Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Charedi rioters called policemen 'Nazis'

On Friday night, there was another Charedi riot in Jerusalem over the opening of the municipal parking lot on Shabbat. Six policemen and passers-by were injured.

The tone of this riot, however, seemed to be even more aggressive than previous ones. The police have complained that the demonstrators called them "Nazis" and spat on them, and say this is "not acceptable".

Well, there is a direct address for this complaint. The term "Nazi" didn't come out of nowhere - it has been deliberately encouraged by the leadership of the Edah Charedit, the extreme Charedi sect which has an ideological objection to the state of Israel. It is responsible for all the riots this summer, both over the parking lot and the mother accused of starving her infant son.

Take a look at this poster - recently distributed by the Edah:

The cartoon shows the selection process for the Nazi death camps. Next is line is a Charedi "Yiddishe Mama" together with her two children. Deciding whether she lives or dies are Hitler - labelled "Prosecutor's office" - and an Israeli, labelled "Welfare". The signs show, however, that all Charedim are being directed to "torture" - the gas chambers - while all secular people are being directed to "life" in the big city. The entire process is headlined, "Israeli selection", and under the cartoon, the caption gives the Edah Charedit's number and email address for those who require more material about the medical and welfare establishment's hostility to the Charedi public.

The cartoon directly concerns the case of the mother accused of starving her child, not the municipal parking lot. But that is the explicit message that the Edah Charedit has deliberately been spreading to its followers this summer: the Israeli authorities are Nazis.

(Hat tip: Emes VeEmunah)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gilad Shalit's mental state

Although a Shalit deal seems to be closer than ever, his release is by no means assured - previous deals have also seemed likely, and fallen through.

Nevertheless, i can't help but wonder in what state Shalit will be when - God willing - he is set free. His mother, Aviva, has said several times that she knows she will not be receiving back the same boy she sent to the army. Sadly, that may be putting it mildly. A piece in the New Yorker from earlier this year paints a truly terrifying picture of what happens to those in long-term solitary confinement:

The problem of isolation goes beyond ordinary loneliness, however. Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement—from the journalist Terry Anderson, for example, whose extraordinary memoir, “Den of Lions,” recounts his seven years as a hostage of Hezbollah in Lebanon...

He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel
something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery.My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”

He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.

His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion—sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages—and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.

In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.

“I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to
lose control completely.”

One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before
the guards were able to stop him...

A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

Of course there are many POWs who endured years of physical isolation - John McCain being a prime example - who went on to lead productive and happy lives. We can only pray that Gilad Shalit will be one of them.

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is Inglorious Basterds a German fantasy, not a Jewish one?

A contrarian view of Inglourious Basterds from John Rosenthal (who occasionally writes for the JC). He argues that the movie is, in many ways (including much of its funding) very German, and that the main idea - Jews as avengers - is "a German fantasy, not a Jewish one":

But, it will be asked, what could possibly be German about a film that has been described as a “Jewish revenge fantasy,” in which Brad Pitt’s “Aldo Raine” and his band of Jewish “basterds” brutally kill and mutilate evil Nazis, cutting off their scalps as trophies? Hasn’t every Jew dreamt of bashing in the heads of Germans with a baseball bat à la Eli Roth’s “Sgt. Donny Donowitz”?

Well … no. And by the way: Who could possibly think such a thing? The answer is not hard to find. The “avenging Jew” is indeed a kind of stock character of the German political imagination. It has been at least ever since a certain Dr. Joseph Goebbels announced to the German public in 1944 that “the Jew Morgenthau” — otherwise known as the American Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau — was planning to turn Germany into “one big potato farm” in the event of an Allied victory over the German Reich.

The allusion was to the so-called Morgenthau Plan for restricting German industry following occupation. The Völkischer Beobachter (September 26, 1944) had a different name for the plan: “The Jew’s Murder Plan” [Judas Mordplan]...

Of course, Rosenthal is not exactly right - see the legendary Michael Elkins's book Forged in Fury, based on the true story of a group of some 50 Jews who, after the War, who tried to kill as many as possible former Nazis. (Jonathan Freedland's last book, The Final Reckoning, was based on the same story, and credits Elkins in the afterword). Still, he makes a strong case. Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Scots did not have to release al-Megrahi in order to show compassion

The argument over the release of Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi is being framed as an argument between those who want "justice" - that is, making a mass murderer serve out his term; and those who want "compassion" - that is, releasing him.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was clear on which side he was coming down:

“Compassion and mercy" - he defended his decision to release al-Megrahi - "are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by,
remaining true to our values as a people – no matter the severity of
the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.”

The problem is, however, that this all assumes an extremely narrow definition of "compassion".

Making al-Megrahi comfortable in his last days; treating his illness to the best of our ability; perhaps allowing relatives to visit him in prison - that, too, is compassion; the kind of compassion you show someone found guilty of mass murder.

They did not have to release him in order to remain "true" to their "values" (apparently punishing mass murder is no longer a value in Scotland nowdays). There is no contradiction, necessarily, between wanting justice and showing compassion.

It makes you wonder, yet again, why they really did let him go, and makes the recent doubts about his medical condition all the more worrying.

Danny adds:

Kenny MacAskill must be praying that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi will
die very soon, but I wouldn't bet on it on it. Some of you may recall Ernest Saunders
who was jailed for his part in the Guinness Affair. Saunders successfully won his release after convincing the judge that he was suffering from pre-senile dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease, which is incurable. He made a full recovery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Swedish blood libel is not just antisemitic, it's dumb

Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner explains in his New York Times blog why the "Swedish blood libel" - the accusation that Israel was deliberately killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs - is physically and logistically unlikely:

Al Roth, the Harvard economist whose work on matched-pair organ donations has started to transform the organ-transplantation scenario, told me he found the accusation unbelievable because of the logistics of organ harvesting itself. “Organs don’t last very long and have to be matched rather particularly,” he said, “so it would be hard to take them on spec for an international market. So I think black market organs must mostly be from live donors. Live donors can take blood tests well in advance and travel to where the patient is. Deceased organs have to be put on ice, and the clock starts ticking immediately and fast.”

Another question: If you did kidnap someone in order to harvest their organs, would you really return the body to the family afterwards? Wouldn't that be incredibly stupid?

Just asking.


Why the PA does not want Marwan Barghouti released

The Shalit deal seems to be entering a very serious mode, with the Germans - who helped negotiate the prisoner exchange with Hizbollah last year - entering the fray; the leader of the Hamas 'military wing' departing for talks in Cairo; and increasing buzz that a deal might be struck within the next month.

At issue is the release of 125 Palestinians, whom Hamas wants to free but Israel does not, because they have 'blood on their hands'. One of these men, apparently, is Marwan Barghouti, former leader of the Tanzim, the Fatah armed branch, currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for five counts of murder.

Hamas has long insisted on his release and several years ago, when the PA was in total disarray and lacked real leadership, it would have made sense from a Palestinian point of view; he would have been his people's natural leader.

But today, the PA is increasingly stable, with its economy - as we reported last week - soaring, President Abbas finally strengthening, and a general atmosphere of hopefulness spreading.

How would Barghouti's release change this delicate equation? And - moral questions about releasing convicted murderers aside - would it be in Israel's interests to set him free?

I asked Prof Hillel Frisch, an expert on the Palestinians from the BESA center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

He explained that for Hamas, demanding Bargouti's release is a way of creating trouble for their enemies on the West Bank, the current leaders of Fatah:

"There are two kinds of leaders in Palestinian nationalist politics - statists such as Abu Mazen and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who hoped that the Palestinian Authority would devolve into statehood, and if they supported the use of violence, only sparingly, to improve negotiation positions; and revolutionaries, whom Barghouti headed, and whom Arafat supported and prodded on in 2001, causing most of the tension in the Palestinian camp.

The last thing this current leadership wants to see is Barghouti free. Abbas prefers him in prison. Hamas is doing this to create tension - they know he will create tremendous division and it is a way of weakening Abbas in the enemy camp.

Abbas has not pressed for his release.

Barghouti feels that he should be where Abbas is. The only way he can do it is by being more radical.

It would be a terrible mistake for Israel to release an agitator like Barghouti. It is not in Israel's interests to weaken and create disunity in the nationalist Palestinian camp. I think this is a consensus from right to left."

Of course, if Barghouti is released, it is unclear where he will be released to - Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere - but as he showed through constant political activity in prison, he is quite capable of exerting tremendous political influence, no matter where he is.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gaddafi's Jewish daughter-in-law (well, almost)

While we're on the subject of the Libyans, check out this profile of Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, in The Daily Beast.

Saif, who is apparently a popular figure in London society, negotiated the release of Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi. Last August, he had this to say about the $1.5 billion Libya paid to the families of the Lockerbie victims:

“The negotiation with them, it was very terrible and very materialistic and was very greedy... They were asking for more money and more money and more money. … I think they were very greedy and I think they were trading with the blood of their sons and daughters."


According to the article, young Mr Gaddafi - whose interests include pet tigers - apparently has an Israeli girlfriend, actress Orly Weinerman, who was trying, for a while at least, to 'make it' in London.

How liberal of him - and how disgusting of her.

Shmuley Boteach vs Libya

Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi seems to have outsmarted the Scots. But can he outsmart Shmuley Boteach?

The rabbi revealed last week that the Libyan owns a house next door to his in New Jersey, and that in preparation for Gaddafi's visit to the UN next month, Gaddafi's men destroyed a fence and cut down trees on Rabbi Boteach's property. In his initial column, Rabbi Boteach extended an open hand (and the offer of a cup of coffee) to the Colonel. This week, however, following the release of Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi, he writes:

Libyan construction workers pulled out my fence and cut down my trees without so much as informing me, let alone asking me. I speculated that they cut down my trees so that they could spy on my house for security purposes.

Well, they should know they have nothing physically to fear from me. I live by a religion that has forever established the infinite value of every human life. But if they don't restore my trees and fence to what they were, immediately, I will sue them. At least then Libyan money will go toward peaceful projects like planting trees rather than blowing up planes.

Yes, we are mad as well and we won't take it any more.

Frankly, I'd be careful who he messes with.......

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is Bernie Madoff dying of cancer?

The answer is yes, according to the NY Post:

Madoff, who is serving 150 years at a North Carolina federal lockup after pleading guilty to swindling more than $65 billion, has been telling fellow inmates he does not have much longer to live.

"He's been taking about 20 pills a day for his cancer," said one inmate.

"He talks about it all the time. He's not doing very well."

There's been much speculation as to why Madoff took the entire fall for the scheme -- and rumors of his suffering from pancreatic cancer surfaced many months before he arrived at the Butner, NC, complex in June.

The prisoners did not confirm that's the form of cancer he's suffering.

Let's send him to Libya then...

Palestinian women crochet kippot for Israeli Jews

Reuters has uncovered the fact, well-known in Israel, that many kippot (skullcaps) worn by religious Israelis are crocheted by Palestinian women.

Almost every house in the village of 3,000 west of Ramallah makes the little caps. It's a social event as well as a helpful cash-earner. Women bring their wool and needles to each other's home to crochet and chat.

"We make qors (the Arab name for kippah translates as 'disc') while having a gossip," said Umm Ali. "We meet each other and we make money at the same time," added the mother of three, whose husband is unemployed...

Six Palestinian skullcap dealers distribute the wool, needles and the models to women in this village and 10 neighbouring villages.

The finished articles are collected each week and shipped to Israeli retailers. The skullcaps are also exported to the United States.

The women of Deir Abu Meshal, known for its traditional dress embroidery, say that to them it's merely a business.

They say they have no qualms about furnishing skullcaps for the people of the occupying power or the Jewish settler, who may be living on Palestinian land.

They say the work is convenient: they don't have to travel.

"Without this knitting business, people here would be very poor," said Nema Khamis, 50, who passed on her skills to her five daughters and daughter-in-law.

A great example of economic cooperation which benefits all sides. Most impressive: these women claim to make five kippot a day, each. Now that is speed. The only kippot I've ever made, as a teenager, took me months. It's a wonder they have any time to bring up children.....

A lonely British journalist outs herself as a friend to the Jews

Julie Burchill, watch out. There is a rival for your title of 'Most Philosemitic British Journalist' (actually, until a couple of days ago I thought her title was 'Only Philosemitic British Journalist', but read on).

In the Saturday Times, Anna Blundy revealed that she has "often fantasised that I will discover some obscure piece of Jewish ancestry and, miraculously, will officially belong".

I couldn’t seem more shiksa if I tried — which means, of course, that Jewish men love me. I had another glowing moment when, at a casual Friday-night dinner, someone half-accidentally, but with a smile, addressed the woman’s prayer to me. I add to my goyish allure by sometimes wearing a sapphire and diamond crucifix.

Anyway, I have just spent the week in a ski resort in the French Alps where my children were doing a music course. It is a strange place in summer, chairlifts creaking idly in the wind over meadows, the wide pistes a dull brown. Surreally, Alpe d’Huez is an Orthodox Jewish summer resort, almost entirely populated by the seriously religious — women in wigs and floor-length skirts, men in the full regalia with ringlets and beards, strings round their waists. I caught some of the dangerously rebellious teenagers taking their hats off and smoking down by the go-karting track. They chatted to me in English and stroked my dog, arguing with the go-kart man that their little brother was old enough to drive too (he wasn’t).

By sheer coincidence I had been asked to be mildly kosher (no pork or shellfish) for the week. The lady who runs the children’s strings course had let us stay in her flat and I scoured the supermarket for items I might usually buy but that might secretly contain forbidden ingredients. I loved doing it — partly because it plays to my being-Jewish fantasy and partly because we have so much pork in Italy that I’ve eaten a lifetime’s worth. I don’t mean to sound flippant. I do understand that being Jewish has marked downsides, even apart from the obvious. My dearest ex-boyfriend was telling a story recently about someone writing “Yiddo” next to his name on an exam results list at prep school. He couldn’t rub it out so wrote “Yiddo” next to the names of the other Jews in his class.

When I took my ache of Holocaust grief to a rabbi in St John’s Wood he told me to cope with it by making the people close to me happy and safe. I took this seriously.

But, quietly, I had hoped he might try to convert me, even though I know that feeling like an outsider does not, sadly, mean that I can belong with other outsiders. It would be nice to stick together with someone, but an only child knows deep down that groups and camaraderie are not for her. So I walked the dog under the clanging lifts and smiled at the families who seemed to look at me and wonder what it must be like to be so alone.

The thing is, Anna, once you've outed yourself as a friend of the Jews, you are never going to be alone again - ever. Our friends are so few and far between nowdays that, converted or not, you are now one of us. Prepare for an onslaught of invitations from Jewish women's groups and Zionist organisations, and letters from grateful Jewish pensioners. Your High-Holy Day synagogue tickets are probably already in the mail.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are the Swedes hypocritical over the IDF blood libel?

Israel is doing its best to turn the antisemitic slander in one Swedish newspaper into a full-blown diplomatic incident. Now Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked his Swedish counterpart to print a state rebuttal to the piece published in the Aftonbladet tabloid earlier this week, alleging that IDF soldiers kidnapped and killed Palestinians in order to take their internal organs.

The Swedish have refused - as they should have. Repulsive as the piece is, it is simply not the government's responsibility. The Israelis should be going after the newspaper, not the foreign ministry.

According to blogger Meryl Yourish, however, by refusing to apologise, the Swedes are behaving with appalling double-standards. She points out that when a Swedish newspaper published a sketch of the Prophet Mohammad as a dog, government representatives apologised to the Pakistanis.

As she herself notes, the difference is mainly one of tone - the government also defended freedom of the press and the government minister who shut down a website on which the sketch appeared resigned.

But even if it isn't, and the Swedes are hypocrites, surely the answer is that they shouldn't have apologised to the Muslims either - not that they should apologise to the Israelis as well?

In a charedi yeshivah, you can't wear blue


Last year, The Knish posted a picture of the cover of the 2009 calendar made by Yeshivas Rebbenu Chaim Berlin, a major Charedi yeshivah in Brooklyn.

In the midst of a sea of white shirts sat one lone student in a blue top. He was clearly flouting the uniform - what an apikores!

The picture was subject to much ridiculing on the web. Nevertheless, the yeshivah used the same picture to grace its 2010 calendar, just out. But can you spot the crucial difference?

(Hat tip: Mordechai Ovits)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Should we feel sorry for Dudu Topaz?

Dudu Topaz.JPG

One of Israel's best-loved television stars, Dudu Topaz, has committed suicide in jail. He was imprisoned after confessing to orchestrating a series of violent attacks on television executives who no longer wanted to produce his shows. After decades at the top of the Israeli entertainment industry, he just couldn't live without the attention and the glory.

As someone who grew up in Israel in the 1980s - when Topaz was "King of the Ratings" - I have to say that I am truly shocked by his suicide, in the same way many people were shocked by Michael Jackson's death. Topaz was part of my childhood and it is hard to believe that this is how it all ended. It is a very modern tragedy, when life becomes meaningless without celebrity.

But should we feel sorry for him?

Already, there are voices blaming the media for his death, saying he was 'hounded', that 'words kill' and that the media 'lynched' him. The implication is that the coverage of his case was somehow unjust and should have been restrained in order to spare Topaz, who was in a fragile mental state.

This, of course, is rubbish.

I wouldn't go so far as Israel Channel 10's Raviv Drucker, who wrote this morning that he was glad that Topaz killed himself because the trial would have been "too painful and too annoying" - for us, the public! Obviously, Topaz did not deserve to die, he was a severely distressed man, and the public's feelings in all of this are just irrelevant.

But Drucker is right that Topaz confessed to some terrible acts of violence, in which people were nearly killed, and that they were all planned in advance and deliberate. Topaz knew exactly what he was doing - he was depressed, not insane - and he even hid in order to witness every one of the attacks he ordered being carried out.

The media, both national and international, did exactly the right thing by covering one of the biggest television scandals of the decade. How could they not?

And if Dudu Topaz could not take the mental pressure, he shouldn't have sent thugs to beat up women in front of their children.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swedish government is not responsible for its media's blood libel

A repulsive report in a Swedish tabloid, accusing the IDF of abducting and killing Palestinians in order to steal their internal organs, has angered Israeli officials, who call it a modern blood libel. (The local Swedish Jews, incidentally, don't seem quite as worked up - presumably because they know that most of their compatriots never saw the story and don't care.)

The Israelis are, of course, right about the report's nature, and now even the author of the report has backed down, admitting he wasn't sure that what he wrote was true. (A little late to discover now.)

Were the Israelis right, however, to complain to the Swedish ambassador? And was the Swedish embassy right to distance itself from the report?

I think not. Governments are not responsible for the content of newspapers, at least not in a democracy. Successive Israeli governments have suffered at the hands of the rumbunctious Israeli media, and would probably be the first to say they can't control it. The Swedish paper's report was irresponsible and antisemitic, but should not have turned into a diplomatic incident.

What not to text

There are many shocking aspects to the story about the City of London teacher who conducted a Lesbian affair with one of her students.

What gets me, though, is the line about the reaction of top school's headmistress. According to the Sun,

rumours reached the headteacher, who texted parents about the scandal, Southwark Crown Court heard.

I know texting is the modern thing to do, but really, if one of your teachers is abusing one of your students, the least you can do is write a proper letter...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Comparing Jews to Nazis? No problem, in the Guardian

The Guardian has sunk to a new low, publishing a piece by Marxist psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek in which he accuses Israel of "ethnic cleansing"; justifies rocket fire from Gaza; says that calling Gaza "the greatest concentration camp in the world" comes "dangerously close to truth"; claims that Israel is slowly making the West Bank "Palestinian-frei"; and accuses Israel of obstructing peace "since 1949".

Oh yes, all this and so much more - all in one article!

For a good fisking of the article, see Honest Reporting here. But what I am interested in is the number of comments on the article which have been removed by the moderator, presumably because they cross some kind of boundary of good taste.

What exactly do you have to write in order to be censored when commenting on an article comparing Jews to Nazis?

Where separate sidewalks for men and women already exist

I'm still not sure whether there are separate sides of the street for men and women in Bnai Brak, but according to the comments on this post, they do exist in New Square, the all-Chassidic village in New York.

Apparently, street lamps with orange signs on them mark the women's side; street lamps with blue ones mark the men's side. The road in between (on Shabbat, I presume....) is mixed. The locals apparently get very upset when out-of-towners come for weddings etc and end up on the wrong side of the street.

This baby should not be suffering

A highly disturbing story on Yeshiva World*.

Apparently, a Charedi couple in Jerusalem are refusing to allow their five-week old baby to be hospitalised at Hadassah Hospital, despite the fact that it is the only medical institution in the country with the technology to deal with his intracranial bleeding. The reason? The hospital was at the centre of the row last month over the Charedi mother accused of starving her three-year-old almost to death. It was accused of framing the mother, death threats were made against individual doctors, others were compared to Nazis.

“The child’s chances of survival in Hadassah are greater than in any other hospital” Yediot quotes one of the doctors as stating, but the parents remain firm in their refusal. Ultimately, the infant was transferred to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, not their first choice, adding the child’s care is being compromised due to ideology.

As a result, the infant is transported to Hadassah for treatment and returned to Shaare Zedek. The report adds that the medical team insists the traveling back and forth is not in the infant’s interest, but the parents remain adamant in their refusal, unwilling to admit the child to Hadassah.

Chareidi askan [macher - MS] Dudi Zilbershlag, in his capacity as the spokesman for Bikur Cholim, confirms that the parents refuse to transfer their child to Hadassah.

Yoeli Krauss, who is deemed the operations officer of the Eida Chareidis told Yediot that “we want our tzibur [public - MS] to receive the best medical care possible. We advised the parents to transfer the child to Hadassah but they refused,” adding “our tzibur is hysterical”.

Krauss adds “If Hadassah has any concern; it would issue a public apology to clear the air and climb down from its tree. If this was done, the situation would revert back to its former state and it would heal the wounds. Failure to do so places the responsibility solely on Hadassah”.

Actually, no. Hadassah has served the Charedi community well for many years, and the Charedi authorities should have nipped the propaganda against it in the bud. They didn't, because it all served their purposes at the time - portraying the 'system' as anti-Charedi and the allegedly child-starving mother as a victim of the doctors.

Is this really what they wanted? Newborn babies (from their own community) suffering because their parents are petrified of the hospital? They are the ones who must 'climb down from the tree', the tree they planted, now, for the sake of this baby and others.

As for the parents, it is hard to imagine how anyone can put a frail, sick five-week-old through a daily ambulance ride when a bed is available in Hadassah. I hope they do not end up regretting it for the rest of their lives, and wish the baby a refuah shlemah.

*The original is apparently in Yediot, but I can't find it.

Israel will go gaga for Lady Gaga

Pop star Lady Gaga is currently in Israel, which - being absolutely on-trend - is sure to respond with a massive media hoopla.

Lady Gaga, for her part, has promised to tone down the clothing in holy Jerusalem, but then added that

she is more excited to see Jerusalem than to "get drunk in a bar," though she also said she might "get drunk in Jerusalem."

I hope someone tells her in time that the place to get drunk is Tel Aviv, otherwise she will have a very disappointing experience indeed.

MORE: Jessica Elgot on Lady Gaga's bullet necklace

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why did the charedi man cross the street?

Because the woman was on his side.

According to YNet,

A group of ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets of the haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem last Friday [the 7th- MS] and called on the public to adhere to a complete separation between men and women in certain areas of the city.

The activists toured the streets near Geula neighborhood in taxicabs and announced, using megaphones that on some streets men and women should walk on opposite sides of the road during the weekend.

According to a resident of the neighborhood, Avraham Cohen, those responsible for the initiative belong to the extremist Neturei Karta stream. "The leading rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox public do not support this initiative," he said. "This group decided to on their won accord go into the neighborhoods and set new modesty codes."

However, eyewitnesses said that although the segregation had not been sanctioned by prominent spiritual authorities, most passersby heeded the call last Saturday. "During the noon hours when women go out for a stroll and the men go to the synagogue, men and women walked on different sidewalks," one resident said.

It is an interesting illustration of the way chumras - stringencies - get adopted even when no one really wants them, purely because of social pressure. It is only a matter of time before this becomes the norm.

Incidentally, in 2004, the Vishnitz Chasidim in Bnei Brak asked men and women to walk on opposite sides of the Admor Mevishna Street - it would be interesting to know whether this is still the case.

Does the left hate Israel because it is too successful?

That is the argument (apparently) made in a new book by George Gilder, called The Israel Test.

As I understand it - I haven't read the book - he divides the world between those who believe that wealth is finate, and that enriching yourself means depriving someone else; and those who believe that wealth infinate, and that enriching yourself can actually create opportunities for others, for example through doing business with you.

As it happens, this is a division that is being discussed a lot at the moment in the context of domestic British politics: see for example Janet Daley and George Pitcher from this weekend.

But back to Gilder. He argues that Israel's staunchest critics belong to the former group - and hence hate over-achieving Israel, which they perceive as taking more than its fair share from its neighbours. Its supporters see the potential benefit in having a democratic, financially and technologically innovative state in the Middle East.

He writes:

"The [Israel] test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to their excellence or do you seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement or do you impugn it and seek to tear it down?"

In fact, this doesn't really answer for me the question of why the Left hates Israel. If it was all about hating prosperity, they would hate Singapore even more.

Nor is it just about "canonization of victimhood", as Stephanie Guttman argues, flipping Gilder's argument.

But put those two things together and you're on to something. There is a large swathe of the West today which is simply self-hating: they hate the West's own colonial history, its success, its wealth, its supposed victimisation of others, its supposedly evil capitalist system etc etc etc.

Israel, to many of these people, has become a symbol of the sinful West, which is why anti-Americanism and anti-Israel feelings are so often so closely tied.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Blog break

I'm off on holiday until Monday, August 17.

See you back here then!


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Kabbalists to fly over Israel to ward off swine flu

The frightening march of some elements of Judaism towards complete superstition continues apace.

According to Yeshiva World News,

50 rabbonim, described as Mekubalim, will take part in a flight over Eretz Yisrael as part of a tikun against swine flu. They will recite tehillim, blow shofarot, and recite other tikunim as an act in response to the spread of the illness in Eretz Yisrael, with three fatalities to date and some 20 people in serious condition in hospitals around the country.

According to Rabbi Benayahu Shmueli, rosh yeshiva of Nahar Shalom in Yerushalayim, the illness may chas v’sholom spread rampantly in Eretz Yisrael due to the “immorality and indecency” that exists. “To my sorrow, many in Am Yisrael are guilty of this” the rav stated.

The rav added it is not coincidental that one can become infected by mouth, explaining in the frum community the tikun lies in the mouth, the absolute need to stop loshon hora, calling on the tzibur to make a greater effort to guard one’s speech.

Or they could just wash their hands.


Ahmadinejad insults the Brits, who thoroughly deserve it

The White House has accepted Ahmadinejad as Iran's "elected leader". And so, apparently, have the Brits.

In an op-ed in the Telegraph, it emerges that the British ambassador attended his swearing-in ceremony this week - which was boycotted by many Iranian leaders.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it had dispatched the ambassador because the international community had to keep talking to the Iranian regime about its nuclear programme, so “communication channels have to be kept open”. It had indicated its displeasure at the events of the past two months by witholding the customary letter of congratulation. It calls this “hard-headed diplomacy”.

Well, Ahmadinejad certainly got the message loud and clear: the Brits are cowards who can be kicked around at will. At the ceremony, he had a word or two for them, as well as the US, Germany and France: "No one in Iran is waiting for your messages... The Iranian nation neither values your scowls and threats, nor your smiles and greetings."

I would have loved to have seen the British Ambassador's face as Ahmadinejad came out with this (to the crowd's cheers), but he probably just turned the other cheek.

Lost in translation

According to the San Francisco Sentinel, the vice president of the the World Congress of GLBT Jews is called "Refuah Shlemah".

Either someone has very cruel parents, or someone is having them on......

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Where's the outrage?

The BBC is carrying a story today about the wife of a terrorist leader who was killed in a drone attack. Buried quite a way down the article is the fact that four children were killed too. When the bomb hit the house, there were actually 40 people present - but not the terrorist leader, who was apparently not home.

Missing from this story: the terms "civilian casualties" and "targeted killing", pictures of dead children and families in mourning, and a general tone of moral indignation. Also missing: expressions of outrage from various Western governments, NGOs etc.

The Guardian - which doesn't even bother mentioning the children - reports approvingly that the attack delivered "a message to the notorious militant commander that western... pursuers are closing in on him."

I wonder how they would have reported this story had the attackers been Israeli and the dead Palestinian relatives of a Hamas commander, and not - as is the case - the attackers American and the victims Pakistani relatives of a Taliban commander?

According to the White House, Ahmadinejad is Iran's 'elected leader'

President Ahmadinejad was sworn in today as the president of Iran, for his second term.

Apparently that is good enough for President Obama.

According to AP,

White House spokesman Robers Gibbs was asked Tuesday if the White House recognized Ahmadinejad as the country's legitimate president.

"He's the elected leader," Gibbs responded.

What a slap in the face to the thousands of Iranians still risking their lives to protest what is widely perceived as a stolen election. He might as well have just sent Ahmadinejad his congratulations.

Making a mockery of religion II

While we're on the subject of fraud...

Fortune Magazine has chosen this moment to profile Dina Wein Reis, an Orthodox woman who is going to stand trial next year in the States on charges of duping Fortune 500 companies out of at least $20 million dollars (that is the figure the government is trying to recover, but the companies' exact losses are unknown). She was busted late last year.

Read the whole thing here - it is quite fascinating. But two paragraphs stand out:

In at least one remarkable way, Wein Reis did not fit the profile of a pure hustler. A person familiar with her finances says she gave at least 10% of her profits to charity. She regularly hosted homeless people in her townhouse. When an Israeli rabbi called her about the death of a man in his congregation in a suicide bombing, Wein Reis sent the rabbi a big check but insisted the gift be anonymous.

Of course, many people will use this as evidence that Wein Reis was not really a bad person; that she could not possibly have committed the crimes of which she is accused; etc etc. The prosecutors allege, however, that this was not her money to give away.


Wein Reis enlisted her rabbi in her bid to convince a judge that she should not be required to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. Orthodox practice, the rabbi said, forbids women from wearing slacks or pantsuits. Summer was coming, Wein Reis's lawyer noted, and any skirt or dress shorter than ankle length would reveal the bracelet, which would complicate her efforts to get a new job. The
judge agreed.

It might seem a little rich for a woman accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars (by, allegedly, flirting with her clients) to be worried about her modesty, but she is, after all, innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless, a really frum woman could hardly object to having to wear ankle-length skirts. If I were American, I'd want to know the identity of the rabbi who helped her use religion to get her way in court.


Making a mockery of religion I

The summer of Jewish/Orthodox fraudsters has been long and depressing. Sadly, it's not quite over yet.

Planet Money has uncovered the court papers from the big New Jersey corruption sting last week, in which five rabbis were amongst 44 people arrested.

Apparently, in meetings taped by an informant,

Bank fraud is repeatedly referred to as a "schnookie" in the charges, which makes it adorable. And since five of the accused are rabbis, they know their way around the ancient codes. "Gemara" may be the second part of the Talmud, but the court papers say that for these guys it also meant a thousand dollars. "I'm bringing 55 gemaras," the informant says, meaning $55,000. The accused would allegedly set up
times to meet by asking when they wanted to "learn together."

No word yet on bail, but I'm guessing they're going to need a lot more than 55 gemaras.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fancy being buried in a catacomb?


When the time comes, of course.

This is not a theoretical question - tombs similar to the ones in this picture have actually been built in the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv.

Israel is rapidly running out of burial space and a new four-floor building is designed to solve the problem.

But is that how Jews traditionally bury their dead? Actually, yes, possibly even as late as the 5th century, in some places.

There are magnificent examples of Jewish catacombs still standing: one in Israel, in Beit Shearim, and several in Rome. Both include fascinating inscriptions which reveal masses of information about the Jews at the time, including their names, professions, languages they spoke etc.

As for the modern building in Kiryat Shaul, it

is shaped like a hill with flowers and shrubbery growing on its outside walls. Inside, there is space for 5,000 corpses, about four times the number that could be buried in traditional graves within the boundaries of the plot.

On each floor, spacious halls are lined with rows of burial chambers stacked about three high. The rooms are bathed in sunlight and a constant crosswind ensures a pleasant atmosphere. Several rows of chambers are already filled and others reserved.

In their design, Sagiv and Ponger had to address the rabbis' concerns that the burial chambers would be built in accordance with Halacha, or Jewish ritual law.

Each chamber has a dirt floor, with a dirt column running all the way to the ground below, fulfilling the Jewish edict that burial spaces must be connected to the earth, Sagiv said.

Cement walls separate each chamber, in line with the Jewish tenet to bury the dead as individuals...

Similar structures are being constructed in major cities across Israel. Sagiv said one multi-floor "burial hill" will be built into the walls of an old stone quarry and the entire area will be landscaped.


A school which teaches Hebrew - but no Judaism

An interesting experiment in Florida is proving a success.

Ben Gamla school is funded by the state, and therefore does not teach religion. But it does teach Hebrew, intensively, as a second language; in addition to Hebrew language classes, art, music and sport are all taught in Hebrew.

Sharon Miller, the principal,

refused to say how many Jewish students attend Ben Gamla, calling the question "inappropriate and illegal" to address to a public school. She said many of the students are Israeli immigrants, while others want to be exposed to the Hebrew language.

Tzipora Nurieli, of Hallandale Beach, enrolled her three children in the school when it opened. Sara is entering the eighth grade, Ariel is going into the sixth grade, and Sharon will be a fourth grader in the fall.

Nurieli is observant, but she said the school doesn't teach religion. "They get their Judaism from home," she said. Ben Gamla teaches Hebrew "at a very, very good level."

It was a financial burden to send all three to Tauber Academy in Aventura, the private Jewish school they attended before Ben Gamla, she said.

"I struggled for years to pay for it," she said.

The school, which opened two years ago, is at full capacity (600 kids), has a waiting list and is now planning to expand. As the cost of American day schools becomes increasingly out of reach for Jewish parents, such schools will presumably become even more popular; another one is scheduled to open in Brooklyn at the end of the month.

Still, presumably, as Ms Miller intimates, many of its pupils will come from Israeli and Russian immigrant families - they are not used to paying for private education (as American-born Jewish families are) and are often scared off by the religious content in 'regular' Jewish schools.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Roseanne defends her Hitler photoshoot - badly


Roseanne Barr is at the centre of a storm of controversy following a photoshoot for Heeb Magazine, in which she dressed up as Hitler and baked - and burnt - "Jew cookies".


Of course, there is a long tradition of making fun of the Nazis, from Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks and John Cleese onwards. But anyone attempting this rather dangerous brand of humour better have a really clear idea why they are doing it and what they are making fun of. Does Roseanne?

I went on her blog, where she offers several explanations.

1. The metaphorical reason:

Hitler served the german industrialists who put him in power, as if he were their little housefrau. When they thought they could turn a buck by cooking and gassing their minority groups, he helped set up their lines of federal credit to do so.
I thought that Hitler in drag making jew cookies was a very accurate way of depicting the whole German Gestalt. Also, I hate Hitler, because he thought that artists should be censored. I also hate everyone else who thinks that way.

2. A poetic reason:

There is so much antisemitism in this world,
It's not even funny.
It is as everyday as baking cookies.
Ignorance is not bliss.
Recalling the horrors of the holocaust will not deflect or divert it, as many Jewish people think.

3. The real reason?

Hitler was a dweeb who farted all the time, incested his niece, held her hostage and killed her when she tried to escape at age seventeen, alot like FRITZL.... He has been dead for over half a century and people still fear even invoking his name, giving him some horrid power over their own minds...

I say also, its time for jews to snap out of it, out of nazi mind control. Hitler is a dead guy who thought jews were going to infect german RNA, and yet his own grandmother was impregnated by one of the Rothschild family (jews) while working in their home as a servant. This is what he wanted to obscure most of all, and goerring the same story. self hate is the most virile form of hatred.

Well, he did not kill "the jewish people", and neither did Haman and neither did Martin Luther, or the Popes of the Vatican, or any of the other despots on earth who caused many to suffer and die, but are now only dust and nothing more. Get over Hitler, Jewish people!! that was then and this is now!

Torah tells us the temple was destroyed by the hatred of one jew to another, and not by any "gentile". Time for thinking jews to speak out, wake up and take correct spiritual action against evil. Speak out against collective punishment in Gaza!

Our ancestors go back long before there was judaism!


In other words, Hitler was a nerd; We are all too obsessed with him and the Holocaust; and Israel is busy committing another one.

Now, Roseanne certainly knows a thing or two about the Holocaust; much of her mother's family was murdered and according to an old interview in the Guardian, her mother was so traumatised that she used to hide with her children in the basement everytime an unannounced visitor came to the door.

This might explain a thing or two about why she is so eager to throw off the Holocaust's mental yoke.

But reading these comments, you really do have to wonder whether she appreciates just how unique and horrifying Nazi Germany was. A place where they murder 6 million Jews - and, just as bad, she implies, censor artists! A place with a modern equivalent - Israel - which also carries out evil collective punishment. (She made the comparison even more explicitely just this January, when she called Israel a "Nazi-state".)

You can't make fun of the Nazis without understanding what you're making fun of. And Roseanne doesn't.