most prominent story on earth for a few days - headlining major newspapers, leading global newscasts, demolishing yet more of Israel's legitimacy, turning Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's insistence that the IDF is a "moral army" into an international bad joke.

With newspapers closing down, resources evaporating and reporters' buckling under ever-heavier pressures of work, it should be understood, there is no profound process of evaluation that determines whether a story like this will dominate the global agenda. What happens, rather, is that a hostile-to-Israel story in the Hebrew press is deemed credible simply by virtue of its having appeared in the Hebrew press: The Israelis are saying nasty stuff about themselves. Networks such as Al-Jazeera have an ideological interest in pumping up any such stories. Rival networks don't want to be left behind. Once the story is running on TV, in turn, the print news agencies feel obligated to cover it, because otherwise their clients will complain that it's on TV but not on the wires. Hey presto. World headlines.

The highly dubious nature of this and certain other items that made world headlines relating to the Gaza conflict, I have been told, prompted considerable unrest in the newsrooms of several international news organizations, with some staffers loudly protesting the apparent suspension of more rigorous journalistic standards - to no avail and, I suspect, to no lasting effect.

Entirely unsurprisingly, infinitely less global media attention has attended Zamir's contention to the Post this week that "the international media turned the IDF into war criminals," that he had no way of knowing whether the alleged shooting incidents ever took place, and that "Operation Cast Lead was justified; the IDF worked in a surgical manner. Unfortunately, in these types of operations, civilians will be killed."

FROM THE Israeli perspective, among the more troubling aspects of this dismal affair was emblemized by a letter we received, and published in Wednesday's paper, from a reader in Tel Aviv who took the Post to task for believing that "the IDF 'investigation' [of the purported killings] is gospel truth" and for ostensibly ignoring what he called "the flood of testimonies coming from Gaza - almost on a daily basis - about IDF soldiers shooting innocent men, women and children fleeing their homes, about killing medical personnel, about a civilian death toll much higher than Israel claims, all backed with strong evidence.

"No, the Palestinian side of things will always remain a lie for you," the letter writer concluded, "and evidence [of] grave wrongdoing is not for a once-honorable paper that is rapidly becoming a mouthpiece for the propaganda of the most moral army in the world."

Far more worrying than the criticism of this newspaper was the assertion of a "flood of testimonies" backed by "strong evidence" that IDF soldiers shot the innocent, and the cynical description of the IDF as "the most moral army in the world."

Skepticism is an essential tool in the armory of any journalist, and indeed of any member of the public in assessing what is presented as fact. Again, the IDF is itself agonizing about the ethical parameters within which to wage war in Gaza.

What was so sad about this reader's letter was the mix of elevated skepticism regarding what the army has to say about its own practices, and the suspension of such skepticism as regards the worst allegations being leveled against it. And what is so dismaying is the degree to which that skewed mix was widely manifest not only in this episode, but in much of the way that Israel is generally viewed from afar and, increasingly I fear, in the way we are coming to view ourselves.

WE ISRAELIS need to constantly ensure that our actions are moral and just. In that context, Zamir's allegations emphatically should have been - and indeed were - carefully investigated and handled as he told the Post this week he'd hoped they would be: His soldiers had "talked about what was difficult and painful in the war," and he took their accounts "to the army because I expected them to deal with the issues raised."

More broadly, with the dilemmas posed by Gaza as with all challenges to our capacity to live here securely, we need to shape military and diplomatic tactics and strategy to best ensure that we can both hold true to our core values and survive.

We live in a region where hostility and hatred are not easily redirected toward conciliation. We are battling in a largely unsympathetic international climate and must defend ourselves, physically and intellectually, against those who seek our demise. Critically, we cannot afford to become the prisoners of others' distorted sense of our reality, our behavior and our challenges.

These are national imperatives and they require a cohesion of purpose that Israel has yet to achieve. Internally riven and all-too intolerant, we remain as far as ever from a consensus over what our goals should be and the means we should employ to realize them.

We have left Egypt and reached the promised land, but not yet fulfilled our destiny. We await our Nachshon.