Monday, July 30, 2012

Let us count the ways: Romney's foolishness in Israel

1. Romney's clueless aides initially scheduled his big fundraiser on Tisha B'Av, a fast day.

2. Romney went to the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av in order to campaign for the presidency.

3. He compared the Israeli and Palestinian economies, to the detriment of the latter, without even mentioning the occupation, and even getting the facts wrong: he said that Israel has a per capita income of $21,000 - actually, it's $31,000. He also said that the Palestinians have a per capita income of about $10,000 - actually, it's about $1500.

4. And what causes the difference in Palestinian and Israeli income? It's culture, baby, culture. A transcript of his speech today from his campaign:
Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.
So, instead of inquiring into what a 45-year belligerent occupation might do to the Palestinian economy, he resorts first of all to a fairly racist statement - that it's cultural differences between Palestinians and Israelis that leads to the greater Israeli per capita income.

To counter Romney's statement: according to the New York Times:
The Palestinians live under deep trade restrictions put in place by the Israeli government: After the militant group Hamas in 2007 took control of Gaza – home to about 1.7 million Palestinians – the Israelis imposed a near-total blockade on people and goods in Gaza. The blockade has been eased, and now many consumer goods are allowed in. But aid organizations say the restrictions still cripple Gaza’s economy. The West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians reside, is also subject to trade restrictions imposed by the Israelis.

In Gaza, according to the C.I.A., “Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.” The agency added that “changes to Israeli restrictions on imports in 2010 resulted in a rebound in some economic activity, but regular exports from Gaza still are not permitted.” And in the West Bank, “Israeli closure policies continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, eroding the productive capacity” of the economy.

On Monday afternoon, Romney campaign officials did not respond to a query about whether Mr. Romney believes that the blockade of Gaza or trade restrictions in the West Bank have had any dampening effect on economic activity in those areas.
5. Or maybe it's divine providence:
One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place. I’m told in a Sunday school class I attended— I think my son Tagg was teaching the class. He’s not here. I look around to see. Of course he’s not here. He was in London. He taught a class in which he was describing the concern on the part of some of the Jews that left Egypt to come to the promised land, that in the promised land was down the River Nile, that would provide the essential water they had enjoyed in Egypt. They came here recognizing that they must be relied upon, themselves and the arm of God to provide rain from the sky. And this therefore represented a sign of faith and a show of faith to come here. That this is a people that has long recognized the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving.
6. Or maybe it's that famous Jewish proclivity for business.
There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place. And Dan Senor— And Dan, I saw him this morning, I don’t know where he is, he’s probably out twisting someone’s arm—There’s Dan Senor, co-author of ‘Start-up Nation,’ described— If you haven’t read the book, you really should— Described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.
As Gene at Harry's Place writes:
But the thing is, Palestinian “culture” isn’t so vastly different from Jewish Israeli “culture” when it comes to valuing education. Palestinians also have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship and business ownership. And clearly the facts on the ground make it a lot harder for a Palestinian in the territories to succeed than for an Israeli with similar skills and drive. Surely Romney could have found a way to praise Israel’s economic achievements without comparing them insultingly to those of its neighbors.
7. And finally, Romney praises the Israeli healthcare system for providing better care than the American system at a much lower cost - without mentioning that Israeli healthcare actually is socialized!
No, if you want to see a system with truly socialistic characteristics, you have to look elsewhere. Israel, for example. And guess who just praised that system? Mitt Romney, while addressing a fundraiser in Jerusalem....

Miller notes that Israel has a truly universal health care system, in which the government guarantees every citizen not just insurance but insurance with a minimum set of benefits and full choice of provider. That’s all true. But there’s more to it than that. Israel also regulates the health care system aggressively, with what would, by any reasonable standard, qualify as price controls. Jack Zwanziger and Shuli Brammli-Greenberg wrote about this in Health Affairs:
The national government exerts direct operational control over a large proportion of total health care expenditures, through a range of mechanisms, including caps on hospital revenue and national contracts with salaried physicians. The Ministry of Finance has been able to persuade the national government to agree to relatively small increases in the health care budget because the system has performed well, with a very high level of public satisfaction.

Old City photos from the Phasael Tower.

I went to the Old City today, hoping to get up to the Temple Mount, but it was closed in the afternoon to visitors because of Ramadan. I did get some great photos, however, from the Phasael tower at the Citadel. The Phasael tower was originally built by Herod the Great, and you can still see the massive Herodian-era stones on the lower levels of the tower. I went to visit the City of Jerusalem museum at the Citadel and went through the whole exhibit on the history of Jerusalem.  Below are some of my photos.

Chihuly glass sculpture at the entrance to the museum.

Looking over the rooftops of the Old City towards the cemetery on the Mt. of Olives.

The Pool of Zechariah, in the Christian Quarter, used to be filled with water and served as a reservoir for people in the Quarter.

Dome of the Rock from the Phasael Tower - notice the tents set up to shelter worshipers during Ramadan from the burning sun of July and August.

Dome of a church - I'm not sure which one.

Mt. of Olives cemetery; above is the Intercontinental Hotel (which I think has a different name now).

The grey dome on the left may belong to the Holy Sepulchre, I'm not sure.

Imperial Hotel, in Umar ibn al-Kuttab Square, just inside the Jaffa Gate.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mitt Romney interferes in Israeli politics

Mitt Romney interfering in Israeli politics at the behest of Netanyahu : Romney cancels on Yacimovich after meeting with Netanyahu.
Much has been written about the warm personal relationship between the two friends, ex-governor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. Today it has become clear that the two are more than just friends. Romney apparently accepts instructions from Netanyahu who succeeded in getting him to cancel a scheduled and meticulously planned meeting with MK Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor party.

Mitt Romney at the Western Wall

Today, Mitt Romney paid a visit to the Western Wall - during the fast day of Tisha B'Av, commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples, and the exile of the Jewish people from their land. Hundreds of people surrounded him and welcomed him, while a few jeered at him. What a cheap trick on his part. Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning, not a day for him to get a photo-op at the Wall and disrupt the prayers there. The photo here shows him accompanied by his security detail.

As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote:
The Western Wall "is also, on this particular Tisha b'Av, the location of a very important photo opportunity for an American presidential candidate. 
How vulgar is this? 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Palestinian official visits Auschwitz memorial

Interesting story from the AP: Palestinian official visits Auschwitz memorial.
An adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is visiting the memorial at the German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz to pay respect to some 1.5 million camp victims, mostly Jews. Ziad al-Bandak, who advises Abbas on Christian affairs, is visiting prisoner blocs, gas chambers and a crematorium in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex that the Germans built and operated in southern Poland during their World War II occupation of the country.
According to the same story, the Palestinian and Israeli ambassadors to Poland visited Auschwitz in 2007.

What is left anti-semitism?

Shiraz Socialist, a British socialist blog that is connected to a small left-wing group in Britain, the Alliance for Workers Liberty, just published an excellent article on left anti-semitism that explains some things that have always puzzled me about it. A few excerpts:
No, by “left-wing anti-semitism” we emphatically do not mean political, military, or social criticism of Israel and of the policy of Israeli governments. Certainly, not all left-wing critics of Israel or Zionism are anti-semites, even though these days all anti-semites, including the right-wing, old-fashioned, and racist anti-semites, are paid-up “anti-Zionists”....

The difference here between left-wing anti-semites and honest critics of Israel — a category which includes a very large number of Israeli Jews as well as Israeli Arabs — is a straightforward one of politics, of policy.

The left-wing anti-semites do not only criticise Israel. They condemn it outright and deny its right to exist. They use legitimate criticisms, and utilise our natural sympathy with the Palestinians, not to seek redress, not as arguments against an Israeli government, an Israeli policy, or anything specifically wrong in Israel, but as arguments against the right of Israel to exist at all. Any Israel. Any Jewish state in the area. Any Israel, with any policy, even one in which all the specific causes for justly criticising present-day Israel and for supporting the Palestinians against it have been entirely eliminated.

The root problem, say the left-wing anti-semites, is that Israel exists. The root “crime of Zionism” is that it advocated and brought into existence “the Zionist state of Israel”.

Bitterly, and often justly, criticising specific Israeli policies, actions, and governments, seemingly championing the Palestinians, your left-wing anti-semites seek no specific redress in Israel or from Israel, demanding only that Israel should cease to exist or be put out of existence....

But why is the drive and the commitment to destroy Israel anti-semitism, and not just anti-Zionism?

Because the attitude to the Jewish nation in Israel is unique, different from the left’s attitude to all other nations; and because of the ramifications for attitudes to Jews outside Israel. Apart from a few religious Jews who think the establishment of Israel was a revolt against God, and some Jews who share the views of the leftists whom we are discussing here, those Jews outside Israel instinctively identify with and support Israel, however critically. For the left-wing anti-semite they are therefore “Zionists”, and proper and natural targets of the drive to “smash Zionism”.

The attitude of the “anti-Zionist” left to Israel brings with it a comprehensive hostility to most Jews everywhere – those who identify with Israel and who defend its right to exist. They are not just people with mistaken ideas. They are “Zionists”.

In colleges, for example, where the anti-Zionist left exists side by side with Jewish students, this attitude often means a special antagonism to the “Zionist” Jews. They are identified with Israel. They, especially, are pressured either to denounce Israel, to agree that it is “racist” and “imperialist” and that its existence is a crime against the Arabs — or else be held directly and personally responsible for everything Israel does, has done, or is said to have done.
I have encountered this attitude, and have always found it very strange. I'm a supporter of Israel, but I am certainly not responsible for everything Israel does or has done. In June 1981, when Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak, I was living in Seattle. I was talking about this with a friend (left-wing, not Jewish), and he started asking me why Israel had done this, with the implication that I was in some way responsible for the Israeli attack, merely because I'm Jewish. (I was a supporter of the attack because I saw it as protecting Israel). I simply couldn't understand his attitude - how was I, an American Jew who had never even visited Israel at that point, responsible for what the state of Israel had done? I was merely stating my opinion. For him, somehow, the fact that I am Jewish made my opinions not simply my opinions, but some kind of official statement from the Israeli government.

It's definitely worth reading the whole article, because it touches on many important points, especially how opposition to the existence of Israel has become the "anti-imperialism of the fools," an attitude that I have heard much more recently than 1981.
The anti-semitic left today, which depicts Israel as the hyper-imperialist power — either controlling US policy, or acting as its chief instrument, the story varies — is in the grip of an “anti-imperialism of the fools”. And that in practice leads to a comprehensive hostility to Jews not far from what Bebel called the socialism of fools....

There is an immediate “antidote” to left-wing anti-semitism too, and it is a very important task for Marxist socialists like those who publish Solidarity [ie: the AWL]: relentless exposure and criticism of their politics and antics — without fear of isolation, ridicule, or the venomous hostility of the vocal and self-righteous left-wing anti-semites.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tension with Syria on the Golan

Another not very calming article in Haaretz today. This one is about something that happened on the Israel-Syria border in the Golan last Thursday. 500 Syrian soldiers entered the demilitarized zone between the Israeli and Syrian lines on the Golan. They did this not to attack Israel, but in the course of fighting some of the Syrian rebels.

Syrian army forces crossed the demilitarized zone near the border with Israel in the Golan Heights last week, a highly unusual incident, on what is considered a quiet  border. 
Following the incident, in which 500 soldiers and 50 vehicles crossed into the demilitarized zone, Israel filed a formal complaint to the UN secretary general and to the president of the UN's Security Council, warning that the event may have serious ramifications.... 
The Syrian soldiers entered the demilitarized zone last Thursday. The Syrian forces entered the area near the Syrian village of Jubata Al Khashab, a few kilometers east of the Israeli Druze village of Mas'ada in the northern part of the Golan Heights. It seems that the soldiers' entrance to the demilitarized zone was a result of the fighting with the rebel army. 
On the same day, Barak was touring the border with Syria and observed clashes on the other side of the border. Barak, noting that the battle was being conducted at a distance of only "200 meters from UN forces and some 800 meters from the border fence," was not aware at the time that the Syrian soldiers had entered the demilitarized zone. 

Jubata Al Khashab is situated inside the demilitarized zone, between the Israeli lines on the west and the Syrian lines on the east. It is close to Mas'ada inside the Golan Heights. When I visited the Golan last summer with friends, we drove through Mas'ada. This is a photo of some men walking along the road in Mas'ada.

The demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights is defined in the separation of forces agreement signed by Israel and Syria in 1974. The accord defined a 3-6 kilometer zone which would be demilitarized by Israeli and Syrian forces, and would be under the supervision of a UN military force and Syrian civilian authority. The UN peacekeeping force – UNDOF – includes some 1,000 soldiers, sent from Canada, Poland, Finland and Austria, who are monitoring the keeping of the agreement.
When I was visiting Israel in the summer of 2007, I also visited the Golan, and we drove along a road close to the border, and stopped at a lookout point near Quneitra, which is a ruin now in the Syrian controlled part of the Golan. I'm not sure exactly what these are photographs of, whether of Quneitra or other villages.

Life During Wartime

Great article by Janine di Giavanni, Life During Wartime, about how you know when a war is starting in your country - in this case, Syria. Scary to read from Israel, where all the fighting in Syria seems increasingly closer. In an article in Haaretz, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, talks about standing on the Golan Heights close to the Syrian border and seeing and hearing the shooting and bombing. I've been where he was standing, near the ruined city of Quneitra, and you can easily see into Syria and see fields and nearby towns, and normal life proceeding. Not any longer. I love going to the Golan, but now I don't think it would be such a smart idea.

One thing that bothered me about this article and others I've read about Syria is shown in this excerpt:
In a government office near the Mezze Highway, a Christian official with a Muslim name says he grew up in a country that, like Bosnia, was a melting pot for ethnic groups, for refugees from Armenia, for Christians, Shias, Sunnis and Greek Orthodox. He says the uprising will change all of this. “Everyone who believed in the Syrian model is betrayed,” he said.
The one ethnic group that he and others always omit to mention are the Jews of Syria, of whom very few (if any) are left now. There was a strong community in Syria before 1948. Now the Syrian Jews are in Israel, the US (there's a big community in NYC) and other places. Why does no one remember their place in the Syrian melting pot? They were brutally oppressed when Israel became a state, and most left, with the remainder living fearful lives.

I don't want that chaos and death to engulf Israel too, with all my friends and relatives who live here. This is not a safe world.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mystical interpolations into 2 Enoch

I've just started reading a newly-published book, New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only, edited by Andrei Orlov and Gabrielle Boccaccini (Brill, 2012), which is very interesting. The first chapter gives us the first fragments of 2 Enoch in another language than Slavonic, "No Longer 'Slavonic' Only: 2 Enoch Attested in Coptic from Nubia," by Joost L. Hagen. He discovered that previously excavated Coptic fragments from Qasr Ibrim, which now exist only in photographs and in transcriptions by J. M. Plumley, the director of the excavations from 1963 to 1976, are fragments of 2 Enoch 36:3-42:3, including the very interesting Shiur Qomah passage from 39:1, about seeing the face, eyes, and right hand of the Lord. He dates these fragments to between the 8th-10th centuries, which would make them the earliest witness to 2 Enoch. They represent the shorter recension of 2 Enoch. His article obviously raises questions about how 2 Enoch was transmitted from a posited Jewish source all the way to medieval Bulgaria, where the Slavonic translations were first made.

The second article is by Christfried Böttreich, "The 'Book of the Secrets of Enoch' (2 En): Between Jewish Origin and Christian Transmission. An Overview." I'm only going to discuss one issue he raises. He goes through the entire book and notes places where there are some clear Jewish mystical or Christian interpolations (among a lot of other things he discusses). He pinpoints 2 En 20:3, 21:6-22:3, and 39:3-8 as Jewish interpolations. In 2 En. 20:3 the text says: “And on the tenth heaven is God, and it is called in the Hebrew language Aravot.” At 2 En. 21:6, Enoch sees the eighth heaven: “Which is called in the Hebrew language Muzaloth, the changer of the seasons. . . which are above the seventh heaven. And I saw the ninth heaven, which in the Hebrew language is called Kukhavim where the heavenly houses of the 12 zodiacs are.” These two inserts interrupt the existing scheme of seven heavens which 2 Enoch has already described, so they seem like obvious interpolations. I have always wondered whether these interpolations were in fact direct translations from Hebrew to Slavonic, since they give Hebrew names to the 8th, 9th, and 10th heavens.

Böttreich dates the origins of 2 Enoch to first century Alexandria, and in my opinion gives some pretty convincing arguments for this dating, but this dating cannot refer to every word in the Slavonic Enoch, and obviously not the sentences I just quoted. He is puzzled by these passages and how (and by whom) they could have gotten into the Slavonic version of the book. He writes, "I have no idea how to explain this stratum of Jewish mystical interpolations (like 2 En 20:3; 21:6-22:3; 39:3-8) which obviously depends on Hebrew sources by inserting the additions in Greek into a Greek text transmitted by Christian contemporaries." The same questions exist with regard to Ladder of Jacob 2:5-22 (prayer of Jacob) or Apocalypse of Abraham 17:7-21 (prayer of Abraham) - both also preserved in Slavonic translations only. So who could have inserted these passages?

I was just looking at the 2 Enoch passages for the chapter I've just been writing on the Enoch traditions and the tradition that the fallen angels taught sorcery to women (which doesn't exist, by the way, in 2 Enoch), and I started to wonder if the inserts could have been made by Jews who had converted to Christianity - either at some point during the Greek transmission or the Slavonic translations. Whoever inserted them had to know Hebrew - and who better than a learned Jew who had decided to become a Christian? I don't know if anyone else has suggested this for 2 Enoch, but I'd be interested to know if it's possible, historically-speaking.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The story of Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire on Saturday night in Tel Aviv

Source: Rabbis for Human Rights
By: Ori Ben Dov – On Shabat evening, 14.7 during a demonstration on Kaplan St. where Moshe Silman set fire to himself, in protest at the terrible economic situation he was in and at his mistreatment by state and government institutions. The following will try to clarify how Moshe got to this stage. It is recounted by Rabbi Idit Lev, Director of Social Justice at Rabbis for Human Rights, who accompanied Moshe during the last year in his desperate attempts to get what he was due and to prevent him from becoming homeless.

A personal note: Idit is my sister. For many years I have heard from her hardship stories where she has tried to help make state institutions attend to those citizens who are weak and lack basic rights. This evening I was standing very close to Moshe when he set himself alight. The following will try to be as accurate as possible, but it is written in deep shock.

A country which destroys its citizens | Ori Ben Dov

Since he went bankrupt ten years’ ago, Silman has lived in poverty, given up on medicine and food, and battled the establishment to get rental assistance and disability benefits.

Moshe Silman was a proud man, had his own business, owned three lorries. Ten years’ ago, Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute) claimed that Moshe owed them a large sum of money and they

expropriated one of his lorries. As a result of this, his business collapsed and he went bankrupt.

The bank foreclosed on his private apartment in Yafo and he moved in to live with his mother. He worked at different jobs, he was a taxi driver, and his debts mounted. He tried to sue Bituach Leumi for the damage caused to him but the fee that the law demands in a suit against the state was too high for him. The court registrar, who has the authority to reduce the fee, refused his request, and so Moshe lost his right to sue the state and to examine the extent of damage he suffered. It is to this court registrar he refers in the letter he wrote before the event.

At a certain stage, Moshe moved to Haifa, to reduce his living expenses. He worked as a taxi driver. About a year and a half ago, he suffered a series of strokes. He suffered from continuous dizziness and could not drive, and stopped working. He received disability benefits from Bituach Leumi, which were so low that he needed to receive an additional income supplement benefit. He became a sick man who could not support himself.

In May, following a new request to Bituach Leumi, he received 100 percent disability, but only 5 percent loss of ability to work, even though he had stopped working. Bituach Leumi allocated him 2300 NIS and this was in fact the whole sum he had to live on. His two sisters helped him with food. He gave up some of his medication as well as medical checkups, in order to try and survive.

In this situation, Moshe came to the Haifa encampment when it was set up last July. Here he found a supportive home and community. During the period of the encampment, one of the activists put him in touch with a man who gave him an apartment for a year. In August 2011, he went to live there.

During all this time, Moshe requested assistance with rent from the Ministry of Housing, but was refused. According to the criteria of the Ministry of Housing, a person who has owned an apartment during the previous five years cannot request this kind of assistance. In spite of the fact that ten years had passed since he owned an apartment – this was one of the reasons for his request being rejected.

Some years ago, Moshe’s mother died. Owing to the fact that she had been a guarantor for some of his debts, her apartment was foreclosed on. Moshe’s sisters appealed to the courts for their share of the apartment and the matter is being looked into but, even though all the money that Moshe would receive from selling the apartment would immediately be confiscated, the Ministry of Housing claims that, as long as there is chance that Moshe might receive some money in the future, he is not entitled to receive any assistance. Moshe issued one appeal on his own and another with the help of “Rabbis for Human Rights.” The appeals were rejected. Getting 100 percent disability should have helped him in his appeal, but every attempt by Moshe and by those who assisted him in this process, to persuade the appeals board to update Moshe’s disability, failed. All the efforts expended on this by many different people, including Member of Knesset Orly Levy Abecassis, just to make the board understand and accept Moshe’s disability – as of today there has been no response.

Last June, Moshe received an answer that his appeal had been rejected. The legal assistance department of the Ministry of Housing (the body which is supposed to help people who lack means to get legal help) refused to help him in his attempt to sue Bituach Leumi.

There is no place for an exception to the rule: From the letter rejecting Moshe Silman’s request for assistance.

A further appeal that was lodged is due to be heard in September. For Moshe that was too late. The owner of the apartment where he was living asked him to start paying rent and, for Moshe, a man of honour, it was clear that he could not stay there. We must remember that we are talking about a sick man, who could not work, who received2300 a month on which to live. There was only one meaning – to go and live on the street.

The social worker dealing with him did not answer his request to receive rent assistance for two months, until the appeal. Simply did not reply. The staff of the department of the homeless in the Haifa municipality told him to turn to them when he was on the street – but Moshe was not ready to become homeless.

On Saturday evening, at the junction of Kaplan st. and Duvnov st. in Tel-Aviv, he set fire to himself.

Yossi Baruch, one of the people from Haifa who knows Moshe personally, emphasizes that the man is sane and that he did what he did out of desperation and as a protest at the complete deafness of every government body that he turned to for help. Moshe said repeatedly that he was not willing to be trampled on. He described the humiliation that someone asking for assistance from the state of Israel has to undergo, and said that even a poor man needs to be treated with respect. Perhaps that is why he set himself alight – to stop being walked over, that he and his needs should be addressed. Every institution that he approached – turned their back on him. Welfare, Housing, Bituach Leumi, the courts – they all showed him the way to the street.

It is important to remember: Moshe is not alone. Tens of thousands are in his situation, deteriorating more and more, fighting bureaucracy and the impermeability of a state which destroys them. Because this is not a mistake – it is policy, and it comes from the top, from the government.

A state where the welfare authorities are collapsing, public housing has dried up, the Housing Ministry does not assist those who need help and the legal system refuses to help those who have no money – this is a state that destroys its citizens.
This post was first published on J14 movement main site (in Hebrew - this is the English translation of Rabbis for Human Rights).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tonight's Jerusalem demonstration.

A photo from the Tzedek Hevrati website of the demonstration in Jerusalem tonight, showing the protestors sitting in the middle of the street at Paris Square.

Demonstrations tonight protesting in solidarity with Moshe Siman, who set himself on fire last night

Demonstrations were held tonight all over Israel in solidarity with Moshe Siman, who set himself on fire at the social justice rally last night in Tel Aviv. These are the reports from all the newspapers. I went to the Jerusalem rally, which was held in front of the Prime Minister's house. This is a photo of one of the Jerusalem protestors:

'Despair burns. Who's next?' Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg
   © All Rights Reserved

From the Jerusalem Post:
Thousands of protesters were blocking Yitzhak Sadeh Street in central Tel Aviv on Sunday in a show of solidarity with demonstrator Moshe Siman, who set himself on fire in the name of social justice a day before.

Earlier, protesters held a moment of silence when rumors circulated that Siman had died of wounds he suffered from the immolation.

Protesters began banging on an ATM machine but border policemen gathered around it and protected it from further damage.

"It's going to be a rage demonstration," said Yael Ben Yefet, an organizer and director at the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow. "I think people are on the verge of crying, me also, or want to strike someone or something." She added that if violence erupted, it would not be initiated by protesters, but would be a form of "counter-violence."

"There is violence: by the government. They are the violent ones. And maybe today something will strike back," she said. Demonstrators read aloud the suicide note left behind by Moshe Silman, who accused the government Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of being directly responsible for his financial predicament. Silman, 46 years old, had complained that he received no rent assistance despite suffering a stroke recently and no longer being able to work.....

In Jerusalem, police arrested at least three demonstrators after they tried to block roads at Paris Square. About 80 demonstrators marched from Independence Park to the prime minister's residence chanting: "We are all Moshe Silman!" The protest started peacefully but once the demonstrators attempted to block the road, clashes broke out between the demonstrators and police, though there were no injuries.
From Haaretz:
About a hundred protesters clashed with police near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday, in a rally summoned following the self-immolation of a Haifa resident during a protest marking one year since the onset of social unrest in Israel....
On Sunday, protesters descended on Jerusalem's Gaza Street, not far from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence.

The protest, which joins similar ones in Haifa and Tel Aviv and held under the title "We're all Moshe Silman – The Blood is on The Government's Hands," started off in the capitol's Independence Park and ended near the Prime Minister's Residence.

Along the way, protesters blocked some of the nearby roads, chanting slogans against the government and for public housing, and lifting signs reading "The Poor Won't Have Anything to Eat, and They'll Eat the Rich," and "Desperation Burns – Who's Next?"
From Ynet:
Some 2,000 people demonstrated Sunday night in front of the government offices in Tel Aviv in protest of the public housing situation in Israel. The activists blocked Ayalon Highway and several other streets in Tel Aviv. Earlier, the demonstrators read aloud the letter left behind by Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire during the social justice protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday. They also yelled "Bibi and Steinitz go home."

Silman, who suffered burns on over 90% of his body, is still hospitalized in critical condition at Sheeba Medical Center. His relatives said Sunday night that he suffers from organ failure and doctors said his chances of survival are slim.

"Moshe isn't crazy, he's just like you and me," said social activist Iliya Mershek, adding that he visited Silman in the hospital but was too afraid to enter the room. "He is in critical condition. I couldn't go into the room, I admit I'm a coward. I would never be able to do what he did. His sisters say he did it for all of us. They cried while telling us why he had to be the victim of this struggle."

Protests were also held in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba. Five protesters were arrested in Jeruslem, while trying to block King George street.

Jerusalem resident Yael Shelem said she came to the rally "out of solidarity." People who set themselves on fire are not committing suicide, but are shouting out of despair and pain after the government has abandoned them. But even in this protest they won't give us the right to shout," she said adding that the police have been using too much force on the protesters.

"People went out on the street because they are enraged, angry and sad because of what happened yesterday. We are screaming against the government's failure, which we hold responsible to the events that led Moshe Silman to set himself on fire," said activist Michael Solsbery.

"People don’t reach this level of despair over nothing. This despair has an address and it belongs to the government, who failed to provide housing solutions and who abandons people in Silman's condition," he added.

The Devil's Gateway - the evils of makeup!

I'm reading Tertullian's "On the Apparel of Women" for chapter 4 of my book, which is about the forbidden teachings the fallen angels hand on to their human wives. (The book itself will be called Angels' Tongues and Witches' Curses: Jewish Women and Ritual Power in Late Antiquity). Among these forbidden teachings are magic and sorcery, but also all kinds of adornment and makeup. Tertullian, who is a 3rd century CE father of the church, has written the most misogynistic statement I have come across in ancient literature. It appears in chapter 1 of "On the Apparel of Women."
“And do you not know that you (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilty must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die.”
He then goes on to argue that on this basis, women should not get dressed in pretty clothes and put on eye makeup, since of course, we should go around miserable and clad in rags, to expiate the sins of our mother Eve. One would think that the sin of bringing death to the world and causing the death of the Son of God would deserve a worse punishment than wearing ugly clothing, but there it is.

While Tertullian blames the sin of Eve on all subsequent generations of women, he also believes that the fallen angels handed down various kinds of knowledge to women.
"For when to an age much more ignorant (than ours) they had disclosed certain well-concealed material substances, and several not well-revealed scientific arts—if it is true that they had laid bare the operations of metallurgy, and had divulged the natural properties of herbs, and had promulgated the powers of enchantments, and had traced out every curious art, even to the interpretation of the stars—they conferred properly and as it were peculiarly upon women that instrumental mean of womanly ostentation, the radiances of jewels wherewith necklaces are variegated, and the circlets of gold wherewith the arms are compressed, and the medicaments of orchil with which wools are coloured, and that black powder itself wherewith the eyelids and eyelashes are made prominent.”
The fallen angels revealed metallurgy, the properties of herbs, knowledge of enchantment and the interpretation of the stars - and on top of that how to make necklaces with jewels on them, circlets of gold, orchil for coloring wool, and black eye-makeup (kohl).

Tertullian bases himself on 1 Enoch, which describes just such teachings being passed on to women, but he goes farther - much much farther - on the evils of self-adornment. For just a few examples, randomly chosen:
"For they who rub their skin with medicaments, stain their cheeks with rouge, make their eyes prominent with antimony, sin against HIM."
God, that is. He goes on to argue that putting on makeup is Satanic:
"Whatever is born is the work of God. Whatever, then, is plastered on, is the devil's work. To superinduce on a divine work Satan's ingenuities, how criminal is it!" 
He also thinks that dyeing the hair is evil, especially dyeing it blond! He writes:
"I see some (women) turn (the color of) their hair with saffron. They are ashamed even of their own nation, (ashamed) that their procreation did not assign them to Germany and to Gaul: thus, as it is, they transfer their hair (thither)!"
He also condemns men's self-adornment:
"if this sex of ours acknowledges to itself deceptive trickeries of form peculiarly its own - (such as) to cut the beard too sharply; to pluck it out here and there; to shave round about (the mouth); to arrange the hair, and disguise its hoariness by dyes; to remove all the incipient down all over the body; to fix (each particular hair) in its place with (some) womanly pigment, etc."
So: remember that drab clothing, wild beards, and scraggly hair are all desired by God and lead to salvation!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Saudis to Send 2 Women to London Games

Saudi Arabia joins the 20th century: Saudis to Send 2 Women to London Games.

Jewish opposition to bans on circumcision, then and now

I'm glad to see this: European rabbis urge Germany's Jews to defy court ruling on circumcision.
Europe's main Orthodox rabbinical body is urging Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons, despite a court ruling in Germany that said circumcising young boys could be considered a criminal act.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization is ready to back Jews in challenging the May ruling by a Cologne district court, which Jewish groups see as symptomatic of a trend across Europe against some Jewish rituals. The group held an emergency meeting this week in Berlin.

Goldschmidt said some lawmakers intending to curb Muslim practices unwittingly outlaw Jewish traditions as well.

"But I don't think that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment," Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, told JTA.
There's a long history of Jewish opposition to state prohibitions of circumcision, dating back to the second century BCE. The books of the Maccabees record that one of the mitzvot forbidden by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek ruler of Syria-Palestine at the time, was circumcision. Even before that, there were Jews who decided to undo their circumcision in order to assimilate into Greek culture. 1 Maccabees denounces this, as does the book of Jubilees.

1 Maccabees 1:11-15 (based on KJV):
(11) In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, "Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow." (12) So this device pleased them well. (13) Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen: (14) Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen: (15) And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief.
Here is Antiochus's decree (1 Macc 1:41-49):
(41) Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, (42) And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king. (43) Many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed to idols, and profaned the sabbath. (44) For the king had sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that they should follow the strange laws of the land, (45) And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days: (46) And pollute the sanctuary and holy people: (47) Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts: (48) That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation: (49) To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances.
So according to 1 Maccabees, Antiochus' clear intention was to root out any Jewish practice - observance of the Sabbath, sacrifices in the temple, prohibition of circumcision. He imposed Greek worship in place of the Temple worship. Anyone who transgressed Antiochus's decree was to be killed (1 Macc 1:50).

What were the consequences of this order?
(54) Now the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the hundred forty fifth year (of the rule of the Seleucid kings), they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and built idol altars throughout the cities of Judah on every side; (55) And burnt incense at the doors of their houses, and in the streets. (56) And when they had rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, they burnt them with fire. (57) And whoever was found with any the book of the testament, or if any committed to the law, the king's commandment was, that they should put him to death. (58) Thus did they by their authority to the Israelites every month, to as many as were found in the cities. (59) Now the twenty-fifth day of the month they did sacrifice upon the idol altar, which was upon the altar of God. 60 At which time according to the commandment they put to death certain women, that had caused their children to be circumcised. (61) And they hanged the infants about their necks, and rifled their houses, and slew them that had circumcised them.
2200 years ago Jewish women were prepared to die (not merely face imprisonment or a fine) in order to circumcise their baby boys. 2 Maccabees goes on to personalize the detail about women who were killed for circumcising their sons.

2 Macc 6:10 (Revised Standard Version):
For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. These women they publicly paraded about the city, with their babies hung at their breasts, then hurled them down headlong from the wall.
It's interesting that in both books, mothers had their boys circumcised - not fathers. In rabbinic law, the commandment of circumcision is incumbent upon the father of a newborn boy, but apparently at the time of composition of these two books of the Maccabees, mothers performed the commandment, or had others do it for them.

The European rabbis calling for defiance of the German court ruling are thus in good historical company.

Rabbi David Wolpe's verses on circumcision

A poem by Rabbi David Wolpe on the German court's decision on circumcision, published in the Washington Post:
In Germany there is a move
To outlaw circumcision.
I take to verse to summarize
This outrage with concision. 
The WHO recommends
That no male miss a bris
The snip that saves, WHO raves
Does not diminish bliss. 
Far from disfigurement, it is
A sacred, ancient rite.
A covenant crossing untold ages
Father Abraham’s requite. 
And yet, today, in Germany
--the ironies abound--
This Jewish practice meets a sanction
Where once indeed was found 
Many who were circumcised
And versed in Jewish lore.
Perhaps the Germans have forgotten
For they are there no more. 
Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including, Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times and his latest, Why Faith Matters.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy July 4th in Israel!

I'm listening tonight to Reshet Bet, and "American Pie" starts playing! I guess this is part of their July 4th coverage. Suddenly I feel nostalgic for when the song was first released, in 1971, the year I turned 15.

I celebrated July 4th today, although without fireworks. I went to the American consulate in Jerusalem for their annual party. A good friend of mine received an invitation because she's the director of the Jewish-Arab kindergarten at the Jerusalem YMCA. It was a lot of fun and quite a scene. Good music, including America the Beautiful, a nice speech by the consul supporting a two-state solution, great food, and very interesting people, including as a special guest, Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad, Palestinian businesspeople and P.A. officials, American military who are part of the US security assistance to the P.A., members of the Marine guard of the consulate, local Christian clergy wearing splendid hats, activists for peace, and lots of other people. I also had a chance to meet the Deputy Principal Officer of the consulate, who is the daughter of friends in Ithaca!

Scientific reasons in favor of circumcision

Yair Rosenberg in Tablet presents the scientific evidence in favor of circumcision.
“Male circumcision is a highly significant, lifetime intervention. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It makes sense to put extraordinary resources into it.” 
Who would you guess recently offered this paean to foreskin fleecing? A rabbi? An imam? Nope. Try U.S. AIDS coordinator Eric Goosby at a health convention last month for top officials from 80 countries.

This smacks down the logic of a German regional court that has banned religious circumcision, calling the practice a “serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body.” As the AFP reported at the time, Goosby was reflecting a scientific consensus that has been cemented over the last seven years:
Studies show that circumcision can dramatically reduce HIV infections. One study in South Africa last year found new infections fell by 76 percent after a circumcision programme was launched in a township.

In 2006, trials in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa found foreskin removal more than halved men’s risk of HIV infection. Longer-term analysis has found the benefit to be even greater than thought, with a risk reduction of around 60 percent.
The medical success story here is even more remarkable than the AFP lets on. Those original trials, as the New York Times reported upon their publication, were so effective that theywere stopped early by the National Institutes of Health, which was paying for them, because it was apparent that circumcision reduced a man’s risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by about half. It would have been unethical to continue without offering circumcision to all 8,000 men in the trials, federal health officials said.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Iran to Israel: threatens to "wipe them off the face of the earth"

Iran threatens Israel
Iran announced missile tests on Sunday and threatened to wipe Israel "off the face of the earth" if the Jewish state attacked it, brandishing some of its starkest threats on the day Europe began enforcing an oil embargo and harsh new sanctions....

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear aims. The United States also says military force is on the table as a last resort, but U.S. officials have repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new sanctions take effect....

Announcing three days of missile tests in the coming week, Revolutionary Guards General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the exercises should be seen as a message "that the Islamic Republic of Iran is resolute in standing up to ... bullying, and will respond to any possible evil decisively and strongly."

Any attack on Iran by Israel would be answered resolutely: "If they take any action, they will hand us an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth," said Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' airborne division, according to state news agency IRNA.
Israel is threatening to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities while Iran threatens in response to destroy Israel.   I'm not in favor (at all) of Israel attacking Iran, but notice the difference in their threats - one threatens military facilities, the other threatens all the inhabitants of Israel (which includes, of course, a substantial Arab Israeli population as well as the residents of the West Bank and Gaza who would also suffer if Israel is "wiped off the face of the earth").

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Daniel McGowan writes forward to book by Holocaust denier and antisemite, Germar Rudolf

From the JHate website of Aryeh Tuchman, I learned that Daniel McGowan has written the forward to Germar Rudolf's recent book, Resistance is Obligatory. Rudolf is a German Holocaust denier who has been imprisoned in Germany for his Holocaust denial, which is illegal in Germany. He is currently living in Pennsylvania, unfortunately for those of us who oppose anti-semitism and Holocaust denial. McGowan has been hanging around with Holocaust deniers for quite a long time - for example, he visited Ernst Zundel in prison in Germany when he was also imprisoned for Holocaust denial.

A small excerpt from McGowan's forward, which clearly also displays his antisemitism and Holocaust denial:
An increasing number of scholars and lay people clearly see that something is not right with Elie Wiesel and the current Holocaust narrative. The writings of Germar Rudolf and others simply confirm what they already suspect. They may care little for chemical traces in the brickwork at Auschwitz or topological evidence of mass graves, but they have seen other historical events substantially revised and they are suspicious of the outrage and scorn heaped upon those who question the uniqueness and scope of this particular event, especially when it is used to persecute Palestinians and promote endless war in the Middle East. 
That Jews suffered greatly during the Third Reich is not in question, but the notion of a premeditated, planned and industrial extermination of Europe’s Jews with its iconic gas chambers and immutable six million are all used to make the Holocaust not only special but also sacred. We are faced with a new, secular religion with astonishing power to command worship. And, like Christianity with its Immaculate Conception, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, the Holocaust has key and sacred elements – the exterminationist imperative, the gas chambers, and the sacred six million. It is these that comprise the holy Holocaust which Jews, Zionists, and others worship and which Germar Rudolf and other revisionists question.