Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BGU - Ben Gurion University of the Negev – suffered parallel snake problems this week. On two separate occasions, they had to deal with serpents in their midst.

One of the critters they had captured, bagged and hauled away. But when confronted with the other snake, this one they wanted to keep right where he was -- in front of the classroom.

The first serpent – a black three-foot long species native to Israel – surprised the staff when it was spotted lurking behind a desk at the nanotechnology building on the University’s main campus. Officials called Beersheba’s official snake catcher who responded to the scene. “The snake wasn’t a poisonous variety,” the snake removal man said afterward. “It appeared to have gotten into the building through an improperly secured air vent. The snake was aggressive, but I caught it and later released it in a remote place where it won’t do any harm.”

The second, equally aggressive, snake is far more dangerous. This one, known as Neve Gordon, walks upright on his own two feet, although he, too, lurks behind a desk at BGU where he’s spent almost a decade bombarding students with his anti-Israel, anti-Semitic tirades. This snake in the grass is treated far differently by BGU officials. Not only was Neve Gordon not bagged and hauled away -- instead, the President of BGU, Rivka Carmi, promoted him.


Up to now, Neve Gordon had been merely a “lecturer” but this week, he was promoted to “Assistant Professor.” For an undistinguished academic, whose writings tend toward hysterical anti-Israel propaganda, how did they justify it? Officials assembled a panel of far-leftist evaluators, who requested letters from other far-leftist anti-Israel radicals, and that did it. Like promotes like.

It’s hardly the first time Gordon has been rewarded for his venomous attacks. Among his first treasonous deeds took place in 2002, when, as a matter of “solidarity” Gordon joined arch terrorist Yasser Arafat in Arafat’s barricaded compound during the “Siege of Ramallah” – in direct defiance of Israeli law. As Arafat’s minions went about murdering every Israeli they could reach – in cafes, buses, wedding halls and pizza parlors -- a photo of Gordon and Arafat, hands joined and raised high in brotherly solidarity, appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the globe.

Right after that, BGU granted Gordon tenure – which basically means he can’t be fired. With that one stroke, the possibility of bagging Gordon and relocating him suddenly became far more difficult. But that was the intent -- BGU wanted to make sure Gordon stayed right where he was: at BGU, behind his desk, in front of the classroom, where he could best spew his vicious views.

No doubt Gordon met and exceeded the standards set for him. During Operation Cast Lead, when Israel finally responded to nine long years of Hamas rocket and mortar fire on citizens of Israel’s south, Gordon captured the headlines again. As missiles and mortars rained down on Israel – including several that hit the BGU campus – Gordon stepped up to comment. What did he say? He denounced Israel, not Hamas.

When, about a year ago, Gordon became a regular columnist for the Hamas media apologist, and began to denounce Israel from that bully pulpit, BGU rewarded him again. They saw to it that he was named Chairman of BGU’s Department of Politics and Government.

Politics and Government! Can you imagine a more dangerous habitat for a snake than that? To appoint a vicious hater of Israel into a position where he gets to set the University’s agenda as it relates to teaching Israeli politics and government?

But it was last summer’s escapade that proved mind-boggling, even for Neve Gordon.

This time he grabbed world headlines again when he published an Op-ed in the LA Times pleading for a world-wide boycott of Israel. What Gordon demanded was for “all foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel”.
“Nothing else has worked,” he lamented. “The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state.”

What happened as a result of that tirade? Not much. There was a furor in the press. A few of BGU’s major donors created a minor stink but probably kept the dollars flowing. Nothing at all happened to Gordon himself.

Even so, there was a silver lining. As a result of that brouhaha, a long-standing situation at BGU burrowed its way into the mind of the body public. It was revealed and understood, finally, that Gordon was not alone in his anti-Israel views. In fact, BGU’s entire Department of Politics and Government endorsed what Neve Gordon had written. Another professor within Gordon’s department, Fred Lazin, recounted how, before Gordon submitted his LA Times article, he told his department what he was going to say. He offered to step down as chair if they thought his words would prove too embarrassing. "There was a unanimous decision not to let him do that," Lazin said.

The whole Department agreed with him – which isn’t all that surprising, when you think of it. You get a nest of vipers running the department, and of course they’re going to be supportive to others of the same species. They’d already made sure anyone who didn’t agree with them was eliminated – within the Department of Politics and Government, there was zero tolerance for any professor who supported Israel.

As any news hounds knows, BGU is not alone in harboring anti-Israel, anti-Semitic professors on their teaching staffs. Indeed, virtually all of Israel’s Universities suffer one or more of these serpents, professors who work from within to discredit Israel, persuading students to their dangerous points of view. But in virtually all of these other Universities, their Presidents and administration treat the Israel-haters among them with disdain. “What can we do?” they ask. “They’re tenured professors. As the law is now, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

But not BGU. At BGU these professors are nurtured, defended and supported – not to mention promoted.

Throughout each of Neve Gordon’s messes – each time he grabbed world headlines by some denouncement of Israel -- BGU’s President Carmi jumped in to defend him, endorse him, support him and take his side. Then, when the furor died down, she’d promote him or see that he was promoted within his department. Yes, on occasion -- when donations to BGU seemed to be in jeopardy – Carmi characterized Gordon’s views as “destructive” – but that didn’t stop her from continuing to insist that Gordon’s vicious hate propaganda constituted "serious and distinguished research into human rights."

But that’s the bad news. There’s good news on the horizon, too -- a new dawn seems about to break through. If BGU won’t do anything to clean out the nest of vipers in their midst, someone else will – starting with Israel’s Minister of Education.

On June 21, in a front page story in leftist Haaretz, of all places, it’s reported that Gideon Sa'ar, Israel’s Minister of Education, plans to take action against radical faculty members who call for boycotts against Israel – BGU’s Neve Gordon tops the list on that score.

But that’s not all. In another news story, this one appearing on the NANA news service, comes a report that the District Attorney of the Negev is opening a criminal investigation against BGU for conducting anti-Israel political activities.

How did that come about? According to the website, parents of several BGU students filed a complaint about the ‘preaching of treason’ in BGU classrooms. They filed it with Pres. Carmi, with Gideon Sa’ar, and sent it to the Knesset. Someone in that crowd listened up.

Now perhaps the victimized students at BGU -- students who want to study government or politics – will find some relief. Up to this point, if they wanted to pass those courses, they had to parrot the anti-Israel venom spewed by the entire department.

Any change won’t come about overnight, but there is at least hope looming that Israel-hating professors – just like their no-shoulders cousins – can be removed and relocated to some place where their venom won’t infect the young and vulnerable minds entrusted to their care.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If nothing else, the hullabaloo that’s going on in Arizona right now sounds the death knell for that time-worn adage, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Not anymore. At least not when national borders are concerned.

To the horror of some of my ideological fellow-travelers, I admit I’m not a ‘fence’ person myself. I oppose Israel’s continued building of fences to protect our borders and I oppose the US’s construction of fences between the US and Mexico.

Why? They’re ridiculously expensive – in monetary terms not to mention public opinion – but worse than that, they don’t work.

If you need any further proof of that, take a look at the video I just posted on Facebook. Here’s the link:

See that? Illegal aliens freely crawling over a fence in Arizona – a very costly fence, from the look of it. And absolutely worthless.

That’s the biggest problem with fences: people who want to get past them can do so. They can climb over. Or they can dig under. Or they can go around – there’s no such thing as an endless fence. As has been proven time and time again, they’ll just find somewhere without a fence to cross over.

It’s even more pointless in Israel – build any kind of a fence any engineer can design, and our Arab cousins have no trouble shooting their rockets and missiles right over them. A fence is worthless – and totally disastrous in terms of PR. Apartheid state, indeed!

No fence is going to be effective unless you have the will – and the cash – to put soldiers with rifles all along the way, with orders to shoot (as Egypt does, at least on occasion). If you can’t – or won’t – do that, there’s not much point in building a fence. And if you’re going to put armed soldiers on the border with the authority to stop invaders by force, then you don’t need the expensive fence. Some more normalized border-marking device will do just fine.

For obvious reasons, I doubt the US – let alone poor persecuted Israel – has the moral will to actually shoot invaders, although you have to admit it wouldn’t take very long to make the point. Word travels quickly about that kind of thing. A couple of days of concentrated effort would probably do it, but as I say, I don’t think either country has the stomach for that. Not even for a few days.

What would work, then? It’s so simple: you have to take away the rewards for people who enter a country illegally. Remove the incentives that come with breaking the law. Punish those who commit this crime just as we punish people who commit other crimes. Deport them. Immediately.

I’ve compared illegal immigration to the childhood game of ‘Red Rover, Red Rover’ before. That’s precisely the game both Israel and the US are playing. We erect our barriers, then shout, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover, let anyone come over!’ – and when someone does, when someone breaks through the barrier, they get rewarded. They win!

In the US, successful illegal immigrants get citizenship for any child born on US soil – which entitles the entire extended family to welfare benefits as well. They get education, medical care and work opportunities far beyond what their home countries provide.

In Israel, taxpayers supply all manner of ‘humanitarian aid’ -- food, housing, education, counseling, and jobs. Israel is a haven compared to where they came from – and don’t think they don’t know it.

What you have to do is take away the rewards linked to entering a country illegally –any country. If an illegal immigrant would find that the moment he’s discovered, he was actually going to be shipped back where he came from, that would change things.

If no one would hire them, that would help. If their newborns didn’t automatically receive citizenship -- with all the benefits that entails – but were also shipped back, pregnant women would stop trying to have their babies in the US.

If there weren’t a host of government programs – not to mention charities -- eager to feed, clothe, house and otherwise cater to the needs of illegal immigrants, it would profoundly decrease the incentive to break the law and come.

All that said – at least in the US – both Republicans and Democrats like illegal immigrants. They erect pretend-fences to keep them out, but there’s no will to actually punish the crime of illegal entry. Democrats see a massive number of dedicated new voters who will become the next generation of welfare clients, determined to keep the Dems in office. Republicans like illegals because Big Agriculture likes cheap labor, because they’re afraid to offend what’s already a formidable voting bloc, and because it might seem racist to take a stand.

So we build fences – at enormous cost – that serve as nothing but attractive nuisances, tempting would-be freeloaders to break through. Get past the fence, and you’re not only home free, but you can pick up your $200 every time you pass go.

What a crazy system.

Here’s a really excellent summary from Janet Levy from Los Angeles.

The media is rife with accusations of an Israeli perpetuated Holocaust in Gaza. Israelis are routinely characterized as Nazis and Gaza as a concentration camp or even the Warsaw ghetto.

Consider this:

Facts about Gaza

FACT: Israel left Gaza 5 years ago displacing 11,000 of its own people. Gazans elected Hamas as their legitimate government. Why is Israel still responsible for the conditions in Gaza?

FACT: Over 1 million tons of aid has entered Gaza in the last 18 months. This is equivalent to 1 ton for every man, woman and child.

FACT: The average life expectancy in Gaza is 73.7 years. In Turkey, it is 72 years. Infant mortality in Gaza is 17.7 per 1,000. In Turkey, it is 24.8 per 1,000.

FACT: Israel has suffered a barrage of over 10,000 rockets from Gaza in the last 8 years.

Facts about the Blockade

FACT: In 2002, Israel intercepted 50 tons (100,000 lbs.) of weapons on the Palestinian Authority freighter Karine-A

FACT: In 2009, hundreds of tons of arms from Iran to Hezbollah were uncovered in a raid off the Israeli coast.

FACT: The PURPOSE of the blockade is to stop Hamas from getting weapons and building smuggling tunnels and bunkers to KILL Israelis.

Facts about the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto

FACT: Gazans are NOT being sent to the gas chambers by Israelis. They are not stripped naked in front of their children, neighbors, soldiers and strangers and made to place their garments in neat piles. Their hair is not being shaved off to be used as mattress filler. The gold is not being extracted from their teeth. They are not being injected with deadly diseases and subjected to cruel psychological tests. Their children are not being taken from them and having their skulls smashed against rocks or shot in front of them. They are not being forced into slavery until they die of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, a bullet to the head or the breathing in of poisonous gas.

FACT: Unlike the Warsaw Ghetto, Gazans were not rounded up and forcibly herded into Gaza. They were not surrounded by a wall topped with barbed wire and controlled by armed guards who could shoot at will. Gazan food rations do NOT average 186 calories per day and 25% of its inhabitants have not died of disease and starvation within the last two years.

The photo above was taken recently at a shuk – open market – in Gaza. Gazans aren't starving, either.

Thanks, Janet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It’s a heartbreaker.

Einav Bloom, finance of Shuki Sofer, the Beersheba police officer who was murdered by terrorists yesterday, asked the universal question: "How is it fair?" she said, shortly after she’d been told that her future husband had been killed when Arab terrorists launched an ambush attack on a police car – a car that was doing nothing more sinister than carrying other officers to their stations in Hebron.

Sofer was buried in Beersheba last night. The two other officers are still hospitalized.

It’s a story every family in Israel has heard at least once. Shuki’s father, Yosef, said his son was "an outstanding policeman who loved the police force with all his heart. He was never concerned about the location of his job, but we were scared and worried."

His mother, Dalia, told Haaretz, a Hebrew-language daily, that the morning her son died was like any other. "I spoke to him," she said, "I made him something to drink before he left, and like every other day he kissed me goodbye before he headed out."

Shortly after, at 8:30 A.M. the worst happened. “Police officers knocked on our door and told us that Yehoshua was seriously injured in traffic accident and that he had been transferred to the hospital, “ Yosef Sofer said. “When we got there we were met by senior police officers and the Police commander. Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke to us on the phone. Several hours later he died."

Of course not everyone is heartbroken. Some are rejoicing. Arab terrorists started by being delighted with their kill, then launched a verbal attack against Israel. Shuki’s death was our fault, they say.

Fatah – the party of Abu Mazen, our alleged “peace partner”, who calls himself Mahmoud Abbas when he gets cleaned up – started out by claimed responsibility.

Fatah’s Imad Mughinyeh cell said they had fired at a police car, killing Sofer and wounding two other policemen near the community of Beit Haggai, just across the highway from Hebron. Praising the attack, they announced that it "proved Palestinian fighters are keen on 'resistance'” which is the Arab code word for terror.

“All Palestinians have the right to resist and the right to reject negotiations," the spokesperson added. Interesting comment from a group with whom the world insists Israel must ‘negotiate’ a peace agreement.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – Abu Mazen’s deputy – began by ignoring the terror attack completely. Instead, in a press conference yesterday, he denounced Israel's killing of an Arab terrorist who’d aimed his car at three policemen on Friday in Jerusalem.

Remember how that event played out on Friday: In Jerusalem, near the Wadi Joz neighborhood very near the Old City walls, a terrorist tried to run over the policemen with his vehicle. Three Border Police were injured, but other Border Police on the scene shot and critically wounded the terrorist as he pulled a gun and began to fire. That’s the death Fayyad denounced, apparently on the theory that Israel is not permitted to interrupt a terrorist while he’s going about his work.

In any event, as the story of Shuki’s death built, later in the day, Fatah officials seemed to reconsider this silence. Or maybe they decided to take a page out of the Community Organizer’s book, and not let this crisis go to waste.

In any event, another PA bigwig joined the debate – with a weakened Abbas, everyone is jockeying for position. PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki decided this was the moment to jump in and blame Israel for Shuki’s killing.

“The murder is Israel’s fault because it took place in an area under Israel's responsibility where Israel does not allow PA police forces to operate,” Al-Maliki reasoned. He added that Israel "is paying the price" for not surrendering Judea and Samaria to the PA.

Ah well, there you go. Another legalistic ‘It’s not my dog. It didn’t bite you. And besides, you hit the dog first anyway’ argument from the terrorists. Actually I liked it better when they took credit for their murders. It was more honest.

Not that it’s over. Several hours after the terrorist attack, the IDF discovered five explosive devices in the possession of a PA Arab who turned himself in to the authorities at the Hawara checkpoint near Shechem, in Samaria.

The man said he was forced by terrorists to carry out an attack. Sappers neutralized the devices, and the would-be terrorist was taken into custody for questioning.

So far, Israel’s mild response has been heartbreaking all by itself. Following the shooting, the head of the Civil Administration, the Israeli military authority that governs the West Bank, accused PA leaders of “not doing enough to prevent violence.”

Excuse me. Not doing enough to prevent violence? How about doing everything they can to commit violence?

Anyway, Brig-Gen. Yoav Mordechai went on to say that the attack was a "serious incident" that could not be overlooked.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Baruch Dayan haEmet, Blessed is the True Judge.

Thanks to our terrorist “peace partners”, this evening, Shuki Sofer, 39, one of Beersheba’s finest young men, will be buried instead of making wedding plans.

Just before noon, Arab terrorists ambushed three police officers along Route 60, south of Hebron. Shuki was murdered, another officer suffered serious wounds and the third escaped with lighter wounds.

Shuki, a veteran officer who had served in the Hebron hotspot for over 14 years, lived in Beersheba. He and his finance had set their wedding date for two months hence. A friend remarked, “Shuki was a lovely man, a good soul, he liked to help. He would have married in two months and was very excited, but instead of a wedding he was murdered.”

Why did this happen? The underlying cause is Arab hatred toward Israel and Jews. Terrorism. But the precipitating cause was the removal of a critical terrorist checkpoint just three weeks ago.

In one of Israel’s silly, inane, stupid and idiotic “gestures” to the Community Organizer, to appease His Royal Highness in Washington, Israel began removing checkpoints – stopped checking passing traffic for terrorists who plan to murder Israelis. This particular checkpoint, the Dayariya Crossing, was particularly critical. It was located about three kilometers (just under two miles) from the site of the attack.

Unfortunately, Shuki’s murder wasn’t the only tragedy due to a checkpoint closing.

Last night, Sunday, a resident of Alei Zahav in Samaria was also ambushed and attacked by terrorist Arabs while driving. Zahav, who is physically handicapped, noticed a car with police lights signaling him to stop. He pulled over, and the Arabs dragged him from the car, beat him and stole his vehicle. He was left to die by the side of the road – fortunately he was found and treated.

The Arab terrorists in this case had just passed through yet another now-closed checkpoint – another “gesture” to the Community Organizer.

On Friday, still another Arab terrorist rammed two Border Police with his car in Jerusalem, wounding the two officers inside. In this case, the wounded officers managed to shoot and kill the terrorist driver as he attempted to escape. As a particularly gruesome touch, the terrorist’s family managed to steal his body from the hospital, intending to bury it near the Temple Mount.

Want still one more? Also on Friday, a woman and her three children were ambushed to a rock throwing mob in the same area of Jerusalem. The woman was hit in the head with one of the rocks, but managed to step on the gas and escape.

We’ve had enough. Enough meaningless gestures, enough capitulations to the na├»ve despot in Washington who demands concessions from Israel that result in nothing but more deadly terrorist attacks.

Women for Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green) and Judea Action Committees released a statement:

Every capitulation invites more terror!

*When we capitulated from Gaza- we received Hamas

* When we fight terrorists with paintball guns - the world is against us and demands a commission of inquiry

*When we take down army checkpoints-the Arabs enjoy and the Jews pay with their lives

*When Jews are forbidden to build and expand –the Arabs take over our land

*When the IDF abandoned the Adurayim army camp near southern Hevron - it enabled the Arabs to attack Jews

We MUST go back to our strong stand on our natural right to Eretz Israel and start behaving like a sovereign people in its homeland.

The government and the prime Minister must draw strength from the people of Israel who have shown to be strong and patriotic.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Queen Elizabeth celebrated her “official” 84th birthday yesterday – her actual birth date is April 21, but all British Monarchs observe a ceremonial birthday on a Saturday in June, when the weather is expected to be good and parades and such can be held.

When Queen Elizabeth celebrates her birthday – or the fact that she celebrates one at all – has no concrete relevance to anything in my life. I’m not British. I’m not especially interested in any monarchies -- save that of King David, of course, but that’s a different matter entirely.

It’s really just a matter of nostalgia. Her coronation, on June 2, 1953, sticks in my mind so clearly I can recall parts of it as though it happened yesterday. Not that I saw it – or not really, anyway. But whatever the actual quality was, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was the first thing I ever “saw” on television.

The truth is, we didn’t really “see” it, but we tried. I grew up in Buxton, North Dakota, a metropolis of maybe 250 people, a windy little prairie town without much to distinguish it from any of the other little farming towns that dotted the landscape. My father owned the village general store at that time, run by a series of resident managers, while my dad spent most of his time in his law office upstairs. My Uncle Corky, married to my mother’s sister, owned the town’s hardware store, which seemed to me at the time to be a far more entertaining enterprise. It was as owner of the local hardware store that Corky was in a position to be the owner of the town’s first – and only – television set.

The television set itself was a monstrously heavy thing with a tiny screen that maybe measured 12” or so – diagonally. There were no rooftop antennas at the time, but instead Corky spent most of the time trying to adjust a set of ‘rabbit ears’ on top, moving them an inch this way or that, trying to “pull in” whatever images were being broadcast.

Not that it worked. After weeks of anticipation – Would the television arrive in time? Would it work? What would it be like? Our two families gathered late at night to sit in the window of the hardware store. That’s where the bulky television set was, and no one was about to try to move it – or maybe someone thought the reception would be better if the set was placed near a window. My mother and father were there and of course my aunt and uncle. I was nine years old, my cousin Craig would have been about five, Becky would have been a baby, and most likely (although I can’t quite remember) Lorry wasn’t born yet.

We sat on folding chairs or crates but I remember wanting to sit on the floor so I could get as close as possible to the tiny screen, even though both mothers insisted we kids would ruin our eyes if we got too close. As was the tradition in those early days of television – mimicking a movie theater, I guess – we sat in the dark, waiting to see this vast spectacle that would be shown – live, as it happened! – from far-off England. What a miracle!

We couldn't see or hear much of anything. The images – such as they were – were little more than vague outlines in the “snow” that covered the screen. The only thing that came through clear enough to actually be identifiable was an image of the golden carriage that carried the Princess to her coronation at Westminster Abbey.

The audio part came and went in waves, so at some moments, we’d hear the commentary, and then it would fade out to nothing but static. I’m not sure how long we sat there, straining our eyes to see something – anything -- but it must have been several hours. Everyone agreed that this was a historic occasion, something we’d remember forever – and in that assessment, at least, we were absolutely correct.

It was a miracle, certainly, and although it would be many years until we had a television set of our own, that night heralded a historic change not only in my life but in the world as a whole. Even so, for whatever reason, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II ended up as a profound disappointment – not just that we couldn’t see it. But later, probably in some magazine like Life or The Saturday Evening Post, I saw color photographs of what it had been like, and there, for the first time, actually saw the 26- year old Queen Elizabeth.

No one could say that she wasn’t an attractive young woman – dark haired and conventionally pretty, a worthy Queen. But I was expecting something much more along the fairy-tale lines of a Cinderella. I wanted a fairy princess, blond and exquisite, probably waving a magic wand with a twinkling tip that could turn mice into horses or a pumpkin into a golden coach. Nothing less would do.

Yet today when I read the traditional oath that Queen Elizabeth – a young married woman -- took, it seems awesome in the extreme. Certainly much more awesome than I understood at the time:

The Archbishop of Canterbury asks: "Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?"

Then, "Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?"

Finally: "Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? ……”

To all of which, the Queen answers, "All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me Gd.”

Whew! As Jews, we’re reluctant to take oaths or make vows of any kind, but who, in their right mind, would pledge – ‘So help me Gd’ -- to do all the things the young Queen’s oath required? Of course today the monarchy is essentially ceremonial in nature with little raw power – but the oath she took makes no mention of that. Nothing says, “This is all for show. It’s just what we do. It’s just words -- don’t worry about it.”

I don’t know – sounds scary to me. But Queen Elizabeth seems to have survived it. She’s aged gracefully, in spite of not just one but several "annus horribilis". She’s been a refined and elegant ruler who -- if nothing else – seems to understand the limits of her power and acts accordingly.

One wonders if – and when – the slightly foolish Prince Charles is ever crowned, will he be as wise?

Probably not. Just a few days ago, Prince Charles, in an hour-long speech to scholars at Oxford’s Center for Islamic Studies, urged the world to follow Islamic ‘spiritual principles’ in order to protect the environment. Among other things, he argued that man’s destruction of the world was especially offensive to the religion of Islam and suggested inter alia, that the followers of Islam were the planets greatest protectors.

Would that protecting the environment were Muslims greatest objective.

I have few doubts that the day will come when we will all most profoundly wish for a return to the relatively placid days of Queen Elizabeth II. Long live the Queen!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Guest blog today -- from Judy Lash Balint, a fellow former Seattle-ite. This story was just too good to pass up -- one of those 'who knew?' stories that's nice to take into Shabbat. Enjoy!

Margy Pezdirtz lives in Oklahoma. Margy Pezdirtz loves Israel. Margy Pezdirtz is willing to stand up for Israel. Here's how Margy describes events in Oklahoma City last Friday afternoon:

"It was a quiet Friday, one in which I wanted to study and prepare for the coming Shabbat, when my phone rang. Renee said, "Did you get the flyer? The one about the anti-Israel rally this afternoon at 4:30? I thought you might want to do something about it."
 "No, I didn’t get the flyer. What’s happening."

And thus began the end of a quiet afternoon.
 CAIR - The Council on American-Islamic Relations - was sponsoring a rally from 4:30 p.m to 6:00 p.m to "to decry Israel’s attack on humanitarian aid ship share."

Probably the last thing in the world I wanted to do on this very hot June
afternoon was to stand on a street corner and protest the protestors. I thought about it for a moment. Could I, in all honesty and integrity, sit back in my comfortable, air conditioned home and do nothing? And what about my ten-year-old granddaughter who was with me until her parents got off work. Should I take her to a rally like this that could conceivably turn
 I thought about it for a moment and knew I had to act. If not me, then who?
 If not now, then when?

I quickly forwarded the article on to my email list
 asking anyone and everyone that could to join me at 4:00 p.m at the
 intersection. I called people whom I knew wouldn’t receive the e-mail prior
 to getting home and told them of our intentions and asked them to call as
 many people as they could and to please join us.

My sister was across town with her daughter who is due to have a baby any
 day now. I called her and said, "Is the baby coming?" "No," she responded.
 "Then I have something more important for you to do." I gave her
 instructions and was happy when she said, "OK." I wasn’t sure I would leave my daughter in that situation, but she is as committed to Israel as I am and she knew I wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t significant.

I grabbed a box of Israeli window flags from my garage and threw them in the car along with a generous supply of ice water. I donned white pants and my blue tee that showed crossed Israeli and America flags and said, "United We Stand...Divided We Fall" and backed out of the driveway. My heart and head were racing, and I wondered if I was walking into trouble. My granddaughter and I prayed as we drove towards the site of the rally where my son would pick her up. Rushing toward the freeway, I explained words to her like ‘flotilla’, ‘humanitarian’ and once again, "God’s love for the land and
people of Israel."

In the beginning, my friend Renee and I were the only ones at the intersection where the rally was supposed to be held. We took our stand across the street from the anti-Israel bunch and began waving Israeli flags at passers by.

At her suggestion, I called the local talk radio show, a conservative station, and told host Lee Matthews what we were doing. He put it on the air and soon, cars were passing by and honking in agreement with the two of us. I had told Lee that I had Israeli flags I would give out to anyone who pulled over and asked for one.

A man in a white pickup truck was stopped at the traffic light going in the
opposite direction. He sat watching us as he waited for the light and I
 hollered, "Would you like a flag?" He nodded yes and I ran one across two
 traffic lanes to him. He took the flag and said, "I’m going to park and come
help you." His name was David.

Every fifteen minutes, the radio station called for a report on what was happening. I was delighted to tell them people were listening and responding
to us. He wanted to know how many there were at the CAIR site and I told him I could see seven, which later turned to eleven. As we talked on the radio, I continued to wave flags and smile at people.

Others came and joined us. One couple, Mike and Betty, said they were sitting on their porch in El Reno - a town approximately thirty miles away,
 when they heard on the radio about the anti-anti-Israel rally. Mike looked at his wife and said, "We better get down there."
 Another couple heard about it on the radio as they were driving home from
work and they detoured to our location to join us.

A beautifully dressed young woman who lives in Northwest Oklahoma City heard about it on the radio, pulled into the Walgreen’s parking lot across the street and waited for the very long light to change so she could literally
 run across the street to join us. She grabbed a flag and began standing
 watch with us. And they continued to come. They were individuals. They were couples. Some were on their way home from work. Some were just driving by. Others heard about it on the radio and were moved to action.

They were Christians and they knew this was late on a Friday afternoon when Jews were preparing for Shabbat and most likely wouldn’t be able to come join in the rally, so they responded to the invitation and stood on the hot corner, waving flags and
 shouting "support Israel."

My spirits were lifted. I was thrilled to see the response and to hear the conversations of the people who joined us. They cheerfully pulled flags out of the bag and started waving them and giving them out and when we ran out, I ran back to the car and brought all I had.

We had a sign that said, "Honk for Israel" and people put the flags on their car windows and drove around the block two, three and four times honking for Israel. When the anti-Israel CAIR bunch mimicked our sign with one that said, "honk for Islam," people on our side of the street honked even louder and longer.

Our group had grown considerably. There were suddenly twelve and then twenty and more came as some left. One woman, riding on a large motorbike flying an American flag pulled into the intersection, parked the bike and said, "I came to join you." I laughed and said, "Welcome, Biker Babe" and we continued to wave flags, hold up signs supporting Israel. I couldn’t help but give praise to God that the response from those joining us and those passing by with honking horns, were so supportive.

The CAIR group watched us and even sent someone over, dressed in
intimidating black, with an camera to take our pictures from all angles. I made sure he got excellent pictures of us – what his rationale was didn’t
 matter. What mattered was that they, the CAIR people, saw that not everyone bought their story of Israel’s unfairness to so-called humanitarian ships.

The hour and a half passed quickly and our spirits continued in spite of the hot sun. We were tired and thirsty but we shouted with the greatest of joy when one of Oklahoma City’s beautiful, large fire engines drove by and
tapped out a tune of support to us on their air horn. We heard it loud and clear and I’m sure the CAIR people did as well, but there was no doubt whom the firefighters were supporting.

The rally was supposed to be over at 6:00 p.m. The hour came and went and the CAIR people stayed on. We were determined that we would win this
 demonstration by sheer will power, if nothing else, and we continued to
 stand on the corner, waving flags, shouting for Israel and laughing.

Finally, at 6:30, the CAIR crowd had diminished to one person against our dozen or so remaining. We waited and watched as they packed up their last
 person, their signs and flags into a vehicle and drove off. Only then, did
 we call an end to our rally. One person in our group was determined to stay on the corner until he had given out his last flag and we left him there
waving his flag and showing determination to all, reaffirming his – and our – solidarity with Israel."

(Reprinted with permission. Read Judy's "Jerusalem Diaries" blog at

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

“Well, that was just a symbolic thing. It wasn’t important.”

That’s what I heard from a couple of people in response to my howl about Helen Thomas when I pointed out that for decades, she’d served as Dean of the US Washington Press Corps.

There's certainly no need to reiterate Miz Thomas most recent tirade, but for anyone who’s followed Washington politics, it’s clear that Helen Thomas has being saying similar things for well over 50 years. The only thing different about her anti-Semitic remarks this time was that there was an outsider there -- not a crony who would pass it off with a ‘that’s just Helen being Helen’. This outsider came equipped with a video camera coupled with the will to post it on YouTube.

That disturbs me, this ‘Don’t worry. It’s just a symbol’ mentality. The Washington Press Corps is a 25- member official body charged with translating a sitting Presidents words into the sound bites we read and hear in newspapers and television. They had a loose cannon as their titular head -- one who could and would say any darn thing she pleased -- and they did nothing. They allowed Helen Thomas to serve as their symbol, as the Dean of their organization.

True, the duties of the Dean are not complex: As Dean, Thomas had a special seat saved for her during Presidential press conferences. She was granted the privilege of asking the first question – which occasionally, by setting the tone, did represent real power. At the conclusion of the conference, it was she who uttered the final words, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

The real value of the position of ‘Dean’ lay in its prestige – no small matter at all in position-hungry Washington. Thomas’ status was acknowledged not only by her fellow correspondents but by the Presidents, too, not to mention other world leaders who acceded to her credibility based on her position. Wherever she went, whatever she said, she was accorded the honor and status of being first among equals.

That’s why I’m puzzled by the “So what?” brush off concerning Helen Thomas position as Dean. What do you mean, ‘It’s just symbolic’?

The flawed thinking goes well beyond Helen Thomas. About a year ago when I was howling about Neve Gordon, the bad-boy terrorism-supporter who holds forth at our local Ben Gurion University of the Negev, I heard the same thing. Whenever I wrote about the odious Neve, I pointed out that his fellow Department members had just elected him Dean of the Department of Politics and Government, a position approved by BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi. What kind of University would promote such a regular practitioner of treason as Neve Gordon, I wondered. How could they honor a professor who advocated a world-wide boycott of his own country, who was pictured in world newspapers in a victory photo with terrorist-in-chief Yasser Arafat, their joined hands held aloft in brotherhood -- even as Arafat’s terrorists were blowing up Israeli cafes and wedding halls?

But there, too, I heard the same reaction: ‘It’s no big deal. Being Dean is just a symbolic thing. It’s really just administrative.”

Are we to understand that among today’s critical thinkers, symbols aren’t important? That they don’t matter?

I don’t believe that for a minute. A symbol is a thing that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention – that’s from Webster’s Online Dictionary. A symbol is a short summary, a whole entity summed up in one recognizable icon.

Not important? Well, a STOP sign is a symbol -- we know what it means, even though it’s not spelled out on the sign itself. A country’s flag is a hot-button symbol – try burning the local flag wherever you are and see what happens. A cross summarizes everything Christians believe, while the Kotel, the Western Wall, symbolizes Judaism. A drawn heart symbolizes love. Flashing the ‘peace’ sign tells you everything you need to know about the politics of the person making the sign. The swastika still sends shivers into the hearts of many, while a circle with a line through it spells “NO” in any language. A simple man/woman outline means “rest room” – a symbol we’re all been glad to see at one time or another.

Far from being “no big deal”, symbols are enormously important – they represent the whole of the thing. In one simple unit, they summarize what it is and what it means, in terms everyone instantly understands.

So when BGU repeatly honor anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli professors by naming them heads of their departments, those Deans symbolize BGU whether that’s what the University intends or not. It tells us something we need to know about BGU -- what they value, how they think, what they see as important. The honors they bestow mean something.

The Washington Press Corps is no different. In her 57 years as a Washington reporter, Helen Thomas has been honored more times than can be listed here. She’s been granted over 30 honorary degrees by universities all over the world. In 1998, her own press colleagues honored her by creating the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. As author of several books on the Washington scene, she’s regarded as the ultimate insider. Because of her position and its legendary access to eight successive US presidents, she used her bully pulpit to propound her own slanted views all over the world, to all kinds of audiences. She sold her books, for crying out loud, precisely because of her long-time status as Dean of the Press Corps.

Yet abuse of power by Helen Thomas was the order of the day. Some Presidents chided her a little – George W. moved her seat to the back of the room – but most apparently chose to follow the political wisdom of never picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Ignoring Helen Thomas seemed smarter than taking her on.

Still, she was becoming increasingly obnoxious. In 2006, during a Bush White House press briefing, Thomas attacked Bush over his policy on Israel. "The United States is not that helpless,” she ranted from her seat – allegedly as a reporter. “It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis... we have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine." Tony Snow was Press Secretary then, and he responded, "Thank you for the Hezbollah view.”

A few other ‘outside’ reporters complained. Washington Post television critic Tom Shales noted that her “questions” sounded more like "tirades" and "anti-Israeli rhetoric." But her colleagues did nothing.

Again during a November 2007 press briefing, Thomas tried to pin White House Press Secretary Dana Perino to the wall, asking why Americans should depend on General David Petraeus’ opinion. Perino started to answer, but Thomas interrupted, "You mean how many more people we kill?"

Perino was furious. "Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements. This is is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive."

Exactly. Helen Thomas used her position – a largely symbolic one, bestowed on her as an honor and a privilege by her colleagues – to attack American military policy during wartime. Perino objected – but her colleagues did nothing.

Anytime they wished, her colleagues could have moved her to the back of the room, appointed someone else as Dean or ousted her all together. They choose not to.

Why? Probably several reasons, including, presumably, the fact that at least some agreed with her. But most seem to have regarded being Dean as a symbolic thing – let her have it, she’s been around a long time, she’s getting old, she was a forerunner in women’s rights in the Washington power arena. There’s no real power to it, let her have the honor.

Personally, I think it’s time we revaluate the power of symbols. Next time you hear someone say ‘It’s just symbolic, it’s no big deal”, think again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas was right.

Admittedly a surprising conclusion, especially coming from me. Not only has the old battleaxe has been an ignorant and dishonest critic of Israel for decades, but initially it was her treatment of Ronald Reagan that made me grind my teeth. But now, today, in her senile dotage, it appears that Helen Thomas has finally spoken honestly and correctly.

It’s about time.

Not that she meant to, of course. Think of her as Balaam – she set out to curse Israel, but instead blessed it.

Let’s apply some Clintonian parsing and see what she really said.

As we all now know, the open ended question directed to her was, “Do you have any comments on Israel?”

Thomas replied, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine."

Stop right there. Tell WHO to get the hell out of Palestine? Helen Thomas didn’t say – but of course the whole world leapt to the conclusion that she meant ‘get the Jews out of Palestine.’

But why should we assume she meant for the Jews to leave?

Isn’t it just as reasonable that she meant get the Arabs to leave?

Does the fact that she used the word “Palestine” indicate that she meant the Jews should leave?

It shouldn’t – especially not for the aged Miss Thomas. Remember, up until the early 1950’s, this general part of the world was called “Palestine” – a name the British pinned on it. It didn’t refer to any country, since there was no country here – there’s never been a country called “Palestine”. But as a general territorial designation, this part of the world was frequently referred by that name. Up until the early 1950’s, when Israel as a Jewish country began to make its imprint on the world scene, if you’d referred to a “Palestinian”, you’d have been talking about a Jew in Israel.

“Palestinians”, as an Arab people, didn’t come into existence until 1967 when terrorist-in-chief Yasser Arafat decided that creating a “Palestinian” people, and retroactively bestowing on them a fake history, would be yet another way to wrest land away from the State of Israel.

Okay – so Thomas utters an ambiguous statement: “Tell THEM to get the hell out of Palestine”. Not until she makes another statement is it clear who she’s talking about. But then she adds, "Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land."

Right on, Helen baby! “These people”? – Again, an ambiguous reference. But now we know what she meant. It’s the ARABS who must leave. Why? Because just like Balaam, Thomas states the truth: the land belongs to the Jews – “it’s their land” -- and it’s "occupied.”

She’s right about that, too. The Jewish land of Israel is indeed “occupied” by Arabs. Take a drive through the Negev, and see the almost contiguous (illegal) Beduin shanty encampments all along the highway. Take a drive through the Galil, see the plethora of (mostly illegal) Arab settlements dotting the landscape. And that’s without even talking about Judea and Samaria, where Israeli Jews struggle against their Arab occupiers on a daily basis.

So then the Jewish interviewer asks Thomas another question: But where should they go?

“They”? Who’s “they”?? The Jews? Where should the Jews go?

Again Thomas comes up with the right answer: Home. The Jews should go home. What is the home of the Jews, forever and eternal? Israel.

The Jews should come home to Israel. Helen Thomas meant to curse, and instead she blessed.

Okay, okay, admittedly, the next verbal exchange is tougher to reconcile, but remember the wicked old toots isn’t as sharp as she used to be. When asked to elaborate as to “where” these unnamed people – Jews or Arabs – should go, Thomas responds, “Poland, Germany” and then added, “and America, and everywhere else.”

The scenario of Arabs “going home” to places like Poland, Germany and indeed America is a whole lot more realistic than suggesting that any of those places are “home” to Jews. Take a look at the Arab immigration figures to Poland, Germany and America. Compare them to the numbers of Jews moving to those countries, and what do you see? The vast majority of new immigrants to those countries are Arabs, not Jews.

So Helen Thomas -- a hater of Israel and Jews if there ever was one – actually spoke the truth, quite against her will.

Jews, come home to Israel.

The Arabs will be leaving for places like Poland, Germany and America. Helen Thomas told them to.

Home again, after a trip to California to welcome my first granddaughter into the world. Mother ‘JJ’ and baby ‘Alia’ are both doing fine, but I still can’t get my internal clock working right after the unreal plane, train and automobile trip back home. Even after no sleep during the 40 hour trip itself, I haven’t slept more than three hours a night since I got home.

That being the case, I don’t trust my mental processes to holding forth on anything very complex -- such as why Israel should be condemned for protecting its seacoast from armed terrorists, while that every other country in the world feels free to protect their own coastline and borders. Or why the White House Press Corps would choose to tolerate an ignorant and racist bigot who served as their Dean for so many decades. Helen Thomas’ racist proclivities, her various hatreds and insanities, have been well known for years and years. The only question is, why did her colleagues tolerate her for as long as they did?

No, I’ll leave such weighty matters to other bloggers. Instead, let’s play the ‘how different it is’ game and compare Israel and California.

This trip I rented a car, and because I was driving myself all over, I was paying much more attention to what I was doing than I ever did on previous trips when someone else was at the wheel.

I haven’t lived full time in California for about a dozen years, so obviously enough, many things have changed. I needed to pay close attention to road signs and all California’s endless freeway signs since most of the freeways seemed to be under construction at least in part. As I drove, it occurred to me how difficult it must be for a non-English speaker (let alone reader) to navigate the complexity of California’s highway system.

No doubt that sounds funny -- but living in Israel, I have been grateful, many times, for the fact that most road signs and even city streets bear both Hebrew and English designations. Even when I know the Hebrew word, being able to see it, read it, and mentally process it is impossible in the split-second you’re allotted when you’re driving a car.

As I whizzed by freeway signs in California – 98% of which appeared in English only –I had to marvel at how difficult that would be, if you weren’t fluent in English.

One of the many things I love about Israel: here, the overwhelming majority of us are either immigrants ourselves or children or grandchildren of immigrants. The difficulties involved in assimilating to a new culture aren’t far distant for most of us, and hence there seems to be a greater degree of compassion for newcomers who struggle to adapt, including learning the language.

For the most part, Israelis reach out to help, not to criticize. In fact, yesterday I had a little additional ulpan -- Hebrew language class – while riding in a taxi. It seems my Russian driver noticed I mispronounced the name “Smilanski” – the name of the street beside my home. He said it correctly and made me repeat it after him. Ha – I loved it! Would that happen in the US? I doubt it.

As I drove, another difference occurred to me. The prevailing opinion around Beersheba is that we are overloaded, inundated, top-heavy with shopping malls. That sentiment arose again, when our mayor released his “Blueprint for Beersheba” and in it, FOUR new malls are scheduled to be built in addition to the several we already have – which, as I say, many locals already think is too many.

In contrast to that, I remember interviewing Mike Oknin, the developer of Beersheba’s glitzy New York-style ‘OnePlaza’, one of the newer malls. I asked him about that “too many malls” opinion and he laughed. “Beersheba is critically short of malls,” he insisted. “We’re way underserved. We need many new malls, in many new locations.”

Obviously that statement constituted local heresy, but again, driving around Rocklin and Roseville, CA – Placer County foothill communities just north of Sacramento – I began to see what Oknin was talking about. The Roseville/Rocklin area is lovely – slightly hilly, green at this season, wide, clean streets with lots of trees and parks, brimming with new, single family homes – not McMansions, especially, but nice two-story family homes, most of them on quiet streets with pools and good-sized yards.

Once you encountered a major thoroughfare, however, shopping centers -- in astonishing profusion – ruled. For miles, endlessly, on each side of the road, shopping center followed shopping center. While many were similar in appearance, these weren’t strip malls by any standard. Most were graceful Spanish-style buildings with courtyards, trees, planter boxes and – needless to say – ample parking. Bearing elegant names like “Stanford Ranch”, “Quarry Pond”, “The Fountains”, “The Galleria” each appeared to host dozens to hundreds of small shops while most boasted one or two of the larger stores – Target, Trader Joe’s, a theater or a grocery store.

In many respects, on the outside, Beersheba’s newer shopping centers don’t look any different from those in Placer County. But once you’re inside and walking around, the difference is obvious. In Beersheba’s shopping centers, almost all of the individual businesses in each are exactly the same. There’ll be a Steimatsky's, a Body Shop, Mango, Castro, Fox, etc, in addition to at least 10,000 individual – and virtually identical -- shoe stores. (Which is odd all by itself, by the way. After all, this is the land where our Founding Father was once directed to take off his shoes, ‘for the place on which you stand is holy’. So why are there so many shoe stores? I don’t get it – and I can’t even begin to imagine how they all stay in business.)

But there’s the difference: in the US shopping centers, while there might be some duplication, for the most part, within a region, all the individual businesses within the various centers are different. In Beersheba, each shopping center contains very nearly the same stores. The only thing different is the style and location of the mall itself.

What we need here are more different kinds of shops. Well – let’s get real: what we really need is a Costco and a WalMart. And maybe a Thrift Town for cheap used books.

One last observation: I don’t think anyone in California cooks anymore.

When I go visit my kids, I try to carry on my own wonderful mother-in-law’s tradition. She’d drive up, carry in her suitcase, and within minutes, our home would be filled with the marvelous aroma of her cooking – some things she’d bring with her, but other dishes she start cooking as soon as she arrived. As a young working mother, I appreciated that more than anything I could imagine. I loved it. What a treat – her wonderful cooking, some of which would be packed away in our freezer to enjoy long after she left.

I try to do as she did, and one of the things I planned to make – and leave – was spaghetti sauce. Homemade, with mother-in-law Mary’s recipe. Who knew that was going to be so complicated?

I started out at a major grocery store – brand name, a huge place, ten million items for sale – and was once again stunned by how little of it I actually wanted to buy.

No wonder Americans don’t eat vegetables! With few exceptions, all you could buy were plastic-wrapped packages of pre-washed, pre-cut (sometimes), “prepared” vegetables – which obviously lacked any hint of their original flavor or texture.
Appalled, I left the vegetable aisle and set out to find a can of tomato paste – the sauce starts out with fresh tomatoes, but usually needs one little can of tomato paste, too.

After finally locating the endless “pasta sauce” aisle, I started looking for plain old tomato paste. It didn’t exist. There were literally hundreds of kinds of prepared pasta sauces – every flavor you could think of and a few I could hardly imagine – bologna flavored pasta sauce?? There were also rows and rows of flavor packets to add to prepared sauces. But was there any plain old tomato paste? No. I finally found a clerk and asked – she didn’t know either but called someone else who suggested, “Try the ethnic foods section.”

Ethnic foods? Tomato paste? But there it was – in with the Mexican food. A tiny can of tomato paste – the kind you used to be able to buy, Contadina brand, for 8 cents a can when they went on special. Today there were four cans – total – to pick from, a brand name I’d never heard of. Price? $1.69 a can. Good grief.

Right about then, I started longing for the chaos of the Middle Eastern shuk – the endless rows of vegetable bins, filled to overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables, much of it picked this morning. Where nothing at all is prepared, there isn’t a white plastic tray in sight, and the only plastic is the bag you use to carry home your hand-picked produce. Instead of the canned – and identity-free -- Muzak, I pined for the clamor of hundreds of vendors shouting out their wares, complete with the pushing and shouting and absolute insanity that prevails most of the time.

Funny. It hasn’t been that long, but now the shuk seems familiar – while the refined silence of the suburban American grocery store feels completely foreign.

It was a perfect trip. I’m glad to be home.