Sunday, March 29, 2009


Palestinians can be narrow minded embittered self righteous and self defeating too.

I previously reported on a really nice story about a Palestinian youth orchestra that played at an old folks center in Israel for aged Holocaust survivors. The encounter had been one meant to build good will, and it brought together two communities that hardly know each other. Each group ended up learning something about the other.

A nice heart warming story? Right?

Well not to the leadership of the Jenin refugee camp. In reaction they have disbanded the orchestra, and barred its Israeli Arab director from entering the camp.
Adnan Hindi of the Jenin camp called the Holocaust a political issue and accused conductor Wafa Younis of unknowingly dragging the children into a political dispute.

He added that Younis has been barred from the camp and the apartment where she taught the 13-member Strings of Freedom orchestra has been boarded up.

"She exploited the children," said Hindi, the head of the camp's popular committee, which takes on municipal duties. "She will be forbidden from doing any activities.... We have to protect our children and our community."

The move highlights the sensitivity of many Palestinians over acknowledging Jewish suffering, fearing it would weaken their own historical grievances against Israel.

"The Holocaust happened, but we are facing a similar massacre by the Jews themselves," Hindi said. "We lost our land, and we were forced to flee and we've lived in refugee camps for the past 50 years."

...Hindi said Palestinians - especially in his hardscrabble cinder block refugee camp - had suffered at the hands of Israel and demanded their grievances be acknowledged first.

The refugee camp in the northern West Bank was the scene of a deadly April 2002 battle where 23 Israeli soldiers were killed, alongside 53 Palestinian militants and civilians, in several days of battle. The clash destroyed swathes of the refugee camp.

The camp's residents are descendants of Palestinians who were displaced during Israel's war of independence.

source - Haaretz
The orchestra was formed to help Palestinian youth from the Jenin camp get over the trauma of the trauma of the 2002 battle in the camp.

Wafa Younis, the now banned director of the orchestra was quoted as saying: "We didn't do anything wrong."

Indeed. In a game of who can be more stubborn and self righteous the Palestinians will lose. We Jews have had more practice. The orchestra's playing to the Holocaust survivors probably did more to convince Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank than a dozen suicide bombers. Mr Hindi plays into the hands of Israeli hardliners, just as Hamas helps boost the Likud and its allies. And this not to mention the disappointment he has has caused to children of his own community who he claims he "must protect."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Much Ado About Durban II

The organized Jewish Community has been in a tizzy about the "Durban II" conference - the follow up to the UN's 1990 Durban Conference. They are lobbying, successfully in many cases, that Western nations boycott the conference because it "promises to be an anti-Semitic hate fest", "dominated by Islamic states." Canada, Italy and Israel have already announce they will not attend. The U.S. has said it will not attend unless major changes are made to the draft summary resolution. Many other European nations are threatening to boycott as well.

All this noise has had some effect. All references to Israel/Palestine have been removed from the draft resolution. But that's not good enough. According to the JTA:
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- It's not nearly enough.

That's the consensus among American Jewish groups over the changes made last week to the draft resolution for next month’s Durban Review Conference in Geneva, and it appears the Obama administration agrees.

While explicit negative references to Israel have been eliminated, U.S. Jewish leaders say the text's reaffirmation of the declaration from the virulently anti-Israel 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, makes the new document unacceptable.

“It's a backdoor way of including” derogatory language about Israel, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We have to be careful not to be fooled,” said Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, calling the change an effort at “camouflage” to soften the opposition.

...The Obama administration has indicated that the new draft resolution is unacceptable.

The problem for the Americans, Canadians, Jewish groups and some European countries is that the new text reaffirms the Durban 2001 resolution in its very first sentence and adds a dozen more references throughout the 17-page document. ....

So what is in the 2001 Durban declaration that is so offensive? You can read the entire declaration here, but the only references I can find to Israel or Palestine are the following two paragraphs.

63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;


151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;

That's it: the great anti-Semitic hate document! And, by the way, the same document also condemns antisemitism in two of its paragraphs.

Yes, its true the document does not mention by name discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka, Aborigines in Australia, or Turks in Germany. But it does mention - 9 times - discrimination in Europe against Roma and 26 times discrimination everywhere against people "of African descent". The document is not perfect and not perfectly balanced, but it is not anti-Semitic or hateful as we are being lead to believe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Palestinian children sing for Holocaust survivors

I just thought this was a nice story.

The truth is it shouldn't be so unusual as to be newsworthy. The story was originally published by AP, and has been pick up by hundreds of news sites around the world. Some of the more interesting quotes:

... the youths had no idea they were performing for people who lived through Nazi genocide — or even what the Holocaust was. "I feel sympathy for them," Ali Zeid, an 18-year-old keyboard player who said he was shocked by what he learned about the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in their campaign to wipe out European Jewry.

"Only people who have been through suffering understand each other," said Zeid, who said his grandparents were Palestinian refugees forced to flee the northern city of Haifa during the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948.

As a host announced in Hebrew that the youths were from the Jenin refugee camp, there were gasps and muttering from the crowd. "Jenin?" one woman asked in jaw-dropped surprise.

Younis, from the Arab village of Ara in Israel, then explained in fluent Hebrew that the youths would sing for peace, prompting the audience to burst into applause.

"Inshallah," said Sarah Glickman, 68, using the Arabic term for "God willing."

... Glickman, whose family moved to the newly created Jewish state in 1949 after fleeing to Siberia to escape the Nazis, said she had no illusions the encounter would make the children understand the Holocaust. But she said it might make a "small difference."

"They think we are strangers, because we came from abroad," Glickman said. "I agree: It's their land, also. But there was no other option for us after the Holocaust."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Fish Stinks From Its Head

Lest anyone misunderstand, I was not, in my previous blog entry on T-Shirts, blaming the youth, the common for soldier, for the increased brutality of the Gaza campaign. Their aggressive and vicious ethos is itself a symptom of the increased coarseness, anger, and self-righteousness of Israeli society as a whole. These young soldiers are trained to these attitudes by the officer corp, who are backed up by the mood of much of the civilian leadership.

Today's Ha'artez reports:
On Saturday, Channel 10 showed a documentary that included a security briefing by a company commander on the eve of the Gaza invasion.

"We're going to war," he told his soldiers. "We're not doing routine security work or anything like that. I want aggressiveness - if there's someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we'll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we'll take it down."

"There will be no hesitation," the commander continued. "If it's us or them, it'll be them. If someone approaches us unarmed, shoot in the air. If he keeps going, that man is dead. Nobody will deliberate - let the mistakes be over their lives, not ours."

I myself reported that the IDF was planning, as long ago as this past September, increased aggressiveness and the targeting of civilians as part of its strategic doctrine. This from the highest levels of the Israeli military.

And, of course, it is the political leadership that perpetuates the occupation and exasperates the daily lives of the Palestinians, thus increasing the resistance, thus increasing the violence, thus increasing the violent response, thus hardening the hearts (on both sides), thus increasing hatred, stereotyping, and callousness, thus increasing the incidents of violence and torment, thus increasing ...

The aggressive viciousness of the common soldiers is thus both a cause and an effect of the whole sorry mess. It is not that different then the shocking pictures we see of young Palestinians shouting hateful slogans about the Israelis.

Schar averah, averah. And, if we don't do something concerted to end this "viscous spiral" (or is it a "spiral of viciousness",) it will continue. We can start by loudly and effectively condemning it. But that would require strong and moral leadership: see headline.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Praying For Social Justice

Last Tuesday, members of my synagogue spent the day participating in a month long "Multi-Faith Prayer Vigil" outside the Ontario Legislature Buildings and Queen's Park. Our Rabbi lead the noon time service.

The prayer vigil is being held this month, in advance of the provincial governments budget, which is to be announced on March 26. The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Council, of which our synagogue is a member, and which is sponsoring the vigil describes its purpose as:
Ontario’s faith communities are praying for the poor at Queen’s Park during a series of pre-budget vigils outside the provincial legislature in March.

Provincial politicians will also be in the prayers of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and representatives of other faiths during the seven-hour vigils.

Multifaith participants will be praying for the integrity, courage and spiritual strength of MPPs. And they’ll be praying for compassion to be directed to the poor in the provincial budget expected to be presented in the legislature on March 26.

During the last election, 18 month ago, the governing Liberal Party had promised to make poverty reduction a keystone of its agenda. It has spent over a year studying the matter, and now, with the recession on, it says that "Obviously things have changed."

Yes they have: for the worse! There are more poor, and they need more government help then ever! And money or services to the poor, or construction of affordable housing, is as much of an economic stimulus (more so in fact) as tax proposed rebates to the middle class, or the building of new university facilities, or the many of the other stimulus measures being floated. For background on the issue read here, here, here and here.

The idea of the vigil, of course, is to show the politicians that there is a constituency for compassion and justice that rivals the anti-tax and "economic efficiency" lobby. It is to remind them that, as the people's representatives, there are many people who are not just focused on their own well being, but who care about others, and want that care reflected in government policies.

The morning I spent at the vigil was inspirational. It was good to be with people who unashamedly said that good policy and good politics must be just and compassionate. That the bottom line has to include the poor, and not just the economic elites. That the success of our society is not measured by the number of BMWs but by the number of people well fed and well housed.

Rabbi Grimberg focused the noon service around learning of Jewish texts on social justice. "For Jews, study is a form of prayer." The following are from a hand-out she prepared.

1. A person should be more concerned with spiritual than with material matters. But another person’s material welfare is his own spiritual concern.
Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883), founder of the Mussar movement

2. And God said, “Let us make adam in our image after our likeness... And God Created adam in God’s image, in the image of God, God created adam, male and female God Created them.
Genesis 1:26-27

3. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am Adonai your God.
Leviticus 19:9-10

4. Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, clothe him, and do not ignore your fellow.
Isaiah 58:7

5. Rabbi Hama said: What does the text mean, ‘You shall walk in God’s path?’ Surely this does not imply that a person actually walks behind the Divine Presence. Rather the meaning is to follow after the attributes of the Holy One. As God clothes the naked so do you clothe the naked; as the Holy One visits the sick, so do you visit the sick; as the Holy One comforts mourners, so do you comfort mourners; as the Holy One, buries the dead, so do you bury the dead.
Babylonian Talmud Sotah l4a

6. If there is among you a poor person, your fellow, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them, and lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever they may be.
Deuteronomy 15: 7-8

7. Give to the needy readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Eternal your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings
Deuteronomy 15:10

8. The highest form of charity is to step in with help to prevent a person from becoming poor. This includes offering a loan or employment investing in a business or any other form of assistance that will avoid poverty The basis for this principle is the commandment in our Passage: you shall Strengthen the poor.
Maimonides’ commentary to Leviticus 25:35.38

9. There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty the most terrible of sufferings, Our teachers said: All the troubles of the world are assembled on one side and poverty is on the other.
Midrash Rabbah Exodus 31:12

11. When you give food to a hungry person give your best and sweetest food.
Hilchot lssurei Mizbayach 7:11

10. There is no word in the Hebrew vocabulary for “charity” in the modern sense. The word used is tzedakah which literally means “righteousness.” Tzedakah is not an act of condescension by the affluent toward the needy. It is the fulfillment of a moral obligation. Injustice to humanity is desecration of God. Refusal to give charity is considered by Jewish tradition to be idolatry
Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein, Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice, UAHC Press New York, NY, p. 93.

11. The Maharal of Prague taught that there are two types of tzedaka: reactive and proactive. Reactive tzedaka is based on compassion for those who suffer, and it is almost selfish because it is giving in order to remove the painful sight of poverty. Proactive tzedaka seeks out opportunities without being asked. It practitioners understand partnership with the One. (Netivot Olam Netiv Ha~edaka Chapter 1) Rabbi Mordechai Liebling from RRC’s Guide to Jewish Practice Tzedaka

12. For this reason was the human being created alone, to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes guilt to him as though he had destroyed an entire world, And whosoever preserves a single soul; Scripture ascribes merit to him as though he had preserved a complete world.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4: 5

13. A theology which is not a plan of social action is merely a way of preaching and praying, It is a menu without the dinner.
Rabbi Mordecal Kaplan, Random Thoughts p. 22

14. Belief in God has to do with our attitude toward life itself. Do we find life good? Is life worthwhile? If we believe that life is worthwhile that it is good, that, in spite of all the sickness and accidents, in spite of all the poverty and war, in spite of all the sad and difficult conflict in the world, the world is a wonderful place to live in and can be made still a better place, then we believe in God. When we believe in God, we cannot be discouraged because we believe that all the misery in the world is due, not to the fact-that misery must be there, but to the fact that we have not yet discovered how to do away with that misery.
Ira Eisenstein, quoted in Kol Haneshamah

15. Don’t merely expect to find or to believe that life is worthwhile; make it worthwhile.
Don’t merely see life whole; make it whole.
Not knowing which should come first, to improve one’s self or to improve the world, we end up doing neither.
Actually, the only way to improve the world is by improving one’s self, and the only way to improve one’s self is by improving the world.
Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan

16. We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation;
For we already have the resources
With which to feed the entire world
If only we could use them wisely.

Therefore we pray instead
For strength, determination, and will power,
To do instead of merely to pray
To become instead of merely to wish;
That our world may be safe,
And that our lives may be blessed.
Jack Riemer- adapted in Kol Haneshamah

We also recited the Psalm of the Day for Tuesday, which turned out to be quite appropriate.
1. A Psalm of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; he judges among the judges.
2. How long will you judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
3. Do justice to the poor and the orphan; vindicate the afflicted and needy.
4. Save the poor and needy; rescue them from the hand of the wicked.
5. They do not know, nor will they understand; they walk in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6. I have said, You are angels; and all of you are sons of the most High.
7. Nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.
8. Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to you shall all nations belong.
Lets pray that our prayers will be effective. But also, if you live in Ontario, write to your MPP, and ask them to push for strong poverty alleviation measures in this week's budget. You can find a list of MPP email addresses here.

T-Shirts Tell The Tale

There has been a lot of talk lately about how the Israeli army (and society) has lost its moral compass. The brutality of the Gaza war (and the 2006 Lebanon II war) have brought this to the fore. To see the latest testimony of Israeli soldiers about the lack of moral restraints and ethical reflection - the contemptuous meanness that has crept into the Israeli army - read the soldiers own testimonies as published in Haaretz.

Tons has been written already about these revelations, and there is a not a lot I can add. Two articles stand out however, and are worth a read.

Patrick Martin's piece in the Globe, aptly titled "A Farewell to the Purity of Arms."(And BTW see also my own previous blog entries on Purity of Arms, from October 2008.) Martin ends his article with an observation by Rabbi Dow Marmur (formerly of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto)

Irving Greenberg said it's incumbent on us Jews to exercise power with a memory of powerlessness, otherwise the history of Judaism will be invalidated.

That is something these soldiers should be told. But, instead, we are sending these young people into wars they can't win; putting enormous pressure on them to finish the job. It's no wonder they shoot to kill everyone.

It's up to Jewish leadership to guard against this.

Yes indeed!

The other interesting piece is Bernard Avishai's piece "Child Abuse", in which he writes:

Let me get this straight. We take 18 and 19-year-olds, young people who are little more than children themselves, and at a time of life when showing the utmost cool is a kind of sexual ante; a time when ideas about the world are largely received wisdoms; when bodies are at their utmost strength but so is the fear of death ... when the people from whom wisdoms are received are parents or mentors loved to the utmost; when minds are just intimidated enough about life's scrum to feel utmost gratitude for family and commonwealth--when the desire to prove one's loyalty is at its most intense.

Then we take these youth ... and tell them that the Arabs, deep down, will never want a Jewish state in the neighborhood; that, in any case, the land is sacred, and giving ground is an utmost sin of Jewish law, as is showing mercy to those who would kill you; that ... terrorism can come in any form, male and female, young and old ...

We tell them, moreover, that the [Arab] civilians ... encouraged the terrorism they must now root out, ... that these Arabs are secretly all waiting and hoping for Iran, the new Amalek, to incinerate Tel-Aviv;... that the strategic goal is to reestablish deterrence, which means scaring the shit out of Arabs, so that they will finally accept the fact that, as former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon put it, they are a "defeated" people ...

Presumably, some European state prosecutor will now want to take our children to the world court. But I wonder: if the court had a social worker, would she not just be threatening to take them away from their parents?
As if to prove his point, I stumbled across these photos in an article in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz. They are of printed T-shirts that soldiers in Israeli army units make for themselves. This is a a long standing tradition in the Israeli army. A way of bonding with your army buddies and showing off to the people back home. I have a unit T-shirt from when I served in the Israeli army. The difference is that these crop logos of are just plan vicious, whereas they used to be merely macho - or, in the case of my unit, humorous.

The sad thing to remember when viewing these army T-shirts, is that Israel has a "peoples army". There is a universal draft, and most young people serve, and are therfore saturated to the culture that produces these shirts. The state of war, the universal military service, the day to day conflict with the Arabs, has been going on for 60 years. It has intensified in the past 40 years (since the occupations of 1967) and then stepped up a notch in the last 20 years (since the first intifada). The results are seen in the stories revealed by soldiers' interviews in Haaretz.

Dow Marmur, in his comments in the Globe, asks: "The important thing to determine is: Were these isolated incidents or widespread behaviour?"

Sadly, I think the T-shirt logos show that the moral rot is deep. Maybe these kids will grow out of it. Or, more probably, they will grow up to be the senior officers, policy makers and educators of tomorrow.

* * *

On the right, a T-Shirt showing a mosque being dynamited, produced for the Sapper's Unit of Battalion 13 of the Golani Brigade. The text reads, "Only God Forgives."

On the left, showing a child in the cross-hairs, a shirt produced for graduates of a Snipers Course. The text reads, "The Smaller, The More Difficult."

Above, a shirt produced for soldiers of the Givati Brigade at the end of 2008. The text reads, "Every Arab Mother Knows That The Fate Of Her Son Is In My Hands" (This text had previously been banned from a T-shirt in another infantry unit.)

On the right, showing a pregnant Arab woman with her belly in the cross-hairs, a T-shirt produced for soldiers in the Sniper Platoon of the Shaked Battalion of the Golani Brigade. The text reads "Sniper Platoon, One Shot Two Kills."

On the left, showing a Samurai, a T-Shirt produced for the soldiers of the Haruv Battalion of the Kfir Brigade. The text reads, "We will not rest until we have confirmed the kill." (A reference to the illegal but common practice of shooting dead, dying, or sometimes just wounded, enemy in the head at close range, to make sure they are dead.)

Above are logos ordered for T-shirts.

On the top, for soldiers from Battalion 13 of the Golani Brigade. The text reads, "Haniyeh, Full cock up the barrel. End of Operation Cast Lead" (Haniyeh is the Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza.)

On the bottom right, for the "Carmon Team" graduates of a reconnaissance snipers' course. The text reads, "You (male) need to run faster. To run faster before you are finished. And later they (female) cry, and later they cry."

On the bottom left, for infantry snipers. The text requires no translation.

* * *
When I lived in Israel, it was not rare (but not common either) to hear people talk like this. But no one (outside of the Kahanists) would have put it in writing and certainly not on a T-Shirt. And certainly not on an army sanctioned T-shirt.

The Haaretz article about the T-shirts did point out that when one of the soldiers went to pick up his T-Shirt at the custom T-Shirt store, he realized that the employee who handed him his shirt was an Israeli Arab. "I felt bad for him," he said.

Maybe, where there is shame there is hope.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Terrorist Threat ??

Both the Canadian Government and the Canadian Jewish Congress have lost all sence of proportion. Today the Canadian Government banned British MP George Galloway from entering Canada because he is a "terrorist threat" because he supports Hamas. (He claims that he doesn't.)

The CJC lauded the decision to refuse Galloway entry. CJC Co-President Sylvain Abitbol offered,
"We applaud the Canadian government for keeping George Galloway, a man who
thrives on his support of terrorists, out of Canada,"

Now I may not always agree with Galloway, but he is no terrorist. Just an oustpoken politician who has strong views against the Afghan War, and Israel's policies vis a vis the Palestineans. That our Conservative government has no respect for diversity of opinion, freedom of expresion or human rights, and activley seeks out wedge issues to show off its bona fides, is no surprise. But I guess I am still naive enough to be dissapointed when the CJC goes along for the ride.

See the full story in the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oops !

Some in Israel are worried that if right wing racist Avigdor Liberman becomes Israel's Foreign Minister, Western countries may refuse to meet with him.

"Not to worry", says former Israeli FM Shlomo Ben Ami.

"We will not reach a point of being ostracized. Anyone who hasn't boycotted Hamas, Hizbullah and the Taliban, will not boycott Lieberman."
(source: ynet)

But - hey ! Aren't the U.S., Canada, and most Western European countries indeed boycotting Hamas and Hizbollah? Oops!

Uzi Arad Spills the Beans

Uzi Arad, is the man chosen by Benjamin Netanyahu's to be the Israeli Government's National Security Advisor when Netanyahu becomes Israeli Prime Minister. He was invited by Netantahu to join him on his recent meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (He was also recently denied a visa to the U.S. because he is suspected of having "run" several Israeli spies in the U.S. - particularly Lawrence Franklin. )

These are the words of the man who will advise the next Israeli government on security matters. (From an interview with Israeli TV Station Arutz Sheva.)

... I don’t think that one has to go that far because at the end of the day, I don’t think the majority of Israelis want to see themselves responsible for the Palestinians. We do not want to control the Palestinian population. It’s unnecessary. What we do want is to care for our borders, for the Jewish settlements and for areas which are unpopulated and to have our security interests served well. But also to take under our responsibility these populations which, believe me, are not the most productive on earth, would become a burden. We want to relieve ourselves of the burden of the Palestinian populations - not territories. It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we want to rid ourselves of.

- source here

And by the way, doesn't Mr Arad look like a cross between George Castanzza and Rudy Gullianni ?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sudanese Sotah Reference

One of the stranger sections of the Bible is the law of the Sotah (wayward woman). Indeed the Talmud devotes a whole tractate to discussing it. It is first mentioned in Numbers 5:12-31

12. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man’s wife goes astray, and commits a trespass against him,
13. And a man lies with her carnally, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and this is kept undetected, and she is defiled, and there is no witness against her, since she was not caught in the act;
14. And the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, and she is defiled; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, and she is not defiled;
15. Then shall the man bring his wife to the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense on it; for it is a offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
16. And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord;
17. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen utensil; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water;
18. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and loosen the hair of the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the meal offering of jealousy; and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causes the curse;
19. And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say to the woman, If no man has lain with you, and if you have not gone astray to uncleanness with another instead of your husband, be you free from this bitter water that causes the curse;
20. But if you have gone astray with another instead of your husband, and if you are defiled, and some man has lain with you other than your husband;
21. Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say to the woman, The Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away, and your belly swell;
22. And this water that causes the curse shall go into your bowels, to make your belly swell, and your thigh to fall away; And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
23. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water;
24. And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causes the curse; and the water that causes the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
25. Then the priest shall take the meal offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar;
26. And the priest shall take a handful of the offering, its memorial, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
27. And when he has made her drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she is defiled, and has trespassed against her husband, that the water that causes the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall fall; and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28. And if the woman is not defiled, but is clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
29. This is the Torah of jealousies ...

The whole thing is primitive, magical and just plan weird. One of the weirder parts is verse 23/24:

23. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water;
24. And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water ...
The Talmud explains that these very verses (12 - 31) where written with charcoal on a piece of parchment. Then the parchment was placed in the water and the words where washed off - the charcoal dissolved in the water - and the woman forced to drink it. The Talmud even comments that this is the only time we are allowed to erase the written name of God.

I always thought this as a uniquely strange ritual, and long ago out of practice.

But maybe not. In an article on Arab dissatisfaction with the International Criminal Court's indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir re crimes in Darfur (see my previous blog entry) the following line appears.
In Khartoum the answer [to the ICC] is clear. The carnival Bashir organized for himself after the indictment was publicized was proof of it: Donkeys bearing the prosecutor's picture, dog puppets bearing Ocampo's name, and Bashir's dances to songs cursing the prosecutor and condemning his supporters. In his speech, he recommended they dissolve the paper in water and drink it.
Does the law of the Sotah appear in the Koran? Or is this a common folk custom in Sudan? Or has Bashir been studying Talmud? Curious minds want to know.

Arabs Play the "Anti-Semtism" Card re Sudan

Arabs are crying "Imperialism" and "Islamophopia" in reaction to the International Criminal Court's indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir for war crimes and genocide in Darfur. After years of apologizing or outright condoning Sudan's murderous policies in Darfur, Arab's are now outraged when "the West" now acts forcefully to try to stop the killings and human rights abuses. They are claiming this is just a continuation of age old Western imperialism in the Middle East, and based on Western stereotypes of Arabs a primitive, cruel and immoral.

There may be some truth in their claims. But it does not mean that Bashir, and Sudan, are innocent. They are not, and they need to be stopped and certainly deserve whatever justice can be meted out. The West's motives may be suspect in this case, but the case itself is a good one. Instead of bemoaning Islamophobia, it would be better if more Arabs themselves condemned Bashir, and used there influence to stop the atrocities in Darfur.

* * *

Various groups have been threatening to bring Israel military and civilian leaders the International Court for war crimes in Gaza and elsewhere. Jews have been screaming "antisemitism". Read above for my analysis.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Isru Chag ?

Isru Chag is a Hebrew phrase for the day after a Jewish Holiday, when, because we love the holiday so much, we still try to keep some of the flavour of the holiday around.

Well today is the day after Shushan Purim, and it seems someone is keeping the Purim spirit alive.

According to a story in today's Jerusalem Post (now copied around the world and referenced in at least 49 other web sites - according to Google):
The fifth annual Israel Apartheid Week, which ended on Sunday, was a more
popular, better attended, and more aggressive series of anti-Israel rallies
and lectures than ever before.

"Forty-four international cities held IAW events, which is twice as much as last year, and in Toronto thousands of people attended events. Almost every building was filled to maximum capacity," Golda Shahidi, spokeswoman for Students Against Israel Apartheid, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Toronto on Wednesday.

Golda Shahidi !!

This name is too good to be true: Golda - as in Golda Meir; Shahidi - as in Arabic for martyr.

I googled "Golda Shahidi" and came up with 49 hits all of which reference the Jerusalem Post story. If this person does exist, there is no record of them on the web prior to this: highly unlikely for a student activist.

More likely someone was pulling the JP's leg.

The article goes on to bemoan the violence (sic) and lack of civility around Israel Apartheid Week. What its doesn't point out is that the photo accompanying the article (see above) was credited to Shira Gilboord/Hasbara. "Hasbara" is a Jewish student organization at York University that was temporarily banned - precisely for intimidation and lack of civility in its own protesting against Israel Apartheid Week.

A lesson to the wise: Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Shushan Purim

The tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Shushan (now Hamadan, in Iran)

Who knew there where two competing sites for the honour of being the final resting place of Mordecai and Esther. The one above boasts a tunnel that goes all the way to Jerusalem. Read all the details here.

In a related story an Egyptian cleric has today called an attack against Starbucks, claiming that the woman in the logo of the international chain is Queen Esther, and her presence warrants a boycott of the company throughout the Arab world. Starbucks denies the charges. Read all about it here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Its Purim Time!

Its Purim!

I thought this article was pretty clever:

Elders of Zion to Retire

If you liked that, there's a whole issue of Purim news at The Jewish Backward.


How Little We Know

When I turned on my computer today, a message popped up saying that a new update was ready to be installed for my web browser (Firefox 3.0.7, if you care to know.) After installing it, I thought I would check to see what new features or bug fixes I had received. In the "release notes" was this line:
Official releases for the Estonian, Kannada, and Telugu languages are now available.
I had never heard of Kannada. And since I live in Canada, I thought I would look it up. I expected to find out about the language of some obscure tribe in Africa, or maybe a Native American language spoken by a few thousand.

Instead I found out that Kannada is the language spoken by 35 million people in India (That's more than the population of Canada.) It is a language dating back at least until the 8th century (older than English.) It is one of the most literary languages in India - India's highest literary honor, the Jnanpith awards, having been conferred seven times upon works written in Kannada. It is the main language of Karnataka province, which includes India's high tech centre of Bangalore.

And I had never heard of it. I, who am well read and interested in the world, and thinks he knows so much.

Telugu, as it turns out, is the language of 70 million people in India - in the provinces of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It dates back at least to 500 BC; rivaling Greek and Hebrew.

And I had never heard of it.

It is humbling to realize how little I really know of the world we live in. How western centric I am. How arrogant I can be.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Canada Too - eh

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I spend a lot of my time thinking about Israel. This gets my blood pressure up and my mood down. So, I decided to give myself a break and concentrate on domestic news.

Guess what? Turns out Canada is a mess too.

Two articles on the front page of today's Globe and Mail make the point.

The first is the ongoing investigation into the killing of Robert Dziekanski by RCMP officers at the Vancouver Airport. The fact that he was killed for no reason is bad enough. But the fact that the RCMP glibly lies to cover up their mistakes, that the officers had no real training, that there was no discussion or plan on how to handle Mr Dziekanski, that officers use lethal force without giving it a second thought: all that makes it worse. Worse still, is that no one will go to jail for this killing, no one will be fired, no one will be disciplined.

Read about the lies and the shame here and here .

The second story is even more shocking. The death of Ashley Smith, a 19 year old mentally ill inmate in federal prison, who hanged herself and chocked to death while seven guards watched and did nothing. Not only did they do nothing, they had been ordered to do nothing!! They had been ordered by superiors - this was not the first time Ashley had tried to kill herself - "not to intervene if she is still breathing!" If this is not murder, or at least criminal negligence, what is? And what was the reason for this order? Too much paper work to fill in everytime a guard has to enter a prisoners cell! Ashley was left to die to avoid paper work! Both the guards and the supervisor who gave the order should have been charged. But the crown attorney has decided not to charge anyone. Read this very disturbing story here.
(Update: On last nights news, the head of the union representing the prison guards said that they should not be disciplined because they where "just following orders".)

In both cases it seems our criminal justice system is itself criminal. But in typical Canadian fashion, no one gets too upset: don't wanna rock the boat do we - eh.

* * *

(I think if I want to relax I will have to concentrate on the sports pages.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Short Term Memory Loss

Israels leadership seems to be suffering from Alzheimer disease. This appeared in today's Haartez. (Italics are mine.)

A Qassam launched from the Gaza Strip exploded off the coast of Ashkelon on Sunday, just hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised a 'painful, uncompromising response' to Palestinian rocket fire.

Olmert's vow came a day after ten rockets were fired at Israel from the coastal territory, bringing the number of projectiles launched from Gaza since the truce to more than 60.

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert accused Hamas of using Qassam rockets to make up for their losses suffered during the three-week Israel Defense Forces offensive in the Gaza Strip which ended in late January.

"Hamas is trying to recover from the stiff blow they suffered during Operation Cast Lead through the use of terror," Olmert said.

Olmert said that Israel would respond to rocket fire until "terror groups understand that Israel will not accept these attacks."
Is this a bad joke? Didn't Israel start the recent Gaza War precisely to stop these attacks? Didn't we just kill 1400 people, wound 6000, cause billions of dollars of property damage, bring the wrath of the world down on us, to prevent these rockets? Didn't we already "teach them a lesson"?

Does Olmert think people have forgotten that?

Yes, it can now be officially said that operation Cast Lead accomplished absolutely nothing positive for Israel. Hamas rockets still fall on southern Israel. Hamas still says it will stop them only when Israel lifts its blockade of Gaza. Israel is now negotiating with Hamas (all-be-it through Egyptian intermediaries) over exactly that. After a brief drop in Hamas popularity immediately after the war, it now seems to have regained its status among Palestinians. Hamas is now being wooed by Fatah to form a Palestinian "unity" government. Smuggling (another declared target of the war) has resumed full paced through the Rafah tunnels. Israel has still not freed Gilad Shalit, and Hamas is still demanding many high profile prisoners in return for Shalit's freedom.

Israeli is in exactly the same position its was in before the war. And it now turns out we can live with 60 rockets a a month and no one, other than Olmert it seems, is hysterical. Aside from the human and moral price paid, Israel has not only lost strategically, Hamas seems to have gained.

Yet Olmert, and I dare think most of Israel's leaders, have learned nothing. Not only is history forgotten, so is last month's news.