Friday, April 30, 2010

UN sucks up to Iran

While we're all sitting back, waiting for the UN to impose sanctions on Iran, that august body has elected Iran onto its Commission for the Status of Women, which is supposedly ""dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women".

Meanwhile, in other news this week,

Iran has warned suntanned women and girls who looked like "walking mannequins" will be arrested as part of a new drive to enforce the Islamic dress code...

The announcement came shortly after Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi, a leading cleric, warned that women who dressed immodestly disturbed young men and the consequent agitation caused earthquakes.

At least they didn't elect Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China to the Human Right Council. No, hold on, they've already done that.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sandra Bullock gives her son a 'bris'

Sandra Bullock - who is not Jewish - has told People magazine that her adopted son Louis had a "bris", soon after he was adopted in January:

A friend of ours helped arrange for a bris at the house, because we couldn't go [to a hospital for the procedure]. The mohel [a person trained in the practice] came to us. You have never seen adults more panicked about what was about to happen to their son, but the celebration and the amount of love we felt and the pride in the little man whom we love so, so much became the greatest moment I have ever had in my life.

Penance, perhaps, for her husband (soon to be ex-husband) Jesse James's Nazi obsession?

UPDATE: I am reminded that a few years ago, there was a trend of non-Jewish kids celebrating 'faux barmitzvahs'. Are we going to witness the rise of 'faux bris celebrations'? Somehow I doubt it.

Goldstone: the UN Human Rights Council is 'hopeless'

The New Republic is running a thorough account of the internal row over Israel at Human Rights Watch, which culminated in founder Robert Bernstein accusing the organisation of being anti-Israel in the New York Times last October.

Most of it has been covered before - and is totally damning. But it included one particularly interesting paragraph, new to me at least:

Bernstein also raised some of his concerns with then-HRW board member Richard Goldstone, who would go on to write the U.N.’s much-maligned report on the Gaza war. There are few more reviled figures in Israel right now than Goldstone, but even he sympathized with Bernstein on certain points, such as the politicized nature of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, after being created in 2006, had directed its first nine condemnations at Israel.

In March 2008, barely a year before he accepted UNHRC’s mandate to investigate the Gaza war, he told Bernstein that he thought the body’s performance had been hopeless and expressed ambivalence as to whether HRW should continue appearing before it. He also agreed with Bernstein that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s increasingly aggressive anti-Israel rhetoric, in combination with his threatening policies, was an issue worthy of HRW’s attention. Goldstone pushed Roth to address it, but to no avail.

If this is true (and I guess we only have Bernstein's word for it), it significantly strengthens the case of those who claim that Judge Goldstone was acting totally cynically, abandoning his true positions on Israel (and according to this, the UN Human Rights Council) in order to advance his own career.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

J-Street Europe to launch next week

Next Monday in Brussels, a European group modelling itself on J Street will be launched. The first action of 'J Call' (subtitle: 'European Jewish call for reason') will be to present a petition criticising Israeli government policy to the European Parliament.

You can read the document here. The statement itself does not seem terribly controversial; it calls for Europe to apply pressure to 'both parties' and it calls for an end to settlements in 'Arab districts of East Jerusalem' (presumably, then, they support building in Ramat Shlomo, with its 20,000 Jews?).

I do wonder, though, how the lawmakers presented with these statements will interpret them. I suspect they will jump on the elements critical of Israel and miss the balance.

Just what kind of effect this group will have remains to be seen. But it has enormous potential. First, a much larger percentage of European Jews than American Jews probably support J Street-type positions; there is a big gap in the market for Jews who do not want to support IJV, but are nonetheless left-of-centre and eager for some activism.

In addition, in the US, J Street was meant to counterbalance the powerful Aipac lobby, which is supportive of the Israeli government, and was always going to be the younger, smaller, less influential rival. In Europe, there is no similar lobby to Aipac, certainly not at the EU level, potentially giving J Call quite a lot of influence, quickly, if it is successful.

Will this be good for European Jewry? Presumably, many on the left will feel empowered, while many on the right will feel threatened. You can expect the tone of communal debate surrounding Israel to become even harsher than it currently is.

All eyes on Brussels on Monday then...

Should Israel ban the burka?

According to the Jerusalem Post, MK Marina Solodkin is going to introduce a bill that would ban full-body and and face coverings for women.

The Post makes a persuasive case for supporting the bill - read its editorial here. But it makes too little of the phenomenon of Jewish women (at least 100, not a dozen or two, as it claims) taking on the veil. These sad cases - which I have written about extensively - further illustrate why the burka should be outlawed.

The 'frumkas' - as they became known - were first adopted by a mentally ill woman, Bruria Keren, later convicted of abusing her children. Despite what she said, covering up her face (and wearing multiple layers of clothing) was not a religious issue; it was a mental health issue.

Now, let's be clear - I am not saying this is the case for everyone who takes on the burka. But that was its root in Israel.

The practice was quickly copied by over 100 women who considered Bruria Keren to be a holy woman. Nobody forced them; however, she clearly convinced these gullible and needy women that the ideal for a woman was not to be seen in public (and not even to be heard - she used to stop talking for days on end). Negating themselves, she was telling them, making themselves invisible, was the height of frumkeit, while in fact it has no basis whatsoever in halachah.

Even her imprisonment has not been enough to change the behaviour of her followers, who remain loyal to her, and who knows how many more women have adopted this mode of dress in the meantime (one was arrested a few weeks back when attempting to board a bus; she was mistaken for a terrorist).

Other Charedi women were terrified by this development. They clearly understood two things: that the trend in the Charedi world was increasingly towards 'hyper-modesty' and erasing women from public spaces; and that despite the revulsion expressed by most Charedi men, stringencies tend to spread like wildfire and even crazy things can quickly become the norm.

The Israeli-Jewish experience, then, shows clearly how burkas can be used to entrench the victimisation of poor, vulnerable women. And the majority of women are terrified that they are going to end up coerced, effectively, into wearing one by societal forces greater than themselves.

In Israel this hasn't happened yet. But that is why a public statement that society will not abide either the burka or the frumka would be a good thing, now, before this phenomenon spreads any further.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hamas's code of ethics

According to this story ,

Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar on Monday night criticized an animated video released by the group’s military wing which depicted Gilad Schalit returning to Israel in a coffin, saying Hamas “would never kill a captured Israeli soldier.”

I love the indignant tone (as I read it). Hamas might blow up innocent civilians in bomb attacks, throw its opponents off roofs, shell entire areas of Israel's south for months and years at end... but kill a captured soldier!? That would be immoral!

That's gangster ethics for you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tory plans for schools 'most interesting idea of this election'

Last week I wrote about how the Conservatives' school policy would benefit Jewish schools - specifically, allowing parents and other interested groups to open more schools in areas where there is demand, quickly and with state funding straight away.

The Economist now has a comprehensive piece on the Tory plans for the education system - which it says may be "the most interesting idea in this election":

Labour’s manifesto still talks about parent power. In their version, parental ballots could be held and local-government officials would have to sack head teachers or hand schools over to be run by more successful ones, if that was what parents said they wanted. But it adds up to very little. Real parent-power is what the Tories are proposing, in their plan to let parents set up brand new state-funded schools. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all run their own schools, so the Tories’ writ would run only in England.)

Will it work? The evidence from other countries is broadly positive. Swedes in general approve of their new schools, and the parents who patronise them are satisfied too: nine in ten say they are happy with their children’s education, compared with under two-thirds of parents with children at state-run schools. Studies have found that they have better results, and also spur improvements in nearby state-run schools. The system as a whole responds better to parents’ wishes, too: if local authorities try to close a much-loved small rural school, parents simply apply to open their own one. When officials realise that the hoped-for efficiency savings will not materialise, they back down...

Many worry that the Tories’ plans, for all their benefits for the middle-class, would offer little to the downtrodden. The Conservatives counter by saying that the new schools would have to abide by the old admissions rules, with no interviewing of applicants and no preference for able students. International evidence is reassuring. A study in Sweden in 2003 found no indication that low-earning parents were less likely to pick free schools than richer ones. America’s charter-schools are mostly in deprived areas, and most of the pupils they teach are black and poor.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Political correctness gone mad

A letter jaw-dropping in its stupidity, in this week's JC:

Miriam Shaviv, [JC April 9] wrote: "US President Barack Obama has confirmed that he is a bully, responding aggressively to weakness and snubbing allies while kowtowing to dictators and rogues."

I, and many other Jews, have a very different view. We regard President Obama as a reasonable and far sighted man who, because of the weight that he carries in the "Arab street" offers Israel a unique chance of making a peace settlement that might actually stick.

But my argument with Shaviv is not so much what she says as the way she says it. At least one group of people in British society would, I believe, find her remarks almost personally insulting.

I am a Jewish broadcaster working on a radio station which has a largely black management and listenership, I wonder if Shaviv truly appreciates the enormous esteem in which Obama is held in this community. His astonishing rise against the odds has been theirs too.

The JC has an influence much wider than that of its Jewish readership. So, if Jewish/black relations matter, Shaviv might be advised to use more judicious language in future. I am not suggesting that she should not be as critical of American policy as she feels she needs to be. But to be personally insulting is careless and unwise. This is not about censorship; it is about common sense and a sensitivity towards the feelings of others.

Richard Phillips

So, according to Mr Phillips, Jews cannot criticise Barack Obama personally because it will offend black people. Perhaps we should also avoid criticising Mr Brown because it might offend Scots, and Mr Cameron because it might offend toffs? Really.

Unfortunately, Mr Phillips falls into a category which is becoming increasingly common: do-gooders making ridiculous demands on behalf of a minority to which they do not belong, doing more harm than good.

The classic example is of the many liberals, here and in the US, who make it their business to demand that shops do not put up signs wishing customers 'Merry Christmas' in December, because it might offend Jews or Muslims. I can't recall ever hearing from a Jew or Muslim who actually cares.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The American love affair with Jonathan Sacks continues

Lord Sacks's chances of bagging a major post in New York when he chooses to end his term as Chief Rabbi just got a major boost, with a rave review of his latest American trip appearing in this week's NY Jewish Week. The author is the paper's editor, Gary Rosenblatt:

Listening to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks deliver a positive message of Jewish survival and triumph at Lincoln Square Synagogue on Shabbat, and observing the enthusiastic, attentive overflow crowds at each of his three presentations, helped strengthen the impression for me that he has emerged as the leading voice of Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism in the world.

Not a leading voice, mind; the leading voice.

Chief Rabbi Sacks is due back in New York next month, his third visit in as many months.

An inappropriate Holocaust memorial?

Two descendants of a woman who survived Auschwitz have decided to commemorate her suffering in an unusual way: by having her camp number tattooed on their own arms.

"The idea to tattoo grandma's number from Auschwitz has been in my mind for a few years," said Daniel Philosof, from Ramat Yishai. "Grandma's stories from the concentration camps were part of my life and always will be. The connection I feel to my grandmother is immense and the tattoo is a way of making that real... The memorial on my body will ensure that we will never forget what happened." (My translation - MS)

He got the tattoo together with his uncle, Oded Rabak from Canada.

Leaving aside halachic questions about tattooing, is this a good idea?

I was initially against. In the first draft of this blog post, I wrote:

Clearly, these gentlemen (and this survivor's son, who did the same thing in 2008) are, in a sense, reclaiming the Auschwitz tattoos and turning them into something they control, even something positive - much as African-Americans reclaimed the 'n-word' and Jews reclaimed the slur 'Yid'. But by putting the number on their arm, it is still something by which they are being defined. Do we really want Hitler to be so utterly central to our identity, his actions to be literally engraved onto our bodies? For how long are we to define ourselves primarily in relation to Hitler, as his victims?

Writing those words, however, it occured to me that for these second- and third-generation survivors, Hitler and his actions are perhaps already "utterly central to [their] identity", in a way that I - who had no direct ancestors killed in the Holocaust (though many more distant relatives) - simply cannot appreciate. What might have been a grotesque and provocative gesture coming from a random Jew takes on a different meaning coming from a child or grandchild of a survivor. Perhaps this is just a physical expression of something they already feel emotionally or mentally, anyway.

What do you think?

FYI - the grandson is yet to tell his grandmother that he has had her number tattooed on his forearm "in order not to upset her".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Funky but not so frum

Some Danish clothing designers have modelled their new collection on the Charedi Jews they spotted on the NY subway:

While produced entirely in Denmark of Danish materials, it draws its inspiration from the traditional styles of various sects of Orthodox Judaism. They claim the collection seeks to "send the wearer on an anachronistic journey [with] essential aesthetic elements of various Judaistic societies" -- elements which lack in yarmulkes and wigs, but selectively interpret big black coats, lengthy black scarves and wraps, clunky black boots, and enormous black hats of both the the furry-cylinder and broad-brimmed variety.

How come they left out the snood?

(Hat tip: Paul Berger)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Signs you're at the White House Yom Ha'atzmaut party

From - the best items:

10. You were sure the invitation title, "Israel dependence Party" was just a mistype
9. 1600 Gift bags consist of eviction notices and a J-street t-shirt
7. Netanyahu enters with traditional falafel platter and proclaims “We’ve Got Balls!”
6. People boo when asked for their “Undivided” attention
3. All party expenses deducted from Israel Foreign Aid

Read the rest here

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why parents must vote Tory

My column this week:

Over the past couple of weeks, countless families have experienced heartache and stress as the rejection letters from Jewish primaries dropped through their letterboxes. As usual, there are simply not enough places in our faith schools to accommodate all our children. And while some will doubtless find a school place over the coming weeks or months - often after much trauma - many others will be locked out of a Jewish education forever, to the detriment of our entire community.

Each year, rejected parents cry out in anguish (not an exaggeration) at the situation, begging the community's leadership to help establish new primary schools in areas of need; local authorities to approve them; and philanthropists to fund them. Little happens, and the pressure on places is as acute as ever.

This is why the Conservative Party's plans for education deserve our support. More than any other policy in any party manifesto, they could potentially revolutionise our community, changing our Jewish school system for the better almost immediately.

Read the rest here but come back to comment....

South Africans back-pedal furiously on Judge Goldstone

Oh dear. The South African Jewish leadership has apparently only just realised how pressuring Richard Goldstone into missing his grandson's barmitzvah was going to play out in the wider community, and has scrambled into damage-limitation mode. Unfortunately, the letter being circulated by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies just does not do the job:

Dear Community Member

It has been widely reported in the media that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending his grandson's barmitzvah as a result of pressure from certain sectors of the Jewish leadership. While it has not been involved in this matter, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies was concerned that it would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community, and has therefore carefully investigated it to establish the correct facts.

What has emerged is that, contrary to what many media reports alleged, at no time was Judge Goldstone prohibited from, or even requested, not to attend the barmitzvah ceremony by any organisation or individual. Rather, this was a decision voluntarily taken by the Goldstone family and the other respective parties. Certain senior Jewish communal and religious leaders were certainly involved in the discussions around the topic, but in no way did they attempt to dictate to or otherwise pressurize the family into arriving at their decision.

Unfortunately, the matter is being widely misrepresented and misunderstood. To assist us in forestalling any further unpleasantness, we would appreciate it if you could circulate this communiqué to others who you think will be interested.

The SAJBD strongly believes that diversity of opinion in our community needs to be tolerated and respected, whether it emanates from the left, right or centre. At the same time, the right to freedom of expression needs at all times to be exercised with sensitivity, with due regard to the appropriateness of the forum and occasion. Taking into account, with due sensitivity and understanding, the feelings of others goes a long way towards preventing unnecessary conflict.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom.

Zev Krengel

National chairman

Oh, come on. The family didn't just decide that he wouldn't be attending "voluntarily" - why were there "discussions around the topic" if there was no suggestion that he would be made to feel seriously unwelcome? This is completely disingenuous.

On the exclusion of Zeida Goldstone

Judge Goldstone, as everyone now knows, has effectively been barred from attending his grandson's barmitzvah following "negotiations" between the South African Zionist Federation and the Johannesburg shul at which the event was to take place. What pressure, exactly, was brought to bear on the family? Our front-page story raises the possibility that the SAZF was going to demonstrate in front of the shul. Yisrael Medad was told the following:

I understand that all the members of Sandton shul in Johannesburg declared that they would walk out of the shul if Richard Goldstone was given an aliya at his grandson's barmitzvah. As a result of that, the arrangement was made that Richard Goldstone would not attend his grandson's barmitzvah in South Africa.

Perhaps. Either way, everything that needs to be said about this has been said (see also the JC leader this week - not online). Except for this: If the members of my shul decided on masse to walk out when my father was given an aliyah; or if my shul was in any way party to an agreement to have my father excluded from the premesis, I would be saying goodbye to my shul - not my father.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Severely disabled, is she still a mother?

An unprecedented, horrific legal dispute is coming up in LA.

Abbie Cohen Dorn, now 34, and her husband Dan, could not have children. After fertility treatments, she became pregnant with triplets. However, during the birth, she was left severely disabled, with brain damage, apparently unable to communicate except - her parents and therapists claim - by blinking.

A year later her husband, who is bringing up the triplets, divorced her, and has not seen her for many months. She currently lives with her parents and has never seen her children.

Now, a court is preparing to decide issues of custody, visitation, support and property. Abbie's parents claim that Abbie has indicated she wants to see her children; her ex-husband, Dan, refuses to allow them to see her - refuses, in fact, for their grandfather to even refer to her in the children's presence. A battle over visitation rights is brewing.

At a recent pretrial hearing, Superior Court Judge Rudolph Diaz called the case "serious," "complicated" and "novel for me" -- sentiments echoed by family law and child development experts.

The California Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that disabled parents cannot be denied custody simply because of their handicaps. Parenting, the justices wrote, is as much about emotion as it is about physical ability.

"A handicapped parent is a whole person to the child who needs his affection, sympathy and wisdom to deal with the problems of growing up," the justices wrote.

But that case was about custody, not visitation, and concerned a quadriplegic parent who had raised his children alone before his injury and who could talk and drive.

Lisa Helfend Meyer, Abbie's attorney, said, "There is no case in point that addresses Abbie's particular circumstance, whether someone in her condition has a constitutional right to parent or visit her children."

But as she argued in March during a pretrial hearing, "Abbie is alive and wants to see her children. . . . The children need to have a relationship with their mother. The kids need to know the truth."

Meyer points to the California Family Code, which says that the "public policy of this state" is to make sure children have "frequent and continuing contact with both parents." The only exception is if that contact is not "in the best interest of the child"...

Greene says Dan worries that the triplets would feel "terribly guilty" if they see Abbie in her current condition and "know that their childbirth put her in that position."

"He is not opposed to them seeing her when they are older, if they want to," Greene says. "They are too young, and there is no evidence of any ability [by Abbie] to interact with them."

Clearly, it is impossible not to sympathise with all parties in this dispute - all of whom have been to hell and back. But - based only on what I have read - I do hope that the court rules in favour of granting Abbie visitation rights to her children (or rather, the opposite - allowing the children to visit Abbie).

It seems to me that the children's attitude to Abbie will depend entirely on the way she, and her condition, are presented to them. I know several families with severely disabled children, with brain damage at least as severe as Abbie's, who could not be treated more naturally and more normally by their siblings. Their parents made sure that they are part of the family - and so that is how their siblings always accepted them.

There is no reason why Abbie's children could not regard her in the exact same way - provided they are encouraged to.

The father seems to be afraid that she will come across to them as something threatening, frightening, even monstrous - something they need to feel guilty about. Here, the father's concern seems to me to reflect more his own attitude to Abbie than anything to do with his children. I don't blame him for divorcing her; he is a young man and does need to get on with his life. But I am taken back that he has not visited her in months. Do you really stop caring about the woman you married and were building a life with because she is in this tragic state? What happened to 'in sickness and in health'? What if she didn't have parents to look after her?

Her kids need to understand that she is not frightening, not repulsive, not something to be ashamed of; she is a human being, and their mother. This will be far easier to accomplish if she is part of their life from early on, rather than if they suddenly discover she exists as teenagers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Nazis' Hebrew-speaking dogs

A bizarre (or should I say barking?) story in Ha'aretz on how the first dogs in the Austrian police and German army spoke.... Hebrew.

[Dog trainer] Rudolphina Menzel's occupation with and love of dogs also had a Zionist bent: Some of the dogs she trained in Austria were sent to the Yishuv (Jewish community) in Palestine. "From the outset we thought about the Land of Israel settlement project," she said years later. "From the start of our work, we considered introducing the use of dogs for the defense of the isolated settlements in the country as our principal mission."

Rabbi Zwi Perez Chajes, who was the chief rabbi of Vienna and a Zionist activist until his death in 1927, visited the Linz dog farm in the 1920s and was very impressed. Dogs who responded to names and words in Hebrew symbolized the revival of both the Jewish language and people, he said. The Menzels agreed....

It was not long before the Austrian authorities heard about the Menzels' prestigious private institution. As a result, the first dogs to serve in the Austrian police were trained at the Menzels' farm - obeying orders in Hebrew and responding only to their Hebrew names. Clad in the Austrian police uniform, Rudolphina Menzel trained the force's dogs. In an old, crumbling photograph held at the Central Zionist Archives, she can be seen calling the attack dog Maggie Bat Hasatan (Maggie the Devil's Daughter) to rush to the aid of her owner - after a supposed attack by a stranger - during a police training session.

Menzel also spent time in Berlin in the service of the German army, setting up courses to train dogs to attack, defend, track and guard. In Germany, too, the dogs were trained to obey orders in Hebrew - responding to "shev" (sit), "artza" (down) and "kum" (up). A few years later, when the Nazis rose to power, the dog trainers in the German army discovered that the dogs would not respond to commands given in any other language. By order from above they had to continue speaking to them in Hebrew, however difficult and burdensome it might be. "The pair of Zionist researchers is indirectly but deliberately forcing the Germans to speak Hebrew," wrote one German newspaper published during that time.

Hearing that the dogs she had trained were later used to attack Jews weighed heavily on Menzel. "During World War II, I suffered a great deal from the reports that pupils of mine in Austria and Germany were exploiting the knowledge they had acquired from me in order to use dogs to help exterminate people from my nation and from other nations," she said in an interview about 10 years before her death in 1973.

So I guess that Miky, the Hebrew-speaking dog belonging to a police force in Montana, is not so original after all....

Monday, April 12, 2010


Tomorrow, Brooklyn will have a new restaurant, called Traif.

The owner writes:

I am Jewish, although obviously not great at it. So, Traif is a restaurant that celebrates the foods that I love most, which just so happens to be the foods that I am not supposed to eat. At Traif, we will feature pork and shellfish. Do you like bacon in everything, wish that your bowl of moules-frites would never end? Then, you might be very excited for Traif.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a joke - and I don't want to be the party-pooper. But I have to say, this kind of thing makes me groan. You want to eat treif? Go ahead - it's a free world. But the idea that it is somehow 'cool' to eat treif, that it's a thrill, that it's something Jews should take particular delight in - that's just adolescent.

This sad restaurant is going to be packed full of Jews thinking how clever they are to be eating a piece of pork. Guys, grow up.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Anat Kam: Heroine or opportunist?

Some initial thoughts on the Anat Kam episode:

1. Much of the commentary over the Anat Kam affair is based on the story as it was known earlier in the week - while the gag order was still in place. It is, therefore, based on inaccurate and partial information, in particular the notion that Kam was being held under house arrest because she had leaked information implicating the chief-of-staff in illegal assassinations. We now know much more (not everything): that she did not merely expose this one story, but that she allegedly took up to 2,000 classified army documents and passed them on to a reporter. This changes the way we should look at the story.

2. Had Kam just been a whistleblower fighting to expose the army's assassination practises, it would have been possible to see her as a heroine and the authorities trying to cover up the story as the villains. But she is not. She stole thousands of sensitive documents, which included information on military operations, intelligence practises, weapons usage, and much more besides; information which has no public interest whatsoever. The whereabouts of these documents (all but around 50 of them, returned by the Haaretz reporter to the Shabak) is now unknown. She has put Israeli citizens and soldiers at risk with her theft, pure and simple. The authorities have every right - more than that, a duty - to go after her. This incidentally would be true whether she took one document or 2,000; either way, you steal classified documents, you have to be prepared to pay the price.

3. The left is wrong: this is not, let's be utterly clear, an issue of freedom of the press, as initial reports and commentary tried to paint this. The news story on the assassinations policy was cleared by the censors for publication. The press was not prevented from reporting this massive and important scoop, no matter how it was obtained and no matter how much damage it did to the army, the government and Israel in general. The journalist, Uri Blau, was right to want and to publish this story; it was in the public's interest to know. But can he reasonably expect to hold on to thousands of other documents with classified information - information presumably showing nothing illegal, but rather very concrete information about the way the army operates - and be left alone by the authorities? If you believe the answer to this question is yes, then you must say that the army has no right to classify any document - that it must all be open to the public and that all army documents should be scanned by curious journalists. Clearly, this is ludicrous.

4. The gag-order was clearly, from a public relations point of view, a mistake, counter-productive in the long-run. It created the perception that Ms Kam was being 'punished' for leaking damaging information about the army, while in reality she is being held to account for giving away 2,000 classified documents and essentially losing them. And here I agree entirely with Amir; the gag order makes perfect sense from a security point of view. Letting the world know that some random journalist has in his possession up to 2,000 secret documents about the IDF's methods of fighting, plans, personnel etc. is insane.

5. The right may be wrong; this is not necessarily about ideology. A recurring theme on the right has been that Anat Kam was acting out of left-wing motives in order to destroy the army and that she is essentially a traitor (the left, I suppose, employs the mirror-image argument: that she acted out of ideology and is therefore a heroine). However, we simply don't know enough at this point about what motivated her. She didn't - it appears - fight tooth-and-nail to expose one story which particularly enraged her; she stole 2,000 documents, some more important, some probably not very important at all - everything she happened across, in other words, including one explosive story. According to Haaretz's profile of her, she was interested in journalism from her teens onwards. It is entirely possible that she was not fighting for a cause, but simply an ambitious young lady trying to kick-start a career. An opportunist rather than a heroine.

6. Haaretz is right on one thing: all of this does not mean that the army should be let off the hook if it approved assassinations which were illegal.

An ominous address

The residents of building #9 on Av Street* in Modiin have successfully petitioned to get their street name changed....

(Via Baila, a little belatedly)

Mr Obama, the devil's in the details

Two stories appeared this week indicating the President Obama is considering 'imposing' his own settlement on the Israelis and Palestinians: one by David Ignatius in the Washington Post and another in the NYT.

The proposed settlement would, apparently, follow the same old outline now being worked on for close to two decades: no right of return for Palestinian refugees, a divided Jerusalem, a return to close-to-the-1967-borders with some minor border adjustments and territorial swaps, and recognition of Israel by the Arab states.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based organization that seeks to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts.

Actually, answers Elliot Abrahams in the Weekly Standard, it is:

First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them?

Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?)

This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

His blow-by-blow fisking of Ignatius's column is masterly. I suggest you read the whole thing.

One point he left out: when this imposed settlement refers the 'Palestinians', it seems to address solely to the Palestinians on the West Bank. What exactly does the administration propose to do with Hamas in Gaza - who are unlikely to accept any American settlement (or any settlement at all)? It's all very well talking about 'solving the Palestinian-Israeli problem', but as long as there is a hostile regime in Gaza, the conflict goes on.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Anat Kam and the newspaper wars

Oh, what fun The Jerusalem Post is having with the Anat Kam story. The paper is currently splashing the following headline across the top of its website: 'Cancel Haaretz subscriptions 'til military docs returned' (quoting MK Yisrael Hasson, former deputy head of the internal security service). Could they be less subtle?

Coincidentally, Hasson's reaction is nowhere to be found on the Haaretz site....

Israeli 'Taliban mothers': still with us

A couple of years back, the Orthodox world was roiled by the story of the 'Taliban mother' - a Charedi woman living in Beit Shemesh, who had taken to dressing head-to-toe in a cloak, and covering her face in a veil, burka-style. She had amassed, it emerged, more than 100 followers, who adopted a similar mode of dress, frightening a good number of Charedi women who became afraid that this chmurah, or stringency, would soon be demanded of them too. Many Charedi leaders were, indeed, appalled and denounced her as 'crazy'.

Then it turned out that the 'Taliban mother' was abusive to her own children, and she was convicted of aggrevated assault on six of them. It seemed clear that there was much more to this woman's dress code than mere 'modesty' - as she had claimed - and the issue of burka-clad Charedim seemed to disappear from the public agenda. Who, after all, would continue to dress this way, when the cult leader was exposed as disturbed?

Well, here is one case. On Tuesday, police shot at a woman dressed in a veil who was attempting to board a bus. They thought she was a terrorist. She turned out to be a religious woman dressing this way for reasons of 'modesty'. The picture, from YNet, shows her being driven away by the police.

The Taliban mother might be rotting in jail; but this trend she has unleashed, in which Charedi women voluntarily clad their bodies in bags and cover their faces, is apparently far harder to contain. Even as her personal credibility crumbled, the concept of hyper-tzniut took on a life of its own. And - here I'm guessing - her followers probably never really accepted that the woman they had revered as saintly was really guilty of the things of which she was convicted, anyway.

The fact is that the Charedi trends which were a catalyst for the original Taliban Mother - the ever-increasing emphasis on women's modesty and the moves to eradicate women from public space - have not gone away. Is it any wonder that the burkas are still with us too?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

10 things I love about the United Synagogue

Sitting in shul over yomtov has been a rather difficult experience. And not only because it was crowded, long and the children's service turns my brain to mush - but because just a few weeks ago, I was publicly branded an enemy of the United Synagogue by none other than its president, Simon Hochhauser.

Amongst the JC columnists, he told a US council meeting, “we find there is an antipathy towards what we stand for in Orthodoxy” (that is, he explained, modern Orthodoxy).

Columnists such as Miriam Shaviv, Geoffrey Alderman and Jonathan Freedland - he said - engage in a “constant attack on everything we stand for“.

“We feel a little bit like the Jewish community generally does with the Guardian. It’s almost like a delegitimisation of the United Synagogue going on. We have a case, we have a strong case… We do feel we are being given a particularly rough deal.”

Now, I can’t answer for Messrs Alderman and Freedland - who are in any case both perfectly capable of defending themselves. But when it comes to me, Mr Hochhauser, you couldn't be more wrong.

There are plenty of things I love about the United Synagogue. Here are my top 10:

1 Fishballs at Kiddush. Genius invention (practically unknown beyond these shores) which ensures that members keep returning again and again, no matter how bad the rabbis’ sermons. (Plus, my kids love them. Means I don’t have to feed them Shabbat lunch).

2 Burial included in membership. Cemeteries well-kept and landscaped (the fish at Bushey are a particularly nice touch). Regrettably, beneficiaries may not appreciate this fully at the time.

3 Board of Deputies included in my fees. And where would Anglo-Jewry be without the Board of Deputies?

4 Chief rabbi is very handsome. Little-mentioned secret to his success.

5 The pom poms on top of the chazans’ hats (now an endangered species). Very retro.

6 Canonicals. Another seriously bold fashion statement. Why oh why did they get rid of them?

7 Disastrous decisions by the dayanim provides me with half a livelihood. My good friend Rabbi Schochet provides the other half…

8 London Beth Din certifies pet food as kosher. Chicken, ham and vegetable dog food made by Applaws is apparently Kosher for Pesach and is presumably better for their digestion than shemurah matzah. Do not serve at Kiddush!

9 London Beth Din is the gold standard for conversions. Ensures that the Jewish population remains confined to N16 and a few select streets in NW11 (NW4 now suspect).

10 Women can't be presidents of synagogues - leaves us with more time to make cakes.

Happy April 1...