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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Israel’s Release of 104 Palestinian Murderers

'We had to choose between a bad decision and an even worse one,'  these were the word spoken by Defense minister Moshe Yaalon today, justified by hints that secret deals had been made, either with the USA or Palestinians.

The lone consolation we can ease from the deep fissures of despair caused by the staged release of nationalist murderers is that this is a political decision that neither Israelis nor any one else can influence, for now.

In principle it may be that some of the incarcerated psychopaths will do no harm on their release into Arab society.  But some people would persuasively argue that Arab society encourages the sociopath and therefore, what we regard as deeply repugnant behaviour is, within Arab society, a social norm.  It is in the response to this discordance between Islam (the blanket around which the Arab world has chosen to wrap itself) and the West that Israel as an outpost of Western Civilization has failed to creatively respond.

In recent blogs I have criticized Israel’s founding fathers for their failure to integrate Israel’s Arab and ultra-orthodox minorities into society. Assuming that an Arab fifth column would need to be assimilated at some time in the unknowable future and that the ultra-orthodox would simply die out as the logic of superior secular culture enveloped them, has proven to be incredibly myopic.

Israeli Arabs have no support network within Israeli society to support them against Arab extremists who refuse to countenance co-existence with the Jews (Israelis).  Islamic triumphalists agitate for an Arab apartheid mini-state that will progressively undermine Israel.  It is Israel’s failure to undertake robust action against any individual or organization that does battle against minority integration that has shaped today’s terrible situation.   And the government of Israel will now release more people who undermine the authority of the state into communities that will become even more radicalized by their presence.

A quote from Ynet today:  “As talks resume in Washington, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says 'In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands'....” I have no problems with that, but I do have a response:

First: the Islamic world, particularly the Arab world has shown itself to be fundamentally incapable of honoring the cultural heritage of other races or religious groups throughout its 1,400 year history. In areas ruled by Palestinians, trust is wholly absent and respect non-existent. There is not a single reason to believe that this bigotry can be cured or controlled in an independent Palestine.   Jewish and Christian holy sites have often been targeted for desecration and destruction. The United Nations Organisation can never be trusted to assuage our concerns.  All areas of archaeological and religious interest that come under Palestinian oversight will have to be internationalized and even that will not guarantee religious freedom or security for Jews and Christians.

Second: If Palestine is to be ‘Jew free’ then it is only just that Israel be free of all people who desire to classify themselves as Palestinian rather than Israeli.  It is after all, a declaration of identification, of personal as well as national fealty.

I have two issues with the release of Arab murderers as a pre-condition for the restarting of peace talks.

The essence of sovereignty is the right of the nation to make decisions in its own defense. And that includes the right to lock up those who kill, for whatever reason.  Once the State takes the decision that Israeli Arab activities are outside of State jurisdiction then it also declares that its sovereignty is conditional. Therefore, it is no longer an independent nation.

I am not concerned that Palestine and Gaza will take to their collective bosom those who commit murder with a bliss that broaches not a moment of shame but that Israel will absorb up to 14 of these deeply sick individuals.  Their hatred contaminates the very air that their Israeli Arab neighbours breathe.  Their physical presence pollutes any free space that they inhabit.

The bigots will point out that Israel also had its terrorists in the struggle for independence. But as Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in Ma’ariv on the 28th of July ‘….somebody always pops up to repeat the lie that the Jews who fought the Mandate were also terrorists.  A half-truth is worse than a lie, because there was terrorism in the struggle against the British, but it was uncharacteristic.  Most of the Yishuv opposed it.  The Yishuv did not support it and did not finance it.  For the Palestinians, the murderers are heroes.’ The Palestinians honor them, they throw huge amounts of money at them, they immortalize them.

Goodwill gestures are meaningless if they fail to carry the people with them. A recent poll found that 88% of the Jewish population is opposed to the release of these murderers as a precondition for restarting negotiations. Previous swaps were supported by a majority of Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu owes the people an explanation.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Shas - Misunderstanding Compassion.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri is a part of the disconnected mind set within ultra-orthodox society. On the 24th of June 2013 it was reported that he pleaded with the Knesset to have compassion for the sector he claims to represent.  He used the word “rachamim” which translates as mercy.  In fact it is more than that; it is a religious concept that denotes giving for the benefit of one who is less fortunate than oneself.  In the Kabbalah "rachamim is the sense of true empathy with the other's soul in his present life situation”.

He went from pleading to threatening.  He excoriated the Knesset for reducing the stipend of the more extreme, divisive sectors of Israeli society. He associated the withdrawal of money previously provided to the most implacably anti-unity sections of society to a violation of human rights; as if calls to civil disobedience, murder and civil war by some leaders of the Haredi community were not in contravention of the compact between the individual and civil society.

As a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, MK Aryeh Deri even threatened to take the government of Israel to the International Court of Justice because he does not agree that his sector of Israeli society should share the pain of economic hardship with the rest of Israeli society, as if somehow, they are privileged by the abuse they heap upon us. But then, abusive relationships are characterized by the asymmetrical nature of the relationship, with the abuser insisting, they act by right.

In spite of all the banner headlines referring to Israel ‘the Start Up Nation’ there is widespread poverty in Israel. According to the report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in May 2013, Israel is the most impoverished of the world’s thirty-four economically developed countries. Israel has a higher percentage of poor people than Mexico and Turkey. Even economic basket cases such as Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, at least in the poverty stakes all of these nations do considerably better than Israel where greater than one in five people are living in poverty.

The trend is for an even greater percentage of the world’s poor to be lifted out of poverty.  Across the globe more people are joining the middle classes and leaving poverty behind them.  In part this is due to the globalisation of the international economy but also nations such as China and India are recognizing that in order to maintain stability they need to be able not only to create wealth but to also sustain it across an ever increasing percentage of the total population.  But in Israel the impoverishment of the middle classes is destroying their aspirations without yanking the lower classes out of poverty and into the middle classes. No longer is there shame attached to Yeridah (literally it means descent) or emigration. With no hope for the future there is increasing dissatisfaction with government and a significant brain-drain. For those that have no other choice than to stay put, lack of trust lowers a people’s respect for the rule of law.

Where is the fear that rules the Ultra-Orthodox constituents of MK Deri? It is in the shackles that bind the poor to the parties that benefit most from the maintenance of relative poverty. Let me explain why.  A person without the means to earn a living is inexorably and inextricably bound to their community.   The Ultra orthodox community has an employment take up rate, for its men, of about 48% (2011) - the remainder are financially supported by the state and by their community which is in turn supported by donations from wealthy donors abroad.

Under such circumstances the possibility of leaving the community or changing ones lifestyle in order to improve ones economic situation is limited.  A life of religious coercion is as much of a trap for the Hasid as it is for those people who do not necessarily want to continue to religiously identify to the degree that they currently must in order to qualify for the assistance of their communities.

A faith community that can only survive on government handouts has no ethical right to demand acquiescence to their religious vision because it cannot base its demands on mutual respect. The beggar who demands a wage for standing on a street corner is forever trapped in a cycle of poverty and extortion and that does not create harmony; over time it can only destroy it.

The threats of MK Deri were indicative of his failure to understand that the state could no longer afford the social model that his party helped to create.  It is a model predicated on the belief that increased social hand-outs in exchange for Torah study is sustainable in the long term; that wealth redistribution to an ever widening circle of religious families can be supported by the commensurate productivity gains of those ever fewer secular families who pay taxes.

But Deri’s greatest failure is in his misunderstanding of the mood of the people. Ultra-orthodox pronouncements express ever greater levels of contempt for secular society and blatant disregard for the moral obligations of his constituency towards the society to which they look for financial support.   His constituency is increasing its threats to murder Haredi soldiers, and more focus is now being spotlighted on the escalating violence perpetrated against women; but barely a word has been spoken against either issue, by the ultra orthodox community because guidance has long ceased to be based on ethics. Rival tribal allegiances are a fertile breeding ground for violence by reactionary bigots.  Look at the terror that is a characteristic of the religious intolerance of the Muslim World. The threat to Israel is greatest in its disunity but government has failed to recognize and tackle this issue.

If the most famous slogan of the American Revolutionary War was “no taxation without representation” then in Israel it is time that “no representation without taxation” became part of the Haredi community’s understanding of their responsibilities to society.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Abolish the Chief Rabbinate or Reform it

Throughout Jewish history there has been constant theological dissent. The joke of two Jews, three opinions is no joke.   It is paradoxically, the source of our greatest creativity and of our fragmentation and discord.  The foundation of the power that missionary faiths possess has always been their ability to rally the troops around a central banner; to speak with a single commanding voice.  And to annihilate any opposition so that there was one narrative only, to present to outsiders.  While this hegemonic characteristic successfully built nations and empires it also became the source for wars of terrible ferocity, and always, the instrument for exploitation and persecution of dissident opinion and sects.

Religious Jewish unity, if it exists, exists only in myth.  The special advisers to various plenipotentiaries were created for one purpose, and that was to represent the Jewish community before the king or emperor.

During the British Mandate of Palestine the High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, in 1921 established the Orthodox Rabbinate.  Separate Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis were created to replace the religious leader in the Ottoman system.

David Ben Gurion and his secular colleagues did not believe the ultra-orthodox community would survive the existence of a modern, pluralistic Jewish State.  Their secular indifference to any religion was sufficient reason for them to leave all issues of personal status to the religious authorities of all the recognised confessional communities.   

Their intellectual cowardice was arguably their greatest failure. By outsourcing personal ethics to separate faith communities they created the foundations for national division and gave succour to all those people and groups whose rejection of the notion of Jewish independence was unfazed by history.  The millet system of the Ottoman Empire kept separate communities in their place even as it gave them the opportunity to govern themselves. It was always corrupt. The early leaders of the state lacked the vision to appreciate the damage to national cohesion their repudiation of responsibility for forging a national identity implanted in the social fabric of modern Israel.

Institutions can be both for profit and for society and while one does not preclude the other, institutions are usually imbued with social purpose.

The Chief Rabbinate does not represent nor has it ever represented the people of Israel. It represented a minute sub-set which was continuously looking over its collective shoulder for affirmation by the most extreme elements of a disjointed constituency.  The hostility of its pronouncements on issues affecting Israeli society inevitably placated no-one and alienated everyone.   Secular inertia and growing mutual disdain was the impetus behind the religious status quo.  Religious authorities were largely ignorant of secular society with little or no secular education.  Ambivalence towards Zionism contributed nothing towards reconciliation between people of diverse religious backgrounds.

Islamic radicals living in the West explain the generous funding they receive from their host state as proof that the contempt they hold for a demoralized and decadent Western society (as they perceive it) is God given and therefore justified. In the same way the Rabbinate in Israel showed its hatred for secular society.

It expected the state to fund a lifestyle that returned nothing but contempt to the taxpayers that supported them and by this means it alienated the majority of secular Jews from Judaism even as they expected all of us to genuflect before them.

One former Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, ‘branded non-religious education and the civil justice system as "corrupting, evil forces."  He decreed that any parent who sends his kids to secular schools is unfit to lead his congregation in prayer at the synagogue, even if he maintains a religious lifestyle.’ (Kobi Nahshoni, Ynet 21st August 2012)

He claimed that ‘most’ teachers were heretics and ‘most’ judges, evil.

The Chief Rabbis should guide the nation’s morals, provide direction in time of crisis and consolation when the nation grieves or is in pain. Instead, just one small example demonstrates the failure of this institution.   Following a tragedy in which a dozen school girls died in a terrible accident, one of the Chief Rabbis blamed the parents. 

The rabbinate is perceived as being a corrupt body that provides jobs for the boys. Its coercive power has not been diminished even when its ultra orthodox followers state that Judaism is theirs and no-one else’s.    Rabbi Eliezer Schach forbade his party from joining a coalition government because of the appointment of an ultra-secular politician as Education Minister (Shulamit Aloni in 1992).

When we engage with our adversaries we also humanize them. Democratic politics is concerned with the freedom to make mistakes. The quality of its success is dependent on its constructive adversity between alternative paths to the similar visions and different paths to unrelated visions.  It is what drives innovation and change. Reactionary institutions are terrified of any change that they cannot control.  To quote Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit (“Occidentalism – a short history of anti Westernism”) …“Guardians of tradition, culture and faith see a conspiracy to destroy what is profound, authentic and spiritual”.

While attending a wedding, the current front-runner for one of the two posts of Chief Rabbi was physically assaulted by ultra-orthodox guests.  Rav David Stav is ‘modern orthodox,’ he served in the IDF as a combat solder.

Let us be clear.  Most Israelis are secular Jews but most secular Israelis want a rabbi to conduct their wedding ceremony. The Rabbinate is a malicious, corrupt and out of control bureaucracy, it is supposed to serve as a spiritual beacon to the people of Israel.  If it has failed the test of a state institution it is because its employees are employed by a state for which they have no respect.

It is odd that in the month of Av the ultra orthodox have performed a modern day version of desecrating the Temple by attacking Jews, praying at the Western Wall. Add to this, Haredi soldiers being mobbed by ultra-orthodox Jews for whom service in defense of the state is simply a waste of time and it becomes clear that the orthodox community is guided by power and not by ethics.

The contract between Israel and its citizens is broken. Ben Gurions' heirs are now reaping the consequences for his failure to bring all Israel’s minorities into the mainstream.

Guidance from the Chief Rabbinate has been political, not ethical. If the Institution is to continue to exist, its membership and not only its leaders must all be graduates of a secular education system, people who have lived and worked in a world of toil.  Only then can they have the character that previous incumbents have lacked – without love for all their fellow men (and women), and without grace they are no different to the narrow minded secular bigots that demand liberation from religious coercion. In fact they are much worse because in their public visibility they betray the essence of what is positive in leading a life of religion.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Edward Snowden Civilization and Self Defense

The Tower Magazine, with its 4th issue (July 2013) has some truly informative articles, one of which is titled “The Gezi Diaries: Can we still call Turkey Civilized?”  ( Sadly, the headlines we read, too often mask the prejudice of the writer or editor.

Setting aside my own jaundiced view of Turkey, the title betrays a fundamental error. ‘Civilization’ is a structural concept that defines the material as well as the conceptual construct of a people at a given time and place.  ‘Civilized’, on the other hand, is a process; therefore, it is an ongoing project. When our forefathers (and foremothers) listened with enthusiasm to the latest works of Herr Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), most of them lived short, miserable lives; they died prematurely of hunger, disease or exhaustion; their rights were severely limited and their obligations many and onerous.  Beethoven’s contemporary supporters assumed they lived at the peak of human civilization. 

My point is not a petty one.  Civilization is a process and a dialogue.  Western Civilization is a Jewish process. I will explain!  At the centre of the Jewish faith is a concept that the ends can never justify the means. In practical terms, no democratic state would survive if it did not do things that were against its core values, unless those core values are authoritarian or totalitarian in the first place.  It is why the article referred to above asks a misleading question.

Turkish history is authoritarian, even during its so called ‘democratic’ phase.  Our Western democracy has often exhibited authoritarian tendencies in response to a perceived threat to what we were comfortable with.  Change can only be for the better if are able to accept it, which is why change can take time and is an ongoing process. A vindictive and damaged society will often resort to means that justify the end result.  If the ends do not justify the means then we do not convict a person without proof and the greater the consequences the more onerous is the burden of proof required for conviction.  At least that is the theory.

We often ask how it is possible that so many people, identifying themselves as Jewish, express beliefs that are antisemitic. In fact, if the ends do not justify the means then as a pure concept, devoid of any quid pro quo, the Jewish State is an oxymoron, Judaism must be permanently evolving and Gandhi was right to say that resistance during the Shoah was wrong – that we should have embraced our executioners with love.

I do see things a little bit different.  I agree that we are evolving. But we are essentially barbarians. All of us are.  Behind that civil façade we can still become accustomed to self protection and bestiality.  Our neurological responses can be sensitised or desensitised.  Daniel Kahneman wrote an interesting (but difficult) book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” In it he writes about a self-reinforcing pattern of cognitive, emotional and physical responses that are both diverse and integrated. He called this pattern ‘associative coherence’.   This associative coherence creates a context for future action and all it takes is the association of words in a group to an image or a word for us to respond emotionally rather than intellectually.

If, we are still evolving, then it is right that we protect the values we cherish.  Sometimes we will not like the methods used for the protection of society. That is how we debate change in a democratic society.

I believe I understand why Edward Snowden leaked documents he was obliged to keep secret.

To quote Wikipedia he “leaked details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.”  The Guardian of London “published a series of exposés based on Snowden's disclosures in June 2013”.  Snowden revealed information about a variety of classified intelligence data interception programs, both US and British.

“Snowden's leaks are said to rank among the most significant breaches in the history of the NSA.”

He justified the leaks by stating that “... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded."

Society is a contract between the state, its institutions and laws, and the people.  Our civilization is built on the creative tension that surrounds and infuses every part of that contract.  If I commit an illegal act or wish harm on a person or group within society then does the state have the right to spy on me?   Is it ‘fair’ to spy on me to protect others at the cost of sacrificing my rights? If the answer is yes, at what point does the balance in that contract between us tip against me and become ‘unfair’. There should be unambiguous legal guidelines to what is permitted but are our laws sufficiently robust in a world of existential enemies capable of and willing to commit acts of mass carnage? 

Snowden obviously believed that the balance had tipped dangerously against the people.  The front page of Left wing British newspaper, The Guardian (of June 10, 2013) read as follows:  “The Whistle-blower.  I can’t allow the US government to destroy privacy and basic liberties.”

I leave you with the following summation by my associate, Murray Kahl.

Edward Snowden, patriot or traitor?
Israeli & Global News
02 July 2013

Edward Snowden's security leaks are profound and dangerous. They created a division of emotions within the readers as they exposed unwanted surveillance on the US population beyond anything ever imagined, perhaps by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

Americans are faced with the price of security versus legislated freedoms and the answers are not clear. Nevertheless, the issues involved were presented by the government in an either/or choice that needs clarification.

There are freedoms and restrictions within any democracy that do not need legislation as they are intrinsic to all groups of civilized people and are called mores. Others not as important are labeled folkways. It is impossible to define all and they must be explained on an individual basis, sometimes in court.

The issue is how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for security? Is it absolute or to be determined by elected representatives and should it be the subject of a national referendum?

Snowden raised another problem, which is the right of an American citizen to be the ultimate arbiter of his rights? He claimed his actions were honorable and in the best interests of the US, as he stated, we do not have the "constitutional government we were promised."

Of course he is entitled to his opinion yet that is not the problem. The problem is whether he was justified in stealing state secrets and divulging them to other countries, knowing the damaging effect this would have on US international relations? These actions cannot be resolved with exposing wiretapping in the US and is a separate issue that casts doubt on his motives. He also runs the risk of entrapment by another country that might shelter him and all his undisclosed secrets.

This issue could be resolved by Snowden voluntarily returning to the US with the understanding that he will be tried for espionage, with an agreement that sensitive classified matters will not be discussed in open court.

The fairness of such a trial would be available to those he describes as an "angry public," and he would receive a fair trial.

End of quote.

We are living in an era that has been witness to individuals hijacking an airplane, weighing some 400 tons and filled with people, crashing it into a skyscraper filled with people, resulting in the deaths of thousands of those people.   I do not believe that any one person has the right to decide what may or may not be done on my behalf to keep me safe from the repetition of further atrocities. The Saudi and Egyptian nationals responsible for this act of mass murder are representative of a small but significant minority who will always find ample justification for their heinous crimes. There are lots more where they came from.  The ends do not justify the means but we do not live in a world that respects our right to life and therefore we are bound by self protection to fight for our right to survive. It is how we fight that war that will define our civilization.  Edward Snowden represents one of the players in that war.  People who have secrets fear not being able to control them.  His treason was meant to be his stand for freedom, but to me he has taken up a position alongside of our enemy.