Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The unintended, and dangerous, consequences for Israel in east Jerusalem

Leon Wieselthier - in a piece that deserves to be read in its entirety - explains why the Israelis trying to reclaim properties that used to belong to Jews in Arab east Jerusalem, pre-state, are opening a can of worms:

Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews.

When Jews fled Sheikh Jarrah, they fled to a Jewish state, which should have been worth the loss of their property; and the same would have been true of the Palestinians, if their Arab brethren had allowed the state of Palestine to come into being. But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established.

What, in short, can Israelis say to Arabs who wish to reclaim their properties in Katamon, when they are busy reclaiming properties in Sheikh Jarrah?


The long arm of the Mossad

The last paragraph of the NYT report on the UK-Israel passports crisis notes, by-the-by:

Officials in South Africa have said that several members of the Israeli hit team left Dubai for Johannesburg on a direct flight by Emirates Airline, the Dubai flag carrier, then flew back to various destinations in Europe before catching connecting flights back to Israel.

South African news reports have quoted South African officials as saying that they were unable to comply with Dubai’s request for closed-circuit video recordings taken as the men transited through Oliver Tambo International airport in Johannesburg because the recordings had been mysteriously wiped before the Dubai request was made.

[Insert creepy Twilight Zone music here...]


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

British-Israel crisis: timing is everything

The speculation that an Israeli diplomat is to be expelled from the UK (or perhaps has been expelled already?) has taken everyone by surprise.

When the passports scandal first broke, Mr Prosor was invited to the Foreign Office - and emerged, all smiles. The Brits sent investigators to Israel interview the British nationals whose identities were allegedly stolen - but this was widely assumed to be a formality (and perhaps a fun perk for the investigators). That seemed to be the end of the affair, from the British point of view.

The question is, then, why this drastic British action now - weeks after the scandal seemed to have blown over? Miliband could have made his anti-Israeli statement at any point and would have chosen his moment carefully. What is the significance of the timing?

One strong possibility is that the British move is connected to the mammoth row between the Israelis and Americans over building in east (actually, northeast) Jerusalem last week. Political observers will want to know: Have the Americans asked their British counterparts to apply pressure on the Israelis - to squeeze Bibi just a little more, to make it a bit harder for him to resist the Americans' demands? (Even if it turns out this was not the intention, it will surely be the result).

It also seems extraordinary for Mr Miliband to address parliament on this issue at the very moment - 15.30 - when he was due to be the guest of honour at the Israeli embassy's housewarming party. When it was first announced that he would be attending the reception - a week after the Dubai passport scandal erupted - it was interpreted as a strong sign that the Brits wanted to keep things friendly with the Israelis. For Miliband to withdraw, now, in order to issue a strong statement against Israel instead, cannot be a coincidence; what a slap in the face.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Enough Pesach recipes to keep you going until Shavuot... and beyond

Consider this a public service announcement. Since I'm doing the research anyway - here are the Pesach recipes from some of my favourite food blogs...

-- Chef Levana Kirschenbaum's Seder night menu - with a heavy Moroccan influence . Yum, I think I might try some of those.

-- Baroness Tapuzina's recipes - this year and last.

-- Mom in Israel/Cooking Manager - includes tips for preparing for Pesach and staying gluten-free

-- Israeli Kitchen - lots of good stuff here - including recipes (with the promise of more to come) and two lovely posts on the Seder customs of Jews from different parts of the world.

-- The Jew and the Carrot - Passover guide for vegetarians and vegans, quinoa, seasonal thoughts from my distant relative Rabbi Eliav Bock and much more.

-- For those of you aiming high, Epicurious has an incredible archive of Pesach recipes. I made this a couple of years ago and it was a definite hit.

-- Leora W - here and lots of other links here.

-- Pesach/Passover 'cookbooks' from Recipezaar.

-- Pesach recipes from The Savoy (NY).

-- And last but not least, a tour of the factory containing the world's largest matzah oven. Happy cooking!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No-drama-Obama's 'rage' against Israel

The Economist report on the current Israeli-US spat explains:

Since becoming prime minister for a second time in 2009, Mr Netanyahu has struggled to befriend Mr Obama and enlist his help against Iran while presiding over a coalition dominated by ultranationalist and religious parties. One school of thought holds that Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton escalated their reaction to the Biden insult in order to make Mr Netanyahu abandon his rightist allies and tread the American path to peace; some say the president was waiting for a chance to destabilise him to force his replacement by someone more emollient. A rival theory is that there is no plan: Ramat Shlomo simply ignited the rage that has smouldered in Mr Obama’s breast since Mr Netanyahu refused his call last year for a total freeze on settlements, forcing Mr Mitchell to waste nearly a year niggling for a temporary compromise.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran State Department negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, is one of those who suspect the administration has been driven more by anger than calculation and that its war of words could misfire.

Frankly, I'm not sure which of these two schools of thought is more disturbing. It's bad enough that the administration should take a cool and calculated decision to try and force Mr Netanyahu from office - blatantly interfering in the Israeli nation's democratic right to choose its own representatives, according to its own democratic rules.

But talk of 'the rage that has smouldered in Mr Obama's breast' is perhaps even more troubling. We're talking here about no-drama-Obama; part of his appeal in the election was the claim that he does not make decisions based on emotion but on rational consideration. A year into his administration, some of his supporters have come to the conclusion that his utterly cool temperament is actually a minus - but I've yet to hear anyone claim he really does have strong emotions.

Against this background, the idea that Israel and Netanyahu drive him to 'rage' and to lash out in anger - that these are the issues which he has been quietly stewing over for months - is frightening.

Not Ahmadinejad. Not Kim Jong Il. Not Hamas. Not Hugo Chavez. Israel and Netanyahu.

It is completely irrational, and it does not bode well. Let's hope he was merely trying to interfere in Israeli democracy....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where matzahs come from

Food writer Leah Koenig goes back into the mists of time to explore the origins of matzah:

The Israelites’ earliest breads were unleavened flatbreads or cakes made of roasted barley. The word “matzo,” Joan Nathan writes in “The Foods of Israel Today” (Knopf, 2001), is likely derived from the Babylonian ma-as-sa-ar-tum, meaning “barley.” “The barley was ground with a flat stone; the stone was then heated with a flint stone until it was hot enough to cook the bread,” she writes. For centuries, these flat, rather tasteless cakes were the only “bread” the Israelites consumed. It was not until the Israelis encountered the ancient Egyptians that they learned about leavening.

The original matzahs were of course all soft and bendy, not hard like ours - and in some communities, such as the Yemenite community, they still are. This is why Hillel, in the Haggadah, makes a 'Hillel sandwich' with his matzah. While we struggle to put pieces of horseradish between two crumbly matzahs, he simply rolled up his soft matzah around his marror, just like a laffa.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mr Obama, stay out of internal Israeli affairs

The inimitable Jeffrey Goldberg, over at the Atlantic, writes:

I've been on the phone with many of the usual suspects (White House and otherwise), and I think it's fair to say that Obama is not trying to destroy America's relations with Israel; he's trying to organize Tzipi Livni's campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government. I'm not actually suggesting that the White House is directly meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it's clear to everyone -- at the White House, at the State Department, at Goldblog -- that no progress will be made on any front if Avigdor Lieberman's far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Eli Yishai's fundamentalist Shas Party, remain in Netanyahu's surpassingly fragile coalition.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni's centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes. It's up to Livni, of course, to recognize that it is in Israel's best interests to join a government with Netanyahu and Barak, and I, for one, hope she puts the interests of Israel ahead of her own ambitions.

1. The White House may not be "directly" meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it's doing a helluva job indirectly meddling in internal Israeli politics. There is an enormous difference between trying to change the regime in a dictatorship, where the population's will is trampled on and ignored - and in a democracy, a democratic ally no less, where the population expresses its will effectively through a functioning Parliament. Interesting the Obama was against regime change in Iraq - the dictatorship - but seems to be pro in Israel - the democracy.

2. The idea of Obama trying to shape Israeli politics while support for him, personally, and for his own party crumbles around him back home, is laughable. He should worry about his own domestic politics first.

3. The real proof of Obama's utter folly and ignorance in this affair is the attempt to "make" Bibi bring in Kadima to the coalition. Bibi tried hard to bring in Tzippi Livni to his coalition - the refusal was all on her part. She does not want to be number two to Bibi's number one. Yet again, Obama seems to be pressuring the wrong party in the Middle East... sound familiar, anyone?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Worst US-Israel crisis in 30 years': A self-fulfilling prophecy?

So who is really to blame for the depth of the current crisis between Israel and America?

I received an original and smart answer today from none other than Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of Yesodei Hatorah school in Stamford Hill.

He suggested that at least part of the blame must be shouldered by the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.

Oren was quoted as telling Israeli consuls general on a conference call that the crisis was the worst breakdown in US-Israeli relations since 1975, when Kissinger and Rabin fought over an American demand for a partial withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.

The line was, in typical and 100 per cent predictable fashion, leaked to the media - and has been widely quoted, used in headlines across the world over the past few days.

But in a sense - his argument goes - Oren's characterisation of the spat made it into the mammoth crisis it is today, rather than reflected a reality. By bigging it up, Oren essentially 'made it so'; once the words were out there (or rather, out here, there and everywhere) that's how everyone began to relate to the crisis - as the largest in 30 years - whether he was right or not.

It seems to me there is an element of truth here. Not that the crisis would have disappeared without Oren - this was a biggie either way - but his words do seem to have defined this moment in an entirely unhelpful way, making it harder for everyone to play things down. When all this is done and dusted, this week will still be remembered as 'the worst crisis in 30 years', even if that is (imho) a vast exaggeration.

Did Oren say it deliberately, in order to stir things up? Rabbi Pinter suggested there must have been some kind of trouble-making agenda. I doubt it, particularly as he was talking to Israel's own diplomatic staff. But it was certainly a silly thing to say and I bet he regrets it now.

And there you have it; the political view from the other Hill.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iran: the nightmare scenario

The indispensible has translated part of Nahum Barnea's column from last Friday's Yediot - itself a summary of a study dealing with the possible scenarios that might follow an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, currently doing the rounds on the internet. The original paper - available in Hebrew here - is by Dr Moshe Vered of Bar Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Some of the more frightening possibilities:

“The war could be long,” Vered warns, “its length could be measured in years.” The cost that the war will exact from Israel raises a question mark as to the decision to go to war.

The relatively light scenario speaks about an Israeli bombing, after which Iran will fire several volleys of surface-to-surface missiles at Israel. Due to the limited number of missiles and their high cost, the war will end within a short time. The missiles may run out, the study states, but the war will only be getting started.

“The means that may be most effective for the Iranians is war by proxies—Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas,” Vered writes. “(There will be) ongoing and massive rocket fire (and in the Syrian case, also various types of Scud missiles), which will cover most of the area of the country, disrupt the course of everyday life and cause casualties and property damage. The effect of such fire will greatly increase if the enemy fires chemical, biological or radiological ordnance… massive Iranian support, by money and weapons, will help the organizations continue the fire over a period of indeterminate length… due to the long range of the rockets held by Hizbullah, Israel will have to occupy most of the territory of Lebanon, and hold the territory for a long time. But then the IDF will enter a guerrilla war, a war the end of which is hard to predict, unless we evacuate the territory, and then the rocket fire will return…”.....

Vered bases his assessment mainly on the regime’s ideology and on the lessons of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. He writes: “Half a million dead, a million wounded, two million refugees and displaced persons, economic damage estimated by the Iranian government at about USD 1,000 billion—more than twice the value of all Iranian oil production in 70 years of pumping oil—none of this was sufficient to persuade Iran to stop the war. Only the fear of the regime’s fall led the leadership to accept the cease-fire.

“The ramifications are clear and harsh—like the war against Iraq, the war against Israel will also be perceived by the Iranians as a war intended to right a wrong and bring justice to the world by destroying the State of Israel. Only a threat to the regime will be able to make the Iranian leadership stop. It is difficult to see how Israel could create such a threat.”

Read more here - if you can bear to. But before you get too frightened, keep in mind that the cost of allowing Iran to actually gain the nuclear weapons might be even worse.

Theodor Herzl, early photoshopper

Here is a fabulous historical footnote I came across today.

In 1898, Theodor Herzl travelled to Palestine to meet German Kaiser Wilhelm II, where he showed him round a Jewish settlement (Mikveh Yisrael). On the day, David Wolfson - later Herzl's successor as the leader of the Zionist movement - was trusted with the camera, and indeed there is a famous photo of Herzl, holding his hat, greeting the Kaiser on a horse.

According to Motti Friedman, manager of the Herzl Museum, however, Wolfson was so excited that his hand actually slipped, and the picture only captured Wilhelm - and Herzl's leg.

So the two men later took a photo of Herzl standing on a Jaffa rooftop, by himself, cut out the image and stuck it onto another photo of Wilhelm.

You can see another shot from the two men's photoshoot here.

Of course, when you take another look at the picture it's obvious; Herzl is staring straight ahead instead of looking up at the Kaiser. Just think what they could have done with a Mac and a good computer program...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Arafat's eating habits

Here is one of the more disturbing images I've come across. Ever.

In an interview with Yediot this weekend, Ehud Ya'ari, Israeli Channel 2's highly respected analyst for Arab Affairs, describes his last meeting with Yassir Arafat, three months before Arafat's death. Yaari went to visit him in the Muqata, and says (translation mine):

"We met for dinner. He didn't know he was ill, and I didn't know. He approached me through a middle man, and asked that I come to visit him to see what's going on. He didn't let anyone into the room. Me, him and the man in whose car I came.... So we ate, we talked. He talked and talked, was very friendly. He knew how to open the tap of personal charm when he wanted to. He had a habit of feeding you with his hand into your mouth. So the whole evening, he fed me."

Thanks Ehud. That will take me quite a while to get rid of.

But wait. It gets better. The interviewer, Uri Misgav, has a killer follow-up question: "Was it tasty?"

Yaari continues:

"We ate makloubeh. It wasn't great. Listen, there was no woman in the muqata, it was very obvious. There was no one to supervise. His clothes were not clean, I got the impression he wasn't taken care of the way you need to..."

I really hope he made sure Arafat washed his hands before he hand-fed him supper....

The future looks bright for Orthodox women rabbis

Hope you will forgive me yet another post on the subject of Orthodox women rabbis, but here goes.

On Friday, Rabbi Avi Weiss announced that the graduates of his women's ordination programme in New York will not, after all, be called 'Rabbas'.

For the past few weeks, he seems to have come under some pressure from other Orthodox rabbis following his decision to change the title of the first woman he ordained, Sara Hurwitz, from Maharat (leader in Jewish law, spirituality and Torah) to Rabba. It is still unclear whether Hurwitz will keep her newly acquired title, but either way there will be no more American rabbas - for the foreseeable future, at least.

This is being seen as a major cave-in by Rabbi Weiss. So does this mean that the Orthodox are not ready for female rabbis?

Not at all.

The fact is that Rabba/Maharat Hurwitz received her ordination almost exactly a year ago. For almost an entire year, she fulfilled her rabbinic duties in Rabbi Weiss's congregation with very little comment from most of the American Orthodox establishment. It seems clear that she was not universally accepted on a day-to-day level by some people she encountered, but the silence from the other rabbis and indeed from the majority of the Orthodox commentators etc which greeted her ordination was absolutely remarkable. They seemed prepared to let a de-facto Orthodox woman rabbi pass almost without comment......... until he changed her title.

'Maharat' - yes. 'Rabba' - no. It simply sounded too close to 'rabbi' and made it impossible for the majority of the American Orthodox world to continue pretending Maharat Hurwitz was not, in fact, a full-fledged rabbi.

The fact is, though, that Rabbi Weiss is going to continue ordaining Orthodox women rabbis (called Maharats). Sara Hurwitz is going to continue functioning as a rabbi (even if she is called Maharat). And the Orthodox world is not going to say much about either of these things - because the problem doesn't seem to be with the job description but with the title. The main principle, this row over wording shows only too clearly, has been accepted.

Should Orthodox feminists care what clergywomen are called? I'm tempted to say yes. I personally find it very offensive and alienating that Orthodox rabbis play these silly semantic games, refusing to acknowledge - G-d forbid - that women are, in reality, holding these leadership positions (perhaps this is the place to mention how much I admire Avi Weiss, on the other hand, for taking up this cause?). But ultimately, the reality on the ground is more important.

A decade or two down the line, with Maharats serving congregations, schools and university campuses across the American continent, people will be unable to remember what all the fuss was about. And if one of them then decides to call herself 'Rabba', well, I'd be surprised if anyone even notices.

On Judaism and C-Sections

The Forward on the exceptional status of c-sections in Judaism:

Jewish law is straightforward about cesarean births: permissible to save the lives of mother and child. And yet, the product of that birth is somehow perceived as less natural. A bris of a cesarean-born boy, for example, does not supersede the Sabbath, unlike that of his vaginally born brother. A Pidyon HaBen, which is the firstborn son’s “redemption,” does not take place for cesarean-born boys, because the child, in effect, is not the firstborn of his mother’s womb. Rabbis seem to have taken a “Macbeth”-like approach: In Shakespeare, a C-section makes a child “not of woman born.” This was not the way we were meant to birth. The Mishnaic term for C-section was “yotzei dofen,” meaning “out of the wall [of the abdomen].” It’s a phrase that modern Hebrew linguists use as synonymous with “unusual” or “exceptional.”

As the mother of a daughter born by C-Section, I'd like to note that in modern Hebrew it can mean 'exceptional' in an entirely positive sense as well....

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Do young American Jews understand the Middle East?

A perceptive piece in the Boston Globe about why American-Jewish support for Israel is seen to be 'dropping'. Jesse Singal argues that it isn't dropping - rather, what it means to be 'pro-Israel' is changing:

There are still plenty of young American Jews who take pride in wholeheartedly supporting the Israeli government. But this view isn’t nearly as dominant as it once was, and research by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College helps show why. Cohen found that younger Jewish professional and religious leaders tend to be less likely to see Israel as threatened by its neighbors, and therefore less worried about Israel’s security.

The idea that being an American Jew doesn’t necessitate lockstep support for Israel, and that Israel is strong enough to withstand criticism from the outside world, were on full display last week at Harvard’s Hillel House, which hosted a talk by J Street’s head, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

In an interview before the event, Ben-Ami talked about the changing experience of being an American Jew.

“If you’ve had personal experience - if not you [then] at least your parents - with the destruction of your people, you’re more likely to take it as a possibility that it could happen again," he said. “If you have grown up here in complete comfort and safety and no one you know in an immediate sense has been through that, I do think [you’re] going to have a very fundamental[ly] different view, a different take, on how you view the Iran threat.’’

As I understand it, Ben-Ami is saying that the Holocaust generation and their children were overly anxious; we, today, know better. But you can read his words quite the opposite way, and to my mind, the truer way. The Holocaust generation knew what they were talking about because they knew how dangerous the world could be; our younger generation today is completely naive, stupidly understanding the complex Israeli reality through the prism of their own, safe experience.

If this analysis is right, it shows a fundamental lack of imagination on the part of the younger generation. No country today, including Iran, threatens America existentially; this does not mean it is not true for Israel. Yes, the notion of any country wanting to completely annihiliate another seems ludicrous if you live in the peaceful West; but this doesn't mean that this goal can't seem perfectly normal elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it's not just American Jews who misunderstand the Middle East because they imagine all people share the same basic desires. It is true for many in the West.

We can't understand that suicide bombers would have any other motive other than 'desperation' - because in our own culture, there wouldn't be any other explanation. We can't understand that some people would sacrifice their own national aspirations in order to achieve a larger goal of destroying another people - because this order of priorities, in the individualistic West, seems practically insane. Most of all, we can't understand how deep the hatred is for Israel in the Middle East - because we don't hate any other nation that way. We don't do hatred, we do cultural relativism, multiculturalism, pluralism and tolerance.

The root of it all is that as an increasingly secular society, we just don't get religion - and hence cannot understand how religious beliefs can make people prioritise war, death, land and destruction of the other over an easy and comfortable life.

Successive surveys show that American Jews are one of, if not the, most secular religious groups out there. Does this help explain why so many of them (and so many equivalent British Jews) just don't 'get' the Middle East any more?

Sorting out the 'Livni law' chaos

So, who are you going to believe?

Depending on which national newspaper you read today, you will come out with a very different impression of what's going on with the universal jurisdiction law - the law which gives individuals in Britain the ability to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials accused of war crimes, and which forced Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni to cancel a visit here a few months back.

From the Telegraph:

The Government is to announce plans to stop politically-motivated campaign groups using British courts to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials.

Under the proposals, the Crown Prosecution Service will take over responsibility for prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international law.

It will end the current system in which magistrates are obliged to consider a case for an arrest warrant presented by any individual.

Writing for the The Daily Telegraph, Gordon Brown says he will set out proposals to put the CPS in sole charge of judging the merits of any case brought under international law.

Labour MPs have been told the changes will be set out to the Justice Select Committee today and the government will legislate after consultation.

Sound exciting, huh?

Then there's the Times:

Britain risks a showdown with Israel today when the Government signals it is in no hurry to ease the threat of arrest for visiting politicians and generals.

Ministers will announce a consultation on the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which private citizens can secure arrest warrants for offences such as war crimes committed abroad... The issue caused embarrassment for the Government, which promised to remedy the matter quickly.Today’s announcement, however, means that the issue will not be resolved until well after the election, expected in May...

The delay is a victory for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who has argued that the legal point at stake is too important to rush.

Rather more pessimistic.

How do make sense of all of this? Put these two reports together and you have Gordon Brown coming up with a real solution - which will take a hell of a long time to sort out, and with elections coming up, might never happen. Typical Brown big announcement, then.

The JC this week explains why Brown's change might take so long (link to come later in the day):

The latest compromise now being discussed by the Ministry of Justice will allow the Justice Select Committee to scrutinise the proposed legislative change in advance. This would allay fears that taking away the power to grant arrest warrants from local magistrates would undermine judicial independence.

However, it is unlikely that the committee will have time to do the necessary work before the end of the parliamentary term.

In other words, delay tactics by Justice Minister Jack Straw, who has been the stumbling block all along.

But wait. There is perhaps a temporary solution at hand:

Meanwhile, Hendon MP Andrew Dismore, backed by fellow Labour MPs John Mann and Denis MacShane, has tabled a Private Member’s Bill, due to receive a second reading on Friday.

His bill would require the consent of the Attorney General before magistrates issue any arrest warrant for suspected war crimes.

Mr Dismore said: "While it might not provide a complete solution to the problem of universal jurisdiction, I believe that this reform would prevent the abuse of the law for political purposes by those intent on disrupting progress towards peace in the Middle East."

He added that his bill was "a long shot, but there’s no harm in trying. This is a sticking plaster, not a long-term solution and the prospects are pretty slim. If the bill runs out of time, I will bring it straight back at the next parliament. Whoever wins, I put them on notice."

With Tory support, it could, possibly, pass. And we all know that the temporary has a funny way of becoming permanent, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

Anglo-Israeli ties will survive Dubai

I've started a new regular column in the Forward, called 'Across the Pond'. My first piece appears this week, and addresses the question of why the Brits seemed to react so mildly to the Dubai passport forgeries:

It has become conventional wisdom that Israel cannot get a fair hearing in Britain. There is strong hostility toward Israel in British academia and trade unions. There have been mounting efforts by pro-Palestinian activists to push boycotts, divestment and sanctions efforts against the Jewish state. And British public opinion as a whole reacted strongly against last winter’s Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Against this backdrop, the revelation that the killers of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai had used forged British passports (as well as fake passports from several other countries) was widely expected to send British-Israeli relations into a tailspin. If the killers were indeed Mossad operatives, commentators across the political spectrum argued, Britain would be within its rights to recall its ambassador and to take other punitive diplomatic measures against Israel.

Instead, Britain reacted with remarkable restraint. Indeed, rather than exposing the fault lines of the Anglo-Israeli relationship, the Dubai issue actually shows just how sympathetic the current Labour government is to the Jewish state and its war on terror, to an extent rarely appreciated even by Britain’s Jewish community.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Will the British Chief Rabbi end up in America?

There has been speculation in the community for some time that the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, is approaching the final years of his tenure, now that he has been in post for almost 20 years and taken up his position in the House of Lords.

But what will he do afterwards?

In 2002, rumour was rife both here and in New York that he was being strongly considered for the position of president of Yeshiva University. At the time, sources suggested he had been sounded out for the job, but did not want to leave the chief rabbinate. Many agree, though, that he is extremely suited to life in academia and his lecture tours of the US have always proved extremely popular.

Now comes the news that Yeshiva University is going to award its inaugural Lamm Prize (commemorating its chancellor, Norman Lamm) to Lord Sacks this month.

According to the YU website, Lamm Scholars Prize winners will become visiting scholars at YU, and

contribute richly to our academic life by giving lectures, teaching courses, and leading discussions within the YU community.

Is it only a matter of time before we hear the Chief Rabbi is making the move permanent? Remember, you read it here first....

'Blogs have become part of serious conversation in the Orthodox community'

More on the increasing influence of blogging in the religious world today.

Gil Student, author of the highly successful Orthodox blog Hirhurim, writes:

In the old days, before blogs became more mainstream, you could express your opinions freely. If I thought a rabbi wrote an article demonstrating ignorance and dishonesty with sources, I showed that it was the case (albeit with nicer words). I can't do that anymore. The old blog crowd had thick skins. The new blog crowd includes people who are highly sensitive and will complain.

Instead of criticizing ill-conceived articles, I usually just ignore them because otherwise I will get an angry e-mail from the author or one of his students. Then I will get an e-mail from one of his colleagues asking me to reconsider his arguments with a more open mind. Who has time for those discussions? Even if I am wrong, people are allowed to be incorrect every once in a while.

While I could ignore the e-mails, sometimes they come from people who are too important to ignore -- people I respect highly for one reason or another. And some people even call me at home or at work, trying to make me squirm until I change my post. Who wants that? (For the record, I find those calls so off-putting that I usually become entrenched and refuse to budge. A phone call is the best way to get me to refuse your blog-related request.)

But what are we complaining about? The success of blogs in general and our blogs in particular. What all this really means is that blogs have become a part of serious conversation in the community and we have to reflect that new circumstance. If people are complaining about your writing, it is because they are reading it and taking it seriously.

...and know that other people are reading it and taking it seriously too.

The other passport scandal

An interesting piece in YNet about assassinated Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh's travel arrangements.

First, according to a Hamas spokesman from Damascus, Talal Nasser,

"He would take the bodyguards with him anywhere he went, but there was no room for them on the flight," said Talal Nasser, a spokesman for Hamas in Damascus. "Therefore he traveled alone, and the security guards were slated to join him the next day."

Sounds unlikely. No serious security team would let the man they are defending go it alone simply because they couldn't get plane tickets - they would stop him going. (And surely there are other flights to Dubai anyway.)

But then he adds,

Despite previous reports, the Hamas man said Mabhouh visited the emirate under his real identity. "He had five passports, one with his real name and the rest with different names, but this time he traveled under his real identity," said Nasser. "He had traveled to Dubai many times in the past in the same way, without any problems."

Were these other passports Palestinian Authority travel documents? Or did this terrorist travel on passports belonging to other countries as well?

If they can spare a minute during their investigation of Israel, perhaps it's something the international community should be looking into...

Monday, March 01, 2010

How blogs are influencing Orthodox debate

A few weeks ago I posted about the enormous influence the internet is having on the Charedi community. But what about its influence on the modern Orthodox community?

The NY Jewish Week is reporting that the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinical group in the US, may consider kicking out Rabbi Avi Weiss for ordaining a woman and giving her the title of "Rabba" (discussed on this blog here).

According to one source in Rabbi Weiss’ yeshivas, the ordaining of Rabba Hurwitz (first as something called “maharat,” then more explicitly as “rabba”) has created a situation in which “we are being absolutely killed on the Internet,” in Orthodox blogs. “Where are the moderate and moderating voices in the Orthodox community?” the source asked.

Interesting that the discussion on the blogs (by a few thousand individuals) is clearly being felt in the real Orthodox world and is considered a central, influential forum.


Doubts about Dubai

Was Israel responsible for the Dubai hit? The Washington Times raises a couple of questions:

[S]ome details have emerged that do not track with traditional Israeli intelligence tradecraft. The Dubai authorities this week said two of the operatives fled to Iran.

Michael Ross, a retired officer for the Mossad's covert-operations division, said it would be a breach of Israeli protocol for an operative to flee to another target country like that after an operation.

He also said that it was unlikely that Israel would use 26 people for a job that would require far fewer people. "The Mossad believes if two people can do something instead of three people, then send two."

Here is one answer that would settle both of these points. Isn't it possible that Dubai has simply identified way too many suspects? That not everyone is claims is a suspect is actually part of the operation? Perhaps the police are now getting a little carried away. Or, perhaps, it is in Dubai's interests to keep this story going with a drip-drip-drip of information and to make the plot seem even larger and more threatening than it actually was.