Saturday, December 04, 2010

Taking the Mick

As the fires burn in the Carmel, as the debate rages in the pages of the JC, as the British cold makes me feel ever more ill and homesick, I realised it has been many weeks since my last posting.

Let's first try to understand something about what Mick Davis said. A transcript of his remarks can be found here. I think it is quite incredible that the interviewer and all the subsequent participants in the public debate on his comments (pro and con) have totally overlooked the most startling sin of his remarks.

This is that he has used his controversial opinion on Israel as a smokescreen for having no real answers about Anglo-Jewry.

He was asked a question about characterising the leadership of Anglo-Jewry  (he sits on the Jewish Leadership Council so he ought to know a thing or two about this) and chose instead to answer it through the prism of where he thinks they sit on the spectrum of opinion about Israel. 

Actually I think this sidesteps the key issue - how are they doing at leading British Jewry? The answer is - disastrously. I do not believe that the British Jewish community has at all come to terms with the fact that its communal structure has totally failed to adapt to the realities of Generation Y.

Our generation lives in an increasingly busy marketplace of ideas. The Jewish community, spearheaded by the UJIA as its biggest funder of communal activity, the Board of Deputies as its official mouthpiece, and the United Synagogue as its largest body of shuls and being under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi, has failed to tackle assimilation, build a strong and positive identity that has Jewish spirit at its core, create a safe and respected place for the Jewish community in the wider UK, or find a way to weave real support for Israel into its activities.

Instead it trumpets Jewish primary schools as the single biggest success that will provide a panacea for the community, even though most parents, if honest with themselves, will tell you they send their kids to Jewish schools because they think they are better than non-Jewish schools, not because of their belief in faith schools. In fact, I would venture that for too many parents, sending kids to a Jewish primary allows them to absolve themselves of much of the responsiblity of inculcating a positive Jewish identity in their children.

Where are Mick Davis's thoughtful comments on how new British Jewish leadership is developing? Why are there so few voices questioning why, after being here for over 350 years and apparently being so well-respected by our "hosts", we still have elected leaders whose idea of speaking out loud and proud on our behalf is "why shout when a whisper would suffice?" When some of our figureheads dare to challenge this way of thinking, they are ignored - who has even heard of Samuel Hayek? Yet I would hazard that Mick Davis gets the column inches because editors are happier promoting his position.

Why is it that the only exciting things going on in our community are apparently happening outside the big organisations mentioned above? Much as I don't agree with their politics on Israel and general lack of quality shampoo, the likes of Moishe House and Wandering Jews are at least providing some alternative, fun and imaginative activities, such as the Jewltide Party. And when it comes to laying on the style and quality, the CJL are a mile ahead of any US-affiliated NW London shul trying to compete in the same space. Limmud is still streets ahead in its presentation of a wide spectrum of opinion on all things Jewish and Israeli, and it continues to be a mark of shame on the United Synagogue that they cannot find any formal way to participate.

Let's look at some of Mick Davis's concerns (my comments in italics):
1. Minority rights in Israel, Arabs as second class citizens, lack of UK Jewish leaders who speak up for them

Whilst there are organisations such as the New Israel Fund who spend increasing time and resources trying to bridge the undoubted quality gap between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens, ultimately I think it is a case of identity. If Arab citizens of Israel continue to consider themselves victims of a historical injustice and that they live in a terribly discriminatory society in which nothing they can do will ever let them improve their position, and if they are Israeli when it suits them and then suddenly Palestinian when it suits them (and apparently incapable of reconciling the two identities and being Israeli Palestinians or Palestinian Israelis), this gap will remain. 

The reality is that whilst there is a gulf between them and us, it is exacerbated by cultural differences, for example in the way that Arab municipal councils choose to spend their allocations, compared to Jewish or Druze ones. By most metrics, "our" Arabs have among the highest quality of life in the Arab world. Netanyahu has recognised that they represent one of our largest untapped resources, and more should be done to integrate them into the economy and the cultural fabric of Israeli society. But I strongly believe they have to want to be a part of this, and I remain unconvinced that they have made this choice yet.

How about Mick Davis using his influence to get the British Arab community to do something positive and co-invest alongside the UJIA in Arab Israeli projects? That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.

2. Settlements and bulldozing

There are compelling arguments that the "settlement enterprise" and the tactic of bulldozing houses are tactically bad, especially when one takes into account the international PR effects. However, we are swallowing our detractors' own line if we really believe the "settlements" are the core issue. 

As I have said many times before, there are "settlements" and there are settlements. Places like Gush Etzion, where we bought and built perfectly legally pre-1948, and reclaimed and restarted post-1967, have a different moral value to me than some of the strategic hilltop settlements that were built on land that was appropriated from the locals, even if it may be that there was no legal title. In between are border "settlements" built on land that geographically should naturally form part of Israel and were built on unused or no-man's land, those like Ma'ale Shomron which were built on ruins of ancient Jewish sites and displaced no more than the odd shepherd. To lump them into one category and label them all "illegal" is a gross simplification.

The Palestinian leadership uses the "settlements" as a lever against Israel and excuse not to come back to the talks, because it knows it is not ready to run its own state without  first consolidating its power vis-a-vis Hamas, and letting its middle class interact with Israel (including the dastardly settlements!) to build a viable economy in the West Bank. Of course, if Israel has to stop its building because it prejudices a final outcome of the peace talks, surely the Palestinians should not build either - and in fact, those Israeli Arabs who would rather call themselves Palestinians should probably down tools as well, in case they decide to "go back". But then it's ORFTORFU.
A reading of opinion surveys in the West Bank, among both Palestinians and the "settlers", shows that there is a consensus on the ground that neither the Palestinian or Israeli leadership is really listening to. About 70% of both groups would be willing to accept a middle ground scenario in which most or all the so-called settlements became part of the West Bank by sovereignty, inhabited by Israeli citizens with Palestinian residency rights. A similar option could be given to Israeli Arabs who might prefer to be Palestinian citizens with Israeli residency.

The advantage of this outcome is that nobody has to leave their home, and both sides get the demographic majority they desire, in a democratic framework. I also think this presents the best way for the two peoples to find common ground to collaborate and to integrate their economies to the benefit of both. Israel's single biggest protection against another intifada is the success of the Palestinian economy.

Perhaps Mick can use his access to British and Israeli politicians and diplomats to present a radical and innovative solution to one of the key stumbling blocks in the peace process. That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.

3. Jewish loyalty oath

The big issue with this loyalty oath is that it's ORFTORFU of the wrong kind. We should expect ALL new citizens of the state to take this oath. I can think of plenty of Jews who have moved to Israel and delighted in taking their aliyah benefit, before going on to write rabid pieces for the Guardian or work for NGOs which hardly seem to have Israel's best interests at heart.

Many countries require some kind of citizenship test and oath of loyalty. I imagine a lot of British Jews would be willing to take one to dispel any notion that our twin loyalties to Britain and Israel are in fact contrasting and contradictory ones. Whereas there may be other sectors of society who cannot. 
This is Mick's chance to speak in a forthright manner on how ALL citizens of a given state should be willing to show their loyalty to it, not in every policy of the government of the day, but in the principles under which that state exists and functions, and should be showing how Anglo-Jewry's largely successful integration into British mainstream society lets us take a front-running position on this debate. That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.
4. Netanyahu's strategy

Mick may be a very successful CEO of a very successful business, but Netanyahu is the twice-elected PM of the OECD's most resilient and recession-proof country.  It would be pretty naive to think that Netanyahu is doing all this with no plan. His Bar Ilan speech showed the confidence he has in pulling Likud away from the right hand fringe and towards the centre, and his understanding that Israeli society is increasingly of the pragmatic centre-right. 

There is a growing national consensus on most issues - not least the need to reach accommodation with the Palestinians and create a viable state for them, the need to put economics first and eliminate the extremism and the poverty gap between our society and theirs, and within our own society. Netanyahu is at the forefront of this new way, like him or loathe him.

Surely Mick could be bringing the lessons of how to unify a far more complex society with radically more challenging problems than those of the UK,  and how to steer an economy through the turbid waters of the global meltdown, to the British political scene?  That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.

5. Dangers of de facto "apartheid state"

We all know that Israel is not and will never be an apartheid state. We do however know that Israel and Palestine need a divorce (in the words of that famous fascist Amos Oz). It is true, and Mick alludes to it, that if we fail to reach agreement soon, we may have fewer and less palatable options in terms of how we live with or separate from them. What Mick lacks the nuance to understand and articulate is that the Arab side, not just the Palestinians, have grasped that they win either way. If they do not get the state they want, they can wait us out, then force an end-game that gives them what they want or forces us to make unpalatable choices. 

Meanwhile non-Muslims continue to live in apartheid dhimmitude across the Arab world while Mick stays silent. Perhaps Mick could speak out against this as well as the horrific slur of associating Israel, in ANY circumstances past, present or future, with being an apartheid state. That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre. 

6. How the Diaspora is affected by Israel 

The second intifada and continued correlation of heightened violence in the Middle East to increased anti-Semitic incidents in the UK show that the Diaspora is affected by Israel. 

As was put very succinctly in their letter to the JC, Jonathan Hoffman et al:
"...the crassest comment was to suggest that Netanyahu’s policies have as much impact on Davis - sitting in London - as on Jews in Israel. We were not aware that Hampstead is within target of Iranian or Hamas missiles, nor that its residents have to send their children to defend the Jewish State for three years."
This is of course not to say that Israel, or we, should kowtow to violence and surrender what we have gained through legitimate means such as a UN Partition Plan and successive wars of defence, and built on with a society that has absorbed waves of immigrants and stands proud among the nations as a member of the OECD with PhDs, patents and Nobel Prizes per capita that are the envy of every nation. 

If only the Diaspora could be similarly affected by innovation and brilliance, and the acceptance of new points of view. If only our Chief Rabbi could find a way to allow children who feel they are Jewish enough to go to JFS, just as the Israeli rabbinate finds a way to accept those who feel they are Jewish enough to serve in the IDF. That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.

7. Debating the above within Anglo-Jewry

I think the single biggest failure of Anglo-Jewish leadership is on the side that opposed Mick Davis's opinions and decision to express them in such a public forum. Of course I do not agree with some of Davis's views, or his willingness to air them in this way. But the failure is that of the community to be a genuinely "big tent" where the merits of Israel and different ways to defend it should have been thoroughly debated before now, and a single communal strategy should have emerged, with some consensus on the issues he raises, in terms of the public line we should take.

Instead, we are left looking divided and indecisive, and for some reason are bewildered when someone like Davis shoots his mouth off in this way, allowing our enemies to predictably jump on his comments and use them to damage us even further. 

Either that, or just accept that every individual and organisation is going to speak with its own voice, and deal with the resultant selective quotation to undermine Israel, rather than admiration for our diversity and openness.

The main reason why I think Mick Davis is a disgrace is because he has shown a complete lack of Jewish leadership, on this or any other issue. He has not earned the right to be a the voice of the Anglo-Jewish community or a publicly dissenting voice from it. If he is the best Anglo-Jewry can do for leadership, the community is doomed.

I think Mick Davis and the entire JLC should fall on their swords because they have clearly failed in their mission. They should allow a new generation to rise up in their place that actually represents the next generation. That would be Jewish leadership of the highest calibre.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ahmedinejad's idea

During his visit to Lebanon last week, Iranian President Ahmedinejad demanded: "Zionists, go back where you came from."

He presumably believes that those nations from which Jews came (or in many cases were thrown out from), from the First Aliyah to the present day, are willing to take them and their descendants back if it allows the establishment of a Palestine from the Jordan to the Med.
Okay, I think it is a fair idea. Let Ahmedinejad start by allowing in the Jews of Persian descent who are living in Israel. In fact, let him take in all the Persian Jewish Zionists everywhere, such was his choice of words.

There are nearly 50,000 Iranian-born Jews in Israel and about 200,000 in total who have one or both Iranian parents. There are about another 100,000 similarly defined Persian Jews in the Diaspora, and if one adds grandchildren who retain a distinctively Persian identity, we are talking about half a million.

I think it is important that we respond to Ahmedinejad's rantings by taking them as literally when he makes statements such as the above, as we should when he openly calls for our nation's destruction and tells us how he is going to achieve it.

Thus, I would like to start a worldwide campaign of the 500,000 Jews of Persian descent to apply to their nearest Iranian consulate to be granted Iranian citizenship and residency, on the grounds that Iran's President will welcome them with open arms.

Who is with me?!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shongololo's African Adventure: Part 5 (Jozi-Home)

Emaweni webaba
Silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni x9
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
We are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, homeless, homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Zio yami, zio yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami amakhaza asengi bulele
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, angibulele amakhaza
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami somandla angibulele mama
Zio yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami
Too loo loo, too loo loo etc

I landed back in Joburg in the middle of the night, crawled to the Avis, picked up another little runabout, and headed back to Victory Park. England had managed to come second in their group courtesy of the Americans scoring a last-minute winner against Algeria and their own inability to manage more than two goals against three pretty crap teams in 270 minutes of footy.

With my plans to have an easy trip to Rustenburg for England's last-16 match and a Soccer City quarter final match involving England on my final night now in disarray, some reshuffling of the ticket pack was in order.

A call to Bisonsbrother to offload the spare tickets and get some travel companions, a favour from the talented AJ on parking in Bloem, and a classic Jewish/Israeli coincidental encounter with a friend's brother who needed to offload his Soccer City QF tickets later, and I was back on track. We set off for Bloem and made the journey in pretty good time, other than where we hit a bit of a traffic jam due to light aircraft on the road. Seriously.

Although the result was predictably crap, and was tempered by the sense of injustice over Lampard's goal-that-wasn't, and the greater sense that England had been so shite that for them to beat the Krauts would have been a fluke and unfair on a German team that had played with huge flair (and went on to thump the Argies even more convincingly), we had a great day out, culminating in one of the funniest car journeys of all time on the return leg - magma-hot mayo in the chicken pasties, trying to stop for a pee and petrol in a dodgy pitch-dark township, general ripping conversation including a session on "if I had to go gay for one player at the World Cup", and so on. Benjy, Mark and Adam - I salute you.

So, back to Joburg with nearly a week to kill before my final game and a flight home. AJ very kindly let me tag along on a few expeditions in return for me acting as his chauffeur and assistant. This included a trip to the quite incredible Saxon Hotel, where he was supposed to be meeting Bill Clinton and heading off for a shoot with Nelson Mandela. It turned out Clinton had already gone on ahead, so AJ was chauffeured off, I finished my 4 tiny goujons for £10, picked up his spare camera equipment so I looked nice and official and had a poke around.

Seeing the sign to the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite, and figuring that Billdog was probably staying there, I trotted up some back stairs, smiled nicely at the burly guys with dark glasses and obvious earpieces, waved my camera bits and trotted right on in.

After checking out the his-and-intern's bathrooms, sweet drawing-room, lounge etc, I was feeling a slight after-effect of those pesky up-market goujons. Unable to attack the Presidential Porcelain, I sat on the edge of Bill's boudoir bed and gave him a little air biscuit to enjoy later with his post-coital cigar.

Then I settled down to watch Italy vs. Slovakia, a real classic game as it turned out, until it was time to collect AJ, at which point I was driven in a limo from the porch of the hotel all of 50 yards to the garage where my little hire car was waiting. Elitism rocks.

During the week, AJ also took me along to see the media centres and empty stadia at Ellis Park (where I met and chatted to my new best friend and possibly in the top 5 coolest living Israelis, Modi Bar-On), and Soccer City:

I also fitted in a nice little day trip to Maropeng, the Cradle of Humankind, where I got to go on a bizarre underground boat ride, learn about evolution, clamber through some excellent stalactite caves, and potter around some decent parks. AJ also accompanied for a visit to the superb Apartheid Museum, which was moving and informative, and served to reinforce my utter indignation at anyone who dares to call Israel an "apartheid state".

I also found a titchy little baby lizard in the house and rescued him from being eaten by the cats:

My final 24 hours in Joburg took in a cracking game at Soccer City (Uruguay vs. Ghana),  which I very nearly missed because I could not find the tickets anywhere. After systematically searching the house for 2 hours, calling FIFA to see if they would re-issue them (not interested) and my insurer to see if they would refund them (not happening), texting my hosts to see if they were lying around anywhere and had been moved, I had only one more option. Rubber gloves on, wheelie bin inverted... and there they were. Bless Violet the maid, she thought the kitchen table was too cluttered with all those pieces of paper, so there were my $400 of tickets mouldering gently under the weight of lemon peel and cat litter.

I sped out and made it to my seat literally as the game kicked off, and was glad to have got there - a blinding match complete with two great goals, a missed penalty in the last minute of injury time, a tense shoot-out, and a generally great atmosphere, with my new friend Eddie, who also accompanied the next morning for a visit to SoWeTo, which was absolutely fascinating.

Now knackered beyond belief, we headed to the airport. A quick flit between the BA 1st lounge and SAA's own offering to get the best balance of food, drink and the Argentina vs. Germany game, and I was homeward bound.

(Pic from Cape Point)

Settling into my flat-bed seat in row 1, I polished off some decent SA wines and port, watched a film, and conked out, waking 8 hours later as we dropped into Munich. I crawled to the Senator Lounge, took a long hot shower and had a spot of Krug with a light breakfast, before taking the Lufty flight back to TLV. Another film and some more grub, touchdown in the Holy Land, brief hover and wait for Debbie to come pick me up, and I was HOME.

Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you
And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih) yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba lonke ilizwe
(ih hih ih hih ih) Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih)
Esanqoba phakathi e England
Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e London
Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e England
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Kulumani, Kulumani sizwe
Singenze njani
Baya jabula abasi thanda yo

ORFTORFU: white phosphorus

BBC News report from Orla Bowen, 15th September

"Today in the Gaza Strip, occupying forces fired a barrage of mortars, over 20% of which were white phosphorus shells, at civilian targets in total contravention of the Geneva Convention and basic moral behaviour. Human Rights Watch, the UN, B'Tselem, Hizbullah, Turkey, the International Solidarity Movement and other moderate NGOs and peace activists moved to condemn in the harshest possible terms this terrible crime against innocent women and children."

Only you will never actually see this story, because the occupying force is Hamas, which has perpetuated the misery of the inhabitants of Gaza for 5 years through exactly this kind of madness, and their target was Ashkelon and the surrounding villages.

Fortunately most of them landed in fields and nobody was injured. But once again the intent is the thing to focus on - they aimed callously at civilians, as opposed to the IDF's policy of aiming at the bad guys (which sometimes results in unfortunate collateral damage and mistakes in the heat of battle, for example shooting three apparently innocent Palestinians who found an RPG launcher in a field, picked it up and pointed it in the direction of the border - tragic but what exactly did they expect the reaction to be?).

The full article on the mortar barrage can be found here. ORFTORFU!

Monday, September 06, 2010

My Rosh Hashanah message

Dear Freedmanslifers

This is my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel as an Israeli citizen, so although I have trodden an increasingly secular path, I am acutely aware that Israel is the Jewish nation, and whilst I am struggling with what I believe in spiritually, I want to share with you thirteen articles of faith in my homeland:

I believe that Israel was founded on principles of being a force for good in the world. 
I believe that Israel can be proud of the way it has created a stable, modern, thriving, democratic state.
I believe in Herzl's Altneuland; Zionism is not a dirty word and we are not in a post-Zionist era - Zionism should articulate our continued efforts to bridge the gap between Israel's current realities and that utopia - if we will it, it is no dream.

I believe that Israelis (for all they like a good kvetch) care deeply for each other on a level that goes way beyond shared citizenship; that is why we all think of Gilad constantly, as if he was our own brother.
I believe that Israel is ready for genuine peace if they have genuine partners, willing to make creative solutions that are applied equally at last (ie recognising Jewish refugees from Arab lands, allowing settlers to take PA residency).
I believe that Israeli society can and will absorb the aftershock if these talks fail, and will never resile on its dream of a just peace merely because there is no-one to take its outstretched hand.

I believe that Israelis need to take much more individual responsibility for their actions domestically, for example not littering their beaches and national parks, and ensuring a high quality education for their kids.
I believe that parts of Israeli society need to achieve a better balance of their rights and responsibilities; everyone should serve the country in some capacity at 18, even if it's as park rangers, beach inspectors or classroom assistants.
I believe that Israel will be around a lot longer than Ahmedinejad, so it's worth planning on that basis instead of the usual short-termism that prevails in too much of society.

I believe that Israel is my home.

Please, those of you who are already here, help us to fix the parts that don't work; making aliyah is not the same as being an expat, and it comes with its own set of responsibilities.

Please, Diaspora Jews who are thinking of a holiday or a long stint somewhere, choose Israel and help us; it is not your duty to complete the work, but neither should you desist from participating.

Please, non-Jewish friends, I ask that you just judge us as you would any other country in the same circumstances; if you see mistakes on our part, work with us to resolve them, and if you see that others judge us unfairly, work with us to defend ourselves.

Please, Israeli government, let this be the year that you finally understand that BDS - the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (or Blacklist, Demonise and Slander, or Bias, Discrimination and Selectivism) - and the wider campaign against Israel that involves just about everyone on the left worldwide, has subverted most of Europe's trade unions, media and academia, most Muslims (at least passively), and the tut-tutting pacifist European middle classes who support the perceived underdog, who jump on bandwaggons, convoys and flotillas at the drop of a hat - represent a major strategic threat to our country, in the long run just as important as Iran or Hamas, and require us to make a large and ongoing investment in apparatus to respond to and defeat it, just as the IDF handles military defense.

It is a privilege to celebrate the first anniversary of my arrival in Israel today, just before Rosh Hashanah. It has been on the whole an incredible and fulfilling year - everyone keeps saying it's a honeymoon period but things feel like they are getting better and better, even though (or perhaps because?) there is so much to do personally, professionally and, um, societally...

Shana tovah umetuka - a good and sweet new year to all.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Guest spot: Tony Blair

I actually miss him, now it turns out Cameron has funny ideas about penal reform (if Gaza is a "prison camp", the UKPA had better start opening malls and allowing luxury cars into British jails).


Friday, August 20, 2010

Support full compensation for the nakba!

Superb article over at CiFWatch, about The Tragedy of Iraq’s Jews. As always, ORFTORFU is applied when it comes to talk of compensation and a "right of return" for Palestinian "refugees" (the definition of what constitutes a refugee is different for Palestinians compared to any other group of refugees). 

The Israeli government should be insisting that our own nakba is resolved alongside theirs. It might just highlight the issue that any meaningful peace accord will need to encompass a viable agreement with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab League and Saudi grand plans so far consist of carefully ensuring Israel takes full responsibility, past, present and future, for the Palestinian issue. The settlement of the devastating wrongs wrought by these countries (in some cases led then by the fathers and grandfathers of the current rulers) must surely be part of the deal. But it won't be.

Anyway, here is the article:

We hear much from the Palestinian spokesmen and their Arab and other supporters about their  right to return to what is now Israel, and their demands for compensation for Israel’s alleged displacement of them, but woefully little by comparison about the atrocities perpetrated against Jews from Arab countries, who lived (and in some cases still live) as second-class citizens or dhimmis, at the mercy of the Arab/Muslim governments throughout the Middle East (see also here in respect of the Jews of the Yemen).  Lynn Julius, using the ready overidentification of CiF with its Palestinian focus, wrote about the plight of Jews from Arab lands on CiF and called their treatment in Arab/Muslim countries the Jewish Nakba.

She tells us that ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries began when the Arab League, then comprised of Egypt, Iraq, Trans Jordan (or Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, contemplated passing a law in November 1947 which would brand all their Jews, some of whom had been resident in their respective countries for many generations, as “enemy aliens.”  Their governments’ treatment attitude to and treatment of them was not therefore a reaction to the declaration of independence of the Jewish state and although the “enemy aliens” law was contemplated, it was enacted in their behaviour towards their Jews.

Lynn Julius tells us that
“The Jewish “Nakba” – Arabic for “catastrophe” – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage – predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed.”
It suits the anti-Zionists to ignore this ethnic cleansing in their gadarene rush to accuse Israel of the ethnic cleansing of its Arab population, often without foundation.  I shall focus on the circumstances of Iraqi Jews, for reasons which I will explain later, but their circumstances may be said to be typical of all Jews who found themselves in Muslim countries:

Iraq arose out of ancient Babylonia and Assyria and has the oldest Jewish community in the world.  There has been a continuous Jewish presence there from 721 BCE to 1949 CE, which is two thousand six hundred and seventy years.   The status of Iraqi Jews fluctuated, some even held high positions in government, but at the same time they had to pay the jizya tax levied on non-Muslims.  They fared reasonably well until Iraq became independent in 1932.

In June 1941, a pro-Nazi coup, inspired by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini and led by Rashid Ali, led to riots and pogroms in Baghdad.  180 Jews were murdered and over 1,000 wounded.   More anti-Jewish rioting took place between 1946 and 1949.   When Israel was established in 1948 it became a capital offence for an Iraqi Jew to be a Zionist.

The following sets out the Nakba of the Iraqi Jews from 1948 until the early 1970′s when, in response to international pressure, the then government in Baghdad allowed many of the remaining Jews to leave quietly.  Those Jews who remained, only 61 in number as at 28 March 1998 according to the Associated Press, are too old to leave:
1950 – Iraqi Jews permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship.
1951 – Jews who emigrated had their property frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country.
1949 to 1951 - 104,000 Jews evacuated from Iraq (Operations Ezra and Nehemiah); another 20,000 smuggled out through Iran.  The Jewish population of 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.
1952 – Jews prevented from emigrating.
1963 – The rise of the Ba’ath factions resulted in additional restrictions being placed on those Jews who remained in Iraq.  Jews forced to carry yellow identity cards and sale of property was forbidden.
1967 (After the Six Days War) – many of 3,000 Jews who remained were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. More repressive measures were introduced, including the expropriation of Jewish property, freezing of Jews’ bank accounts, shutting of Jewish businesses, trading permits were cancelled, telephones were disconnected.  Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to cities.
1968 – Persecution at its worst.  Scores of Jews were jailed allegedly for spying and eleven Jews sentenced to death in staged trials.
27th January 1969 – Fourteen men – eleven of them the Jews mentioned previously – publicly hanged in Baghdad and others died of torture.  (Source: Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, “Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf”, p. 34)
(A sample list of Discriminatory Decrees and Violations of Human Rights of Iraqi Jews, which is not exhaustive, may be found at )

Why then, have I singled out the plight of Iraqi Jews when the life and human rights of any Jew who may remain in an Arab country or state is equally dire?

During the Gulf war I was forwarded a copy of a letter from Rabbi Carlos C Huerta, Jewish chaplain of the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles), immortalised by Stephen Spielberg in “Band of Brothers.” He was writing from Mosul in Iraq, sited in the ancient city of Nineveh, birthplace of the prophet Jonah, and shared his feelings about being in that ancient and holy place.   The letter is very movingly written.  I can identify with his feeling that the ghosts of the past were all around him, and with his urgency to bring back to the light and into consciousness again the life of those past times.   However, I would ask you to note the following in particular when this Rabbi happens upon the ancient synagogue:

“.. My heart broke as I climbed over the garbage piles that filled the room where, for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews had reached the heavens. I realised I was probably the first Jew to enter this holy place in over 50 years. Over three-and-a half meters of garbage filled the main sanctuary and what appeared to be the women’s section. I could barely make it out because of the filth, but there was Hebrew writing on the walls…..
” Tears came to my eyes, but I had to hold them back lest I put myself and the soldier with me in a dangerous situation. I had to pretend that I was only mildly interested in what they were showing me.* (emphasis mine). How does one absorb this kind of experience? How do I convey the feeling of hearing all those voices reaching out in prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top of all that garbage? How do I recover our history, how do I bring honour to a holy place that has been so desecrated? I have no answers. I only have great sadness, pain, and loneliness…”

*(This in itself should give rise for concern.  Why should this Rabbi have to hide his feelings about the Jews of Mosul-Nineveh who had been so cruelly treated?  Why should it have been “dangerous” for him to show them openly?)

The final impetus was provided by an article dated 16th January 2010, in the archives of Ha’aretz, in which Iraq urges the USA to give back the archive of Hebrew books and Jewish texts found in Iraq in 2003.  The books and texts were found soaking in sewage in the basement of a secret police building, presumably in Baghdad, although the article does not say. Iraq’s reasons for wanting back the treasured relics of the oldest Diaspora community in the world are a mixture of the mind-boggling insults and out-and-out lies and the usual utter lack of sensitivity towards the extent of the pain Iraq has caused its Jews.  

To quote from the Ha’aretz article:
“….But to Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, it is part of a larger effort to rescue the cultural history Iraq lost during the invasion, and to put Iraqis on a tentative path to coming to grips with their past.
“Iraqis must know that we are a diverse people, with different traditions, different religions, and we need to accept this diversity… To show it to our people that Baghdad was always multiethnic,”  said Eskander. ..”

The Iraqi government could demonstrate to the world that it is acting in good faith if it made reparations towards the survivors for the hundreds of thousands of Jews it has killed or caused to flee their homes, for the billions of dollars of assets it has expropriated from them,  for the fear and terror it has caused to them since well before the birth of the state of Israel.  Until it does this the first paragraph quoted above represents bad faith reasoning.
That being the case, I hope that the archive remains where it is in the United States so that the remaining Jews in Iraq can know that it will be safe and be accorded the respect it deserves.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shongololo's African Adventure: Part 4 (Cape Town-PE-Jozi)

People say she's crazy
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Well that's one way to lose these walking blues
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She was physically forgotten
Then she slipped into my pocket with my car keys
She said you've taken me for granted because I please you
Wearing these diamonds

And I could say oo oo oo
As if everybody knows what I'm talking about
As if everybody would know exactly what I was talking about
Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes

After an excellent breakfast in Swellendam, I took the recommendation of the local tourist office and headed off through the magnificent Tradouw Pass...

... and down the Scenic Route (R62), rather than the official Garden Route (N2). This mainly allowed me to avoid most of the tourists, grab a little picnic lunch at a nice country park, and take in some serious port-tasting  at Boplaas in Calitzdorp.

Following that, and needing to soak up a bit of alcohol before continuing, I forced down a couple of mugs of decent coffee with a huge icing-rich slab of cake at a very nice little cafe nearby. Oddly, there was a full-size snooker table in this cafe, so I moseyed in to see if anyone fancied a frame. Now I haven't played snooker for about 2 years, since beloved Wifey #1 buggered off to Melbourne. And it didn't help that the one guy who was there happened to be an ex-pro! I kept the score down to a respectable 40 point loss, though I suspect he was going easy on me.

Now fully sober, I got back on the road and headed to the Robinson Pass. Now this is one spectacular piece of road:

I got the timing right, and made it through the pass as the sun was starting to set, meaning a panoply of fabulous colours and glorious views (snapped with my phone camera on the move)...

I pulled into Mossel Bay in the early evening, and chuntered up the ludicrously steep hill to the Bar-T-Nique Guest House, where I had a vast room with great bay views. I pottered down into town for a bite to eat at a local pub, watched some sport, played some pool with the local talent, and conked out. Next morning, a vast spread for breakfast, set in an atrium overlooking the bay, then off on the main stretch of the Garden Route.

Some pesky work issues arose, so I drove into the rather dull town of George and found a very nice cafe with wifi, where I got a couple of hours of emails in, whilst wolfing down a decent spinach and feta crepe, before finding the lovely little "old road" from George to Knysna, which winds its way out of the back of the town, around some hairy little bends and over minuscule Brio bridges, before dropping back down through the Wilderness National Park lagoons to rejoin the N2.

I had timed my run so I could get to Knysna in time for a little stroll around and to watch the South Africa vs. France match, which SA needed to win by 3 or so clear goals to have any chance of going through. The French had managed to have a massive sulk the day before, and were in total disarray, but the Saffers showed about as much competence in front of goal as Emile Heskey. So they went out, but at least it was with a win.

From there, it was a simple drive up to Plettenberg Bay, where I was staying at the quite incredible Aquavit. Again I had a cavernous sea view room, and the hosts were utterly charming and urbane, greeting me at the door with a goblet of decent wine and recommending a phenomenal place for dinner, Emily's, which was off a small path off tan unbeaten track off the beaten track.

After a great night's sleep in their super-king-sized bed, and a heck of a breakfast on the terrace, I was back in the car and zooming towards Port Elizabeth in time for the 4pm kick-off of England vs. Slovenia. I had time to take in the lovely Storms River, the world's highest bungee jump, and this bizarre bridge to nowhere:

Arriving in PE, I had time for a quick drive around the town centre, which is quite attractive for the most part, then headed out to King's Beach where I met AJ and we took a spot of lunch before jumping on a shuttle bus to the game. Suffice to say there were no real highlights to speak of - England were better than they had been against Algeria but still not setting the world on fire, and the thing that cheered me up the most in the stadium was this flag belonging to the "Gants Hill Hammers":

About as close as Israel got to this World Cup...

After the match, we enjoyed a couple of swift Windhoek Lights before AJ headed back out to the Grahamstown Festival and I got on a plane from PE to Joburg. Needless to say, use of the lounge was a necessity, not least because the entire airport was littered with the paralytic bloated human detritus that accompanies the England football team (or do I mean IS the England football team?) wherever they travel. I literally had to step over one such corpse to get into the lounge.

Several rounds of buffet and port later, and I settled into my front row seat (low-cost was the only option here, it was as good as I could do to slip the check-in girl 50 rand for that and keeping an empty seat next to me). Then a cacophany of "it's coming home, it's coming home, it's cooooooming!" as David Baddiel himself sheepishly boarded the plane. And indeed it would all come home only too soon, but that is for the final chapter of Shongololo's African Adventure. Stay tuned.

She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
And puts on after-shave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes

And she said honey take me dancing
But they ended up by sleeping in a doorway
By the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway
Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes

And I could say oo oo oo
As if everybody here would know what I was talking about
I mean everybody here would know exactly what I was talking about
Talking about diamonds

Monday, August 02, 2010

Disabled Israeli children provoke rocket attack

Isn't that how it happened, British Ambassador Tom Philips, for whose charm and diplomatic rhetoric I actually fell on more than one occasion? Did the special needs children of Sderot help to, in your words, "breed radicalism" in Gaza, thus bringing this on themselves? Perhaps they were using their motorized wheelchairs to tow rockets onto the centre's roof to launch at innocent civilians, then hoping for a deadly and accurate response so they could reap the media reward of the collateral damage.

Full story here.

I think Dry Bones has got it just about right:

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Shongololo's African Adventure: Part 3 (Jozi-Cape Town)

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing 'round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson, Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won't bother you no more

After a hefty breakfast at Hippo Hollow, I made the long drive back down the N4 to Johannesburg, arriving just in time for the end of the opening ceremony and a massive braai at M&J's place. We watched the first game together while scoffing chops, chicken and boerewors. SA didn't completely embarrass themselves, and Tshabalala's goal was a masterpiece, but Mokoena's shambolic decision not to move up with the rest of his defenders cost them a cheap equaliser. It was clear (other than to the myriad people who had clearly never actually watched a footy match before) that they were going to struggle to get out of the group, let alone win the tournament as some people on crack had been suggesting.

Thus began a glorious few weeks of up to 4 matches a day to enjoy. I say "enjoy", as at that point I had not had to sit through 360 minutes of England playing. The first instalment of this utter misery was the following day, when we headed 90 mins north-west to Rustenburg, which is about as unattractive as it sounds. Before we went into the ground, there was a buzz of anticipation, mostly among people who are drunk at most England games and people who had never been to an England game. 

I swiftly set about crushing the hopes of any young England fans in the vicinity by pronouncing that they would play great footy for 15 mins, score a nice goal too early, and spend the rest of the game on the back foot before conceding a comical equaliser. Now why on earth did I not put money on that?

The Royal Bafokeng Stadium is pretty horrible - reminiscent of a dodgy UK council athletics track with broken signboards, catering that consisted totally of watery hot dogs, and some concrete stands that are too shallow to allow any decent perspective. This was in fact so bad that the advertising hoardings blocked our view of the goal line, so when Dempsey hit a tame shot, it looked like Rob Green had got down comfortably and saved it, until suddenly people started cheering. Lame.

Oh and the sodding vuvuzelas. Like having bees actually build their hive in your skull.

On the Sunday I headed to OR Tambo and ensconced myself in the BA lounge, which is surprisingly delightful, and looks after the funny little mini-BA operation that runs in South Africa. Top marks for the cheese cake and some excellent triple-distilled local brandy which I supped whilst lounging on a nice sofa watching Ghana continue the trend of Africans who promise much but never seem to finish anything off. At football. Not making a general slur here.

One courtesy upgrade (classic BA trick of moving the curtain back one row and leaving the middle seat empty) later, 2 hours of light snacking, and I landed in Cape Town where Dr Blond awaited. But what is this? Pissing rain? I did not sign up for that.

Luckily it did clear up for a scenic drive up Table Mountain:

A week in Cape Town passes pretty quickly, especially in the esteemed company of one of the great Jewish theologian-philosophers of our generation:

Or at least that's what Dr Blond said to me when I left.

I fitted in all the standard stuff - Robben Island, Waterfront, drive along the bays down to Cape Point with the delicious Vanessa, via some serious prawnage at Hout Bay, and back via some rather odd fish and chips at Kalk Bay, mooch around Long Street on game night, and hang out in Italian bars with Knuffelgirl:

Cape Town has that same blessing as Sydney - topographical porn. It just never gets boring when from almost any vantage point, there is a delightful combination of rugged coastline and jagged mountain to look at. Much the same as Joburg, I felt pretty unthreatened most of the time, with the most tense moment being at the end of the dreary England-Algeria game, when some England "fans" near us set upon a guy wearing a clown wig that they didn't find very amusing.

Particular culinary mentions need to go out to Dr Blond's amazing soup, the kilo of prawns at Hout Bay, and a sweet restaurant, wine bar and boutique hotel complex, the Cape Heritage Hotel. After a week of such delights, I waddled into the car and headed out for what is known as the Scenic Route via a late afternoon potter through Stellenbosch (wine heaven) and Franschhoek (food heaven).

I wound up at about 10pm in Swellendam, staying at a quaint and rather lovely B&B called The Hideaway. I stayed in the Queen Elizabeth Suite, complete with four-poster bed (pre-warmed by my lovely hostess), Cadbury's hot chocolate, and a jar of the most spectacular home-made shortbreads. In the morning I stumbled out of bed to a sumptuous mountain view, and took breakfast overlooking the lawn with a nice couple who were FCO bods based in Cairo but pretty much wishing they were in Tel Aviv.

The Garden Route officially begins just east of Swellendam at Heidelberg, and there begins Part 4 of Shongololo's African Adventure...

(a-wa) o kodwa u zo-nge li-sa namhlange
(a-wa a-wa) si-bona kwenze ka kanjani
(a-wa a-wa) amanto mbazane ayeza
She's a rich girl
She don't try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
Sing ta na na
Ta na na na
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes